Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie

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Rated: MLouis Theroux My Scientology Movie

Writer and Director: John Dower

Writer and Presenter: Louis Theroux

Featuring: Marty Rathbun, Steve Mango, Marc Headley, Tom De Vocht, Jeff Hawkins, Andrew Perez (as David Miscavige) and Rob Alter (as Tom Cruise).

After 25 TV specials focusing on some of the most intimate and angst-ridden aspects of the human condition: religion, racism, sexuality, criminal justice and mental health, Louis Theroux has returned with a feature film about Scientology.

Using actors mixed with candid interviews between Louis and the ex-members, the film shows an amusing determination to make the documentary with increasingly bizarre interactions with the current members of the organisation where the crew are followed, filmed and confronted. All the while Louis Theroux continues to attempt a balanced perspective of the church, but the strange behaviour and constant re-buffing of the Scientologists reveals a disturbing reality.

Marty Rathbun, an ex-member and at one time the ‘Inspector General’ (the most senior executives in Scientology), responded to Louis Theroux’s call to partake in the documentary. While re-enacting an abuse scene, Marty says to Theroux, ‘I thought you liked the idea of having your face ripped off.’

‘But that was only play acting.’

Where Marty responds, ‘Exactly.’

When Marty makes this statement, it really brought home the devious nature of the religion.

Marty goes on to explain how the counselling is conducted by the Trainers, and how anxiety is cleared through the use of the e-meter. If the machine registers a response while the subject is holding the paddles, then the thought causing the anxiety will be revealed and discussed with the counsellor until the machine no longer registers a response. That means the anxiety has been cleared.

An effective counselling technique that is no doubt very helpful to the person discussing and dealing with negative thoughts.

Marty then explains how the church plants the idea that every good thing that happens in your life is because you have cleared these anxieties and is therefore to be attributed to the church and to Elbert Hubbard. And then to go on and to also contribute every bad thing that happens to the fact you’re not practicing the principles of the organisation correctly and therefore everything bad thing in your life is your fault.

This is how the church of Scientology creates a psychological trap and therefore exerts mind control over its members.

I’d recently seen another documentary on Scientology, ‘Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief‘, also featuring Marty. Going Clear shows a negative account of the church’s practices with more focus on the tax exemption of the church as a registered religion.

Louis takes a more personal interest in Scientology with a genuine motivation to get the organisation’s side of the matter; which is continually rejected.

You can see that Louis is concerned that his advances towards the Scientologists are rejected because he’s brought Marty on board. And through-out the documentary there is tension between Marty and Theroux: an interesting personality clash where each man attempts to stare the other down.

I can understand Louis holding a negative view towards Marty, always wondering what this man has done as the ‘Inspector General’, and if he’s speaking against the church out of rejection and spite.

And here we can see the continued drive from Theroux, to be open and see the church in a positive light. But the church in its harassment and complete inability to even acknowledge Louise’s attempt at conversation only reinforce what Marty is sharing.

The success of My Scientology Movie is the revealing insight into the psychological damage that can be caused by just trying to the do the right thing, and showing the depth of control of the organisation, I mean church, that can, understandably, make you paranoid.

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Lights Out

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Directed By: David SandbergLights Out

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

Based on a Short Film by: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Maria Bello, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Andi Osho, Rolando Boyce; Maria Russell.

Although a sometimes tense horror-thriller, Lights Out felt lightweight.

This is a difficult story to tell and I don’t want to give too much away.  Suffice to say Rebecca’s (Teresa Palmer) mum’s (Maria Bello) having a meltdown and she’s scared her kid brother’s (Gabriel Bateman) in trouble.  Like she was at his age.  When she was being haunted by her mum’s imaginary friend, Dianne.

Director David Sandberg (who also created the short film) puts effort into the atmosphere of Lights Out.  The soundtrack is a creepy backdrop to the shadows and glowing eyes of the creature that is Dianne.  And the screenplay itself is well-thought with a backstory of how Dianne became.

The missing element to the film was the lack of depth of character.

Rebecca, the rebellious daughter and protagonist of the film was dismissive and her boyfriend, the ever faithful Bret (Alexander DiPersia) was frankly, too nice to believe.  Not to sound bitter but do guys like Bret actually exist?

Martin, the kid brother, was a bit strained; the mother, Sophie the only really believable character.

I love a good horror, and there were definite tense moments.  I jumped at least once.

Clever devices were used: plastic sheeting covering the bodies of plastic, life-sized models is creepy.  And tapping into the deep-seated fear of being scared of the dark was well shown with the character of Dianne conversely being scared of the light.  But because the other characters weren’t believable, it became difficult to hold the suspension of reality concerning Dianne.

