Saturday, December 18, 2010

Movie Review of A Single Man (2009)

How would you deal with the death of your spouse?...Pain is inevitable, suffering is not. If any of these tragedies strike you in your present state of mind, you will suffer… Buddhism does advise you to invest some of your time and energy in learning to deal with unpleasantness, because some pain is unavoidable. When you see a truck bearing down on you, by all means jump out of the way. But spend some time in meditation, too. Learning to deal with discomfort is the only way you’ll be ready to handle the truck you didn’t see.
- Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

This is the story of an English professor in the 1960s who has lost his life partner and decided, after eight months of mourning, to kill himself. Thankfully, the characters were well acted and interesting because the plot was thin and predictable.

Colin Firth does a tremendous job as the grieving lover, Julianna Moore is excellent as his frustrated female friend, and the supporting cast is great. However, it may be that this territory has been covered so often that it has lost its power but I suspect there was something missing in the writing. The audience was not truly emotionally engaged as they were in “Milk” or “When Did You Last See Your Father?”

Movie Review of Alice in Wonderland (2010)

In teaching, the Buddha never spoke of humans as persons existing in some fixed or static way. Instead, he described us as a collection of five changing processes: the processes of the physical body, of feelings, of perceptions, of responses, and of the flow of consciousness that experiences them all. Our sense of self arises whenever we grasp at or identify with these patterns. The process of idenification, of selecting patterns to call "I", "me", "myself", is subtle and usually hidden from our awareness.
-Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart

This movie is not geared toward children. Not only does it have many frightening scenes but the plot is confusing and the language obscure. It is supposed to be an exciting adventure with heroines. I found it boring in several spots.

For adults, it seems to play with the concept of imposed self-identity, but this is weak. Alice, in the real world and in Wonderland, is continually told who she should and should not be. The minions of the Red Queen disguise themselves as freaks in order to meet her approval. Although the Red Queen's head continues to grow (one would assume representing ego) she is extremely insecure and aching for love. She can trust no one and comes off as sad and pitiable instead of the cold, domineering queen in Lewis Carroll's books.

Tim Burton does the usual odd and unique set and character design. Johnny Depp makes a freaky Mad Hatter. The special effects are notable and the costumes will probably be nominated for awards. The story depends too much on the special effects, bizarre creatures, and chase scenes to keep the viewer's interest.

The story is a combination of Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and invention. The Red Queen’s people are chess players while the White Queen’s are cards. Although the White Queen is good and beautiful and loved by her people, they never really justify why the elder sister did not have the right to the throne. The story jumps about in confusion. To top it off, Dodgeson’s obscure poetry is recited in a mumble almost as though Depp is bored himself.

Not worth the price.

Move Review of Amreeka (2009)

Movie Review of Amreeka (2009)

Because of their ignorance, all people are always thinking wrong thoughts and always losing the right viewpoint and, clinging to their egos, they take wrong actions. As a result, the become attached to a delusive existence.
- The Buddha

Muna Farah (Nisreen Faour), a single mother, and her son Fadi (Malkar Muallem) are Christian Palestine refugees move to Illinois and face prejudice and persecution. Muna, with two degrees and ten years of banking experience, can only land a job in a burger joint. There are funny moments and moving moments. The movie ends on a note of hope.

This movie examines in a microcosm how war, in a far off country, can impact people’s family, relationships, and culture, in America. Well worth watching.

Movie Review of The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Everything changes,
Everything appears and disappears,
There is perfect tranquility
When one transcends both life and extinction.
- The Buddha

The Time Traveler’s Wife is first a romance and second a scifi/fantasy. Henry De Tamble (Eric Bana) is a time traveler who is uncontrollably and periodically flung naked into the past or future. This is physically dangerous as well as emotionally traumatic. His first time travel was out of his mother’s car while it was involved in a horrible crash. His only joy is the acceptance of Annette (Michelle Nolden), whom he meets over her life in small time travelling moments.

Is it possible for him to have a life-time loving relationship? What about children? When/if will the dangers of time travel cause his demise? Henry’s dilemma arouses compassion and suspense in the audience. Some of the logistics of time are a little confusing but, all in all, a brilliant movie.

Movie Review The Proposal (2009)

Imagine walking along a sidewalk with your arms full of groceries, and someone roughly bumps into you so that you fall and your groceries are strewn over the ground. As you rise up from the puddle of broken eggs and tomato juice, you are ready to shout out, “You idiot! What’s wrong with you? Are you blind?” But just before you catch your breath to speak, you see that the person who bumped you is actually blind. He, too, is sprawled in the spilled groceries, and your anger vanishes in an instant, to be replaced by sympathetic concern: “Are you hurt? Can I help you up?”

Our situation is like that. When we clearly realize that the source of disharmony and misery in the world is ignorance, we can open the door of wisdom and compassion. Then we are in a position to heal ourselves and others.

- B. Alan Wallace, Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up

Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) coerces her assistant Andrew Paxton ( Ryan Reynolds) into marrying her so that she will not be deported to Canada. After fifteen minutes, the audience can easily predict how the plot will unfold. The comedic moments (most of which were revealled in the trailer, are often awkward and lame. The only impressive part is Sandra Bullock’s physical shape. It is a waste of her talent.

Review of Television Series My Name is Earl (2005+)

The Buddha identified karma as volitional activity. That is, each volition in the mind is like a seed with tremendous potential. In the same way that the smallest acorn contains the potential of a great oak tree, so too each of our willed actions contains the seed of karmic results. The particular result depends on the qualities of mind associated with each volition. Greed, hatred, and delusion are unwholesome qualities that produce fruits of suffering; generosity, love, and wisdom are wholesome factors that bear fruits of happiness.

