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Friday, April 16, 2010

Groundhog Day Part 2

Found this from The AV Club, it further explores Buddhism in Groundhog Day from a previous post I had made:
(also explores the many deep concepts that Bill Murray's characters have touched on)
http://www.avclub.com/austin/articles/it-just-doesnt-matter-the-philosophy-of-bill-murra,37733/

The Buddhism of Groundhog Day
Though everyone from secular self-help therapists to Catholics have claimed it as their own, Groundhog Day is especially beloved by the Buddhists, who view it as an illustration of the notion of “samsara”—the endless cycle of birth and rebirth that can only be escaped when one achieves total enlightenment. In the film, Murray’s sarcastic, self-serving weatherman is forced to repeat a single day out of his life until he comes to terms with the Four Noble Truths: 1) Life is suffering (but that doesn’t mean you have to add to it by being a jerk). 2) The origin of suffering is attachment to desire (so don’t spend your days robbing banks, stuffing your face with danishes, and trying to bamboozle your way into Andie MacDowell’s pants). 3) There is a way out (by dedicating your time to bettering yourself), and 4) it involves following the “eightfold path,” which means revoking self-indulgence and becoming a “bodhisattva”—someone who acquires skills and uses them in the selfless service of others (like changing an old lady’s tire, saving kids who fall out of trees, and performing the Heimlich maneuver on a choking victim). As a result of Murray’s generous acts, he receives the love of the whole town—a oneness with the universe—and is allowed to evolve past the cycle of samsara to nirvana. In this case, “nirvana” means renting a house in rural Pennsylvania and waking up next to Andie MacDowell every day, but hey, whatever makes him happy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Orientalism in Hollywood films

To understand what I mean by "Orientalism" and the objective of this response, please watch this short film prior to reading: http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=-223210418534585840#

It is difficult for a Westerner who has never been there, to picture the Orient without using images that credit Hollywood films.  Of course this is highly problematic due to the absolute misconception and racist overtones that come along with depictions of the Orient in these films and media.  Park (2005) states that “Although many modern institutions participate in this structuring of knowledge over the Orient, media are particularly critical in this process, not just as central institutions in the distribution of knowledge, but as integrally linked to military, political and economic agencies that benefit from a limited view of the Orient as a problem in need of a western, technological fix.”  Through a process called and coined by Edward Said as Orientalism.  Orientalism is primarily a term used for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern Culture in the West by writers, designers and artists.  More recently, the term is also used in the meaning of "the stereotyping of Islam" by western culture, and I would argue this stereotyping happens primarily due to the Western media and films. Park (2005) explains that “large groups of people with diverse histories become oversimplified into one monolithic, subordinate and ahistorical category. These problematic constructions are perpetuated through visual images, verbal descriptors, and the selection of experts within the media.”  The important part of Orientalism to understand is that even though the process explains how the western media depicts the Orient is that it is more about how the West defines its own culture, and sense of dominance through the media, in relation to a constructed and even subordinate "Orient."  Through global events of recent decades it even is argued that Hollywood films project this dominance as a means of propaganda to a subordinate culture.

Capitalist influences on the media force the network and production companies to compete in what they show, battling back and forth giving the viewer what they want to see.  This battle can create exaggeration, sensationalism and even fiction mingled with fact.  Hollywood films, I would argue but showing the Arab or Orient in a specifically constructed way are doing it to fulfill the subconscious of the viewer.  When a country is at war with another, the viewer is more likely to pay to watch something that will make them feel at peace instead of a threat.  For example, in True Lies the protagonist, Harry must find and catch a terrorist threatening the government with, of course, a bomb threat.  The American public has been propagated into automatically thinking that the Arab is automatically the enemy.  If Harry were to die or if the Arab antagonist were to have any sense of victory the director wouldn’t have fulfilled the principles of capitalism: give the people what they want.  It is typical of Hollywood to represent the Arab as an incompetent villain so as to make America’s purpose abroad seem like a simple task. News stations are in competition to give the most shocking, and often exaggerated story possible so people will chose to watch their more entertaining story over another’s.  This causes the media to continually report stories that elicit fear and in the case of reporting news of the “Orient” these stories only show the elements we should be afraid of as the necessary stories.  No one wants to live in fear, and in this way Hollywood gives the public peace of mind.  In partnership with the news, creating a desire for peace and the Hollywood film industry selling tickets for an aesthetic peace of mind, capitalism’s nature has created extremely racist depictions of the “Orient.”  I would argue that even though some viewers might be completely unaware of the stereotypes that are being put in place through the media, these viewers enjoy the ignorance of thinking that the Hollywood depiction of the Arab is accurate to satisfy their feelings of peace and conquering of the “other.”  Park (2005) summarizes that “For the majority of those within the US, ignorance of important cultural histories, as well as of global situations with direct domestic implications, may result. For others within the US who exhibit characteristics of cultural otherness associated with the "Orient," discrimination, abuse, and misunderstandings may result.”

Another point where Orientalism becomes problematic is when the Western view of the Orient is show in other places of the world.  For example, when True Lies or the many films just like it is shown in a theater or a bootlegged copy of it is purchased from a street vendor or rented anywhere else in the world it becomes obvious, even embarrassing to see how American Hollywood chooses to depict this typical Arab figure over and over again.  Across the world certainly a sense of embarrassment can be felt for how consistently racist Hollywood can be, but how does the Egyptian or the Iranian (two completely different cultures, and of course multiple subcultures within each culture) feel to see that they are being painted as being the same typical “Arab” to Americans.  Also how would it feel to see that the typical Arab is slaughtered and continually beat film after film?  Perhaps it would feel as if America is trying to send a message to its own people that this is how they feel victory should look like (the eventual death of the enemy, or the Arab).  Although peace of mind is what sells tickets, it is ironic that by selling peace of mind the Hollywood culture is sending a message of war through the distribution of film.  Park (2005) argues further that “for those within countries associated with the "Orient" outside of the US, military conflict, political intervention, and economic dominance may result. Media participate at each of these levels, whether in terms of civil harmony or international conflict, perpetuating problematic stereotypes that serve as justification for humiliating interpersonal dynamics as well as misguided superpower intervention.”  It is the ignorance of the common US viewer that allows this process to continue as we continue to participate and support these images, which can be argued have global consequence on multiple levels.

