Voices of Iraq

Highly Recommended. A beautiful film. It seems all we see in our news reporting on Iraq is the negative biased coverage of the press. Pick your prejudice, right or left, American or European, it’s all coming from an outsider’s view of the war. What do the Iraqi people actually think? What do they say, now that they actually can say anything without fear of being tortured for their opinion. Here is the premise of the film listed on imdb.com: “Filmed and directed by the Iraqis themselves — thousands of them, from all walks of life, all over their country. The producers, who distributed more than 150 digital video cameras across the country, condensed more than 400 hours of footage into an unprecedented, and startling, look at life in a war zone.” And what they found is incredible, inspiring and full of hope. The producers show the goofy warped US newspaper headlines during various key times over the last year or two, while showing the true Iraqi conditions. Here are some of my favorite moments: A newspaper headline about the “scandal of naked prisoners at Abu Grahaib” then we see a torture victim of Sadaam Hussein tell us, “I wish I was a prisoner being tortured by the Americans. I would love to have my clothes taken off by a woman who then plays with my penis.” A bit profane, but powerful in revealing how ludicrous they see our “scandal” to be. Yeah, Arabs and Baathists chop off fingers, rape, mutilate, put living people through plastic shredders, drag bodies through the streets and light them on fire. But those Americans, now they are REALLY EVIL, they humiliate and mock their captives. Oooookay. And then another Iraqi is shocked. He says with admiration, “I have never seen a powerful country apologize” like the US did about Abu Grahaib. Another headline from the ludicrous NY Times: “Iraq is alive, but the dream is dead.” Meanwhile we see a graduation at Baghdad University that occurred at this same time and we see the students partying and expressing their hopes for the country now that Sadaam is gone, and how they want to become doctors, lawyers and engineers to rebuild their country. We see the agenda driven headline “Quagmire in Iraq” obviously trying to make this look like another Vietnam (What, do they think we are that stupid?). And we see pictures of the people at that time expressing their hope for a new Iraq because of the American liberation. We see people expressing their contempt for the insurgent terrorists and many of them explain that the insurgents are NOT Iraqis, but Arabs and others who are terrorizing because they do not want democracy, while the Iraqis do want it. Another Iraqi tells us “That’s why these countries are sending terrorists into Iraq, because democracy will make it a better place. We will question our leaders and have a voice.” A startling revelation not reported on in the Media. Another startling revelation that is shown in a casual matter-of-fact way by an Iraqi citizen that Sadaam helped provide houses for Al Qaeda terrorists. We see the horrifying photographs and physical remains being dug up of the murder of 182,000 Kurds in Anfal in 1988 by Sadaam’s chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction. Yeah, you heard me, I said “WMD,” you know, those WMDs that aren’t supposed to exist anywhere. EVEN THOUGH HE USED THEM ON HIS OWN PEOPLE for the whole world to see! Recent estimates from different human rights organizations put the murder toll by Sadaam to be as high as 6 MILLION. And I was listening to a Hollywood actor the other day claiming that an alleged 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq may be more than Sadaam killed. Yeah, real close to that paltry 6 million. And of course, they don’t tell you that most of the civilian casualties are from the insurgent terrorists. A line that made me cry: “It was the Americans that freed us.” A poetic line that made me cry: “Sadaam stole our lives. He stole love and beauty.” Another tortured Iraqi tells us, “There are animal rights organizations in France that protest animal rights. How come they don’t protest for our rights?” We hear about the Iraq soccer team being tortured by the vile demonic Uday if they lost a game. We see only snippets of terrorist recruiting films and Sadaam’s torture films. In fact, that is my one complaint about the film. They should have shown FAR MORE of Sadaam’s torture films. The world needs to see this stuff. Covering it up just hides the truth, all because we have weak stomachs and don’t want to be grossed out by such “violent imagery.” Yeah, well, what do you think etched the evil of the Holocaust into our minds, but the myriads of films showing the concentration camp casualties and tortures. Another preposterous A.P. News headline: “Muslims fear Christian War against Islam” while we see the people themselves actually expressing connection with and gratitude for Christians. I was at a screening where the producers answered questions and they claimed that the movie is a representative sampling of their footage that accurately reflects the hopes and dreams of the Iraqi people themselves. I respect these guys. When accused of being biased and not telling the “whole story” which