The Buddha called the understanding of this law of karma, the law of action and result, the “light of the world,” because it illuminates how life unfolds and why things are the way they are. The wisdom of this understanding allows us the freedom to make wise choices in our life.
- Joseph Goldstein, Insight Meditation

Earl believes in a simplistic concept karma - “If you do bad things, bad things happen to you. If you do good things, good things happen to you.” While this is a simplistic understanding it does motivate Earl to change his life. He creates a list of all the bad things he has done in his life and sets out to make amends . In addition to experiencing better luck, Earl discovers the joy of making people’s lives better.

Although some of Earl’s previous actions were criminal, the series shows that even smaller actions have long term consequences. Earl develops awareness of cause and effect. The series is laugh out loud funny but also poignant and thought-provoking.

Movie Review of The Hurt Locker (2008)

Greater in combat
Than a person who conquers
A thousand times a thousand people
Is the person who conquers herself.
- The Dhammapada (103)

This movie focuses on a bomb disposal unit in Iraq with a new “wild man” sergeant who lives for the adrenalin rush. Each man in the unit handles the stresses and tragedies of their job differently. The unit has a little more than one month left in their tour but the new sergeant takes unnecessary risks, at time drawing everyone into his circle of danger. This is a fascinating study of men in inhuman conditions.

Movie Review of The Five Senses (1999)

He who is unable to guard his five senses of eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body, and becomes tempted by his surroundings, is not the one who can train for Enlightenment. He who firmly guards the gateways of his five senses and keeps his mind under control is the one who can successfully train for Enlightenment.
The Buddha

This movie has five different connected stories, each featuring a different sense. A massage therapist (touch); her voyeuristic daughter Rachel (sight); Rona, a cake decorator (taste); Richard, an optometrist who is going deaf (hearing); and a housecleaner who works for perfume inventors (smell). Rachel loses sight of a little girl she is supervising in the park. Richard, who is separated from his wife and withdrawn from society, tries to collect precious sounds before he goes deaf but learns to reconnect from a unexpected person . Rona has an opportunity for love but has lost her taste for love as well as cake. Her mistrustful attitude has karmic consequences.

Movie Review of One Week (2008)

Both life and death arise from the mind and exist within the mind. Hence, when the mind that concerns itself with life and death passes on, the world of life and death passes with it.

An unenlightened life rises from a mind that is bewildered by its own world of delusion. If we learn that there is no world of delusion outside the mind, the bewildered mind becomes clear; and because we cease to create impure surroundings, we attain Enlightenment.

In this way the world of life and death is created by the mind, is in bondage to the mind, is ruled by the mind; the mind is the master of every situation. The world of suffering is brought about by the deluded mortal mind.

-The Buddha

Joshua Jackson plays Ben Tyler, a young man with wide-spread stage four cancer. He is about to be married and instead of opting for the ten percent chance of a cure immediately, he decides to take a trip West. It becomes both an inner and outer journey, helping Ben to awaken to the realities of his life. Without being silly or insensitive, Ben’s adventures are often humorous as well as insightful.

The Canadian vista is almost a character in itself. From Toronto to Vancouver we see the majestic and the mundane, all with its own power. His visit to the Terry Fox monument is particularly poignant.

Movie Review of Gran Torino (2008)

Buddha-nature exists in everyone no matter how deeply it may be covered over by greed, anger, and foolishness, or buried by his own deeds and retribution. Buddha-nature cannot be lost or destroyed; and when all defilements are removed, sooner or later it will appear.

- The Buddha

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie, I’d heard so many negative things about it. It is unfortunate that because of the cursing and racism, it is unsuitable for younger people. The message behind it all is quiet beautiful.

Clint Eastwood plays Walt, a bitter widow who holds strong opinions on how life should be. He has no real relationship with his sons and their families but advertently develops close ties to the Asian neighbours. By mentoring Thao, a shy, intelligent Hmong young man, he redeems himself for failing as a father. Walt has also carried great guilt since the Korean War about what he did without being ordered. In the end, his sacrifice also redeems his dark past.

Movie Review of The Lovely Bones (2009)

Both the young and the old, whether they are foolish or wise, are going to be trapped by death. All beings move towards death.
They are overcome by death. They go to the other world. And then not even a father can save his son, or a family their relatives.
- Sutta Nipāta 578-579

I loved the book by Alice Sebold so I was hoping the movie would do it justice. Considering that the book is told through the thoughts of a murdered child, the movie did a credible job of translating it to film.

The story is about a murdered fourteen year old girl, Susie Salmon, who is unable to let go of her attachment to her family, her budding romance, and her desire for revenge. This prevents her from passing on into Heaven. Saoirse Ronan is perfect as Susie, both beautiful and innocent, bursting with life and potential.

It is also a suspense/thriller in that the murderer targets Susie’s sister, Lindsey, for his next victim. Lindsey and her father (well played by Marc Wahlberg) are both driver to solve the mystery of Susie’s disappearance. The violence is not shown, and there is no mention of rape, in order to make the movie more palatable for family viewing.

Susan Sarandon skilfully portrays the bigger than life grandmother who is placed in the unfamiliar position of primary caretaker as the rest of the family disintegrates.

This movie will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. Bring a lot of tissues.

Movie Review Blades of Glory (2009)

The disturbances and defilements of the human mind are aroused by greed as well as by its reactions to the changing circumstances.
-The Buddha

Will Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels, the wild, bad boy of figure skating and Jon Heder plays Jimmy MacElroy, the innocent sweetheart. After being banned from men’s figure skating, the two join together to compete in pairs.

Will Ferrell’s humour is crass, but there are some clever parodies of figure skating. The routines are hilarious. Several renowned figure skaters make cameo appearances. Scott Hamilton is delightful as the sports announcer.

My favourite line: “It’s embarrassing stalking a has-been.”

