Radio Dreams (2016)

In Farsi, English, Dari and Assyrian with subtitles.

Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 33 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together

Isaiah 11:6-7

The eccentric staff of Radio PARS-FM.  (c) Matson Films

What might be regarded as an Iranian version of WKRP in Cincinnati combined with Waiting for Godot has its share of laughs, but also many quieter moments. Iranian British director Babak Jalali, also the co-writer with Aida Ahadiany, sets his immigrants’ tale in San Francisco radio station PARS-FM, the staff of which is almost as amusing and eccentric as that of Mary Tyler Moore’s WJM. Much of the film’s droll humor is conveyed by having the various characters almost never smile despite a funny occurrence or statement.

Iranian singer-songwriter Mohsen Namjoo stars as the station’s program director Hamid Royin. Once a revered poet and writer who had to flee his beloved Iran, he struggles to maintain high standards at the station whose owner and daughter are stressed out by the problem of raising money to keep the tiny station afloat—how big can an audience for a Parsi language station be? Whereas the owner Mr. Afshar (Keyumars Hakim) in one weird sequence seems more interested in the sport of wrestling than broadcasting, his daughter Marla (Boshra Dastournezhad), holding the reins of management, is Hamid’s chief antagonist.

It is a big day at the station because Hamid has arranged for the American band Metallica to visit the station and jam with Kabul Dreams (a real-life Afghan rock band) that have traveled all the way from their name-sake city for this gig. However, except for saying “Yes” to his invitation, they have not set a time for showing up.

Anticipating a larger than usual audience, Marla has sold more than the usual ad space to locals, such as a dermatologist who removes unwanted hair from Iranian women and Baba Jaan Pizza. Despite this being a special day Hamid insists on speaking about the Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton and reading a poem, such readings having been determined as dial-turners in the past. He tells an obscure story, and later, before he finishes a serious interview, the station’s musician breaks in with a terrible jingle. The high-minded Hamid sneers not only at such home-made commercials but also at the idea of having to interview Miss Iran USA.

As in Christopher Guest’s Waiting for Guthman, the day progresses, and there is no Metillica. The inane programming continues. A dim-witted staff member is sent to find a guitar to replace one that is missing, in case it is needed when the American band does show up. The hours pass, and still no Metallica. The hopes and the energy level in the station drop lower and lower with each passing hour, and then each minute—unfortunately this is not a 24-hour station.

From Hamid we learn of his desire to bring peace to a world direly in need of it. He sees the hoped-for meet-up of Metallica and Kabul Dreams not as a ratings raiser designed to bring in more ad revenue, but as a way to bring East and West together. Though with his shaggy, straggly hair he seems to be a parody of Albert Einstein, his intentions are serious, indeed laudable. As he was sharing this I saw him as following in the wake of the great American dreamer for peace and reconciliation, MLK, as well as that of the Hebrew prophet.

Metallica’s drummer, Lars Ulrich playing himself, does shows up, but… As in real life, dreams do not always turn out in the way we had planned. The closing juxtaposition of scenes between the drummer and Kabul Dreams with that of the despondent Kumail is very poignant as a study in contrasts.

It is interesting that within a couple of weeks two immigrant films played here in the Cincinnati area, both comedies interspersed with some serious moments. I wish this one had the backing enjoyed by The Big Sick, because unlike that better-known film, it closed after a week. This is another of those little films you will have to track down, but it is worth the effort.

This review with a set of questions will be in the Aug. 2017 issue of VP.

 

 

The Circle (2017)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 50 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2 ; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.

Psalm 62:1

But when you pray, go into your own room, shut your door and pray to your Father privately.

Matthew 5:6 J.B. Phillips

But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16 But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

Luke 5:15

Mae starts work at The Circle in her cubical. (c) STX Entertainment

This film about True Believers, directed by James Ponsoldt and adapted by Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers from the latter’s novel, is fascinating and chilling. Those using social networking, which probably includes all who read this review, should take the film as a cautionary tale.

