Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Blessed Easter To You

Detail of the Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece by M. Grunwald.
A very blessed Easter to you and yours.
I've been sick this week, as usual. Please remember me in your Easter prayers. God bless you all abundantly, and may His Life of Grace fill each of you with the promises of the Resurrection and the Joy of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ghosts, Evil Spirits & the Undead: Oz The Great and Powerful

Oz: The Great and Powerful provides us with an example of a film intensely self-aware of the dialogue other films have created the last two years and what it wants to say. Why is this important? First, it validates our efforts, dear reader, to examine, critique and decode films' messages because if those encoded messages didn't exist, Oz couldn't tap into them to exploit them and challenge them on its own. Secondly, by Oz building on what we all ready know—and what Oz knows we know—Oz validates the path we have taken in those decodings of other films (for example, we know the intensity of harsh criticisms socialists have waged against America and capitalism, and Oz answers those). Thirdly, it shows courage to take on what everyone else is saying and stick by what you believe, because believing is the real theme of Oz, because when we believe, we become great and powerful.
One of the firs lessons we were taught in film criticism was to ask the question, "Why is this film being made now? Could this film have been made five years ago? Could this film have been made ten years ago?" Given that the original film with Judy Garland was made in 1939, these questions are particularly pertinent because such a wide span of time was possible before now for the film to have been made (especially since there have been so many remakes of the original and editions to the original stories). Yet the questions of why now? also applies to the 1939 film: Dorothy traveling to a far away land to do battle against an evil threatening others was clearly a political metaphor for the upcoming entrance of America into World War II and the fight against socialism (please see my full analysis of the film A Call To Arms: The Wizard Of Oz and World War II for more), and therein might lie the answer to why Oz has been made today, we are facing the same threats now that Americans were facing then. Far from ignoring the original film, Oz consistently works in elements it knows we are aware of, consciously establishing a bridge between the two films.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is a story of details:  feathers, a chalice, a music box and an amulet. There are lots of ways to analyze this film, but let's focus on these devices. First, the music box. It's actually a theme we have seen in numerous films, if we have been paying attention, because the idea of “the music stopping” started with Margin Call when John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) says of the impoverished state of his company, “The music has stopped” and continues throughout the film. In Meryl Streep's Oscar-winner The Iron Lady, the “musical” quality some critics complained about echoes this idea of the music stopping and starting with economic prosperity and “happy days” throughout Margaret Thatcher's tenure as prime minister.  Oscar's music box introduces a new take on that theme.
As Oscar does his magic show, two men in the audience "see wires," holding up the girl; why is this important? Oz associates "artificial support" (the wires) with frauds; in other words, anyone artificially being "held up" is a fraud, and that's why socialism doesn't belong in America, because the artificial support given to companies by government programs (like the auto bail out, the Wall Street bail out, Solyndra and other green companies) is the same as using wires to hold up your magic show. Oscar cutting the wires shows "he doesn't need that support" and everyone's faith in him is restored to the point that a family asks him to make their little girl walk again. This is an important moment, because, truthfully, only God could do something like that, and Oscar calls upon God several times during the film. Why establish this relationship? Because knowing the boundaries of what man can't do opens the possibilities for what he can do, and those possibilities are open to us all to achieve, but it's also important to know that which we must depend upon God for.  It's not our imagination that the girl in the wheelchair from Kansas is like China Girl in Oz, the same girl portrays both, and Oz fixing China Girl's leg really symbolizes something else,... we could look at the girl in the wheelchair as being symbolic of the nation's soul, unable to walk--because feet symbolize our will and legs symbolize our "standing" in society, our reputation, our place--but it's probably more fruitful to maybe tweak this a bit and ask if she doesn't reflect Oscar's own soul: we see him cheating, lying and failing to exhibit noble qualities, and reading the little girl as Oscar's soul allows us to see a tangible example of Oscar's weakness through his "petty" corruption. It's by Finley's insistence to go to China Town and help China Girl that, fixing her leg, he also begins fixing himself, because he uses glue, and glue "bonds things together," his bond with China Girl, Finley and Oz is what he needs to stand again.
So what does Oscar's music box mean?
The opening establishes that the setting is "Kansas, 1905" (I thought it would take place much later than that, closer to the Great Depression, like 1929), and we know serious global events were taking place during this time. Oscar mentions, when presenting his new young assistant with a music box, that his grandmother, a Tsarina, died in a battle, and the music box belonged to her. This scene is a perfect example of "noise" as an artistic device: because Oscar babbles words we don't understand (such as person and battle names), we can't process the information, so we tend to "marginalize" what we don't understand and we forget about it (think of a child learning to read who comes upon a word they don't understand, they skip over the word and go on, and that's what we do, too). The truth is, this is imperative information, just like Bane's speech in The Dark Knight Rises, so we have to understand what is taking place in this scene.
In many ways, this small monologue Oscar offers Annie (Michelle Williams) is the heart of the film: we see into Oscar's heart, his intimate dreams and fears in this moment, and what he's willing to sacrifice (a life with Annie) to achieve what he wants to achieve (becoming great). Oscar tells Annie that his father was a farmer, working the land, but we know that Oscar Diggs is going to have to "dig" into the soil of his soul before the film is over, because it's only by conversion that a scoundrel can become a hero. It's not by chance that the father in Oz was poisoned, because--in his way--Oz has poisoned his own father in how Oz chooses to remember him, a "good man," but not a "great one," and of course we the audience know a man can't be great until he becomes good, the lesson learned by Oz as well. In this way, which is a fairly typical device, the three witches in Oz symbolize Oscar and the workings of his mind: what he wants and what he is willing to do to get it. By overcoming the witches, he overcomes what is evil within himself. It's also important that John Gale is introduced in this scene because he undoubtedly is the father of the fated Dorothy. "Gale" refers to a wind--not uncommon in Kansas--and it also refers to the Holy Spirit, like the wind in the sails of a boat guiding its course, and the gale of wind in a tornado leading Oz to the land bearing his name.
The Battle of Mukden in which 10,000 Russian troops died in 3 days at the hands of the Japanese is probably the battle being referenced in the film (when Oscar's grandmother the Tsarina died), because--as a result of this and other failures--the Tsar, Nicholas II, "died" in granting a duma (a kind of democratic parliament for the people). This might seem controversial, however, it doesn't mean Oz advocates a monarchy, rather, it's an accurate examination of history and how socialism typically exploits set-backs and sufferings to advance its own platform. If you think this is stretching things a bit far, we have actually all ready seen this done in The Artist, another film employing black and white (like the opening sequences of Oz). Please recall in The Artist, that the Best Picture winner's first movie being watched as it opens is called A Russian Affair, during which George yells, "Free Georgia!" and he means the Russian Georgia that was under attack by the Bolsheviks to make it communist instead of letting it remain free (his next film was A German Affair about the Nazis; please see BANG! The Artist & the New Agenda In Film for more).
