Margin Call

margin call

I have to remind myself from time to time that King Solomon was one of the wealthiest individuals to ever live. By itself, money is harmless, holding value just because we think it holds value, as one of the characters in Margin Call so wisely notes. Yet it is tremendously easy for me to get worked up over it, or as in the case of a scene in the movie, judge those who have it in spades.

The scene in question features two executive bankers, each one worth millions of dollars, discussing the incoming financial crisis in an elevator. Standing between them is a janitor.
It’s a nice contrast between the Haves and the Have nots, thus automatically making the aloof rich folk the villains. But going after someone just for the sake of all their millions might reveal more about our character, than it might them.

B

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The Case for Christ

case for christ

Readers are well aware of my distaste for “christian” movies, for reasons that I have already expounded on before, and am to lazy to revisit right now. So it comes as more than a little surprising to find out that The Case for Christ is actually competent. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it is a stretch to call it the best movie of its kind in a very long time, perhaps ever.

B

The Departed

departed

The more Martin Scorcese films I watch, the more I am convinced thatĀ SilenceĀ was the picture he had been building towards to for a large portion of his career. The man has a preternatural fascination with affairs of the faith, or at the very least aspects that could easily be analyzed under a religious lens.

Before Bill Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) gnaws his way into Frank Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) crew, the mob boss mentions that it would probably be a bad idea to hire him, since he is probably a rat handpicked by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen). Later on, Costigan tells Frank that one of his crew members will be the one to probably end up killing him.

As they are having breakfast one morning, Costello approaches a table of pederast priests. One of them says “Pride comes before the fall”.
More than halfway through the proceedings, Costigan asks Costello why the hell he does what he does, if he’s a septuagenarian with all the money he could possibly need.
He does not need a straight answer, but he doesn’t have to; the audience, if they’ve been keeping up to the tragic tale Scorcese has been weaving for two hours, knows full well.

A-

The Innocents

innocents

Christians could learn a lot from examining a shot that occurs 3/4 into The Innocents. A Mother Superior has taken a baby from one of her nuns to bring it to a family for adoption. Only, she is actually going to leave it in the middle of a snowy field for the baby to die. She places the baby and the basket on the cold ground, but before she leaves, the Mother Superior takes the care of rubbing oil on the creature’s head, baptizing it.

Look on Hosea 6:6, and ponder.

B

20th Century Women

20th-century-women-poster

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

B+

Prometheus

prometheus

Two of the classes I’m taking this semester overlap in such a way that I am regularly forced to ask myself the question that weighs heavily on the mind of the Prometheus’s crew: Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Anthropology posits that humanity evolved, throughout millions of years, from the proverbial ape, animals which in turned evolved from lesser creatures, and so on and so forth.
Philosophy, on the other hand, asks us to examine the cosmos. The flawless order of the universe, along with the intricate and meticulous working of the human body, demands for there to be a Creator.

In Prometheus, the ones who made us turn out to be the ones who also wish to destroy us. Reasons abound as to why. And yet, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) demands more. Nay, she says she deserves to know the origin of all things. The beauty lies in that she voices this statement to an android, a man-made creature that seems perfectly content with living out his destiny instead of asking questions in regard to it.
Twenty minutes into the movie somebody says that since the beginning of time human civilizations functioned under the idea that they are simply creation, and they seek to communicate with their Creator.

Is it the same today? Do we also feel as if we deserve to know everything simply because we are so very smart and enlightened? Do we also consider the Creator in human terms, and forget that if there is one, He must surely not abide by our puny rules and expectations?
In Prometheus, the crew gets the surprise of their lifetime when, upon finally encountering a creator, he starts to butcher them. In our case, will there be more of the former, the latter, or neither?

B

American Honey

american honey

Popular culture is deceiving. Perhaps it is no fault of its own, since massively consumed entertainment has to provide diversion for audiences; the deceit is implicit, so it is not meant to be taken too seriously. A quick glance at the current social landscape, however, indicate that celebrities and songs and Netflix originals hold as much sway over the cultural conversation as they probably never had before. Popular culture doesn’t become an escape, but a pep talk; something that inspires, teaches and sells dreams that will never come true.

