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Superman Begins: The Man Of Steel Gets “Nolanized”

June 24, 2013

Director: Zack Snyder

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By Twylo Enmamud

Christopher Nolan has brought another superhero down to Earth (pun intended). It seems he takes delight in humanizing our otherwise idolatrized superheroes, and in doing so, makes them more accessible; a model we can more easily aspire to emulate. Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) tells his young adopted son Clark (the future Superman) at one point that each of us has it within ourselves to be a hero, that you don’t have to have special powers to do good.

But don’t get me wrong, here, this movie was actually directed by Zack Snyder of Watchmen, and 300 fame. But even though Christopher Nolan was just the producer, you can see his hand in it very clearly; the master puppeteer behind the scenes.

Kryptonite, the one infernal weakness of Superman is never introduced in this movie. The word is not spoken at all. Instead, our hero, at a crucial moment, is shielded from that which gives him strength, from that which inspires him on a biological level, our Sun, and even the Earth herself.
With the Man Of Steel, Nolan/Snyder attempts to penetrate the nearly indestructible physical shell to reveal the heart of the man in red and blue. Here we find the child who just wants to fit in; but he can never completely fit in because, as he is fully aware, he is different from the rest. Early on, Clark ( Cooper Timberline) becomes aware that he is physically far “superior” to the kids around him.

Cooper Timberline, plays a young Clark Kent with his dog.

Cooper Timberline, plays a young Clark Kent with his dog.

He is perhaps ten times as strong; his hearing is equally enhanced, and his vision is so acute that it can actually penetrate objects better than an x-ray. One might initially think these abilities would be Super cool to discover, but, in a stroke of genius, Nolan turns these super abilities against the young boy, Clark. When he is first besieged by these abilities, he cannot control them. The visions of the innards of others, of flesh and organs, and blood and skeleton are terrifying to Clark, who does not know how to stop them at first. His hearing picks up every little thing (clocks ticking, water dripping, birds chirping, chalk screeching, people whispering and laughing) and amplifies it all at once. Our young Clark is assaulted by an inescapably maddening orgy of sight and sound and seeks the temporary shelter of a dark quiet closet.

And so there is a learning curve involved with the advent of new abilities. I could not help but think that Nolan is perhaps drawing an analogy here to the governing body of our own country and unscrupulous use of surveillance cameras, wire tapping, drones and other hi-tech. Have we successfully passed the learning curve, or is all this capability driving us mad? And in what

Dylan Sprayberry saves the day as Clark at age 13.

Dylan Sprayberry saves the day as Clark at age 13.

primeval closet might we seek shelter, should it all become too much.

Nolan, in typical Nolan style, also plays on the dark side of human/super-human nature.  In another flashback to a point where Clark (Dylan Sprayberry) is thirteen, we find him on the school bus with a bunch of his fellow students.  Clark is being taunted and pushed by some of the student bullies when suddenly a tire blows out and the driver loses control.  The bus careens pass the road-guard, off a bend and plunges

Harrison Ford (l.) as Jonathan Kent councils Young Clark on the dangers of revealing his special abilities

Harrison Ford (l.) as Jonathan Kent councils Young Clark on the dangers of revealing his special abilities

headlong into a river. The bus begins to sink, and the cabin floods with water as the screaming kids struggle in vain to escape.  An onlooker calls for help on his phone then watches helplessly as the bus totally goes under. Clark, who has always been told by his father that the world was not ready to know who he is and that he should never to use his powers in front of others, experiences a dilemma; should he uses his powers to save the other kids on the bus, and risk exposure, or should he keep his secret in tact, and just let nature take its course. He hesitates momentarily, but then after watching the other kids (including young Lana) struggle to make their way to the ceiling of the bus to get what little air is left, he steps into action. Clark rips open the emergency door in the back, then goes out side the bus and pushes it out of the water and safely onto the shore. Some of the kids see what he does.  He then goes back under the water, and emerges moments later with the ring-leader (Jack Foley) of the bullies in tow.  Later, the mother of the bully that Clark saved pays a visit to the Kent

Russell Crowe (l.) and Ayelet Zurer (r.) as Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, Superman's parents, cradle their new-born child.

Russell Crowe (l.) and Ayelet Zurer (r.) as Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s parents, cradle their new-born child.

residence.  She rambles on about how her son saw what Clark did to save the others, and how it is a miracle, and how it was not just her son who witnessed it.

Jonathan and Martha Kent (played by Diane Lane), of course, downplay the entire event, attributing the “miracle” the traumatized kids’ over-active imaginations. Jonathan goes to talk to his son about what happened and chastises him for using his abilities in front of others. When Clark asks him “What was I supposed to do, just let them die,” Jonathan seems conflicted for a moment, then answers, “Maybe…”

I don’t want to give too much away on this point, so, suffice it to say that Nolan

General Zod, (  Michael Shannon) and his fellow conspirators stand trial on Krypton.

General Zod, ( Michael Shannon) and his fellow conspirators stand trial on Krypton.

does not give us a pristine Superman with unsoiled hands, but one with his own short-comings, his own internal kryptonite, who has to make very tough choices with lasting consequences. Nolan’s choice for the title of this movie, “Man of Steel,” rather than something with “Superman,” in the title seems to be a reflection of his intent to bring Superman’s more human qualities to the surface.

A substantial part of this movie is actually about Superman’s home-planet, Krypton and the state of affairs that leads to the planet’s eminent destruction. Nolan gives us more background on Krypton, and, true to form, he uses it as a parallel to warn us of the evils of technology and its

Superman turns himself over to the athorities to avoid Earth's destruction by General Zod's forces.

Superman turns himself over to the authorities to avoid Earth’s destruction by General Zod’s forces.

misguided use in our own society. For centuries, the Kryptonians had tapped into their planet’s core, using it as an energy source. When Man Of Steel begins, the depletion of Krypton’s core has reached a critical stage where the planet can no longer sustain itself.

Jor-El (played commendably by Russell Crowe), a scientist, and father of the infant, Kal-El (the future Superman) has tried for years in vain to warn krypton’s governing body of the impending disaster, but they do not listen until it is too late.