Mae (Emma Watson) is the daughter of a loving couple (Glenne Headly and the late Bill Paxton), her father being homebound due to his MS affliction. Through her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) she secures an entry-level job at Circle, a tech giant similar to Facebook and Google, located in the San Francisco Bay area. Thanks to its innovative program TruYou, it dominates the Internet. TruYou simplifies Internet use because the user has a single-identity, one-password solution for everything he or she does on line. This, of course, means that users give up their on-line anonymity, but few object, with TruYou allowing such easy access to the sought for information or shopping. As Mae says, “The chaos of the web made simple.”

The company is run by charismatic Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), a Steve Jobs with charm, and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), who provides the business wiz. The company is held in such awe by the public, and with frenzied adulation by its employees, that Mae feels privileged to have been accepted. She is swept along at her first Dream Friday, a company-wide pep rally at which Eamon links the success of their company to the welfare of the country. He wows everyone with his announcement of a tiny camera made at low cost, which could be placed everywhere so that nothing can be hidden anymore. Thus is launched the slogan, “Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better.” A politician currying favor joins forces with the company by promising to introduce legislation that will place cameras virtually everywhere, including in the rooms where Congressmen meet. However, another Congressperson seeks to investigate Circle and its near monopoly in its field, because she fears its growing power.

Mae had liked to go kayaking alone in the Bay, but she soon learns this is deviant behavior for a Circle employee when two colleagues interrogate her because she did not participate in one of the many weekend activities sponsored by Circle. They are smiling, but there is an underlying menace behind those smiles and their “suggestions” concerning her behavior. At a party that she does attend Mae drifts from cluster to cluster. Another figure also looking on from the fringe is Ty (John Boyega), who befriends her, revealing that he is the inventor of TruYou, but is not pleased that it is taking away personal privacy. They leave the party, he conducting her down into a tunnel where he shows her what the future might be. In his eyes it is not a pleasant one.

Catching the attention of Eamon, Mae rises in the company’s ranks, especially when she announces that she will begin wearing one of Circle’s body cameras every hour of the day, turning it off only when in the toilet. She was made a true believer when she almost drowned one misty night while kayaking, a large ship capsizing her tiny vessel. It was the tiny camera in a buoy that had alerted the authorities to her predicament so that they dispatched a helicopter to rescue her. Almost instantly most of the Internet-using population follow Mae through the day. Thousands of encouraging notes are posted, their contents being shown in bubbles on the screen.

This has unintended personal consequences, in the first case embarrassing, and the second tragic. She often converses with her parents during a week, but in one instance she catches them engaged in bedroom sex, the image of which is sent to hundreds of millions of her followers. The public is understanding and supportive. But not so in the case of her boyfriend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), an anti-tech individualist who prefers being outdoors to sitting in front of a screen. As she rose in the ranks at Circle, Mercer had stopped communicating with her, setting off by himself into the mountains. Mae had just shown how the users of the worldwide web could locate and track a wanted criminal. Now she asks that her followers find Mercer, which sets off a chain of events leading to tragedy. For a time, the grieving Mae turns off her camera.

Mae emerges from her seclusion, deciding…well, you can find out. Another of her ideas that supposedly will benefit the country, as well as enrich The Circle, is making voting and signing onto Circle synonymous. No more obstacles to voting. What could go wrong by making this a transparent democracy? Well, the filmmakers apparently are concerned about harmful possibilities. Are we becoming like the members of Jonesboro, so enamored with our leaders and our seductive technology that we will drink the Kool-Aid that will kill all privacy?

The cast is excellent, with Emma Watson very convincing as the sincere and creative, but naïve, Mae. And where could you find a more likable actor to play technology’s Pied Piper wowing and leading the public astray than Tom Hanks? (He was equally sincere in his role A Hologram for the King as a tech executive peddling his high-tech wares in Saudi Arabia.) This film is an intellectual thriller that offers convincing arguments for and against technology’s posing a threat to privacy. There is no doubt the social media adds much richness to our lives, enabling us to keep in touch with family and friends (with that latter word stretched to a possible breaking point in Face Book!)—but what is the price, and what impact will that price have on human freedom in the brave new world? In a world in which there is no privacy what do you do about Jesus’ admonition to pray in private, And if in those pre-electronic days when word of mouth made Jesus so well-known that it became difficult for him to move about, is it any wonder that Mae’s publicity shy boyfriend wound up as he did? This is a timely film ideal for a group of young adults to ponder and discuss!

