Donnie Darko – Another Look

DIRECTORS CUT:

Incidents when the fabric of the fourth dimension becomes corrupted are incredibly rare…If a tangent universe occurs, it will be highly unstable, sustaining life for no longer than several weeks…Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the primary universe capable of destroying all existence.

2: Water and metal are the key elements of time travel…Water is a barrier element for the construction of time portals used as gateways between universes at the tangent vortex.

3: …Which is to assist the living receiver in returning the artifact to the primary universe…The manipulated living will do anything to save themselves from oblivion.

4: When a tangent universe occurs, those living nearest to the vortex will find themselves at the epicenter of a dangerous new world…Artifacts provide the first sign that a tangent universe has occurred…If an artifact occurs, the living will retrieve it with great interest and curiosity. Artifacts are formed from metal, such as an arrowhead from ancient Mayan civilization, or a medal sword from medieval Europe. 

6: The living receiver is chosen to guide the artifact into position for its journey back to the primary universe…No one knows how or why a receiver will be chosen…The living receiver is often blessed with fourth dimensional powers. These include increased strength, telekenesis, mindcontrol, and the ability to conjure fire and water…The living receiver is often tormented by terrifying dreams, visions and auditory hallucinations during his time within the tangent universe.

10: The Manipulated Dead

9: The manipulated dead will set an Ensurance Trap. The living receiver must ensure the fate of all mankind.

12: Dreams (7 stars w/ eye)…When the manipulated awaken from their journey into the tangent universe, they are often haunted by the experience in their dreams…Many of them will not remember…Those who do remember the journey are often overcome with profound remorse for the regretful actions buried within their…

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Mike Binder’s “The Upside of Anger”: Toast to the Wisdom of Young Adults

The Upside of Anger is a film starring Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, Evan Rachel Wood and Mike Binder. This movie is a drama/comedy that the whole family can enjoy.

Essentially it surrounds Terry, a mother whose husband has left her. So she turns to her two vices: Drinking and Rage. Denny, the ex-baseball player turned DJ, plays the role of the next door neighbor who takes a keen interest in Terry. At first they become drinking buddies, and then it escalates into something more, but not cliché and not how you’d expect in a typical Hollywood film (perhaps why this one fell under the radar.)

Things get complicated because Terry has four teenage daughters, all who are dealing with an absent father among other issues like school, pregnancy, career pressure and dating. Although I felt Russell did a good job in her role, it was Evan Rachel Wood who stole the show (no surprise there.) Her narrative at the end is particularly relevant- not just to the film, but to life.

But let me also say that this film is no Barfly or Leaving Las Vegas. If you’re looking for a movie about excess, this isn’t it. It also is not a movie about rage or anger either, despite what I mentioned earlier and what the film’s title is. Instead, this movie focuses on how family dynamics shift when a parental figure is left alone to make all the decisions; essentially, Terry uses anger to control her life and the lives of her children, but it’s only when she learns to let go that the “phase” of acceptance comes. For the majority of the movie, I wouldn’t say Terry is necessarily angry, but she’s definitely bitter (and perhaps the two go hand in hand.)

Overall, check out this film if you’re looking for some light comedy with a dash of dysfunctional-family drama.

Jeremy Eisener’s “5 Questions to Ask Before You Time Travel”: What Would You Be Leaving Behind?

Films about time travel have always fascinated me, probably because each one provides a unique angle on a subject that is still being theorized scientifically.

This short film, running at about 20 minutes, pays tribute to such films while remaining an original, in that it does ask questions about time travel, but essentially it’s a love story (Yes, I know that may make you think of films like About Time and The Time Traveler’s Wife, but this is different, and I’ll explain why.)

Chris, played by Topher Hansson, is crushed and disappointed in himself when he chooses to stay in town instead of moving to another city with his former girlfriend Lauren (played by Christine Celozzi.) Years later, working as a bartender, he receives both a story and a key from an older man that revolve around the themes of time travel and lost loves. What follows are some very casual yet ultimately philosophical remarks about what could or couldn’t happen if one opened a portal and could travel through time. Without giving away the plot too much, let’s just say that Chris’s best friend Julie, played excellently by Kimberly Mae Waller, is the “key.”