Oscar in the basket of the hot air balloon in the tornado as pieces of wood break through to threaten him. Where else have we seen something like this? We can count the beginning title credits of Skyfall, and I think that's a legitimate link, because we see 007--also a white male like Oscar--being turned "into a target" (Bond is turned into a practice shooting target during the opening song). Why? One of the first and strongest strategies of socialists is to attack the dominant power-holding class, which would be white males, so as to unite women and minorities as a power base, and this has certainly happened in the US. Even though Oscar is hailed as a wizard throughout the film, this is a film about women, much like Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, and it's really the women who have the "powers."
So, unlike other films, such as Margin Call, Amour and The Iron Lady, who have used music as a metaphor of economic prosperity and happy days, Oz introduces a new element in the device to include hearing a new song being played and understanding how that tune in distant Russia was producing effects even in Kansas. One more element regarding the music box: when Oscar first shows it, it reminded me of the suitcase Dorothy takes with her when she runs away from home. Why? This is one of the many links the film intentionally forges to tie itself with the original, like the horses of a different color we see grazing in a pasture as Oz and Finley go down the Yellow Brick Road (which itself is retained).
The "storm" as a theme in recent films is prevalent because it has served to symbolize the economic storms of 2008 (which some films utilize "crashes" to relate instead, however, Oscar also "crashes" the balloon in the river of Oz and it sinks, "going under" like the housing market). Why does a storm signal economic collapse, or troubles? To begin with, nothing can be done during a storm, so it's inherently a time of non-productivity. Secondly, because the sun isn't shining during a storm, and the skies are dark (there's a movie out right now called Dark Skies) but most of all because we feel so helpless, there is nothing we can do to stop a storm, and its incredible power reminds us how small we are, and that sense of "smallness" and "powerlessness" is perhaps the real driving force in this being such a popular theme because what could any of us do during the crisis of 2008? One note further: please compare the way the lightning looks in this image with Evanora's (Rachel Weisz) "power" she uses, they are nearly identical (except her's are green) and that's an important correlation between the Wicked Witch's power and the storm the film makers want us alerted to. Finally, the film makes it clear that the storm is the "vehicle" by means of which Oscar arrives in Oz, so the good has been brought from the bad and that's a lesson socialists don't want us to consider (the exact same lesson is echoed in Olympus Has Fallen, that the trails of the country unite us and make us stronger).
Next, let's discuss the chalice.
When Evanora takes Oz into the treasury (recently we were in another treasury, that of the giants' in Jack the Giant Slayer, and it's in the Treasury that Mike--Gerard Butler--works in Olympus Has Fallen), he slides and plays in the heaps of gold and picks up a golden chalice, asking what it is, which Evanora tells him it's a chalice, and he says, I always wanted one. Well, no, he hasn't always wanted a chalice, but he wants it now because now it's "his."  But what exactly is the chalice? We know by juxtaposition, because just after Oscar discovers the chalice, he discovers the catch for getting all the gold of Oz. 
Without a doubt, the "treasury" of Oz is also the treasure of Oscar, his heart. His heart doesn't look like heaps of gold at this point in the film, his heart is like the Dark Forest (more on this below), but the gold is his destiny of what he is meant to be, as good as gold to the people of Oz. This is how the Holy Spirit works with all of us: He shows us something that is the desire of our heart (the chalice, in the case of Oscar) and then we are taken on a long, arduous journey, to which we never would have agreed beforehand, but symbolizes God using desire for our own good, for our conversion. Remember, please, that when Oscar faces death in the balloon, he cries out to God, "I don't want to die! I haven't done anything, I haven't accomplished anything yet! Get me out of here and I'll change!" As the saying goes, there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. The trial of the three witches--Oscar discerning what is bad and good within himself--is God's bargain with Oscar to spare his life, but God always does more than that, whether we want it or not. It's only a man who has mastered himself, after all, who is worthy to be master of others, and that's not only the story of Oscar, but of Americans as well, and of the "wizards" in America, the Bruce Waynes (Christian Bale) and the Tony Starks (Robert Downey Jr). When we think of a treasury such as this, we think of the 1% who have mountains of wealth sitting around, but Oz the Great and Powerful is not just the story of a man wanting to become great and powerful, but a story of Americans and how each of us, individually, are great and powerful in our own ways, and it's not because of wealth, it's because of the greatness in our hearts, we are the tinkers, the seamstresses, the scarecrow makers, the little people of Oz, without whom there is no Oz.
The gold, Evanora tells Oz, belongs to whoever is king, and you can't be king until you defeat the Wicked Witch who lives in the Dark Forest, and he must destroy her wand, her source of power. Because the introduction of the chalice is next to the introduction of the task which Oscar must fulfill before he can get the treasure, it's easy to see how the chalice symbolizes the difficulties Oz must endure, the chalice from which he will have to drink deeply to be purged of his own wrong doings and faults; what are those exactly?
Let's take a moment to examine the costume of Theodora. Why on earth is she wearing black leather pants? Because leather comes from animals, and black is the color of death, so her lower-region (her sexual organs) or controlled by her animal appetites (come on, why else would they have Mila Kunis playing a witch, her good acting?). In this case, the white shirt, unlike Glinda's purity and innocence, symbolizes death (because a corpse turns white as it loses life), and this is the region of her heart. Why odes this happen to her? When Evanora and Theodora discuss Oz, and Theodora gets mad and creates the fireball to throw, she tells Evanora she only wants peace, that she is on neither side. Not being bad isn't good enough, she has to be good, and she hasn't been good. Oscar's black and white clothing reveals that he, too, is dead, but he still makes the right choice to help others (Finley, China Girl and Glinda) and thereby helps himself by doing good so he can become good.
There are many things we can call Oscar Diggs, because he himself has "so many names" and he tends to "dig" himself into bad situations. He introduces himself to Theodora and gives a long list of names, because each of us would call his type of scoundrel something different, a cheat, a liar, a villain, a fiend, a cheapskate, etc. A "dis-ingenuine heart" is really what ails Oscar (and we can say this because of the gifts he gives at the end of the film, they symbolize a sincere and genuine heart towards his friends) and that's how we know his connection with Theodora, her broken heart.
