Barack Obama in Greeneland

This tale of a whiskey-priest running from fascists in 1930s Mexico is among mine and Obamas favorite novels.

This tale of a whiskey-priest running from fascists in 1930's Mexico is among my and Obama's favorite novels.

 

So Mr. Obama was sworn in as our 44th President earlier today.

At first, I wasn’t blown away by his speech, but that was until I came home and found an email from my mother stating she read somewhere that among Obama’s favorite books was The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.  This is what makes the speech so brilliant.  It wasn’t designed for instant applause but for deep thought and as an invitation to learn more.  It wasn’t just a stump-speech, but a grand design for the policies which will follow and a call to arms for Americans to be that change they want to see in the world.

It seems Barack lives in Greeneland, which should make pragmatists rejoice.  Listening back to the endless loops and sound-bites from the speech, I was astounded by how Greene-esque his worldview might be.  Just the fact that he acknowledges or is aware of such a worldview is a refreshing change of pace from the crypto-fascism of the previous White House regime.  What a wonderful thing it is to have a President who has such a great command of language and who knows how to invoke literature and history and create themes and motifs.  Obama is like the frickin’ Graham Greene of politicians.  And how awesome is it that he has read and loves Greene, especially since Greene was so political in his writing.  This points to Obama being even more practical and pragmatic than we thought, which will be great since Bush was stupidly obsessed with fairytales and jihads which crippled our nation and prevented us from succeeding in the real world. 

Graham Greene was always writing about the real world.  His books always spoke to the times and always had characters who crashed and burned when they got too wrapped up in their own heads and internal moral battles and fantasies.  The real world always kept moving in Greeneland and always survived while those foolish characters more often than not perished.  We need a President now more than ever firmly planted in the real world.   Obama’s over-riding theme of, and I am grotesquely paraphrasing here, “the world sucks right now, but slowly and surely we’re gonna overcome it as long as we keep our heads about us and everyone steps up their A-game” really was Greene-esque.  Bush would’ve left it all to God’s hands and prayed about it–he would’ve died in Greeneland by the end of the novel.  Let’s hope Obama inspires us to continue marching on.  Mankind’s innate will to survive can overcome anything and accomplish everything. 

And it seemed like he was speaking not only to those out in the real world wishing to do us harm, those terrorists, those fascists, but also to those who have had their heads stuck in the sand, those Bushes, those mortgage companies, those regulators, those uninvolved…when he said so simply and so firmly…

YOU CAN NOT OUTLAST US.  WE WILL DEFEAT YOU.

Let’s not forget, Graham Greene was fiercely religious, but he often found it difficult to reconcile that with the real world.  This manifested itself in his protagonists who often were blinded by a crisis of faith and rendered impotent against the rising tides of war and change in the real world.  Many felt the British and worldly Greene was staunchly anti-American in his views, so it’s difficult to know how he would’ve thought about our current state of affairs.  Always the skeptic, Greene might’ve been wary of Obama…but as one of Greene’s Catholic nuns might’ve said in some third-world hell on earth in one of his stories, “God answers the prayers of those who move their feet.”

With Obama stepping into the White House, it’s time to move our feet, America.

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Click here to visit Greeneland .

 

Throngs of people today visited Greeneland with Barack Obama lighting the way.
Throngs of people today visited Greeneland with Barack Obama lighting the way.

Written by David H. Schleicher

A Review of John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt”

Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in Doubt

CAPTION:  Meryl Steep and Amy Adams have some bad habits to break in Doubt.

Perhaps We’re not Meant to Sleep so Well…, 21 December 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

It seemed rather fitting that I saw Doubt on the first day of winter, the sun making its shortest visit of the year, the advancing cold indicative of the looming incertitude of the characters in the film. This is the second film in a row after Frost/Nixon that has been adapted from an award-winning play. Unlike that film, Doubt is directed by the playwright, John Patrick Shanley. Wisely he employs the best in the bizz, cinematographer Roger Deakins, to translate his theatrics into film language. The crooked camera angles, the overt symbolism of storms approaching, windows blowing open, snow covering the ground, crows squawking, and lights blowing out, all smack the viewer in the face. There’s no denying what lies at the heart of Doubt.

