Thursday, August 18, 2016

Of All the Things That Are Hardest to Change…

I think ‘our minds’ often tops the list. It seems once we’ve made up our mind on something, nothing will move us from our spot. It’s as if we’ve taken a hill and, surrounded by enemies, we’ll staunchly defend it until the last gasp. Even if the hill is in fact made of sand, and we should probably abandon it before we sink into it and end up buried forever.

You can apply this metaphor on many levels, and probably more important levels (like relational or societal) than I’m about to apply it to, but at heart I’m writer – a storyteller – and that’s what this blog is about, after all. So to that end, I have to say that I’ve discovered a blog by an author and critic that’s made me rethink my attitudes towards some influential narratives. And that’s a rare thing in our world today.

His name is John Kenneth Muir, his blog is found at

Before you see any film (and after you see it as well), you should visit his site to find out if he’s written his thoughts on it. They are insightful and thought-provoking. Granted, most of his posts deal with cult works, or lesser-known, lightly regarded works, but I believe these offerings have just as much validity, or even more validity, than the mainstream ones. It’s the peripheral visions, the ones that slip under the radar, that often reveal the true image of ourselves and our world. They don’t pander to the commercial beast, aren’t homogenized for the masses, or the result of corporate boardroom focus-groups. They are created out of our most innate human traits - the inner need for expression, to find truth, to connect, to ask ‘why’.  They are created out of…love. And most of them deserve another look. A deeper look.

Case in point: I had written off James Cameron’s epic “Titanic”. Why, though? It was hard to verbalize. But Muir skewered my attitude with a few simple sentences:

Titanic certainly took the world by storm in December of 1997, but as always when a film proves this big and popular some people find it fashionable to participate in a "backlash" against it…  (They) believe they can distinguish themselves by mocking/protesting/boycotting a popular film.   Again, this approach is different from disliking a film on artistic grounds. This is merely contrariness for the sake of it.”

Yeah, that was me. But now I’m willing to approach it again, especially after he wraps his commentary with: “This is one of those big, entertaining Hollywood blockbusters where you can either play curmudgeon and stubbornly attempt to resist the tide, or let yourself be swept along into a compelling story, beautifully rendered.  I recommend the latter approach.”

In the decade-spanning arena of the James Bond films (of which I am a fan), I had similarly dismissed From Russia With Love as one of the weakest films. In direct contradiction, Muir pronounced “Many film scholars and long-time James Bond fans will tell you that Goldfinger…is the greatest of all the twenty-three 007 films, but I respectfully disagree with that assessment. The very best of them all is actually Goldfinger’s immediate predecessor, From Russia with Love.”

I had to know why his opinion differed so greatly from my own. After reading his review, I still have some issues with the film, but I’ve moved my hill a lot closer to his camp. A lot closer.

Change can happen.

And nowhere is change happening more than with George Miller’s latest entry in the Mad Max narrative – Fury Road.

When I saw Fury Road, I didn’t like it. I kind of took it personally. For many years, The Road Warrior was my favorite film. It even edged out the Star Wars movies, and as a kid growing up in the 70’s, that’s saying a lot. So you can’t imagine how much I was looking forward to a new Max film – and how disappointed I was with it.

It wasn’t with the production values. Fury Road was visually spectacular. The acting was great. The… (oh, just see my previous blog entry). What I didn’t like was how they altered the main character and his role in the world – or more precisely how his role was seemingly supplanted by more dynamic characters. Again, I am a storyteller. To me, the story and characters take center stage over all the glitz and special effects. That’s exactly why I can watch older, “cheesier” stuff that my family scratches their heads at – I can look beyond low-budget effects, and find the strong, loving heart beneath.

So I was understandably unhappy with Miller’s latest release. But Muir dug deep into the film’s psychological underpinnings, and made me realize some aspects that I hadn’t considered. The primary one being that running away from a problem doesn’t fix it. Our problems only follow us. We bring them to a new location. Sometimes we need to turn around and face things we’d rather just escape from. Real change.

From a storytelling point of view, the movie’s still not perfect. In a messed-up, post-apocalyptic world, you can’t fix things so easily in the end. I felt they were reaching for a “feel good” resolution, which maybe can happen after a couple more movies with the new cast, but not so soon. But overall, my feelings have softened towards this film. Which is what I want – I want to love it. So thanks, John. Keep challenging us to look deeper. I’ll be visiting your site regularly.

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