W. – A Movie Review By Kush

The following is a movie review of W. by my friend Kush. He wrote it a while ago, recently reviewed it and told me that I was welcome to share it with you. Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments at the bottom. And, of course, thanks to Kush!

The prospect of a film that would illustrate the inner workings of the Bush Administration, presidency, and perhaps even mind of George Walker Bush, seemed compelling. Furthermore, Oliver Stone’s illustration of all of the above in the context of JFK (199X) and Nixon (199X), with a Josh Brolin performance to boot, made W look like a required trip to the box office.

What the moviegoer got was not, however, the colorful, biting account of Bush or his presidency, that was expected. Instead, we got Josh Brolin impersonating Bush, rather than playing him, a story that focused more on Bush’s life between Yale and the White House than his presidency, and a slew of bad performances doing little more than paying lip service to some of the most critical members and events of the Bush Administration.

On the bright side, Stone’s account of Bush gave us something that more liberal viewers did not have going in:  a picture of Bush as a man, a son, and a Christian. The appropriately named W. features George W. Bush less as a protagonist than as the focal point through which the world is viewed. In this manner, we see Bush come to terms with the meaning of his family name, defiantly enter politics both because of and despite his father’s influence, defeat alcohol addiction, and be born-again into the Christian faith.

The only thing missing is a struggle.

Often times, it felt as though whenever W. decided to do something, it happened, less through sheer will than through the selfish maneuvering of the people around him – that and his father’s ability to pull strings whenever possible. This sense of “happening” may be due in part to the fact that the story itself is uncompelling, or perhaps because we all know the ending, but even at times when the story was new to most viewers, the plot came out flat.

Another problem with the movie is that almost the entire cast c0mes across as either lousy versions of the people they were cast to play, or below-the-belt charicatures of the real members of the Bush Administration. The actors cast to play Karl Rove and Condoleeza Rice, for example, seem built as assaults on the true versions of these people. They look and talk oddly, and don’t seem to resemble the already distinctly rich characters that we know from the news. On the other hand, Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) played such terrible versions of the true characters that I spent more time focusing on how incredibly bad their characterizations were rather than the content of their delivery. George Bush Senior also came off as whiney, weak, and tired: a seemingly inaccurate characterization of a president that waged America’s last successful war.

Not only where the character portrayals poorly done, the movie focused so infrequently on the events leading up to the Iraq war that almost all scenes involving discussion of this pivotal issue took place in a windowless war room. Surely there was more to the decision to invade Iraq than three afternoon meetings in the White House Situation Room. This is the only view of “America” we see outside of the myopic Bush lens through which the movie is shot – save a short sequence of out-of-place anti-war footage, shots of the UN meeting where Colin Powell presented the case against Iraq against his will, and Bush’s address to Congress to invade Iraq.

Overall, the movie disappoints not because of the poor character renderings but because the story itself ultimately lacked conflict and drama. Stone portrays a man too preoccupied by his father’s opinion of him to really appreciate the fact that he was elected to the highest office in the most powerful country on earth. Because he never wanted to be president for the sake of being the president, he ultimately judged the decisions he made through a different lens than those who respect the office for what it really is.

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Religion in the News: The Olympics Opening Ceremonies and the World’s Arrival in China

As most of you probably know and as many of you likely watched, last night the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games took place in the Beijing stadium known as the Bird’s Nest. I don’t know if you watched it, but I must say that from the bottom of my heart it was truly a spectacular event.

I cut it off shortly after the U.S. team marched (I was tired), and so I didn’t see the official opening words of the Chinese president, Hu Jintao or the words of the head of the IOC. Honestly, I would have liked to, but oh well. What I cared most about was the presentation by Zhang Yimou, an unbelievable display of Chinese history. It was one of the most sensational performances I have ever seen.

Symbolism and Performance

As many of my loyal readers will know, I love history and religion, and this performance was a masterpiece encapsulating both of those elements. Plus, the symbolism was fantastic. Many may not know the importance of the number 8 to the Chinese but the word 8 is ba, and an incredibly similar word means prosper and wealth. The Chinese pay more money to live on the 8th floor of buildings and in apartments with 8 in the number. Two 8s together (88) means double joy and happiness. The telephone number 888-8888 was sold for $270,723 in China, if that gives you any idea. What’s my point? That 8-8-08 being the opening ceremonies of the Olympics is no laughing matter or accident. Moreover, 2008 performers were in each different piece of the ceremony.

Chinese Religion and History

Westerners often fetishize eastern religions, particularly Buddhism but also Taoism. Though I’m guilty as well, I’m also slightly troubled by the fact, and thought that these ceremonies were an excellent way of the Chinese demonstrating that their religions, history and traditions have more depth than we tend to understand. Of course, it doesn’t help these ideas to try to sum up Chinese history in a few hours of performance pieces, but it was nonetheless truly a sight to behold.

Chinese characters of harmony were displayed in the most fabulous ways, calligraphy and painting were done by dancing men on an enormous moving canvas, and Tai Chi, the ancient art of body movement to enhance the flow of the chi was performed for the entire world in amazing ways. 2008 dancers in green outfits that lit up created an enormous flying dove with their bodies.

My description, as I look back, is a smack in the face of this amazing performance. Truly, you should go watch it online. The incorporation of Taoist and Buddhist thought and symbolism into multiple performance pieces designed to display China’s proud history was remarkable and makes me excited for what’s to come.

Idealistic Hopes for the Future

Those who know me may think I’m an idealist, and so might you after this next paragraph. I hope that these Olympic Games are a new beginning for China. Much of the symbolism of the performance was about opening China up to the world and welcoming it with harmony. The Great Wall was created and then replaced with flowers that symbolize this transformation.

It is my hope that this is the beginning of China relaxing its strict policies about protest, becoming more democratic, and doing the right things internationally (Taiwan, Tibet, etc.). I’m not suggesting that the day the Olympics is over all will change and be well, but I do hope that when we look back in 20 or 30 years, we look at this event – this opening of China to the world for the Olympics – just as we look at ping pong diplomacy and Nixon’s visit today. Well, even better than that.

Yes, it’s idealistic, but China is a growing powerhouse and one to be reckoned with, and I only hope that this event marks a visible turning point in its history when it realizes the value of being a part of the world order and some of the democratic values that go along with that.

What do you think? Did you see the ceremonies? What was your favorite part? What do you think about China and the future in light of these Olympic games?

Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for Zen Talk. To check out last week’s Zen Talk, click HERE. To check out last week’s Religion in the News article, click HERE.