In summary, the motivations behind these cultural paradigms caused by Holllywood’s Orientalism have greater implications than a simple movie night.  The images chosen by Hollywood directors are seen across the world and distributed to various demographics, cultures and nations worldwide.  Park (2005) advises that “If we would like to move beyond our lack of understanding of cultural "others," then we must rethink how we organize access to the means of media and cultural production, offering a more participatory and shared experience across cultural domains.”  In order to do this we must deconstruct the motivations behind these images, which I have argued is due to capitalist intentions between media and film companies.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cheaters


“He’s a great teacher”, “then what’s he doing here?” This exchange sets the tone for the entire film.  That it is hard to believe that the prestige of society would pay attention or give time to the marginalized or less privileged.  Cheaters tells the true story of the fall of 1994, where a teacher (Jeff Daniels) at Chicago's run-down Steinmetz High recruits seven students for an academic decathlon team. They work long hours, preparing for the February regional event, won for ten straight years by a privileged, preppy school. Steinmetz finishes just well enough to be invited to the state meet. When a team member steals a copy of the state test, the teacher and kids face a dilemma: to remain honest, or to cheat and score a victory for kids in underfunded schools.   The teacher decides to cheat along with all the students to make up for mistreatment and being victims of a system that continues to only allow the rich kids to succeed while the poor kids have to sit and watch.  When they do well, they must face a withering barrage of investigations, accusations, lawyers' lies, and reporters' intrusions.  To me, for a “true story” it seemed quite unrealistic or a massive disconnect in the story that a bunch of kids would be willing to sacrifice 2 hours before school and 5 hours after school every day for something they were never willing to do in the first place. The details may have seemed unrealistic but the way the story unfolds is very real. No one questions a good school when they do well, however it makes news when a poor school does well.
            Sure the story would be more inspiring and sprinkled if they had succeeded without cheating, but in this way the story paints the reality of life, that the system makes it so hard for the poor to succeed that it seems that the only way that they can succeed is by cheating. These kids are victims of social reproduction, as is the teacher as well (he can’t even make copies to rise above the richer programs in his school). If the privileged systems are the only ones that ever get a chance, there is a minimal chance of the marginalized to overcome the factors causing reproduction.  The film shadows the words of Bowles and Gintis in their book “Schooling in Capitalist America” who are famous for their words on this very subject and situation.  Social reproduction theory argues that schools are not institutions of equal opportunity but mechanisms for perpetuating social inequalities.  Bowles and Gintis acknowledge, just as Freire did, that some educators are extremely good hearted and well-meaning teachers who do indeed believe in meritocracy and try their best to deliver it. But, Bowles and Gintis argument tries to show that the fundamental structure of the school as a social institution is not this meritocratic institution, but a tool of shaping mindsets for capitalist purposes.  The school, on Bowles and Gintis' view is a secondary social institution. That is, there is a higher level of social institutions, the key one of which is the economy. The school is not an institution in its own right on their argument, rather it is a secondary institution which serves the interest and does the bidding of that higher level institution or prepare students to be dominated by the system of industrial capitalism. The authors argue that schooling has more to do with disciplining the workforce than it does with anything like critical thinking or creativity.  For example they say that as you continue to move up in schooling (Elementary to Jr. High and on to High school and University) the cultural capital and linguistic capital used (the language of the prestige) continues to change and become more and more privileged, thus making it almost impossible for the marginalized to rise above and in effect, become part of the system.  Also, that if say a student is somehow able to make it through these boundaries, there is an inflation of credentials in order to receive a degree or get hired in the workforce making it impossible to keep up with those that “have it good.”

            It is ironic to me that the teacher in “Cheaters” had the student’s trust and faith, yet he proves that he cannot be trusted by encouraging cheating. Then again the school board president also showed an irony (preached the importance of being honest and was guilty of tax evasion) in that everyone has been guilty of a lie or a cheat in their own lives; it is the extremity of the lie that convicts them.  It hit me though that initially I thought that it was unrealistic that these students would jump at the opportunity to dedicate this much time to the decathlon, but then I realized that by me doubting that such a thing could happen I was no more different that the system that doubted they could do well in the first place.

            The film presents an intense ambiguity about real life, in that the film does not ask as much about school and teaching as it does about when civil disobedience is okay and when is it not? Usually the only honorable acts of civil disobedience are those that actually played a part in affecting change. In the case of the “Cheaters” it would seem that their act didn’t change much at all, but rather was a bunch of kids and their teacher seeing how far they could scramble in their own lies. The film had a valuable spin on what occurred, but in actuality I doubt that their intentions in real life were nothing more than to win and nothing less than being afraid of getting caught.