should include conspiracy theories about Bush and oil, they responded by explaining, “Look, we know there are other perspectives out there, and other issues important to the whole picture. But we are filmmakers, not politicians and we were just trying to get the one viewpoint out that has NOT been shown, the Iraqi people themselves! We may not agree with everything these people say, or even be able to confirm it all, but it represents THEIR view, and that’s the point.” The producer told a great story that captures the truth of bias. He said that when they saw a news reporter out on the streets, they were all covered with body armor and flanked by an armed security team, sticking this microphone into the face of some quivering Iraqi. Well of course, the Iraqi is not going to be himself. But this movie places the camera in the hands of the people away from outside influences intruding in on them. It is their most natural responses. Of course, having a camera does add some unnaturalness to it, but the point is that it is more truly what THEY really think in their own environment. The film DOES show some negative footage of Iraqis who are not happy. But the dominant part of them expressed an understanding that seems to elude most Americans, namely that the problems that they have now ARE NOTHING compared to what they’ve had for years and years, and that they understand that it TAKES TIME to work their way into a democracy. They thank God America saved them from Sadaam. They plead for us not to leave until they can get their democracy in place. That we shouldn’t leave them to be overrun by terrorists like we did in after the first Gulf War. Amen.

Shall We Dance?

Recommended with discernment. A wonderful movie that affirms marriage while being honest with the dryness or unhappiness that can settle over a boring mundane life. This film, about a guy who works with people’s wills and lives a normal, average, everyday mundane existence. He’s got a good marriage with a loving wife and a good kid. But he doesn’t really his own unhappiness creeping in until he sees a haunting beauty peering out the window of a dancing school, as he rides home on the El train in Chicago. He finds himself drawn to the mysterious woman and signs up for class just to be near her. Gere is man, Susan Sarandon, wife, Jennifer Lopez, Mystery girl. So it sets up for a great mid-life crisis examination. When Lopez challenges him to leave if he is just another seeker after her love and not dancing, he finally wakes up from his little fantasy. But here is the great twist: He discovers he really does love to dance! It brings beauty, harmony and happiness he has not known in a long while. Lopez becomes a muse, but not an adulterer. Out of shame, he hides his love of dancing even from his wife, because in our modern world, men aren’t supposed to enjoy such things. Stanley Tucci does a primo job of the funny sidekick, the heterosexual man who wished he was gay because it would be easier to deal with the way the world would look at him for knowing he loves to dance so much. So he hides his secret love and pretends to love football and sports. In fact, everyone at the studio has something to hide. Everyone is being someone they are not, and must learn to accept who they are and embrace their uniqueness and free themselves from their self-imposed repression. The owner of the school is an alcoholic and lost the one true dance partner and husband she ever had. Lopez is one of the best pros who is hiding out at this cheapy no-name school because of her shame over losing the big dance competition the year before over a mishap. Big black student is pretending he is engaged, but he’s really learning to dance in order to impress his dancing girlfriend enough to ask her for marriage. And Bobby Canavale, coming from his excellent stint on The Station Agent, plays the hard edged Italian womanizer, who is actually homosexual. So dancing becomes the sacrament that frees people up to be themselves. Whether or not all these “selves” are in themselves morally legitimate is quite another question. But dancing is a powerful metaphor of redemption — finding the dance of life. The fact that Gere looks to a younger woman at first in the hopes of finding his happiness, is entirely fair and honest to the human condition. What makes it redemptive is that this close call with infidelity turns him back to his wife. At the key moment of the film, when we wonder if he is going to go to the big party to dance with Lopez, and his wife has let him make the choice for himself, he chooses to go to his wife and dance with her in the middle of a store. Why? Well, “because you see, I need a partner to dance. And you’re my partner.” I was crying when he came up the escalator in a tux with a red rose for his wife. It was all rather beautiful and affirming of marriage. An especially poignant and profound insight into marriage occurs when Susan Sarandon is asked by the Private Eye why people marry. She replies that it’s not for love, but rather “we get married to have a witness to our lives. Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice.” This is truly wisdom. Anyone happily married will understand the notion that our experiences apart from our spouse are not as “real” as those shared with them. Why? Because it’s not real until they know about it. I can’t explain that one, it’s just true and beautiful. I think it has to do with the fact that we are created by a God of diversity (Trinity) who creates us to exist in community with others as he does. So there is an aspect to our “reality” that can only be validated through interpersonal relationship. We exist in relationship, and marriage is the ultimate earthly expression of that unity within diversity. One gripe I have about the story that contradicts this otherwise strong moral is that the night before Gere is to dance in the big competition, Lopez dances with him to help him find the “life” in his dancing. To help him “come alive.” And well, the dance, while it does not lead to sex, is actually a sensuous sex alternative, shall we say. Erotic tension and artful cinematography and acting make it clearly a sensual encounter between the two of them that surely equals sex, or at least adultery of the heart. This is the kind of intimacy that should be reserved for one’s spouse. So, in a sense, I would argue he WAS unfaithful spiritually. But then at the end when Gere dances with his wife, it is a loving dance, but not sensual, thus encouraging the poor and immoral stereotype that love is for marriage, but passionate eroticism is only found outside matrimony. You know, love with the wife, (isn’t that sweet) but hot sex with the girlfriend. I call this a “Bridges of Madison County Moment.” He does the right thing, but he hides the real passion with someone else. Oh well, no movie’s perfect. It still drew me to my wife and made me want to take up dancing as a hobby. This movie was ballroom dancing, but I think I want SAAALLLSAAA!!! p.s. A couple of great moments in the movie, were when Gere has very poetic voiceovers describing what it is like to work with people’s wills which are their last attempts to control their lives – which they can’t. Another great integrated metaphor of losing control or letting go of our vain attempts to control our lives. Also, a moment when Lopez is trying to describe for Gere how to dance through a narrative of passionate feelings as she demonstrates on a fellow dancer. And it’s really a lucid parable of her own story of being emotionally ripped apart from dance. It’s all quite poetic. Loved it. Rang with truth and heart.

Around the Bend

Partially Recommended. This Indie movie about four generations of fathers and sons seeking redemption was pretty good. Good performances by the eldest Grandpappy, Michael Caine, Father Christopher Walken, (yes, he CAN act well as a protagonist), Josh Lucas as a great son, and some little kid as the great grandchild (son of Lucas). It’s a road trip movie where Grandpappy dies, but not before leaving a will that directs all the family members above, one big miserable family, to follow directions on a sort of scavenger hunt around the United States in order to receive the inheritance. He has them doing little rituals and scattering Grandpappy’s ashes at various locations important to him. Of course, it’s really just a ruse to force the alienated Walken and Lucas to try to reconnect before it’s too late. And the ultimate location is the home where Walken hurt his baby son many years before. He is in deep need of forgiveness and that is what this tale is about. Walken finding his redemption in the forgiveness of his son, whom he hurt. Well, on the surface, this is a powerful theme for a movie. But unfortunately, the characters were all so alienated from each other that I could never really enjoy them or like them as people. So I did not care too much for them as I watched their story. This lack of sympathy weakened my appreciation for the story. Interesting quirky characters are not enough. There must be something I like about them or I will not care for them. So the big forgiveness scene was not really all it could be. In fact, it really didn’t happen. The actual act of forgiveness is so underplayed and indirect as to be missed. And the worst part about this redemption was that the son suffered a physical injury all his life from this abuse of his father, BUT HE NEVER KNEW IT. He had been told, since he was a baby, that he fell down the stairs. So, the problem here is that the story starts with Lucas as the main character, but then ends up being Walken’s redemption because Lucas had nothing he had to deal with. How could he? He didn’t know. If he had only known somehow then his character would have a reason for his own angst. That was an unfortunate lack in the character arc of the story. But I did love the symbolic ending where Walken is dying and Lucas, his son, drives him to a rock in New Mexico where Walken had “made love to a woman” in his dark criminal past. It was his personal nostalgia. But when they get there, we discover that it was the place where the son Lucas was conceived, so it was his mother that dad was talking about. A very touching redemptive conclusion, better than the forgiveness scene, that also ends with the father dying of kidney failure before he could make it there. So Lucas and his son go to the location in his stead to continue on the father’s desire, as a powerful symbol of the next generation moving on and overcoming its past. Although I heard this writer/director was a Christian, there was no spiritual side to the story, which was rather disappointing.