What is Power?

51F7BV3TWPL._SL500_AA300_I was watching an interesting British mini-series, The Politician’s Wife, last weekend. The series is about a faithful political wife who supports her husband through an infidelity scandal. In this story, unlike The Good Wife, the protagonist exacts painful political revenge over the course of time.

In The Politician’s Wife, a bit of advice from one of her husband’s advisors (and a long time family friend) instructs her: “Power, real power, is invisible and therefore inviolable.”  That is a view of power from a Power of Will character.  Real power need not be seen it only need be felt.

What do other movie or television characters have to say about power:

In Schindler’s List Oskar Schindler tells Amon Goeth what he believes real power is:

Oskar Schindler: Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.

Oskar Schindler: Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.
Amon Goeth: You think that’s power?
Oskar Schindler: That’s what the Emperor said. A man steals something, he’s brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he’s going to die. And the Emperor… pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.
Amon Goeth: I think you are drunk.
Oskar Schindler: That’s power, Amon. That is power.Oskar Schindler: Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.

Amon Goeth: You think that’s power?

Oskar Schindler: That’s what the Emperor had. A man steals something, he’s brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he’s going to die. And the Emperor… pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.

Amon Goeth: I think you are drunk.

Oskar Schindler: That’s power, Amon. That is power.

Power, real power, is mercy and pardon according to a Power of Conscience character.

In Death of A Salesman, Willie Loman tells his son what he believes real power is:

“The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”

Power, real power, is popularity and personal magnetism according to a Power of Ambition character.

In Gladiator, Maximus tells his fellow soldiers what he believes is power: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

To a Power of Idealism Epic Hero power, real power, is honor and the memory of honor.

In Batman Forever, the Riddler flatters himself: “For if knowledge is power, then a God I am.”

To a Power of Reason Character power, real power, is intellectual superiority.

In The X Files, Fox Mulder says to Dana Scully:  “The truth will save you, Scully. I think it’ll save both of us.”

To  Power of Truth character power, real power, is the ability to discern the truth and reality from illusion.

What are your favorite movie quotes about power?  Let me know and I will tell what Character Type the protagonist is.

Battleship

I arrived at the WGA screening expecting to see an arty, cerebral, independent film, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and realized something was odd when Hasbro got a big credit in the first few moments of the opening.  I had the times wrong and Battleship was playing on the screen.

My expectations were low, my aisle seat afforded me a quick painless getaway, and yet I stayed.  I actually enjoyed the movie.

imagesPower of Idealism bad boy Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights) is a colossal screw-up. It’s love at first sight when he spots Sam (Brooklyn Decker) at a bar.  She won’t give him the time of day.  He makes a big over-the-top romantic gesture of getting her an after hours chicken burrito in ten minutes just to talk to her. This is involves a breaking into a convenience story through the roof, falling a full story several times but beating the time limit imposed by her impossible request.

Power of Idealism characters are misfits, mavericks and rebels. They believe that life and love should involve a grand passion, big romantic gestures, and an individual heroic destiny (even if it others see their actions as doomed, crazy, or just being a jack-ass).

images-1Alex’s Power of Conscience brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), demands Alex get some discipline and learn responsibility by joining the Navy.  The two brothers serve together on a destroyer. The story opens during NATO exercises and international competitive sports.

Power of Conscience characters know instinctively if something is wrong, unjust, unfair, improper, corrupt or out of line. Their judgment and response is swift and immutable. These characters believe they are their brother’s keeper. They feel responsible for the greater good and for doing good.

As he rises through the Navy, Alex continues to be a grandstander and a rebel lone wolf hero. He tries to kick a goal by himself after he is injured by a competing Japanese officer.  Alex misses and the Navy loses the game to Japan.  Alex and the offending Japanese officer develop an intense animosity off the field that explodes into a brutal fist fight.

Meanwhile, the egg heads at NASA try to contact other life forms in deep space after they discover an earth-like planet light years away.  Naturally, a hostile alien invasion ensues. The alien’s superior technology and advanced weapons systems terribly out-match what earth has to offer.

81836-29574Power of Love Seaman Jimmy ‘Ordy’ Ord (Friday Night Lights Alumn Jesse Plemons) is Alex’s reliable side kick.  Jimmy comes up with a crucial bit of information about a possible alien personal weakness.

Power of Love characters are the helpful best friend, the loyal sidekick, or adoring love interest who devotes him or her self to helping the hero succeed. They will always tell the hero the hard truth when that’s what he or she needs to hear.

Brooklyn_Decker_Battleship_Profile.jpg_0Alex’s now girlfriend, Power of Love Samantha, turns out to be the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). She sticks by Alex through thick and thin.  Sam is a physical therapist on Oahu, working with wounded post-amputation Navy veterans who are relearning life skills and coping with their loss.  One of  her patients is Power of Will Lt. Colonel Mick Canales (real-life veteran and double amputee Gregory D. Gadson).

Power of Will characters fear showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability. Mick Canales feels he is now half a man because he is unfit to be a soldier.  Mick turns weakness into strength and is a key player in battling the aliens on the ground near their communications center.

battleship_rihanna-500Rihanna is the cool sarcastic Power of Reason gunner and expert shot in the crew.  Power of Reason character always try to maintain a sense of cool detachment and personal objectivity.  They excel in their area of expertise.

