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                                    Taxi To The Dark Side


            “Taxi To The Dark Side” is an unabashed indictment of the current Administration’s policies regarding the capture, detention, and torture of detainees.  The operative theory seems to be, “If he looks like an Arab, hijack him, interrogate him, apply sensory deprivation, remove all creature comforts, mess with his head, and see if he confesses anything. If you find out something you didn’t know, great, it was worth the trouble, if you don’t, oh well, he was probably guilty of something, anyway.” If you, as a viewer, don’t experience any pangs of conscience after watching this, then you may be impervious to suffering and immune to guilt.  However, this grim documentary will not be popular, because who wants to go to the movies and feel bad about themselves and their country’s covert operatives?  It might win awards, but not at the box office.

            “The Band’s Visit” won’t be very popular with American moviegoers, either, because it’s subtitled, and because the English that is spoken is by people for whom English is their second language, and the accents are sometimes difficult to understand.  But for those who are a little more cinematically adventurous, this is a little jewel of a film, because it feels so real.  An Egyptian police orchestra from Alexandria gets on the wrong bus and finds themselves dropped off at a remote Israeli village in the desert.  They are forced to rely on the hospitality of foreign strangers, who themselves have to overcome their reluctance to give aid to those who represent an ancient enemy, and a present enmity.  The awkwardness is palpable, as are the few moments of grace, breaking in unexpectedly, as everyday people build cultural bridges, despite themselves.  You find yourself wishing that the “Taxi To The Dark Side” protagonists could have had an encounter like “The Band’s Visit” instead.  Maybe there would then be a little less violence in the world.

            There is much violence in the world of “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” where a single-parent family moves into a long-abandoned house of a crazy old Aunt, only to discover that she may not have been so crazy, after all.  The place really is haunted.  This is kid-oriented, in that the children are brave, bright, resourceful, and perceptive, while the adults are estranged, distracted, absent, slow to comprehend, or all the above.  The more subtle messages about the importance of family, and that knowledge is power, might get overshadowed by hobgoblins visible and invisible.  Probably too intense for younger children, but for adults, because it’s based on a book series, it’s a new fairy tale where at least the story line holds together.

            Then there’s the R-rated movie about high schoolers, which will struggle finding an audience.  “Charlie Bartlett” (Anton Yelchin) is a clean-cut teenaged boy whose Mom (Hope Davis) is rich but Dad’s in prison for tax evasion.  He genuinely loves his spacey Mother, who seems to treat him with kid gloves, because his father’s gone, but he acts out his anger with enough misbehavior to get him kicked out of all the expensive private schools.  So he shows up at the local public school in tie and blazer, looking like a preppie, and very out of place.  At first, he is mostly ignored or picked on, but after a while, he realizes that many of his contemporaries are struggling as much as he is, and few have anybody who will really listen to them.  So he becomes a kind of father/confessor in the boys’ room, providing free psychiatric help (and maybe some Ritalin) to anyone who wants to come sit in the next stall and pour out their soul between classes.  (The former bully, now an ally, watches the door, so boys and girls can both benefit equally.)  “Charlie Bartlett” has some of the “joie de vivre” of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (yes, he even looks and acts a little like a young Matthew Broderick), but it also has some of the sharp edges of adolescent angst in “Little Miss Sunshine.”  Charlie takes up with the principal’s daughter (Kat Dennings), which creates yet another set of relational dynamics, but the delicate combination of anger and comedy holds together pretty well, even in the farcical persona of the beleaguered principal (Robert Downey, Jr.).  In the end, like many teenage movies, it’s about being true to yourself, but nobody ever said it was going to be easy to work through the layers of your own resistance and pretense.


Questions for Discussion:

1)      Should agents of our government be allowed to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists without due process?

2)      Should teenagers be punished for giving prescription drugs to other teenagers?  Should adults be punished for giving prescription drugs to other adults?

3)      What would help the cause of peace in the Middle East ?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texa