 CONSENSUS

Rotten Tomatoes give this move a 80% rating

Zoom In Analysis will 
DISAGREE with this rating and give it a 7/10.  Though it raises great questions about ethics and questions the schooling system itself, Cheaters falls short because of its many disconnects in storyline and amateur acting (aside from Jeff Daniels who makes up for a lot of it).  As a film it fails on many technical details, but as a movie meant to raise and elicit some critical thinking about the system that these students were victims of it is very much a success.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Masculinity portrayed in Disney Cartoons





Modern masculinity “shows men trying to find their place in the modern world, seeking help regarding how to behave in relationships, and advice on how to earn the attention, love and respect of women, and the friendship of other men” (p. 189).  In the typical Disney cartoon masculinity is represented in its male characters in what Mills (2001) defines as the four types of masculinity. 
            The first category, “hegemonic masculinity is the most valued form of masculinity in a patriarchal culture and is “constructed in relation to and against femininity and subordinated forms of masculinity.  The dominant masculine form is characterized by heterosexuality, power, authority, aggression and technical competence” (Mills, 2001, p.12). The Disney film Beauty and the Beast holds a character not unlike many others in Disney films with the “ideal” physical body and authoritative demeanor named Gaston.  Gaston sings lyrics about how strong he is, how “every last inch of [him] is covered with hair” (an over-manifestation of heterosexuality).  He sings about how everyone in the town idealizes him and as such is deserving of “the best.”  When making passes at the female protagonist Belle he explains to a friend that “she’s the prettiest and therefore she’s the best.”  Therefore in this way he not only is showing that as the typical muscular man he deserves the best, but also that beauty in a female is all that is required to be of any value to the ideal man.  Also in this film anyone without the ideal body type is not idealized but an outcast as seen in the character Lefou who is acting not as a sidekick but almost as Gaston’s slave who beckons at his every authoritative word.   In the conclusion of the film, Beast doesn’t fight back and therefore Gaston proclaims that he is “too kind and gentle to fight,” qualities that are not apparently typical to a man. Another example of this type of masculinity is represented in the film Mulan by the army of men that the female character Mulan is attempting to join. The army sings that they want “a girl worth fighting for.”   In this statement they make it clear that in order to get what you desire, especially in a woman, you have to prove your physical strength.  Also amongst this lyric are the misogynist ways that they describe their ideal woman being based either on looks or one soldier saying “it doesn’t matter what she looks like…only what she cooks like.”  Through actions and words such as these, Mulan learns quickly that to join the army and prove she is “a man,” she must first prove that she possesses the qualities that would prove her as such, physical prowess, strength.  In the film The Incredibles the villain in the film is seen as a weak pushover who finds no way to gain respect amongst his peers.  The villain grows up and becomes an evil super hero by acquiring abilities that represent “power, authority, aggression and technical competence” (Mills, 2001, p.12).  He is then quoted as saying later in the film to the one who’s respect he had been aiming for that “now [he] respect[s] [him] because [he’s] a threat!”  This physical alpha-male who gains automatic respect is repeated over and over again in Disney’s characters such as Hercules and Tarzan.  
The second form, “complicit masculinity…[deals with] men who do little to challenge the patriarchal order, thereby enjoying its many rewards.  Many boys and men experience this form of masculinity, for they do not act out the extremes of hegemonic masculinity, but they do very little to challenge the existing order and thereby reinforce it” (Mills, 2001, p.72).  Prince Charming in Sleeping Beauty among other male figures of royalty in Disney films are born into their roles as masculine authority figures.  They are not always the typical power-hungry alpha male, but at the same time they sit back and enjoy the rewards that come with being a prince or a male symbol of authority.  Another example is King Triton in The Little Mermaid loves his daughters very much, yet he expects them to obey him with no mention in the film of a mother or matriarchal figure in the daughter’s lives.  Woody from Toy Story does not possess the typical masculine physical structure but he is put in charge of all the other toys.  Once finding that everyone listens to him, he never does anything to challenge it, never putting a female in charge or letting up authority at all in that matter.  In fact, when the typical physically masculine male becomes part of the group (Buzz Lightyear) he finds it difficult to sacrifice his masculinity, refusing to share power or popularity with someone perhaps more masculine that he.  In the film The Emporer’s New Groove where Emperor Kuscko (also possessing not the typical physical stereotype) is a sexist royalty figure born into his role of authority who dismisses “ugly” girls by saying “let me guess you have a good personality” as if that’s all that someone unattractive can have of value.  Perhaps most importantly this form is taken on by Disney itself, the male owners of the company fully aware of the order of things, yet doing nothing to challenge its presence.   
The third category is that of “marginalized masculinities…Men of color and men with disabilities, the most traditionally marginalized masculinities” (Meyer, 2007, p. 458). In Beauty and the Beast Belle’s dad Maurice is seen as a “crazy old man” just because his truth is disagreeable to the hegemonic male’s (Gaston) beliefs.  As a result, Maurice’s masculinity is literally locked up and cast away to the side.  In this way representing that minority beliefs and religions are marginalized if not represented by the hegemonic male.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame perhaps exemplifies this form of masculinity best as the character Quasimodo marginalizes himself in a bell tower away from society, being oppressed and eventually picked on by the alpha-male in the film (hegemonic masculinity) who’s only explanation for the hunchback not being like him is that he must be “possessed.”  The hegemonic male is so fixated on his own image and authority that he commonly can’t explain a male being different than himself other than to explain it with an insult or not crediting this type as men at all, as seen in the next category.
The final type or category of masculinity is at the bottom end “of the hierarchy of masculinities are those identities deemed subordinate.  Subordinate masculinities include those that are perceived as antithetical to masculinity: effeminate and gay men.  Anti-gay and sexist language is often used to prove a man’s masculinity.  Men use power over other men to enforce this system and often act with violence toward individuals who are viewed as “traitors to masculinity.”  (Meyer, 2007, p. 458).   Disney films provide viewers with no openly gay characters in their films.  In this way they are reinforcing the hegemonic forms of men and suppressing any option of relation for young male viewers, even limiting relation for female viewers for that matter. 
This hierarchy of masculinity leaves boys feeling physically inadequate and emotionally detached causing what one theorist, Dan Kiley (1983) calls “Peter Pan syndrome.”  Disney’s Peter Pan is perhaps the most real and adequate representation of the unfortunate state of the male today.  “Studies show that society holds basic generalities about young boys. Boys receive tools, bats, fishing rods, trucks and cars. They are cuddled less, and taught to repress their vulnerable feelings. Boys are encouraged to express aggression and expected to succeed in a profession, never admitting to any need for dependence” (Dickstein, 1988).  Disney films are reinforcing this syndrome in that when a boy watches a film he is either seen as a blundering idiot (Lefou) or the ultimate and unattainable symbol of heterosexuality.  With these absolute polarized options being the typical representations in media and film to turn to, boys cannot help but feel a fear of growing up as either way, they are destined to fail.
            These four types of masculinity and how they are represented, or misrepresented in Disney cartoons provide to be a useful guide for “understanding how hegemonic masculinity is reinforced through reiteration of this hierarchy” (Meyer, 2007, p. 459).  It is through these depictions of masculinity that one can provide insight into the various effects such depictions can have on boys who eventually become men and are forced to reconcile their actions according to how they were raised.  Unfortunately Disney films play an important part in many boys’ youth as they grow-up attempting to define themselves as men.  It is unfortunate because their definition of masculinity can only come from what they are told represents a man and what Disney has more than proven is that, similar to Peter Pan it is no wonder why boys should fear the stereotypes of growing up.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shutter Island

