#BlogElul via the Movies 22 – Seeing

No matter how self-aware we think we are, we often don’t see things right in front of us. Our flaws. The way we treat others. The piece of spinach stuck between our teeth.

Where would the movies be without this trope – out inability to see what’s right there. How many romantic comedies do we – the audience – see that the protagonists are in love and they are blind to it? Answer: All of them.

My favorite “don’t see it” movie is a class hybrid of action thriller, brilliant director, and the two greatest cheesy lead actors of my lifetime – John Travolta and Nicolas Cage – Face/Off.

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#BlogElul via the Movies 21 – Listen

Here’s three ways we could improve on our listening this New Year:

  1. Shut Up – We talk a lot and don’t listen much. We presume what others are saying before they even finish. That’s why a film like Carnage is so frustrating. Who wants to spend time with people who can’t listen to anyone including themselves? (I hear the play was excellent. Always need to remember that books, movies, plays, TV have similarities, but each are more suitable for certain stories and formats than others)
  2. Stop Listening – We listen to the wrong things. Silly emails. Biased political ads. Unknowledgeable friends. Easy A was a fantastic (literary based) telling on the ease at which people will believe what they want or hope rather than what is the truth.
  3. Start Talking – The driver in Drive seemed to be an excellent listener. It would have been nice to hear more what he had to say. He fulfilled part of Shammai’s famous dictum in Pirke Avot 1:15 – “say little and do much, and receive everyone with a cheerful countenance.” Not much of a cheerful countenance though.

Listen more, listen right, shut up more, but sometimes, say something. Conflicting advice for the month of Elul.

#BlogElul via the Movies 20 – Messing Up the End

Sometimes you just can’t end it. Or when you do you end something you do it poorly. Do you recognize these behaviors as exemplified by movies?

NEVER QUITE FIND THE ENDING – It is hard to find the right way to say goodbye. Sometimes you try them all. How many times did people in the theater think The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King had too many endings?

CAN’T QUITE LET GO – It’s time to leave it alone already, but you keep finding ways to make it a bigger deal than it really needs to. Maybe it’s a Peter Jackson thing, but he has decided to stretch the slim tale in The Hobbit into three books. Sounds like two books too many.

PLEASE STOP. REALLY STOP. – That couple that keeps breaking up and getting back together. Just end it! Sequels to movies that didn’t deserve them are now so ubiquitous it is hard to pick just one. Horror movies are too obvious. Let’s go with American Pie. The first one was funny. The 3 Hollywood sequels were fair at best. The “side” sequels wear abysmal. I’m sorry Eugene Levy has such big mortgage payments to need to be in all of them.

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#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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