Nolan’s Krypton is a planet who’s population is completely controlled by genetic engineering. Even before they are “born” every individual is genetically predisposed to carry out a particular

Amy Adams (l.) as Lois Lane, and Henry Cavill (c.) as Superman taken aboard an alien vessel by Faora-Ul ( Antje Traue).

Amy Adams (l.) as Lois Lane, and Henry Cavill (c.) as Superman are taken aboard an alien vessel by Faora-Ul ( Antje Traue).

function in society; whether it be scientist, artist, soldier, teacher, or whatever.

Children are no longer given birth to by their mothers, but are gestated on what might be described as “farms” which were visually depicted in a very similar way to the growth pods in the movie, “The Matrix.”

Kal-El (the future Superman) unlike his fellow-Kryptonians, is born by natural child-birth. He is the first child that has not been genetically engineered on Krypton in hundreds of years. His parents, Jor-El and

Superman and Lois Lane share a tender moment.

Superman and Lois Lane share a tender moment.

Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) keep his birth a secret. Ayelet Zurer, by the way does a great job in her role. She is a capable actor with a powerful screen presence.

The villain in this movie, General Zod (played quite zealously at times by Michael Shannon), is also delved into more deeply than in previous Superman movies. We begin to see what went into making him the person that he is. Zod was engineered to be a soldier and a leader whose basic instinct is to protect his people at any cost. This leads to his ultimate confrontation with the Man Of Steel, who as it turns out is the key to the future survival of the Kryptonian race.

Superman/Clark Kent is played by Henry Cavill, whom you might remember as Theseus from the movie Immortals a couple of years back. And although he is the main character in the movie, he

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, editor in chief of The Daily Planet.

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, editor in chief of The Daily Planet.

doesn’t actually have that many lines; or at least not that many dramatic ones. There are plenty of fight scenes (some of which might go on a little longer than necessary) and there are some moments of introspection, but his character is low on dialogue; the strong silent type, and the rest of the movie sort of revolves around him. So, his character may not be as accessible in this regard as Nolan may have intended. But hey, he is Superman – “nuff said,” I suppose. Henry Cavill does have a

Jonathan Kent reveals Clark Kent's true origins to him.

Jonathan Kent reveals Clark Kent’s true origins to him.

certain screen presence, though. He is good looking, and has the best physique of any superman I’ve seen on screen.
Other note-worthy performances include reporter, and love interest of superman, Lois Lane, (played by Amy Adams), and

editor in chief of the Daily Planet newspaper, Perry White (played by the, always dependable, and ever exuberant, Laurence Fishburne)
I liked this take on Superman, and as always, Christopher Nolan has given us a meaningful and thoughtful story. Being a comic book fan, I think I might like to see Christopher Nolan take on the X-Men one day!

I give Man Of Steel 3 ½ stars:

3 and half star

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A Movie Review

May 11, 2013

Director: Mira Nair
Based on the Novel by Mohsin Hamid

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By Twylo Enmamud

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the story of Changez (played by Riz Ahmed), a brilliant young Pakistani who comes to the US on a scholarship to Princeton in search of the American dream. In the beginning, everything seem to be going well; he makes friends, finishes college, lands a job as an associate “management analyst/efficiency expert ” at a prestigious Wall Street international consulting company after being interviewed by one Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland), who is impressed by his seeming ambition and determination. Shortly after, he meets love interest, Erica (Kate Hudson), a budding photographer from a well to do family. But then comes the beginning of the end… 9/11.

While away with his associates on a business trip to Manilla, he turns on the television to see that the North tower has just been struck by an airplane. His face reflects the emotions of disbelief, awe, and shock, and even the hint of a smile curves the corner of his lips at one point. Then, as he watches the live report on the screen, another air craft crashes into the south tower and explodes. Aghast, his body involuntarily jerks back from the screen and his hand raises to cover his mouth.
On his return to the states, Changez has barely gotten

Riz Ahmed as Changez with love interest, Erica (played by Kate Hudson).

Riz Ahmed as Changez with love interest, Erica (played by Kate Hudson).

off the plane with his associates (His boss, Mr. Cross and friend/fellow analyst, Wainwright, an African-American) when he experiences, first hand, one of the early aftereffects of 9/11; he is profiled as a terrorist because of his race, separated from his associates –under the protests of Mr.Cross, and taken to a room where he is made to strip naked and suffer the violation of a cavity search at the hands of security. He is then questioned by federal agents who seem almost comical in their determination to wrench a terrorist confession from Changez. They accusingly question him with hellbent brows and x-ray eyes, but then after a while, having no valid reason for detaining him, they let him go .

And so begins a series of events that slowly begins to undermine the illusion of Changez’s American dream.
911

Changez is racially profiled and strip-searched (quite thoroughly).

Changez is racially profiled and strip-searched (quite thoroughly).

In another incident, there is a South Asian-looking man who stands in front of a newsstand near the corner of the office building where Changez works. There are pictures of Osama Bin laden displayed over most of the newspaper and magazine covers. The man reacts to this by preaching out loud to the passersby and causing a scene. He eventually starts cursing and yelling, and seemingly making threats to Americans in his own language. Inevitably, someone calls the police, who arrive just as the man has exited down a subway entrance. Unfortunately, Changez is leaving work about this time and passes right by the newsstand. The police, seeing a Middle-Eastern looking man, automatically follow him around a corner and arrest him. He protests, explaining that he works in the building right there, and had nothing to do with what happened. But he is cuffed, and shoved into the back seat of the police car rather unceremoniously by an African-American Cop.

Other smaller incidents occur that intensify Changez’s sense of alienation, such as; when he returns from a wedding in his homeland with a short beard & mustache. This only serves to further delineate his “terrorist profile.”

Kiefer Sutherland (l.) as boss, Jim Cross with Changez.

Kiefer Sutherland (l.) as boss, Jim Cross with Changez.

