Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Places in the Heart

Places in the Heart (Robert Benton, 1984) Robert Benton's distillation of life growing up in Waxahachie, Texas during the Depression begins with an unfortunate accidental death, which expands to an unfortunate deliberate act of evil, but ends, after Earthly trials—from both Man and Nature—with an ambiguous epiphany that extends the simple gift of community into a surprising, almost shocking, expression of spiritual healing and harmony--one of the gutsiest segues from hard-scrabble reality to the Mystery of Faith ever put to film.

The cast is impeccable with unsentimental work from Sally Field, to pitch-perfect early performances from Danny Glover and John Malkovich, to excellent work by Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Lindsay Crouse. All portray an extended family that forgo the boundaries of blood and race to pull together and survive the deprivations of Nature and man. It's a movie that doesn't shy away from showing people at their worst and quietly displaying them at their best.
Sure sounds like heavy stuff, but the artists behind and in front of the camera make it compelling drama that stays clear-eyed and rarely sinks into easy sentimentality. Quite the opposite, actually; Glover plays the role of a poor share-cropper with a tentativeness that awaits disaster, and Malkovich makes his blind war vet a petulant jerk. Plus, there's a collection of townsfolk that includes greedy bankers, murderous racists and opportunists of every stripe. In To Kill a Mockingbird, racism seems like bad manners and poor up-bringing, while in Places in the Heart it's a way of life and charity is the exception, rather than the norm.
For the Spalding Family, it's a story of tragedy and accommodating, changing and "making do" when they lose their stability in the community and become charity outcasts, banding together with other unfortunates to, as in the parlance, "pull yourself up by your boot-straps" and discovering along the way that charity is something you give in equal measures to accepting. Something about the quality of mercy being twice blessed (now, where have I heard that before?). It's a story of perseverance in the face of great change, and, if not welcoming and embracing change, at least having the grit to roll with it. It's one of my favorite films from a fine, often disregarded film director.
And that ending. It comes out of nowhere, punches you in the ventricles, and leaves you with a final image that is, at first, shocking and confounding, but, as it sinks in, moves beyond the factual to the spiritual and embraces time and memory and the broader outreaches of community—beyond mere property lines and borders and extends to the heart...and the soul. 
Gets me every time.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Don't Make a Scene: Time Bandits

The Story: Ah, "the redistribution of wealth." As constant a thing as death and ta...well, taxes, otherwise known as the re-distribution of wealth. If you have a dime, there's going to be somebody else who wants it and will try and take it from you.

This is known as "The Capitalist System."

It's also known as "The Communist System," which is only different from the Capitalist System, in that it's more hypocritical, saying that "everybody shares," except when the system is run by human beings, in which case it's just like the Capitalist System, when they don't. The big difference is that Capitalism, the less hypocritical ("I want your money and I'm going to take it") way of taking people's money away from them seems to work (because, obviously, people are taking money from others) and communism never has. (see "capitalism").

With Capitalism you give somebody money and get something in return (however cheap-jack, unnecessary, and useless it might be) and they say "Go away and leave me with my money"—unless you sign a contract, in which case you are beholden to keep giving them money until the contract runs out, or they raise prices (in which case, tough luck), or they decide that they can do anything they want because they have more money (See #2). Then, there's taxes, which pay for what you may need, but don't want to use, like police or fire or libraries. With Communism, you contribute to a pool of funds, which will be distributed (theoretically) equally as far as goods and services—unless you're the person determining what those goods and services are, in which case, you get more.

At this juncture, you're probably saying "Huh! Given the current congress, there isn't any difference between Capitalism and Communism because the ones in charge are distributing the goods in services while enjoying a greater portion of the goods and services and living high on the hog." In both cases, if left unchecked and unregulated, there will be an elite 1% who have the majority of funds over the 99% who have less. At that point, the wheels of governance fall off the bus because the government begins to work for the 1%, rather than the 99%. At which point, Capitalism is no different from Communism.

And so, "Robin Hood." "Rob from the Rich and Give to the Poor." He actually stole tax funds from the King and gave it back to those who paid it. Supposedly.

But, people being people...and myth being myth....

My image of Robin Hood is closer to the John Cleese version in Time Bandits. Basically, a feckless, absurdly cheery "man on a white horse" who pretends to be "of the people" and who feigns kinship, but doesn't really relate, and does what he wants, however deluded and (ultimately) counter-productive he proves to be to "his people." He APPEARS apposite, but is actually opposite. These days, a lot of politicians paint themselves as "Robin Hood's" doing "the good" work, robbing from the poor and giving to the rich, when they're doing no good and actually doing harm. First. 

Do we call that "The Hypocritical Oath?"