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP.

Batkid Begins (2015)

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour min. Our content ratings (1-10);

Violence 1; Language 0; Sex /Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Matthew 18:5

Crowd

The dynamic duo are surrounded by crowds wherever they go. (c) 2015 Warner Bros.

Aging Hippies might look back to the Woodstock Festival on August 15 to 18, 1969 as the greatest Love-in of all time, but the thousands who thronged the streets of San Francisco on November 15, 2013 will argue that the day that Batkid and Batman saved Gotham, there was far more altruistic love on display—and probably far more drug free. Thanks to social media, as well as the normal media outlets, the local event was shared around the world, some estimating that well over a billion people watched the carefully planned “rescues” by the dynamic duo.

Indeed, when Patricia Wilson, executive director of the Make-a-Wish Foundation of the Greater Bay Area, learned of the more than three year long battle of five year-old Miles Scott against leukemia and learned that his wish was to become his TV hero Batman, she set into motion a chain reaction that grew into a huge phenomenon totally unexpected. The Mayor and the Police Chief agreed to participate from the very beginning to welcome the little out of towner—Miles lived with his little brother and parents, Nick and Natalie, farmers in a small California town near the Oregon border.

Director Dana Nachman and her co-writer Kurt Kuenne were on hand to shoot behind the scenes footage—of Miles and his family; of the actors who portrayed super heroes, villains, and a damsel in distress; and many others who helped make this such a worldwide event. (This included the man in charge of costuming for the San Francisco Opera, along with his staff, as well as the Batman composer Hans Zimmer! Oh yes, I should mention that President Obama contributed a short video response, “Way to go, Miles!”)

It turned out that the, along with Patricia Wilson, stuntman Eric Johnston became crucial in pulling off the event. This stuntman/inventor donated months of his time to planning the various rescues and playing Batman. He came up with a gadget worn on his wrist that projected pre-taped images of the Police Chief sending out various appeals for Batman and Batkid’s help. He accompanied Miles to the circus performer training gym where he led the boy through the various stunts involved in the rescues. The two bonded closely, Eric even engaging the boy in a Batman handshake that he often used during the day.

The result was that the fear shared by Miles parents that their very shy boy would freeze up was quickly put aside when Miles appeared before the various crowds that had flocked to the announced locations. Dressed in a costume that was donated by another boy whose father had made it for him, Miles is the picture of self-confidence and bravado as he strides forth to combat the Riddler and the Penguin. At lunchtime, when Miles, so recently having endured chemotherapy, is understandably tired and says he wants to quit—his five year-old mind not fully grasping the magnitude of the day—it is Eric who inspires him to continue. Apparently regaining his energy, Miles sets forth again to ride in the borrowed Lamborghini Bat-car to the AT&T Ball Park where the Penguin is holding hostage the San Francisco Giants mascot Lou Seal.

Cynics might scoff at this as one long plug for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and those seeking publicity for themselves. At one point I was wondering, why couldn’t all those people become as enthusiastic in helping the hundreds of Bay area children who were homeless or victims of child abuse. Then I thought of the disciples criticizing the fallen woman for “wasting” so much money on the expensive ointment she was pouring on Jesus’ feet. Such doubts were soon dissolved by the undeniably waves of good will emanating from all the participants—and from the crowds, some members of which flew in from around this and other countries so they could be part of this outpouring of good will.

The filmmakers might have taken us a little deeper into the motivations of the chief participants or explored a little more how Miles was dealing with his pretend fantasy rescues and what was actually happening in the larger world—though we do hear him ask Eric what are so many people doing out there when the two of them look down on the street from the restaurant in which they are eating lunch.

On the same day that I saw this film celebrating human goodness that could be tapped and unleashed for a small boy, I also watched The Stanford Prison Experiment, a docudrama that reveals the darker side of humanity and its abuse of power. Each film does a good job of revealing the heights and the depths to which the human spirit can rise and fall. You are a hard case if your eyes are not a bit moist by th end of this remarkable documentary.

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the September issue of Visual Parables.

Inside Out (2015)

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 34 min.

Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star ratings (1-5): 5

Reader, beware, there be spoilers in the following.