He is given sideways glances by some of his colleagues at work and, and his boss, Cross, suggests that he revert back to his old appearance. However, this suggestion is softened by the news that he has been promoted to associate partner in the company.
The one straw that really puts him over the edge, however, is when his Erica, who has been sequestered away working on a new photography/multimedia exhibit, finally announces that she is finished, and invites Changez to the grand opening gala. Changez walks in to find that the exhibit is centered on him, and that Erica has displayed pictures, and very intimate dialogue from their personal relationship all over the walls, accentuated by garish neon lighting. One of the quotes is from a private ongoing joke they share that starts

Changez and Erica at the opening of her exhibit.

Changez and Erica at the opening of her exhibit.

out “I once had a Pakistani;” another is from an intimate moment in the midst of their love-making where Changez attempts to put Erica at ease by saying, “Make-believe I’m him!” “Him,” referring to Erica’s former lover who died in a car crash just over 4 months before she and Changez met. Changez becomes furious that she would exhibit their private moments all over the walls for everyone to see. He accuses her exploiting their relationship and the fact that he is a Pakistani Muslim in the midst of a volatile social climate, but Erica doesn’t seem to understand that she’s done anything wrong, or why Changez is so upset. He retaliates with some very harsh and insensitive words, then storms out.
Changez’s resolve is further deminished when he is assigned to consult a failing publishing company in Turkey. He must decide whether the company’s performance can be improved, or its assets must be liquidated. The company’s President, Nazmi Kemal (played by Haluk Bilginer) causes him question the ethics of the work that he does, and the morality of profiting from the loss of others. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Changez with journalist/CIA informant, Bobby Lincoln ( Liev Schreiber)

Changez with journalist/CIA informant, Bobby Lincoln ( Liev Schreiber)

Changez eventually has his fill of the “American Dream” and the ignorance of bigotry. After some soul-searching, he decides to leave it all and return to his own country where he gets a job as a professor teaching Revolutionary Theory at the University of Lahore. But even there, he cannot shake the aftermath of 9/11, as a terrorist event brings it right back to his doorstep. It is from this vantage point that The character, Changez, takes us back in time to tell his story.

Shortly after his return to Pakistan, Changez is contacted by a powerful man, Adil Hussain (Mustafa Fazil), with close ties to the Taliban. Hussain offers him a chance to make a difference by joining their side in the fight. After the pain and humiliation that he‘s experienced in America,

Changez in the midst of a student protest

Changez in the midst of a student protest

Changez is almost tempted to give in to the darkness; to exorcise his anger through retribution. But after thinking it through, he comes to his senses and realizes that retribution is not the answer; that spilling more blood will only serve prolong The war on terror.

There is a short but potent scene in The Reluctant Fundamentalist where Changez has just begun his teaching job at the university. He is trying to impart to his students a sense of their own power, and what they can do to make things better in the place where they live. He relates  his experience with pursuing the “American dream” to his students,  and asks them afterward to consider, “What is the Pakistani dream?” “What is the Pakistani dream that does not involve immigrating to America?”

When all is said and done, the message we are left with is that we have to be strong

Mohsin Hamid’s book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is available at Amazon.com.

in the face of that which would consume our humanity, and that we can find a way to grow and prosper without selling our soul to the company store, or taking a side in the war on terror simply because we don’t feel strong or brave enough to stand on our own with out the support of the extremist ideology of either side. The Reluctant Fundamentalist encourages us to stand up for what we know in our hearts is right, and to meet each situation and each individual without being swayed by the ignorance of bigotry. Only then can we look beyond the external differences to the core that binds us all — our humanity. This is the true power of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. And though this movie languishes at times and the end is a bit predictable, overall, it is very effective. It delivers an array of powerful and thought-provoking scenes that are executed convincingly by a cast of capable actors.

I give The Reluctant Fundamentalist 4 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Looper: The Movie Review

September 30, 2012

Director: Rian Johnson

By TWYLO ENMAMUD

I could not pass up writing this review.   This is the movie that has taken me out of my hiatus.   And I have to say that it is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.  Usually with movies that involve time travel, the plot that revolves around the central theory will end up shamelessly contradicting itself.  This will tend to ruin the whole movie for me; or at the very least, leave a bad taste in my mouth.  If you are going to do sci-fi, your story should be solid, or seem “realistic” or possible within the parameters that you have set.  Looper took care of this nicely without leaving glaring holes in the theory, or plot.  But even beyond the fact that it theoretically held water, this is an awesome movie with a powerful story that really delves into the psyche of people and how they tick, and what motivates them.  It taps into the best and the worst that we can be.  It brings to light, the struggle within us between right and wrong, and our power to change the world around and within us.  This movie is hard-hitting at times; it holds no punches, and offers no apologies.

I also should mention that when I first got wind of this movie, I couldn’t quite picture Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a younger version of

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Looper, Joe.

Bruce Willis’ character.  But I have to say that there were moments when the combination of Gordon-Levitt’s make-up, facial expressions, gestures and tone just totally “reeled me in.”  I was like, “Okay, yeah, yeah! I can see it!”

As the story goes, time travel is invented 30 years in the future (or rather, 30 years in the future of the future in which our main story takes place), but is immediately banned because of its potential to do irreparable damage to the time line.  But even though the technology is banned, it manages, through private interests, to fall into the hands of a large underground criminal organization in Shanghai whose leaders use it to execute and dispose of bodies without having any traceable evidence left behind.

Our story begins in the not-so-distant dystopian future of 2042.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a Looper.  The Loopers are a clandestine group of contracted executioners whose job it is to kill people and get rid of their bodies after they are sent back in time from about 30 years in the future.

Bruce Willis as “older Joe” enjoys a quiet moment with his wife Summer (Qing Xu) before he journeys back to the past.

Joe is pretty much a heartless, drug abusing, dashing whore-monger; a lost soul who, like his fellow loopers, was picked up from the outskirts of society and especially chosen for this work.  A Looper’s contract expires (at the behest of  “management”) when the future version of the looper is sent back through time, and the Looper unwittingly kills his future self; this is called “closing the loop.”  He is given a large sum of money for his final kill, and is free to live out the remaining 30 years, or so, of his life as he chooses.  Usually this would be a “blind kill,” as all those awaiting execution are sent back with their mouths gaged, and a sack over their heads, and are immediately shot at a precise time and place from a distance of perhaps 15 feet.  Ah, but the ever resourceful, Bruce Willis’ character manages to subdue his captors in the future, and goes into the time pod with his face uncovered so that the younger version of himself (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) will recognize him, thus giving him a window of opportunity to escape – and escape, he does!

