The Hunger Games: From the Dystopian to the Great Depression

The Hunger Games has a somewhat  integrated cast that includes African Americans: Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the Hunger Games, sure loves black people. And we love her too. I’m often critical of the relationships between African American and whites, along with stereotypes of African Americans in film, television, and literature. But The Hunger Games got it right. Cinna, an African American man and Katniss’ stylist, becomes the father she lost in the District 12 mines. Rue, the little African American wood elf, initiates an alliance with Katniss in the games-to-the-death. They find a sister in one another. Katniss in particular, embraces Rue much like the little sister Katniss left behind in District 12. There’s no patriarchy here where whites save African Americans. And the African Americans are not stereotyped as mammy’s or thugs. True relationships are established on film and experienced by the audience.

Without the relationships, the Orwellian dystopian themes typical of science fiction would not matter. The foundation of The Hunger Games is George Orwell’s 1984 (1949). He is the great granddaddy of dystopian science fiction in the form of the novel. 1984 is where we get the term Big Brother, the roving eye of technology that is always tracking us in the 21st century. We see much the same in The Hunger Games where even the trees have electronic eyes. And the world in The Hunger Games has gone to hell in a hand-basket, a post-war hand-basket in which the survivors live in a police state. If that isn’t Orwellian, I don’t know what is.

Oh, the first scenes in The Hunger Games are moving pictures that mirror the gritty still photos of rural people taken during the Great Depression. The pain, the seams in the faces of even the young remind me of Dorothea Lang’s “Migrant Mother.” In the film, the camera stops at a worn laced high-top shoe. It lingers on the wind in the trees. The people in District 12, Katniss’ little town, are a worn people, worn by mining. Those scenes, mirroring a Hunger Games Appalachia, are the most memorable in the film.

Katniss leaves home to fight as tribute in The Hunger Games. The trope of youth battling in games is not new going back to ancient Greece. There’s also a modern take which I believe is a nod to “The Most Dangerous Game,”  a short story by Richard Connell. In the story, one man hunts another. Ultimately, the hunted creates intricate traps to capture the hunter. Both the human-hunt and traps are echoed in the Hunger Games. Katniss did something similar turning the game on the elite, her captors and humiliating them.

Taken together, what does the Hunger Games say about contemporary American society?  The Great Recession of the 21st Century first comes to mind. Much like the children living in poverty in the 12 Districts and battling in the games, we are frightened at every turn by unemployment, high gas prices, and a depressed real estate market. The film reflects our national malaise. In addition, our children are consumed by technology and even in a virtual forest, the children in the games are moved around like puppets on strings among the trees and along the creek. As Americans, have we lost our rugged individualism, unquestioning puppets in the day-to-day drudgery of survival?

Hopefully, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the next novels in the trilogy will translate well, meeting the high expectations already met by The Hunger Games, the first in the trilogy.

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Film The Tree of Life: Spiritual and Cosmic Paintings in Motion

Terence Malik’s The Tree of Life sweeps the film-goer into the universe and the life of Jack O’Brien, the character at the center of the film, along with his family. The cyclical and arcing non-linear narratives of universe and daily human life overlap one another with metaphors galore. The film is a complex masterpiece; it is a series of paintings on celluloid.

The film’s title, The Tree of Life, is significant as it points to everlasting life in the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis. The counterpoint to this tree is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God instructs Adam and Eve to stay away from the tree of knowledge. As is human, both were tempted to eat from the tree knowledge, and God cursed them with death rather than everlasting life on earth. Good and evil are central to Jack and his family lives, a dot really in biblical stories of the Garden of Eden and the origins of the universe and life.

The film opens with passages from Job 38:4, 8 which frames the film:  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding . . . Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?”

If you missed these first words in the film, then you missed critical themes of the origins of life–foundation of the earth, water–H20 as life-giving and -altering, revelation–a door as transition and change, and the womb–birth as part of the meaning of human life irrevocably tied to death.