This film makes references to movies like Back to The Future, and even if it was unintentional, the random scene where Chris eats cereal in his “bunny suit” pajamas made me think of Donnie Darko (my favorite all-time time travel movie.) However, this film is pretty light in terms of discussing a very serious topic in a very real, down-to-earth way. I felt the best scene in the movie was when Chris and Julie are drinking beers, and Chris makes a literal display of the “fork in the road” theory, which would apply to him later.

As mentioned previously, this is a love story. But it’s not about two people who are married or who have secret abilities to bend time and space. This is a story about a relationship that already exists between two friends- the love is already there- but it’s only just beginning to bloom into something more.

And that’s where Eisener leaves us. Eisener should be given credit, not just as the director, but also as the producer, editor, writer, sound mixer, sound editor, sound designer and composer, to name a few. You can even hear a song by his band, The Motions, playing during the bar scene. Eisener also has an eye for talent, as actress Kimberly Mae Waller gave a truly believable performance- and I’m a tough customer.

Overall, this film made me wonder about the possibilities of changing the past, but moreover, that sometimes our present reality can also be our destiny. Bravo for a first effort.

John Cameron Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”: If it Makes You Cringe, Than You’re Not Worthy

It’s one of my goals this summer to save up and go see Darren Criss (aka Blaine on “Glee”) in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on Broadway. I first fell in love with Hedwig’s story a long time ago, probably around the time the movie came out, but having rewatched it again, I’ve become even more infatuated with it.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a band who is following around a bigger superstar named Tommy Gnosis who stole all of Hedwig’s songs. Hedwig was technically born a boy (Hansel), but always gravitated to the feminine side; the “angry inch” is a reference to his botched anatomy- a procedure that went horribly wrong after his mother and lover at the time insisted that in order for him to leave Berlin, he had to literally leave a piece of himself behind (Interestingly, while Hedwig embraces his “angry inch” for most of the film, the song “Angry Inch” is indeed, the most angsty song played by Hedwig and her band- lyrics include, “My sex-change operation got botched / my guardian angel fell asleep on the watch / now all I got is a Barbie-doll crotch / I got an angry inch.”)

Which brings me to the song-writing, which writer/producer Stephen Trask should have won numerous awards for. The last song performed, “Midnite Radio,” has always been my favorite. Lyrics include, “like your blood knows the way / from your heart to your brain / know that you’re whole / and you’re shining / like the brightest star / a transmission / on the midnite radio / and you’re spinning / like a 45 / ballerina / dancing to your rock and roll / here’s to Patti, and Tina, and Yoko, Aretha, and Nona, and Nico, and me / and all the strange rock and rollers / you know you’re doing all right / so hold on to each other / you gotta hold on tonight / lift up your hands.” (This song always reminded me a little of Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” perhaps why it’s my favorite.) This song is performed at the conclusion of the movie, when Hedwig sheds his wig and female persona and instead embraces both the male and female. This is why his tattoo is now complete and pretty much sums up the why this movie is full of ancient wisdom: Throughout the film, Hedwig was searching for his “other half,” but was unsure if his other half was male or female. He thought he found this other half within Tommy, but that clearly wasn’t meant to be. The scene when Tommy finally says goodbye to him (whether it was in Hedwig’s head or not) is beautiful because it made Hedwig realize that to make himself complete, he had to search within himself- to embrace both Hedwig and Hansel- child and adult- male and female.

To further my point, let’s look at the lyrics to “Origin of Love”:

When the earth was still flat,
And the clouds made of fire,
And mountains stretched up to the sky,
Sometimes higher,
Folks roamed the earth
Like big rolling kegs.
They had two sets of arms.
They had two sets of legs.
They had two faces peering
Out of one giant head
So they could watch all around them
As they talked; while they read.
And they never knew nothing of love.
It was before the origin of love.

And there were three sexes then,
One that looked like two men
Glued up back to back,
Called the children of the sun.
And similar in shape and girth
Were the children of the earth.
They looked like two girls
Rolled up in one.
And the children of the moon
Were like a fork shoved on a spoon.
They were part sun, part earth
Part daughter, part son.