I found the film goofily charming and agree with the review in Time Magazine:

The creative team behind this ocean-bound thriller decided to fill the narrative black hole with a few ingredients all but absent from today’s summer tent poles — namely mystery, nostalgia and a healthy dose of humility. Just as blockbusters have made the hard turn towards fantasy heroes who solemnly go about their business in high-def-but-low-impact 3D cage matches, Battleship is an unapologetically goofy, surprisingly enigmatic, refreshingly self-deprecating deviation from the norm. I hesitate to confess that I had more fun here than I did at The Avengers, because low expectations surely had a lot to do with it, but it’s the truth.

In order to best the aliens Alex must learn team work and, at times, defer to the Japanese officer who was once his adversary.  The two men develop mutual respect and Alex learns to pick his shots. Cleverness, timing, making the most of what you have, good instincts and most of all teamwork between young and old and Japan and America is what ultimately saves the day.

Unlike most action heroes, who simply possess expert skills, Alex is learning as he goes, and we learn through his eyes. As his crew develops a new attack plan for the final climactic brawl, there’s something slightly more fulfilling about a strategy that’s evolved throughout the film.
There’s something decidedly retro about the grid sequence, where winning the war at sea has less to do with technology than with instincts, trigger fingers and the equipment at hand. In fact, there’s something delightfully old-school about all the action in Battleship. As classic rock blasts in the background, the movie increasingly shifts its attention away from the spinning, glowing alien ships to the inner workings of mankind’s floating fortresses, paying tribute to veterans and the ingenuity of those in the armed forces. Sure, it’s slightly jingoistic, but when the aliens are calling for backup, we want to cheer for our side.

Unlike most action heroes, who simply possess expert skills, Alex is learning as he goes, and we learn through his eyes. As his crew develops a new attack plan for the final climactic brawl, there’s something slightly more fulfilling about a strategy that’s evolved throughout the film…

…There’s something decidedly retro about the grid sequence, where winning the war at sea has less to do with technology than with instincts, trigger fingers and the equipment at hand. In fact, there’s something delightfully old-school about all the action in Battleship. As classic rock blasts in the background, the movie increasingly shifts its attention away from the spinning, glowing alien ships to the inner workings of mankind’s floating fortresses, paying tribute to veterans and the ingenuity of those in the armed forces. Sure, it’s slightly jingoistic, but when the aliens are calling for backup, we want to cheer for our side.

If you want to read the full Time Magazine review go to http://entertainment.time.com/2012/05/17/battleship-more-f

#TypesTuesday – The Avengers

The Avengers is a continuing box office smash hit.  The clarity of the characters, their witty on-point interactions, and their specific personal conflicts with each other contribute just as much to the movie’s success as the smash-em-up-whiz-bang action.

The character moments were my favorite parts of the movie because, I confess, the 3-D gave me a splitting headache and the action scenes go on a tad long for my personal taste.

The movie begins with the premise that humanity will be annihilated if Loki, the bitter banished demigod, opens a hole in space to let in an invading mechanized army. Loki is adopted, hates his brother, Thor, and wants to destroy the earth Thor loves and protects.

This crisis brings together the reluctant Avengers teammates.  Each portrays his or her Character Type with nearly pitch perfect attitude and dialogue.

The-Avengers-2012-upcoming-movies-29945637-1280-1024Loki is a Power of Idealism demi-god villain:  Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and these Character Types believe they are meant for some kind of heroic destiny.

He says: I am Loki, of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose.

These characters are “divas” and want to be seen as special, unique, and extraordinary– something out of reach for Loki, who is always in the shadow of his more perfect “brother” Thor.  It was Thor who got all the glory and Loki is furious about that. A bit of dialogue says it all–

Tony Stark: Loki wants everyone to see what he’s doing.
Steve Rogers: Yeah, I caught his act at Stuttengard.
Tony Stark: That was a preview, this will be opening night. Loki’s a full-fledged diva, everything’s got to be about him. He wants a parade, flowers, anything that’ll bring in an audience. He needs someplace where everyone can see it’s him and he’s doing it, somewhere where his name is up in lights!
[pause]
Tony Stark: Sonofabitch!
[heads to Stark Tower]

Tony Stark: Loki wants everyone to see what he’s doing.

Steve Rogers: Yeah, I caught his act at Stuttengard.

Tony Stark: That was a preview, this will be opening night. Loki’s a full-fledged diva, everything’s got to be about him. He wants a parade, flowers, anything that’ll bring in an audience. He needs someplace where everyone can see it’s him and he’s doing it, somewhere where his name is up in lights!

chris-hemsworth-thor-movie-costume-mjolnir-hammer-488x341Thor is a  Power of Love demigod:  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) uses his strength and power to care for and protect the earth.  Despite everything, he still is attached to his adoptive brother, Loki, as evidenced in the following exchange:

Bruce Banner: I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.

Thor: Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.

Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.

Thor: He’s adopted.

Thor is the son of Gaea, the nurturing mother earth herself. In his comic book backstory Thor is a caring doctor, Donald Black, who is willing to defy the might of Asgard for the woman he loves.  Power of Love characters are incredibly strong characters and are ferociously unstoppable when something they love and care for is in threatened.

iron_man_the_avengers_2012_movie-t2Iron Man is a Power of Excitement man-made superhero in his mechanized suit:  In his own words he is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. In addition, he’s a jokester and an agent of chaos, who loves to stir things up. He’d especially like to see the Hulk get unleashed.

