Sunday, August 19, 2007

Inland Empire, The Breach, Disturbia

A word about INLAND EMPIRE, which I saw a few months back but didn’t get around to writing about. Beyond doubt the most ____ film I have ever seen. Fill in the blank. Original. Indulgent. Weird. Personal. Incoherent. Indescribable. Alienating?

If nothing else, now we know what it's like to be inside someone else's head for three hours. Too bad Lynch couldn’t be bothered to apply his genius to telling a story while he was at it. I mean, the style was impeccable and inspired. But the content? Uh… It was definitely an hour too long, also, making INLAND EMPIRE a prime example of a film artist having too much freedom.

That said the film is inspiring in many ways, because it shows how primitive a style can be, and still be effective. In fact, the rawness of the movie actually made it more effective, more disturbing and atmospheric. I’d love to see this approach used to tell a traditional narrative story, because it would make the most ordinary scenes seem extraordinary, otherworldly. (The trouble with EMPIRE is that it tends to cancel itself out – weird, dreamlike handling of scenes that are already irrational or even incoherent, leaves us with nothing much to respond to.) This raw, avant-garde approach is especially effective for the horror form, I think, and if I ever wind up making my own Vampire movie — i.e. directing the script myself to protect it from outside interference – I would probably use I.E. as a template. It’s a way to make “big” movies on a very intimate, low budget scale.

More recently, probably the best film I've seen over the past couple of months of silence was THE BREACH, with Chris Cooper and Ryan Philippe, an actor I used to despise (for his smug and smarmy performance in Cruel Intentions, a terrible movie)… The Breach is a little flat, it resembles an HBO special more than a “real” movie, but the film’s austerity works in its favor. It’s tightly scripted, directed with subtlety, finesse, and tension, and superbly acted. Above all, it works as an unusually affecting character portrait, that of a real-life CIA agent who switched sides for unfathomable reasons and became a Russian spy. In every way, this is the movie that THE GOOD SHEPHERD fails to be.

I also just saw DISTURBIA, probably the most sheerly enjoyable movie I've seen for a while. The fact that I can talk about DISTURBIA this way with a straight face goes to show how starved we are for good, diverting suspense movies, most especially in the horror/slasher genre, which this is, sort of (predictably the film goes flat once it gets to the killer vs. kids show down). In this genre, if the movie doesn’t insult our intelligence, we may feel pathetically grateful, and DISTURBIA manages to avoid the usual clich├ęs of crushingly obvious dialogue, labored direction, etc, that quickly render most similar movies unwatchable within the first ten minutes. The director, D.J. Caruso, does an impressive job handling the material, turning an only mildly inspired warm-over of REAR WINDOW into a cracking teenage yarn, offering the kind of unabashed movie pleasures that we once got from John Hughes movies, but that are increasingly hard to find these days. The film is terrific when it stays with the kids, but it completely wastes its two adult stars, Carrie Anne Moss (remember Trinity?), who has next to nothing to do, and most especially David Morse. Morse is a wonderfully soulful actor, a real gentle giant that only Sean Penn has ever put to good use (INDIAN RUNNER, CROSSING GUARD), but he seems to have taken to slumming of late, hiding out in “heavy” roles (first 16 BLOCKS, now this) – god knows why, because it’s hard to imagine a less villainous presence than Morse – he’s a 6 foot teddy bear. He’s physically imposing, sure, which is presumably why he gets cast; but one look in those eyes, and we know he could never hurt a fly.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Attitude of Gratitude: The Secret

There's a line in Castaneda that perhaps has stayed with me more than all the countless things of value in those books—for the way it cuts through the guff and gets straight to the heart of the matter (I am paraphrasing): "What few people realize is how hard we work at feeling bad, and that we can work just as hard at feeling good."

In a nutshell, this is what The Secret is all about.

Don’t worry, I’m not writing to share with you the “secret” of “the power of positive thinking.” If you’re on this blog, chances are you already know this “secret.” And if you’re anything like me, it’s familiar to the point of contempt.

When I started watching the movie I was resisting it. I was thinking, “I don’t need to see this, I already know this!” The film seemed facile and asinine. I persisted however, and in retrospect it was as much an emotional resistance as an aesthetic one. By the end, I was weeping tears of gratitude.

Make no mistake, The Secret is a tacky New Age dish. In its presentation, it’s every bit as cheesy, grating, American TV-style as What the Bleep Do We Know? The difference is that the cheese somehow works here, because somehow it manages to be touching rather than infuriating. This is probably because the subject is less “scientific” and more inspirational. Unlike Bleep, which tries to stimulate the intellect but ends up insulting it, The Secret appeals directly to the emotions. The fact that it’s kind of dumb actually enhances its effectiveness.

What made Bleep so obnoxious (to me) was the feeling that the people interviewed seemed to be showing off their superior knowledge; there was a self-serving smugness to them and to the movie. The Secret features a similar bunch of philosophers, authors, and quantum physicists, but the difference is that they genuinely want to communicate their experience, not to show off their intelligence (though there’s a bit of that), but out of appreciation and gratitude for what they’ve learned. They are moved to share the joy they’ve found with anyone who will listen. (It can hardly be a coincidence that the one person in The Secret who did grate on me was a carry-over from Bleep.)

To return to don Juan’s advice: If nothing else, The Secret has helped me realize just how hard I’ve worked, over the years, at feeling bad, and just how successful I've been! In a twisted kind of way, that’s something to be proud of – not for having made myself feel bad, of course (though it’s nothing to be ashamed of), but for having worked so hard and accomplished so much! Proud is perhaps not the word, is it? Let’s say aware. It’s evidence of my application, determination, focus and of the power of thought and unbending intent. My God, think if I just turned that focus around! Anything would be possible!

So yeah. It’s time for a change.

This cheesy little movie has allowed me to finally see that I am ready for a change. I've been ready for quite some time. Make no mistake. This is not a decision; I've made such a “decision” countless times, to little or avail. What it is, rather, is an acceptance. I have changed. Now it’s time to live it. It’s time to appreciate who I am, and how much I have changed already—in order to change some more. To reap the gains of all those self-inflicted pains.

One of the most insightful points in the movie was how, when you look at your life and think, “This is who I am,” you are actually living in the past, because all that has happened so far is just the sum of the thoughts and the intent you've had so far. But your future and who you are in this moment depends on what you think and intend in this moment. We can't define ourselves by the thoughts, acts, and events of the past—we mustn’t, because then there’s no way for us to change. (We define ourselves and get locked into that definition.) When you look at the past and the sum of the things that make up your present life, why not look at it with gratitude for all the things you are glad about? And then you can set about changing the rest of it.

One of the people in the movie compares the effects of living with this “attitude of gratitude” to that of a loving marriage—between ourselves and the Universe. When a woman shows appreciation and happiness for the little things her man does to please her, the man, inspired by the joy of pleasing his beloved, begins to really shower on the love and affection, and so the gifts and caresses, the appreciation and happiness, just keep on coming. We are that blushing bride, and the Universe is just dying to fill us up with all the joy at its disposal.

I started out watching the movie thinking, “Do I really need to be reminded that we have the power to change our lives by thought, and that the Universe is really a beautiful and benevolent place?”

By the end, energy was coursing through me, and the answer was Hell, yes! Every goddamn day and every blessed moment in it. Please! Remind me!