Woodstock Revisited

“Woodstock,” directed by Michael Wadleigh. Warner Brothers, 1970, 1994 (director’s cut), 2009 (40th anniversary box set).
“Taking Woodstock,” directed by Ang Lee. Focus Features, 120 minutes.
“Woodstock: Three Days that Rocked the World,” by Mike Evans and Paul Kingsbury. Sterling Publishing, 2009. 288 pages.
” Hair,” written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, directed by Diane Paulus. Al Hirschfeld Theater, New York.
The Museum at Bethel Woods. 200 Hurd Road, Bethel NY.

Terminator: Salvation

“Terminator: Salvation.” Directed by McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol). Halcyon, 2009, 130 minutes.

Reviewed by Jo Ann Skousen

Brutal, intense, and irreverent, the original “Terminator” (1984) was anything but a Sunday School story. And yet, it was one of the best messianic allegories of the past 25 years.

In the biblical Christmas story, two forces are at work. One sends a mysterious messenger from the Other World to inform an ordinary young woman that she will miraculously conceive a child; this child, it is later discovered, will defeat the forces of darkness at the battle of Armageddon. The other force tries to win the future battle by killing the child before he can grow up and save the world. Since King Herod, a servant of this other force, doesn’t know which specific child is the Chosen One, he has all the babies of the same age massacred. More mysterious messengers arrive from Another World, giving the woman gold and other valuables; and being warned, she and her child flee to the deserts of Egypt to wait out the massacre. The scripture says that Mary “pondered these things in her heart” as she helped her son follow his Father’s footsteps to prepare for his ultimate mission.

In the first “Terminator” movie, directed by James Cameron, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is the ordinary woman whose child is destined to lead a resistance against hyper-obedient machines that threaten to destroy all humans. The classic sci-fi conflict between technology and human intuition is in play. Using time travel, the machines try to vanquish their enemy by preventing his birth. “The Terminator” (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives in the past (our present), naked, buff, and determined to fulfill his mission. Like King Herod, who killed all the babies in order to execute the one he was after, Schwarzenegger goes after all the Sarah Connor in the phone book with both barrels of his massive shotgun blazing.

Meanwhile, back in the future, her grown-up son, John, the leader of the future resistance movement, has sent his not-yet-father, Kyle Reese (played by Michael Biehn), back to the present to protect his mother and, in what was a surprise twist, consummate John’s “miraculous conception.” As the film ends, Sarah Connor is escaping into the deserts of Mexico, pondering what has just happened and preparing to train her son John for his destiny as the prophesied leader in Armageddon. Despite the guns, the profanity, and the unmarried sex, “The Terminator” was an amazingly complete and satisfying Christian allegory.

In the biblical allegory, Satan begins as a “son of the morning,” one of the chosen angels who falls from grace and becomes the arch-enemy of God, trying to rule humanity and take the glory for himself. One of his names, Lucifer, is a reminder of his former light and glory. In “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), the classic Satan myth is reversed when the Terminator is reborn as a disciple of John, coming back to protect rather than destroy young John Connor (note his initials).

It has been six years since the last “Terminator” filled the silver screen, and many felt that the franchise should end when original director James Cameron left. Despite Cameron’s participation as writer, T-3, “Rise of the Machines” (2003), directed by Jonathan Mostow, diverges from the serious allegory. It is, in fact, pretty silly. Nevertheless, I was hopeful that the latest installment, “Terminator: Salvation,” would live up to the franchise’s original promise. I call this new film a “circquel” because it is both prequel and sequel, taking us into the future in order to tell us how the story began, and thus complete the circle. In a word, it delivers.

You don’t have to buy my allegorical interpretation to enjoy this film; it works on every level. As science fiction it presents the classic war between man and machine, while ironically taking advantage of machine-generated computer graphic capabilities that were not available even five years ago. This future dystopia is set in a bleak, gray world where the sky is starkly white and everything else is awash in shades of gray and black. Clint Eastwood painted with a similar palate in his “Flags of Our Fathers” (2006) by using a special processing wash that leaves behind the silver alloys in the film. In “Salvation,” director McG (it’s time for him to grow up and use his real name!) creates the same effect through computerized treatment of every frame of film.

