Monday, September 15, 2008

DJG's Weekend Watcher

Jonestown-The Life and Death of Peoples Temple * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Stanley Nelson / 2006

My life slipped out of the woom just two months after over 900 men, women, seniors and children lost their own in what was the largest single toll of American deaths until 9-11. They laid their lives at the feet of self-proclaimed prophet Jim Jones on a dark November day in 1978 at Jonestown in Guyana, South America. Growing up I had always heard references and bad jokes in the code of “Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid". Naïve to the subject’s origin, I went on down the hatch about my delicious artificially-flavored sugar drink. Later on, while diving into a heap of musical acts in college, I came across The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I knew that this name was a clever play on words and that half of it was borrowed from the late Rolling Stones guitarist. I simply figured that the other half was taken from some sort of Native American or Civil War massacre. I didn’t make the Kool-Aid connection on that one, but by the age of 18 I knew that Kool-Aid had been used for mass religious suicides at one time. Alas, I was naïve and there was no Wikipedia back in the late '90s. I just loved Kool-Aid and psychedelic garage rock, and still do, but I hadn’t much clue on the actual story behind the actual Jonestown massacre until its almost 30th anniversary. I just knew that mass suicide wasn't the right answer to follow and celebrate Christ. And bottom line, I just knew it wasn't right. The documentary “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple” tells the story of Jim Jones’ peculiar upbringing and his start and finish to what he and his followers thought was Heaven on Earth. It doesn’t necessarily examine the complete WHY to it all, other than the shocking insanity of Jim Jones and I don’t think there really is going to be a final answer. The film takes you inside the church, community and commune of Peoples Temple with revealing footage of the events leading up to the massacre/murders as well as interviews with the few Jonestown survivors who graciously shed light and tears, and what they cannot take back. While Jonestown is certainly the most infamous it is not the first nor last of religious cult-like activity. Things of this nature go on around us all the time and seeing this film makes one understand just a little bit why we become a little jumpy, court and trigger happy with religious compounds and doctrines that aren’t of “normal” prescription (We’ve all watched this with events in Texas). Putting the term “cult” on the people of Jonestown doesn’t do the lives lost justice as it is such a shame that seemingly great lives were lost and never seen to their potential. Nor is it really our responsibility to tell a man what he should believe in. Had GOD instilled in us LOVE and OBEY for him initially, then it would not be our free choice and we would be robots, tossing to the side all that. The people of Jonestown thought that they had found true love and happiness through the devilish ideals and tongue of Jim Jones’ brainwashing and Hitler-esque power trip. Things like Jonestown reveal the dangers and damages of homemade religious poison when man chooses to play God, ignoring Christ’s teachings and the foundation of love.


Burn After Reading * * * 1/2
Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen / 2008

Even bottom-rung efforts in the Coen cannon are better than the average moviemaker's best picture. With the exception of "The Ladykillers" which I just could not get into at all (Sorry Chad!). Brothers Joel and Ethan have a special bizarre brand of making their language come together on screen. I didn't expect greatness again so soon from them, just ten months after the taught-for-shot movie meditating masterpiece that is "No Country For Old Men". Of course they had some great source material to tap in Cormac McCarthy's book with that one, but the Coen's have proved they are finer-than-fine writers since the mid-'80s and they take a so-so stab at it again. They didn't have anything to prove with a follow-up to their Oscar winner, as "Burn After Reading" feels more like an exercise in getting their friends together to play and raise chaos in the sandbox, to decompress from the headache it must have been to make a perfect film like their last one. The boys needed a break to just cut loose, take another script off the shelf and put another movie back on so they could move on to their four or five other projects in production. Geesh, these guys crank ‘em out. I think it's hard in the film world to keep top shelf consistency with writing and directing (and usually producing, editing in their case), but then again there are two of them and that makes it a little easier to equal out to quality and quantity. This new one is a seedy cross firing crop of smarts and stupids. It’s a fun little homeland-makeshift do's and don'ts on espionage, extortion and bedroom backstabbing. It’s a Coen-joyable above-average feast that feels like it could have been a more outrageously vulgar, twisty-turvy Hitchcockian plot (and uh...let's just say one distracting plot device that "pops up"!), though the film still puckers up deliciously on the brothers' typical character lemons, quirks and oddities. Although unraveling fun and giggle-inducing zaniness (In particular Brad Pitt's obnoxiously excitable totally way awesome dude who demanded more screen time or his own movie), there isn't much to like about the sad and sordid Washington D.C. area lives profiting per the moment on selfish lies and cheats until a mess of body bags are stacked and the C.I.A. book report is closed and covered-up all too soon, but in just the right fashion. Just as lesser Coen affairs are better-than-most, the character dynamics still stand among some of their memorable and better movies and I very-very rarely leave their playground disappointed nor without sand in my shoes.


Son of Rambow * * * * ½
Directed by: Garth Jennings / 2007

I miss being eleven. Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the rights of just BE-ing a boy and for not putting a tap on my creativity or pop-culture consumption. Thanks for letting me watch a bounty of action movies like “Rambo” and for giving me many acres of ditches, woods and weapons to play in and out of. A strange concoction was brewed down in my own private Missouri and on most days I think I turned out all right, with or without dead animals under the bed. While most kids made mud pies, I made a character combined of Rambo-meets-Commando-meets-Indiana Jones-meets-Luke Skywalker. I even had wardrobes and weapons detail, hideouts and sets. I was my own movies when the ones on the TV or Movie screen fuzzed out. Had I actual access to camera/video equipment in my 1980s, I’d surely now be able to re-live my first decade and some change by simply hitting PLAY. But, for now I just keep those play-time memories close as they shaped and built the ME today. And I keep my action movies filed like soldiers on a shelf, ever-so-often unlocking some great moments cherished on and off screen. I’ve a new flick to add to this collection, “Son of Rambow”. It’s almost as if secret tapings of my childhood have been unearthed with the play parts of this movie that involves the making of an action movie based on inspiration from the Rambo franchise starter-up “First Blood”, mixed with every day creative day dreaming of boys. “Son of Rambow” is for all who still have a big piece left out there in the woods, or in some cases on video tape in the closet. And it’s just one in a large crop of movies by directors who pay homage to the movies and to their youth. Whether they are referencing movies or shooting a movie within a movie, “Son of Rambow” fits into the rekindling with “Be Kind Rewind”, “Hot Fuzz”, “Rushmore”…and even “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, “Tropic Thunder” and “Boogie Nights” (Which might stretch it for some, but I’m thinking of the awesomely amateur sleeze-cheese action movies made within the P.T. Anderson flick that is not for kids). Simply put, see “Son of Rambow” before I rip out your throat like John Rambo would. And if you grew up on a lovable dose of Rambo but now shield your children from such awesomeness, then shame on you.


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