He says: “Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”

Stark speaks frequently in the movie about escape or wanting to escape. Steve Rogers, Captain America, chides him for that saying Stark doesn’t have it in him to make the “sacrifice play” that puts others first. Tony Stark’s rakish push-the-envelop devil-may-care attitude continually presses everyone’s buttons in the story, but his charm, ready wit, and natural talent as an improvisor helps save the day.

Chris-Evans-in-The-Avengers-2012-Movie-ImageCaptain American is a Power of Conscience government laboratory experiment turned superhero: Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a super-soldier who believes in following rules, following orders, and the importance of the chain of command.  He can seem a little stiff and humorless at times but he is 100%  reliable, trustworthy, and always puts the good of the team first. The difference between Rogers and Stark is summed up in this exchange:

Steve Rogers: We have orders, we should follow them.

Tony Stark: Following’s not really my style.

Steve Rogers: And you’re all about style, aren’t you?

Tony Stark: Of the people in this room, which one is A – wearing a spangly outfit and B – not of much use?

Stark surprises Rogers at the climax. And Rogers learns to improvise more, following Stark’s example.

imagesThe Hulk is a Power of Will gamma ray experiment gone-wrong superhero:  Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), in his Hulk state, is all angry impulse. He is primitive. He’s strong. He is a mass of instinctual drives and impulses that only finds satisfaction in “Hulk smash!”  In his normal human state Banner controls his anger enough to be a protector (as a doctor in remote India) rather than a destroyer. But his raw uncontrollable instinctual side is never far away.

Steve Rogers: Doc… I think now is the perfect time for you to get angry.

Bruce Banner: That’s my secret Cap, I’m always angry.

The-Avengers-Black-Widow-Headshot-360x273The Black Widow is a Power of Truth super-spy: Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) doesn’t have super powers per se but she is as skilled a warrior as any of her other Avengers teammates. She lives in a spy vs. spy world that is filled with hidden dangers, secretive enemies, and concealed pitfalls. With the Black Widow– “Things are never what they seem.” “Trust no one.” “Question everything.” “Watch out for secret agendas and hidden pitfalls.” Just when an adversary thinks she is most vulnerable she is actually conducting a brilliant and treacherous interrogation.

hawkeye-the-avengers-01-610x458Hawkeye is a Power of Reason ultra-expert archer:  Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is a loner and a bit alienated, the perfect combination for his backstory and continuing role as sniper. He is a cold and calculating and spends the first half of the movie under the mind control of Loki.

There isn’t time for very much character development in The Avengers, but what there is is spot on.  Each hero is absolutely true to his or her Character Types in both word and deed. When every bit of dialogue and action has to count as character development, the Character Types will help you be as economical and on target as the characters here.

The Artist

1205-LRAINER-The-Artist_full_600The Artist is my pick for 2012 Best Picture Oscar.  It is exquisitely crafted, filled with heart, and the epitome of “show don’t tell.”  It is a film about the end of the silent era in motion pictures and is silent itself and filmed in black and white to boot.

Alfred Hitchcock felt that the silent era ended too soon.  He believed that movies would have been richer overall if images were allowed to “speak” a little longer without the distraction of sound– that there was much more to learn about creating a visual vocabulary from the silent era before sound usurped this method of filmmaking.

Hitchcock never did completely trust sound in his own work and believed the audience should be able to follow the story if somehow the sound went out.  I wonder how many filmmaker today could make a film “speak” mostly through image and action. Clearly, writer-director Michael Hazanavicius is one of the rare filmmaker-artists whose pictures are worth a thousand words.

Hazanavicius’ film, The Artist, is about George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) a silent movie star, part swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks and part romantic swoon-master Rudolph Valentino.  He is at the top of his game– the undisputed King of Hollywood.

George is a Power of Idealism character, clearly extraordinary in every way. We meet him at the end of his era, although he doesn’t know that or accept it until the end of the film.  Just as George is about to become an anachronism he accidentally meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) at a big premiere.  He catches her as she stumbles/is pushed out of the crowd and into his arms.  A photographer captures the moment on film and the embrace makes the tabloids.  On the strength of that image, she manages to get a job as an extra in George’s next film.

Ty Burr writing in The Boston Globe describes what happens next:

There’s a wonderful sequence early on in which Valentin and Peppy film four takes of a scene where they have to waltz across a crowded dance floor, the movie star and the extra falling harder for each other with each cut. Without color and sound, their emotions are so close you can almost take them in your hands, and that’s what sometimes seems to have gone missing from movies – the intimacy of two people filmed without artifice.

Later there is another lovely scene in which Peppy drapes herself in George’s tuxedo coat, hanging on a coat rack, in such a way that it looks like he holds her in an intimate embrace.  It is a jewel of a scene twinkling with graceful physical comedy and bright with love and longing.

George, unfortunately, is on the way down just as Peppy is on the way up.  His studio, Kinograph, run by Al Zimmer (John Goodman) is scrapping George’s next silent film in favor of a slate filled only with talking pictures.  George doesn’t believe sound is here to stay and finances his next adventure film himself.  Of course it’s a flop.  The public has moved on and so has Peppy.  She opens the same day in her first big blockbuster.