Movie Review of Before Night Falls (2000)

Having drunk the sweetness of solitude and also the sweetness of tranquility, one becomes free from fear and wrongdoing while drinking the sweetness of the joy of truth.
- Sutta Nipāta 257

Javier Bardem’s performance as Reinaldo Arenas is spectacular. The movie is based on the autobiography of Arenas who, as a homosexual and writer, suffered terrible persecution in Cuba. The story shows the horror of Cuban prison and the desperate attempts people took to escape the country. Olivier Martinez, Johnny Depp, and Sean Penn also present excellent performances. (I must admit, I occasionally found it difficult to keep the characters straight.)

Although this is a difficult story to watch, it is worth the discomfort.

Movie Review of The Lookout (2007)

In simple terms, what does karma mean? It means that whatever we do, with our body, speech, or mind, will have a corresponding result. Each action, even the smallest, is pregnant with its consequences. It is said by the masters that even a little poison can cause death, and even a tiny seed can become a huge tree. And as Buddha said: “Do not overlook negative actions merely because they are small; however small a spark may be, it can burn down a haystack as big as a mountain.” Similarly he said: “Do not overlook tiny good actions, thinking they are of no benefit; even tiny drops of water in the end will fill a huge vessel.” Karma does not decay like external things, or ever become inoperative. It cannot be destroyed “by time, fire, or water.” Its power will never disappear, until it is ripened.
- Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Jean Smith, Everyday Mind

This is an intriguing movie from beginning to end. A young man named Chris, played with insight and depth by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has to deal with devastating consequences of a risky act he committed in high school, death and disability. His life is changed forever due to extensive brain damage.

Because of this, he misses the social prestige, the abilities, and hope for a great future he once had. This makes him vulnerable to the machinations of another’s greed. Jeff Daniels plays his blind roommate Lewis who helps Chris to hold his life together. Performances by Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, and Sergio De Zio are also excellent.

Twice, this movie hits home the reality that the consequences of our actions can have far reaching and tragic results.

Movie Review of Cry Baby (1990)

A sensation appears, and liking or disliking begins. This fleeting moment, if we are unaware of it, is repeated and intensified into craving and aversion, becoming a strong emotion that eventually overpowers the conscious mind. We become caught up in the emotion, and all our better judgement is swept aside. The result is that we find ourselves engaged in unwholesome speech and action, harming ourselves and others. We create misery for ourselves, suffering now and in the future, because of one moment of blind reaction.
- S. N. Goenka, The Art of Living

Parodies are usually good in that they trick us into seeing things differently. This film pokes fun at Jailhouse Rock, West Side Story, Rock Around the Clock, Grease and others. This movie is a silly piece of fluff that makes you laugh out loud and squirm uncomfortably at the same time.

Johnny Depp is the perfect heart-throb Cry Baby. Amy Locane (Allison) is the squeaky clean girl tempted to run with the bad crowd. Kim McGuire is downright disturbing as Hatchet-face. A good movie to watch when you just want a diversion.

Movie Review of Avatar (2009)

There may be a conspiracy against a good king who is ruling his country according to right teaching, or perhaps foreign enemies may raid the country. In such a case the king should make three decisions.

He should decide: “First, these conspirators or foreign enemies are threatening the good order and welfare of our country; I must protect the people and country even with armed force.

“Second, I will try to find some way of defeating them without resorting to the use of arms.

“Third, I will try to capture them alive, without killing them if possible, and disarm them.”

By adopting these three decisions the king will proceed most wisely, after setting necessary posts and giving instructions.

...When it is necessary to call upon the soldiers, they will fully understand the reason for war and its nature. Then they will go to the field of battle with courage and loyalty.... Such a war will not only bring victory but also add virtue to the country.

James Cameron is back on top with this movie. Wow, what beautiful special effects. The planet Pandora (aptly named) was stunning! It is worth watching simply for the scenery. The “People”, though, and their culture, were captivating. In this movie, the people are NOT the humans for they have lost their humanity.

The message was loud and clear, although we’ve been hearing it since “Silent Running” and still aren’t listening. (By far, this is the most destructive decade ever as evidenced by the mountains of cell phones filling landfills, the garbage choking the Pacific Ocean, polar ice caps melting, asthma and allergies skyrocketing due to the poisoning of our land, water and air, and on and on.) There’s one line in the movie that rings so true, “They killed their mother.”

The characters were three-dimensional and loveable. Sigourney Weaver is perfect as the head scientist (doesn’t that woman ever age?). Sam Worthington, as Jake Sully, makes a hero, both human and Avatar, with whom we can empathize. Zoe Saldana, as one of the blue people, seems completely real and compelling. The war scenes are frightening and distressing, especially in 3D, as we watch the greedy destroy paradise, something humanity has repeated throughout history.

Make sure you go to see it on the big screen.

Move Review of Inkheart (2008)

It is the everlasting and unchanging rule of this world that everything is created by a series of causes and conditions and everything disappears by the same rule; everything changes, nothing remains constant.

Brendan Fraser is the hero, “Silvertongue” Mo Folchart, who can bring story characters to life by reading aloud. Inadvertently, he sends his wife Resa, played by Sienna Guillory, into the book “Inkheart” and brings out several evil characters, such as Capricorn, played by Andy Serkis. Mo, with his daughter, Meggis Folchart, played by Eliza Bennett, constantly move in an effort to avoid capture by Capricorn, who wants Silvertongue Mo, to read out more evil from the book.
Mo is also trying to find another copy of “Inkheart”, hoping to read his wife out and the bad characters back. The logistics of how this works is confusing but, otherwise, the plot is quite simple. Characterization takes a back seat to chase and capture scenes early in the movie. Some scenes are very intense and not suitable for young children. The movie clunks along. There are some moments of courage and sacrifice which lift it from a D movie to a C.

