Interview With Creators of Scientology Documentary

This is an interview with the director and writer of Going Clear, the new HBO documentary coming out about Scientology.  There are also some clips from the film.  It’s a brief interview, but I think an interesting one.  What interests me about this film, aside from the fact that something as strange as Scientology is interesting in and of itself, is that from what I’ve read, and from what they say in this interview, this film provides a window in belief and religion at large.  Why do otherwise intelligent people believe in things which are just not credible?

Bring On the Lucie and the Influence of Yoko Ono

I was reading a piece over at Rolling Stone about Yoko Ono’s upcoming show at the Museum of Modern Art.  I have long felt that Ono got a bad rap.  Even if her own work doesn’t appeal to you, I think that she was essential in helping John Lennon in becoming the artist that he eventually became.  Well it can be debated as to the amount, there is no doubt that she WAS an influence on his solo career, especially on his more emotionally bare and politically fearless work.  I don’t think you can be a fan of Lennon’s solo work and dislike Yoko Ono.

Ever since I saw the John Lennon song above at the end of the absolutely brilliant film Children of Men, I have loved it.  (Children of Men is one of those rare movies that is brimming with intelligence and ideas, that also thoroughly entertains.)  A less well known track off of Mind Games, it is an upbeat political anthem.  (The song Mind Games will always be my favorite Lennon solo song.)

Thoughts On the Wolf of Wall Street

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Last night I watched The Wolf of Wall Street for the second time.  I probably enjoyed it even more this time as the movie has so many great performances and scenes.  Even many of the actors that are in the margins of the movie shine.  The movie is long and dense, so I still don’t feel qualified to give it a proper review.  However, there were a couple interesting ideas that I picked up on.

I think it is good that the movie didn’t try too hard to judge the characters.  Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, a great film in its own right, was a condemnation of the kind of behavior that took place on Wall Street in the 80’s and it still ended up serving as inspiration for modern day traders.  The Wolf of Wall Street documents the decadent and depraved nature of its characters, but for the most part it stops at documentation, and doesn’t try to relay any heavy moral message, as that hasn’t really proved effective in the past even when it is extremely well done.

I can’t help but view The Wolf of Wall Street as a comedy about the absurdity of capitalism.  These people are entirely despicable, in every way possible, yet these are the people that run our world.  In the beginning of the movie the working class is portrayed as “suckers” by these people for not having what it takes to get ahead.  Even the other rich, anyone that dares trust these people with their money, are laughed at and mocked.  This movie paints our whole capitalist system as some kind of perverse joke.  One of the most telling scenes in the movie is when Jordan Belfort, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, changes the name of his company to Stratton Oakmont to give it a respectable old money waspish sounding name.  Respectability is nothing but an illusion used to steal money from the “suckers” of the world.

But again this movie treats these people as animals in the zoo.  They are not so much treated as bad guys, but as a strange species that we allow to roam, to the detriment of all.  They make a mockery of our society, because we let them.

Best Movies of 2014 Not At Oscars

Best Films of 2014 That You Won’t See At Oscars

The article linked above is a list of the best movies that came out in 2014 that aren’t part of the Oscars.  In truth, I have only seen one of these movies, so I can’t vouch for this list.  However, the movie I did see, Under the Skin, was easily one of the best movies that I saw last year, so I am willing to give the list the benefit of doubt.  Under the Skin is a science fiction movie starring Scarlett Johansson.  It has a slow art-house pace to it, though it is clearly made by a filmmaker that knows how to produce incredibly striking images.  It is also the best kind of science fiction film, one that will make you reflect on the world around you.

Birdman, Confusing Appreciation With Love, and The Virtue of Ignorance,

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Yesterday the weather in Austin was like the movie Bladerunner.  After being sequestered in my house all day, I started getting stir crazy.  I finally decided I had to get out for awhile and I went to see the movie Birdman.  The movie stars Michael Keaton and it is as fantastic as all of the reviews say it is.  It is one of those rare movies that is full of ideas, completely original, and is extremely accessible.  The human drama of it and the pacing are enough to keep one involved in every moment of the movie, even if one didn’t get off on all of the multiple levels of ideas and meaning in every scene.  It is extremely funny, sometimes sad, and often poignant.  The movie itself is largely about the human ego.  It follows Keaton as a washed up actor trying to make a comeback, as actors, and artists in general, are a great subject to be able to examine the ego with.

