Apocalypse Now and Then

September 14, 2008

apocalypse now
Coppola’s classic is considered by some to be the greatest war film of all time

A great cliché about war states that it brings out the best and worst in humanity. War results in a situation where the rules are thrown out, safeguards are dropped, and the extremes are allowed into the mainstream since “war is a continuation of politics by other means” as Clausewitz said long ago. Cruelty, treachery, kindness, heroism, are all amplified and become more prominent on this horrific stage. The Arab word “Jihad” is quite poignant when it comes to matters of war since it refers to both an internal and external struggle. And it’s precisely the essence of this dual-front battle that makes Apocalypse Now more than just a great war movie.

Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the Vietnam War setting serves as the external struggle and the backdrop to the more important battle, the one inside the soul.

Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) represents the inner struggle of the soul. A very talented and intelligent man, the tragedy of the war shakes the philosophical underpinning of his being and makes him reevaluate his entire existence. This reflection leads him to strip his identity old identity away and build a new one better suited to his new self. Yet his movement from the old to the new isn’t complete and the arrival of Captain (Marting Sheen) only reinforces the conflict within him. Coppola’s ambiguity nevertheless suggests that Kurtz is cognizant of the purpose behind Willard’s visit and blesses his own liquidation by his hands. Kurtz’s approval of his own slaughter demonstrates that he himself has no control over his own self even while he serves as a God-King over a tribe of hill natives who quake in fear of him. Therefore his elimination is seen not only as necessary, but as a release from the torment that he is going through. Read the rest of this entry »

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Zeppo Marx – the bridge between order and anarchy

September 12, 2008

zeppo
Zeppo Marx as Horatio Jamison in the 1930 Marx Brothers Film Animal Crackers. As usual, Zeppo plays straight man to his brother Groucho.

Growing up in the pre-cable TV era, our choices of programming were quite limited and local television stations had to rely on old movies and reruns due to the high cost of producing original broadcasting. Even though our selection was limited it was a blessing in disguise. Other than TCM buffs (like myself) and the annual Christmas showings of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol (the one starring Alistair Sim is the best, by the way), how often are the kids of today seeing the old black and white classics?

Some of my fondest memories growing up were thanks to these old Hollywood productions. I grew up watching Our Gang/Little Rascals on Saturday mornings which would play after the new cartoons of the time. On weekend evenings, my father and I would laugh hysterically at Laurel and Hardy and especially The Three Stooges. These shows would be repeated endlessly, and you’d learn them word for word, and slap by poke. They would take you back to a time that seemed so much simpler, so much more trusting and maybe naive. Whether it was real or not was beside the point.

Early Sunday afternoons, one of the stations broadcasting from Buffalo would play movies starring The Marx Brothers. At that age, Harpo Marx was by far the funniest because of his physical comedy. Whether mugging for the camera or revealing the inventory of his cloak, it was an easy segue from the physical comedy of Laurel and Hardy/The Three Stooges to Harpo. Yet I wasn’t completely sold on the Marx Brothers since so much of their humour went over my head. Nevertheless, I knew what I was watching was special and that there would be a time when I’d be better able to understand it and appreciate it. Read the rest of this entry »


(Neo)Neo-Realism a big hit at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival

September 10, 2008

rourke
Mickey Rourke gives a performance of a lifetime in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”

Like any event with a history, the cries of “sell out” appear pretty quickly and then reappear over and over again. The Toronto International Film Festival has not been immune to these accusations from film purists. This year the purists seem to have scored a small victory. Thanks to the chaotic state of the American economy plus Hollywood in general, studios have held back from unleashing their big ticket products in Toronto. The A-list stars are all here ensuring the cachet of the festival, but the films harken back to a more art house time.

This year’s festival has been marked by the strong return of realism. The film falling into the realist camp garnering the most buzz has been Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke. A.O. Scott of the New York Times takes a look at the resurgence of realism:

These are not the usual indie touchstones — we’ve already seen enough would-be Tarantinos, Altmans, Scorseses and Cassaveteses for one lifetime — but rather the new masters whose names seems to resonate everywhere except in American mainstream movie culture. “Treeless Mountain” shows a clear thematic affinity with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Nobody Knows,” while in mood and tone it recalls some of the work of the Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien and the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami.

click here to read the rest of the article


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Why Gordon Gekko Got it Wrong: Michael Shermer and Evolutionary Economics

August 18, 2008

Michael Douglas
“Greed is Good” – Michael Douglas as the corporate vulture Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”

The scene is certainly an unforgettable one. Gordon Gekko, the notorious Wall Street corporate vulture, stands in front of a shareholder meeting playing Robin Hood to the unsuspecting people in attendance as he confronts the executives of the company and pulls off a hostile takeover by appealing to peoples’ baser instincts when explaining that “greed is good”.