There is quite a bit about this scene to discuss. First, it follows Oz's and Finley's discussion about Oz "coming clean" and doing penance for lying to everyone about being the wizard; the well-placed image of the "horses of a different color" grazing in the background illustrate Oscar's own "chameleon" quality in adapting to situations, but also how these moments are making him the man he needs to become. Just because Oscar isn't the wizard at that moment, doesn't mean he isn't a wizard because everything we do in life prepares us for our destiny, and his decision to go to China Town reflects this. Its not just the Dutch-styled windmill in the background which alerts us to the Netherlands (remember, we saw this windmill in Jack the Giant Slayer being thrown), but the porcelain industry (the "China") which "builds up" the town, not only in terms of infrastructure, but the people and economy as well (the reference to China, the communist country, is a clever way of juxtaposing the two opposing economic models). The Netherlands are considered by historians to be the first capitalist economy in the world, with the world's oldest stock market, so the witch has "crashed" China Town for celebrating the arrival of the wizard and it's one of the towns inhabitants accompanying Oz in his journey. Again, Oz helping the China Girl to "stand again" is very much the "standing up" of American capitalism and the regaining of strength (please remember that women symbolize the passive element of the "motherland" and children symbolize the future, so China Girl--because she's from China Town symbolizing capitalism--symbolizes both by the film makers' stroke of genius). It's the glue that binds her leg, just as the act of binding her leg "binds" Oscar to her and why she grabs onto his leg when she wants to go "witch hunting" reminding him that "capitalists stick together" (which is what we saw in Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted; please see Trapeze Americano: Madagascar 3 & the Capitalist Circus for more).
We will often shrug off our sins and shortcomings thinking they aren't that important; art, however, forms definite sins through personification, both in Evanora and in Theodora, which leads us to our third point: amulets. Evanora, we can deduce, symbolizes Oscar's greed because of how she treats him and her power comes from the amulet she wears around her neck (pictured below). When Oscar first sees Oz, the Emerald City, he says green is his favorite color, but green--as we well know--symbolizes both hope and decay, which is why we have the Emerald City as a center of hope on the one hand, and the green face of the Wicked Witch (Theodora) on the other. The Emerald City is a place of hope for Oz because it's his new life, his rebirth as a good man instead of the "great man" he had in his mind.
Which leads us to Theodora,...
Numerous elements combine to define Evanora for us. The first time we see her, she is behind the throne in the shadows. The throne, because it is tied to the treasury of Oz (only the king gets the treasure and the king sits on the throne) symbolizes, like the treasure, Oscar's heart, which is why Theodora thinks she belongs there with him, he will be guided by romantic love. Evandora, on the other hand, thinks Oscar will be guided by money because a throne is a seat of power and she thinks Oscar's heart wants money to get power. Her being in the shadows, obviously, illuminates the darkness in her own heart, but that darkness is Oscar's own darkness, the grip money has on him and what guides him, which is why, as the symbol of Oscar's greed, Evanora wears the amulet: the neck is the region revealing by what we are guided, like an animal on a leash.  As we know, green symbolizes both hope and decay, it's like what a lot of us think we could do if we had a million dollars, for example, hope for a new life and a new beginning, but what money ends up doing to a lot of people, corrupting them. Oscar wants the money of Oz for himself and Evanora knows she can use this to get Oscar to kill Glinda for her. But This isn't all we know about Evanora. The feathers on her shoulders are imperative to understanding what happens in Oscar's conversion process because Theodora as the Wicked Witch and Glinda also have feathers on their costume (more on this below).
Why is the Wicked Witch green?
 It's probably obvious to us that Oscar wants money (Evanora has a symbol of Oscar's greed) but the love Oscar wants isn't as obvious. After all, doesn't the beautiful Annie come and want to be with him instead of John Gale? But Theodora's quick romance with Oscar (she only knows him a bit and assumes they will marry) reflects Oscar's own shallow interactions with women, with all people, because instead of loving Frank his assistant in the magic show, he gets angry with him, which is why Theodora--as the symbol of Oscar's bad relationships--wears red: red is both the color of love (because when we love someone we are willing to shed our [red] blood for them) and the color of anger (when we are angry with someone, we are willing to spill their blood to appease ourselves). Theodora goes from being beautiful in red to hideous in green; why?
Please recall the reason Oscar jumps into the basket of the balloon is to escape the anger of a disgruntled husband whose wife Oscar gave one of his music boxes to, which is why the "tornado" is behind the Wicked Witch in this poster, those shallow, self-serving affairs Oscar "digs" himself into. When the Wicked Witch makes her grand entrance into Oz in her ball of fire, it foreshadows the ball of fire Oz will appear in towards the end in the Emerald City before Evanora and Theodora, his resurrection. Just as Theodora and Evanora become worse and worse, Oz becomes better and stronger. We can't deny, however, that Evanora gives Theodora a poisoned apple, invoking the Forbidden Fruit from the Garden Of Eden and the tradition of that as sexual knowledge. In other words, the night Theodora and Oscar spend together in the woods is not innocent, and her giving herself to him is now revealed to be her big mistake which she cannot undo.
We have a misguided sense of what is best for us, and Oz the Great and Powerful emphasizes the lesson emphatically. Oscar thinks it's best for him to only be in shallow relationships so he doesn't get tied down (like with Annie) but doing that turns him rotten like the green Wicked Witch, however, the goodness which Glinda embodies also becomes Oscar's goodness as he binds himself to her cause and to her. Just as that shallow part of Oscar is dying in Theodora's green body, Glinda's faith, innocence and purity enlivens Oscar, which brings us to our fourth point: feathers.
It's difficult to see in this shot, but white feathers adorn the bodice of Glinda's gown, just as black feathers feature on Evanora's and Theodora's outfits (the shoulders of the Wicked Witch costume). We've discussed this before, how birds (feathers come from birds) symbolize the Holy Spirit and we are attracted to bad things initially because we don't realize how bad something can be for us, but afterwards, we crave the good because we know how deadly evil is (consider for example Edmund from The Chronicles Of Narnia). Why does Glinda summon fog as an ally? When Evanora gives Theodora the poisoned apple to help her see more clearly, what really happens is she becomes blinded by rage and jealousy and only seeing ugliness in Oscar, she herself becomes ugly. Glinda, however, is able to block out what is undesirable in Oscar and sees only his good qualities, or at least the qualities that can become good, and the fog symbolizes her ability to "discern" and block out what not only would damage her goodness, but her ability to see good in others (the way the fog muffles the sleep effect of the poppies in this scene). The smoke which Oscar incorporates into his big act in the final scene (against which his face appears as the resurrected Oz) is like this fog Oscar uses for everyone else to "block out" his human qualities and focus on his great power now. Interesting enough, in Side Effects, Emily (Rooney Mara) describes her depression as a poisonous fog bank clouding her judgment.
It's difficult to see in the image above, but Glinda's bodice has white feathers on it, just as black feathers adorn Evanora's and Theodora's Wicked Witch costumes on their shoulders. We see Glinda in white--not the pink of Billy Burke's Glinda outfit from the original--because the white of Glinda's costume must offset the rotting nature of Evanora's and Theodora's. Even though Glinda's white symbolizes faith, purity and innocence, these aren't traits Oscar believes will give him "life," which is why it's so easy for Evanora (in a symbolic sense) to get Oscar to go to the Dark Forest and kill Glinda. Oscar has to come to the realization that only good men are great men, and great men care for and protect those not as strong as themselves, like the "little people" of Oz.