Shutter Island was terribly unoriginal. (SPOILER ALERT) This "twist ending" was nothing new. The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, Beautiful Mind, Secret Window, Identity...the list goes on and on. The schizophrenia ending to a film is played out. The only play on this twist is that he becomes cured and walks knowingly into the lobotomy choosing to live in ignorance to his tragic past rather than living free "as a monster" in it (knowing that he killed his wife).  When I saw Shutter Island I was dying for Leo's character to please be right and the world around him convincing him to be crazy. Unfortunately Scorsese became a victim of conformity and couldn't push the envelope like he usually is known for. One critic was very right when they said that "Director Martin Scorsese channels his inner M. Night Shyamalan" in this film. To me this film was no better, nor worse than a Shyamalan film (which is not great).






CONSENSUS



Rotten Tomatoes gives this movie a 66%.

I will AGREE with this rating. Not to discredit the amazing directing skills of Scorsese, the film was impressive, yet terribly unoriginal. As one fellow critic put it best, the film was a "Fair psychological thriller that probably would barely get noticed if it wasn't directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Leonardo DiCaprio."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Forrest Gump


The film has been praised for many reasons, and criticized for being "overly sentimental."  I would like to comment on the two main characters in the film and by explaining their roles, also reveal how great of a film it really is.

The film shows us the world through 2 different perspectives:

1)      Forrest – seeing the world through someone challenged such as Forrest, allows us to see the events that we grew up in as a spectator, naïve to the gruesome and horrible ways not only the world has treated each other (the brutal and unnecessary event called the Vietnam war, assassination of many famous figures such as John Lennon and JFK for no apparent reason according to Gump).  Allowing us to view the world in the way Gump does allows us to see the unnecessary ways the world treats itself, which seemingly is for no reason, or as Gump says “no good reason at all.”  Not only do we see the world as it treats itself globally and politically but at a very human level as well.  Gump never understands why he is picked on, not fully anyway, nor why people do the things they do (abuse Jenny, throw rocks, and call him dumb).  When we see the world through Forrest's eyes, we see that the things we do are never really for any good reason (when Forrest runs across the country no one can understand why he would do it for no reason).  Ultimately the only thing that makes sense to him or motivates Forrest is his love for family (his mom) and Jenny.  Seeing the world and people in this way makes the viewer leave with a perspective that no other film I recall pulls off at such a vicarious and poignant level.  We feel as Forrest feels, that our troubles and quarrels are just as unnecessary as he sees them, yet they still exist and will continue to exist beyond our control, like how Jenny and his mother die.  

2)      Jenny – This perspective is paired with Forrest’s, juxtaposed and presented as the opposite view of the world.  Not ignorant at all but very much alive and attempting to understand every journey and take advantage of every dangerous path presented, if only to feel the true world as it is presented to her without ignorance (drugs, protest groups, playboy model, strip clubs, poverty, hitchhiking).  Even from a very young age (sexual and physical abuse) she is very much the opposite of Forrest in knowing the harshness or realities of life.  Jenny is the antithesis of Forrest, she is polarized in every way from gender to attitude.  When Forrest proposes to her, she refuses, insisting that he "doesn't want to marry [her]."  In this way she is insisting that Forrest doesn't want to become aware, or lose his innocence, for it is his innocence that makes him pure, successful and desirable.  Yet somehow, the two end up together in the end as she realizes that knowing the world for what it really is, is not how she wishes to see it at all.  The realities of the world are harsh and terrifying and for Jenny, they were the source of her death.  She chooses to end her life with Forrest, giving her prosperity to him.  She gives the most innocent part of her (her son) to Forrest in hopes that this will be a rebirth or a new life for herself, a life without knowing the real world and re-entering the innocence of a pure and happy life.  In other words, she proves that being ignorant to the world’s true, explored ways are how she not only wishes she saw it, but how she wishes her son to see it as well.  

Forrest Gump provides the viewer with a unique perspective of the world, a perspective of innocence and ignorance.  It’s ironic that Forrest overcomes the difficulties of challenges by being challenged himself.  It is his ignorance to pressures of life and innocence to the world that cause him to be successful.  He is so naïve to the things that Jenny knows and has experienced that his character becomes the enviable one.  Though “stupid is as stupid does,” Forrest proves not to be “stupid” at all, but the one character in the film that Jenny and the viewer wishes to be like and see the world as.