Malik’s overarching themes of religion, based in part on the Bible’s book of Job as a signpost, are origins of all kinds including the universe and Jack’s birth are traced throughout the film, well is actually the film.

The seemingly simple lives of the O’Brien’s are embedded in the Big Bang and religion. Jack’s birth is paralleled with the first spark that becomes the universe transitioning to simple and later complex forms of life-anemone to dinosaur–on earth.  Jack and Mrs. O’Brien, his mother, narrate the entire film with whispered phrases filled with cosmological and theological meaning set against the backdrop of an expanding universe and evolution:

  • Death of one of the middle O’Brien children at 19: “He’s in God’s hands now.”
  • As the universe becomes . . . : “Who are we to you? Answer me.”
  • In the midst of crashing water and moving clouds: “We cry to you . . . Hear us.”
  • A meteor hits the earth slamming earth into an ice age: “You spoke to me through her . . .I loved you, believed in you. When did you first touch my heart?”
  • A boy drowns in a swimming pool: “Was he bad? Will you die too? You’re not that old yet, Mom. Where were you? You let a boy die. You let anything happen. Why should I be good if you aren’t?”

The last words intertwine with recurring themes of good versus evil–consider the Garden of Eden once again–central to Jack as he grows up. He’s born as raw material like the universe. Jack grows into evil; does the universe move along the same path? He vents his frustration when another brother, ultimately the middle child, is born. Jack’s anger expands and pulses like the universe as he bristles under the control and abuse by his father, and becomes his father full of anger and resentment. Both son and father’s ethics are skewed as Jack breaks a neighbor’s window and his father tells his children you have to look out for yourself. Is the universe, is God free of these ethical dilemmas? It seems Malik asks these and other question through the images and words in the film As is true of life in which we ask the big questions of who is God and how did the cosmos come into being, questions often remain unanswered.

Middle-aged Jack contemplates his life, the painful death of his brother, his damaged relationship with his father and mother, the meaning of the universe and life; it is all revelatory and cosmic. The towering trees and skyscrapers (spiraling urban trees)–reaching up to God vertically for comfort and answers; the water–a source of life, the skies–celestial heavens where God prevails are all part of a visual symphony that brings Jack around full circle from birth to death to after-life. His life parallels the universe which ignites with the Big Bang and closes with a supernova leading to a black hole, perhaps where the universe first begins again.

Another layer of the many narratives is religion paralleling in many ways the expansion of the universe, evolution, and human life. Jack’s experience is salvific. He is born unaware of sin, clay to be molded into good or evil. Ultimately, his father’s oppression turns in on Jack reinforcing evil. Jack does bad things like breaking into a neighbor’s, a woman’s, house stealing her underwear. He feels guilt even as a boy growing into adolescence. At the end of the film, Jack revisits his life through memories walking through a door, representing transition, to meet his family as if re-experiencing childhood. The family forgives the father with loving gestures. The 19-year-old son who died also appears as a child signifying reconciliation of past hurts. Perhaps Jack has died and is in heaven on the beach, experiencing a reinvention, redemption, happy times with his childhood family, much different from reality of his childhood.

At the end of the film, Malik shifts to scenes of a dying universe that parallels Jack’s experience of salvation–original sin, grace, repentance, justification, regeneration, sanctification, and perfection–coming around full circle. Interestingly, the last scene mirrors the second scene of the origins of the universe as flame-like. I saw the bosom of a woman in the flame at the end of the film. Perhaps the woman was Jack’s mother, reflecting grace through her gentleness and kindness toward her children. Malik closes the film with by returning to the beginning echoing words from earlier in the film by Mrs. O’Brien: “No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.” 

Like a Picasso, a cubist painter, The Tree of Life is what you make of it. And it changes with every frame and every viewing. The universe. Evolution. Humanity. Salvation.

The Film Thor: Place, Race, Family, and Terrorists

What does the film Thor have to do with black people? Well many people, including people of color, helped to make Thor the # 1 movies across the country in the past week.