Oscar doesn't want to go to the Dark Forest, but must because it illustrates the state of his own heart at that moment. When China Girl talks as they go through, she talks about the "ghosts, evil spirits and the undead," which is the name of Nosferatu the vampire (translated means the undead). Oscar is all these things, in other words: a ghost of the man he should be, a spirit bringing evil upon others instead of good, and a vampire. When they stand at the entrance to the Dark Forest, the ravens tell them, "You'll die! You'll die!"  and they must die because they have to die to themselves and embrace the greater good, the cause bigger than themselves (this is why there is the graveyard in the Dark Forest where Glinda is). At the end of the Dark Forest is Glinda, but they don't expect her, because none of us expect good and light to come from the dark and evil misfortunes that befall us which is why--like Oscar--we are so upset and afraid when bad things come upon us. Consequently, we have seen this same theme in Snow White and the Huntsman, where they must enter the Dark Forest as well and which the poisonous apple Evanora gives Theodora strengthens the connection.
The people of Oz provide us with a unique insight into what is going on within Oscar, because none of them are allowed to kill anyone, and they seem to be nothing more than tinkerers, seamstresses, dancers and the likes. These are the qualities, the skills necessary to defeat evil, and we saw this same thesis in Rise Of the Guardians with Jack Frost. The people in Oz sing and dance because they can, they are not weighed down by greed, fear, and the darkness of heart which rots Evanora and Theodora. This is how Oscar must become, too, because those are the qualities which destroy the evil and sin and faults within us, because when you are good, you feel like being good.
China Girl has saved Glinda's wand from the abduction of the flying monkeys who took her. Why does this happen? In spite of how fragile she is, she gets that wand back to Glinda, because it's the "little people" who really have the power and entrust it to those strong enough and good enough to use it, in this case, Glinda. China Girl is the least of all the characters in the film, but if it weren't for her, Evanora couldn't be defeated because Glinda has to have her wand. The capitalist structure really reveals itself in this sequence because the flying monkeys--the Wicked Witch's minions--are very much like the Liberal Press and Feminists and thought police who fight with anyone not adhering to their way. We can easily see the socialists in Evanora who poisoned the father so she could get the throne for herself, just as socialists have been poisoning the founding fathers so they can take over the country and destroy anyone who stands in their way. But Theodora is like those who have gone along with them because of their personal loss and legitimate crimes committed against them, and for this reason Oz tells her that she can return to Oz, because it wasn't her fault. Theodora is so hardened in her heart, however, that she would never do that.
It's important to discuss the final "battle."
Oz makes like he is making off with gold and escaping; what does that remind you of? Maybe the Wall Street bail out, the auto bail out, and even Bruce Wayne "not going broke" the way the rest of us do. The hot air balloon acts like a protective bubble, serving to feed our stereotypes that the rich are protected and don't feel economic pains like we do, and honestly, I probably agree with that, however, it's certain that rich people are a target, just as the balloon is, and their balloon is just as frail as ours, which explains Glinda's "bubbles": whereas Glinda in the 1939 original had more of an aura, we know today's Glinda has bubbles, because "bubble" is also an economic term, like the internet bubbles of the 1990s and the housing bubbles. Those bubbles aren't real sources of wealth, like some of us tend to view them ("If only I had cashed in on Yahoo! stocks," you might have said once) but only for show; the real base of Glinda's power comes from her wand, like the sceptre Oz tests for himself: the wand and the scepter are entrusted to them and can be taken away, so they have to prove themselves worthy of being good custodians.
Whereas Thomas Edison is the role model for Oscar, he is evil incarnate in The Apparition, an anti-capitalist and anti-fossil fuel horror film which does not ever mention Edison, however, this exact picture (above) is shown during the credits. Most of us would consider Edison a giant in the history of mankind because his inventions changed the lives of billions of people on an everyday basis. A film such as The Apparition, however, argues that we only believe we can't live without electricity and Internet because we have been told that (and of course, Jack the Giant Slayer only wants to make giants like Edison look greedy and ridiculous) . It's as an apparition that Oscar appears towards the end of the film when confronting Evanora and Theodora, having incorporated their powers (as his inner-parasites they symbolize) to strengthen himself so he can overcome them both at the end. In other words, the war socialists wage against great Americans only gives them a stage upon which to prove and demonstrate how great and powerful all of us are, and we see this in Olympus Has Fallen and we will see it in Iron Man 3. The giants and wizards of America don't lord over us, they inspire us to do our own great deeds, by giving us a standard we can live up to and surpass.
In The Avengers, a reference is made to Loki and his "flying monkeys," and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Captain America) says, "I got that," because he saw The Wizard Of Oz, and he knows that the Wicked Witch is bad because of how she treats those beneath her, the way Tony Stark only gives Pepper Potts 12% of the credit for helping him with the creation of Stark Tower. Oscar Diggs is exactly the same way with Frank and Finley (the three "ups": show up, keep up, shut up; no up-ward advancing though). When Oscar learns to give his friendship to Finley, he has not only overcome his own shallowness in relationships, but recognizes others as his equals and that it's important for him to do that (we see the same relationship transformation between M and Bond in Skyfall and how M treats the agents so badly and how Thorin treats Bilbo in The Hobbit). Oz the Great and Powerful clearly sets out with a long agenda and, I must add, accomplishes each item to the greatest satisfaction. I have only begun to touch upon all the wonderful insights of the film, but I will leave the rest for you to discover.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Olympus Has Fallen & Stoker Pre-Reviews, Captain America The Winter Soldier News, GI Joe Retaliaton Ninja Mountain Fight Sequence

"When our flag falls, our nation will rise," and the movie believes that completely, starting with the opening scene of the flag and the closing scene. Again, the film is worth seeing not only for its patriotic fervor and intense action sequences, but because the vulnerability of the presidency is part of a on-going dialogue in films which GI Joe started in 2009, has been picked up by Olympus Has Fallen, will continue in GI Joe Retaliation and White House Down (a very similar premise to Olympus Has Fallen, but one which, I predict, will be highly pro-Obama and pro-socialist).
100% American patriotism!
Was this a relief to finally see once again in American films! I know the weather is bad for a lot of us this weekend, but if you are going to see a film, this would be worth it! Very enjoyable and a new angle that liberals are really going to hate (hint: pay particular attention to Cerebrus); I will go into this deeper in the review, however, Olympus Has Fallen is thoroughly up-to-date on the current American scene of politics and what threatens our freedoms most: the freedom of our enemies.
Even more impressive,...
Quite a big deal was made regarding the Hitchcock influences throughout the film, from the obvious plot details in Shadow Of A Doubt to the less obvious strangulation details found in Strangers On a Train as well as the understanding of character progression throughout each scene. Not only is the writing and directing superb, but the acting by all characters as well, and I do not say that lightly. Actually, I am not a particular fan of any of the actors in the film, my favorite Nicole Kidman film being The Others (she's a great actress, I just haven't been big on her films).  There was brief nudity, a shower scene, and sexual situations, but the film gets a grip on you and slowly tightens it every moment. Without a doubt, the film is anti-socialist and anti-Obama; while some people might complain about the "ambiguous" ending, I thought it was perfect but it's really the documentary on the "black eagle" playing in the background throughout an important scene which validates the symbols and seals the doom of the character.