Movie Review of Into the Wild (2007)

Wisdom replaces ignorance in our minds when we realize that happiness does not lie in the accumulation of more and more pleasant feelings, that gratifying craving does not bring us a feeling of wholeness or completeness. It simply leads to more craving and more aversion. When we realize in our own experience that happiness comes not from reaching out but from letting go, not from seeking pleasurable experience but from opening in the moment to what is true, this transformation of understanding then frees the energy of compassion within us. Our minds are no longer bound up in pushing away pain or holding on to pleasure. Compassion becomes the natural response of an open heart.

- Joseph Goldstein, “Seeking the Heart of Wisdom”

Instead of going to law school after university, Christopher McCandless (an ironic name) acted by Emile Hirsch, decides he wants to be “just living, just there in that moment”. He heads off without telling his family on a journey of discovery, through the desert, down the Colorado River into Mexico, riding the rails, hanging out in a hippie commune, hitchhiking across country, and ultimately to the Alaskan Wilderness. “Rather than love and money and faith and fame and fairness, give me truth,” he declares.

He is fleeing the pain of a highly dysfunctional family. When asked, “Where are your Mom and Dad?” he replies, “Living their lies somewhere.” Being young, he condemns others for their judgements and unkindness, unable to see his own yet.

He gives away all his savings, destroys his credit cards and identification, and burns the last of his cash, which he views as baggage. “I don’t need money. It makes people cautious,” and caution is something he disdains. He believes the joy of life is in everything. People have to change the way they experience things. He challenges himself at every opportunity, taking great risks because he believes it is “important to not only be strong, but to feel strong.”

Like Siddhartha, he learns from others, from nature, and from himself. The scenes of crop fields, oceans, mountains, rivers, birds, and snow are majestic and inspiring. “Power is only an illusion” he states. In his quest for freedom, he overestimates his personal power and nature teaches him that impulsivity can be a dangerous quality.

The story is based on true events.

Movie Review of The Owl and the Sparrow (2007)

If you go more deeply into your own spiritual practice, emphasizing wisdom and compassion, you will encounter the suffering of other sentient beings again and again, and you will have the capacity to acknowledge it, respond to it and feel deep compassion rather than apathy or impotence.
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “The Little Book of Buddhism”

Thuy a ten year old Vietnamese girl, played by Han Thi Pham, works in her uncle’s blind factory. Her parents are dead and her uncle is critical and demanding. She does not attend school and receives no money for her work. Seeking a better life, she runs away to the city and tries to survive selling postcards and then flowers. Hungry and poor, she meets two kind and lonely people, a stewardess, Miss Lan (Cat Li) and a zoo keeper, Mr. Hai (The Lu Le) both of whom show compassion. But her uncle is determined to find her and bring her back.

Thuy’s situation gives us a glimpse into the life of street children but this movie is one of hope.

Review of The Vampire Diaries Television Series 2009

And what, monks, is Right Action? Refraining from taking life, refraining from taking what is not given, refraining from sexual misconduct. This is called Right Action.
- The Buddha

This review is based on the first three shows of the season.

Although it is difficult to come up with new angles on vampire mythology, this series doesn’t even try. It is unfair to compare it to the groundbreaking movies like Blade, Interview with a Vampire, and so on, it is fair to compare it to other vampire television series such as Forever Knight (1989-1996), Buffy (1997-2003), and Angel (1999-2004). In doing so, The Vampire Diaries comes up short on intelligent writing, depth of character, innovation, wit, complexity of plot, and surprise but heavy on clichés, overt sexual flirtation, and jump-out-at-you moments. Diaries is a third-rate horror/melodrama.

My biggest objection to this series is that it takes place in a high school when it should at least be a college. Casual rampant sex, pervasive alcohol consumption, violence, and drug abuse are constantly in the forefront. There is very little ethical behaviour and most of that is trite and formulaic. This is not the kind of show I would want my teenager to watch steadily. Studies have shown that girls who watch television shows regularly with sexually active young people have twice the rate of teenage pregnancy.

In the first three episodes, I saw no redeeming value in this series. It seems an unimaginative attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Twilight Series.

Movie Review of Is Anybody There? (2008)

Buddha told a parable in a sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

- Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Edward (Bill Milner) is a melancholy eleven year old who lives with his parents in a large house they use as a senior’s rest home. His Mum (Annie-Marie Duff) is perpetually exhausted and his Dad (David Morressey) is going through a pre-midlife crisis. The story takes place in the early eighties.

Edward is fascinated by the concept of ghosts, determined to discover if there is life after death. He resents having to give up his larger bedroom to a senior and is unhappy with his home environment. Clarence (Michael Caine) an aging ex-magician arrives and the two of them develop an unpredictable relationship. At times heartbreaking, often funny, this movie examines grief, loss, regret, yearning, and the process of aging. Everyone in the story has much to learn about living in each precious moment.

The acting is superb, but for an English Canadian, the British accents were a challenge; subtitles would have been appreciated.

Movie Review of 2012 (2009)

Movie Review of 2012 (2009)

Beings are owners of their actions…heirs of their actions, they originate from their actions, are bound to their actions, have their actions are their refuge. It is action that distinguishes beings as inferior and superior.
- Culakammavibbanga Sutta, in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, tran. By Bhikkhu Bodhi

The story is based on the belief that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world in 2012. Nasa has a good selection of questions and answers based on this rumour.

This is a movie where special effects are the star. However, the characters are also interesting and engaging. It is a movie about family, birth family, broken family, fathers and sons, grandmother and grandsons, but even more so, about the family of man. John Cusack plays Jackson Curtis an idealistic, divorced father who rises to amazing levels of courage and ingenuity in order to save his ex-wife and children. Tom McCarthy plays Gordon Silberman, a “nice guy” stepfather who also rises to the occasion. Spliced into Woody Harrelson plays a small part as a crazy but correct conspiracy theorist , the key to our central family’s survival. It is refreshing to see a movie where courage, sacrifice, love, and humanity are prominent.