CONSENSUS
Rotten Tomatoes give this move a 72% rating

Zoom In Analysis will 
DISAGREE with this rating and give it a 9/10.  It's near perfect, one of the greatest films of all time.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund)

           A solid 100 percent on RottenTomatoes.com, winner of Best foreign film at the Golden Globes and nominated for an Oscar (1985), this is the story of Ingemar, who lives with his brother and terminally ill mother. He feels ignored and bullied and constantly is comparing (narrating) himself to the hard times of others.  At least for example his life isn't as bad as as Laika - the Russian dog sent into space who died without food or water, just floating away.  He relates to this dog in many ways however as he too gets sent away to stay with relatives for the summer, while his mother hopefully recovers. While there, he meets various strange characters, giving him experiences that will affect him for the rest of his life.
             Written and directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Cider House Rules, What's Eating Gilbert Grape), this tells the true (based on an autobiography) story of Ingemar, who is a child that finds himself in a comparative pedagogical relation to all the adults around him.  He can't help but find ways to mimic their actions.  His rash and unpredictable behaviours can be attributed to the unpredictability these adults.  His uncle taking him in to dinner then asking him to move in with Mrs. Arvidson, the doctor taking him in then suddenly arguing with his wife about throwing him out on the street, his uncle playing around with Ingemar pretending to be dogs then the next moment unexpectedly closing the door on him, the trapeze cyclist Fransson pretending to be dead then suddenly awaking, Mr. Arvidson one moment asking Ingemar to read to him then quickly taking the magazine away, most of all his mother's sickness and her moods seem to go back and forth and ultimately the unpredictability of her death.  This unpredictability in these pedagogical models intrigues Ingemar so much that he imitates it.  How can he not be expected to do something rash like run away when asked to move out when the question of him moving out was rash and unexpected in the first place?  Why shouldn’t he close his hands over his ears to shut out a distraction or close the door to his ranting mother when numerous times his mother asks him to close the book and stop or when he sees his uncle close the summer house door on his wife yelling, the uncle again closing the door on Ingemar when playing dog?  In light of these models, of course Ingemar would shut his ears, the door on his mother and the door on his uncle to spend a night alone.  Ultimately though through mimicking the unpredictable behaviours around him, he is acting childish but unlike the adults, he has an excuse for acting this way being that he is a child. The irony of it all however is that even though the actions of Ingemar are childish and immature he is mimicking these behaviours from grown-ups.          
           The theme of unpredictability is set from the very start as Ingemar's innocence is presented under a tunnel which is closed off from the outside world that Ingemar hides under.  He cuts his thumb and shares the blood with a female friend, proclaiming that in this way they are now married.  This innocence and moment of naivety is interrupted by an abrupt, sudden shot of a noisy train crushing overtop of the once peaceful tunnel.  I believe the director used this suddenness as a tool to foreshadow that Ingemar's innocence as a child is going to be interrupted by the unpredictability of his surroundings or in other words the unpredictability of the pedagogical relations he has with the adults around him.
            Ingemar is constantly comparing the unpredictability of life to other's experiences and other adults.  When he describes events such as a man with a kidney dying in Chicago, a railcar death, a track and field star getting killed with a javelin, a daredevil motorcycle jumper crashing and dying, or something as simple as him barely able to get to page 30 but his mother finishing the book quickly, Ingemar can’t help but compare himself to those around him and relate to the unpredictability of their events and circumstance.  The example he most frequently refers to however, because it was what he can relate to most is the example of the dog that was sent up to space with no food and died floating in loneliness.  He reflects on this example as he is sent away calling the dog's mission an example of "human progress" as he sees his being sent away to his uncle's a way of human progress for him and his mother to get better.  The summer play house is where he chooses to spend the night and lock his uncle out, the house that he wanted his dog to stay in.  It is in this house that he shuts the door and shuts out the world like he continually shuts his ears off to the world wishing to be oblivious like a dog would be.  Unlike the dog's trip however, Ingemar's space trip comes in a model spaceship on a play zip line built by a local grandfather that glides to a crash on earth.  Instead of drifting away and dying like the dog did, Ingemar finds his home in the comfort of his friends, oblivious to the noise of the town's celebrations from a boxing match and more importantly oblivious to the distractions of his life being treated as a dog. 

CONSENSUS
Rotten Tomatoes give this move a 100% rating

Zoom In Analysis will DISAGREE with this rating and go for an 8/10."
Hallström acknowledges that the film is his best work, the one he compares all his other films to" (About.com).  I don't doubt that this is his best film, and beautifully crafted at that, but a perfect ten seems over the top. Don't let that discredit your motivation for seeing the film however as Axman stated it is "One of the greatest and most sensitive films about children and the turbulence of childhood."  Any educator that deals with children needs to see this film to truly understand or become re-acquainted with what it means to be a child and how a child thinks to everyday situations.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Browning Version