...Stoker is one of those rare films that, no matter how many times you see it, you are bound to "catch something" new each time. This is definitely not a film for everyone but it explodes with self-referencing and self-awareness, and this is a film bound to influence other film makers, especially directors, and we'll delve into that. I would like to note: there are also important references to Django Unchained, at least two. I tried seeing The Croods twice and it was sold out both times, sorry, I will get to it asap, but am trying to get caught up in the meantime.
Steve Rogers as Captain America in The Avengers
In the news, Robert Redford is in talks to join Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier as a senior official in SHIELD. More plot details have been revealed (the film is scheduled for release April 2014), specifically, that Bucky Barnes--Steve's friend from Captain America--will now become The Winter Soldier working for the modern day Soviets. Yes, it has been confirmed that this will be a political thriller, and more than other Avengers, Captain America will be associated with the blockbuster film from last year, with everyone's stories tying together for the second Avengers adventure.
Also, this GI Joe: Retaliation full-footage of Storm Shadow's and Snake Eyes' fight scene, with the cliff side ninja fight scene, has been released and, I have got to tell you, I am totally thrilled (it opens next week)! We'll talk about this later, but for the moment, here's a great quiz for you:
How does the "fighting style" of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow reflect what we know of their characters?
How is Jinx able (in a symbolic way) to put Storm Shadow to sleep? What does that symbolize or reveal about his character?
Why the cliffs? Why does this massive, dangerous fight take place on zip lines and rocks?
Similarly, what does the exchange below tell us about Duke's character (Channing Tatum) in relationship to why he dies in the film? Remember, a character who dies in art dies because they are all ready dead, there are traits or behaviors making them "undesirable" in some way so they have to die. What's pretty gutsy about this second installment is that Duke was the hero of the first film and now he's no longer needed, and assuredly that will be an important statement culturally the film will be making, a statement we need to be keen on:
It's further important that they play a game, because that most readily introduces "game theory" into the possible arsenal of strategies we can employ. A way in which game theory might be expanded, for example, is in the rules of game (which favors the strongest party or the party with the greatest advantage) being undermined by the creativity of play (those without the obvious advantage creating a means to overcome their disadvantages). In the case of the Joes, most of them have been killed, they can't trust anyone and they are without back-up.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: Symbols & Meaning

Let's be perfectly honest,... of all the things that could have used an updating, the uniforms of the crew certainly could have, at least Kirk's ugly shirt, so why didn't they change the color? Not quite pea-green, not quite mustard-yellow, maybe a sickly-brown, just doesn't even describe what the base of the color is; why? It might be described as "gold not yet purified," because on Kirk's wrists are bands of gold. We have time later to discuss Kirk's daredevil attitude and what that means on a grander scale--and we certainly will--but his undershirt, also shared by Spock, of black symbolically communicates how "death to the self" or that death experienced in the interior life is necessary to the fulfillment of our complete potential. Spock's blue, with which we are well familiar by now, symbolizes both depression and wisdom, because the road of wisdom is often beset by life's sadness, and while we don't experience Spock's emotions often, his blue shirt should be a constant reminder to us of the sadness and emotions he does experience.  
Released just yesterday, this new international trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness (release date May 17) reveals quite a bit more details about the film; see if you can identify where you have seen some of this before:
First of all, Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the top agents in Star Fleet, just as Silva (Javier Bardem) was a top agent for MI6 in Skyfall, the treasonous betrayal by Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the duplicitous nature of the president in GI Joe Retaliation. From other Star Trek trailers (and an image is just below), we see Khan in a prison cell much like Silva's is in in Skyfall (which invoked Loki's cell in The Avengers, which invoked Hannibal Lector's cell in Silence Of the Lambs; we could even add, from at least Thor's perspective, that Loki, too, was at the top as his brother and betrayed him and Earth).
So why would this be a theme?
Why this "see through" prison which has become so popular? The practical argument is, seeing what the prisoner is doing at all times makes it more difficult for them to escape or hurt themselves. However, psychologically--and I think this is the real point--even though we see the villain, we don't see what he is doing. There is a false sense of security created and communicated by the transparent prison because we the audience know there is a well-crafted plan all ready in effect, and the villain getting caught is probably part of that plan. Now, the question is, what is it that is supposed to be transparent, but hasn't been transparent at all? Did someone promise us they would be transparent, but instead, has been secretive and conspiring?
All these films posit the same cultural questions: who is "at the top" who was trusted but is now betraying that trust? Who is trying to destroy us from the inside? What safety that we had is now jeopardized? By now, you well know my personal answers to all these questions, but, by now, you also have your own answers, or the film is going to try and help you find what your answer is. And, from the perspective of Captain Kirk, we must ask, "What is the 'old score' that needs to be settled?" Since we know the villain is Khan, therein lies the answer: 1982.
What is so sinister about this shot? Perhaps it's the "normal looking" villain with such deathly intentions, and we have seen this before in Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows. Just as Holmes was using urban camouflage, so was Moriarty, in blending in with everyone else in spite of his diabolical plans, and it's possible to see the same--at lest in this clip--in Khan. 
A number of films from the early 1980s have been re-made recently, including Red Dawn and Evil Dead (Star Trek Into Darkness reaches back to Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan to resurrect this villain for the new film); while even I wouldn't argue that all movies being made in the early 80s were against communist Russia, we have to admit that communists were often the blatant villains of films, and sometimes the not-so-obvious villains.  This is just something for us to consider and to keep in mind, but there are two other factors shared in common with other films for us to ponder as well,...
Whatever scene this is, it's going to be important, because both men wear gray, but it's probably for different reasons. For example, we know Kirk will probably get into trouble for some rash call he makes, and his gray might signify his penance for mistakes and arrogance (because gray is the color of ash worn by those confessing their sins and doing penance, it can mean penance) but Pike also wears gray, perhaps to enhance the gray in his hair and hence his advancing age, that a new, younger leader must take over because this father-figure isn't going to be around much longer.
What is the opening of this trailer?
The attack of London.
Where else have we seen London being attacked?
In GI Joe Retaliation, in the demonstration of a weapon to destroy countries, the "President" detonates London and from the ground up, we see--not London Bridge falling--but all of London falling. Now, let's be open-minded and just explore a possible meaning for the recurring images of London's destruction. What big changes have taken place in London? Well, this is the first time in 450 years that a royal has married a commoner. Could the "foundation breaking" and "destruction" of London we see in films today be a reference to the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton? It's possible, but not probable. Where are public demonstrations against the marriage? The exact opposite, indeed, seems to be true with the Kate Middleton effect, so where have we seen public demonstrations in London?
Austerity measures. 