Oh yeah, and  the fabulous Idris Elba as Heimdall, a guardian of the portals between worlds, had a small role! Some hardcore comic fans were not thrilled that Idris, a black man, portraying a Norseman. Read more in  an UK Guardian article.

Controversy around race and ethnicity never sleeps. Hey, it’s a film based on mythology and the comics. Mythology through the millennium has been fluid, keeping in mind that the stories of Thor are rooted in ancient Euro-Indo civilizations. Getting really technical, Euro-Indo civilization goes back to Africa, the cradle of all humankind and civilization on earth.

Marvel Comics and director Kenneth Branagh did not invent the Thor narrative. Thor is Norse, a god of thunder who wields a huge hammer that looks more like a mallet, part of Norse mythology. The god represents fertility, a shield to humanity, and lightening/storms–all woven into the film.

Ok, some less serious talk! Those of you who love the Marvel Comics universe, get ready to don you 3-D glasses. Thor, subtitled The God of Thunder on some of the posters opens in the night in the New Mexico desert. Later, we see the desert in the light, the stark beauty of sand and rocks, and wide expanses typical of the desert Southwest.  Throughout the film, the scenes shift back forth and forth from New Mexico on earth; Asgard, Thor’s home planet and site of his cathedral-esque city; and Jotunheim the Ice Planet and home of the Frost Giants.

The portals between worlds take the form of tornadoes, allowing Thor and the Asgards to travel through worm holes, short-cuts planet to planet. Each arrival is a whirling man-made tornado of warp travel echoing modern disasters like the 2005 Hurricane Katrina and more recent flooding along the Mississippi River in 2011.

Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (remember him as George Kirk, James Kirk’s dad in the Star Trek reboot?) hails from Asgard and is the protagonist. I’m using the word hails because Thor’s dialogue is straight out of Tudor England. And no wonder: we’d need subtitles for ancient Norse and director Branagh was weaned on Shakespeare in his many turns in Shakespeare on film including Hamlet. Gotta love that Middle English.

Branagh liberally borrows from the trope of familial violence in which men struggle for power, particularly a throne, from ancient Greek plays and Shakespearean tragedies.  For a more modern take, men and some women battle one another for the presidency of the United States, seen by some as the pinnacle of success in society. The battle of wills between Odin and his sons Thor and Loki, and the power struggle for the crown between the two sons is quintessentially human in and outside the family.

There’s a love story too, also very human: Thor falls in love with Jane Foster played by Natalie Portman. I thought that the relationship was under-developed and superficial. Girls likes hot hunky guy. Guy thinks winsome girl got sexyback. Girl and guy fall in love. Clearly, I was more interested in the family dynamics.

Of course evil takes many forms in the film. Such tension is necessary in mythology, literature, and film. The Frost Giants, much like their Ice planet  are chilling dark forms, the former dark grey massive icy humanoids and the latter a jagged place of dark ice. Science fiction is always a placeholder for current events. These giants are bound in America’s fears of TERRORISTS including Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Perhaps Loki, Thor’s brother, is a bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. America–much like the Asgard monarchy–has turned in on itself fearing the terrorist bogey man at every turn. And sadly darkness has long been used negatively in how people of color are seen and treated.

All-in-all the movie on the surface is not as complex or well crafted as the first Spiderman film and Dark Night series, but as one of the first blockbuster entries for the summer, it’s a fun light ride. Still we as film-goers can go deeper. As was true of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day the Earth Stood Still, science fiction films mirror our deeper fears in society. The controversy of Idris playing a Norseman in a film is just one example.

127 Hours: The Movie

We are soft sitting in front of computers and flat screen televisions. Yet the idea of rugged individualism remains with us. Americans pushed the frontier. Pioneers moved forward on the frontier after landing in the East at the edge of the Atlantic with settlements like Jamestown during the 17th Century. Americans kept going, moving, crossing the Mississippi River until reaching the wall, California and the Pacific Ocean.

What does this have to do with 127 Hours? Hold on. The movie recounts the harrowing and true story of Aaron Ralston, lover of the great outdoors. As he rushes out the door leaving behind a message from his mother, civilization, he hurdles towards the frontier.