George spirals downward.  He loses everything except Peppy’s continuing love and admiration.  Bill Goodykoontz writing in The Arizona Republic sums up the film’s appeal perfectly:

There are nods to more silent movies and stars than you’ll care to tally. That’s fun, as far as it goes, but what’s important is that Hazanvicius and Dujardin create characters and situations that feel original — situations that, despite the broadly played bits familiar to silent-film fans, have the same heart found in the movies of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.
Credit Dujardin for a lot of that. His grace and carriage allow him to float through the dance scenes, he’s funny in the comic bits, yet he brings enough weight to the down-and-out segments to break your heart. Bejo, too, is outstanding as the star who never forgets where she came from — or who inspired her.

There are nods to more silent movies and stars than you’ll care to tally. That’s fun, as far as it goes, but what’s important is that Hazanvicius and Dujardin create characters and situations that feel original — situations that, despite the broadly played bits familiar to silent-film fans, have the same heart found in the movies of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. (LH: The movie displays exactly the kind of heart, gentleness, and generosity of spirit sadly lacking in most movies today.)

Credit Dujardin (playing George) for a lot of that. His grace and carriage allow him to float through the dance scenes, he’s funny in the comic bits, yet he brings enough weight to the down-and-out segments to break your heart. Bejo (playing Peppy), too, is outstanding as the star who never forgets where she came from — or who inspired her.

Peppy is desperate to help George and finally hits on something he can do without speaking– dance. He takes a leap of faith and accepts a smaller more ordinary role in her film. The two dance off into the sunset.

One of the most amazing aspects of the film is how well it captures the tone, style and even movement of the times.  The actor’s facial expressions and physicalization is absolutely authentic to the era.  (Watch any film from the 20’s or 30 to see for your self.) Boardwalk Empire, set in the same era, as good as it is in many respects, is clearly modern actors playing a period piece. The actors in The Artist fully and completely inhabit the era with every ounce of their being.  That is a stunning achievement. America was a different place in the silent era and we are transported back with ease, grace, style, charm, and heart.

The Artist truly is the Best Picture of 2012.

Dog Day Afternoon – Day Thirty One – #40movies40days

al-pacino-dog-day-afternoonI’d never seen Dog Day Afternoon and decided to watch it in honor of director Sidney Lumet’s passing.  The film is a great example of a Power of Idealism crime drama.  (I’ll be teaching a Thriller-Crime Drama workshop at New York Law School on April 30).

Robert Berkvist recalled in the New York Times: “While the goal of all movies is to entertain,” Mr. Lumet once wrote, “the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.”

Social issues set his own mental juices flowing, and his best films not only probed the consequences of prejudice, corruption and betrayal but also celebrated individual acts of courage…

…Mr. Lumet (was) “one of the last of the great movie moralists” and “a leading purveyor of the social-issue movie.” Yet Mr. Lumet said he was never a crusader for social change. “I don’t think art changes anything,” he said in The Times interview. So why make movies? he was asked.

“I do it because I like it,” he replied, “and it’s a wonderful way to spend your life.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/movies/sidney-lumet-director-of-american-classics-dies-at-86.html?_r=1&ref=movies

up-dog_day_afternoon_3_lg2In Dog Day Afternoon, amateur bank robber Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino), his friend Salvatore “Sal” Naturile (John Cazale), and a second accomplice rob a bank. Their plan immediately goes awry when the second accomplice loses his nerve. He flees the scene. Sonny and Sal then discover that the daily cash pickup has left only $1100 in  in the bank.

Sonny takes a number of traveler’s checks.  He burns the check register in a waste basket, to prevent the checks from being traced.  Smoke billows out a side vent of the building.  An insurance agent across the street notices and calls the cops. Within minutes, the building is surrounded by police, as inept as the robbers. Unsure what to do, Sonny and Sal camp out in the bank, holding all the employees hostage. Chaos and high drama ensues.

They fight for an impossible or lost cause and the glory of doing what logically or ordinarily cannot be done.  Often they give their lives for their doomed cause or campaign.
These characters lead best in short bursts of intense activity or creativity.  They tend not to be very reliable about the boring details of grinding day-to day long-term leadership.  They are “big picture” or visionary leaders.  They inspire others with the sense of a destiny in one great cause.
Power of Idealism characters love the big romantic gesture and are rarely interested in sticking around for the clean up after their big moment is over.  They would rather disappear into the glorious memory of the grand occasion or glorious battle.
Sonny, a Power of Idealism character, fights for an impossible or lost cause (his mentally unstable male lover/wife’s sex change operation).  These characters, like Sonny, love the big romantic gesture.  They lead best in short bursts of intense activity or creativity.  They tend not to be very reliable about the boring details of planning and step-by-step exection.  This describes Sonny to a tee.  He sees himself as a “big picture” or visionary leader but has no practical ability to actually bring the robbery off.
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Dog Day Afternoon (Al Pacino)Christopher Null, writing at FilmCritic.com, sums the film up perfectly:  Today Dog Day Afternoon is an unabashed classic, a template by which other movies are based and a formula which is periodically tweaked and refined. There are few things you can complain about in Dog Day — a second act that relies on a few too many variations of the same ‘the cops are scheming’ bit, and that’s about it. But Pacino’s fiery performance and Sidney Lumet’s perfect direction does more than create a great crime movie. It captures perfectly the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, a time when optimism was scraping rock bottom and John Wojtowicz was as good a hero as we could come up with.” http://www.filmcritic.com/reviews/1975/dog-day-afternoon/
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In 2009, the film was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
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Sonny’s passion is misguided.  He goes off half cocked with no real back-up plan or step-by-step practical way to execute his dream/goal.  Although I believe passion is necessary to life, I wonder when and where my passion is misguided or has lead or is leading me astray.
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Do I have a full understanding of what I need to do to execute my dreams?  Am I fully aware of the costs of what I choose?  This project has been a way to step back and take a more objective look at what I am doing with my life and why.  Already ideas are coalescing and my vision is clearing.  This has been a really interesting and revealing experiment.