The Browning Version is a film that aptly reveals pedagogical themes of in loco parentis, modeling and the pedagogical relation. Firstly the film takes place at a private school where, not only do the teachers have to supervise the kids throughout the day, but the school holds responsibility for them throughout the night as well. In this vein, the film reveals the parallels between a teacher and parent being very close as its is proven that the children’s parents seem to be cheating on each other at home as well it is ironic that the teachers cheat on each other at the school. In loco parentis is meant to infer positive actions, however in this case the teachers cannot seem to understand the proper behavior and gravity of their responsibility being “in the place of” the parent. If the teachers are to be models for the children, they need to show it in their personal affairs as well. Van Manen (1991) states that as educators “with respect to a child or children, we must be able to analyze, grasp, and understand the child’s situation [and]…act with respect to the child’s situation in terms of our own situated relation to the child” (p.72). In The Browning Version Mr. Crocker-Harris cannot possibly be expected to relate to his students and understand their situation if he cannot come to grips with his own.
In regards to the theme of modeling, Bollnow states that “The child is forming him or herself according to the picture the educator has about the child and according to his or her trust in it.” In other words, treat a child as he is and he remain that way, treat a child as he can become and he will become it. The main character Mr. Andrew Crocker-Harris treats his students in an authoritative, demeaning way and of course because of this they treat him in a similar way behind his back. The science teacher, Frank is mean to Taplow, immediately dismissing him and discluding him from his class, and so the children also follow and pick on Taplow. Conversely, it could be argued that the teacher copies the kids to gain their appeal, picking on Taplow is his way of gaining more clout with the students, in this way it reveals a pedagogical relationship taking on both forms, teachers modeling and learning from students and visa versa from the hidden curriculum.
The film is full of character full of paradox, in fact the central theme of the film to me is character and situational paradox. For example, Laura the wife of Andrew is bored in life yet she has a secret affair. She is in love with someone who doesn’t love her and who favors the husband she is cheating on more than herself. She puts up a façade that she doesn’t care and yet is the most emotional character of all (for example she pretends she doesn’t care about Andrew and yet can’t resist leaving or missing his speech). The headmaster of a scholarly school stresses sport throughout the film. The science teacher Frank lacks disciple and emotion yet he is the only one who can show sympathy. The main character Andrew is full of the most paradox of all however. From the very beginning Andrew calls his marriage an “incompatible marriage,” an oxymoron. Andrew is continually seen as a wimp or one with extreme humility, yet his persona as a teacher is the complete opposite or a façade as a prideful authoritarian. He can speak many languages, yet is a man of few words. He demands respect but he doesn’t seem to show much for his students. Andrew wants to help his student’s lives but can’t help nor fix his own. Bollnow continually speaks of the virtues of an educator, qualities such as love, hope, trust and patience. Andrew is seen to have all of these qualities throughout the film necessary to be a “good” teacher, but he fails to reveal them in his teaching. In the end, he feels he has failed his students but it is the people around him that are failures in their interactions with each other. Andrew concludes the movie being the only one who actually sheds his façade (symbolically when he removes his master’s gown in the final shot) because he shows humility in front of his students and stands up to the headmaster requesting to speak last. Only when he reveals himself do the children translate him and understand their relationship.
CONSENSUS:

Rotten Tomatoes give this move a 80% rating

Zoom In Analysis will DISAGREE with this rating. The film is more deserving of a 7ish/10 I feel, because of its appeal to a slimmer audience. 8 out of 10 people I don't think would enjoy the film, whereas 7 out of 10 would respect its message, the terrific acting by Alfred Finney and its revelations about the personal lives and realities of being a teacher.

The Truman Show: Part Two

Theorist Jean Baudrillard (1998) describes the “simulacrum” or the “representation [that] tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation.” It is a concept that describes the false realities that society presents itself with not only though various forms of media but the facades of our own personas and representations of ourselves as we take on various roles and images we project in our own lives. Baudrillard (1998) goes on to say that “these would be the successive phases of the image: 1 It is the reflection of a basic reality. 2 It masks and perverts a basic reality. 3 It masks the absence of a basic reality. 4 It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.” It is the simulation of truth through various proxies that we encounter every day. Through these proxies we are presented with illusions of reality that neither speak truth nor give us reality, rather a hyper reality is created. In Peter Weir’s The Truman Show the character Truman is unaware that he is under constant surveillance by the world’s largest TV studio, a purely simulated experience that, as will be described in this response, is not too different from the world we live in.

Millions of viewers tune in to watch Truman’s life, who is not acting but simply living his life.
In this vein Zizek (2001) argues that in “the falsity of the "reality TV shows" (even if these shows are "for real,") people still act in them - they simply play themselves.” To Truman, he is acting out the routines of his life with ignorance to the fact that everyone around him is an actor. Similarly, little do we know that we are actors in the false realities of our own lives interacting with the falseness presented by the people or actors around us. The realities or false realities presented by reality TV, like a simulated environment of being marooned on Mark Burnett’s Survivor, or fictionalized reality shows like the Truman Show, or the increasing trend of actors playing themselves in TV shows like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm are all not far off as they act out their lives different from the simulacrum we encounter in our own. The situations may be different, but the simulation of reality and illusion of what is real is very much the same. The simulacrum that Baudrillard (1998) describes is this false plane of illusion just described or “When the real is no longer what it used to be [and] nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality; of second-hand truth, objectivity and authenticity…This is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us: a strategy of the real, neo-real and hyperreal, whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence.”

Herein does The Truman Show offer us a metaphor for our own situation. “The fake landscape Truman lives in is our own media landscape in which news, politics, advertising and public affairs are increasingly made up of theatrical illusions” (Transparency Now). Similar to Plato’s allegory of The Cave, we interact with shadows on the wall, nothing more (a reflection of reality, never reality itself). If Tr
uman were ever to make it out of the TV set (or the cave) he wouldn’t recognize reality and might even want to return to ignorance. Our own cave is similar to this scenario in that everything from the media landscape we can’t help but be engrossed in its “lifelike simulations and story lines, [similar to Truman’s] high-tech facsimile of a sun that benevolently beams down on Truman [or] the mock sincerity of the actor he mistakenly believes is his best friend.” Similar interactions occur in our own lives as we are surrounded by fake personalities, representations and different versions of ourselves (similar to Caden in Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York). These versions, like a teacher-student relationship are fabricated for the stage of a school setting, for example. The teacher is not nearly acting as they would prefer (posing a power relation dictating actions of authority) towards the student (who is taught to be submissive and disciplined and hard working). Neither of these “actors” is performing in their preferred motions; however the simulacrum of life’s “stages” creates these positions of hyper reality.

There are different ways we can react to the simulacrum we are presented with. Either we fully absorb it and accept its forms for whatever they are. This position can either be intentional or complete ignorance, neither of which are necessarily dishonorable but rather tools that the simulacrum uses and fuels upon to exacerbate hyper reality upon others. The lifelikeness and seamlessness of media fabrications and the fact that they are willing to go at great lengths, often bending the truth helps (Transparency Now). The second way we can react to the simulacrum is distance ourselves from it all or in other words “examine its meaning and try to understand the intentions of its authors. This second attitude is what makes criticism -- and freedom -- possible.” In this position we try to distance ourselves from hyper reality as much as possible. We try to leave the world we are presented in.
The media awareness website Transparency Now describes the moment of when Truman begins to contemplate the second approach described above, or leave the hyper reality he finds himself living in.