Young Joe knows that he must track his future self

An alternate version of the Looper poster from Artist, Zachary Johnson.

down and terminate him, because he is already aware of the gruesome fate (courteously demonstrated in graphic detail — thank you Mr. Johnson!) that befalls a Looper who lets his target escape; especially if that target is himself.  But this proves easier said than done as a chance meeting with a kindred spirit causes Joe to reevaluate his motives and think beyond his selfish needs.  And things are further complicated (or advanced, if you will) by the fact that a new leader, the mysterious and powerful Rain Maker, has taken over the criminal organization that controls the Loopers from the future.  This, Rain Maker, for reasons of his own, wants to put an end to the Looper program, and so begins to systematically eradicate all the Loopers in the past by “closing all the loops.”

Other noteworthy performances include Jeff Daniels as Abe, the overseer of the Loopers in the present (2042).  He is the one who was first sent from the future to gather a team of misfit young men together and train them as Loopers.

Noah Segan convincingly plays the moronic and thoroughly unlikable, Kid Blue, a young oaf of a henchman whose soul purpose is to prove himself – albeit unsuccessfully– in the eyes of father-figure, Abe.

Pierce Gagnon plays Cid, a precocious (and somewhat creepy) 10-year-old child born with a special “gift” who may or may not be the key to helping the future Joe make things right with his time-line, and saving the love of his life, Summer Qing, who was killed when he was apprehended in the future.

Emily Blunt plays the hard-edged, street-wise Sara (Cid’s mom), who, after having

Sara (Emily Blunt) protects her son and her home.

initially abandoned him in his early life, has now struggled to raise and protect him for the past six or seven years.

A few years ago, while sitting in a theater watching Batman; The Dark Knight for the first time, I remember stopping at one point in the middle and reflecting, “Wow, this movie is amazing!”  That was the first time I recall being so taken with a movie that paused to reflect on how good it was right in the middle of viewing it.  Those feelings came back to me, though not with the same intensity, while watching Looper.  This reminds me of one of those rare lucid moments when in the midst of a dream, you step back for a moment and realize, “Hey, this is a dream, I’m dreaming now,” then you continue with the dream.  I love movies, but not a lot of them leave me feeling like I’ve been given something; like I’ve experienced something truly worthy.  Looper is such a movie.  The title could have been given a little more thought, perhaps – but that’s neither here nor

Loopers, Seth (Paul Dano) and Joe (Gordon-Levitt) ride in style!

there.  I can tell you right now that Looper is going to be a classic!  And it just might be  the best sci-fi/fantasy movie that Bruce Willis has ever been in.  But I cannot say the same for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, because he has already been in another awesome sci-fi-fan move in recent history called, “Inception.”

Kudos to director and writer, Rian Johnson, for creating an amazing sci-fi action thriller of substance, and inspiring me to write again!  I look forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future!  You can click on the movie poster above to see the trailer.  Also, check out this animated trailer from artist Zachary Johnson (Rian’s cousin) inspired by the movie.  And if any of you comes across a cool Looper movie tee-shirt, please let me know!  Peace out! – The Duster.

I give Looper 4 stars:

For Colored Girls: A Movie Review

November 21, 2010


Director: Tyler Perry

I never saw the play, “For Colored Girls…” when it came out in the seventies, and I have not read Ntozake Shange’s book adaptation, so I am judging “For Colored Girls” solely on its merit as a movie. The movie was adapted from the play, and it is centered around the trials and tribulations in the lives of seven black women who are all –for the most part– aspiring in their own way to better themselves. They come from various stations in life, mostly poor to middle-class, but they are all united by their african American ancestry, and the challenges that they must overcome. And while the struggles that Shange’s characters go through certainly are valid and reflective of the experience that many black women go through, I think that her overall perspective is a bit skewed in that she presents the black male as the source of ALL their problems. Even in the character of Jo (played by Janet Jackson) an educated, very successful black business woman who runs her own company (with a cold iron hand), we see that the only problem that stands in her way is her husband Carl, played by Omari Hardwick, who is not as successful, and somewhat of a leech who is harboring a very dangerous secret that could destroy both of them. The issue/challenge of being a female CEO, or even of being African-American in a caucasian male-dominated playing field is not addressed at all. Unfortunately there is only one black man in the movie, For Colored Girls, who comes off as anything more than a dog, and that is Hill harper who plays Donald, the supportive husband of social worker,

Donald (Hill Harper) comforts wife, Kelly (Kerry Washington).

kelly (played by Kerry Washington). Never-the-less, For Colored Girls is a very interesting, and well executed movie overall.
The Play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf (wheeew) had a very experimental format (Ntozake Shange refers to it as a “Choreopoem” in her book adaptation) wherein seven woman who are each designated by a color of the rainbow tell their stories by reciting a series of poems, and at the end they bring their stories together in a ritualistic female bonding. Now the movie itself tries to mix straight story and dialogue with individual poetic recitation. And for the most part, this style of delivery works, but there are a couple of glaring exceptions where the switch between dialogue and soliloquy just doesn’t work at all, and ends up dragging the movie down. This is most evident in the case of the character Nyla, played by Tessa Thompson. Nyla is a young teenager perhaps 17. She is a very talented dancer who takes classes at a local school. Early in the movie there is a scene where she and a group of other students are sitting around doing warm-up stretches at the studio before the teacher (Anika Noni Rose) arrives. They are

Ntozake Shange's book adapted from the play.