Oh, and "as sure as death and taxes?" As the song says "there's one thing surer/The rich get rich and the poor get...children."

The Set-Up: Young Kevin (Craig Warnock) lives in a plush suburban London neighborhood, but he dreams of adventure like the kind he finds in history books. If only he could escape his life and live one more to his imagining. One night, he gets his wish, when his bedroom is invaded by six ne'er-do-well's (David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Jack Purvis, Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, and Tiny Ross) who travel through holes in time-space to rob people blind. They have just robbed Napoleon (Ian Holm) and barely gotten by without being killed when they appear in Another Time, Another Place.

But, where is it?

Right! Action!

FIDGIT Hey, where are we?
RANDALL Where are we? Why, it's obvious.
RANDALL We're, um--
PANSY Vincent, don't worry about a thing.
VINCENT I'm not worrying.
RANDALL  Exactly....
KEVIN  ....In the Middle Ages.
RANDALL the Middle Ages. Five-hundred years before the man we just robbed was even born.
STRUTTER Fantastic!
RANDALL Try that one in a court of law.
WALLY Vermin, that is not meant to be eaten.
VERMIN You never know until you've eaten it.
KEVIN Is it always like this when you've done a raid?
FIDGIT I don't know. We've never done one before.
KEVIN But I thought you were international criminals.
RANDALL Going to be. Going to be.
FIDGIT Yeah, going to be. Aren't we? Going to be? Especially now that we've got you, Kevin.
RANDALL Hang on. He's just a kid. He's not one of us.
FIDGIT He knows an awful lot.
WALLY Yeah, and he's bigger than any of us.
RANDALL Do you really want to join us?
KEVIN Can we really go anywhere?
RANDALL You name it.
RANDALL If it's down here.
KEVIN I don't understand.
KEVIN What's so special about that map?
RANDALL This map used to belong to the Supreme Being.
KEVIN You stole it?
RANDALL No. Well..sort of. He used to be our employer. He made all the big stuff, Like good and evil, men and women, night and day.
RANDALL And when He did trees and shrubs, we helped make all this.
KEVIN Whew, that's not bad.
RANDALL Yeah, and did we get a thimble full of credit for it?
RANDALL No, all we got was the sack, just for creating the Pink Bunkadoo.
KEVIN Pink Bunkadoo?
RANDALL Yeah. Beautiful tree that was.
RANDALL Og designed it, didn't you? Yeah. Six-hundred feet high, bright red and smelled terrible. As a disciplinary measure, we were sent down to the repairs department.
RANDALL You see, to be quite frank, the fabric of the universe is far from perfect. It was a bit of a botched job. We only had seven days to make it.
RANDALL And that's where this comes in.
RANDALL This is the only map of all the holes. Well, why repair them? Why not use them to get stinkin' rich?
WALLY  Yeah, stinkin' rich! Lads, here's to stinkin' rich!
RANDALL  Stinkin' rich. Stinkin' rich.
FIDGIT  And to Kevin!-
STRUTTER  Yeah, Kevin! -
RANDALL  Here's to Kevin!-
OG  Stinkin' Kevin!
KEVIN Hey, hold it there. -
KEVIN Smile.
WALLY  Hey, the map.
RANDALL  Yeah, the map.
FIDGIT  Don't forget the map.
KEVIN Hey, come on! Smile!
PANSY (in distance) Help!  Robbers!
OG  Hey, that's us!
RANDALL  Someone's in trouble. Come on!
RANDALL  Grab the loot.  
PANSY It's a bit tight.
STRUTTER  Now, those are our sort of people.
PANSY  Vincent! Oh! Oh, dear!
RANDALL Come on.
PANSY  Oh, Vincent, someone's coming. -
PANSY  Help! Help, I say! Oh, at last. Oh, I say! I say, my fiance and I would appreciate a bit of assistance.
VINCENT  Oh, no! The problem, Pansy!
PANSY  Oh! Oh!
VINCENT  It's started again!
PANSY  Oh! Oh! Oh, don't worry, darling. I say!
VINCENT I must have fruit!
FIDGIT  Where are we?-
WALLY  We've lost them.
RANDALL  Come on. Don't be so wet.
WALLY  What do we do now, Randall?  
RANDALL Just leave this to me, Wally. We've just got to treat them right.
RANDALL What do you want, you tatty-faced old scumbag?
REDGRAVE What's your business, gob face?
RANDALL We're robbers!
REDGRAVE Villainous robbers?
RANDALL The worst.
REDGRAVE Stop at nothing?
RANDALL Nothing at all.
