Being a skeptical kind of guy, I've never been inclined to delve deeply into astrology. But this could be because I'm a Capricorn. Along with skepticism, stubbornness is like the other horn on the head of the Zodiac goat.
"Well, that explains it," is something Capricorns hear a lot when we tell people our sign.
Which also might explain my fondness for an odd little movie called "The Men Who Stare at Goats." Strong intuitions along with cosmic coincidences are right at the heart of this weird new comedy, adapted from a nonfiction book about U.S. military experiments in the paranormal realm.
Staring at a goat until it keels over dead, for instance. Or meditating deeply enough to reconstitute your atoms so you can walk through walls. These are among the tactical arrows in the quiver of this highly unorthodox military unit.
The first time I saw a poster for the movie, featuring the faces of George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey in profile, it stopped me in my tracks. I stood and stared, like the white dog transfixed by the speaker megaphone on the old RCA Victor label.
"No goats, no glory," said the poster. "More of this is true than you'd believe," says a note on screen as the movie begins.
Although there is military activity and some of it takes place in Iraq, this isn't what you'd call a war movie. Instead of battlefield victory or tragedy, it's more about irony and absurdity - like "Catch-22" for a new millennium.
And while it's set in the recent past, when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were our presidents, its mentality, like its wacky cast of heroes, are products of a more '60s outlook on life.
Imagine a world where a hippie and a Green Beret aren't natural enemies, but in fact, are the same person. That would be Bridges' Lt. Col. Bill Django, who braids his long ponytale over the medals on his uniform, and leads this elite military band that aspires to kill the enemy with kindness.
George Clooney, working through a strange assortment of wigs and mustaches, is Lyn Cassady, Django's most gifted and intuitive acolyte.
Clooney, a veteran of his own personal mission to educate audiences about the Middle East in movies from "Three Kings" to his Oscar-winning role in "Syriana," is about having fun this time. He's like a bleating-heart liberal, winking at the audience under his character's deranged earnestness.
Kevin Spacey in contrast, is more weasley than ever as he tries to harness whatever strange force fields he can for his own personal gain.
Django developed his field manual for the unit through extensive personal research in California hot tubs and other counterculture outposts in the '60s. He behaves less like a military officer than an escaped shaman from from a mystical tale by Carlos Castaneda or a stoned novel by Tom Robbins.
In that spirit, and since the members of the unit refer to themselves as Jedi warriors, Ewan McGregor adds to the irony as a journalist who makes the strange acquaintance of all these loonies.
Unlike Vietnam, Iraq is fading into its own sad, inconclusive chapter of American history without giving us some great movies, at least. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" isn't going to change that.
But it does stake out a cool little place for itself and for its unlikely warriors in their own fight against fighting. Being crazy helps on this particular mission -and that might ultimately be what this unlikely but likable movie honors them for.
The film also is like a teaser for FirstLight 2009-'10, the Maui Film Festival's annual showcase of the year's best, and likely award-winning, movies. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is part of the program - along with two more George Clooney projects, the animated "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Up in the Air," already generating Oscar buzz.
Expanding to Thanksgiving week, Nov. 10 to 27, as well as its usual holiday slot between Dec. 16 to Jan. 3, this 11th annual installment of the film series transforms the MACC's Castle Theater into movie central.
It begins Nov. 20 with a return showing of the documentary "The Cove" at 5 p.m. followed by Jane Campion's 19th-century period drama "Bright Star" at 7:30 p.m.
The complete schedule will be available online at www.mauifilmfestival.com, and Maui Scene will have extensive coverage in coming weeks.
See you there.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org