Sunday, February 16, 2014


Peter Berg’s LONE SURVIVOR based on a true story, gives us a view of war’s brutality, tactical decision making, heroism and machismo – all very close up and corporeal. The camera places us in the midst of the horror and camaraderie of four Navy SEALS on a mission in Afghanistan to assassinate a Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. I sit in a half-empty theater – an ice storm swirling outside on this wintry day, wiping clean the tears flecking my glasses wondering why I am emotionally perforated. I realize I am moved watching such young men attempting to survive an undertaking gone awry, due to equipment and communications break down; life and death determinations (which luckily most of us rarely have to make) involving ethical and tactical judgments affecting not only their lives, but radiating out to communities and families – war is heartbreaking..

 We penetrate the requisite male fuck-you banter (there are no woman in this film) glimpsing each of the main character’s lives  - family, children, upcoming weddings, etc. yet these young men are steel hard, having been trained to kill for their country. This is a propaganda film for The Navy SEALS and the “brotherhood” of men who are the “elite corps” disciplined to carry out operations quick and clean – no messy questions asked back home stateside – a place which seems very far away psychologically and physically. The camera contrasts the minuteness of man against the larger tapestry of Afghanistan’s breath-taking mountainous landscape  - dappled with Taliban warriors whose fierceness and savagery are both alien and a response to the many invasions over the past decades into their homeland,

Mark Wahlberg plays Marcus Lutrell and his well-acted “team” performed by Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster – four individuals who have bonded not only due to their rigorous indoctrination process, but additionally through their exposure to risk and isolation. A good part of LONE SURVIVOR contains an outnumbered fight-to-the–death gun battle; what made those scenes so singular was the tracking choreography – we move from macro to micro – we see an overview of strategy, and then the camera focuses directly into the eyes, deep gashes, and bleeding wounds of the casualties shocking us to the vulnerabilities of the flesh.

We also are made aware of the Afghani’s own code of ethics – the villagers who risked their own lives to fight the Taliban and help an American – the lone survivor. The movie glorified bravery and courage but at the same time revealed the profound attachments that are formed in combat. This is a war movie that does not show sweeping battles but rather a small group of soldiers who won’t stop fighting no matter the conditions and odds. We viscerally perceive humanity’s carnality and its mortality in the fight for survival.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

GLORIA 2/4/14

The preview snippets for Director Sebastian Leilo’s GLORIA were more alive than the actual film which I was really looking forward to seeing, primarily because the leading lady played by Paulina Garcia, a woman on the latter side of middle-aged was portrayed in the “come-on” openers with vitality and singular humor. What a disappointment - those 3 minutes of exuberance ended up being the best parts of the movie.

We meet Gloria after work, looking for male companionship in one of the many dance clubs in Santiago Chile – the TV turned on, giving us a glimpse into the political backdrop and upheaval of Chilean society past and present. This story is a much-told tale – the beauty is in the telling, and in this case the joy and abandon that attracted me originally turned out to be predictably flat as the camera kept rolling along.

The essence of GLORIA is the sojourn of an older woman with gumption, who is extremely lonely and eventually learns to be alone and at peace with herself. Gloria is searching for love and sex…age does not matter – the pursuit is never ending.  A divorced woman living by herself with a cat who intrudes on her space every now and then; the cat becoming a glaring metaphor of self-recognition, once Gloria accepts the animal into her life...sigh! Back to Gloria who has two grown children whose lives are also filled with uncertainties and turbulence, rarely calling their mom - a scenario that sounds familiar.  Even though Gloria is outwardly aging, she is inwardly erupting with sexuality – yet her choice in men doesn’t seem very promising. UNTIL she locks eyes with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez) and they whirl, spin and swing into the wee hours of the night and into bed. 