Alice Eve: is this innocent, or is she seducing Kirk? We know Kirk has a weakness for the women, and this might be a perfect chance for the film to remind us how our personal, private sins effect others. There has been a movement in films as of late to offer a counter-masculinity to the promiscuous male image as sexual conqueror, and it will be interesting to see which way Star Trek goes.
There was the 2010 London protests of students for tuition caps so (they thought) students from poorer backgrounds could better attend college, Occupy London, and the 2011 protests against planned public spending cuts. The films involving London might very well be warnings to the English government that it had better pay for the people or else; on the other hand, they might be warnings to the people that their expectations have bankrupted society and there's not even money left to pay for what is really important. We'll have to wait and see, but there is at least one more important point to be made,...
The Pacific Ocean.
Spock in the fire. In Wrath Of Khan, Spock dies; will he die in Into Darkness?
The Star Fleet headquarters is in San Francisco, right on the Pacific shore; like Battleship and Pacific Rim (coming out) action which might take place in this location could be a reference to World War II and America's role in that and afterwards. Let's remember, when Star Trek 2009 takes place, Kirk was in Iowa where he was growing up; why not return there? There are reasons this location shift has taken place and only the events of the film will alert us as to the message.   
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stoker, Olympus Has Fallen, The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Evil Dead, GI Joe Retaliation

Stoker was released March 1, but I am finally going to get to see it this weekend. The entire plot summary can be found here (if you haven't seen the film and want to be surprised, please stop reading because there are spoilers below; I have NOT seen the film yet, but do this for the intellectual exercise) and, I don't mind telling you, it's rather disturbing but fascinating at the same time. This will provide us an opportunity of discussing a literary device of "relatives" and one way it can be exploited. In The Woman In Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe, we saw the story of two sisters, relatives, and knowing a detail about one--in this case, Jennet has a rosary--and the nature of a conflict--her sister Alice adopted Jennet's son--we can search for a contemporary reference in which such conflict and identity exists. Because Jennet has Catholic symbols connected to her, we start there in the trail of clues, and look for the "sister" to the Catholic church, which could be the Anglican church and, behold, there is a conflict between the two: Pope Benedict XVI's invitation for Anglicans to join the Catholic church after controversial decisions by Anglican clergy (the film was so detailed I made two posts on it: Naming the Harlot: The Woman In Black and Queen Victoria, Monkeys & the Catholic Church-: The Woman In Black). The exact same type of set-up appears to be at work in Stoker because Charlie is a brother to deceased Richard.  
There have been numerous references by critics to the homages to Hitchcock the film makes and the artistic approach director Park Chan-Wook takes in filming his scenes. For example, a sexual shower scene is supposed to reference Psycho; the more obvious references are to Shadow Of a Doubt with Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, a genuinely dark thriller were Hitch really delved into his theory of evil and sin.
Knowing that Charlie kills Richard with a staged auto accident (we have seen car "crashes" symbolizing the economic crash of 2008) and we know older men symbolize the active principle of the economy/founding fathers (and Richard could easily be both), we have to ask what "relative system" (they are brothers like the sisters in The Woman In Black) has been at work against the economy/founding fathers? But Richard isn't the only sibling Charlie kills: Charlie was locked up in a mental institution for killing their brother Jonathan.What other character have we seen kill a sibling? Ryan from House At the End Of the Street because he kills Carrie Ann. I know some of you will be upset for me saying this, but "Socialism" is the only answer because it is a system "relative" or "related to" capitalism that has "crashed"  or even been murdered--as some of us would argue--and has taken over. I will, however, be the first to admit, minor details could completely change this interpretation (even knowing the plot), but traditional symbols of "the motherland" which Evie (Nicole Kidman) symbolizes explains this "unnatural" monologue she has in the opening of this trailer:
"I hope life tears you apart," is not the natural sentiment most parents have towards their children, however, given how Obamcare's crippling taxation and the $16 trillion dollar debt being passed onto younger generations (India in the film, children always symbolize the future) Evie's statement is pretty accurate about what America today (Evie's character) has done to America tomorrow (India's character). So, why name the film Stoker? Knowing the references to Hitchcock, and the most famous "Stoker" of all time being author Bram Stoker of Dracula, and that numerous films and commentators at liberal news organizations describe capitalists as "vampires" (films such as Hotel Transylvania, Dark Shadows and Gangster Squad), the last name of the family will probably play off nuances of who is the worst vampire, or the vampire to be feared the most?
Also opening this weekend is Olympus Has Fallen starring Gerard Butler, Morgan Freman and Aaron Eckhart; here is a clip (red band, there is foul language in it) of the White House under attack by North Korean communists:
We have all ready discussed this film, and why it's only now, at this time in history, that we are seeing the "White House under attack" and we have never seen such a slap in the face to American dignity and security before, but this clip makes an interesting statement: garbage trucks. We can ask, "What garbage has arrived at the White House and is tearing it apart, and what events have made it possible for this to happen?"  This film is worth seeing because it's part of a three way dialogue between GI Joe Retaliation (opens March 28) and White House Down (opens June 28) regarding what has happened to the Executive Office in America.
Grug (Nicholas Cage) is the patriarch of the Crood family. We can clearly expect every characteristic of white males and traditional fatherhood (in general) to be under attack as he makes blunder after blunder and will be constantly upstaged by Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a new, younger generation. We have seen this exact situation in Skyfall, the opening credits, where the white male James Bond is a "target" of an unseen shooter (Bond appears as a practice target) and the exact same scenario happens in The Croods, but Skyfall supports Bond while The Croods will undermine and we have to ask, who benefits most from the downfall of fatherhood? The state. When men are not the providers for their families, families turn to the government to provide for them and that's what socialism wants. By labeling protection and prudence Grug might show as his natural ignorance and "over-protection," the film re-directs the public debate about the ideals of the founding fathers and tradition to that of ego-centered idiots who need to be protected themselves and who can't provide for their families. Why is this harmful? There are a number of reasons, but mostly to make white males feel bad about being white males and shrug off their responsibilities as husbands and fathers so more women will be single mothers and they will almost have to receive government assistance; further, it will make white males less desirable as political candidates and make their political rhetoric look as ridiculous as Grug.
Also opening this weekend is The Croods, and here is a clip which directly challenges what we see in Oz the Great and Powerful:
Just as conservatives remember Obama saying, "You didn't build that," so The Croods are now saying, "You didn't invent that."  This was introduced in The Odd Life Of Timothy Green with the invention of the peanut-butter and jelly sandwich issue, and was taken up by Oz the Great and Powerful in the championing of Thomas Edison. One of the points of debate dictating the fierce dialog between socialists and capitalists is that capitalism better facilitates discovery and invention; in this series of "accidents," where Guy is credited with inventing fire, which then makes him invent shoes, which then makes popcorn, the anonymity of these inventions have been plagiarized: fire, shoes and popcorn weren't invented under a corporation or brand name, therefore, capitalism does not "better facilitate" discovery and invention. I, personally, completely disagree with this statement, but it's important to analyze the types of arguments being introduced so we can better engage in battle.
