• Sunday Essay #5: Three Recent Films Worth Watching

    • Posted on Dec 31, 2017

    Three Recent Films Worth Seeing, in order of worthiness-- Molly’s Game, dir. Aaron Sorkin, The Shape of Water, dir. Guillermo del Toro, and Mudbound, dir. Dee Rees. 

    Molly’s Game takes some getting used to—it’s extra-talky, and the talk contains a good deal of poker jargon that gushes at viewers like water from a firehose.  Clearly, Sorkin is a writer more than a director, and his writer’s stamp and style defines the film.  Remember long soliloquies in West Wing? This film feels and looks like an extended episode of West Wing set in high-end hotels in LA and New York.        

    Here’s a film about amorality—a lack of ethical consciousness on the part of high-rollers with too much money and time on their hands—and who develop an addiction to the adrenalin rushes that a winning poker hand inevitably delivers.

    It’s worth watching because Jessica Chastain, playing the crafty and gritty Molly Bloom, manipulates super-rich gambling addicts into paying her serious money to arrange high-stakes poker games. 

    The subplot about her brutal and cold father (Kevin Costner) helps explain Molly’s anger    and inability to connect emotionally to anyone, though it doesn’t explain her inability to care about ethical issues of constant lying and cheating. 

    If you liked Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, you’ll love her in Molly’s Game. 

     

    The Shape of Water works as a Beauty and the Beast story, meaning it taps into mankind’s most ancient and wise insights. It serves as an archetypal reminder that appearances deceive the best of us, and rewards await those who dismiss appearances and seek deeper realities.  Movies have told and retold this story since the very beginning, whenever a story reveals monsters who reveal goodness, or whenever beautiful people turn out to be monsters.

    Villainy takes beautiful forms, and beauty and goodness sometimes appear monstrous. So The Shape of Water contains visual reminders of The Creature from the Black Lagoon as well as ethical distortions from scientists reminiscent of King Kong.

    It’s worth watching because the main characters—the beauty and the beast—transform from lost, threatened, miserable beings into fully alive, even ecstatic individuals who meld into one another not just as erotic lovers, but as fearless believers in their own right to live their lives without interference from those who would destroy them.  

     

    Mudbound is a Netflix original, which means that you can only watch it on your TV with your Netflix membership. It was released in only 17 theaters around the country on Nov. 17—the same day it was released for home viewing on Netflix. This makes it eligible for the Oscars—and it may be the first Netflix film to be so nominated.  A new era dawns?        

    It fact, Mudbound deserves more than a few Oscar nominations.  It’s hard to watch at times—in fact impossible for some viewers who will cringe and weep at what the characters, especially the Ronsel Jackson character—played by Jason Mitchell—must undergo. This is suffering beyond the pale, and it’s set up in the story so as to feel inevitable—and utterly, horribly unjust. 

    Viewers come to love and admire Ronsel, and frustrated by his being trapped in an apartheid culture that will destroy him, given his new-found liberation as an American soldier in Europe returning to small-town racist Alabama. His evolving, powerful friendship with Jamie McAllan, (Garrett Hedlund) a white fellow war veteran, gives both characters an opportunity for moral transformation that drives the narrative.

    Mudbound isn’t just worth watching—it’s an essential film, one of those films that can alter perceptions and attitudes permanently about racial injustice, families, and American apartheid.

    I can’t help but mention actor Jonathan Banks, who played the crusty and memorable Mike Ehrmantrout in both Breaking Bad and its spin-off Better Call Saul. In Mudbound he plays Pappy McAllan, the racist Klan monster who embodies the ugly nihilism of racial hatred—and who gets exactly what he deserves. 

     

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  • What if Jesus were born a female?

    • Posted on Dec 24, 2017

    Sunday Essay #4 
    12-24-17

    Here's a bit of a reminder that Jesus had to be born male to be a savior.    I wrote it years ago, and recycle it every few Christmases.  It seems to strike a small nerve among both Christians and skeptics.    It's angered a few, and I've heard that it pleases more than a few. 

    If I were a minister, this would be my Christmas sermon.  

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

     

                Every December Christians honor the babe in the manger, and even non-Christians have to admit it’s compelling and memorable.

                It pits the meek against the mighty, poor against the rich, outcasts against insiders. Oh yes, and it's the story behind the founding of a world religion. 

                It’s so powerful that no one thinks twice about recycling it every year.  The same ought to go for alternative versions.  Here’s my revised Christmas story that I have freely adapted from Matthew and Luke in the New Testament.  

                And behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for this which is conceived in her is of the holy spirit.”

                “She will bear a son or daughter and you shall call his or her name Jesus or Jesse, for he or she will save his or her people from their sins.”   

                While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to be delivered.  Lo and behold, Mary gave birth to their first-born daughter, wrapped her in swaddling clothes, and laid her in a manger.  There was no soft crib because there was no place in the inn for mere refugees or immigrants. 

                Following the angel’s suggestion, she named her blessed daughter Jesse.

     

                Now in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And another angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone all about them.  

               The shepherds were sore afraid.   

                And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will come to all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Jesse the Queen.

                 “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

                When the angels went away into heaven the shepherds said to one another, “A little girl, our savior?  Can this be?”

                 “A female savior? A lady Lord?  Women can birth saviors, but they cannot BE one.   Everyone knows that!”

                They went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph.  Soon they looked with wonder on the babe lying in the manger.  And they made known that which they had heard concerning this child.  All the people wondered at what the shepherds told them.

                Then the shepherds were no longer sore afraid.  They were just plain sore. 

                 “What happened to the days when only boys could be saviors?  Has any girl ever become anything but a wife, an old maid, or a witch?”

                The shepherds went home, thinking the real savior had not yet been born.  "Probably some maverick angels," one of them mumbled. 

                 Along the way, they met three wise men who had heard the news.  The shepherds stopped them, saying, “Turn back. Save your frankincense and myrrh. Wait until the real savior comes along. This one’s only a baby girl named Jesse.”

                And Mary, mother of Jesse, pondered all these things in her heart.

                “What if little Jesse had been born a boy?” she wondered, after she and Joseph had returned home.  “Would he have been worshiped as a real savior?”

                Mary prayed nightly that if her daughter Jesse had any special powers she would keep them to herself.  Little boys with special powers became saviors, founders of great religions.  

                Little girls with special powers were burned as witches.

                Baby Jesse grew into wonderful woman, a friend to all in need, wise beyond her years, and deeply beloved.  Thanks to her mother’s wise teaching, she never used her miraculous powers, and never married.

                Jesse lived and died in obscurity.  

                Meanwhile, all around the world, wise men kept waiting for the real boy savior.  

                Merry Christmas, everyone. 

     

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