One of the key lines in the film is about how Keaton is confusing admiration for love, which is something that so many people get confused on.  People often confuse being appreciated for something they do, whether that is art they make, being good at their job, being a great athlete, whatever, with being loved for who they are as a person.  Being appreciated for something you do is a superficial kind of love where people are only approving of one aspect of your life, that has nothing to do in the overall picture of who you are as a person.  Whereas, if someone loves you they accept you for who you are, warts and all.  As soon as you stop being good at what you are doing, appreciation can fade, whereas love should continue.  I think that is why so many people in the entertainment industry, or in the public eye in general, have egos that have run amuck.  It is also why so many are needy emotionally.  Being appreciated is a thing that has to be constant to fulfill.  If you have even just a couple people that really love you, you know that it is fulfilling in a way that all of the appreciation in the world can never equal.

The subtile of the movie is The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.  I had a really strange experience on the way into the movies.  This movie was in South Austin, the height of hipsterdom.  While I was walking out of the parking garage there was a couple that looked like they were in 70’s costumes.  Every article of clothing they wore was straight out of that decade, even if they were in times with current fashion.  Then next to me sat a rocker looking couple where the guy had long blonde hair and a bandana, like Bret Michaels, but more hip.  It was like I was at a costume party at the movies, but these weren’t costumes, just people dressing to some kind of strange fashion ideal.  But fashion is a construct created by society and has nothing to do with if someone is a good person or not.  All of a sudden the movie title and subtitle came up and it all made sense.  Although you can still play with fashion if you are aware it is all a game, how much easier is it to take yourself seriously in one of those get ups if you are ignorant of the construct?

Also, isn’t it morally easier for someone to sellout, if they never had integrity in the first place.  Although there are some people that definitely “sellout”, I would imagine that many people in the public eye are ignorant of the ethical quandaries that, say, endorsing some product bring up.  If you buy into the larger economic system, or are even completely unaware of what is going on, isn’t it so much easier to go along with the program?  In modern society ignorance is a virtue to some degree.

Anyway, those were just two of the ideas that the movie gave me.  It really has so much going on, on so many levels, in not only the ideas that it contains, but also in the way that it is constructed as a movie.  It is a fantastic viewing experience that I think most people would like, even if they aren’t consciously aware of all the ideas the movie is bringing up.  It is entertainment in the best sense, in that it completely sweeps you into its world, holds your attention, yet it also somehow does the trick of making you think at the same time.  And I should mention again that it is often funny as hell!

Matt Taibbi On American Sniper, Hollywood, and War

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This is another article from the always interesting Matt Taibbi, about not only the movie American Sniper, but also the way Hollywood distorts war. 

I have read several books about how the military influences the outcome of movies and how entertainment is taking over every aspect of life.  On the first subject, a real simple fact:  The military will give access to military equipment to productions that paint the military in a favorable light.  If a production does not paint the military in a favorable light, they will not get that access, which in turn can often lead to increased budgets.  As I do not know the backstory, although it very well may pertain to this film, this is not to imply that this is the case with American Sniper.  

My point in any post is not to pass judgment on a film I have not seen, nor to present facts that I don’t know.  I simply want people to think critically when going to movies that have a political nature to them.  Movies take millions of dollars to get made.  What is a movie trying to say?  Who benefits both monetarily and ideologically from a film?  If the movie is a fictionalized version of real events, what are the distortions and why were they made?  These kinds of questions and more should be asked when seeing a movie of any political stripe. 

And yes I said I would not put up any more thoughts having to do with American Sniper until I had seen it. However, I thought this article was too thought provoking not to share. I also think that it deals with ideas and themes outside the orbit of that single film.

American Sniper: Divide and Conquer

I want to talk one last time about the controversy surrounding the movie American Sniper, at least until I’ve seen it.  So much of history has been divide and conquer.  You saw this in the South during Reconstruction, where poor blacks and whites were pitted against each other instead of forming a union against the oppressive few.  But it seems like, concerning the movie, you have one side claiming that we shouldn’t make mythical heroes out of trained killers, and the other claiming that we should honor all of our men and women in uniform.  Both arguments can have their valid points, depending on the context and how they are made.  However, why argue over this when both sides should be arguing for peace?  Peace will prevent innocent lives being lost on either side of the divide.  Peace will ensure that our men and women don’t have to kill in our names.  It will also ensure that these men and women don’t come home maimed, psychologically damaged, or worst of all, in body bags.  Yet while our positions harden as insults from both sides reign down, over a fucking movie, the “owners” are planning the next geopolitical move that will lead to more death.