The origin of love

Now the gods grew quite scared
Of our strength and defiance
And Thor said,
“I’m gonna kill them all
With my hammer,
Like I killed the giants.”
And Zeus said, “No,
You better let me
Use my lightening, like scissors,
Like I cut the legs off the whales
And dinosaurs into lizards.”
Then he grabbed up some bolts
And he let out a laugh,
Said, “I’ll split them right down the middle.
Gonna cut them right up in half.”
And then storm clouds gathered above
Into great balls of fire

And then fire shot down
From the sky in bolts
Like shining blades
Of a knife.
And it ripped
Right through the flesh
Of the children of the sun
And the moon
And the earth.
And some Indian god
Sewed the wound up into a hole,
Pulled it round to our belly
To remind us of the price we pay.
And Osiris and the gods of the Nile
Gathered up a big storm
To blow a hurricane,
To scatter us away,
In a flood of wind and rain,
And a sea of tidal waves,
To wash us all away,
And if we don’t behave
They’ll cut us down again
And we’ll be hopping round on one foot
And looking through one eye.

Last time I saw you
We had just split in two.
You were looking at me.
I was looking at you.
You had a way so familiar,
But I could not recognize,
Cause you had blood on your face;
I had blood in my eyes.
But I could swear by your expression
That the pain down in your soul
Was the same as the one down in mine.
That’s the pain,
Cuts a straight line
Down through the heart;
We called it love.
So we wrapped our arms around each other,
Trying to shove ourselves back together.
We were making love,
Making love.
It was a cold dark evening,
Such a long time ago,
When by the mighty hand of Jove,
It was the sad story
How we became
Lonely two-legged creatures,
It’s the story of
The origin of love.
That’s the origin of love.”

Besides the references to famous Gods in mythology, essentially what Hedwig was singing about follows the tradition of Hermeticism. This song subtly adheres to the concept of “as above, so below,” as well as the “three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe.” In particular, it relates to cosmogony, in that according to Hermes, God first created the androgynous man, yet man’s vanity in wanting to dwell in nature caused division; hence, genders were formed. Hermes asked, “O son, how many bodies have we to pass through, how many bands of demons, through how many series of repetitions and cycles of the stars, before we hasten to the One alone?” Hermes was most likely referring to reincarnation, and how humans will continue being reincarnated until they return to God- the Source- the One. As mentioned previously, this idea is brilliantly portrayed in the film’s ending, when we see Hedwig/Hansel’s tattoo, once two broken pieces, now as one. As Hedwig/Hansel walks nakedly out of the dark alley, he is as close to complete as a human being can get, in that he has embraced both male and female, and is being reborn- but this rebirth isn’t happening due to physical death, but instead, Hedwig has experienced a spiritual death, which is always followed by spiritual rebirth. I could also get into Jungian theories of the “shadow,” and how Hedwig has shed his ego/identity to become a new person, but it’s my belief that even those ideas are connected to the ancient wisdom of Hermes.

Essentially, Hedwig was a sage and prophet in his/her own way. Even the stage name Hedwig gives Tommy, “Gnosis,” is a word meaning knowledge or wisdom. When we see Hedwig seemingly adopting Tommy’s persona at the end, we must remember that #1, he gave Tommy that persona, and #2, it symbolizes Hedwig’s internal journey and quest for knowledge and wisdom that was within him/her all along.

One of the best scenes in the movie is when Tommy tries introducing Hedwig to bands like Boston, Europe, Asia and Kansas, and Hedwig replies, “I don’t like travel” (haha) She then introduces him to all the greats she listened to as a boy with her head literally in the oven: Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed (recently in the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lou’s inductor, Patti Smith, said one of the topics Reed was passionate about were those people who fall between genders- RIP Lou.)

Anyone who has ever “fallen between genders,” has been outcast, deformed (physically or mentally,) is a member of the LGBT community, or simply is androgynous- and has received flack from society because of it, whether it be a look of disgust or physical harm- you must see this film. It will change your life. It’s humorous in all the right places, but it will just as easily tear your heart out and gently put it back in, if you let it. That is, if you truly understand its message (And don’t just listen to me- form your own opinions, do your own research, then write your own review- I’d love to read it.)

John Cameron Mitchell, you are a brave soul, and Stephen Trask, your brilliance is astonishing. Rock on.

Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin”: A Beautiful Film That Forces You to Examine Your Own Coping Strategies

“Mysterious Skin” is Gregg Araki’s 2004 film, based on the novel by Scott Heim. The film stars Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Let’s start off by saying that this film isn’t for the faint of heart. Some may call it an “art film” or simply a film that made them so uncomfortable they either left the theater/turned it off or refused to peel back the layers of what was actually going on. As a huge Araki fan, I don’t know why it took me so long to find a copy of this movie (it’s not on Netflix- I actually had to do an inter-library loan to get it.) However, it was well worth the wait.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!!!

The film essentially begins with the voice-over/narratives of two young boys, describing the events that would change and shape their lives. These “events,” to put it lightly, took place when they were 8 years old, and let’s just say it involved a little league baseball coach who took a little too much interest in his players. Yes, this film contains scenes of sexual molestation between an adult and a child, although never in too graphic detail. Neil (played brilliantly by Levitt) claims the experience turned him on, and shaped him into the gay hustler he became as a teenager and into adulthood. Brian on the other hand (played by the underrated Corbet,) does not recall what happened to him; all he knows is that he would get nosebleeds and black out every time he thought of or had a dream about what happened- this leads him to believe for awhile that he was abducted by UFOs (not the first mention of UFOs in an Araki film, by the way.)

This film could have gone in many different directions, and since I haven’t read the book, I’m not sure if the book does this, but in the film, we literally go back and forth between the mind and experiences of both Neil and Brian. I think this was done on purpose- to show how the same experience can profoundly affect two people in such completely different ways. It hardened Neil into a wild, yet charismatic man who loved sex with strangers (although as we see in the film, he doesn’t heed the advice of his friend to be careful, and ends up paying the price for it.) On the other hand, it made Brian into a shy, introvert whose only friend was a UFO fanatic until he befriends one of Neil’s old friends accidentally.

But the reasons why this film is so beautiful is the opening and ending scenes…the beginning when we see what looks like fruit loops falling over Brian’s young head. And the ending, when we zoom out above the couch where Neil finally reveals to Brian what happened to him. Neil’s ending narrative goes something like this, “I wish we could rise like two angels in the night and magically disappear.” From this line alone (and also from Neil’s first experience,) we can tell that Neil was just as deeply affected as Brian was by the whole thing. The Christmas carolers singing “Silent Night” as the whole revelation unfolds was just so perfect in that moment; viewers wanted both Brian and Neil to be able to find some peace after everything they’ve been through.

In essence, “Mysterious Skin” is about loss of innocence; something both of the characters, and virtually everyone, can never get back. Unfortunately, no one should have to lose their innocence at such a young age. As for the title, I think it comes from the “blue light” that Brian remembers and mistakes for being an alien abduction, when really the blue light is the shade/color of the coach’s old house. But even more than that, what’s mysterious is how, as mentioned previously, two people with the same exact experience could end up on such different paths. When something traumatic happens to you, do you embrace it or repress it? Personally I can relate to Brian, but all I will say is that I’m happy he did finally reconnect with Neil and solve the mystery that was haunting him his whole life.

This is a beautiful film, but I don’t recommend trying to eat anything during it; I chain-smoked during its entirety, wanting to turn my head away at times, but knowing that if I did, I would miss something. Like all of Araki’s films, the soundtrack to this movie is incredible, featuring music from bands like Slowdive, Cocteau Twins and Ride.

Etgar Keret’s “Kneller’s Happy Campers” vs. Goran Dukic’s “Wristcutters: A Love Story”: The Movie Wins This Time & Why You Should See It

I fell in love with “Wristcutters: A Love Story” the first time I saw it, and it remains in my “top five movies to take on a desert island” list (not to mention my “top five favorite movies of all-time” list.) So I decided to read the book it was based on, called “Kneller’s Happy Campers.” I must say, although books tend to trump or at least be equal to the TV or film versions, this is an exception (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Let’s first look at the similarities between the two. In the book, the main character does work at a Kamikaze pizza chain; Eugene’s whole family did kill themselves; the story is the same about Eugene slapping his brother in regards to “the meaning of life”; Zia’s ex’s name is Desiree; Zia has a conversation in the store with a former friend about how suicides happen in threes; Eugene does mention seeing Arab drivers on their journey; Eugene says that Desiree has probably moved on with “some black guy who hanged himself by his dick” (a brilliant line); Kneller talks about how miracles have to be insignificant in order to work; there is a beach that Mikal and Zia wake up on that’s full of used needles and condoms.