Set in New York in 1964, the film tells the story of Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep acting in her wheelhouse), the principal of Saint Nicholas’ School, who begins to suspect the new priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman, insidiously innocuous) is developing an inappropriate relationship with one of the altar boys, who also happens to be the school’s first African-American student. The naive Sister James (a perfectly cast Amy Adams) is at first pulled into Sister Aloysius’ plot to uncover the truth, but soon falls under the priest’s spell and is convinced of his innocence. But things aren’t so cut and dry, and soon both women are riddled with doubt after being so certain they were on the side of the just.

Some have claimed Streep’s performance verges on camp and that the film relies too much on Gothic overtones. However, anyone who was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school knew a nun just like her (mine was Sister Laboure), and her portrayal of a domineering principal who still defers to a higher power is nothing short of brilliant. Also, the Gothic nature of the film falls right in line with the traditions of Catholicism as it subtly hints at other crimes and sins in its sly treatment of secondary characters and plotlines that stir the audience’s imaginations not unlike Henry James worked readers into a tizzy with The Turn of the Screw over one hundred years earlier. Yes, there are moments where the film plays like a psychological thriller, and that’s part of its brilliance, for in no other way can we come to accept the sins but in the guise of horror.

Like Notes on a Scandal the film uses a salacious topic as a vehicle for an acting showcase. The fireworks amongst the three leads are worth the price of admission alone. In its treatment of the Catholic child abuse scandal, the film accurately portrays how insular the Church was (and still is) from the rest of the world and how easy it was for the accusations to be never voiced properly, or if they were, swept under the rug. In its closing scene of Streep and Adams finding solace in each other’s doubts on a bench in the dead of winter, Shanley seems to beg the audience for a little bit of sympathy on behalf of the Church. However, it left me thinking of an earlier scene where Hoffman’s priest asked Streep’s nun, “Where is your compassion?” To which Streep replied, “Nowhere you can get at it.” Perhaps any sympathy should be showered on the victims…for I feel nothing for the Church.  Doubt will leave you chilled, and like the Sisters, perhaps we’re not meant to sleep so well as long as the crimes continue.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0918927/usercomments-18

Living in GreeneLand

For the past three years I’ve been living in GreeneLand.  For those who have never visited, it’s sometimes hard to explain my love for the place.  Friends and family know I’m always reading two things: Graham Greene and something else.  I’m currently reading The Quiet American, which in 1955 was the first major work to warn of entanglement in the Vietnam conflict.  If I were asked to pick any person living or dead to have a one-on-one conversation with, I would chose to share a bottle of scotch with Graham Greene.  He was in his prime during the WWII era and died in 1991, but his works are just as relevant today as they were when first published.  He’s the rare author who is just as popular with readers as he is with his peers and aspiring writers, renowned for his commercial and critical success, and he’s among the most influential and widely read English language novelists of the 20th century.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s also the best. Continue reading

A Review of “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”

CAPTION:  Hello?  Has anyone seen my career?

No Country for Old X-Files, 27 July 2008
5/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

The world is a greatly changed place since the heyday of The X-files.  Back in the late 1990’s the TV show was at its height and tapping into the shared fears of the day: fear of the unknown, fear of the impending millennium, and fear that something larger than us (the government or alien invaders) was up to no good. Flash forward to the year 2008 and we know all that hubbub about the millennium was for nothing, our government has been up to no good for years, and it’s not space invaders we need to worry about but other people terrorizing us. The murky, gloomy, grim style of The X-Files is now the norm with feverish and dark films like There Will Be Blood and The Dark Knight tapping into the mindset of culture today from opposite ends of the film spectrum.