The Quiet American – Day Twenty Eight – #40movies40days

The-Quiet-American-thumb-560xauto-26217The Quiet American is a wonderful 2002 film directed by Phillip Noyce and starring Michael Caine (Power of Idealism) as a jaded newspaper reporter who moves from being an observer, passionately in love with a young Vietnamese girl, to a direct participant in the tangled politics of her country.

“I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam – that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like the filthy rain in London. They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there’s a breeze. The river is beautiful. You could be forgiven for thinking there was no war; that the gunshots were fireworks; that only pleasure matters. A pipe of opium, or the touch of a girl who might tell you she loves you. And then, something happens, as you knew it would. And nothing can ever be the same again.”

On one level The Quiet American is a love story about two men in love with the same woman, both of whom believe have her best interests at heart.  On a deeper level it is about the duplicity surrounding America’s growing involvement in Viet Nam.

quiet-american1The film, and the novel it is adapted from, are set during the early 1950’s.  French forces are busy fighting the communists.  Brendan Fraiser (Power of Conscience), a young aide worker believes the way to save Viet Nam is to introduce a third force to take the place of both the French colonialists and the communist rebels and thereby restore order.

If innocent civilians must be killed to protect other innocent civilians– so be it. (How much evil are you willing to do in pursue of what you see as the greater good?)  It turns out he is an American CIA operative able to put his ideas into action.  Along the way he falls in love with Caine’s mistress.  Caine muses that it is a small leap from wanting to save her country to wanting to save her.

Stephanie Zacharek, writing in Salon.com, calls The Quiet American “the smudged line that often separates loyalty and rivalry in friendships, the bewildering complexity of romantic love, the insecurities wrought by encroaching old age and both the value and the blind treachery of political idealism.”

The film is a wonderful meditation on how politics get all mixed up and tangled into what and who you love.  It is a literate and achingly tender portrayal of a disaster waiting to happen.

The Mating Season – Day Twenty Four – #40movies40days

g_the-mating-season-gene-tierney-john-lund-76c98The Mating Season is a good old fashioned Power of Love story in the best sense of the word.

Ellen McNulty (Thelma Ritter) is forced to sell her hamburger stand, so she decides to visit her son Val (John Lund), who lives in another city. Val has recently married a socialite, Maggie (Gene Tierney). To help her out, her husband hires a maid and promises to send her over right away. In the meantime, Ellen arrives. Maggie, her daughter-in-law, mistakes her for the maid. Ellen begins to tell Maggie who she really is, but she is worried that saying anything might cause Maggie embarrassment, so she doesn’t reveal who she is and decides to pretend to be a maid. The next morning Ellen arrives with her things. She wakes Maggie up and when she realizes that her son didn’t explain everything yet, she keeps pretending to be a maid. She tells him that she will only be underfoot if she lives in the house as a mother-in-law. She eventually talks him into the idea but he doesn’t like it very much.
Maggie’s mother (Miriam Hopkins) decides to come for a visit and she is nothing like Maggie. She is a snob and she doesn’t like Val one bit. While helping Mr. Kalinger (Larry Keating), Ellen realizes that his son, Kalinger Jr. (James Lorimer), is taking credit for work actually done by Val and tells Mr. Kalinger the truth.
Mr. Kalinger then invites Val and Maggie to the party. At the party, Maggie gets into an argument with an important female guest (Cora Witherspoon) after the woman insults her, and Maggie storms out. Val, realizing that this woman carries a lot of influence, forces Maggie to call the party to apologize to the woman. She does so unwillingly, leading to another fight.
The next morning, Val and Maggie make up and steal away in a closet for a kiss. Ellen’s friends are at the door and ask to speak to “Mrs. McNulty”. At this point it is revealed that Ellen is Val’s mother. Maggie is furious with Val for hiding his mother’s identity from her. She and her mother leave for a hotel. Maggie later confronts Val at his office. Val tries to explain himself but Maggie won’t listen. She tells him that he has become a snob and that she is moving to Mexico.
Mr. Kalinger decides to get Val and Maggie together. He convinces Maggie to come to the hotel bar with him for a good-bye drink, knowing that Val will be there for a party. When Maggie sees Val, she again scolds him for trying to hide his mother and leaves the bar. Val leaves the party and rushes to retrieve his mother. He brings her back to the party and begins introducing her to the ‘snobs’. Maggie, who has come back to the bar, witnesses Val introducing his mother to the woman who had insulted her at the earlier party. Ellen tells Maggie’s mother that it is time for both of them to leave the apartment. Ellen lands on her feet, however, as Mr. Kalinger decides to marry her.

