Tuesday, January 9, 2007


What’s with all these depressing movies lately? Is it a reflection of the past six years of depressing right-wing control of almost everything? And the way they messed things up?

Will we be seeing more happy films, now that that’s beginning to crumble?

Whatever it is, BABEL is a bummer. An incredibly well directed, beautifully shot, and terrifically acted bummer. And in terms of acting, it’s full of revelatory performances by actors I’d never seen before, especially in the Middle Eastern scenes.

The writing wasn’t bad either, but how come the white people always end up okay, even when the writer/director is “Hispanic”? Or is that the point?

Sometimes non-“white” (whatever that means in any given situation) writers and filmmakers seem to think that being “white” means no problems, or problems overcome.

Some truth in that as a general comparison, but individually, we all know life is often a struggle and everyone faces the same basic problems, even if under certain circumstances—like being born in the wrong place in Nigeria, or in Sudan, or the wrong gender etc.—non-”whites” usually have it worse.

(I know, I know, being non-”white” in the USA is still sometimes problematic, but it is a disservice to all those—“black” and “white”—who gave their lives, figuratively and literally, in the Civil Rights struggles to bring about a better and fairer society to deny the incredible progress made.)

The point is, BABEL is a really well-made movie, but way too heavy on my heart, to almost bear.

On the other hand, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS is a rare, for this moment at least, not depressing film. Though it evoked similarly dramatic, if less hopeless, struggles I faced when raising children on my own, back when no man I encountered was doing it.

The predictable ending—because it’s “inspired” by a “true” story—still brought tears to my eyes, tears of empathy and elation.

But even though it’s not a depressing experience in terms of story line, the idea that somehow “happyness” is dependent on material rewards, ultimately—when my tears had dried—left me less than “happy.”

The movie seems to contradict itself on this point, but the perspective of the hero—as voiced by Will Smith, portraying the real life multimillionaire stockbroker its based on—is that making a lot of money equals happiness, and that’s what “the pursuit of happiness” meant to Thomas Jefferson and the Founding fathers who endorsed the concept.

Which may not be far off, since the way I heard it, the original phrase was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” But, the latter was changed to “happiness,” thankfully, since back in that day, slaves were included under “property.”

Still, seeing it with my little boy was another great experience of father-son connection and love. He didn’t respond with the same teary eyes I did, but he did smile at me or laugh with me at scenes that reminded us of us.

But as with Smith’s portrayal of another real life character—in ALI—it ain’t the Oscar worthy performance some seem to think it is. As always, he does a good job, a likable job, a job you can admire, and his performance is even moving at times, but as an actor, he’s still more a showman than an artist, for my taste.

1 comment:

AlamedaTom said...

Haven't seen "Pursuit" and probably won't until it hits Netflix. However, I hear you. The film I saw recently that dropped me in the same place you describe was "Akeelah and the Bee." I had no idea I was going to enjoy it as much as I did. Of course I knew what was coming, but watching it play out was a joy. The girl who played Akeelah was so right on and such a great actor. And the Fishburn/Basset duo reunited from the Ike & Tina flick were sterling too.

But then, I'm one of the few guys who really enjoys a well-written, well-acted so-called "chick flick."

Keep up your sterling work on this blog. Have patience and the audience will grow. You be sayin' shit, gnaw unna mean?

~ Willy