The film was missing that heavy weight, the surprise I’m coming to expect from modern horror directors such as James Wan (note here he was the producer not the director for Lights Out).

Better than your average trashy horror but I’d say Lights Out was directed at a younger audience.

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Star Trek Beyond

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Director: Justin LinStar Trek Beyond

Story By: Gene Roddenberry

Screenplay: Simon Pegs, Doug Jung.

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba; Sofia Boutella.

There’s always a moral to a Star Trek story, and this time in, Star Trek Beyond, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is having a midlife crisis.

He’s been lost in space for too long and doesn’t know what he wants anymore.  He’s made the memory of his father proud; he’s the captain of the Enterprise.  But where do the steps towards his father end? And where does Kirk begin?

That’s what I like about the Star Trek franchise.  I like the characters and seeing how they deal with their struggles in life.

Interesting that Beyond is the third in the trilogy of the Re-boot series (the 13th Star Trek film) now coming to maturity, just like Capt. Kirk.

As always, there’s the difference in characters’ personality and culture.  I love Scotty the Scotsman and am really getting into the reluctant Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), the southern doctor.  And not just because he’s handsome, Bones makes me laugh.

And there’s always the running theme of unity, which is mostly what the Star Trek films are about.  The difference of the crew members and the strength of working together.

So yes, there’s a formula in the writing here, in the themes written for Star Trek, but that’s why we dig it, yeah?

What was new is the addition of the character, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who looks to be a permanent fixture in future films.

And the visual effects just keep getting better with each Star Trek adventure.  See Ian Failes article for Inverse here: how-star-trek-changed-visual-effects-history.

Director Justin Lin has brought Peter Chiang on board to take a more scientific approach to the visual effects.  The realistic VFX (visual effects created by processes in which imagery is created and/or manipulated outside the context of a live action shot) go beyond (ha, ha) all expectation.

There are some amazing perspectives here that on the big screen kicked in my vertigo, so yeah, the visual effects are amazing.

I have to mention the sadness felt when realising I’ll never see Anton Yelchin as Chekov again.  See article about his passing here.  I’ll miss the innocence (although not as innocent with the ladies in, Beyond) and the genius Anton managed to give to the character, Chekov…

A few asides from crusty Bones, tracks to get the blood pumping and the feeling of being on a roller coaster, Star Trek Beyond adds up to a well-packaged, entertaining film.

Sanpaku Eyes – A Cinematic Device

Sanpaku Eyes
Courtesy: http://www.vulture.com/2016/02/movie-review-the-witch.html#

Recently, I went to see the horror movie, The Witch: A New-England Folktale (2015) and noticed the whites under the iris of the young daughter, Thomasin (Anja Taylor-Joy) were used by director, Robert Eggers to show an impending danger.

A subtle device, yet very effective.

Seeing the whites under her eyes left me feeling anxious, and I could feel that bad things were to come for this young girl.

Sanpaku Eyes
Courtesy :http://emfrefugee.blogspot.com.au/2007/02/are-you-sanpaku.htmlwhites of the eye: sanpakugan also known as sanpaku eyes.

The white sclera showing under or over the iris is known as the three whites of the eye: sanpakugan also known as sanpaku eyes.

As noted in Timothy Spearman’s article, ‘The Psychopath: Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’1, there are two types of sanpaku eyes: the yin sanpaku, where the white shows below the iris and the yang sanpaku, where the white shows above.

Basically, the theory is if a person is showing the sclera below their eyes, as in the case of Thomasin, the danger is yin, and therefore coming from outside.

A person with yin sanpaku eyes is, ‘likely to place himself or herself in dangerous or threatening situations unwittingly and may be in mortal peril.’

If the sclera is showing above the iris, this is yang sanpaku.  ‘In this case, the iris sinks downward toward the bottom eyelid.  This reveals a dangerous or violent character.’

Spearman proposes, ‘a damaged amygdala may influence the position and aspect of the eye, possibly directing the iris to sink down in the lower quadrant of the eye when the amygdala either shrinks or swells in size due to trauma, depression and other emotional stimuli.’

As Fudge, et al (Considering the Role of the Amygdala in Psychotic Illness: A Clinicopathological Correlation, 1998)2 states, ‘It is generally accepted that the amygdala plays a role in attaching emotional significance to environmental stimuli’.

This means that a dysfunction of the amygdala may affect the emotional significance given to external cues and therefore the person may lack empathy.

Adolphs, et al3 reported a case of an adult patient with bilateral amygdala lesions, ‘… was unable to recognize fear among facial expression.’

Why is the use of sanpaku eyes in cinema such a successful device?

If a character is unable to recognise fear and lacks empathy, we’re talking about a psychopath – check out the character Dr Hannibal Lecter below.