Computer generated technology also allows bullets, shrapnel, and robot arms to fly directly at the audience without the use of awkward 3-D glasses, because computers don’t have to be careful of shrapnel hitting the camera lens. The result for the audience is a two-hour thrill ride of dodging bullets and debris from the safety of a theater seat.

In the new story, 25 years have passed and the machines have almost won. Pockets of resistance fighters are hiding in bombed-out buildings and using short wave radios to hear the unembodied voice of John Connor (Christian Bale) giving them encouragement and direction. John, meanwhile, listens to the tape recorded voice of his mother giving him similar encouragement and guidance. His task now is to find 17-year-old Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), and eventually send him back to the past to protect (and impregnate) Sarah Connor.

Although John Connor is an important character in the film, the story centers on a new Christ figure, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a hybrid who is stunned to learn that he is half human and half machine. (I wouldn’t reveal this fact, had it not been highlighted in the trailers.) Wright’s character allows us to explore the film’s central theme–what it means to be human. It also fits the allegory, since Jesus himself was a hybrid, both human and divine. More important to the allegory, one of these two Christ figures makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life so the other can continue the battle against evil. If the allegory rings true, I expect the sacrificial one will return at a critical moment in the next episode, just as Gandalf did in the “Lord of the Rings.”

Several new characters are introduced without overshadowing the original characters and storyline. Jane Alexander is underutilized as Virginia, the leader of a small resistance group who gets scooped up by the machines. I anticipate her return with a larger role. Young Jadagrace Berry is remarkably mature as the deaf mute girl befriended by Kyle Reese and is surely destined to be healed by one of the Christ figures in a future episode. Moon Bloodgood (great name!) as the fighter pilot who falls for Marcus (after he rescues her as she dangles from a parachute) is likable, strong, and unassumingly gorgeous. I hope her character returns in future episodes; she is heroic in “T-Salvation,” but there is a lurking possibility that she could become the fallen angel in future episodes.

“Terminator: Salvation” is a competent addition to a well-loved series. McG and fellow TV directors, such as J.J. Abrams and Jerry Bruckheimer, are proving that directors today can successfully commute between the box and the screen. T-4 satisfies on its own terms, while setting up the next installment in what promises to be an exciting new trilogy. If you haven’t seen the first “Terminator” you won’t understand this one very well, so be sure to rent the original before watching “T-Salvation.”