Aaron drives his car  in the middle of the night headed to Utah. He arrives at a dry barren startling vista barreling off on his bike for some time spent bouldering, the cousin or variation of rock climbing.

He’s alone, he’s the rugged individual who would have been comfortable in the world described in Frederick Jackson Turner’s in “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”(1893). Ralston is much like a mythologized figure described by Jackson: “Daniel Boone, the great backwoodsman, who combined the occupations of hunter, trader, cattle-raiser, farmer, and surveyor-learning, probably from the traders, of the fertility of the lands of the upper Yadkin, where the traders were wont to rest as they took their way to the Indians, left his Pennsylvania home with his father, and passed down the Great Valley road to that stream.” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/TURNER/)

Being a rugged individual comes at a high cost. Most went to the movie aware of the harrowing dénouement: Aaron’s arm gets caught between boulders and after a grueling 127 hours, he amputates that arm himself.

During the 1990s, I went hiking alone all the time. I’m no rugged individual but I do love having church by myself under the trees. No talking. No distractions from someone moving along beside or behind me. Alone. I gave it up because my mother and brother asked me to. Sigh. I go to a local state park alone of late. Many people are on the more active trail. And I let someone know I’m out there. I also keep my phone with the number of the park ranger. And I don’t forget my red whistle.

See the film for the love the outdoors, beautiful vistas, and the morality tale of checking in before hiking or bouldering. The latter is a critical point.

Kanye West’s Power: Religious Metaphors Including Those in Nature

Kanye West’s Power, his latest video, is a locomotive painting. The director Marco Brambilla draws from Greek, Judeo-Christian, Egyptian, Hindu, and Buddhist religious metaphors in what is a visual video masterpiece.

The video opens with West’s eyes lit as if superhuman.

Behind him are Ionic columns, typical of Greek architecture. The director choose the Ionic columns over the Doric and Corinthian design because the latter are more complex in architecture, design, and engineering. Among the Greeks and according to architects, the Ionic design is the greatest of the three columns. The Ionic is more complex in design including scrolls representing education and vertical lines akin to rams horns. In addition, unlike the other designs, the engineering, the design is more resistant to earthquakes.

Behind West and the columns are clouds that grow darker from the beginning to end of the video. I see something similar in scripture. In the Torah and the Old Testament, Moses went up into the mountain where God was the cloud (Exodus 24:15). When God was angry there was thunder and lightning, making the people tremble. (Exodus 19:16)

Returning to West, an industrial chain hangs around his neck. It is far heavier than any human could hold up, indicating his godlike power. From the chain hangs a rather large pendant or ornament with the Egyptian god Horus. He was the greatest of the Egyptian gods with the head of a falcon and the body of a man. In his many manifestations, he was a god of war, protection, and the sky. As the god of the sky, a connection could be made to the clouds in the sky, the backdrop in the video.

Fanning out away from the clouds, the columns, and West are two women with antelopes horns and pounding staffs. The horns are those of antelopes. Two Hindu deities, Vayu, lord of the winds, and Chandra, a lunar god rode on antelopes. The pounding staffs allude to Moses using the lowly herder’s staff to do God’s will: Moses faced Pharaoh as they struggled over freeing the Hebrews from bondage. In one memorable moment Moses staff transformed into a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians did the same but Moses’ snake devoured the magicians snakes.

Winged human creatures sit at Kanye’s feet with connections to two religious images. Cherubim protected the ark containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandment as noted in the Old Testament. In Hinduism and Buddhism, the garuda is a bird-like human that is divine.

Above West are a pair on either side pouring out oil from jars filled with never-ending oil. Throughout the Old Testament, powerful kings like David are anointed with oil by prophets to affirm their power and leadership through God’s anointing. In the New Testament, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a perfume–in some translations it is oil or ointment.

The video is only 90 seconds and begins to speed up towards the end. A veil drops, perhaps a reference to the rent or torn veil at the temple after Jesus’ crucifixion. For Christians this tear represents abandoning the temple; the old, Judaism is replaced with the new, Christianity. The power shifts.