laughing and joking and talking about “boys’” the way you might expect teenage girls to do. Then at one point, Nyla launches into her soliloquy, and she drones on for a good six or seven minutes about having a sexual experience with five brothers at the same time on the night of her high school graduation prom. She stretches and bends, and her body arcs with pleasure as she recounts the experience to her captivated peers who giggle and make snide remarks, but the content and duration of her speech seem too heavy and drawn out for her to carry as a soliloquy. I don’t know whether it was the content of her soliloquy, or her delivery, or the way it isolated her from the other actors around her and the scene itself; but it came off as very sluggish, and I found myself not particularly caring about what she was saying, and waiting for her recitation to be over. I do not mean to say that Tessa Thompson did a bad acting job, because that was not the case at all. Throughout the rest of the movie you can clearly see that she is a talented actor. But perhaps her soliloquy would have worked better if it were totally removed from the scene some how. Classically when you have a soliloquy in a play, either the actor is alone, or there is a spotlight on the actor while the other actors are shrouded in darkness.
Now, at the other end of this spectrum was Lorretta Devine, who plays the character, Juanita. Juanita is a mature black woman who spearheads an outreach program for the women in her community. She wants to empower and educate women on issues of sexuality, AIDS, motherhood, employment, etc. But even as she reaches out to help other women, she

Juanita (Lorretta Devine) hears yet another excuse from boyfriend Frank (Richard Lawson).

herself must deal with the issue of needing a man in her life in order to validate her worth as a woman.
Now, it may have been the luck of the draw, but Devine’s transition from dialogue into soliloquy was damn near flawless. She totally enraptures you with the heart-felt portrayal of her character, and she manages to pull off her soliloquies without isolating the other actors, or the audience.
Other notable performances were given by Woopie Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, and kimberly Elise.
Whoopi Goldberg plays Alice, the religious fanatic mother of Tangie and Nyla. Her character is not quite what I am used to seeing from Whoopi. When she is not being intentionally funny or satirical, Whoopi’s characters are usually even keel and serious-minded; sometimes espousing great wisdom. But Alice is quite loony, and not in a funny way. She is the extreme of all those black, church-going, Good Book-thumping, holier-than-thou

Tangie (Thandie Newton) is chastised by her mother, Alice (Whoopi Goldberg)

condemnationists who see Satan’s work everywhere around them; the type of person that becomes thoroughly submersed in God and religion in order to bury the darkness that they feel within themselves.
Alice’s daughter, Tangie, is an emotionally numb and uncaring nymphomaniac whose self-esteem is intimately linked to her ability to lure men into her bed and then discard them. She is afflicted with the perspective of the stereotypical male. Tangie is portrayed convincingly and unapologetically by Thandie Newton. There is a visually stunning scene where Tangie faces-off

Tessa Thompson as Nyla

with her mother and has a revelation about her life. She is sitting on a wooden chair scantily clad in a peach-colored robe. She is slightly hunched forward, her hands resting on her knees. Her legs are open, and her feet are planted solidly on the floor. She is emotionally, mentally and physically spent, and the scene is very much reminiscent of a Lawrence Jacob painting. Here Newton and Goldberg, who is sitting exhausted on the floor behind her to the right with her back resting against a wall, do a sort of double soliloquy, a two-person poetic recitation, which is an interesting idea in theory, but doesn’t pan out quite well–Whoopi’s part is a bit weak. I like Whoopi Goldberg as an entertainer, but I am not a huge fan of her acting.
Phylicia Rashad plays nosey neighbor, Gilda. She is the one who brings wisdom to bear on the drama and proceedings in the lives of the various “colored” women. Rashad actually plays the role that I would have expected to see Whoopi playing, and she plays it with a well-seasoned ease.
kimberly Elise gives a spectacular performance as Crystal, the physically abused mother of two very young children who works hard and tries her very best

Crystal (Kimberly Elise) sees the light.

to hold-out and keep her family together, hoping that her alcoholic, total loser-of-a-man (played by Michael Ealy) will “come around” and be the man that she believes in… but she learns too late that there comes a time when we have to stop holding our breath.
And last, but not least, I have to say a bit more about Janet Jackson in this movie. Miss. Jackson, as mentioned earlier, plays Jo. First of all, Jackson’s soliloquy was the highlight of her whole performance; as well a soliloquy should be. The camera just zoomed right on into her face, and her gorgeous hunk of a husband Carl (played by Omari Hardwick) whom she had been talking to, was totally left out of the frame. The rest of Miss Jackson’s performance; however, particularly that of high-powered CEO, left a bit more to be desired. Now it is quite possible that I was distracted by the bizarre feeling that Michael Jackson’s ghost was lurking behind almost every shot of Janet’s face. It was almost like looking at a female version of Michael. The stoic and almost

Jo (Janet Jackson) with husband Carl (Omari Hardwick).

androgynous appearance of Janet’s character certainly did nothing to distract from this bizarre perception. Jo comes off as an emotionally distant and alienating woman, very uptight and a bit of a bitch. In the beginning, she does not relate well to other –less successful– colored women, or the struggles that they may face. Her whole attitude is “I had the same challenges as a black woman that they did, and I managed to become successful so they should be able to do the same.” When Juanita (Lorretta Devine) comes to her seeking funding for a community project, Jo’s reply is very much, I gave at the office.
The women portrayed in For Colored Women have a variety of tumultuous issues to deal with that run the gamut from rape to abortion, to HIV, to bad relationships and religious fanaticism, and a mother’s worse nightmare. But by the end of the movie, these women begin to see the light beyond their trials and tribulations, and they begin to find strength and solace in the powerful bond of sisterhood that unites them all.

from left: Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington, Janet Jackson, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Lorretta Devine, Tessa Thompson and Thandie Newton

In spite of its negative portrayal of African-American men, I would still recommend seeing the movie For Colored Girls. It has a very unique and creative delivery, and lots of good performances. I love poetry in general, and I will definitely be checking out the book. Let me know what you think!

I give For Colored Girls 3 1/2 hits:

Ten Haiku

August 3, 2010
Diaphanous clouds
Diffuse the soft light of your
Creamy white fullness

Always stay with me
Even as you drift away
Into other dreams

Sweet sauce on my lips
I am stuffed to my limit
And, ooh, so thankful

Old man winter, please
Give up the ghost already
Go into the light!

Cast through bedroom shades
Just before dawn, moon shadows
Dance on barren walls

Here, he passed me by…
Tell-tale blood drops washed away
By tears from heaven

Unprecedented
Change is inaugurated.
Hopefully not too late.

Faces now and then
Again in time, take us back…
Now, then, where were we?