Now let’s look at the differences. First of all, the names in the book are all different. Zia is Mordy, Eugene is Uzi and Mikal is Leehee. In the book, Uzi killed himself with a gun; in the film he electrocuted himself with beer and a guitar. The same with Mordy; in the book, at least from what I remember, he kills himself by using pills or poison, not by slitting his wrists like Zia does in the film (in the book, there’s a term for women who kill themselves with pills or poison: ‘a Juliet’- aka someone who arrives to this afterlife with no scars.) In the book, Kneller tells the threesome to call him “Rafi,” while in the movie he prefers to be called Kneller. In the book, they stay at Kneller’s for a month; in the movie it only seems like a couple days (although the director probably had to make it that way to save screen-time.) In the book, Kneller grows and smokes weed, which isn’t apparent in the movie, and in the book, there is no “crooked tree” story when the threesome arrive; instead, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is played when they arrive. In the book, Mordy tells Uzi about Leehee’s remark that she got here by accident because of overdosing, while in the movie, Zia doesn’t tell Eugene (in the book, Uzi’s response to Zia is, “Believe me, Mordy, nobody dies from a first time, no matter of what, unless they seriously want to.”) Which again brings up another difference; in the book, Leehee says she only tried heroin once and overdosed on the first try, while in the movie it’s never stated if Mikal was a junkie or not (although she doesn’t seem like one.) Oh yeah, and all the characters in the book are Israeli, most likely due to Keret’s origins.

The biggest difference, however, is the ending. In the book, Leehee meets the “people in charge,” however Mordy never sees her again. Instead he stays in this limbo-like place. In the movie, if you’ve seen it, you know that Zia travels through the “black hole” in Eugene’s car as Kneller pulls his file, and he wakes up in a hospital bed next to Mikal; in other words, they both return to the land of the living. Perhaps this is why the movie has “a love story” in its title, but moreover, the movie has more of a happy ending. Happy endings can be overrated, I know. But if you’ve seen this fantastic film, you know that this film is anything but corny or superficial. The ending shot of Mikal turning over and smiling at Zia is perfect and priceless.

Of course, another difference is that in the movie, there’s music; namely, the song “Through the Roof ‘n’ Underground” by Gogol Bordello (which in the film, used to be Eugene’s band before he offed himself.) Who can forget the scene where Eugene, Mikal and Zia sing along and make funny faces? The song is brilliant, and is easily considered the film’s theme-song. Lyrics include, “when there is trap / set up for you / in every corner of this town / and so you learn the only way to go is underground / when there’s a trap / set up for you / in every corner of your room / and so you learn the only way to go is through the roof.”  I’m not sure if this was the band’s intentions, but clearly the song can be interpreted as a “fun” look at suicide (interestingly, the lead singer of Gogol Bordello’s name is Eugene; perhaps why the director chose the name Eugene in the movie.)

Which brings me to my next point: Yes, this is a movie about suicides, but no, it is not one bit depressing. Yes, in the beginning when Zia cleans his room, cuts his wrists, works a dead-end job, gets drunk and depressed over Desiree, etc., it may not seem this way. However, once he and Eugene start driving, and especially when Mikal comes into the picture, the entire film shifts into a semi-romantic black comedy. If you think about it, the fact that after Zia kills himself he ends up “in an even bigger shithole,” but doesn’t go into a state of blackness or nothingness, or better yet, hell (even though to Zia this place seems like hell in the beginning,) is proof that this film is perfect for those who enjoy dry or deadpan humor. It can even be considered a “road movie,” as much of it takes place in a car (come to think of it, I forget whether or not Uzi’s car in the book had a “black hole” in it; nonetheless, it’s one of the most funny, interesting aspects of the film.)

The book does have a few perks, which include Mordy mentioning that Kneller was actually an “undercover angel,” which isn’t specified in the movie. There are a couple quotes I wrote down from the beginning of the book which describe the type of place this afterlife is: Says Uzi, “The fact that nothing happens (here) is a given. But as long as nothing happens, at least let it be in a place with girls and some music.” Mordy says, “I think there’s this thing that after you off yourself, with the way it hurts and everything- and it hurts like hell- the last thing you give a shit about is somebody with nothing on his mind except singing about how unhappy he is. I mean if you gave a flyin’ fuck about stuff like that you’d still be alive, with a depressing poster of Nick Cave over your bed, instead of winding up here” (perhaps the biggest similarity between the book and film is that the place suicides go to is described in both as the same as when you were alive in reality, except things are a little bit shittier, and in the film, there are no stars and nobody smiles.)