In American Honey, as sultry and hypnotizing as films can be, the teenagers selling magazine subscriptions door to door across the American Midwest have more in common than just a fractured home life and a penchant for booze and sex. It seems that while their parents, or parent surrogates, were passing out drunk in couches and overdosing on crack, they were left in the care of movies and music, which proceeded to raise them. It is through these media that the itinerant life of mag crews acquires such seductive glow.

Not once does the film lay blame or judge the teens for the behaviors and actions they engage in. Just like Star (Sasha Lane) joined the crew to escape an abusive father figure, so does every other member in the team has a reason that makes their decision to join rational instead of delusional. And yet there is no happiness in the business. Everything the camera captures for close to three hours reeks of sadness and destruction; the decaying state of things mirrors the hopes of Star and everybody else. It is a document not only of the near depressing conditions of the hidden America, the segment that supposedly led Donald Trump to victory last November, but of the last throes of youth. Teens abandoned by everybody but popular culture, which instilled in them the idea that what they are doing is liberating, and that money is the ultimate indicator of success.

I mention this because the mag crew sings along to every single song that comes on during every leg of their journey. No matter the time or day or genre, everybody knows the lyrics to everything. But it is not only homeless teens whose dreams have been influenced by outside forces. The first house that Star visits is hosting a birthday party for a girl who cannot be more than fifteen years old. She is with three of her friends and a dance song begins blasting through the air, and the teens start to move along with the music, eventually putting their bodies in poses that are inappropriate for children their age. She is just following along with the song, she reasons with the screams of her God fearing mother.

“I hope He comes all over your car!”, shouts Star to a passerby vehicle that has “God is Coming” sticker plastered over the rear window, after it refused to slow down for her and her two half-siblings.
The anthem of the movie is “we found love in a hopeless place”, which works wonderfully with the hopelessness that infects the entire film. I really hope the sticker the car announced comes true, for I don’t see any other way for teens and adults to have real hope again.

A-

Oldboy

oldboy

Because this was the movie recommended to me after having so thoroughly enjoyed Memento, I will make a brief compare and contrast between two pictures.

Is revenge bad?
Characters in both films employ revenge not as means to satisfy their baser desires, but as catalysts to not give up on life. This impulse has so consumed their lives that they do not live for it, as much as they live because of it.
In Memento, Lenny (Guy Pearce) has to keep chasing John G’s until the end of his days, or else he’ll be forced to face the truth of having killed his wife and lost his mind.
In OldBoy, the minute there are no more strings to pull on the elaborate punishment he’s been putting his victim through, Woo-Jin (Yoo Ji-Tae) shoots himself in the head.

Another aspect in which both films are similar is in how the main characters differ from the usual protagonist audiences have come to expect. While not always noble, main protagonists must possess some traits that should make the distinction between them and the bad guys very clear, so it becomes more easy to cheer for them.
In Memento, Lenny is a thief and a murderer, not to mention an asshole; in OldBoy, Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik) is guilty of less heinous accusations, but he is still a drunkard, a womanizer and a lousy father. Even after repenting from past sins, he does not become the hero of the story. The showdown at the penthouse, which is like nothing I’ve ever seen, shows him as a pitiful excuse for a man. Indeed he will later call himself no better than a wild beast.

Is this why both movies are so wildly effective? Or maybe we have become so accustomed to heroes that are hard to emulate but easy to admire, that when confronted with characters that display some of our worst flaws we tend to cheer them, since we might find ourselves more easily resembled in desires of vengeance than in acts of forgiveness.

Both films end on a dark note. Lenny will go on in search of the next John G, or be tricked into killing another person who he thinks is guilty for what happened to him. Dae-Su has either forgotten the horrific truth that forced him to rip out his tongue, or he has not.
Whatever the case, they will be living a lie. That’s a terrible final image for the audience to take home with. It has been said that movies are the myths of our time.
I hope that after watching Memento and OldBoy, audiences tremble at the idea of what may happen when forgiveness is not an option.

A+