Which leads us to another animated film being released:
Well, what do we have here?
The exact opposite depiction of fatherhood, or so it seems.
This is why we have to be so sharp: what was being mocked before--fatherhood--is being championed now, but only as a cover for a greater evil: evil itself.  By "humanizing evil," the villain being shown as a "good father," the dichotomies of "good" and "evil" are--at best--confused, and at worst, being eliminated to create a new "moral order" where morality is not ordered, but arbitrary, as in George Orwell's 1984. The villain is not being shown to be a villain, rather, a bumbling hero; this breeds "false compassion" and makes our discretion and prudence weakened by mis-identifying virtue and vice. A villain is a villain is a villain, but only if you are a Republican, conservative, Christian fundamentalist-racist, as the liberals would call you if you believe something like that, which I do. Again, as I have said too many times to count, films such as The Croods and Despicable Me 2 (due out July 3), are particularly dangerous because they are aimed at families--you are confident there won't be nudity or foul language so the whole family goes to see it--and you think because it's rated G that it's going to uphold your values, but it's teaching kids bad "values" in the most subtle of ways.
So what do we do?
We call "evil" by its name.
Why remake this 1981 cult film?
Because the same type of evil that was haunting us in 1981 is back today.
All we have to do is ask, "What is it that keeps getting worse and worse every second?" The economy, the $16 trillion dollar deficit and budget crisis. A film such as this might have a difficult time "scaring audiences," not because it isn't scary, but because we are being taught that evil doesn't really exist (lessons from films like Despicable Me), so why fear what doesn't exist?
To emphasize the 1981 threat being re-realized, we have to ask, why would a veteran have to re-enlist, and why would he?
This movie is going to rock.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Thursday, March 14, 2013

GI Joe Retaliation: Storm Shadow vs Snake Eyes

These two are probably the most exciting characters for me this year (yea, they even top Thor's second appearance, Iron Man and the Mandarin, Capt Kirk and Kahn); I am really looking forward to seeing what Storm Shadow (the white ninja) and Snake Eyes (the black ninja, the good guy) do in GI Joe Retaliation and here is a clip of one of their fights:
If you haven't seen GI Joe from 2009, I strongly suggest you do so (there is time before the March 28 release). As a small boy who would become Snake Eyes, he went into the kitchen of a monastery/training facility where young Storm Shadow--a ninja in training--saw the other boy, accused him of stealing food (rather like Jean Valjean's crime in Les Miserables) and proceeded to kill the boy for eating noodles; they  have a fierce fight and Hard Master (the trainer) comes in and tells Storm Shadow they must "show him the path" and young Snake Eyes begins training and advances to become the "best pupil," of Hard Master,... just after this, Hard Master is stabbed to death and Snake Eyes sees Storm Shadow running away, totally guilty,... the problem is, the featurette clip below suggests that Storm Shadow was framed for the murder. What has torn Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow apart is Snake Eyes believing Storm Shadow committed the murder, after which Snake Eyes took a vow of silence, and herein lies the intensity of that relationship.
 Storm Shadow. In GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra, Snake Eyes stabs Storm Shadow multiple times, including in the heart, and then Storm Shadow falls into the Arctic Ocean and sinks, presumably dead. Technically, I think Cobra will revive Storm Shadow by using nanotechnology, which, as the first film demonstrated, can be used to heal the body on the molecular level, so it's not that big of deal to resurrect Storm Shadow physically (this is just a guess; we see Storm Shadow in water, and tanks of water breaking, which invokes Underworld: Awakening, but he was probably being "kept" int he water like a frog in formaldehyde). Symbolically, however, Storm Shadow being "resurrected" falls in-line with other great hero villains, from Halloween's Mike Myers to Jason and Freddy Kreuger. Why? We can't kill evil. These villains provide a physical shell in which the evil they align themselves with can dwell, but the "human" nature in them died long, long ago, making it possible for them to be taken over by evil, because if they knew how evil the evil was they were giving themselves to, even the worst person would not have consented to it. But the physical body, of Storm Shadow, for example, is merely the vehicle of some specific evil the film makers want to focus our attention upon, and attributes, like costume, name and weapons, direct us along the path of coming to know what evil they are so we don't become like them. Storm Shadow lacking self-awareness is apparent when, in GI Joe Rise Of Cobra, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes have met for the first time since Hard Master's death, and Storm Shadow calls Snake Eyes "Brother." On the surface, it appears Storm Shadow addresses him thusly because they "grew up" in the same house of training with the same "father" in training (Hard Master who gave "birth" to them both and named both of them); however, it also seems that Storm Shadow incorrectly thinks that Snake Eyes is like him, and they are kin in spirit, that Snake Eyes is motivated by the same appetites Storm Shadow is and Storm Shadow would think this because, not having any greater motivations within himself, he can't see that any higher motivation would exist in another.
Your Master dies; why take a vow of silence?
Snake Eyes, still a young boy at this point in the narrative, realizes wisely that since Hard Master is dead, he must master himself. If you cannot overcome the enemy within you, you cannot overcome the enemy outside you. You can't know what a powerful exercise taking a vow of silence is unless you have done it for yourself (which I have on two separate occasions for Lent) because silence becomes a desert where all your demons are fully exposed, there is no where for them to hide, and then--when you clearly see them and know what they are--you can master them.
This isn't the path Storm Shadow takes.
Please click on image to view in greater detail. Left is Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) under water, center is Storm Shadow under water (possibly the moment he comes back to life) and to the right Cobra and Storm Shadow. Water, and what happens to different characters in or on it, will clearly be an important element throughout the film and I estimate this will be just one of numerous "motifs" we will see in one character and then later with another character as well because it's a great way for film makers to establish "links" between characters and symbols, a kind of visual commentary in guiding the audience's minds and reactions.
What does "Storm Shadow" imply?
He permits shadows to live within him (he doesn't look inside himself, but is always looking outside himself (like when young Snake Eyes was "stealing" the food, Storm Shadow should have been focused on himself not the slight of someone else, this is discipline which he does not have), those shadows--and the demons they hide within him--give rise to storms, and it was because of the storm of his anger at Snake Eyes being given top of the class that Storm Shadow could be framed for the murder of Hard Master because, in his angry heart, Storm Shadow probably wished Hard Master death (or at least harm) and and that emotional transference was sufficient for Storm Shadow not to stand up for his own innocence, because he wasn't innocent, even if he was framed for the physical murder, he wised harm on Hard Master.