Capitalism: A Love Story

“Capitalism: A Love Story,” written and directed by Michael Moore. Vantage Productions, 127 minutes.
Reviewed by Jo Ann Skousen
Michael Moore has made a name for himself as the king of ambush journalism. He snags interviews with corporate bigwigs and policy makers by pretending to be interested in benign issues, then switches to hot-button topics once he’s in the room. With aggressive questioning that catches interviewees off guard and skillful editing that twists their comments around, he paints an ugly picture of corporate and conservative America– a picture that is malevolently deceptive. Moore’s disingenuous tactics are so blatant that even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences refuses to list his films as documentaries.
In “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Moore is up to his old tricks. The film begins with what appears to be a hostage standoff. Four adults are locked inside a house, filming the arrival of several police cars and speaking to one another about the inevitability of what’s about to happen. What is it? A suicide pact? The persecution of a religious cult? As police begin knocking down the doors, the householders call out, “We have no weapons. We will not resist. But we will not open the door.”
But what is the crisis? An eviction because of a mortgage foreclosure.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m saddened by the number of people who have lost their homes in this financial crisis. I’m sorry if they were duped into borrowing more than they could afford to repay. But according to Moore’s own film, it was Fed chairman Alan Greenspan who urged homeowners to “tap into your home equity” as a way of stimulating the economy, and it was Clinton-era lawmakers who passed the Community Reinvestment Act requiring banks to grant mortgages to low-income homebuyers. Don’t blame capitalism for government policy.
In another segment, Moore presents the horrifying stories of several teenagers who were sent to a juvenile detention center for seemingly minor infractions. They were all sentenced by the same judge, who appears to have been receiving kickbacks from the owner of the facility. (I say “seemingly” and “appears to have” because I can never trust Moore to tell a true story.) The more children this judge sent to the facility, the more money he received. Many of these teens remained virtually incarcerated for months, according to the film.
Moore blames this travesty on capitalism because the community had turned to a privatized detention system rather than maintaining a government-run facility. But let’s put the blame where it belongs. If it happened, this was not a failure of capitalism; it was a failure of one particular judge to act honestly and appropriately.
Moore complains that capitalists are greedy, but greed is a condition of human nature, not of capitalism per se–or of socialism, for that matter. Most people try to be honest, but some steal from their own mothers. Greed can and often does lead to criminal behavior. But it’s easier– much, much easier– to control, arrest, or simply avoid wicked capitalists than it is to get rid of wicked politicians and dictators.
To be fair, Moore doesn’t limit his blame to Bush and the Republicans this time; Clinton, Chris Dodd, Greenspan, and even Obama appear to be in on the take as Moore reports on last year’s financial meltdown. But Moore’s target is capitalism– and these are politicians. If capitalists are buying them, it’s because the politicians put themselves up for sale.
Moore decries the profit motive as “morally evil,” but what motivation would he prefer? Whips? Chains? How about pleasure? Moore interviews several pilots who love to fly airplanes, but they still aren’t happy. They want more money.
This leads us to another of Moore’s anecdotes: the plight of employees at Republic Windows and Doors who were all let go when the company went bankrupt. Would Moore insist that every company be kept in business, even when no one wants to buy its products? But in this case, the failure was caused by the union that represented the workers, who in essence pricing themselves out of the market. Interestingly, Moore was right there on the spot, filming disgruntled employees as they broke into the factory and began a sit-in. Did he just happen to be passing by with a camera crew? Did he re-enact the bolt-cutting? Or did he incite the sit-in for his mockumentary? Quite a convenient coincidence, Mr. Moore.
At one point Moore asks one of the former employees why they didn’t just form a cooperative and run the company themselves. One woman responds, “Because we don’t have any money–we aren’t capitalists.” There’s the rub: it actually takes capital to start a business! But anyone can be a capitalist. All you have to do is spend less than you earn, and invest the difference.
Moore unwittingly demonstrates that possibility when he shows what happened at a bakery where employees bought the company and turned it into a cooperative. Today they all work harder and enjoy their jobs more. They feel empowered. They saved their money, invested it in a business, and now they’re making a handy profit. Wait a minute–isn’t that capitalism?
How would Moore fix the economy? As you might have predicted, he suggests raising taxes. That’s a good way to prevent capital formation. But Moore believes that taxes are somehow a tonic for whatever ails you. “When the highest tax rates were 90%” he intones cheerily, “America enjoyed the greatest expansion in history, and families could get by on one income”– implying that a 90% tax rate today could solve our problems.
But the tax code was different in the 50s. Congress awarded liberal tax breaks and exemptions for “good behavior.” High income earners could give 90% of their marginal income to the government in taxes, or they could invest 100 % of it in a business, write it off, and reap the profits. Which would you do? What started out as a tax loophole turned into one of the greatest infusions of investment capital our country has ever known. No wonder the economy throve. Capitalism truly was a love story.
But Moore has no desire to inform his viewers, or enlighten them with a genuine explanation of how capitalism works. He’s a carnival barker who merely loves to rake the muck at the end of the pony show, a technology-savvy magician who knows how to manipulate the smoke and mirrors. Unfortunately, this circus has been to town too many times, and it isn’t very entertaining any more. I kept looking at my watch, wondering when it was going to end. It was like listening to Andy Rooney for two straight hours. .
Moore says this is his last movie. Let’s hope he’s telling the truth about that.

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