There are a few moments where the viewer doubts the decisions made but this is a movie about people under tremendous pressure trying to decide who and what to save at the end of the world. Rationality would undoubtedly be a challenge. The science may be shaky, but the propulsion isn’t; suspense is held for the entire length of the story. The movie is mostly large scale destruction, but there are wonderful pauses throughout. With all the knowledge available on the Buddha’s Teachings, I’m not sure they chose the most relevant one to detail between the Tibetan Buddhist monk and his Teacher.

I found it interesting that the monk, in attempting to save his family, inadvertently is the cause of the possible deaths of hundreds. On the other hand, it is only when the potential (billionaire) survivors extend their hand to others, is Jackson Curtis able to succeed in the final act. It was a great relief to see an End of the World movie devoid of mass scale butchery and brutality.

Interesitng ending about the cradle of humankind.

Movie Review of 3,000 Miles to Graceland (2001)

3,000 Miles to Graceland (2001)

Making their deeds the field for their egos, using the working of discrimination of the mind as seed, beclouding the mind by ignorance, fertilizing it with the rain of craving desires, irrigating it by the wilfulness of egotism, they add the conception of evil, and carry this incarnation of delusion about with them.
- The Buddha

Kurt Russell plays Michael Zane the hero/robber and Kevin Costner plays Murphy the villain/robber, part of a gang that robs a casino during Elvis week. Murphy believes he is the actual illegitimate son of The King.

At one point Murphy explains to the child that although he is a really bad guy, Zane is also a bad guy. At one point Zane says, “Guys like me die caught.” It seems the writers forgot this. Courtney Cox plays the type of mother who makes most women cringe.

This movie is a giant love affair with guns and bad guys with a little Elvis on the side. Slow motion murder backed by heavy music takes up much of the story, what little story there is. We are expected to like the hero(?) because he goes back to save a child. That is supposed to make us overlook his contribution to the slaughters.

I think the continuous hail of bullets is a distraction for the boredom in between. The only bright spot is during the end credits when Kurt Russell lip syncs to an Elvin song.

This kind of movie has no redeeming value and fills the mind with violent callous images. There is no karmic justice. Not at all suitable for family viewing.

Movie Review of Dostana (2008)

Movie Review of Dostana

To what end should the thought: “I am the result of my own deeds, heir to deeds, having deeds for matrix, deeds for kin; to me the deeds come home again; whatever deed I do, whether good or evil, I shall become its heir,” be contemplated often by man or woman?
The Buddha

Dostana in Hindi means friendship. Kunal and Sameer, two straight guys who pretend to be gay in order to get a Miami apartment with Neha, certainly put friendship to the test. Although they both profess to love Neha, their motives are completely selfish. But, this is a Bollywood movie, so expect a just and happy ending.

There are some very funny, though not politically correct scenes, and some pretty good dancing and singing. The body shots of John Abraham as Kunal are definitely evocative. The movie drags a bit and is awkward at times.

The English subtitles are the worst translations I’ve ever seen. Not only do they substitute T for R turning very into vety, but some words are unrecognizable and the grammar obfuscates the meaning. By listening to the tone and watching the actions you will grasp the plot better than struggling through the terrible translation.

Movie Review of Adoration (2008)

Movie Review of Adoration (2009)

Because speech is so predominant in our lives, and because our words are so consequential, learning the art of skilful communication needs to be a significant aspect of our Dharma practice.

The Buddha emphasized the importance of this when he included right speech as a distinct part of the path to awakening. Although there is great elaboration of right speech in the texts, it all condenses into two general principals: Is it true? Is it useful?

Practicing these principles in our practice fosters increasing sensitivity. We become attuned to subtleties of truth, or exaggerate in some way? And are there times when our words may be true, but it is not the right time, place, or situation for them to be useful?
- Joseph Goldstein, Insight Meditation

Atom Egoyan uses a teenager’s dramatic method of exploring the death of his parents to open us into a wider vista in this intriguing movie. The story takes several twists before we understand what Simon is actually doing in his response to the French teacher’s assignment. It explores point of view as reality. Simon’s grandfather, his teacher, and his uncle, all have opinions about his mother’s death.

A theme running throughout is how modern technology (video camera, internet chat rooms) both connects us and extends our understanding of others and yet alienates us from the truth. The film raises several questions in response to Simon’s story. How do we know our viewpoint is correct since it is simply what we have been exposed to in our family/culture? Is killing ever justified? How do we know if someone is telling the truth? It is sure to generate discussion.

I have no idea why the movie was titled Adoration. Perhaps someone could enlighten me.

Movie Review of Om Shanti Om (2007)

Movie Review of Om Shanti Om

The Buddha taught his students to develop a power of love so strong that their minds become like a pure, flowing river that cannot be burned. No matter what kind of material is thrown into it, it will not burn. Many experiences--good, bad, and indifferent--are thrown into the flowing river of our lives, but we are not burned, owing to the power of the love in our hearts.
-Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindess

A delightful movie. It parodies itself, yet manages to have epic moments. It’s silly and sad, melodramatic and moving, goofy and sexy. If you enjoy Bollywood, you’ll love all two hours and forty-seven minutes of this wonderful movie.

The musical numbers are sensational, reminiscent of Hollywood musical at their peak with a delicious East Indian flavour and a touch of tongue in cheek (plenty of Bollywood stars in cameo); they make it difficult to stay in your seat. Watching it will make you want to run out and buy the soundtrack.

Although the underlying karma is through Hindu eyes, the messages are universal. Love conquers all. We must have faith in our dreams and take risks to achieve them. The wheel may turn slowly but it does turn.