Apparently creator Chris Carter didn’t realize his baby was irrelevant now. His only mission should’ve been to please the faithful. If he wanted to revive his series on film, he had best stick to the labyrinthine alien mythology that still has some die-hard fans buzzing, or at the very least deliver a fun stand-alone monster-of-the-week style flick that would make fans jump in their seats. With The X-Files: I Want to Believe he does neither of those things. Instead, he gives us a story where Mulder and Scully come out of hiding to work on a case where the FBI are using a psychic criminal priest to help locate a missing agent and track down a potential serial killer. The plot fits more into the mold of his far less popular companion series Millennium than it does to The X-Files.  Apparently Carter wanted to please no one except perhaps himself.

The weirdest thing about the film is that it isn’t all that bad. Carter as a director lays on some decent atmosphere (with all the global-warming defying snow and some eerie nighttime shots) and creates some palpable tension as the horrors of the case grow grimmer. The chemistry between Mulder (a lazy but effective David Duchovny) and Scully (an amazingly fully ranged and emotional Gillian Anderson) is still there, and Anderson’s performance is especially gripping. Billy Connolly, cast against type, gives an interesting turn as the corrupted priest searching for redemption through his visions that probably would’ve garnered an Emmy nod had this been a very special two-part TV episode. Also good is Amanda Peet, looking smashing in her smart FBI pantsuits.

Most interesting is the story arc given Dana Scully. I honestly had stopped watching the show after the sixth season, and aside from the mythology storyline that built up to the first film released ten years ago, I recall some of my favorite episodes being the ones where Scully questioned her faith and struggled with reconciling her Catholicism with her scientific approach to the paranormal investigations. This is again explored here, as Scully, always the skeptic, so desperately wants to believe in something. However, it’s an odd choice for Carter to focus on this internal human drama when he should be focusing on how to bring fans back into the fold. It would’ve been an interesting and compelling layer had Carter not been so inept with the rest of the plot.

In the end some fine performances and a moody atmosphere do not add up to a good time. Eventually it becomes an uncomfortable and anachronistic creep-fest that plays like the type of suspense thriller that ruled the roost in the mid-1990’s after films like Silence of the Lambs and Seven made police detection and serial killing popular entertainment. Well, it’s 2008, Mr. Carter, and it’s time to wake up from your prolonged nightmare that was rendered uninteresting in 2001.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443701/usercomments-148

A Review of Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc”

Re-watching Carl Dreyer’s silent classic, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), was the final piece of my self-taught Spring Film School that started in April with The Third Man and continued in May and June with M, Metropolis, The Big Heat, The 400 Blows, The Innocents, Twelve Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Citizen Kane and finally Dreyer’s film.  One of the most interesting facts about Dreyer’s film is that the “text” is taken verbatim from confirmed historical documents of Joan of Arc’s actual trial.  Catholics are meticulous record takers.  Fans of Dreyer should also note that the Criterion Collection will be issuing a new re-mastered edition of his other bona-fide classic, Vampyr (1932), sometime next month.

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CAPTION:  A silent picture speaks a thousand words.

Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring. There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration. To see it animated from inside, and turning into poetry.”
– Carl Theodor Dreyer, “Thoughts on My Craft”

Dreyer’s “Realized Mysticism”, 7 June 2008
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*Note: This a review of the Criterion Edition DVD with the “Voices of Light” accompaniment.

Over the decades Dreyer’s film was a victim of religious and politic censors, two fires that destroyed valuable prints, unauthorized cuts, and zealous editors working against his wishes to modernize the film. An original, uncensored cut was found miraculously in a Norwegian hospital for the mentally ill (ironic?) in 1981 and fully restored for the Criterion Collection. Famed composer Richard Einhorn created his libretto, “Voices of Light”, in response to his own experiences viewing the film and researching the history of Joan of Arc. The film can be viewed with or without the accompaniment, though I can’t imagine Dreyer would’ve objected as Einhorn with great care honored the spirit of the film and arguably of Saint Joan with his compositions.