Ellen McNulty (Thelma Ritter) runs a hamburger stand that’s underwater with the bank.  She can’t afford the payments and it’s not worth what she borrowed. (Some things never change.)

Her son, Val  (John Lund), has been asking Ellen to come live with him.  She hitchhikes from New Jersey to the Midwest, where her son has a good job in a large manufacturing company (some things have changed drastically).

Ellen’s son, Val, is an upwardly mobile junior executive (Power of Ambition) who has recently married Maggie (Gene Tierney). His new bride is not rich but grew up in the diplomatic corps and has very wealthy and important friends and political connections.

Val hires a maid to help Maggie with their first big dinner party. In the meantime, Ellen arrives unannounced. Maggie, her daughter-in-law, mistakes her for the maid. Ellen (Power of Love) wants to spare Maggie embarrassment, so she doesn’t reveal her true identity.  Instead, Ellen decides to make herself useful and to just go along pretending to be a maid.

137px-Thelma_Ritter_in_The_Mating_Season_trailerEllen convinces Val that she will only be underfoot if she lives in the house as a mother-in-law. She knows Maggie needs help as a young wife and convinces Val to continue the ruse.  Although Val loves his mother, there is something inside him that is deeply embarrassed about his humble beginnings and his unsophisticated mom.

Maggie’s drama queen mother (Miriam Hopkins) arrives for a visit. She is a (Power of Idealism) snob who doesn’t think Val is good enough for her daughter. She is more impressed with the boss’ son Kalinger Jr. (James Lorimer).  Jr. is a playboy and a cad (Power of Excitement), who is also in love with Maggie.  Jr. is also passing off Val’s hard work and ideas as his own.

During the negotiations of an important contact, Maggie (Power of Conscience) takes exception to the rudeness and  snobbery of the main client’s wife (Cora Witherspoon).  After confronting the woman, Maggie storms out of an important social outing surrounding the deal. Val, realizing that the client’s wife carries a lot of influence, forces Maggie to apologize. Maggie does so unwillingly, leading to another fight between the newlyweds.

Ellen skillfully intervenes in the angry aftermath. The young couple make-up with a romantic duck into the closet (the only place they can really be alone). Ellen’s friends arrive at the door unexpectedly and Ellen’s ruse is exposed.

matingMaggie is furious with Val for hiding his mother’s identity from her. She and her mother leave for a hotel. Maggie later confronts Val at his office. She tells him that he has become a snob and that she is leaving him and is moving out of the country.

Mr. Kalinger Sr., who has fallen for Ellen, arranges for Maggie to meet him at hotel bar for a good-bye drink. Val proudly introduces to Ellen to the important clients. Maggie sees how much Val loves his mother. Her heart melts.

Ellen tells Maggie’s mother that it is time for both of them to leave the newlyweds to themselves. Ellen lands on her feet as the fully smitten Mr. Kalinger Sr. asks her to marry him.

No matter how high you rise, nothing is as important as family, no matter how humble or unsophisticated. It’s a timeless lesson.

Ladies in Lavender – Day Twenty Two – #40movie40day

Ladies-in-Lavender-01I am taking a sick day today because this allergy attack is the worst!  So this will be very short.

Ladies in Lavender is a slight wistful film filled with yearning, jealousy and regret.  Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith give tender nuanced performances filled with love and longing. The film is firmly in the Power of Idealism camp.

Ladies in Lavender is set at the end of an era, right before World War II changes the world forever.  The two spinster ladies, still living in the family home perched high on the Cornwall Cliffs, find a young man washed on shore.  He is a talented violinist, on his way to America, before being swept off board.  They nurse him back to health.

His presence disrupts the two sisters’ peaceful lives and disrupts the tight knit fishing community in which they live.  His unique gifts, and his second language German, set off building envy and suspicion.  A younger woman, a painter, spirits him off to London (“like a witch in a fairy tale” one sister says). There he finds fame and fortune as a violinist and has one last brief encounter with the two sisters.

This is a lovely period film with fine strong female performances–  Just what the doctor ordered!

Bright Star – Day Seventeen – #40movies40days

bright_star09Bright Star starts a bit slowly but builds and burns with a growing intensity.  The longing, the loss, the passion and the separated lovers make it a classic Power of Idealism film with two young Power of Idealism lovers.

Since it is a Saturday I am taking a bit of the easy way out by quoting from two of the many lush, poetic and enthusiastic reviews this Jane Campion film received on it’s release.

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Both articles are beautifully written and part of much longer reviews.  I’ve provided the links to the original discussions of the film.