Sanpaku Eyes
Courtesy: https://selfland.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/hannibal-lecter-and-buffallo-bill/

What can cause amygdala dysfunction?

Cohen et al (Early-life stress has persistent effects on amygdala function and development in mice and humans)4, states ‘their study provides evidence of early and persistent alterations in anxious behaviour and amygdala function following the early-life stress of disorganized parental care.’

So a character with sanpaku eyes can be shown to have had a traumatic upbringing without actually including the characters childhood as part of the narrative.

Sanpaku Eyes
Courtesy: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/watch-mr-robot-episode-10-live-stream-online-producer-teases-season-2-storyline-1518113

A damaged amygdala can certainly affect a person’s personality and emotions or lack of emotional response, and there’s no denying the effect sanpaku eyes have on an audience watching a film: The feeling of impending doom for a character or the warning of hidden evil in another.

But whether there’s scientific merit for sanpaku eyes is certainly up for debate.

The shift in the iris due to a change in the amygdala could be a stretch (a downward shift known as sunset eyes in an infant can be caused by hydrocephalus which is a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain).  However, the use of sanpaku eyes in cinema is a clever devise as the reaction feels innate.  The feeling that something is wrong.

Hard to miss the evil emanating from the eyes of the witch from Disney’s, Cinderella.  And going by the theory mentioned above, the witch wouldn’t see our fear, all she’d see is prey.

Courtesy: http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/The_Evil_Queen
  1. Spearman, T (2011) The Psychopath: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? shakesaspear.com
  2. Fudge et al. (1998) Considering the Role of the Amygdala in Psychotic Illness: A Clinicopathological Correlation. J Neuropsychiatry 10(4):383-394
  3. Adolphs R, Tranel D, Damasio H, et al (1994) Impaired recognition of emotion in facial expressions following bilateral damage to the human amygdala.  Nature 372:669-672
  4. Malter Cohen et al. (2013) Early-life stress has persistent effects on amygdala function and development in mice and humans. PNAS 110(45): 18274-18278.

Sing Street

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Director: John CarneySing Street

Writer: John Carney

Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton, Kelly Thornton, Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Karl Rice; Ian Kenny.

Whether it was the Irish accent, the characters or the 80s music (had a buddy with me who couldn’t help but sing along), Sing Street was a winner for me. 

I enjoyed director, John Carney’s previous film, Begin Again (2013) and the way music was incorporated into the story of Sing Street was very similar: a stylised act used sparingly so it didn’t feel like a musical, just a film with a lot of music.  

And Sing Street had grit.  This is Ireland in the 1980s: lack of jobs and money, where alcoholism is rife and anyone who can escape to London is jumping on that ferry.

For those left.  It’s just a dream.

Conor Lalor’s (Ferdi Walsh-Peelo) parents are skint.  Money pressures lead to fighting, to tightening the belt.  Money has to be saved somewhere.  So Conor is transferred to the catholic school run by the Brothers featuring kids running amok.

Black-eyed and bullied, Conor meets the girl of his dreams, Raphina (Lucy Bonton).  A model, no less.  Showing courage, or just the power of teenage hormones, he invites Raphina to feature in a music video for his band.

She says, ‘Yeah maybe’.

Problem is, he doesn’t have a band.

This is a kid with a serious crush.  So he goes about putting together a band (Sing Street), the introduction of fellow band members and his brother, Brendan Lalor encouraging Conor, AKA, Cosmo, maps out the story of the film.  With 80s music featured, of course.

I’m talking boys with make-up and music from The Clash, The Cure, Duran Duran and many of the original tracks performed by Sing Street composed by Gary Clark (of the Northern Irish band, Relish) with John Carney able to take credit for co-writing a lot of the songs.  So that’s credit for directing, writing the script and writing songs?  That’s impressive. 

Also, this is an extremely hard film to make without becoming saccharine.  Thankfully, there was more meat to the story of boy has crush on girl out of reach, so I’ll put together a band and then she’ll love me.  This is film about escape from and the acceptance of all life can throw at you.  To plow through whatever the arguments, bullying and crap and to get on with it and create something else.  To feel something else.

It takes courage to reach.

I believed the shy Cosmo with his blushing cheeks, overcoming fear to reach for those stars.  And his muse, Raphina, could have been just a pretty yet annoying character, but she had class and philosophy – ‘That’s what love is Cosmo,’ she says.  ‘Happy-sad’.

Look, musicals aren’t really my thing – Glee?  Forget it!  But the way the music was incorporated into Sing Street was seamless.  And the tongue-in-cheek humour helped a lot, giving those few forgivable cheesy moments just the right touch to feel authentic.

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