In the far corners of the video, grapes are in a bowl, proffered as an offering by two women. This is certainly a reference to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility.

Throughout the video, we see images of knives and swords in the hands of men. A knife comes down from above through a gold crown or Celtic circlet–consider the shift of Celtic tribalism to kingdoms in which kings and queens wore crowns to industrialism represented in the chain around Kanye’s neck–above West’s head. As the video comes to a close, two men come down on West with swords as if in ritual sacrifice.

The video ends. We never learn West’s fate. Does he remain powerful? Was his power an illusion? Does he live? Does he die?

Do a few lines from the lyrics might answer these questions: “No one man should have all that power//The clock’s tickin’, I just count the hours//Stop trippin’, I’m trippin’ off the power”?

Everything but West is a mirror image in the video. Why? We should look at ourselves in the mirror as we struggle with the meaning of power. One look at the image and there is human frailty.

The video with all its metaphors is a masterpiece.

The Other Guys: Irony of the Toyota Prius and a New York Food Desert

The film The Other Guys starring two middle-aged guys who play middle aged guys is ironic in an America where we worship youth. It will be top-grossing this weekend despite ageism. Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), are the principal characters playing what is often young(ish) buff men in cop buddy films. There’s the Lethal Weapon movies: Riggs was young and buff and ok, Murtagh was middle-aged and not so buff. Some might describe all of this as buddy-cop satire.

The Other Guys opens with P. K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwanyne Johnson), caricature of super-cops so different from Gamble and Hoitz. The latter pairing is buff–ok Danson is buff. Both Highsmith and Danson are trash-talking womanizing police officers beloved by all of New York City. They also drive a gas guzzling muscle car that is destroyed twice in the movie. Oh and yeah, do you think the two men of color driving the anti-environmental car beat the stereotype of being offed early in the movie? Watch and see. Maybe they have to go because they don’t care about the environment. Ha.

Gamble and Hoitz, our middle-aged cop buddies, tool and chase around NYC in a kinder gentler vehicle: the Toyota Prius. Their car really reflects their age, that would be middle, although Hoitz is angry about being in a lady-car.

The Prius that does an average of 50 mpg is a central character much like Gamble and Hoitz. The lollipop red vehicle is in a number of scenes including a few chases. It gets dusted in cocaine: Prius owners everywhere are cringing that the car’s clean image is besmirched. When the bad guys steal the Prius by gun-point–everyone wants a Prius, I tell you–it ends up polluted but still chugging. A raccoon gives birth in the car, a mouse is found in the back, and bodily fluids spread all over the car. Hoitz even tosses litter from the passenger side of the Prius, a sacrilege from within such an energy efficient vehicle. The poor Prius is riddled with bullet holes but I bet it’s still getting high mileage to the very end even in the car chases.

That’s not the worst of it. The Other Guys turn New York City, I would argue the culinary capital of the world, into a food desert or a place where you can only get really poor quality food. A hot dog vendor selling dirty dogs from his cart offers Highsmith and Danson hot dogs for life–but no soda–in honor of the pair’s heroics early in the film. Hoitz angrily says he’s heading out for a slice, that’s pizza, probably in search of comfort food because Gamble gets on Hoitz’s nerves. In the squad room, Ritz Crackers and Oreos, product placement abounds, are set strategically behind Hoitz’s head. In the last scene of the movie, Gamble and Hoitz go to Hebrew National Hot Dogs in Coney Island to bond over their heroics. And wait for the bonus scene after the credits, which is filled with  pork fried rice and ribs at Chin Chins. I did see some lettuce in a scene with Gamble and his wife Dr. Sheila Gamble (Eva Mendes).

All of this has NYC’s urban backdrop of the Trump Tower, the Citibank Building, the George Washington Bridge, and the Empire State Building. For those of us from urban places, more specifically those who worked and/or lived in New York, it’s fun to figure out where the car chases are taking place.