Dana Stevens writing in Slate – http://www.slate.com/id/2229522/
Bright Star (Apparition), Jane Campion’s new film about the brief love affair between John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne, is a thing of beauty: the rare film about the life of an artist that is itself a work of art. Campion’s inspiration was Sir Andrew Motion’s massive 1997 biography of Keats, which attempted to supplant the popular image of Keats as a Romantic martyr who died of consumption at age 25 with a portrait of the poet as a vibrant thinker and citizen, engaged in the debates of his time. But Keats proves as tough to demythologize as Marilyn Monroe: He died so young, his life was so tragic, and the small body of work he left behind is so incomparable, that any depiction of his short life is bound to be tinged with idealization.
That’s why Campion was smart to make her film less about Keats than about Fanny Brawne, the fashionable, flirtatious young woman who captivated him in the spring of 1818 and lived next door to him in Hampstead for the last two years of his life. Fanny, as played by the up-and-coming Australian actress Abbie Cornish, is a curious heroine. She’s not a quick-tongued wit, like Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet. She’s grave-faced and a little stolid, skeptical of flights of fancy. (“Poems are a strain to make out,” she tells her little sister after sending her to a bookstore to buy Keats’ Endymion.) Fanny is inordinately proud of her gifts as a seamstress, and she dresses herself in homemade finery that’s outrageously ornate for the simple village life she leads. (Meeting Keats at a party, she brags, “This is the first frock in all of Hampstead to have a triple-pleated mushroom collar.”) Campion’s insistence on Fanny’s sewing skills is a feminist gambit, yes, but one that’s entirely consistent with the character. By emphasizing sewing as Fanny’s creative outlet, Campion shows the social constraints on women in Regency-era England and also gives the poet’s muse an art form of her own: When Fanny presents Keats with an exquisitely embroidered silk pillowcase, it’s a kind of sewn poem.
By A. O. SCOTT writing in The New York Times– http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/movies/16bright.html
Fanny, the eldest daughter of a distracted widow (Kerry Fox), has some of the spirited cleverness of a Jane Austen heroine. A gifted seamstress, she prides herself on her forward-looking fashion sense and her independence. She is also vain, insecure and capable of throwing herself headlong into the apparent folly of adoring a dying and penniless poet, something no sensible Austen character would ever do.
If it were just the poet and his beloved, “Bright Star” might collapse in swooning and sighing, or into the static rhythms of a love poem. And while there are passages of extraordinary lyricism — butterflies, fields of flowers, fluttering hands and beseeching glances — these are balanced by a rough, energetic worldliness. Lovers, like poets, may create their own realms of feeling and significance, but they do so in contention with the same reality that the rest of us inhabit…
Ms. Campion is one of modern cinema’s great explorers of female sexuality, illuminating Sigmund Freud’s “dark continent” with skepticism, sympathy and occasional indignation. “Bright Star” could easily have become a dark, simple fable of repression, since modern audiences like nothing better than to be assured that our social order is freer and more enlightened than any that came before. But Fanny and Keats are modern too, and though the mores of their time constrain them, they nonetheless regard themselves as free.
The film is hardly blind to the sexual hypocrisy that surrounds them. Fanny can’t marry Keats because of his poverty, but Brown blithely crosses class lines to have some fun with (and impregnate) a naïve and illiterate young household servant (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). That Fanny and Keats must sublimate their longings in letters, poems and conversations seems cruel, but they make the best of it. As does Ms. Campion: a sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema.
The heat of that moment and others like it deliver “Bright Star” from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms. Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word.
Dana Stevens writing in Slate says:
.
Bright Star (Apparition), Jane Campion’s new film about the brief love affair between John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne, is a thing of beauty: the rare film about the life of an artist that is itself a work of art. Campion’s inspiration was Sir Andrew Motion’s massive 1997 biography of Keats, which attempted to supplant the popular image of Keats as a Romantic martyr who died of consumption at age 25 with a portrait of the poet as a vibrant thinker and citizen, engaged in the debates of his time.
.
But Keats proves as tough to demythologize as Marilyn Monroe: He died so young, his life was so tragic, and the small body of work he left behind is so incomparable, that any depiction of his short life is bound to be tinged with idealization.
.
That’s why Campion was smart to make her film less about Keats than about Fanny Brawne, the fashionable, flirtatious young woman who captivated him in the spring of 1818 and lived next door to him in Hampstead for the last two years of his life. Fanny, as played by the up-and-coming Australian actress Abbie Cornish, is a curious heroine. She’s not a quick-tongued wit, like Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennet.
.
She’s grave-faced and a little stolid, skeptical of flights of fancy. (“Poems are a strain to make out,” she tells her little sister after sending her to a bookstore to buy Keats’ Endymion.) Fanny is inordinately proud of her gifts as a seamstress, and she dresses herself in homemade finery that’s outrageously ornate for the simple village life she leads. (Meeting Keats at a party, she brags, “This is the first frock in all of Hampstead to have a triple-pleated mushroom collar.”)
.
Campion’s insistence on Fanny’s sewing skills is a feminist gambit, yes, but one that’s entirely consistent with the character. By emphasizing sewing as Fanny’s creative outlet, Campion shows the social constraints on women in Regency-era England and also gives the poet’s muse an art form of her own: When Fanny presents Keats with an exquisitely embroidered silk pillowcase, it’s a kind of sewn poem.
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The full article is here:  http://www.slate.com/id/2229522/
.
539wA. O. Scott writing in The New York Times continues the analysis:
.
Fanny, the eldest daughter of a distracted widow (Kerry Fox), has some of the spirited cleverness of a Jane Austen heroine. A gifted seamstress, she prides herself on her forward-looking fashion sense and her independence. She is also vain, insecure and capable of throwing herself headlong into the apparent folly of adoring a dying and penniless poet, something no sensible Austen character would ever do.
.
If it were just the poet and his beloved, “Bright Star” might collapse in swooning and sighing, or into the static rhythms of a love poem. And while there are passages of extraordinary lyricism — butterflies, fields of flowers, fluttering hands and beseeching glances — these are balanced by a rough, energetic worldliness. Lovers, like poets, may create their own realms of feeling and significance, but they do so in contention with the same reality that the rest of us inhabit…
.
…Ms. Campion is one of modern cinema’s great explorers of female sexuality, illuminating Sigmund Freud’s “dark continent” with skepticism, sympathy and occasional indignation. “Bright Star” could easily have become a dark, simple fable of repression, since modern audiences like nothing better than to be assured that our social order is freer and more enlightened than any that came before. But Fanny and Keats are modern too, and though the mores of their time constrain them, they nonetheless regard themselves as free.
.
bright_star09The film is hardly blind to the sexual hypocrisy that surrounds them. Fanny can’t marry Keats because of his poverty, but Brown (Keat’s friend) blithely crosses class lines to have some fun with (and impregnate) a naïve and illiterate young household servant (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). That Fanny and Keats must sublimate their longings in letters, poems and conversations seems cruel, but they make the best of it. As does Ms. Campion: a sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema.
.
The heat of that moment and others like it deliver “Bright Star” from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms. Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word.
.
The link to the longer article is here:  http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/movies/16bright.html
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On a side note one of the things I noticed was how simple the entertainment choices were in that period– and how much personal engagement these choices demanded.  Dancing, choral singing, word games, reading aloud, blind man’s bluff, hide and seek (all played by adults as well as children) required everyone to interact personally with each other on a physical and emotional level.  There was something incredibly charming about this very direct social connection and a sense of personal presence missing from much of modern types of entertainment.