 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:15-20

ContrlRm

Inside Riley’s mind five emotions stand before a control panel, ready to help the girl cope with the outside. (c) 2015 Pixar-Walt Disney

The 15th Pixar film lives up to its hype, this being an incredibly imaginative tale, perhaps as good as Toy Story or WALL-E. People of faith, familiar with the apostle Paul’s look at the workings inside his soul, might compare his theological exploration with the secular view provided by the Pixar crew—directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen and co-writers Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley. They have created a visual metaphor in which five emotions inside an 11 year-old girl’s mind try to guide her through a difficult period when her family moves from their blissful Minnesota home to bustling San Francisco.

Presumably because Riley had such an idyllic time in her hometown (her birth is depicted as a very happy event), Joy (Amt Poehler) is the dominant of the five emotions depicted. She serves as the narrator, asking us, “Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?” Through her explanations we see two sides to Riley—her outside where the family’s story takes place, and what is called Headquarters inside of her mind. A blue-haired, cheery-faced sprite with skin so luminous that she seems to shimmer at times, Joy has been working with the blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith), violet Fear (Bill Hader), fiery red Anger (Lewis Black), and green Disgust (Mindy Kaling) to arrange and store memories, come up with ideas while Riley has grown from infancy to childhood, and now to pre-adolescense.

Memories of her experiences are stored in glass marble-like containers that are shunted through tubes to distant memory banks. Five “core memories” define who she is, visualized by floating islands that look like amusement parks–Islands of Honesty, Family, Hockey, Goofiness, and Hockey (she is from Minesota!). As we soon see, these are all threatened as soon as she and her parents arrive at their new home well ahead of the moving van, so they must make do without furniture and such. But it’s hard to make do when the local pizzaria offers broccoli pizza!

Their house is old and dingy in a not very pleasant section of the city, and the thought of sleeping on the dirty floor especially arouses Disgust inside Riley. Fear exerts himself at school when one of Riley’s fears is realized—the teacher calls on her to say something about herself. She is not able to make friends, and her mother’s attempt to help her get over her longing for Minnesota by taking her to an arena to try out for the local girls’ hockey team ends with Anger bursting forth. Riley throws down her stick and stalks out of the arena. Her parents are unable to understand why their daughter has changed so much. Matters grow so bad that Riley contemplates running away back to Minnesota.

Inside Headquarters a crisis arises when Joy and Sadness are sucked up along with a memory sphere and transported to the memory banks, far, far away. They can see the tower where Headquarters is located, but the pair soon get lost in the maze of the memory banks.

Thus the last half of the film becomes a quest journey—and by now we realize that the story’s central “character” is not Riley, but Joy, with Sadness in an important supporting role. At first Sadness feels useless because every memory she touches turns blue At one point Joy orders her to stand in a small circle and not move out of it, thus not interfering with the rest of the crew’s efforts to help Riley. With Joy and Sadness gone, the other three emotions are unable to cope with what is happening outside to Riley.

The quest story across the chasm from Headquarters is funny at times and, in one encounter, poignant. The latter concerns Riley’s childhood make-believe friend named Bing-Bong (Richard Kind). Cast aside long ago, he is a talking elephant with a pink body and orange and red legs. He wears a jacket several sizes too small. Bing-Bong proves to be very helpful to Joy and Sadness when they fall into the abyss of the unconsciousness. Bing-Bong has a little red wagon powered by rockets in which they—well, see for yourself, if there isn’t a lump in your throat. Art lovers will enjoy the humorous portion in which our questers enter the Abstract Thinking Department and take on the form of Picasso cubist paintings. (This is one of ever so many incidents aimed at adults, but which children also will enjoy at their level. I have to mention one more—the sequence in which dreams are being produced. It is a Hollywoodish director and a camera crew that film the dreams!)

Back at Headquarters the remaining team members try to help Riley but, as stated earlier, prove ineffective. On the outside Riley, determined to run away, steals money from Mom’s purse so she can pay for a bus ticket. Inside, Joy and Sadness watch as the Islands of Family and Honesty begin to crumble—Goofiness, nurtured by her playful parents, has long since collapsed. While Riley walks to the bus station and takes her seat on the bus, Joy and Sadness scramble to reach Headquarters. There is an intermittent series of their chasing a “Train of Thought” which can transport them back to HQ if only—

I don’t know how neurologically sound the imaginative depiction of the five chosen emotions is, but as a work of animated art Inside Out is superb. (In interviews the filmmakers report that the read and talked with a number of) So much happens that adults as well as children will want to watch ther film again.