Considering how folks in southern California including the film industry–all of this was tongue-in-check concerning a car and food–subsist on low carbs and farmer’s market vegetables is satiric.

Eva Mendes ugly? Ironic. Will Ferrell as Gamble as a pimp? Ironic. Mark Wahlberg liking being a traffic cop? Ironic.

All-in-all, some funny Saturday Night Live skits strung together that taken together don’t make much sense. Still it was funny.

Predators: Survival of the Fittest in a Busted Paradise?

SPOILER ALERT

To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.    ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If you’ve been on this planet long enough you’ve seen Predator, Predator 2, and Aliens vs. Predators (AVPR). The latest installment is Predators.

 

Beyond the earlier films, Predators is a product of many influences and reflects history. It is  an homage to Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” a short story of humans hunting humans. I think of slaveholders hunting the enslaved in the forests and swamps of the American South up to the mid-19th century. Ultimately, the film is about “survival of the fittest,” a term used to describe one of Charles Darwin’s scientific theories.

The story or plot. A multicultural group is dropped by parachute into what looks like the Amazon. Paradise? I think not. Battle-ready mercenary types–all except for a doctor who is the odd one out–do not know their where-a-bouts.

Soon they learn two things: that this aint planet earth and they are being hunted. How do they know it isn’t planet earth? First, a leaf dropped in water spins as if the gravitational pull is out of wack. Second, the sun doesn’t move. Perhaps in both these instances the rock they are on is no longer spinning on its axis? And third,  they walk to edge of a ravine looking up to see three planets above them with one so close it looks like it could be touched. Perhaps the ravine is the point where the planet broke apart. Are they on a moon? An asteroid? A planet? A chunk of a shattered planet? No matter. They are trapped.

The hunted realize they are being hunted in a jungle of a game preserve. They are the animals. One by one, they get picked off. The first to go are a Latino and African American–both men. The screenwriters and director stuck to the old horror/science fiction trope of killing off the men of color first. A second African American man (Lawrence Fishburne is hilarious) isn’t far behind when he is blasted to pieces by the predators, the hunters.

Throughout the film, one character attempts the philosophical concluding that hunting has alway been primal to humans, what it means to be human. So are those hunted in the movies just as soul-less as the alien predators? Is this a morality tale concerning predation by people of other creatures and the planet earth in 2010? Maybe the filmmakers aren’t that smart. The predators are getting to know the humans.

Homo sapiens throughout time have been aggressive.  Much of the first activity of humans in pre-history was hunting and gathering as means of survival. Farms, villages, towns, and cities came much later. A sly visual reference to this pre-history are the stegasaurus-hunting dogs encountered by the game/humans. Since pre-historic times, in modern times, humans have become the mightiest hunters on the planet.

Sadly, for the people in the movie the tables have been cruelly turned, and they are hunted. Royce, the central character, played by ripped Adrien Brody is the chorus of this Greek tragedy, the narrator of the human/alien murder and mayhem. As the plot progresses, he muses out loud, “We’re being hunted,” “we are the game,” “we are being flushed out and tested.” Duh.

Mud was a critical plot device in the the first Predator, and water and dirt sources of life, show up again in Predators. It will save the humans. If you saw the first movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you know what I’m talking about. Mud once again become emblematic or symbolic of life, as one hunter is triumphant over another. Go see the movie to learn the meaning of the mud, and how Royce figures out the Predators’ game.

 

In the end, two survive, a man and a woman. We are left with the image of Adam (Brody) and Eve (Alice Braga), two busted people left to muck it out in  busted jungle paradise. Or have they already been kicked out of paradise, and this alien rock are the wages of sin? Looks like hell to me.

At this point Adam and Eve need to be on a first name basis because all they have are each other:

 

Adam says, “I’m Royce.”

Eve responds: “Nice to meet to meet you, Royce. I’m Isabella.”

He closes with: “Let’s find a way off this *&^*^%* planet.”

Ah, courtship and romance.