Although Gekko was meant to represent the cutthroat corporate culture of America in the high-flying 80s, many took his philosophy to heart. The argument went that man’s selfishness is what has propelled human invention and evolution. But is that the case?

Michael Shermer, writer, historian, and founder of The Skeptics Society tells us that this argument is in fact completely wrong. Read the interview with Michael Shermer here. Here’s a sample:

Why, if capitalism is so great, did the Enron scandal occur? Some have suggested that it was a few bad apples in the corporation.

The “bad apples” theory doesn’t explain what really happened at Enron, and it doesn’t explain the nature of corporate evil. Jeff Skilling, the CEO of Enron, set up what he thought was a Darwinian marketing environment. Skilling was a fan of Richard Dawkins’s important book The Selfish Gene, which Skilling misread. He took it to mean that evolution is driven by cutthroat competition and self-centered egotism. He liked the notion of the “survival of the fittest.” Skilling set up a Peer Review Committee, which became known as “rank and yank.” Everybody was ranked on a scale of one to five, and 20 percent of all fives had to be fired. The reviews were posted on a company website with a picture of the employee, increasing the potential for personal humiliation. Good luck being able to go out and have some fun with your teammates. Teammates! These are people who may be taking my job. Once you set up an environment like that, people begin violating rules. Skilling’s evaluation system led to a lot of behind-the-scenes wheeling and back-door dealing between department heads and managers, swapping review evaluation points. In addition to his belief in an outdated and untenable doctrine of social Darwinism, Skilling was a high-risk taker — short on dopamine, we might conjecture. What causes corporate corruption is an environment of evil established by the founders, corporate executives, and managers — a corporate psychology — that creates situations that encourage our hearts of darkness to beat faster.


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The Philosophy of Woody Allen

August 15, 2008

Woody Allen
Nebbish, fatalistic, existentialist, etc….

I was lucky enough to be exposed to Woody Allen’s work at a young age. I vividly recall watching Bananas with my father on television some time in the early 1980s and I remember not only finding the slapstick humour hilarious (which my father is quite fond of) but also noting that there were a lot of “smart jokes” in the film, most of which I was too young to understand. Nevertheless, I filed away the name “Woody Allen” in my mind for future use.

When Arts & Entertainment Television was launched (back in the days when you’d actually get to see some real art on television), the station would play a lot of his films. It was then that I was introduced to his other classics such as Sleeper, Love and Death, Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and my personal favourite to this day, Manhattan. At this point I in my life I was able to catch not just his jokes, but also the philosophical dilemmas in his films that were so self-referencing and personal. His neuroses, his paranoia, his existentialist defeatism, all were on display in all their glory for us to watch, to sympathize with, and often to share. Rather than discuss the merits of Woody Allen’s films, I think it best to simply state that they’ve been both smart and funny: a combination that seems simple yet so foreign in a time when smart and funny rarely intersect. A time in which we now live where smart is often associated with irony and funny is now in the realm of pubescent toilet humour.

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Tarantino To Give WW2 the Resevoir Dogs Treatment

August 14, 2008

Quentin Tarantino
Acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino is remaking “Inglorious Bastards”

Reports are surfacing that the script for Quentin Tarantino’s newest project, a remake of the WW2 flick “Inglorious Bastards”, has been leaked online. Here’s a description:

But the film project by the US director of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, which is a remake of a 70s war film by Enzo Castellaris, has already created a furious response from German critics. One said the effects of the “collision” between pulp fiction and Nazi barbarity were “completely unpredictable”.

The film depicts scalpings, disembowelment and swastikas being engraved in foreheads as a group of American Jewish soldiers are airdropped into Nazi-occupied Europe to wreak revenge on the Germans.

and more:

“This is pop culture meets Nazi Germany and the Holocaust with an unprecedented force,” wrote the film critic of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Tobias Kniebe, in an attempt to sum up the explosive effect the film is likely to have in Germany.

The trouble is that little distinction is made between Nazi and German, ordinary Wehrmacht soldiers or SS officers, to the extent that if the script is anything to go by, there is no such thing as a good German and all of them have to die.

It’s quite obvious that Tarantino will be putting forward a manichean look at WW2 in which Germans represent dark forces without any individuality nor saving graces and need to be exterminated without prejudice while the Americans represent the forces of light. Naturally such a clear distinction will upset Germans who reject the notion that all Germans were responsible for the actions of the Nazis, a position put forward most notably by Jonah Goldhagen. And being Tarantino, the sadism in the movie will be gory and preposterous, in keeping with the style he first displayed in Resevoir Dogs.

The key here will be to see what kind of character development will be allowed for the Germans in this film. Will they be allowed to have a bit of flair attached to the sadism? Or will they be robotic automatons thus rendering the movie a simple comic book?


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Small Pleasures #1 – Chico Marx playing piano

August 14, 2008

The wonderful Chico Marx playing “All I Do is Dream of You” in the 1935 Marx Brothers movie “A Night at the Opera”.


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