Plenty of action and suspense, but also great insights. Children will learn that even what often are regarded as negative emotions—anger and sadness especially—have positive roles to play. (Even the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians {4:26}, “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…”) Joy discovers that she cannot help Riley by quarantining Sadness. She too has a positive role to play. Sadness makes it possible for a person to have empathy for others, something that Riley needs badly as she runs away. She has been concerned only for her own feelings and needs, not even thinking about her father and mother’s feelings that her running away would trigger. When she does realize (a moment similar to the prodigal son who “came to himself”) what she is doing, it is sadness that helps motivate her to…well, see the film.

The film teaches that the five emotions really are a team, one that requires each doing her/his part if Riley is to become a well-rounded adolescent. (There is a funny reference to adolescence at the end of the film!) I could well imagine the apostle Paul writing something similar as his passage in 1 Corinthians 12 about the body and its members.

“Indeed although each of us has one mind, there are different emotions. If the mind were just Anger, what havoc might Riley wreak? If the mind were just Fear, how would she ever do anything new? Were the mind just Joy, might she not settle for just the frivolous? Were the mind just Disgust, would she not dismiss everyone and everything that was different? And were she just Sadness, might she give up hope and retreat into memories of the past?”

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in Visual Parables. A subscription to the journal will also give you access to Lectionary Links, a feature for preachers that links a film to one or more lessons from the Common Lectionary. Those working with children should go to the Disney website http://movies.disney.com/inside-out/ where there are games and questions for discussion.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2096673/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Big Eyes (2014)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 45 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 2; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 4.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

 The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.

Psalm 103:6

 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Ephesians 5:22-24

 Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

Romans 12:2 (J.B. Phillips)

WaltMarg

At the hungry i nightclub Margaret is upset to learn that Walter is taking credit for her paintings.        (c) 2014 Weinstein Company

Director Tim Burton tells the story of a painter who, judging by the opinions of many art critics, is to painting as kitsch film director Ed Wood is to film making. This is perhaps the strangest addition that I will ever make to my long list of “artist” films—a list that includes The Agony and the Ecstasy, Basquiat, Frida, Lust For Life, Rembrandt, and Vincent & Theo among others. Considered as “light Burton,” the film nevertheless explores the dark treatment once meted out to American women who dared to venture out of the kitchen to make their mark in the world. Without the low regard for women and their capabilities back in the Fifties, the mental subjugation and artistic rape of painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) by her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) probably would not have been possible.

Although the film certainly raises the question of the artistic merit of those once popular paintings of children with enormous round eyes, the real issue in the film is the treatment of Margaret by her husband and her slow but growing capacity to resist and stand up to him. Maybe it is because I have just seen Into the Woods, but as I reflected on the intriguing story of Margaret and Walter, I came to see it as a mid-20th Century version of Little Red Riding Hood, both stories being cautionary tales about being devoured by someone who is a threat to our welfare.

Walter Keane is a very charming wolf, coming to Margaret Ulbrich’s defense at a San Francisco outdoor art show. A man, having bargained her down to $1 for a big-eyed portrait of his young son, disdainfully pays her in quarters. Observing this from his own display, Walter walks over and tells her she is better than just loose change. Margaret needs this bolstering, having recently fled an abusive husband and crossed the country in her car with her young daughter Jane (Delaney Raye, and as a teenager by Madeleine Arthur). Finding work painting the headboards of baby cribs, Margaret is soon keeping company with Walter, the two taking Jane with them on a painting outing. While her mother proceeds to work, Walter leaves his canvas blank, telling the questioning girl that he is waiting for inspiration. His works are all of Parisian streets, painted, he claims, when he was an art student at a famous French academy.

