#BlogElul via the Movies 19 – Beginnings

Any new beginning is tough. Sometimes we don’t have a choice (loss of job, natural disaster, spouse dies, disease). But barring such outside forces, we tend to try and figure out a way to keep the existing plan going.

Don’t. Beginnings are natural and healthy. Judaism has us finish and begin the Torah over every single year. Rosh Hashanah is a public new beginning every year. Beginnings are good thing.

Having trouble getting started? Go watch Beginnners – Mike Mills 2010 film with Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent, and an Academy Award winning turn by Christopher Plummer. You can rent if from Netflix.

And that’d be a good first step. Then make another one and begin to change your life. It’s almost always for the better.

#BlogElul via the Movies 18 – True Love

Love…exciting and new. Come aboard.  We’re expecting you…

Unlike The Love Boat on Saturday nights when I was a kid, love doesn’t really come up on the High Holy Days. Love of God is a consistently used phrase – just look to the V’ahavta, You shall LOVE Adonai Your God. But we don’t talk about it much. And certainly romantic love is a rare topic on these days.

Love is reserved for people. And in the movies it is idolized: Love conquers all. In the brilliant recent Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom, love between two young teenagers who barely know each other overcomes all difficulties – and the movie is full of wonderful and absurd challenges – to find an ongoing passion. In The Princess Bride, “true love” is enough to bring Wesley back from the dead (thanks to Miracle Max). Or as Wesley himself says, “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”

Do movie romances last beyond the closing credits? Depends if there is a sequel and the actors sign on for it. An article in Cracked.com argues against some romances surviving. And sometimes they don’t. Poor King Kong died over his unrequited love for Fay Wray. In the wonderful (500) Days of Summer, true love exists, just not between the protaganists. In Titanic, Kate Winslet apparently didn’t understand how to share her life raft with her true love. There was PLENTY of room for both. And then she tossed away an expensive necklace for no reason either. And the love between Ariel and Eric where she gives up everything for him (and she’s a rich princess, so it isn’t money or power) is somewhat disturbing.

But as unrealistic as movie love is, it gives us hope. Perhaps unrealistic hopes of “meet cute” and “love is blind,” but still hope. For those searching for love in this new year, we can still find it the movies tell us. For those in a relationship, go see Hope Springs and find new life in that love. Love is a vital part of our healthy soul. This year, find a way to increase the true love in your life. Doubt it? Just hit the multiplex.

#BlogElul is the brainchild of @imabima who blogs at imabima.blogspot.com. For the 30 days of Elul, the spiritual preparation before the Jewish High Holy Days, many Jews will be reflecting on the themes of the season. My posts will all be through the lens of movies. You can see all the themes in the graphic. Follow all the other excellent postings through Twitter at #BlogElul along with related items #Elulgram and #PopCultureElul.

#BlogElul via the Movies 17 – What Inspires You?

Funny what inspires us. You change one dreary piece of music for the High Holy Days and someone complains it was their favorite. In my previous congregation, I knew that one particular Shabbat English prayer was exceedingly inspirational to two congregants, so I added it when they looked like they needed a little lift. I don’t know why, but the Louis Lewandowski S’u Sh’arim that is found towards the end of Yom Kippur services always moves me – and not because it is at the end either. It works when used at a Shabbat Torah service too.

So I turn to Rock of Ages, the recent Hollywood version of the Broadway jukebox musical. Truth up front: I am not a fan of jukebox musicals for the most part despite my love of musicals. Further, I am not a big fan of Hollywood movies made of Broadway musicals. They usually are mediocre and stiff. (Worse if it is a really good movie that became a really good show that became a really dull movie – exs. The Producers, Hairspray).

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#BlogElul via the Movies 16 – Some Kind of Wonder-Full

Movies are fickle things. Tim Burton is one of the most amazing directors to create a world immersed in his fantastic vision. Why is that Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorshands are still full of wonder, but recent Tim Burton fantasies such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland are not “wonderful” or perhaps “wonder-full”? I know my age makes a difference regarding wonder. It’s a piece (and only a piece) of why I love the original Star Wars trilogy and am much more ambivalent on the second threesome.

Wonder is that which arouses astonishment or marvel. Things enriched with positively experiences of amazement and transformation. The High Holy Days are supposed to that. Choirs, robes, shofar, sermons, big musical pieces, the sheer number of attendees are all supposed inspire you into awe. Thomas Carlyle said, “Wonder is the basis of worship.” Nowadays, we often seek such wonder differently. Choirs and robes are often no more. Sermons often don’t live up to the anticipation. The music and even the congregation are intentionally scaled back for alternative or intimate services. At least the shofar is still the shofar.