With that said, I see a Predators 2 in the works with more stegosaurus-hunter dogs–agains shades of runaway slaves trapped in a tree by a hound–bounding through the jungle, along with a star-studded array of aliens skulking about.  Nimrod Antal–one can only hopes he directs again–bring it.

Iron Man 2: The Machine, Garden, and Gulf

 

    

Tony Stark, the principal character in Iron Man 2, is back with his narcissism intact. Singlehandedly wearing THAT armored suit, he’s ended war around the globe by the second installment. He thinks very highly of himself being the planet’s peacekeeper and all. Of course there are two villains because the film wouldn’t be based on a Marvel Comic without them: Ivan Vonco–the son of the scientist who once worked with and was betrayed Tony’s father and Justin Hammer–a defense contractor and Tony’s corporate antagonist.  

Parts of the film, including the first scene, are in Flushing Meadows Park, transformed into a CGI Disney fantasy-world, an amped technological corporate park. This aint the park from my childhood. Today, Flushing Meadow is a sprawling place in much need of upkeep like many city parks across the country. The park is best known for the location of the World’s Fair in1964/1965. One of the most compelling fixtures of the park has been a large weeping willow I often saw driving on the Van Wyck Expressway that borders one side of the park.  I didn’t see that willow in the movie. Welcome to CGI.      

So fast-foward to the second half of the film in which Tony watches some old footage of his father. Leaning back in a chair, Tony rediscovers his father’s model for a future tech-filled Flushing Meadow Park.   His father ascribes to the mantra: “The key to the future is here.”  Tony is not far behind.

Propelled by his father’s vision, Tony creates a new element. He bases his work on the globe in the park by his father; I’m not sure about the science here but Tony turns theory into a chemical element–you know from the periodic chart.  Can people create new chemical elements? I guess Tony can because he is a self-made god: he takes the new element to heal his ailing body and enhance his suit like a god on Olympus. Tony plugs the element into his chest and says: “It tastes like coconut . . . And metal.” Yummy. The power to destroy tastes like coconut.  It’s ironic that the globe as scientific inspiration destroys part of planet earth in Flushing Meadow Park towards the end of the film.     

Tony runs with it. His Iron Man suit is the key and future, and its here. Tony, his best friend James Rhodes, the evil Vanco who is living out his father’s raw deal, and the droids are all suited up.    Can one be well-meaning in the throes of narcissism? Iron Man does attempt to do so in lunatic hot bad boy mode. Great hair . . . Great goatee . . . Wearing his signature wife beater under his suit, Tony attempts to lead some flying destructive droids away from Flushing Meadow Park but that doesn’t work. He ultimately contributes to some environmental mayhem as he battles evil.   

      

Iron Man Makes His Big Entrance

At the fantasy park,  one element of World’s Fair remains including the unisphere, a representation of planet earth–the same planet that influenced the development his new element. Tony is both a destroyer and a savior.  He leads the droids into the metal unisphere, earth. He damages the unisphere. Ping ping ping–many of the droids go down and metaphorically the earth gets no respect.    

In another scene, Tony and James land (thump) in a Japanese garden inside a conservatory. I do not believe such a garden exists in the park so this is another creation for the purposes of the film. The filmmakers carefully construct manicured garden that does not truly parallel nature in the purist sense. In the battle, they laser down trees at mid-trunk. They burn, bomb, and laser this manicured garden; it is unrecognizable by the time Tony, James,Vonco, and the droids are done with it. Tony and James win the battle. They stand triumphant, machine over nature, in the wreckage of the Japanese garden. They don’t even consider the environmental disaster they have created. The military industrial complex has done it again.    In the closing credits, a Disney inspired song trills. Here’s the instrumental version: Make Way for Tomorrow Today. Tomorrow’s here and machines are in the garden much like BP in the Gulf.  The oil company is struggling to seal a ruptured pipe spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Pelicans are drowning and smothering in crude oil. Shrimpers and fishermen have lost their livelihood. A Greek-like tragedy flashes daily across the screen on CNN much  like the environmental morality tale called Iron Man 2. 