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Not Recommended at all. I remember when I was in college a friend of mine had a sound design class where his assignment was to take a president’s speech and edit it to make him say something different. So my friend got Richard Nixon to say “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old.” It was all rather hilarious, but makes the ominous illustration that editors can take actual footage and make it say the opposite of what actually happened. Look, no matter what political party you belong to, this movie is such dishonest filmmaking, only a Nazi could like it. Goebbels would be proud. This movie proves the truth that the camera DOES lie. Of course, cameras don’t lie, people lie – with cameras. But one thing is for sure, this movie is the ultimate demonstration that what you do NOT show is often more important than what you DO show. When Moore deals with 9/11, he shows a black screen, and we do not see the planes, hitting the Towers, we just hear sounds. A black screen that reminded me of Communist ministry of information blacking out important information to its citizens. So he does not show the planes hitting the towers, he does not show Daniel Pearl and the others being beheaded, he does not show the rape and torture films of Saddam, or the dragging of US soldiers through the streets, but he does show the US bombings (so only the US appears the aggressor – he does show Iraqis dragging two bodies, but they are so charred that we cannot see if they are American soldiers or Sunnis or Shi’ites). He shows the Bush administration getting make up for TV, as if they are all staged actors, but he does not show ALL the administrations from Kennedy up to Clinton, who also did THE SAME THING. He shows some idiot US soldiers saying self-damning things, but he does not show the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of good soldiers who don’t (thus giving the false impression that the military is a moronic monolith). He shows the soldier who lost both arms, as if to show the unjust suffering, but he does not show that SAME SOLDIER praising the US and supporting the war in Iraq, saying his sacrifice was tough, but worth it (You gotta see Michael Moore Hates America to see THAT interview), He shows select happy Iraq scenes before the invasion, but he does not show the torture chambers, rape chambers, gassed Kurdish villages, and police state violence on thousands of oppressed Iraqis before the invasion. He shows the obscure marginal sad Iraq scenes after the invasion, but he does not show the FAR MORE FREQUENT THOUSANDS of grateful Iraqis cheering America and thanking the soldiers for their liberation. He shows the US Orange and Red alerts after 9/11 as if it was ridiculous to believe that we were under actual danger of being attacked by Al Qaeda after 9/11 (imagine that absurd idea), yet then shows the complete lack of Oregonian police to guard the US shorelines, as if the US is irresponsible in not watching out for those sneaking terrorists who are going to drive their skiffs and fishing boats 3000 miles to invade our shores. Well, talk about flip flopping. Make up your mind, Michael, is the US a totalitarian regime using terrorist danger to control the people or is it an inefficient democratic beaucracy that is unaware of the continuing danger of terrorist threat? You can’t have it both ways. He shows a few bungling red tape bureaucratic snafus of the government in “infiltrating” useless peace groups and an old man’s life, but he does not show the hundreds of actual Al Qaeda and other terrorists that were rounded up by that same imperfect FBI, terrorists, some of who had been planning other attacks. And along with this same scam, he DOES NOT show how airports have been forced by racist special interest groups to body search little old ladies and congressman, in order to avoid “profiling” the actual description of the suspects: 99.999% Middle Eastern young males between the ages of 17 and 25. He shows ONLY Iraqi civilian casualties (as opposed to Iraqi soldiers), which were all unintended, as if this was the real intention or result of the bombing (how stupid do you think we are?), but he doesn’t tell you that the bombing shots he used were of legitimate military targets, NOT civilian targets. He shows only Britney Spears as the celebrity defending Bush, but doesn’t show the complete parade of idiot celebrities who were against Bush, like Christine Aquilera, Kim Basinger, Jessica Lange, the Dixie Chicks and FAR MORE other idiots than are for Bush. He makes fun of “non-countries” that joined the Coalition of the Willing, like Palau, Iceland, Romania, and Netherlands, but doesn’t seem to mention Poland, Britain, Italy, Turkey, the Czchec Republic, and others. What he doesn’t even seem to realize is his pompous arrogant devaluation of those countries he scoffs at as irrelevant. That would be like saying big