Carl Dreyer’s silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, is a shocking example of the potential of film as art. No amount of scholarly critique can account for the raw power in viewing the film. It’s one of those rare experiences that can only be seen to be understood. Dreyer’s meticulously crafted aesthetics (the film is almost entirely composed of close-ups of the actors’ faces) are perfectly married to the gut wrenching performance of Maria Falconetti (a theater star who never acted in another film) in the lead role. I think Dreyer was most accurate in describing her performance as nothing short of “the martyr’s reincarnation.” One need not be religious to understand what is meant or to feel for Joan as portrayed so humanely and exquisitely by Falconetti. Her face is beyond the realm of haunting, and Dreyer seers it into the audience’s memory along with other stunning imagery like a window frame’s shadow turning into a cross on the floor, worms crawling through a skull unearthed from a freshly dug grave, or a bored executioner barely able to hold up his head in the company of his torture devices. And then there’s the burning at the stake and the brutal suppression of the peasant riot–unimaginable horrors rendered so beautifully and hyper realized onto a series of moving images projected onto a blank screen.

The genius of Dreyer’s visuals and Falconetti’s performance is that they create a deep psychological complexity that can engage a modern viewer on multiple levels. In their bold suggestions and through the artistic integrity of their respective crafts, Dreyer and Falconetti leave it to their audience (weather it be a French nation still celebrating and mythologizing their 15th century hero Joan a mere eight years after her canonization in 1920 or a more skeptical 21st scholar studying the history of film) to decide the veracity of Joan’s convictions. Was Joan truly a mystic, a martyr, a saint? Or was she simply mad and the unfortunate victim of the time period in which she lived and died? Either way, she is presented here as human. And in relating to her, one thing is for sure: the mysticism of film was realized by the Dane Carl Dreyer and Maria Falconetti in the year 1928 with The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0019254/usercomments-119

 

A Review of Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Orphanage”

 

Beautifully Sad Catholic Fairy Tale, 14 January 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Laura (Belen Rueda) returns to the orphanage she spent time in as a child with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and little boy Simon (Roger Princep) in hopes of re-establishing it as seaside retreat for children with disabilities only to find there may be some former residents who never left. In Juan Antonio Bayona’s tightly wound “The Orphanage” nothing is as it seems and child’s play takes on sinister overtones.

Bayona belongs to this new wave of Spanish-language directors (most notably Del Torro and Amenabar) who excel when it comes to creating moody atmospheric tales of the supernatural with Catholic overtones. Whereas “Pan’s Labyrinth” took a dark fantasy approach to a Passion Play, “The Orphanage” is closer to the classic haunted house themes of “The Others” as it attempts to give a sentimental view of life after death. Be warned, “The Orphanage” is often more sad than scary, and those not familiar with Catholic mysticism might find things a bit hard to believe. As goes the film’s mantra…Believe, Then You Will See. Those with the patience and the heart will be greatly rewarded as the audience doesn’t necessarily have to Believe to relate to the characters who do.

Working from refined “less is more” psychological horror templates, Bayona delivers the formulaic goods. There will be a simplistic but heartfelt exploration of grief. There will be allusions to classic literature (in this case a very nicely done “Peter Pan” as Catholic allegory motif). There will be uncovering dark secrets from the past. There will be precocious children with spooky imaginary friends. There will be creaking set designs and manipulative sound effects to create “gotcha!” moments. There will be a creepy medium (an excellent Geraldine Chaplin) brought in for a séance. And there will be a twist at the end.

Thankfully, there is also a great performance from Belen Rueda as Laura. She gives a compelling portrayal of a woman devoured by her loss and achingly desperate for the truth no matter how horrific that truth might be. One must have a cold heart not to find sympathy with her, and even the most hardened audience member will find it hard not to feel that stray tear form in the corner of their trembling eye when all is revealed. “The Orphanage” offers nothing terribly new, but sometimes the same old ghost story presented in a beautiful way makes for the best type of cold-rainy-day entertainment.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0464141/usercomments-40