Truman's fear of leaving this invented world, once he realizes it is a fraud, is similarly like our own reluctance to break our symbiotic relationship with media. His growing suspicion that what he is seeing is staged for his benefit is our own suspicions as the media-fabricated illusions around us begin to break down. And the producer-director of this stage-set world, who blocks Truman's effort to escape, is the giant media companies, news organizations, and media-politicians that have a stake in keeping us surrounded by falsehood, and are prepared to lure us with rewards as they block efforts at reforming the system.


Jean Baudrillard (1998) compares the hyper reality of life and the fabrications resting across the simulacrum to Disneyland. Disneyland is not far off at all from Truman’s world in that
Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation…You park outside, queue up inside, and are totally abandoned at the exit. In this imaginary world the only phantasmagoria is in the inherent warmth and affection of the crowd, and in that aufficiently excessive number of gadgets used there to specifically maintain the multitudinous affect.” Truman is completely engrossed in a world of simulation; everything is staged from his relationships to the weather. When his behaviors begin to be unpredictable, it can be argued that he is still an actor only now he is reacting to the simulacrum or illusions of reality just as we can choose to react in different ways to the reality or hyper reality we are presented with. Like Truman’s world or our world, Baudrillard (1998) argues that “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.”

The Truman Show raises questions about the reality we are presented with and imprisoned under. It can be related to Baudrillard’s writings about an absorbing simulacrum, and as outlined above the various actors and stages that we are forced to pose as and encounter in our everyday relationships and interactions with a hyper reality or our own individual “Truman Show’s.”

See the first Truman show review for consensus and rating

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Salaam Bombay! and Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire was one of my favorite films, until I saw Salaam Bombay!. Life is not a fairy tale as it seems to be in the Oscar winner for Best Picture. Hollywood embraced it's uplifting, unique story where happiness is not only found in love but as the film was made by a Westerner the story is depicted through the lens of American values, including capitalism. So it doesn't hurt that the "slumdog" won a ton of money either. This seems to be the icing on the cake in American cinema, if one can avoid the world of poverty they are considered to have a happy ending. Slumdog Millionaire's title of course is an oxymoron, which is not the only contradiction in the film's world of overwhelming paradox. The film was criticized by Indian audiences for depicting a too-true image of the realities of what it is like to be categorized as "street children" and Indian poverty. However, the real truth is that there is no reality in the story at all. Of course there is value in showing how street children survive, but the happiness in the ending is defined by Western objectives. Hollywood reciprocates the notion over and over again that in order to achieve happiness, love and money are all you need. The fact that the film won an Academy Award for Best Picture proves that when you mix a little bit of reality with the falseness of idealism, people begin to deceive themselves into thinking what they just saw was good because it was "real." If anyone walked out of Slumdog Millionaire (myself included) thinking that they just saw "what it's really like" or "how it is for 'them'," was deceived by the masterful paradox's of Slumdog Millionaire's Hollywood guise. Both films used real street kids as the actors, but something is to be said about the Westerner "using" the child under the lens of the camera as a microscope for his project in Slumdog Millionaire where after the project is completed, similar to neocolonial projects, the subject is abandoned.  Unlike in Salaam Bombay where the children were adopted by crew and helped set up centers around India for similar street kids after the project was complete.  Why is it that the poor are studied and subjected by the rich, why do the poor never have the opportunity to study the rich?  Salaam Bombay had children that were not under study or under a microscope, but they were in it together, along with the director who was also poor, in fact they all shared an empty flat and the director allowed them to sleep in it during filming.  If you were under the impression that when you saw Slumdog Millionaire you were seeing a foreign film (which I know people who have) you are gravely mistaken. If you want to see that foreign film with everything that you thought Slumdog Millionaire was supposed to bring you, or that you thought DID bring you, see Salaam Bombay!.

Salaam Bombay! is a Bollywood film which attempted the same quest to depict "what's it's really like." It was the first film ever in Bollywood to have a kiss on screen, never before due to cultural taboos. As an example of the director's attempt to depict reality, this kiss was nothing magical, or romanticized, it was a kiss of a prostitute submitting to her husband, who happens to be her pimp as well. From director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), this film "burst onto the Indian cinema scene with the force of a tornado" (Time Out London). Winner of the Caméra d'Or at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® in 1989, this riveting look at life on the hardened streets of Bombay went on to accumulate accolades and awards across the globe. Ebert said of the film that the director "has been able to make a film that has the everyday, unforced reality of documentary, and yet the emotional power of great drama." The film just feels so genuine that Ebert is correct that you genuinely feel as if you are watching a documentary.

Forced to leave his family at a very young age, Krishna lives on the streets with pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts and other homeless children. He earns very little money – but it's more than most – delivering tea so he can return home to his family. "But his honest plan is foiled when his hard-earned money is stolen by his closest friend, forcing Krishna to follow in the footsteps of so many street children of Bombay…by turning to a life of crime" (Amazon).

It has been argued that street children have a better experience of growing up than those with parents because of the heavy detrimental influence that each parent makes, even unintentionally. This, of course is an outlandish claim as seen in the film Salaam Bombay. To be a child is not to be ignored and forced to be self reliant. Self reliance must be developed naturally in stages over time, not forced upon an incapable human being with no maturity and less intellect than a fully developed adult. If not developing dependency on parents, the parental role is fulfilled by other mediums such as a pimp, drugs, and even a prostitute in the case of the film. In Edmonton these roles are similar but places like Youth Emergency Shelter and other NGO's across the globe try and monitor children in ways the parents didn't. The role of a parent is crucial and vital in a child's development in becoming self reliant.