fat white men’s opinions don’t count in politics. Ooops! Ah, poor Michael Moore is himself the big, fat stupid ugly American he despises. I guess you could say he suffers from self hatred or self-loathing. He shows dead and wounded US soldiers as if war casualties were somehow an argument against war? Imagine showing the millions of casualties of WWII as an argument that we should not have fought Hitler and Hirohito and let them take over the world. Yes, men must die to secure freedom. That’s how it works. It’s tragic, but reality. Now, you may make the argument that this war is not a just one, but to argue that war casualties make war unworth it is at the intelligence level of a kindergartner – maybe. He shows clips of Bush at goofy moments in response to other clips of serious news, as if this is Bush’s response to the news. Now, look, folks, even democrats who don’t like Bush should be ashamed of such bald-faced lying. It reminds me of the Nazi propaganda that would show the consummate Jew as a snarling greedy unkempt greasy animal, and then dissolve from a picture of a group of Jews to a group of rats. And I don’t use the word “lie” or “Nazi” lightly. When a man deliberately alters and changes so many elements in his editing in this way, it is the proof that he is DELIBERATELY and KNOWINGLY lying to promote his cause. Lie here doesn’t mean merely “false” it means deliberate LIE. Maybe Moore has a secret love affair with Nazism – okay, the truth is, he is in a ménage a trios with Stalinism and Nazism. I think Bush has done some STUPID things, but hate speech like that is not warranted. He shows the minority rebel attitudes against America by some Iraqis, as if this is the whole country’s reaction, but he doesn’t show you the majority larger hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis celebrating America’s overthrow of Saddam. He shows you the few US soldiers who disagree with the Iraq War, as if, hey, look, even the soldiers don’t agree with Bush. But he doesn’t show you that this is a fringe minority view (a mere one out of four) of soldiers, compared to the hundreds of thousands who support their president. He shows you the oil companies helping out in Iraq as if America wants to take over and control Iraqi oil. But he doesn’t show you that we never have taken over the oil at all, And he doesn’t show you that the countries that ACTUALLY DID make their choice for control of the oil in Iraq were France, China and Russia and the U.N. It’s not that America went to war for Iraq oil, it’s that France protested the war for Iraq oil. Et tu, Brutus? He shows only the boarded homes of Flint Michigan, as if it is a town of homeless people, but he doesn’t show you the entrepreneurs and hundreds of people making it along just fine in Flint, and all the newly built homes in that town. AND he doesn’t tell you that Flint IS NOT EVEN HIS HOME TOWN. Moore is actually from a nearby middle class suburb (But you can see all those facts in Michael Moore Hates America). Michael Moore is a fat cat capitalist in cahoots with the greedy corporations of Hollywood. He seems perfectly content in exploiting Al Jazeera propaganda footage of people complaining over bodies of dead children, but he doesn’t tell you Al Jazeera is known for taking footage of casualties from their own terrorist infighting and civil war and making it look like American responsibility. The list goes on and on. The lying is so thorough, that you can only classify his theory as The Big Lie. Boy, it’s one thing to be political, but quite another to be Nazi-like in one’s use of language. I suppose he also has a final solution for the Bush question. The only way to understand the depth of deception is to read the fantastic fact-documented article, “59 Deceits of Fahrenheit 9/11,” It addresses many of the biggest lies in the film, lie by lie with counter facts to show how he manipulated the truth. GO HERE: http://www.davekopel.com/Terror/Fiftysix-Deceits-in-Fahrenheit-911.htm

Ladder 49

Recommended. A slice of life type movie about a young firefighter. What is so interesting about this powerful homage to the heroism of firefighters (and by extension in my mind, police) is that it is not a strong story, but it is still riveting and interesting from beginning to end. It’s plot is a rather unoriginal story of the rookie firefighter joining a firehouse, falling in love, marrying, having kids, and facing the ultimate fire of his life. Somewhat episodic, riveting nonetheless. No conspiracy, no criminal element like in Backdraft, just an everyday hero. But it is very loving about family and yet the tension of that value with the value of risking one’s life to save others. It ends with a huge firefighter funeral, that although it does not refer to 9/11 at all, it certainly evoked such powerful gratitude and emotion in my heart for those heros who saved lives on that fateful day, while losing their own. It shows the humanity of these men, with all their faults and fun, but doesn’t degenerate into negativity like Dark Blue did for cops, or unqualified worship either. It’s about time we had an honoring yet balanced movie. And it has a surprise non-Hollywood ending that totally