A passerby talks with Walter about business, and it soon becomes clear to Margaret that Walter is actually a realtor who paints on weekends. He tells her that his passion all of his life has been to be able to make his living as an artist. Later, when Margaret receives a letter from her ex-husband demanding custody of Jane because he claims the mother is unfit and unable to care for her as a single woman, Walter offers to marry her. They fly to Hawaii where the knot is tied.

There follows a succession of events in which Walter, unable to sell his own paintings hanging on the walls leading to the restrooms of the hungry i nightclub, discovers that people are interested in his wife’s works. Soon publicity generated by a story written by reporter Dick Nolan (Danny Huston) draws crowds to the nightclub, some of whom actually buy the works. Walter is able to take credit for them because Margaret always signs them simply as “Keane.” Margaret, upset at first, argues against this, but Walter forcibly convinces her to go along with the ruse. She even has to lie to Jane that the girl’s memory of her mother painting her years before was wrong. Thus begins the artistic rape that drags on for several years!

As time passes the Keane paintings are selling well, especially the cheap reproductions of them stacked by the cash register of their new gallery. Celebrities–including Natalie Wood, Joan Crawford, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Kim–buy the originals The opening of the Keane Gallery is played for laughs because it is located right across the street from the one owned by Ruben (Jason Schwartzman). He had once scorned Margaret’s work when Walter had tried to get him to display them—the big eyes “look like stale jellybeans,” he had said. He is not very happy to see Keane’s success. And success it is, the Keanes and Jane able to move into a lovely five-bedroom home with a swimming pool and a studio.

When critics decry the popularity of the paintings Walter goes on TV in their defense, coming up with the false story that after the war in Europe he had been moved by the gaunt looking refugee children in Berlin, staring out through their big eyes. As the paintings continue to sell, the marriage begins to disintegrate. Walter cuts Margaret off from her best friend, forces her to work 10 hours a day, and tells Jane never to enter the locked studio. Walter becomes ever more abusive, in one contentious scene even threatening to “whack” his wife if she ever reveals the truth about the paintings. After discovering a secret about Walter’s work and a putdown in New York City by New York Times art critic John Canaday (Terence Stamp), matters explode, Margaret and Jane fleeing the house.

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I have to admit that I do find at least one of Margaret Keane’s works very moving– “Tomorrow Forever,” which was rejected at the 1964 New York World Fair.

Years later, after Margaret becomes a member of the Jehovah Witness sect she finally reveals her secret. This leads to a protracted court battle with Walter, during which her church members offer encouragement. The courtroom scene is a doozey, especially the way in which the judge (James Saito) sets up the means of telling who actually created the paintings.

Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who wrote for Tim Burton Ed Wood and The People Vs. Larry Flynt, have provided a feminist tale of a victim who finally rises up to overcome her victimhood. Or, to return to the fairytale, Little Red Riding Wood manages at last to eat the wolf. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but we can say, she left him starving, for he died many years later penniless.

From the beginning we are shown how, to use J.B. Phillips’ terminology, the world squeezed her into its mold. When she applies for a job at a furniture factory the interviewer says, “We don’t get many ladies in here. Does your husband approve of your working?” As I recall the scene of the factory workshop, she is the only woman painting simple pictures onto the headboards of baby cribs. Later, feeling guilty over lying to daughter Jane about the paintings, she seeks advice from a priest in a confessional booth, and he tells her that because man is “the head of the household” she should trust in his judgment.

Thus the victory in court is the culmination of a long upward struggle for Margaret. It is ironic that the church which encouraged and sustained her during her long legal battle (extending over years rather than the brief period shown in the movie) keeps women in a secondary role in its worship services, accepting as gospel the various passages in the New Testament relegating women to subservience rather than leadership. But God does move in mysterious ways to free his children from their bondage.

Note: Reporter Jon Ronson’s excellent interview with the 87 year-old Margaret Keane in The Guardian includes lots of background information and photos of the husband and wife.

This review, with a set of discussion questions, is in the Jan. issue of Visual Parables.

Blue Jasmine

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V -0; L -4; S/N-5 .

Running time: 1 hour 38 min.

