Foreign Correspondent – Day Thirty – #40movies40days

UnknownI can’t believe it’s been a month since I started this project.  I am three quarters of the way through now!

Foreign Correspondent, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is a great complement to The Quiet American. Again, two men fighting for different sides are caught in a triangle over a girl.  Love, war, politics and the urging of America’s greater involvement in a war swirl through the movie. This time it is the eve of World War II.

Here’s a quick summary from Hal Erickson, writing for the New York Times:

Joel McCrea stars as an American journalist sent by his newspaper to cover the volatile war scene in Europe in the years 1938 to 1940. He has barely arrived in Holland before he witnesses the assassination of Dutch diplomat Albert Basserman: at least, that’s what he thinks he sees. McCrea makes the acquaintance of peace-activist Herbert Marshall, his like-minded daughter Laraine Day, and cheeky British secret agent George Sanders. A wild chase through the streets of Amsterdam, with McCrea dodging bullets, leads to the classic “alternating windmills” scene, which tips Our Hero to the existence of a formidable subversive organization. McCrea returns to England, where he nearly falls victim to the machinations of jovial hired-killer Edmund Gwenn. The leader of the spy ring is revealed during the climactic plane-crash sequence–which, like the aforementioned windmill scene, is a cinematic tour de force for director Hitchcock and cinematographer Rudolph Mate. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/18199/Foreign-Correspondent/overview

Again love and politics get intertwined.  Nothing is quite what it seems.  Love both clouds the characters’ judgement and makes it clearer in true Power of Truth fashion.

Love and politics require some great sacrifice in both The Quiet American and the Foreign Correspondent.  The element of sacrifice is sorely lacking in many of today’s films and their storytelling is much poorer for it.

Here is A. O. Scott’s take on the movie:

Monsters Inc. – Day Twenty Nine – #40movies40days

monsters_incMonsters Inc. is set in Monsteropolis and in its main energy supply company.  An assembly line of closet doors on the company’s “scaring floor” provide entry to the monsters to pop out, scare children and generate the screams that power Monsteropolis.

Protagonist, James P. Sullivan “Sully” (John Goodman) is a genial, lovable and caring big blue furry monster.  He is a Power of Love character and the top performer in the company, followed closely by  his main rival Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi).  Sully’s manager/trainer is Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal).  He is a fast-talking  short green cyclops who is a publicity hound Power of Ambition character.  Mike basks in Sully’s reflected glory and assists Sully in his duties.

The problem in Monsteropolis is that children are becoming harder and harder to scare.  The joke is that the monsters are actually terrified by children. An elaborate containment routine is triggered when so much as a child’s sock enters their world.  Complete chaos ensues when a little girl, Boo, accidentally follows Sully back to Monsteropolis.  She isn’t afraid of Sully at all and calls him “kitty.”

936full-monsters,-inc.-photo.jpgAfter the initial shock, Sully immediately protects, hides and cares for the child.  Boo falls into the clutches of the Chairman of Monsters Inc., Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn) and Randall Boggs in a plot to enslave children and forcibly extract their screams. Randall is a chameleon-like Power of Truth character.  He possesses the ability to change color in an sneaky stealthy shape-shifting way that truly terrifies Boo.

In uncovering the plot and rescuing Boo, Sully and Mike also discover that more power is generated by laughter than by fear.  Randall and Waternoose are exposed and defeated.  Monsters Inc. revamps its approach and generates even more power.  Mike finally graduates to having his own door and Sully reunites with Boo for a final tender good-bye.

This wonderful Pixar movie made me wonder what in my life is powered by fear.  It made me wonder what would happen if I turned off that switch and changed tactics, like Monsters Inc.  It’s my belief that any decision generated by fear is the wrong decision. Fear always speaks to the worst in us.  What leap of faith would I need to take to generate more power through joy? What would I need to change in my life to do that?

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.

Devil In A Blue Dress – Day Twenty Three – #40movies40days

d54252bc28dYet another wheezing and coughing allergy day.  I needed to get to work on my Thriller Workshop in New York, so I decided to catch up with Devil In A Blue Dress. This tepid adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel is a disappointment.  I can only hope the book was better.

Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) loses his job and is offered a quick $100 to find a politician’s girlfriend.  She’s a white girl who likes hot jazz and has been seen frequenting an illegal “colored” nightclub.  Denzel quickly gets caught up in murder and blackmail.

In the best thrillers, (Power of Truth stories) the crime or mystery is a way of going deeper into the main character.  While the investigator is chasing someone or something he is usually running from himself. No such thing happens in Devil In A Blue Dress.  It’s a straight forward by-the-numbers episodic investigation.  No larger deeper truth is revealed.  We learn nothing new about the protagonist and he learns nothing about himself as a result of solving the mystery.

Worse, the devil in a blue dress isn’t devilish at all.  She’s just misguided, believing love will trump her mixed race background and she can marry her white prince charming.  She’s a femme fatale on the run without any dangerous claws.

Roger Ebert summed up my feelings perfectly in his review:

I liked the movie without quite being caught up in it: I liked the period, tone and look more than the story, which I never really cared much about. The explanation, when it comes, tidies all the loose ends, but you’re aware it’s arbitrary – an elegant solution to a chess problem, rather than a necessary outcome of guilt and passion.  http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19950929/REVIEWS/509290302

It doesn’t surprise me there was no second movie adaptation of the Easy Rawlins franchise.

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!

Shutter Island – Day Twenty One – #40movies40days

shutter-island-dicaprioI’m going to keep it short because I have a terrible allergy attack today.  Coughing, wheezing and sneezing.  Not fun!

I finally caught up with Shutter Island last night.  I wasn’t interested in the movie when it was released.  Something about the trailer turned me off or was irritating.  I can’t remember what that was.  But I’m preparing for my Thriller Workshop in New York City and thought I should see it.  I’m glad I did.

I liked the movie a lot.  It’s a classic Power of Truth story asking: Who can I trust?  Do I see what I think I see? What’s really going on?  What does it all mean? ** SPOILERS AHEAD **

Shutter Island reminded me very much of Memento.  In both films a man’s wife dies in the aftermath of a violent act.  Each man constructs an elaborate narrative about what happened and who is responsible.  Each man searches for his wife’s “killer.”  After the shock of being confronted with the truth, each man retreats back to his fictional narrative.

The film is an interesting follow up to What The Bleep Do We Know.  That film and my interpretation of it argues:

I am who I say I am.  I am the story I tell about myself– to me and to others.
I chose my story and I continue to chose it consciously or unconsciously every day.
Events in the past do not create or destroy my character– my reaction to, attitude toward and interpretation of those events is what creates or destroys my character.

I am who I say I am.  I am the story I tell about myself– to me and to others.

I chose my story and I continue to chose it consciously or unconsciously every day.

Events in the past do not create or destroy my character– my reaction to, attitude toward and interpretation of those events is what creates or destroys my character.

shutter-island-review4At the end of Shutter Island, the protagonist (Leonardo DiCaprio), chooses madness.  He can’t face his role in the deaths of his wife and children.  He would rather “Die a good man (his fictional self) than live as a monster (and face what really happened)”.  He cannot do the work to process his grief, forgive himself and resolve his loss.

At the end of Memento, the protagonist (Guy Pearce) chooses to kill the only man who has the key to his wife’s killer.  He can’t face his role in her death. The truth is too painful so he “makes up his own truth”.  He cannot forgive himself and resolve his loss.  So he creates a mystery he can never solve.

Reality is the story we choose to tell about ourselves and our world.  Power of Truth characters struggle to define what reality they can accept and what reality they choose to ignore (or to hide).  Although they seek the truth, the person most often lying to them is themselves.

The protagonists in Shutter Island and Memento choose a story that fictionalizes and twists the truth. Each would rather be insane/lobotomized/lost in a haze of distorted memories rather than face responsibility for the death that haunts him.

Shutter Island is a fascinating psychological thriller that unwraps the protagonist’s psyche in a slow tortuous fashion.  The surprise twist is extremely satisfying.   Although the protagonist is judged insane, he makes a choice that proves his sanity in that he is fully conscious of what he’s doing.