Chocolate cordials
Melting lover’s hearts away…
Sweetness fills the air

How lovely she is;
Slither of brilliance against
A cobalt blue sky

These are a few haiku that I have written over the course of a year. My favorite one is “Chocolate Cordials.” I like them all for various reasons, but I think “Chocolate Cordials” captures the essence of haiku more fully than the others. I wrote it for Valentine’s day. One of the main ideas that haiku strives for is the economy of words. Because of their confined structure, it is essential that haiku express the most thought or feeling with the fewest words possible. Also important is imagery. Haiku should evoke visual imagery that stays in your mind after you read it.
In addition, classic haiku usually gives give you a sense of season or nature. And of course, our modern (western)version of the Japanese haiku is typically composed of three lines of five, seven and five syllables.
Haiku capture a fleeting moment; a sensation or experience, an emotion or sentiment that might otherwise be forgotten in the course of a day.
Another of my favorites is “Cast Through Bedroom Shades.” It captures a very poignant visual, and plays subtly on the emotions. For me it evokes a sense of longing.
I wrote “Sweet Sauce On My Lips” partly for fun. This was my Thanksgiving Haiku.
Haiku is a very interesting form of poetry. It may seem very simple, and perhaps elementary at first, but the more you work with this form, the deeper you get into it, and the more it challenges you.
Anyway, let me know what you think of these, and feel free to leave some of your own Haiku here!

The Art Of ‘Inception’

July 24, 2010

Director: Christopher Nolan
…life is but a dream… within a dream… within a dream…
Leonardo DiCaprio is going off the deep end. First Shutter Island, and now this. Inception, much like Shutter island, is an exploration of the boundaries of reality. But while Shutter Island used personal identity and psychosis, Inception hits us from another angle; dreams. In both films, the directors lead us to question the reality of what we experience. But I must say that Inception is by far, more suave and sophisticated. It is downright ingenious. Inception goes much deeper than superficial personality, and it is psychologically sound. The Premise of Inception is the invention of a device that allows the user/s to enter the dreams of another person. This device–let us call it the Dream Machine–is ultimately used for (wouldn’t you know it) corporate espionage. DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, has been trained in the very delicate art of “extraction.” He is very adept at maneuvering through the dreamscapes of the unconscious mind, in order to get information. But while he has mastered this skill with others, he is far less successful at handling his own inner demons.
Cobb is on the run. He is a fugitive from the United States. He makes a living by taking on assignments from shady and powerful corporations dealing in espionage. When a new job offer comes along from wealthy industrialist Saito (played by ken Wantanabe) that he cannot resist, Cobb assembles an uncanny team of dreamers, each with unique abilities that will allow the team to successfully navigate

Asleep on the job: Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) watches over the dream team.

the dreamscape of their intended mark; one Robert Fischer Jr., played by Cillian Murphy (who, you may recall, was Scarecrow in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). But there is a twist, of course; this new job will not involve the “extraction” of information, it will involve what is known as “inception,” or putting an idea into someone’s mind via there dreams. Cobb and his team must plant a seed deep in the mind of their mark that will in effect brainwash him into carrying out a specific task. But they will find out that dreams, and the unconscious can be, at the very least, unpredictable at times, and that if you are going to delve into someone else’s mind and share dreams with them, then you’d better be on top of your game.
Ellen Page plays Ariadne. She is the “architect”

Marion Cotillard and Leonardo DiCaprio get away from it all as Mal & Cobb.

of the team, who’s job is to design the basic scenery or setting of the dreamscape which the mark will inadvertently “flesh out;” filling in the details with the elements and symbolism of his own unconscious mind. (It gets really deep, so don’t lose you focus yet!) Ariadne is new to the whole concept, but she is a natural. In the dreamscape, she sort of maintains the integrity of the “backdrop.”
Tom Hardy (Who played Praetor Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis) is Eames (my personal favorite). He is a master forger by trade who, in the dreamscape–as it turns out, is capable of forging much, much more than signatures. Eames can study the physical characteristics and mannerisms of a person, and then replicate them to perfection in the dreamscape. He is a natural at shapeshifting.

Ken Wantanabe as Saito with Cotillard as Mal.

Director Chris Nolan brings back another old acquaintance, Michael Caine (Alfred of The Dark Knight) to play Miles. Miles is the creator of the device, the Dream Machine, that allows Cobb and his accomplices to enter the dreams of others. He is also Cobb’s father in-law, and the one who taught him everything he knows about the psychology dream navigation and extracting information.
The acting is top-notch, and Chris Nolan has put together an interesting array actors with believable characters that you really feel for. And while Inception is basically a science fiction movie, its subject matter is loosely based on a very real phenomenon called “lucid dreaming.” A lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer is consciously aware that he is dreaming as the dream happens; a dream in which he can act with conscious volition in the same way he could if he were awake. Strange but true! There has been much scientific research done on this subject, and many books have been written about it. I myself am a lucid dreamer, and if you have been

Cobb tries to convince Mr. Fischer (Cillian Murphy) that he's dreaming.

following my blog, you may have read my article, “Lucid Dreaming: The Conscious Exploration Of The Psyche,” which sort of set the stage for this movie review. Inception plays on the darker side of the idea of lucid dreaming, but this phenomenon in itself is not wrought with peril, as the movie might lead you to believe. Learning and practicing the art of lucid dreaming is a very worthwhile endeavor.
There are lucid dreamers who have experienced “shared dreaming,” or “dream-linking.” This is when two dreamers have the same dream, but each from the perspective of their own dream “character.” This is pretty much what the Dream Machine in Inception does; it allows you to dream together with other dreamers.
It is apparent to me that Christopher Nolan, if he is not a lucid dreamer himself, has researched the subject very thoroughly, as he has created a movie with great insight and psychological depth. Inception is a work of art.

Cobb gives Ariadne (Ellen Page) a lesson in dream manipulation.

There was only one thing about this movie that I didn’t really care for; a bit of “dream splicing” that Nolan does right at the beginning of the movie. But, you’ll see what I mean when you watch it, if you haven’t done so already. Inception very easily lends itself to continuation. It is ripe with possibilities, and I think that Nolan might be able to come up with something even more fabulous for part two. I recommend this movie very highly. Leave a comment, and let me know what you think!