 Jasmine with husband and son (far left) lived a lavish life style in the Hamptons before fall into the impoverished class.  (c) 2013 Sony Pictures Classics

Jasmine with husband and son lived a lavish life
style in the Hamptons before fall into the impoverished class.
(c) 2013 Sony Pictures Classics

‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:24-25

 We hear much in op eds and political debates about America’s class warfare, about how the 1% of Americans who allegedly control as much wealth as the bottom 90% are imbued with a sense of entitlement and superiority. I can think of no better illustration of this than Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine, in which Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of a once wealthy wife is bound to earn her a Best Actress nomination.

Flower lovers will know that the title does not refer to the plant, the flower of which is usually white or blue, but to the mood of the character named after it. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) were raised together as adopted children from different sets of biological parents. Their parents showered more attention on beautiful Jasmine over the plain Ginger, so the latter left home as soon as she could to make her own way. She married working class Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), the two of them producing two boys, both of whom are destined to have weight problems. Then comes the day that they hit the California Lottery big time, winning $200,000. Intending to start his own business, Augie sees this as their way out of their life of living from paycheck to paycheck.

Meanwhile Jasmine has dropped out of college to marry the handsome and wealthy Hal (Alec Baldwin), a rich Wall Street schemer who is always using other people’s money to fund dubious new ventures. As evidence of her upward mobility drive she has changed her name from Janette to the more upscale name of the flower. They have one grown son Danny. Jasmine’s life of conspicuous consumption in the Hamptons is filled with Manhattan shopping sprees, lunches at elegant restaurants, and hosting parties and lavish charity events. They feel put upon when Ginger and Augie pay them a visit during their trip to New York City, but when they learn that the pair have just won a big sum of money, smooth-talking Hal seduces Augie into investing it in what turns out to be a Ponzi scheme. Ginger, who was not enthusiastic about this, becomes even more worried when she spies Hal lunching with and kissing a woman who is not her sister.

All the above is told in a series in intermittent flashbacks as Jasmine, now popping pills and taking frequent sips of vodka from her flask or glass, tries to cope with her new distasteful circumstances. Not only has she finally caught her philandering husband in one of his numerous affairs, but also she precipitates the series of events that leads to Hal’s arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. Unable to cope he has committed suicide. Jasmine’s survival plan involves her moving in with her sister, whose marriage had ended with divorce after they had lost their money. None of this may seem funny, but Allen’s wit is scattered throughout the film.

As has been pointed out by several reviewers, the plot is very much like that of A Streetcar Named Desire, with Ginger’s fiancé Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a lowly (to Jasmine) garage mechanic, quickly developing a passionate hatred for the one he calls “A phony!” Chili is upset that his plans to move in with Ginger have to be put on hold now that Jasmine is there. Ginger feels caught in the middle, her sister loyalty strong despite the way Jasmine has always looked down upon her.

Jasmine wants to start life anew by finishing college and taking a computer course so she can obtain an interior decorator’s license, but has to find work to fund this, reluctantly following Chili’s tip to obtain a receptionist’s job at a dental office. However, this soon ends when Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) tries to follow through on his lust for her. Then she meets the man who could restore her to the status she feels she deserves, the well-heeled wealthy diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). He has long range plans to enter politics and needs a trophy wife like Jasmine. But will her less than wholesome past marriage and tendency to dodge reality and deceive herself and others get in the way?

Every member of the ensemble cast performs well, but Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the once wealthy Jasmine is unforgettable, perhaps the only other portrayal of a Narcissistic neurotic     woman that compares being that of Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara (she also played Blanche!). Her character is so fully defined—nervous tics, almost incessant drinking, tendency to talk out loud inappropriately in public places, disdainful expressions, and elegant dress—that she emerges as a real person. And even though we see what a despicable person she is, we are still drawn to her and, if not root for her, wish that she might achieve a measure of self-understanding. This is a fascinating, detailed study of a woman whose worst enemy is herself. Her fate seems to bear out what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a far different situation, but which applies to Jasmine’s fate, “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice” Although not intended as a social justice film, Mr. Allen’s revelation of the hollow lifestyle of “the rich and famous” as seen in Jasmine could be a midrash of Jesus’ denunciation of the uncaring rich, or of the equally harsh denunciation of the wealthy by the prophet Amos. One of Mr. Allen’s best films in years, this must not to be missed!

The full version with 7 discussion question appears in the Sept/Oct issue of Visual Parables