Arranged – Day Fourteen – #40movies40days

2007_arranged_002This was another Instant Watch pick from NetFlix– boy do I love this service!  The description seemed interesting and the film turned out to be a lovely small surprise.

Arranged is the story of Rochel, an observant Orthodox Jewish woman, and Nasira, a devout Muslim woman.  The two form an unlikely friendship at the public school where they both teach fourth graders.  The women realize they have more in common with each other than with the other young female teachers who gossip about shopping, partying, drinking and the various boyfriends that hop in out of their beds.

The principal of the school recognizes the two friends as among the best teachers in the school but she is frustrated with their “backward” ways and modest rather dowdy attire.  She assumes Nasira is forced to wear a veil by her father. Nasira’s eloquent explanation of her choice to follow her religious beliefs is confident and graceful.  Her personal beliefs  inform her own understanding of feminine modesty.  She doesn’t feel constrained, angry or bitter about her headcovering.

arranged-1Both Nasira and Rochel are of a marriageable age and their families are involved in planning arranged marriages.  Although this concept is often linked with forced marriages and child brides, that’s not the case here.  Rather it is family involvement in finding a suitable spouse and forging a union with another family. Each girl has and uses her veto power over choices that don’t suit her, adding to parental concern, impatience and exasperation.  Each girl longs for her own home and family but neither is willing to be coerced.

The central role of family, commitment and children are at the heart of Arranged.  It is a Power of Idealism film in that the girls struggle with maintaining the own values and personal identity while also respecting and finding their place in their cultures and family traditions.  The Individual vs. Society is at the core of these kind of films.

The film is not just an idealized portrait of these women.  It is based on the real life account of an Orthodox Jewish woman, a teacher in the New York public schools, and her experiences getting to know the Pakistani-American Muslim mother of one of her pupils. In a review by Jennifer S. Bryson for Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute sums the film up this way:

Shared values provide a bridge for Nasira and Rochel. They are women with humble self-dignity in a world not disposed to support integrity (chastity) or family. What these women learn is that kindness begets friendship, and genuine friendship can handle differences. They don’t have to deny their difference to get along. The bridge they build proves to be stronger than cross-currents around them. Friendship, and healthy relationships, ensue and grow.  (Traditions are kept alive and their families flourish).

I too am a woman of faith and I struggle mightily with my relationship with the Catholic Church.  I am a social policy liberal and believe social justice to be at the core of the Gospel teachings.  I get so angry, frustrated and saddened by my church’s terrible failings and all too-easy hypocrisy.  The church falls short in so many many ways in living up to what the Gospel demands– but then so do I.

I do love the tradition, historic cultural significance, sense of timelessness, majesty  and beauty of the church.  A Catholic background, as conflicted as it is, has influenced many important writers.  I guess I am most comfortable as a Catholic in the diverse literary sensibilities of C.S. Lewis, Graham Greene, Flannery O’Conner, J.R.R. Tolkien, Thomas Merton, Robert Altman, Evelyn Waugh, Honoré de Balzac, Francis Ford Coppola, Joseph Cambell, Dorothy Day, Clare Boothe Luce, Cormac McCarthy, Edith Sitwell, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Jules Verne, Anthony Burgess, Pedro Almodovar, Paul Haggis and Alfred Hitchcock.  I align myself with those struggling with the “hard questions” in life.  I believe that the courage to ask those questions is the very essence of faith.

is based on the real life account of an Orthodox Jewish woman, a teacher in the New York public schools, and her experiences getting to know the Pakistani-American Muslim mother of one of her pupils.based on the real life account of an Orthodox Jewish woman, a teacher in the New York public schools, and her experiences getting to know the Pakistani-American Muslim mother of one of her pupils.