I give Inception 4 1/2 hits.

Lucid Dreaming: The Conscious Exploration Of The Psyche

July 15, 2010

A Lucid Dream, is a dream in which you are consciously aware that you are dreaming and that your physical body is asleep somewhere; or a dream in which you are aware that you are dreaming as the dream is happening.
There are people who do not believe that such a thing is even possible. They do not believe that they can be self-aware and act with volition in the dream state in the same way that they are aware when awake; in the same way that you are aware as you are reading this article right now. But I can assure you that it is quite possible, and it is an ability that you can learn to develop. I, among many others, have experienced this phenomenon first-hand. I have been having lucid dreams since I was a teenager over twenty-five years ago. I have also been experiencing a related phenomenon for just as long; the out-of-body-experience, or OBE for short. An OBE is when you feel that your consciousness leaves your physical body and is aware from a perspective outside of it, whether that perspective be in your immediate physical surroundings, of far removed from them. But, I am not going to go into OBE’s right now; I will save that for another time, perhaps. With this article, I am just going to talk about Lucid Dreaming.
There are many different techniques that can be used for inducing

Creative Dreaming by Patricia Garfield.

lucid dreams, but more and more, I find that intentis really the most crucial element, and techniques are secondary. If I give it an earnest effort, I can induce on the average, perhaps 2 to 4 lucid dreams per month. If don’t really try, I will have perhaps 1 or 2 lucid dreams per month at the most. Many books have been written on the subject of how to induce lucid dreams, and there are web sites that are devoted to lucid dreaming and OBE’s. I am not going to go into techniques here, but I will give a few resources that I have found helpful. The first book I ever read about lucid dreams was, “Creative Dreaming,” by Patricia Garfield.  I had my first lucid dream within a couple of months of reading this book.  Garfield touched on different cultures that had interesting ideas about what we call “lucid dreaming;” most notable among these were the aborigines of Australia who placed a high value on the practical use of dreaming, or what they called, The Dream Time. They were taught at a young age how to react in certain dream situations.  They were taught to always turn a negative situation around; for example, if you are being chased, you must turn around a face your aggressor and run after him/her/it, and once you confront them, you must demand a gift from them before the dream ends.  If you find yourself falling, you should not become afraid and wake up, but let yourself fall and land, and

Lucid Dreaming: Gateway To The Inner Self by Robert Waggoner

then explore the surroundings you find yourself in, and look for something that you can take back to your village when you wake up; this can be a song, some kind of art, or knowledge from a dream character that you encounter there.  Creative Dreaming remains one of my favorite books on the subject.  I am currently reading a book called Lucid Dreaming: Gateway To The Inner Self, by Robert Waggoner, which is proving to be very good so far; one of the best I’ve read in a while.  Waggoner’s book is very insightful, with lots of personal experiences, and he really seems to have experienced what he is talking about, unlike many other authors on the subject who just compile other people’s ideas and experiences and critique them as if they are authorities.  As a lucid dreamer, Waggoner is interested in evolving, and always taking his ability to new levels.  If you really want to go deeper with lucid dreaming, I would suggest a couple of books by Carlos Castaneda as well. “The Fire From Within,” and ”The Art of Dreaming,” (read in that order) are two really amazing books.  These might be a bit out on a limb for beginners, so I would only suggest them if you have already had experience with lucid dreaming. Dr. Stephen Laberge has done extensive research into lucid dreaming, and has done much to bring this area of exploration into the scientific mainstream. He discusses several techniques for inducing lucidity in his book, “Lucid Dreaming.”
Now, I am sure there will be some, who have never experienced a lucid dream, who will say, “Well what would be the point of becoming conscious in the dream state, even if such a thing were possible?” The benefits of learning and practicing lucid dreaming are many.When you become lucid in a dream, you are in a position to consciously access the normally inaccessible elements of your psyche, of your unconscious and subconscious mind.  In a normal dream, your experience is pretty much “thrust” upon you.  You have no conscious volition.  You cannot accept or reject, or choose dream experiences you want to have.  You cannot direct the dream in any way.  But once you become lucid; once consciousness enters the picture, it is a different ballgame altogether.  You can more or less now focus on any element of the dream you choose. You can choose to carry out an action that you decided upon while you were awake. You can bring new elements into the dream by focusing your mind on it.
Let us compare for a moment, having a regular dream with watching a TV program.  In a normal (non-lucid) dream, you are either a character in the program, or you appear to be watching it from outside sometimes.  But either way, the program is set, and normally you cannot change what you are watching or change your character within the program. But now imagine that you are consciously aware while the program is in progress — Instead of just watching the TV, or playing a “pre-scripted” role, now you can fast-forward, rewind, enlarge the image, or shrink it,