threw me. What I love about this is that it starts with the hero, played by Joqauin Phoenix, facing certain doom trapped in a huge burning building, and then the entire movie is a flashback of his life, which pretty much embodies the notion of having your life flash before you when facing death. I loved that about it. We need to think more about death, because it forces us to examine our lives, what is so important to us, what we are wasting time on, and so forth. The firefighting episodes throughout were just realistic yet interesting, no fantastic FX or impossible feats of firemen leaping 20 feet to safety and all the typical outrageous action stunts that Hollywood thinks we need to be satisfied. How refreshing. What I did not like about the movie is a couple of things. First of all, yet another movie that deals with death and the meaning of life and it totally ignores God. This disingenuiness is multiplied by the fact that the only reference to religion at all is the mention that most of them are Catholic and then they play a funny “confession” prank on the newbies. No Problem there. We all have fun. But then not a single other reference to God is made throughout the entire film, as if these men do not think about God when facing death, as if God is not relevant to Catholics. Look, God becomes relevant to atheists when facing death. This is a sad and deep lacking in the souls of the moviemakers that makes them try to ignore the real spiritual side of this job of heros. Another major weakness is in the lack of character arc in the hero. Actually, the lack of much of any motivation at all. We see him brood a lot, we see him struggle with his wife about wanting to take on more danger in his job in order to save lives, while she argues for the need to stay alive for his family, his children. Okay, good setup, but we never learn WHY he wants so badly to save lives. Throughout, he is a pretty two dimensional character, while the secondary character, the Captain, played By John Travolta, has more revelation than the hero. Though even here, it is not enough, we learn that the Captain follows in a line of firefighters in his family. Okay, that gives us a little understanding of where he is coming from, but nothing about the hero. So he remains too aloof and mysterious throughout the story. Someone that it is too hard to identify with because we don’t know WHY he does anything. Too unclear. But overall, great movie that elevates family, love, sacrifice, loving friendship and the heroism of firefighting.

Woman, Thou Art Loosed

Partially recommended. Very thoughtful and poetic. This movie does for black Gospel culture what The Apostle did for Pentecostal culture, it breaks the negative stereotypes while showing both good and bad of that subculture. It’s supposedly based on a composite of true stories of abused women, while remaining a fictional story. Basic plot: little girl is abused by single mom’s boyfriend and turns to drugs, stripping and hooking and eventually lands in jail. She then grows up and tries to reform but ends up killing her molester out of vengeance. But it is not exploitative in any of these sins. It deals with them in a very realistic yet tasteful way. The fact that it is R rated is because it is dealing with such subject matter, not because it is exploiting it. The dialogue was rather poetic at times, and they did a cool occasional insert of various characters “interviewing” with the camera as if it were a documentary. I liked this about it. Gave great insight into motives, and was very true and real to the way people think who justify their lack of action, their hypocrisy, their self-deception. The single mother who justifies living in sin with a lowlife because she doesn’t think she can get better, the lowlife who justifies his laziness with an appeal to how hard it is and his own counterfeit conversion. I loved how this movie did not degenerate into Spike Lee type propaganda or multicultural victim accusations and claims of entitlement. It showed people as RESPONSIBLE for their choices in life, and did not blame it on “the man.” It showed how the Gospel culture is abused by many who use Jesus as a cover for falsehood, but it showed true Christians trying to be real with their Christianity too. Some who say “Praise Jesus” in black culture really mean it. Very balanced. Very odd, though, the movie ends on an almost hopeless ironic swapping of heroine and villain. Right at the point where the villain, the molester, seems to have true and genuine repentance at the altar of a revival, and is in the process of approaching the heroine to ask for forgiveness, to actually fess up to what he had denied and lied about for so long, the heroine, cannot take it and pulls out a gun and shoots him dead. So she ends up on death row. Interesting irony, that maybe is supposed to make us realize that those we think are heros can become villains, just as much as those who are villains can become heros, because in Christianity, we are all villainous at heart, and even the vilest sinner can truly repent. Then we see a most powerful moment when the molester, Reggie, has his interview with the audience and speaks about “just needing a