What The Bleep Do We Know – Day Twenty – #40movies40days

Cas-AWell, I’m half way through my Lenten Project.  This was a great movie to mark that milestone. Here are some fundament things I believe are true and that the movie touches on:

I am who I say I am.  I am the story I tell about myself– to me and to others.

I chose my story and I continue to chose it consciously or unconsciously every day.

Events in the past do not create or destroy my character– my reaction to, attitude toward and interpretation of those events is what creates or destroys my character.

For example:  Two individuals might be violently assaulted and robbed at an early age.  Or a parent might die while two different individuals are very young.

How each person reacts to those events and what they tell themselves about what those events mean shapes who those individuals are.

For one person each event is tragic and proof they are unlucky and the world is a hostile dangerous place. For another person each event is tragic but proof of their own resilience and the miracle of unexpected kindnesses offered by others.

synapseExactly the same events can happen in exactly the same way but be interpreted completely differently by two different people.  The only thing that changes in the scenario is the individual reaction, attitude and the meaning each imposes on the event.  The only thing that changes is the story the person tells about him/herself and the world at large.  That story is the individual’s “reality.”

As each person goes through life he or she continues to focus on and interpret each event in light of what story the person is confirming about themselves (and the world he or she lives in).  We are all constantly looking for relationships and situations to confirm what we believe is true. (You see…!)  We are constantly shaping our own reality.

The person who believes the world is hostile and dangerous will consciously or unconsciously interpret and mentally edit all sorts of events to confirm that story.  He or she won’t really notice, connect with or strongly react to the hundreds of events large and small that refute the story.  (Yes, but…. )

Likewise, the person who sees life as a miracle waiting to happen will follow the same pattern. He or she will not really notice, connect with or strongly react to all the large and small events that might contradict to that story.  (Yes, but…. )

BrainElectricalActivityHalts_thumbEach of us is continually shaping and reshaping ourselves, the world and reality itself to fit our story. We tend to discount or dismiss anything that doesn’t fit into our own perceptions or the reality we have constructed.  If you absolutely believe something is true– for you it is true.

In order to do anything, first you must believe it is possible.  If you tell yourself it’s not possible then, by definition, you can’t ever achieve it.  “It is impossible to act differently than how you see yourself or how you see your world.”  That statement is the basis of all my story consulting.

For example:  For as long as running has been clocked as a professional sport every one “knew” it was impossible to break the 4 minute mile barrier.  That was the universally accept fact.  It was the reality– until Roger Bannister broke the barrier in 1954.  The “four minute barrier” has since been broken by hundreds of male athletes.  And now, it is the standard by which all professional middle distance runners are judged. In the last 50 years, the mile record has been lowered by almost 17 seconds from Bannister’s early achievement.

Once Bannister changed the story (and reality itself) by proving it was possible to break the “four minute” barrier– the barrier was immediately broken again and again until now it is the common measure of a professional middle distance runner.

That is the way anyone changes reality.  You believe something is possible (or true) and then you set out in a systematic way to achieve it (or prove it).  “Dare to dream a dream and it will come true.”  “If you dream it you achieve it.”

whatisthisThe only thing we can absolutely control or change is our attitude. Changing our attitude changes the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we tell about the world we live in. It changes what we believe is true or is possible. It changes our consciousness and the nature of reality itself!

If you want to change yourself, change history or change the world, first you have to change the story.  Gandhi famously said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

What the Bleep Do We Know has been accused of being a mishmash of pseudo science and New Age wacky thinking.  But there is a solid kernel at its heart that I absolutely believe is true. “It is impossible to act differently than how you see yourself and how you see your world.”

If you believe your possibilities are limited, then they are.  If you believe you will fail, you will. If you believe you can change your story, then you can.

I am trying to see myself in a different light and to change my own story.  I will report my results at the end of the project.

The Awful Truth – Day Thirteen – #40movies#40days

awful truth 4I chose this film because it’s a classic I hadn’t seen before.  The following is a wonderful description of the film from Wikipedia with edits, inserts and additions from me–

The Awful Truth is a 1937 screwball comedy film starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) returns home from a trip to find his wife, Lucy (Irene Dunne), is not home. When she returns in the company of her handsome music teacher, Armand Duvalle (Alexander D’Arcy), he learns that she spent the night in the country with him, after his car supposedly broke down. Then, Lucy discovers that Jerry hadn’t gone to Florida as he had claimed. Mutual suspicions result in divorce proceedings. The film follows the great lengths the couple goes to to ruin each other’s post-separation romantic escapades.