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#BlogElul via the Movies 15 – For Your Health

For your health this Elul  – and forever more – do not watch Patch Adams. It is a terrible movie. Just terrible. Terrible. Really terrible. Just terrible.

On the other hand, if you want to see a really underrated film, also about health, that I loved, check out 50/50.

PS Hebrew poster’s translation of the English catchphrase for 50/50 is smile inducing

#BlogElul via the Movies 14 – The Montage and French Toast

There’s a trope in movies that we could all use: The learning montage. You lack a skill. You need to prepare. You are working for a goal. No one wants to watch anything resembling a realtime series of growth or progress, so the montage is utilized.

We all wish we had the montage in life. It shows all that growth and progress without all the slow drudgery of work. For every rabbi, a montage of high holiday prep would likely show clips of surfing the web, folding laundry, pulling books off of shelves, some staring into space, and then a shot of inspiration and a couple quick images of typing furiously before standing on the pulpit in triumph. Writing isn’t as compelling as training to fight to Apollo Creed.

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#BlogElul via the Movies 13 – Inconceivable!

“Inconceivable!”

Of all my favorite lines in The Princess Bride, perhaps my favorite movie of all time, this might be favorite. A lot of it is Wallace Shawn’s delivery. Yet I love Vizzini’s ability to dismiss what he sees before him not as his fault or error, but as beyond the realm of possibility.

Ultimately, one of his comrades, Inigo Montoya, turns to him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Excuses come easily. We blame others. We blame God. We blame our upbringing. We blame the cosmic forces of existence. We even blame ourselves, but usually in bitter, unhelpful ways.

We also make excuses for others. We justify their behaviors, no matter how heinous or ridiculous, out of misplaced love and support. Take this film full of excuses…

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#BlogElul via the Movies 12 – Being Someone Different

Can you be someone different? The answer is no. You can’t. But you sure can try.

College Freshman talk about creating a new persona as they head off to school. I moved to the other end of the country with a chance to be a different sort of rabbi and individual. For most people, it doesn’t quite happen. We are who we are and we can’t simply shut that off and be someone else. But we also live in the real world. If one only lives in the movies, there’s a chance to become someone wholly new.

Our image is what we try to project to the world to define ourselves. In one of my favorite recent movies (thanks to you Ben Walnick), Crazy, Stupid, Love., we run into a host of wonderful characters (and actors playing them) who battle with the image they present to the world. The movie deals with the rich personages in surprising and interesting ways. Go see it.

But as Elul marches on, consider your image. You can’t wholly find a new one by plopping on a leather jacket or changing your name to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock. But you can make steps forward. Don’t try to become someone new this year; try to adjust some aspect of who you are. Cut yourself some slack. It isn’t easy. But don’t be satisfied with where you are now. All of our images need some sparkle and some updating.

#BlogElul via the Movies 11 – Ridiculously Good-Looking and Plucky

“When it’s time to change, then it’s time to change”

The Brady Bunch has it right. Change comes inevitably. And without our help, it may come really slowly or not in the way we want.

Take Moneyball. Billy Beane tries to remake how a Major League Baseball team goes about evaluating players. He is openly thwarted at every turn. According to the movie, if you are ridiculously good-looking (Brad Pitt) and hire a plucky, stat geek (Jonah Hill), it’ll all come out okay.

By the way, the Oakland Athletics never did win the World Series under his regime. They did go to the playoffs a few times, but haven’t since 2006 or even finished above .500. But they are doing well this year, and Beane did change how all clubs evaluate talent so he has a true legacy even if it isn’t actually winning.

Change is a common element of the movies and can inspire us. But there are some things you seem to need.

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#BlogElul via the Movies 10 – No More Remakes

Memory is a gift. Through memory we bring people back into our lives. We relive the wonderful and tragic giving us strength and teaching us lessons. Memory lets us cherish nostalgia and enables us to remember what happened on last week’s Breaking Bad since the recap at the beginning barely hits the highlights.

That’s why it is such a shame that Hollywood has no memory. If they did, there wouldn’t be so many remakes.

It’s simple. Remakes suck. There have been okay remakes. Occasionally a remake is better than original, but usually when we haven’t really heard of the original or it was pretty mediocre to begin with. But when we can remember the original lovingly an fondly, it is merely a loss of memory (and greed) that leads to a remake. The result is usually very unsatisfying an not a big money maker either. Remakes stink.

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