But back to the film…I’ve recommended this movie to several people, and they all said they wouldn’t watch it or weren’t interested in it, mostly because the title made them think about a bleak movie, or perhaps because it triggered some of their own losses they experienced in life. I was never extremely close to anyone who committed suicide, but I had acquaintances who either killed themselves on purpose or overdosed; perhaps a mixture of both. All I know is that this movie made me see suicide in a whole new light; both because of these losses, and because I myself have thought about suicide plenty of times. This is why I recommend seeing the movie over reading the book, as in the movie, the characters get a chance to come back to life. While this doesn’t happen in real life, you can’t help but wonder: What if it could? And what if my/your loved one who committed suicide didn’t just vanish but is actually in another dimension quite similar to this one?  We’ll never know if Uzi was right about Leehee in the book because we never know if she was sent back. But in the film, it’s clear that her overdose really was an accident, hence why the “P.I.C” sent her back to earth. Going back to the ending of the film, as I mentioned earlier, this scene isn’t just bittersweet; at least in my eyes, it made me see, like Zia did in the end, that if looked at the right way, heaven can be on earth, no matter how harsh reality is (I also very strongly connected to Kneller’s concept of “little miracles” in that, personally, I feel like the law of attraction doesn’t work for me. If you are in the same boat as me, try not thinking about something, whether it’s something you want to happen or something you want NOT to happen; the less you think about it, the more you’ll get the results you want. It’s funny the way the universe works in terms of individuals, isn’t it?)

If they ever tried making a sequel to this, it would probably suck. However, I’m sure all “Wristcutters” fans are wondering what happened to Eugene and Nanuk, and most of all, if Zia and Mikal ever became a couple or, at the very least, maintained the same, strong friendship. One thing’s for sure- I bet Zia and Mikal are still fans of Eugene’s band.

I recommend this terrific indie film to anyone and everyone.

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” (2014): “The Moment Seizes Us”

In “Boyhood,” the moments do seize us, along with the characters and their quests for inner freedom. This isn’t just a film about a boy; this is a film about family, about individuality versus gender stereotypes, about technology versus nature, and about the roles we play and phases we go through which ultimately mold us into who we become. (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!)

The movie begins with a single mother (Olivia- played excellently by Patricia Arquette,) raising her two kids on her own. She literally tells her current boyfriend that she went from being a daughter to a mother. There was no in-between for her, and we see in the film that this in-between is what she’s constantly searching for. She marries then divorces men who seem kind to her and her kids at first, but eventually show their true colors of being physically or verbally abusive. Even though she’s searching for her piece of freedom, she never quits the role of being a good mother.

Ethan Hawke, who does a brilliant job as always, plays the biological father the kids only see every other weekend. Although it’s never said forthright, it seems him and Olivia broke up due to the uneven roles of her responsibility as a mother and his flexibility as a father. But he’s not a deadbeat; he’s flawed but he does his best to be the “fun dad” and make his kids happy. One of the best scenes in the movie is when he gives Mason (the main character) “The Black Album”- aka, his own personal mix of the best solo work from Paul, John, George and Ringo. The dialogue in this moment is excellent, and it’s clear throughout the film that Mason gets his artistic-side from both parents (his father is a musician; his mother is an intellectual.)

As for Mason (played by up-and-coming actor Ellar Coltrane,) we can tell from the opening scene, in which he’s laying in the grass, watching the clouds drift across a blue sky, that he’s a dreamer. He goes through all the adolescent phases, like graffiti, lingerie catalogs and video games, but eventually he finds his medium through photography. He has tough skin, but inside he’s sensitive and an ultimate observer of the world around him. Some quotes from him include the following: “I’m just so furious at all these people who are controlling me, even though they don’t realize they’re doing it” and “We’ve been chemically programmed to be brainwashed” (this latter quote in context was him referring to the dopamine rush we get when we hear the noise of receiving something in our inbox.) Mason makes several references of his aversions to technology, though without being hypocritical, as he does own a cell phone like the rest of society.