Lucy: It’s enough to destroy one’s faith, isn’t it?

Jerry: Oh, I haven’t any faith left in anyone.

Lucy: I know just how you feel.

Jerry: What do you mean?

Lucy: (She tosses the “California” marked orange at him and he notices his incriminating mistake.) You didn’t happen to mention in any of your letters what a terrible rainy spell they were having in Florida. The papers were full of it.

Jerry: Well, I can explain that, Lucy.

Lucy: You can?

Jerry: And don’t try to change the subject. You think a great offense is a great defense. Don’t try to justify your behavior by insinuating things about me.

Lucy: But I haven’t any behavior to justify. I’ve just been unlucky, that’s all. You’ve come home and caught me in a truth and it seems there’s nothing less logical than the truth.

Jerry: Hmm, a philosopher, huh?

Lucy: You don’t believe me.

Jerry: Oh, how can I believe you? The car broke down. People stopped believing that one before cars started breaking down.

Lucy: Well, his car’s very old.

Jerry: Well, so’s his story.

http://www.filmsite.org/awfu.html

Lucy: It’s enough to destroy one’s faith, isn’t it?
Jerry: Oh, I haven’t any faith left in anyone.
Lucy: I know just how you feel.
Jerry: What do you mean?
Lucy: (She tosses the orange at him and he notices his incriminating mistake.) You didn’t happen to mention in any of your letters what a terrible rainy spell they were having in Florida. The papers were full of it.
Jerry: Well, I can explain that, Lucy.
Lucy: You can?
Jerry: And don’t try to change the subject. You think a great offense is a great defense. Don’t try to justify your behavior by insinuating things about me.
Lucy: But I haven’t any behavior to justify. I’ve just been unlucky, that’s all. You’ve come home and caught me in a truth and it seems there’s nothing less logical than the truth.
Jerry: Hmm, a philosopher, huh?
Lucy: You don’t believe me.
Jerry: Oh, how can I believe you? The car broke down. People stopped believing that one before cars stopped breaking down.
Lucy: Well, his car’s very old.
Jerry: Well, so’s his story.The film was directed by Leo McCarey, who won the 1938 Academy Award for Best Director.  The film received nominations for Best Picture, Irene Dunne was nominated for Best Actress, Ralph Bellamy for Best Supporting Actor and Viña Delmar for Best Adapted Screenplay.The Awful Truth marked the introduction of the light, witty, suave comedic role Cary Grant played in almost all of his subsequent films. Arguably, it’s the film that ignited his unique star power.

the-awful-truth-cary-grant-irene-dunneWriter/director Peter Bogdanovich has noted that after this movie, when it came to light comedy, “there was Cary Grant and everyone else was an also-ran.” McCarey is largely credited with concocting this persona, and the two men even shared an eerie physical resemblance.

Grant fought hard to get out of the film during its shooting, since McCarey seemed to be improvising as he went along.  Grant even wanted to switch roles with co-star Ralph Bellamy.

Although this initially led to hard feelings, it didn’t prevent other McCarey-Grant collaborations, My Favorite Wife (1940), Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), and An Affair to Remember (1957), from being made later.

The continuing relationship was probably based on Leo McCarey winning the 1938 Academy Award for Best Director for The Awful Truth. It also received a nomination for Best Picture, Irene Dunne was nominated for Best Actress, Ralph Bellamy for Best Supporting Actor and Viña Delmar for Best Adapted Screenplay.  The film was a box office smash.

The Awful Truth is one of a series of films that the philosopher Stanley Cavell calls “comedies of remarriage”, where couples who have once been married, or are on the verge of divorce, etc., rediscover that they are in love with each other, and recommit to the idea of marriage.

