Tag Archives: with eyes unclouded

With Eyes Unclouded – Deep Impact

30 Jan

[Previous With Eyes Unclouded: Into The Wild, Dangerous Minds]

Deep Impact

In 1998 there were two movies about an asteroid hitting the earth and causing massive special-effects. Armageddon is the one most people remember, but it was a silly movie about oil drillers being sent into space to save us all by drilling for oil on an asteroid and then blowing it up. It was more or less a comedy.

Deep Impact took a more serious approach to the idea of a gigantic asteroid ending all life on earth as we know it. It’s aged in a fascinating way. I wouldn’t call it a great movie, but it was highly engaging to watch it again more than a decade later.

Here we have a scenario where the first dark-skinned president of the United States (Morgan Freeman, obviously. Who else could it be?) informs the public that there’s a chance we’re all going to die when the asteroid hits in 2000. They’ve taken precautions of course, and collaborated with the Russians to send a spaceship out to blow up the asteroid, but until that mission succeeds or fails the President just tells us to go about life as usual. Pay our bills. We’re told that leaders of other countries are saying the same to their populace.

And everyone listens.

There is no looting. No riots. No panic. No conspiracy theories. No wars break out. Everyone listens to the president, trusts him, and goes about their daily living. It’s like some crazy alternate universe. Sometimes I hear it referred to as “the 90’s.” It’s as if the concept of a “terrorist” hadn’t been invented yet. People weren’t afraid of anything, and didn’t even become so when told that life as we know it might be wiped out. It’s fascinating.

But when the spaceship fails, instead breaking the asteroid into two pieces both still headed for earth, the President must again address the nation. This time he says that most of us will die. He says that we’re still prepared, because even though the government planned and hoped for the best it was smart and organized enough to prepare effectively for the worst (remember, it’s a crazy alternate universe). So while most of us are going to die, a few people will be selected by lottery to survive in a cave system they’ve secretly and securely built underground. We’re told that leaders of other countries are saying the same to their populace.

Now, the President with his Morgan Freeman Authority declares martial law, but there is still relative peace.

People listen to the lottery rules about how certain people are pre-selected for their necessary-for-human-race-advancement skills, and how nobody over 55 will otherwise be selected, and how the rest will be informed by phone, and there is still relative peace. People go home to their phones. There are no riots. No protests. No looting. In short there is nothing dramatic at all aside from people struggling with whether or not they are chosen for survival. It’s fascinating.

And then the special effects happen, and the martyrdom, and the human race goes on no more afraid than they were before. Crazy.

I do want to say a bit about the special effects though. First of all, they are very scarce, (if all you want to see is shots of massive destruction this movie will disappoint) and second of all they age pretty poorly. The computer animated tidal wave which destroys New York is quite clearly computer generated in the days before they knew how to computer generate water (before The Perfect Storm and before Titanic). There’s also a gorgeous shot where this massive wave destroys the World Trade Center towers. Crazy alternate universe.

All in all it’s a fascinating look at a potential apocalypse where we learn that the best chance for survival is to marry Elijah Wood before he plays Frodo, and that Vanessa Redgrave is too old to survive but she’s ok with it.

With Eyes Unclouded – Dangerous Minds

11 Jun

Dangerous Minds was recorded on DVR so I must say that I didn’t really see the movie properly. I missed the start and there were commercials and all the swear words were dubbed over. Maybe the scenes that were cutout for the commercials would have made a difference, I don’t know.

Disclaimer aside, this is a movie that I felt had a very strong beginning and a predictable and weak ending. The story involves Michelle Pfeiffer (who is great) as a young teacher looking for a job. I missed the start so I’m not sure how, but she ends up at this school applying for a part-time substitute job and ends up with a full-time teaching job at “the Academy program” a “school within a school” for the “special” children. If only it were as good as Brookline’s actual School Within A School.

Turns out she’s been hired to teach a group of seemingly unruly kids from poor homes, bad neighborhoods, and violent homes, etc. Short of calling her “white bread” they ignore her when she first walks in, opting instead to continue dancing, talking, drumming on desks, being loud and unruly, etc.

At this point in the movie the problem is that I know exactly what happens next. This underestimated small woman is going to succeed against seemingly great odds. She will inspire these kids, change their lives, the audience is going to feel good about it and the potential of humanity, etc. That the movie doesn’t deviate at all from this old formula is the biggest weakness I think. It tries to. It puts in some tragedy. It tries to make us think that the poor small underestimated teacher, despite making great headway by bribing the children and using Bob Dylan songs as poetry, is going to give up. Yet I never really thought she was going to because, well, it’s a movie.