REDGRAVE Steal a cup outta a beggar's hands?
REDGRAVE The teeth from blind old ladies?
RANDALL Of course.
REDGRAVE Toys from children?
RANDALL Whenever we can.
Randall and Redgrave start growling at each other to prove their toughness.
REDGRAVE Right. Let 'em down!
RANDALL They always crack in the end.
RANDALL Listen, I've got a few ideas for, uh, a linkup... between your gang and our gang, but I only want to talk to the boss.
TUCK The boss?
REDGRAVE The boss?
RANDALL That's right.
MARIAN They serious?
REDGRAVE (warily) Ohhh.
MERRY MAN ARM-WRESTLER: Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Hah! Anyone else wanna go?
REDGRAVE Come on, you weasels.
MERRY MAN What's this?
TUCK Move yourself, leprechaun.
TUCK Move yourself, lad.
MERRY MAN  That's disgusting!
MARIAN  Wait here! I'll get him!
HOOD  Hello. I-I'm Hood.
KEVIN It's Robin Hood.
REDGRAVE (unintelligible)!
MARIAN  (translating) Say good morning, you scum.
ALL Good morning, scum.
HOOD  Good morning. You're all robbers, then?
RANDALL  The best, Mr. Hood.
HOOD  Jolly good. And you're-you're a robber, are you?
(Og says nothing and after a few seconds uncomfortable silence, Hood moves on)
HOOD  Jolly good. Ah, and do you enjoy robbing, then?
WALLY  Well, it helps pay the rent, sir.
HOOD  Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!
HOOD  Ha-Ha-Ha-
HOOD  Ha-Ha!
HOOD Jolly good! Ha-Ha-Hah! And you're a robber too, are you? How long have you been a robber?
VERMIN  Four-foot-one.
HOOD  Good Lord! - Jolly good!
HOOD  Four-foot-one?- Yes. Well, th-th-th-that i-i-is a long time, isn't it?
HOOD  Well now! I hear you've made a pretty good haul.
RANDALL  Well, see for yourself, sir.
HOOD  Gosh! I say! Crikey! I mean, I've been in robbing for years... 
HOOD  ...but I've never seen anything like this.
HOOD  Crumbs! And you acquired all of this by yourselves?
RANDALL  Well, it was a good day, Mr. Hood.
HOOD  Jolly good day!
RANDALL It's nice, isn't it?
HOOD  Rather! Well, I mean, what can I say? Thank you.
RANDALL  Thank you, thank you all very, very much indeed.
RANDALL  Oh, don't ment-
HOOD  Well, I mean, it's frightfully kind of you. The poor are going to be absolutely thrilled!
HOOD  Have you met them?
HOOD  The poor?
RANDALL  The poor?
HOOD  Oh, you must meet them. I just know you'll like them. Charming people...
HOOD  Of course, they haven't got two pennies to rub together. - But that's because they're poor.
(All have a jolly good laugh at that, prompted by Redgrave)
HOOD  Uh, Marian, would you-would you be so kind as to ask the poor to come in, please?
MARIAN  No problem.
HOOD  Thank you so much.
MARIAN  Eh! Come on, you lot!
HOOD  Let's just see what we've got.
HOOD  This is going to be so much help in our work.
RANDALL  No, you don't understand.
RANDALL  All this stuff is ours. We've stolen it.
HOOD  Oh, yes, I know, and believe you me the poor are going to be not just absolutely thrilled, but also considerably less poor, aren't they, Redgrave?
HOOD  You see?
REDGRAVE (unintelligible)
HOOD  See?
HOOD  What...What did he say? 
MARIAN  He said, "Yeah, what with Christmas coming up and all."
HOOD  Ah, jolly good.
HOOD  Yes, well, there we are. Congratulations. Well done.
HOOD  There we are. Well done. Congratulations.
HOOD  Is that-- Is that absolutely necessary?
REDGRAVE (unintelligible)
HOOD  Yes. What did he say?
MARIAN - He says, yeah, he's afraid it is.
HOOD  Ah, fine. Fine.
HOOD  There we are, madam. Congratulations.
HOOD  Well done. Jolly good.-
OLD WOMAN  Thank you.
HOOD  Incidentally, would any of you like to stay on and help us with our work? There's still so much wealth to redistribute.
KEVIN  Oh, I'd like to stay.
HOOD  Jolly good. What's your name?
KEVIN  - Uh, Ke---
HOOD  Ke--
HOOD  What a jolly nice name.
KEVIN  - Let me go.
HOOD  Well, never mind. Cheerio!
HOOD  Thank you very much.
HOOD  Thank you very much.
HOOD  Thank you very, very, very, very much!
HOOD  Awful people.

Words by Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam

Pictures by Peter Biziou and Terry Gilliam

Time Bandits is available on DVD and Blu-Ray by The Criterion Collection.