Not to discredit the fact that being on their own, these children are learning valuable lessons, street intelligence or "street sense" and depending on how you look at it they develop courage and a lack of fear. For example, the children are hired as caterers at a wedding and one ends up slapping a rich kid, who then runs to his mother. The kids later demand more cash and show no shyness to authority throughout the film because of their freedom from the oppression of authority figures such as teachers and parents. But this is not Summerhill school, the "freedom" they are given holds a great difference, the rich kid can run to his mother when he is afraid, when the street kid is in trouble or experiences fear he has only his pimp, pusher or master to run to for help. All in all, even if we say that these children have no parents, it is entirely false. Everyone has a parent, the parent is just fulfilled by a different role or person who abuses the responsibility to a varying extremity or degree. It is the degree of abuse that determines a "good" parent over a "bad" one. After all, a biological parent could even be worse than the street as a parent.

In the case of Manju, she had parents and still felt that the role was unfulfilled, when her parents visited her in the child center it became apparent that her mother needed Manju more than she needed her mother as the role of father and mother had been abandoned long before she became lost in the literal sense. Manju had found a parent role in the orphan center and perhaps in her friends as well. In the film it seems that trustworthy friends are the best possible parent that a street kid can hope for. Of course I do not attempt to criticize mother's parenting skills attempt to even relate to her situation. It is difficult to critique the parents in the film, that are not unlike characters in real life when we don't understand the societal, historical and cultural circumstances that caused their situation to begin with. Nor am I fully capable of judging their situation when I can only help but see it through a Western lens, not from a perspective which is more capable of resolving the issues of why street children exist historically in the first place. Too often do we fall into the situation or conversation of using terms such as "us" and "them." One thing is for certain however, Manju had become a child of the state or the public street long before her mother realized it.

Throughout the entire film, Krishna is searching to "go home" in the literal sense, but really he is searching for it figuratively as well, anything he can call "home." When he finally has an opportunity to have a structured life in the orphan center, he escapes knowing that this home is unfamiliar. The role of home and parent has been replaced for so long that he only recognizes both as the street itself. His new home and family is represented in the final shot of the film, where he is presented alone on a dreary street without a person in sight. The director has achieved here that reality of this story is the same for almost all street children in the world, that no person will become Krishna's home or his parent, Krishna has only one place to go, the only place he is familiar with to call his home is the street.

CONSENSUS
Rotten Tomatoes give this move a 92% rating

Zoom In Analysis will DISAGREE with this rating and go for a respectable 8.5/10. Though it's a phenomenal film I shouln't claim to be ignorant to the fact that I, myself am a Westerner and I value the entertainment in Western films more, not understanding many cultural references and themes presented in this film (I should make it clear that I still love Slumdog Millionare, but it will remain a PERFECT example of a Western filmmaker trying to depict a non-Western life and culture, or neo-colonialism at work). This film was "an honest and haunting portrait " of reality in India, made by someone who can relate and is more capable of understanding the issues and truthful conclusion that most street kids are forced to face. Trust me, after seeing this film it will stay with you, the ending is depressing and hard to digest.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Daybreakers


We only need to look at the Twilight saga (a teenager torn in her love between necrophilia and bestiality) to see what’s wrong with vampire flicks these days. As a fluffy teen romance movie with vampires, there’s no real horror. If you really want a vampire flick with just the true, originally (Ossenfelder, Rymer or Bram Stoker versions) intended fear of vampires, you’ll have a world full of them in Daybreakers. Not only that but you get a political undertone to boot in this film. As a bonus no one in this film falls in love with werewolves, or are you left wondering, "if these vampires are immortal, and they can live forever and go anywhere they want, why would they waste their time going to high school?" No, none of that, instead these vampires come complete with fangs, fear of sunlight, a need to feed, and even possess the ability to morph into gigantic bats.
In the near future, all of humanity will turn into vampires. And unlike the bloodsuckers in Twilight, these vampires must feed on human blood, and only human blood. Of course, the end of the world as we know it is about to happen when human beings are hunted to extinction. Without any blood to sustain them, the economy will tank, civilisation will collapse, and the vampires will all turn into feral giant bats. Scary!
When you zoom-in at what's really being told here, Daybreakers is actually a metaphor for the oil crisis worldwide in a worst case scenario. Like the oil corporations in the real world, Sam Neil’s pharmaceutical company races against time to develop alternate blood resources. Ethan Hawke plays the chief scientist who, when he finally does find a cure, the company head states that they don't want a cure, they want to compete! Oil companies don't want a cure or alternative sources of energy, or they are out of a job. It is the vampire company's greed that leads to their ultimate destruction (as the power struggles and fight for oil leads to war and ultimately as the film states, the world's destruction). It makes the case for global warming as well as the only cure to become human from vampire is the sun. The sun being the ultimate alternative or cure for dependency on oil (solar energy).

One critic stated that "This would be a really dreary, preachy allegory about corporate greed and monstrosity – and not a vampire flick at all – without Willem Dafoe, who saves the movie as The Dude with a Crossbow." Personally I think Dafoe is overrated, he comes across as overbearing, try hard and not an action hero. His work in Boondock Saints makes that cult classic an overrated piece of work and he ruined green goblin for me.

The Spierig brothers are more competent than most directors in this genre, and succeed in drawing out the horror and even metaphysical aspects of their vampire flick. That being said, to me, the film was mildly entertaining, a lot of stuff I saw in the preview (aside from the massive blood baths). I felt this way until the last 20 minutes, where the twist comes into play. Without spoiling it, let's just say that the sun isn't the only thing that can cure the vampires. This event made the movie for me, it engulfs a very strong conclusion to the film. It is a wild finish that left me more excited than the first half of the film which I thought was just so-so. I have yet to speak to someone that did NOT enjoy this film.
CONSENSUS:

Rotten Tomatoes give this move a 66% rating

Zoom In Analysis will AGREE with this rating. The film's allegory about oil seemed to be a bit overarching, and at times it seemed a bit low budget, but that did not hide the fact that it was oddly unique in a market full of way too many vampire movies. Not spectacular by any means but not a waste of my time either.