When the kids start to bluntly state out loud what should be subtext by saying things like “we come from poor neighborhoods,” and “you don’t understand our world,” I begin to see through the already paper-thin premise to the underlying underdog-makes-us-feel-good structure. It’s not a bad exercise in a movie, but it isn’t a great one either.

I guess that’s why it’s as remembered as it is, or isn’t. I remember it being talked about a lot when it was out, when Coolio’s song was on the radio, Michelle Pfeiffer was famous, etc. It was perceived as a really important movie at the time. I’d forgotten the movie existed until it showed up on TV and my DVR recorded it.

If you want to see a movie with this plot structure I enjoyed Stand and Deliver more (Lean on Me is another one, but I don’t remember it as well).

[Previous With Eyes Unclouded: Into The Wild]

With Eyes Unclouded – Into The Wild

27 Feb

With Eyes Unclouded

One result of being unemployed for so long and unable to pay the rent is that I don’t spend money to go see movies. I’m woefully behind on the recent (and even not so recent) releases. This does however result in more time to catch up on titles that I do have access to, either on DVD or waiting on the DVR or downloaded or on VHS from when we cleaned out someone’s basement, etc.

Watching movies knowing already how time has treated them is an interesting experience. Sometimes I find myself wondering why a film isn’t far more popular, or why a famous classic isn’t languishing in obscurity. With that mindset, I welcome you to the first “With Eyes Unclouded” which will hopefully be an ongoing series for discovering (or perhaps avoiding) new movies that aren’t new.

Starting with Into The Wild.

I’ve been eager to see this movie ever since being fascinated by the book, but now that I have, I’m left feeling somewhat wanting.

The book, for those unfamiliar, chronicles the true story of Chris McCandless. The book is also about Jon Krakaur’s (the author) interest in Chris’ story, his own adventure in discovering the story, and his own self-exploration about why the story is so fascinating to him. He even researches stories similar to Chris’ about others who run off “into the wild,” to see if they evoke similar reactions in him. All in all it’s a fascinating book about humanity’s desire for something more, some evasive adventure, some passion, joy, experience, some thing that is always somehow just out of reach.

That’s what it was about for me anyway.

The movie, as I suspected, isn’t about Jon Krakaur at all, and follows just Chris’ story instead. The movie shows us Chris, follows him on his adventure and lets us into his head as much as cinema, structured this way, will allow. Given that, it’s really a great cinematic telling of the story. The music, the scenery, the performances, the editing, it’s all high quality. It evokes a mood of its own, and viewing it is an experience unique unto itself.

And yet…

The underlying approach to the story that the movie takes is, I think, the wrong one. The book is all about this man, the journalist author, trying to figure out after the fact who Chris was. Chris left a lot of writings behind him, and Jon eagerly analyzes them, hoping each time that some overlooked clue will provide the answer, hoping the next sentence will be the ‘rosebud‘ to the true self of Chris McCandless. Some of this writing (“if we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, the possibility of human life is destroyed”) makes it into the movie, but mostly just as lines of dialogue, or as voiceover. It’s not given the same reverence (reverence which is often questioned) as it is in the book because the structure doesn’t allow for it. The author of the movie has no voice. Why did Chris do what he did? Why did a college graduate leave his car behind, burn all his money and walk away to wherever he went? What happened to him? How did he end up in the wilds of Alaska? Why is Jon so driven to find out?

The movie leaves these questions out, instead asking why is Chris leaving his car behind and burning his money? What will happen to him? Where is he going? What is he doing?While still compelling questions, I didn’t find them as compelling as those in the book, and I think that the answers given by the movie were too simple and too abrupt. It wasn’t just that Chris went from writing down his “firm belief that the primary joy in life doesn’t come from human relationships” to finding that, maybe, it does. It wasn’t just that he had a not-totally-healthy upbringing. It wasn’t just that he didn’t read the right passage in his edible plants book.

There was a lot more complexity to him, and to his story (particularly the ending), that is lost in the movie. Ultimately after watching I was left missing that complexity more than I was left appreciating what I’d seen. As cliché as it is to say it, I’d recommend the book over the movie. Perhaps though, if you’d like to enjoy the movie, do so without having read the book first.