Movie Review of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Review of the Movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Greed rises from wrong ideas of satisfaction; anger rises from wrong ideas concerning the state of one’s affairs and surrounding; foolishness rises from the inability to judge what correct conduct is.
- The Buddha

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a hilarious movie for the whole family. It does get rather intense at times and the sentient, headless chicken attack might be too scary for small children.

Flint Lockwood has the right motivation; he wants to use his ability to invent to save the town. However, due to combination of the townspeople’s gluttony (symbolized by the ever increasing girth of the mayor) and Flint’s desperate need for love, he allows things to get out of hand.

The message of be who you really are in spite of the mockery of others threads through the story. Not everyone expresses love in the same way; communication can be difficult, especially between a father and son. The movie pokes fun at one shot celebrities, typecast weather girls, theme parks, disaster movies, the hours we spend watching “cute” internet videos, politicians, and even snow days. There are funny references to other movies that parents will appreciate.

Movie Review of The Duchess (2008)

Review of the movie The Duchess

The first steps toward spiritual freedom from the worldly bonds and fetters are to control one’s mind, to stop idle talk, and to be somewhat pensive.
-The Buddha

This historical-romance is based on the life of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, who lived in the 18th century. It examines how duty supersedes personal happiness. It also demonstrates how a woman could have wealth, prestige, beauty, and influence, and yet have nothing.

In spite of her best efforts, her husband openly loves another woman, “Well, as they say, the Duke of Devonshire must be the only man in England not in love with his wife.”

In spite of his cold, selfishness, there is a moment when we also sympathize with her controlling husband, the Duke, as he watches the children playing and says, “How wonderful to be that free.”

Freedom is a recurring theme. The Duchess and Charles Grey both believe freedom is an absolute, and this is the source of both their inspiration and their pain.

Movie Review of The Reader (2008)

Review of the Movie The Reader

As sweet as honey, thinks a fool an evil deed, so long as it bears no fruit;
But when it bears fruit, then the fool comes to grief.
- Dhammapada 69

The Reader has been both praised and torn apart by reviewers. It is the story of a young man who had an affair with a much older woman, fell in love with her, and then lost track of her until he was in university. Then, he discovers, she was not the woman he thought. I would like to look at the issue of Hanna’s ethical framework and how it affects the young man who loved her.

Under the review of the television series Flashpoint, you will find a relevant quotation by Thich Nhat Han about how we are formed by our circumstances. Hanna’s circumstances seem to have formed her into a woman who feels deep shame over her own limitations but not of her horrific actions during the war. She also defends her action by saying, “What would you have done?” No one responds. They could be horrified by the question but also they may realize that not being in the circumstance, they could not say for sure how they would have behaved.

At another point in the movie, young legal students are discussing the camps and one shouts, “Everybody knew what was happening. Everyone knew about the camps. Everyone.” Did the people believe in victory so much they never thought they, as individuals and as a nation, would be held accountable for the atrocities?

We know from the beginning there is something not quite right with Hanna’s morality. She helps an ill boy, Michael Berg, age 15, but then immediately seduces him. She never says hello, simply barks orders. She vacillates between indifference and affection toward the boy. Is she a woman of her times? Her nature at conflict with her environment? In the end, her skewed morality does her in.

The reaction of Michael and the damage the relationship has done to him are paramount. Is it lust or is it compassion? This first deceptive relationship cuts deeply causing him to distance himself from everyone, his wife, and even his daughter. It is only by showing Hanna compassion is he able to grieve and heal.

Review of the Movie Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Review of the Movie Kung Fu Panda

Though one should conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, he who conquers his own self, is the greatest of all conquerers.Self-conquest is, indeed, far greater than the conquest of all other folks. Dhammapada v. 103, 104

Although there are many moments in this movie where meaningful dialogue occurs, any wisdom gained by these is overshadowed by the continual fight scenes. Although the location is “The Valley of Peace” most time and energy is spent perfecting warrior skills and incarcerating (horribly) the potential threat to this “peace.”

When Po, the overweight bungling Panda, eventually proves himself and is given the scroll of power to read, he discovers that it is blank. More to the point, it reflects the person who looks into it. Just as the noodle broth has no secret ingredient, so too the scroll has no secret power. The message is that we carry our own power within and need to fulfill our own potential without looking for some magical outside answer. However, this worthy message is overshadowed by other negative messages.

Tai Lung frees himself from an inhumane prison to confront his former teacher and surrogate father, Shifu. He says, “All I ever did, I did to make you proud! Tell me how proud you are Shifu! Tell me. Tell me!” Is this not a cry of suffering? Tai Lung was abandoned by his birth father as an infant, then again as an adult/student by his adoptive father/master.

Shifu replies, “I have always been proud of you. From the first moment I've been proud of you. And it was my pride that blinded me. I loved you too much to see what you were becoming, what I turned you into. I'm... I'm sorry.” If he was sorry, why did he abandon Tai Lung in prison? Why did he not visit and concentrate on undoing the damage? He cast him aside like a failed project.

Tai Lung pauses, shocked, but the inevitable battle of student against master ensues. When Tai Lung eventually obtains the scroll and learns it is blank, he is furious to discover he spend twenty years in prison for nothing.

Po, the Panda, defeats him and peace is restored to the valley. However, the cruelty done to Tai Lund is never addressed. Although the movie is peppered with Buddhist sayings such as “There is a saying, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.”it is deeply lacking in either wisdom or compassion.

There are many funny parts, some clever witticisms, and numerous dramatic fight scenes, but underneath the movie sends a message of insensitivity and disconnectedness and that violence, masquerading as Kung Fu, can solve the problems of pride, loneliness, and hatred.