Other examples include The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, both released in 1940 and both starring Grant, and the Noel Coward play and film Private Lives. The original template for this kind of comedy is Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  Although the Character Types in each of these films are different they are all in the same situation. You rarely see this type of “rediscovering love” comedy any more.

mccarey_AwfulTruthMany of the classic screwball comedies of this era are based on the predicaments of people who are too clever and witty for their own good.  In the beginning of the story, they outsmart themselves and then have to untangle the wounded feelings, misunderstandings and ego problems that ensue. Foolish pride gets in way and the situation escalates.

The thing that struck me was the sparkle of wit and intelligence that characterized this film and the “golden era” of romantic comedies.  Everyone in the film is an adult.  Today comedies so often feature a man-child, who is a bit of slob and adolescent in behavior or lacking responsibility or commitment, but who somehow gets the gorgeous girl anyway.  Where have all the adult men gone in comedies today?

For me The Awful Truth is a comedic lesson on how quickly a situation spins out of control when we are blinded by jealousy, pride and our own vanity.  It’s a lesson I have to learn over and over.

Howard Suber on Despair and Success

Here is a great interview with Howard Suber, lecturing in Japan, talking about what makes a writer or filmmaker successful–

His book The Power of Film is well worth reading.

My Dog Skip – Day Seven – #40movies40days

mydogsk2I decided on some lighter fare for my day seven viewing–  A whole week now!  My Dog Skip is based on an autobiographical book by Willie Morris.  Morris grew up in the small town of Yazoo Mississippi in the 1940’s.

He was scrawny boy, shy and small for his age, more interested in reading than playing ball.  It was not a good combination for making friends or being socially accepted in the South.  

When town high school sports hero and kindly next door neighbor, Dink Jenkins (Luke Wilson), enlists in the Army, Willie (Frankie Muniz) is bereft.  His determined charismatic mother (Diane Lane) defies her husband (Kevin Bacon) and buy a dog for the lonely child.

Skip teaches Willie some of life’s greatest lessons: how to be a good friend, how to engage with and be curious about others and the world around us, the power of forgiveness and how to be brave, loyal and true.  He helps Willie make the difficult transitions from childhood to boyhood to manhood with confidence, optimism and joy.  At one point, Willie almost loses Skip in selfish and traumatic incident and that only makes their bond stronger.

ec34x2wjpfcx432xMy Dog Skip is a great family film, which I missed on its initial release.  It is an instant streaming film on Netflix and a worthy addition to your queue.  It reminded me of my own first dog, Penney. She was a darling beagle pup who grew into a faithful companion.  

I too was a shy kid, most comfortable in my room with my nose in a book.  Penney got me outside and like Skip, she attracted other kids. We spent hours teaching her to do tricks and putting her through her paces on elaborate obstacle course I built out of croquet hoops, small garden objects and cardboard boxes. She was ever patient, ever enthusiastic and ever willing to try new things.  Just exactly the way I wanted to be.  I still think about her.

A small note about the author.  Willie Morris was a writer and teacher of writing and had a wide circle of friends, including Yazoo City childhood buddies and well-known writers like James Jones (From Here to Eternity), Winston Groom (Forrest Gump’), William Styron (Sophie’s Choice), John Knowles (A Separate Peace), James Dickey (Deliverance) and Irwin Shaw (Rich Man, Poor Man). Another of his books Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood was made into a TV movie entitled The River Pirates.

My Dog Skip won the Broadcast Film Critics Award for “Best Family Film” for the year 2000, Silver Medal Giffoni Film Festival Award, Best Cast Young Star Awards, Silver Angel Award winner, ArkTrust Genises Award and the Christopher Award for Best Family Film.  It  came in at number 4 of Variety’s “dollar for dollar” most profitable films of the year 2000 and remained in Variety’s Top Ten video sales charts for five months after its video release.

Willie Morris, the book’s author, suffered from a heart attack right after the film was completed in 1999. Morris saw a preliminary screening of the film in New York and praised it as “an absolute classic.” Morris died a couple of days later and never saw the final cut. The film is dedicated to his memory. That sad fact gives the opening an even more poignant tone.  This is wonderful Power of Idealism film dealing with memory, loss and coming of age.
.
The first few minutes are below:
.