What I loved most about this film is there are no literal cues to tell you the timeline; instead the film uses music, haircuts and cultural symbols to let you know how much time has passed. For example, in the beginning, Coldplay’s “Yellow” is playing, and Liv reads her kids Harry Potter as a bedtime story. Next, we hear “Do You Realize” by the Flaming Lips and Liv cuts her hair short. Next we hear that annoying “Soulja Boy” song and see the FunnyorDie video of Will Ferrell and his daughter Pearl. Next, we see the young adults putting up Obama signs, and there is a mention of the Twilight books. A timeline only forms for Mason’s 15th birthday, his junior year (in which we hear Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”) and for his high school graduation.

Despite all of his male father-figures pushing the macho-stereotype on him, Mason remains an individual, and he discovers, especially through bonding with his father, that you don’t have to be alone to stay unique. I don’t often grade films, but this is a must-see film that deserved all the accolades it received and more. Linklater, you truly created something simple yet profound, innocent yet wise. Bravo.

Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear”: Exposing Scientology as a Business of Selling Souls (at a High Price)

Based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 novel, “Going Clear” is a documentary recently released on HBO that describes the history and hypocrisy of the “religion” known as Scientology.

Throughout the film are interviews with former members of the church, including director Paul Haggis and former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun. Also included are clips of past interviews with current members like John Travolta and Tom Cruise, who others feel have been threatened or brainwashed into staying with the church (and who refused to comment about the church’s practices in this documentary.)

Viewers get a brief synopsis of how the process begins (auditing- aka like therapy except eventually all your private, confidential information can be used against you.) We also learn terms like engrams, thetans, suppressive person and squirrel (a supressive person is anyone who is a threat to the church- like Nicole Kidman was when she was with member Tom Cruise; a squirrel is a former member that has threatened to expose the church’s teachings.)

We get a glimpse of who L. Ron Hubbard was- a writer, a madman, a wife-beater, and to some, a genius. But what the documentary made clear is that Dianetics and Scientology have its roots in two things: Science fiction and money. Hubbard eventually created rankings within the church, each rank costing more than the last to join. What would you get in exchange for your money? “The Bridge to Spiritual Truth.” Even if the auditing was bullshit, former members admitted that it initially helped them; however, when they finally reached the higher orders, and found out that the big secret of the universe revolved around a galactic overlord who froze bodies and dumped their souls into volcanoes trillions of years ago, most of their reactions were, “WTF?”

Although Hubbard was portrayed as no saint, it was his successor, David Miscavige, who truly seemed to embody the “anti-Christ” mentality. At the fancy galas where Miscavige and Cruise would speak, the setting is pseudo-magical- with winding staircases, balloons, laser lights and pyrotechnics. But inside the main headquarters and churches lay abuses and harassment to those who spoke out against the church or who considered leaving it. Members were separated from their children and families (one former member describes going to find her child- who was found sick and in a state of utter neglect.) Members who were considered possible subversives or whose auditing sessions weren’t going well were sent to “camps” where they performed tedious tasks like cleaning dirty bathrooms with a toothbrush (there’s even one mention of someone having to lick the floor clean.) Even when Hubbard was around, Sea Org members (a high rank) were thrown overboard from a ship for the same reasons mentioned above. Scientology apparently also believes that being gay is a perversion that can be cured through their religion. They even bullied the IRS into declaring the Church of Scientology a religion, so they could be tax-free; yet instead of giving money back to the community like most churches, they spent it on real estate all over the world.

The hypocrisy lies in the fact that in Hubbard’s original draft of this religion, he said that its members can leave at any time- that they still had free will. Yet members who left were met with harassment and abuse in many forms- similar to gang-stalking. But former members shouldn’t be blamed for taking the bait- even I was fascinated with the initial idea of being a part of something that could make the world a more spiritual place–that is, until I found out that this spirituality had a price tag.

Said Rathbun: “I regret and I’m ashamed of the entire experience.”

Said Haggis: “We willingly put cuffs on…If we can just believe something, than we don’t have to really think for ourselves, do we?”

Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash”: Student Becomes Teacher

Films about student-teacher relationships have always fascinated me, especially when the roles are reversed. One of my favorite movies that portrays this is Dead Poet’s Society, where the students are inspired by their teacher, and in the end, the teacher ends up learning a lesson about how bending the traditional rules of education can turn the herd into a collective of individual, free-thinkers. Whiplash is similar, with the exception of the education being in jazz music and the teacher being a grade-A asshole who throws chairs at students who hit a wrong key. (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Although you can’t take your eyes off the teacher (Fletcher- played by the brilliant J.K. Simmons,) the story surrounds the struggles of an aspiring jazz drummer/student named Andrew (played by up-and-coming actor, Miles Teller.) Andrew is willing to sacrifice relationships and pour blood, sweat and tears into his craft in order to be perfect and reach the high ranks of his heroes. Throughout the film, we can tell Andrew both worships and despises Fletcher and his methods.

After being fired from the school, Fletcher and Andrew have a conversation where Fletcher admits that his methods are extreme, however if he was lenient and used phrases like “good job,” he could be depriving the world of the next Charlie Parker. Andrew then makes the point that by pushing his students too hard, Fletcher could make an aspiring genius give up on his dreamS. I’ll leave you to watch the film to see what Fletcher’s response to Andrew is, as it ties in with the ending- one of the best endings I’ve ever seen in a film. In short, tables are turned in both directions.

This is a great film, that deserves more accolades. Even if you don’t like jazz, you’ll appreciate this film if you’re in any way a music lover.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point”: Blowing Up Commercialism

I’m not sure how exactly I stumbled upon the 1970 film, Zabriskie Point, but I think it had something to do with the film inspiring the video “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins. If you compare the two, there are many similarities, like the couples having an orgy in the desert, the image of ice cream and the painting of a mode of transportation. POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!

The film opens up with a meeting of young people discussing what a true revolutionary is. Mark, one of the people in attendance, doesn’t quite agree with the others’ opinions, yet he still feels changes should be made in regards to the people vs. authority. Next thing we know, Mark is a fugitive on the run, stealing a plane and landing it in Death Valley; it’s here where he meets Daria. The couple talks, makes love and eventually separates; despite Daria’s urging Mark to drive with her to Phoenix, he takes the plane back to L.A., where he is shot by the cops. Mark’s choice to do this was foreshadowed in his conversation with Daria, where Daria says, “There’s a thousand sides, not just heroes and villains,” and Mark says with conviction, “you have to pick a side.”

Driving to Phoenix, Daria hears on the radio of Mark’s demise. She then goes into the resort where her boss is planning to build something in the desert. It’s here where we really see Daria’s pain in regards to nature vs. commercialism. She passes by a pool where tourists are sun-bathing, but she lingers and allows herself to get wet by a natural flow of water coming off a rock. She passes by the meeting room, where she makes eye contact with a Native American servant; instead of Native Americans living on the land that was technically theirs to begin with, some are now forced to serve the white man. Before Daria descends the staircase, there is a shot of her boss putting his hand on an 8-spoked wheel; in Buddhist teachings, this wheel symbolizes preservation, while the number eight is associated with both chaos and wisdom. Besides these scenes, there are hints throughout the movie about how Daria feels about preserving the natural beauty of the earth. She talks about how miraculous it is that plants can grow in the desert, and throughout the film she wears a green dress.Coincidentally, the bright colors shown in the film, while may appearing like a positive thing, actually represent commercialism- from the colorful outfits and car the tourists are wearing/driving, to the bright red porter potties in the desert, even to the painting of the plane. The director/cinematographer did a wonderful job of contrasting the natural beauty of the desert to the artificial beauty of material things.

The ending is the best part, however. Although I was unsure whether or not Daria and the Native American woman planted a bomb, or if it was all in Daria’s imagination, the film ends with the resort exploding- we see commercialized brands being blown to bits, as well as books, clothing and other objects. While many say this scene occurred in Daria’s mind, I like to think that she did plant a bomb on there; that would give the movie a twist, as we wouldn’t expect Daria to do that due to the peaceful sentiment she showed throughout the film. It also would have been a beautiful tribute to Mark, who died trying to be a revolutionary, while Daria actually was one.

Although there are some holes in this film, like random characters showing up out of the blue, it doesn’t take away from the film’s true message: “There’s a place where dreams always stay so young.”