Movie Review of Departures (2009)

Review of the Movie Departures

Most people are unwilling to face the reality of impermanence and death. They forget that life is transitory. They quarrel with each other as though they are going to live forever. But, if they would face the fact of death, their quarrels would come to an end. --- The Buddha
This is a Japanese movie with English subtitles. It is a deeply moving and powerful story dealing with difficult topics, death and relationships between husbands and wives, parents and their children. Masahiro Motoki portrays the cellist Daigo Kobayashi whose dream of living as a professional musician are dashed. He moves his wife back to his northern village and inadvertently takes a job as a coffinman, one who ritualistically prepares the deceased for cremation. His experiences with the dead, the horrifying and the beautiful, open his eyes to the wonder and preciousness of life.
The images of salmon spawning, swans scrounging for grass, and the employees lustily devouring fish and chicken bring home the sanctity of life and the realities that all things that live, must die and that to live we must consume the lives of others. All we can do is live each day with gratitude and deep compassion for all.
Once he has forsaken his ambition to become a professional cellist with an expensive instrument, he is able to play his childhood cello with deep joy and connection to life and nature.

Like the untouchables in the time of the Buddha, Daigo is shunned, first by an old friend and then by his wife. He tells his wife, "We are all going to die." The movie gently leads us through the different ways people deal with grief, each family helped by Daigo’s respectful and tender process of preparing the body.

Daigo also has an anger towards his father who abandoned him as a child. By accepting life as it is and death as it is, by forgiving and living with compassion, Daigo and his wife learn to live a full, happy life. When he lets go of the anger, his vision clears and he is able to see his father clearly.
Throughout the movie characters keep referring to "fate" as having brought them to their circumstances. They could have just as easily said karma in most instances. More than once, Daigo's decision to keep secrets from his wife, violating "Right Speech" has negative consequences. But of course, the karma of their actions is never black or white. All experiences provide the opportunity for growth in wisdom and compassion.

Have a lot of tissue on hand when you watch this movie. The theatre was often completely silence except for the sound of sniffling. It will touch you profoundly.

This movie is based on the book Coffinman: A Journal of a Buddhist Mortician. Although most of the death preparations include some Buddhist rituals or items, Daigo’s religion is never mentioned in the movie. The Hongwanji (Head Jodo Shinshu Temple) in Japan was disappointed in the removal of much of the Buddhism. However, the movie gets across its messages beautifully. I plan to read the book and will then add any further comments.

Review of the Television Series Flashpoint (2008+)

Review of the Television Series Flashpoint on CTV

You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.
The Buddha

Flashpoint is a slick and hard-hitting Canadian television series filmed in Toronto. The Strategic Response Unit, a highly trained SWAT team, handle hostage situations. Greg Parker, the leader, tries to empathize with the criminal and convince him or her to surrender peacefully. His job is to defuse the situation or give the command for the snipers to shoot the aggressor.

Quite often Greg, his team, and the audience connect and identify with the aggressor. At times, the hostage seems to be more of a villain than the person with the gun. Each episode begins at the peak of confrontation, and then rewinds to explain the series of events that have led up to this moment of ultimate threat. Cause and effect are clearly explained.

This heartrending show demonstrates how people can be caught up in causes and conditions that lead them to places and actions they never expected or desired. We indentify and feel compassion for the hostage, the hostage taker, the SRU team, and the people who love each of them.

There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.

When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Review of the Movie Up (2009)

Up (Animated) 2009

“The Buddha approached suffering differently. He said that suffering is not inherent in the world of impermanence; suffering arises when we cling. When clinging disappears, impermanence no longer gives rise to suffering. The solution to suffering, then, is to end clinging, not to try to escape from the transient world.” (Insight Meditation Center -

Carl Fredrickson has lost Ellie, his soul mate. He feels as though they did not live the life of adventure that she wanted and becomes trapped in longing and regret. Using helium balloons, he launches his entire house, determined to see the Lost Land in South America, a place he and his wife, Ellie, dreamed of visiting. Inadvertently, he takes along a scout who is trying to earn his last badge for assisting the elderly.

Carl is deeply trapped in suffering, in great need of realizing the Four Noble Truths. He wants the transitory to be permanent, clings to his memories of life with Ellie, and lives in the past. Shakyamuni Buddha would have understood Carl’s suffering for it was the understanding of illness, old age, and death that motivated Siddhartha to seek enlightenment.

It is only by learning to live in the present that Carl escapes suffering. Through compassion for the boy and the bird, Carl is able to set aside his own sense of loss and experience happiness again.

Movie Review of Yes Man (2008)

"The Tathagatha avoids the two extremes and talks about the Middle Path. What this is, that is; this arises, that arises. Through ignorance volitional actions or karmic formations are conditioned.
(Samyuktagama, Chapter 12)

Jim Carrey portrays Carl Allen, a man whose life has stagnated sinking him into depression and withdrawal. His friend, Peter, convinces him to attend a “Yes” conference. Because of his resistance to the concept of saying yes to opportunity, the Yes Leader Terrance Bundley targets him and convinces him to agree to a covenant of saying “Yes” to everything. This leads him to both negative and positive experiences, sometimes at the same time. He also develops new relationships, one with a fascinating, spontaneous woman. Carl learns to live in the moment, but things become extreme.

Carl is a man who would benefit from the Middle Way. At first he is overly withdrawn and despondent, not even attending his friend’s engagement party. After the Yes conference, he acts without thought, his behaviour is indulgent and reckless. It is only when he finds the middle path that Carl is able to find true happiness.

Movie Review Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009)

Movie Review for Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Movie score = C+

Recommended age = 14 and up

Indulge in lust just a little, and like the child it grows apace. The wise man hates it therefore; who would take poison for food? Every sorrow is increased and cherished by the offices of lust. If there is no lustful desire, the risings of sorrow are not produced, the wise man seeing the bitterness of sorrow, stamps out and destroys the risings of desire…
- Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king 852-854

Hugh Grant has his usual dry sense of humour as the cheating husband Paul Morgan. Sarah Jessica Parker plays his separated wife, Meryl, a sweet romantic with a broken heart. After witnessing a murder, they are put into a temporary witness protection program together in rural Wyoming. This is a gentle comedy about love, trust, disappointment, and priorities.