little more time.” The perennial excuse or regret from those who wait too long to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the preacher who visits the heroine in jail, pushing for a reprieve (in an unbiblical moment), has a chance to challenge the heroine, but he doesn’t. She tells him to pray for her, and he says he will, “You gonna make it. I know you will.” Whereas, he should have said, “you need to do some yourself.” Favorite line of the movie, when the heroine, now in jail ready to die faces her own truth: “You can never really get even. What I did was wrong, no matter what he did to me.” You can never really get even. WHOA. What a repentant revelation. What a true repentance. You don’t see that too often in movies. An honest dealing with the worst of being wronged and yet an affirmation of responsibility. At the start, she is building a little model house without a door on it which symbolizes her own hopelessness and trapped feelings. But by the end, after the preacher talks to her, we see her little house has a door on it now. Hope for escape from her cycle of violence. WHAT I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT THE MOVIE: What really bothered me the most, and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t whole heartedly recommend the film is that it is a “glory piece” for an anti-Trinitarian heretic named T. D. Jakes. It’s one thing to have a marginalized theology, but a man who teaches outright heresy is the worst thing for the black community. (GO HERE to read an article about Jakes by CRI Journal: http://www.equip.org/free/DJ900.htm) He plays the preacher/wise man in the movie, and he plays himself, which is way too self-important in my opinion. Way too long scenes of the revival in the movie, too. Made it look way too much like a Black Billy Graham movie with its cliché stadium crusade in every movie.

I Heart Huckabees

Partially recommended with caution. I call this a philosophical farce. And that’s the only reason why I have any recommendation for it, because of its total original take (it’s about time too) on addressing philosophy in a movie – and with Tom Stoppard-like humor. Unfortunately, the story itself is rather uninteresting. Albert Markovski (played by Jason Schwartzman, all grown up since Rushmore) is a tree hugging lefty protesting against huge corporation Huckabees to keep it from plowing over a small marshland and putting up another one of its chain malls. But he’s losing control of his enviro-wacko coalition to his friend, Brad (played by Jude Law). He’s facing his own personal angst. A series of coincidences guide him to hire a husband wife team of Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, “existential detectives” who seek out meaning and purpose in people’s lives who can’t find any in the universe. They have a coincidence file on each subject. What I love about this story is how the philosophy is “in your face,” and an explicit part of the plot. Hoffman and Tomlin are “Monists” who specialize in “crisis investigation and resolution” as their business cards say. They seek to convince our hero Albert that his alienation is an illusion and that “There is not an atom in our bodies not forged in the furnace of the sun” and therefore, “There’s no such thing as you and me,” “everything is the same, even if it’s different,” because “the whole truth is, everything is connected.” Ultimately, Albert’s redemption will be his discovery that “everything you could want or be is everything you already are.” This is Eastern style self-enlightenment to our supposed deity within. But the problem is that the villain, in the form of French Nihilist writer Catarine Vauban and her disciple, played by Mark Wahlberg, is also after our hero, to try to free him from the Monists to realize that “It’s all random and cruel,” “nothing is connected, there is no meaning,” to life, “the world is temporary, identity is an illusion, and everything is meaningless.” What a riot! Two diametrically opposite philosophies battling for Albert’s soul – quite literally. Who will win? In a great metaphor for the power of death to get us thinking about life, Hoffman has Albert engage in therapy that consists of zipping up into a body bag to achieve an altered state of consciousness of sorts (sensory deprivation and all that) where he can give up “your identity that you think separates you from everything.” The Nihilist, (who should have been a German, not a Frenchwoman), lures Albert under her wing for a while and he faces his parents who “made him feel bad for feeling bad,” in other words, Sartre’s “bad faith” of not accepting one’s complete freedom from others. Well, okay, maybe the French gave us the existentialists Sartre and Camus, but The Germans gave us Nietzsche, but then again the French gave us Foucault and Derrida, the pomo stepchildren of nihilism, so I guess it’s okay for the villain to be French. In a funny scene that captures the nihilist notion of meaning through masochistic pain, Albert and Wahl hit each other with a big blow-up hippity-hop ball for kids. In the experience of pain, they receive their enlightenment that “it’s like I’m a rock or a piece of mold. I’m here, but not