Gloria has allowed herself to be penetrated in every way - the aura of romance is blinding and passionate. The world is turned upside down; nature seems to radiate greater intensity; we inhale scents we have previously disregarded; we view the commonplace with raw sensitized nerve endings  - that is amour’s beauty and its momentary illusion and Gloria is caught in its grip. A relationship with Rodolfo begins, which at this time of life, involves one’s past often intruding on the present, and the question of how to deal with long-standing obligations and alliances, can be elusive and claustrophobic.

Gloria’s disappointments are allayed with a stiff drink or two, or some long tokes on a joint, Being diagnosed with Glaucoma and being prescribed eye drops becomes a recurring symbol of seeing the ”other” with greater clarity  - an allusion that drove me nuts with its medical inaccuracy. We are talking lowering pressure here not sight enhancement.

Music dominates the movie and the most sparkling scenes involve Gloria accompanying tunes that she hears while driving, relaxing at home or lounging in a dance / disco club – spontaneously singing along – cutting loose, unchecked and liberated. Then her innate complexity and indomitable will shine through, giving me insight into a woman who is developing a serenity with herself.


Sunday, February 2, 2014


I HATED the pretentious film THE GREAT BEAUTY and won't write my usual review -  rather  I am jotting down some reflections...but had to allow my squirmy, moaning, muttering self - I am a terribly annoying movie partner to settle down. Judith who went with me had to literally kick my leg to shut me up. (She's allowed to do that by the way - we are such good friends.)

I am both perversely attracted and repelled by Germanic history, and the tragedy of my own German heritage - an internal antenna inside of me is finely tuned  to absolutist and monocratic proclamations - so the premise of the search for the glorification of the IDEAL of "GREAT BEAUTY" makes me tremble, bringing  me back to Aryanism.  But I tend to go there very quickly. I too am captivated by the rare blossoming of pulchritude (a word that sounds ugly) and often swivel my head to gaze at loveliness with appreciation, but that does not keep me from the day to day, often tedious business of going on with my life and work. The search for "Great Beauty" is no excuse to live an aimless life. Not in my book. The"romanticism" with the past is over-blown and "dangerously destructive."

This retro Fellini-esque film brought me back to the panting, excited girl who was seeing Italian and "foreign movies" in the Art Houses of the 60's; the enveloping darkness was erotic and mysterious;  those movies...oops "films"  were fresh and felt grounded in a magic that was new and enchanting, shattering the projected conventions of its period. THE GREAT BEAUTY was full of what some perceived as "deep", pithy, "philosophical" statements uttered by a jaded, older, seen-it-all, one book under his belt, AESTHETE whose boredom was YES boring.

Tony Servillo plays Jep Gambardella whose 65th birthday festivity  is an important pivotal moment in the film, which begins with his celebratory bacchanal. I did not mind  the director, Paolo Sorrentino's quoting other artists. Bernardo Bertolucci could touch upon the self-illusions that we need to construct for ourselves in order to survive, particularly in The Conformist brilliantly. But in this case the referencing was pure parody.  I was also uninterested in most of the characters, except the participants in an art performance dealing with Botox vignettes, addressing the fine touches we resort to in order to experience once again the ripe luster of youth.  Had the director conveyed the enthusiasts' "anguish" with greater conviction,  I might have been more sympathetic.

Undoubtedly I kept thinking about the Berlusconi years which continue today, but feel that someone in the future will do a film about that period of history more incisively. I bristled at the dialogue, the upper-class one-dimensional Fellini-but-not-Fellini eccentrics trying to find meaning through excess tiring me out to the point that my eyes were closing - opening only when  the one "echt" (interesting) person turns out to be a woman"dwarf" who actually revels in her daily ventures - a welcoming exception.

Many of my friends loved this movie - particularly those who have been to Rome. Nostalgia pins us to hours - even seconds from an earlier existence - when we can go back and shave off flakes of delicate memory. Even the cinematography felt predictable - shots of the moving clouds in the sky, the rippling water and of course views of the Coliseum - the site of great triumphs, brutality and decay - symbolic of the desultory lives of the film's self-conscious personalities.