The acting is fine, the script predictable, and the cinematography only fair. Unfortunately, if you watch the trailer, many of the funny parts are spoiled.

Movie Review of The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Movie Review for The Princess and the Frog

A family is a place where minds come in contact with one another. If these minds love one another, the home will be as beautiful as a flower garden.
- The Teaching of the Buddha, Society for the Promotion of Buddhism

This is a typical Disney princess/love story with a couple of cute plot twists. The heroine is an African-American, the setting New Orleans, and the music jazz and Cajun. The graphics are very similar to Cinderella.

The messages, love and family are the most important treasures, and only through hard work can we achieve our dreams, seem very topical in these financially difficult times. The shadows from the other side are a bit scary. Whenever the story started to lose the interest of the young audience, it would break into song or slapstick humour. A good family holiday film.

Movie Review of Sherlock Holmes (2009)

The world, indeed, is like a dream and the treasures of the world are an alluring mirage. Like the apparent distances in a picture, things have no reality in themselves but are like heat haze.
- The Buddha, The Teaching of the Buddha

Robert Downey Jr. makes an excellent obsessive, tough, scruffy Holmes. Jude Law is his saner, resilient, compassionate side-kick Watson. Irene Adler makes a beautiful foil for Sherlock. Mark Strong’s portrayal of the ambitious, deceitful Lord Blackwood is straight out of a DC comic.

All the clues are laid out for a good detective to solve, but Holmes is the one to put them together in a meaningful way for the audience. The plot is complex, the characters colourful, and the villain grandiose. However, there were moments when we were bored. It was difficult, at times, to understand the speech due to the accents, occasional mumbling, and poor quality sound. Victorian England was vividly pictured; the audience could almost smell the pollution and stench.

On a personal note, my husband and I visited the Sherlock Holmes pub in London, England where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many of his stories. Much of the original atmosphere has been preserved. However, you have as much chance of getting a seat as winning the lottery.

Movie Review of A History of Violence (2005)

Movie Review A History of Violence

Let him no creatures kill and none incite to kill, nor sanction others taking life, but put by violence for all that lives.
- The Buddha,Sayings of the Buddha, William Wray

The movie begins with two opposite groups, a pair of cold-hearted killers and a loving family of four. While it seems obvious they will meet and the family will be damaged in some way, David Cronenberg never fails to surprise.

Viggo Mortensen, as Tom Stall, is a convincing protagonist. Maria Bello is perfect as his wife Edie. Ashton Holmes, as their son Jack, brings the question of violence into a different arena. Ed Harris makes a terrific mobster but William Hurt seems formulaic.

The movie raises several questions: When is it acceptable to use violence to solve a problem? Do we ever really know what anyone is capable of? Can a person change? Is it possible to escape the karma of past violence? Can love forgive grand lies and deception?

Movie Review of the Pool (2007)

Movie Score = A

Recommended age = 10 and up (too difficult for younger)

“May our heart’s garden of awakening bloom with hundreds of flowers.” Thich Nhat Hanh.

In this movie the major characters are known by their actual first names. The story centers around two boys, Venkatesh Chavan plays an 18 year old who is working in the city or Panjim, Goa, India, to try to provide money for his family back in the small village. Jhangir Badshar portrays his best friend, an 18 year old orphan surviving on his own. Although the two began as entrepreneurial rivals, they have learned the power of teamwork. The future does not look bright for either boy.

Nana Patekar portrays the owner of a luxurious summer home with a pool that no one swims in. Venkatesh has been gazing longingly at this pool for quite some time before Nana arrives with his angry, withdrawn daughter Ayesha Mohan. Venkatesh befriends the father and daughter in an effort to gain access to the pool. Nana and Venkatesh exchange stories as they work together revitalizing the neglected garden. The garden symbolizes the family which has disintegrated since Nana’s son drowned in the pool as a child. When Ayesha asks, “Who leaves a seven year old to take care of a four year old?” we realize her brother probably drowned in her care and she hates her father for putting her in that position. The karma of Nana’s carelessness has cost him everything, dead son, divorced wife, and distant daughter.

Venkatesh becomes Nana’s substitute son. He relates wisdom stories and observations to Venkatesh who tells him an odd story of being possessed by a dead girl’s ghost, a parallel to the dead boy who possesses Nana’s family. Venkatesh was exorcised by a village wise man; Nana must exorcise himself.

Nana offers to take Venkatesh home with him and enrol the young man in school when the monsoons come. At first Venkatesh accepts but after witnessing Jhangir’s desperate anger and fear of being deserted, he decides to put his friend first. He passes on the compassion shown to him by Nana.

As each character reaches out and empathizes with another, opportunities appear. Interdependence is illustrated with each twist in the plot. By isolating themselves, the characters have suffered more. It is only by joining together that they are able to ease some of the suffering.

Karma, interdependence, wisdom, and compassion are explored beautifully in this story.

No Country for Old Men

Movie Review No Country for Old Men

Movie Score = B-

Recommended Age = 18 and up

From ignorance and greed there spring impure desires for things that are, in fact, unobtainable, but for which men restlessly and blindly search.
-The Buddha

It is interesting that “A History of Violence” was tagged as overly violent when this movie is much more so. I also found the story line of Cronenberg’s movie much more engaging and straightforward.

Javier Bardem plays the cold-blooded killer with perfect understated creepiness. Tommy Lee Jones is faultless as the aging sheriff. Josh Brolin plays the stubborn overly confidence Llewellyn Moss beautifully. The characterization is excellent. I found the plot like a shot gun blast, too much happening and too gory.

I have to disagree with the Academy and most of the critics on this one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dawn's End video

Check out this two minute video and leave a comment please.