Ok, so the producer and director are not responsible for the Gulf Crisis. But the movie they produced and directed is speaks to what ails people and the planet in the year 2010. Though the disaster in the Gulf caused by BP started after Disney filmed the movie, the scenes inside the unisphere and garden reflects a troubling disregard for our Mother Earth that goes back millenia.

We want the Gulf back the way it was. We don’t want that burned Japanese garden.   

Photos by Dianne Glave Unless Otherwise Noted

Splice The Movie: Makers Not the Creature are Dangerous

From nationalpost.com

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

Don't Splice the Duck with Humans

I went to a matinée of Splice, thinking I was going to see a by the numbers horror film. The film is frighteningly more. It is a morality tale of arrogant humans playing at being the maker and abusing genetically manipulated creatures.

In Splice, Elsa (Sara Polley), a young woman, ranks as one of the most evil characters I have seen on film or television, or read about in literature. Elsa’s cool calm rationality, a scientific façade hiding behind her damaged psyche (yes, mommy issues!) is more chilling that an ax murder. Elsa operates outside the law and ethics to bio-engineer a creature from the spliced DNA of human and animal genetic material. It is unclear what animals are spliced in the experiment but Dren, the engineered creature, has legs, wings, and eyes like a bird, and a tail with a poisonous spike like a stingray.

Spliced with a Flower or a Vegetable? Hmmm.

The question for me throughout the film is who is evil? Is it Dren who does abominable things or Elsa and boyfriend Clive (Adrien Brody) who play god and manufacture evil. Much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the creation is both a sympathetic and evil character. The film is also a homage to the monsters in the Alien and Species movies.  So who or what is evil: the makers or the creature?

Throughout, Elsa and Clive have crossed ethical and legal boundaries but forge ahead. Ultimately, they fall prey to the evil they created. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I mean.

As I watched the movie, I thought about the Tuskegee Experiment in which African American men in Alabama with syphilis were test subjects used to track the ravages of the disease. Even when scientist discovered a cure, these same African American men were left to go insane and die from the disease as white scientists continued their inquiries.

As we continue to test the boundaries of genetic engineering, looking back to the bad and unethical science of the past, who or what is our nightmare and danger?

PHOTOS BY DIANNE GLAVE unless otherwise noted

Actress Kerry Washington is Green!

Kerry Washington is best known for her roles in such films as “The Fantastic Four,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and “Ray.” But there’s more! Did you know she is green? I first read about Kerry’s commitment to the environment  in the July 2008 Ebony. She practices sustainability, serves the community, and advocates for environmental justice.

Kerry lends her voice to many aspects of environmentalism. In Elle Magazine: Greenhouse Effect, she coaxed eco-stylist Danny Seo to decorate her home. She choose eco-friendly paint for the walls, purchased an energy efficient television, and filled her home with eco-friendly and recycled furniture. Lush plants on her balcony connect the indoors and outdoors. Read more at Kerry Washington’s Green Apartment Makeover to be inspired to do the same.

More recently, Kerry stepped outside the walls of her home joining with the Boys and Girls Club of America and their “Be Great” Campaign.” The organization promotes healthy living through nutrition and fitness through indoor and outdoor activities for youth, and more. Watch a “Be Great” video:

Kerry Washington, Boys and Girls Club

Little-Kerry-then is now a Boys and Girls Club alumni. Learn more about Washington’s role at Kerry Signs on to the “Be Great” Campaign.

Kerry is also vocal about environmental racism. Watch a video in which she shares her thoughts at Ecoist- Kerry Washington.

Kerry shares her philosophy of the environment:

“‘I won’t tolerate extremists,’ she says. ‘I don’t want to be a hypocrite, but I’m not giving up my hair dryer. Do whatever is doable for you. Whether it’s buying recycled toothbrushes or shopping at a local organic fruit market or changing the light bulbs. Taking tiny steps can help in a huge way.'” “The Natural Woman: Kerry Washington” (Ebony, July 2008, 102)

Do what you can too. A little here. A little there.

Thank you, Kerry Washington!