“Beacause it’s there.”
George Mallory’s reason for conquering Everest applies to feats of exploration and adventure that include traveling to the moon. This documentary shows us that it also explains how a French teenager leafing through a magazine at his doctor’s office could see a picture of the plans for building the two World Trade Center towers and instantly decide that when they were built, he would string a wire between them and walk across it.
In order to make it happen, tightrope walker Philippe Petit trained and planned for years, and this film shows us the combination of meticulous preparation, whimsical optimism, a lot of hubris, and some well-timed luck combined to make it happen on August 7, 1974, 34 years ago today. The article-less title of the film comes from the designation on Petit’s arrest form. A combination of current interviews with the participants, archival footage, and some mostly understated re-enactments makes this as mesmerizing as the most intricate heist film, and we find ourselves rooting for the young man who wanted to dance in the air and never tried to explain why to himself or anyone else — or profit from his stunt. The result is an exhilarating film about a pure gesture of art, courage, and folly that seems enchantingly gentle. It is also wrenchingly poignant. Every shot of the two towers reminds us of the aspirations of those who built them and the immeasurable loss of 9/11. Every element of the plan to circumvent security reminds us of those who attacked the towers out of hatred rather than joy. All the more important to see this reminder of a moment when a man danced in the air for the pure pleasure of giving himself and the people who watched him a reason to smile. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.
Parents should know that this film has some drug use and brief nudity with a post-wire-walking celebratory groupie.
Families who see this movie should talk about how people discover their dreams and what they should be willing to do to make them happen. How do the participants differ in their feelings about what happened?
If you like this, try: “Rififfi”
“Dark” is right. Christopher Nolan’s sequel to his Batman Begins is not only dark; it is searing and disturbing. The bad guys are very, very bad. These are not guys who do bad things because that is the only way for them to get what they want. These are bad guys who do bad things because they enjoy them. As the Joker (Heath Ledger, in his last completed performance) says early on, “That which does not defeat us makes us…stranger.”
But what is more unsettling about this ambitiously epic film is the way that it shows us how even the good guys are perilously close to being bad. We like duality in our superhero sagas, but we like the meek or ineffectual character with the hidden strength and ability — Clark Kent as the incorruptible Superman and Bruce Wayne as the eternally honorable Batman. But this movie is an exploration of the way that none of us, not even heroes, not even ourselves — none of us know exactly where our boundaries are drawn. Over and over in this film people find themselves crossing lines they once were certain that nothing could tempt or force them to breach, with the most fundamental elements of identity and integrity revealed as ephemeral.
In the last episode, we saw how billionaire Bruce Wayne, a damaged man, found his deepest essence expressed as a masked avenger, Batman. The pull of turning himself into a creature of the night to protect the innocent and put the guilty in jail was so powerful that he risked losing the woman he loved, his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes in the first film, Maggie Gyllenhaal in this one). But as this movie begins, the clean-up efforts by Batman and district attorney Harvey Dent have infuriated Gotham’s criminals, who are escalating their efforts and working together to spread corruption throughout the community so that no one trusts anyone. A man with a mask can be anyone — or more than one. Copycat Batmans (Batmen) are showing up with something the real Batman never carries — guns. “That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I said I wanted to inspire people,” Wayne says. The line between justice and vengeance is blurring.
Blurring of lines is one of the themes snaking through this film. Characters slide in and out, over and across lines of identity, principle, and purpose. This is a comic book movie and it has chases and crashes and fight scenes, including a astonishing somersaulting truck, but when it is over it is the wrenching choices, the internal confrontations, that reverberate. The most stunningly unforgettable moment concerns a choice made by a character who is on screen for less than five minutes. But because we know so little about him (far less than we think we know, as it turns out) and because the decision he must make is so heart-rending, his choice becomes ours.
And Batman’s time and place becomes ours, too. The setting is less stylized than previous Gothams, recognizably Chicago. This is a real city with windows opening up on sun light that is always on the other side of glass and steel. We, like the characters, are relegated to the shadows, the underground passages, the airless buildings, a kind of architectural mask.
The sense of dread, of corruption, of dissolution of structures permeates the film. A bad guy who is ruthless in pursuit of money or power is not nearly as scary and unsettling as one who cares about nothing — not even his own life — as long as he is messing with everyone’s head. Like the bad guy in “Saw,” the Joker likes to expose moral weakness and exploit hypocritical pretense to honor and integrity. “Some men aren’t looking for anything — just to watch the world burn,” says loyal retainer Alfred (Michael Caine). “They can’t be bullied, negotiated, or reasoned with.” And the greatest damage this kind of terrorism inflicts is that it no longer allows us to be the trusting, decent people we like to think we are.
Ledger, in his last completed performance, is mesmerizing. His tongue flicking like a lizard, there is a wetness to his speech that makes us feel as well as see the nerve-slashing wounds that give his face the grotesque rictus that imitates a smile. Instead of the careful clown-like make-up of previous Jokers, Ledger’s is smashed and smeared, chaos upon chaos. Bale continues to make Batman and Wayne compelling and Freeman and Michael Caine as Alfred are watchable as ever. “You complete me,” the Joker says to Batman. Ledger completes this film and his loss is just one more reason to walk out of it a little sad and dazed.
In the 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, a spaceship landed in front of the Washington Monument to warn the people of earth that they were on the path to destruction. The problem then was the Cold War and nuclear arms race. In 2008, the remake has a space orb land in New York City and once again a humanoid-looking creature from another planet comes to earth because of another impending doom. “If the Earth dies, you die,” he says. “If you die, the Earth survives.”
Jennifer Connelly, who seems to enjoy sharing the screen with super-smart crazy guys (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Hulk”), plays Helen, a scientist brought in to try to help assess the threat level from the two beings to come out of the orb. The first would have done better to have had a scientist to assess his own threat level because as soon as it stepped out of the orb someone shot him. The second is a silent, colossus-like giant of a robot with an ominous glow through the eye-slit, standing as sentry.
Klaatu has assumed human form (Keanu Reeves) so that he can speak to the world leaders at the UN. But a suspicious Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) decides to treat him like a galactic terrorist, so soon Klaatu, Helen, and her stepson (Jaden Smith, the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith), are on the run. They make the obligatory visit to the Wise Man in the Woods (John Cleese, terrific as a Nobel award-winner for “altruistic biology”) and try to evade the efforts of military and law enforcement to capture them while Helen tries to demonstrate that humans are worth saving.
Director Scott Derickson is a committed Christian, and he has given the original story themes of sacrifice and redemption that will resonate with those who are open to a spiritual message. There is a reference to Noah’s Ark. Klaatu has the power to heal. He brings a dead man back to life and even walks on water. The most important themes are deeply spiritual as well, stewardship, respect for the interdependence of all things, and hope.
Bugs Bunny Turns 75 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHpXle4NqWI
A fascinating look at what made Warner Brothers cartoons work. Surprisingly, within these anarchic worlds, there were a lot of rules. This video has some very thoughtful commentary, including ...
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