here.” A much tamer version of the same darker expression in Fight Club. And when Albert has sex with his French philosophical seductress (her real agenda, how revealing), it begins with an erotic forceful splashing of each other’s heads in a puddle of mud. Ah, the “absurd drama of human existence.” The witty repartee and philosophical bantering back and forth about ontology, metaphysics, “desire, suffering and pure being” is all rather clever and enjoyable for those interested in philosophy. There is a great creative scene where Hoffman debates with Wahl about their opposing ideas of monism versus atomism. As they talk, little pieces of their faces break apart and float around. Hoffman explains that all the molecules are connected and we see them flowing around, then Wahlberg says, yes, but there are spaces in between the molecules or cracks in between the floating pieces, thus reinforcing his atomism of alienation. And they go on like this down to the smallest particles that still have cracks between them. Do we accept the cracks and pain of total alienation or do we believe this is illusion and embrace our oneness with all things? There’s a great subplot where Jude Law’s Brad is enlightened to his need for redemption by realizing that he tells a funny story over and over to many people that elevates himself at the expense of famous singer Shania Twain. His redundant telling is an obvious attempt to make himself feel good so he “doesn’t have to face his depression.” Some real truth in some of this existential and monist gobbledygook. At the end, Albert, in a Forrest Gump-like climax asks if these two philosophies are working together, because it’s like they’re both “fractured philosophies that are born out of one pain,” one is too light (monism) and one is too dark (nihilism), and we are reminded of Forrest at Jenny’s grave saying, “Is life all random like, floating around like a feather or do we have a destiny? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s both at the same time.” As Albert concludes, “We’re interconnected, but it’s nothing special.” And there we have the absurdity of existential and monist philosophy, wanting to have the cake of illusion or meaninglessness and eat meaning and value too. Uh uh, sorry, guys, if monism is right, then love and cruelty are ultimately ONE, as I’ve said before, Hitler is ONE with Mother Theresea. Love and hate are ONE, and you cannot make a “distinction between good and evil” because you’ve already said that “distinction” between things is the problem and we must deny such identity of being. So when the Monist tries to tell you that there is a distinction between your “distinctive” thinking and the reality of oneness, he is outright negating his own philosophy in expressing it. He is using distinction and identity while denying it. Metaphysical hypocrisy – and moral hypocrisy I might add. And if nihilism is right, then all attempts at creating meaning for ourselves is pure delusion. The fact that even nihilists are not consistent and do not commit suicide is because they are created by God with his image and know God, but suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness, trying to escape their responsibility to their Creator while maintaining the sanity of his benefits. (Romans 1:17-23) When a nihilist uses reason, he negates his own philosophy because reason assumes a universe of law-like order – Logos. The Nihilist assumes meaning while denying it. Well, I won’t go on. Unfortunately a couple things degrade the movie. First, the hero begins the opening moments of the film cussing his head off like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film, F-words galore. In a way, this is entirely consistent with the heart of his despair, but some may find it offensive. Another thing ticked me off. Of course, when dealing with metaphysical issues, what about religion? Ah yes, there is a completely gratuitous Christian-bashing scene full of the standard clichés and bigoted prejudices against Christians and Christianity. Albert and his Nihilist friend who is a fireman obsessed with petroleum conspiracy theories, visit a house that happens to be the home of a Christian family. As they eat lunch, they end up fighting because of course, the Christians are portrayed as ignorant fools who, “don’t ask those kind of questions” that are disturbing, because “curiosity killed the cat.” In other words, fear driven self-imposed ignorance about the real questions of life. When they leave the house, Albert and Wahl tell each other, “They’re crazy.” “Yeah, there’s nothing good in there.” Okay, Christianity has nothing good to say to these philosophical bigots. Ironically, Christianity is the only worldview that provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of anything beyond mute silence – and even silence itself! The Nihilist and Monist could not even argue that the Christian is wrong or “crazy” unless there is an absolute objective external order that defines truth beyond our personal subjective creations. Like the child sitting on the father’s lap trying to slap the father. This is the biblical definition of a fool: “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)