Lucid Dreaming by Stephen Laberge

or peek around the borders of the TV screen. And if you are not feeling the show at all, you can change the channel. You can watch it from “outside”, or you can directly affect the program and the other characters from within.  Action, drama, comedy, sci-fi, educational, news; you can basically go channel surfing through your own psyche once you get a feel for how it is done.
If you are an artist, a painter perhaps, you could use the dreamscape while lucid to produce your next painting.  Or, if you are an architect, you could have a building you’ve been working on materialize in the dreamscape right before your eyes.  A composer could pull the most sublime melodies from the vast creative well of his psyche and have them played out on the dreamscape.  He could start out humming a simple spontaneous tune, and the dream itself would begin adding instruments and orchestration or voices.  This has happened to me before, and I am not even a composer or musician.  But if I were, I could have remembered the music of the dreamscape and transcribed it upon awakening.  While the average artist must create his work in a linear fashion and perhaps toil and agonize over the creative details for a period of time before it is complete, the lucid dreamer/artist could have his work appear whole and complete before him in the dreamscape.  The lucid dreamer has direct access to his unconscious processes and the natural unimpeded creativity of his psyche.  He is able to consciously tap more of his abilities both creatively and mentally.  It is said that Beethoven had such genius that he could hear complete symphonies in his head, and then simply transcribe what he heard as if he were a secretary taking dictation.  Is it possible that he had developed a similar faculty to that of the lucid dream artist, but was such a prodigy that he could use this ability while awake?  Such possibilities lead one to question the nature of creativity, and ask how much we really know about our own psyche.  I personally believe that as human beings we are capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for.
I have, learned over the years that dreams in general are very responsive to the dreamer.  Once you are lucid in the dream state, you can focus your conscious attention in just about any direction, and based on your focus, your emotional intensity, and your imagination, the dream will pick-up on your intent and begin manifesting whatever idea you are focused on.  Indeed, it will start filling in the gaps, and fleshing out your vision.  It is this particular quality of dreams that lends them so well to the conscious intent of the lucid dreamer.  For those interested in creative visualization, the dream scape is the ideal setting for carrying out such exercises. You have complete access to your imaginative faculties, and you can totally immerse yourself in your visualization because there are no physical distractions. Carlos Castaneda’s “Don Juan” would say that lucid dreaming is a faculty that lies dormant in all of us, waiting for the moment that we would use it, and give it purpose.
Aside from the creative possibilities, of lucid dreaming, it can also be used for experimentation, and general problem solving, or to access elements, or memories from your unconscious mind where, it is said, a record all of your personal experiences is stored, going back to the time you were born, and beyond.  The dream state is, among other things, a reflection of the elements your mind; of your unconscious and subconscious awareness.  It is a mirror of the psyche. But for Lucid dreamers, It is also the reflection of your conscious mind in real-time, and thus can be molded to take the shape of your conscious intent or desire.  But beyond this, I believe the dream state can be used as a valid field of perception, and possibly communication.  Many lucid dreamers, however, simply use their lucidity for fun and dream adventures, and to act out fantasies that they could not, for whatever reasons, experience in their waking life.   And while fun and adventure certainly have their place, lucid dreaming has the potential for far more.

I have done many experiments with my lucid dreaming over the years– on my own, and with others.  I have used lucid dreaming to explore the Under World of the Shamanic cosmology. I have used it to “dream share,” which is when you have the same dream as another dreamer, but each from the perspective of your own “characters.”  I have also experimented with various concepts from Carlos Castaneda’s books like isolating “scouts” in a dream, and following them, and using the “Twin Positions” technique to stabilize the dream experience.  The possibilities for lucid dreaming are endless.  I have even delivered a message from a deceased person to a living relative of their’s – a message that although meant nothing to me, was totally understood and appreciated by the person I delivered it to.
About 2 and a half years ago, I had a very long dream in which I went to sleep and had another dream. This is what’s commonly known as “a dream within a dream.” In the second dream, I became lucid, and at one point, I woke up from the second dream back into the first dream I was having. I am not going to go into the details of the entire dream, because it would be too long for what I intended here. But I mention it, because in the first dream (in which I was not lucid) I described a technique to a dream character which would enable her to incubate a dream about specific subject. The following is an excerpt from my dream journal dated Wednesday 2/13/08:

The dream “begins” in a cafeteria, and it seems that I am in my work environment-but not like where I actually work. Anyway, I am sitting at a round table in the cafeteria, and I am talking to a black woman about dreams. She wants to know how to have a dream about a specific subject… I tell her that, while she’s awake, whenever she sees an element that is part of the dream she wants to have, in her mind, she must review the whole dream she wants to have, and at the end, say “this is a dream” – as if she were actually having it. I ask her what elements are in the dream she wants to have, and she says, a tiger, and a river. I tell her that she is not likely to see those things in her waking life on an average day [so that would not be a good element to choose]. I then ask her what the dream is about that she wants to induce, but I don’t want to pry into her personal business, so I tell her that whatever the dream is she wants to induce, she just has to be aware, while she is awake, if she sees any elements from it, and that will be her cue to review the dream she wants to induce—Now, Frank, my manager at work, who is sitting at a table next to us, says that I am talking too loud, and that I should be more quiet. I am upset by this interjection, as I don’t believe that I was being overly loud, and so I just get up in mid-conversation, and storm out of the “cafeteria.” As I walk away further, I seem to be in a house that I used to live in years ago on Sylvan Terrace in Washington heights…

Now, although I have never actually used the technique that I gave to the woman in this dream, it is still very interesting in that I am, in a sense, getting information about how to improve my dreaming skills from the dream itself. This is a great example of how dreams can be educational. And, by the way, if any of you happen to try this technique out, I would be interested in knowing what kind of results you get. The technique was not for inducing a lucid dream specifically, but it could be tailored for that result.

Lucid dreaming is an ability that is well worth developing. You can explore the dream state as a realm in itself for pleasure or personal growth, or you can use lucid dreaming as a springboard into the exploration of other “psychic” phenomena.

A scene from the movie, Inception, opening Friday, July 16th.

Now, the reason why I wanted to write this article about lucid dreaming is because, aside from the fact that it is a very personal and meaningful subject for me, Hollywood is about to drop a bomb on us! Tomorrow, Friday, July 16, 2010, Christopher Nolan’s new movie, “Inception” will be released. This sci-fi thriller is based on the premise of a device that has been created which allows the user/s to infiltrate the dreams of another person; a sort of twisted version of the concept I discussed earlier called “shared dreaming.” But in the case of Inception, this “dream sharing” will ultimately be used for the purpose of corporate espionage. Here we have dream spies who will give the term “insider trading” a whole new meaning. Word is, Inception might be the smash sci-fi hit of the summer. And although Hollywood may very well drag the idea of lucid dreaming through the muck and mire, I, of course, find the subject matter irresistable, so this is one movie I will not miss. Check back here in a few days for my review! Until then, may your dreams be lucid!

Below, are a few interesting movies that deal with lucid dreaming. If you have any other suggestions that could be added, let me know:

Dreamscape (1984)
A Nightmare On Elm St. (1984) – This is, of course, the classic horror movie, but the third installment of this series, “The Dream Warriors,” actually incorporated some very sophisticated lucid dreaming ideas!
The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)
In Dreams (1999)
The Cell (2000)
Waking Life (2001)
Inception (2010)

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