We have all ready touched upon why Storm Shadow wears white and Snake Eyes wears black, but this is a suitable place to repeat it just to refresh our dialogue. White usually denotes the "good guy," the hero, because white usually asserts the virtue of purity, innocence (being free from the guilt of crime/sin) and faith; however, white is also the color of a corpse in the stages of decomposition, and a bad guy wearing white amplifies why he is (spiritually, metaphysically) dead, because he is dead to those qualities that make up the hero (we will revisit this theme when The Lone Ranger is released since the Lone Ranger rides a white horse and a white hat). The reason we associate black (the color Snake Eyes wears) with evil (like Cobra pictured below) is because we associate black with death and death is bad. But death can also be good. Priests wear black because they are "dead to themselves" and "dead to the world" and this applies to Snake Eyes who is dead to himself so he can serve the greater good by being a part of the Joes. This is Snake Eyes' identity, that he is nothing, but goodness and justice is everything, and that's an identity few--if any--can claim for themselves because that spiritual road is so difficult and long. Snake Eyes' vow of silence is silence with the world outside himself, but intense communion with his inner-world.
So what about Snake Eyes?
The ultra-villain of GI Joe is Cobra (pictured below), and it would be easy to mistake Snake Eyes for one of Cobra's henchmen, and the detailing of why Snake Eyes is the good guy (better than the "good guy," the virtuous hero) is the reason why I am so impressed with the characterization of this film and the film's faith in us they we will be able to forge the bond of understanding with this character). Snake Eyes and Cobra illustrates two angles of the same animal: the snake. A snake doesn't blink its eyes, and some of you may recall our discussion on Sherlock Holmes' (2009) Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) "winking" at Holmes when he's in the fighting pit and--because eyes symbolize wisdom because wisdom relies upon a person being able to "see" the true nature of something--Irene's wink reveals that she willingly "doesn't see" all she should (she lacks foresight) and doesn't "see" how dangerous Moriarty is to her (which Holmes warns her about). Snake Eyes, on the other hand, is the exact opposite: never "blinking" his eyes, he sees everything making him wise because the first step in overcoming your enemy is overcoming yourself, then knowing your enemy and their weaknesses.
On the other hand,...
Whereas the "absence of features" of Snake Eyes (his face is completely covered) concentrates our bond with Snake Eyes in his actions and commitments, the opposite is true with Cobra. We have discussed erasure elsewhere, specifically in The Cold Light Of Day and Zero Dark Thirty, and GI Joe Retaliation offers us a further example. We can say that Snake Eyes has "erased" his lesser, human identity so he can become the ideals he values, but Cobra's appetites have erased his humanity to he has no identity left (the shield over his face). What is so interesting about Cobra's costume is that the silver shield "reflects" but knowing that "reflection" (as in meditation and self-awareness) is a virtuous activity because it leads to self-knowledge, that Cobra's face reflects highlights what he can't do: he can't reflect on himself or come to any self-awareness so that he can achieve virtue (material appetites for wealth and power erode the appetite for justice, goodness, virtue, and we can only come to those virtues by seeing what is bad within us and committing ourselves to overcoming that). On the other hand, Snake Eyes also has a reflective, black shield covering his eyes, and we can say, in keeping with the great writers of spirituality, that in Snake Eyes' continuing death to himself (the color black) he is able to reflect on himself and continue dying to himself to keep alive the virtues that make him the hero.
...Cobra (pictured above) has no eyes, and his emblem (logo) behind him in red on the wall, shows a cobra snake with its mouth open. This choice is probably meant to inspire fear in Cobra's enemies, that he is a deadly snake about to strike with his venom, but it shows Cobra's own "appetites" rather, that his own mouth is wide-open to swallow up the whole world, just like a snake dislocating its jaw to swallow his prey.  Because of the appetites for power associated with Cobra, we can see that him wearing black truly denotes death in the greatest metaphysical and spiritual sense. He is the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" that conveys the nature of hell because the waling comes from those led by their appetites who could never get enough wealth, power, sex, or whatever, to fill them, so now they forever gnash those teeth. Remember, it's Storm Shadow who says, "Welcome to hell" in the trailer, and this is probably just the start.
This clip offers sufficient reason to see GI Joe Retaliation in 3D:
One issue that has come up regarding the film is why Bruce Willis is being included. As the "founder of the Joes," it looks like a going back to "the founding father," the historical awareness of where the Joes came from and a re-commitment to their identity and mission. Which leads us to the Joes in general: they are the best of the best, of the best, of the best, of the very best,... of the best. We are actually accustomed to seeing this "theme" in films, those who are the very best at what they do (Mission Impossible, for example, Star Trek, The Avengers, even in Identity Thief, Sandy Patterson is the "best" at his job) because only the best is good enough for Americans because we are always pushing the standard for what is acceptable because only the best is acceptable. A movie made about mediocrities, for example, would have to be a comedy because Americans wouldn't want to see a film glorifying averageness, we are above that as a culture and going back to their founder in Bruce Willis' character will remind Americans--at least as a subtext--about our free will in either choosing to be the very best we can be, and being inspired by the greatness of others, or choosing to be the worst we want to be, and making everyone else suffer for it.
Now it just so happens that the colors of the International Socialist movement are red and black, really, they are  (remember Hitler's Swastika flag?) and the colors of Cobra (which is reflected in Snake Eyes' and Jinx's relationship, the female wearing the red ninja outfit). I don't think, however, this is really going to be about socialism and capitalism, rather, that individuals using immense power are an even greater threat to world security. But let's ask ourselves, before this year, how many films showed the White House under "enemy occupation?" How many films can you name that showed the unbreachable White House--the home of George Washington and all our Founding Fathers--in the hands of enemies? How many? None? Neither can I, but now there is GI Joe Retaliation, Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down (which is going to be something like racists or Tea Party members taking over the black president and trying to remove him from office), but
Here is a behind-the-scenes look which provides a few nuggets we might want to collect. This is where we learn about Storm Shadow being framed for Hard Mater's death, and the weapons used in the fight sequence between the two above is described as "brass knuckles," (mentioned at 1:51 in the clip below) which we have seen in two other films, Lawless (used by Forest Bondurant) and Expendables 2.
It's the energy of the "storm" within Storm Shadow (his rage) which feeds his "strength" but it's not a strength that lasts, every storm eventually dies, regardless of the damage it causes, whereas Snake Eyes' inner-reservoir of strength should give him enough perseverance to wait out the storm and be standing as the victor at the end. Remember, Snake Eyes has the foresight to see that he could become Storm Shadow if he doesn't keep himself in check (like Luke Skywalker giving into rage and becoming Darth Vader) but Storm Shadow lacks the wisdom to see that he could become as great--or greater--than Snake Eyes if he let go of rage but in his lack of wisdom, he thinks his sin is his strength. These are just some of the reasons I am so looking forward to this film, I hope you are, too.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
Snake Eyes and Jinx fighting, but they are on the same team (I believe Jinx is wearing the yellow ninja outfit in the cliff battle clip above). These two together, because Snake Eyes is in black and Jinx is in red, should symbolically counter Cobra. We have all ready seen a female wearing red (Theodora [Mila Kunis] in Oz the Great and Powerful) so the team work exhibited by Snake Eyes and Jinx should give us greater insight into what Cobra is not, again, the characters are being connected by the repeating colors of red and black (and her wearing the yellow ninja outfit will have its own particular meaning in that part of the film).