Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest": 3rd Film in Swedish Millennium Series from Yellow Bird

The final film from Music Box and Yellow Bird ("we turn bestsellers into blockbusters") in the Millennium “Lisbeth” trilogy, “The Gril Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” (“Luftslottet som sprangdes”) opened this weekend, and I saw it in a 2/3 full large auditorium at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington Oct. 30.

It’s directed by Daniel Alfredson (as was the second film) and is in the normal “1.85:1” aspect ratio rather than full wide screen (as was the first film by a different director). I think these films benefit from the widest possible screen, even Imax. But they’re little indie films, right?

Unlike, say, the James Bond franchise, or even Harry Potter (the last of which will be released in a Parts 1 and 2), the three films really are parts of the same story (based on Stieg Larsson’s novel trilogy), so the bookends of the films have to match up. That gets interesting, as the third film shows a few flashbacks to the second. That’s not always easy in writing film franchises, as subsequent films can be limited by what happened in earlier entries. It makes a franchise more like a TV miniseries. The second and third films seem more interconnected than the first.

Here, there is some pretense of courtroom drama at the end, although it is low key, but Lisbeth *Noomi Rapace) defends herself by forcing prosecutors to ask questions very precisely, almost like someone with Asperger’s. But the trial subsumes the entire backstory, or a cabal within the Swedish government covering up connections to the former KGB and now the Russian mafia. It gets hard to believe that a modern, liberal, almost socialist democracy like Sweden would ever let this happen.

The publishing magnate Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) gets the real “life lessons” about social protectionism when he has to face being framed for drug trafficking and probably child pornography possession, as a result of his helping Lisbeth.

The early scenes show Lisbeth recovering nicely from her gunshot wounds in the hospital, where the young physician (Aksel Morisse), who also protects her, makes quite a striking impression. Scandanavians don’t all fit the same stereotype.

The official website from Music Box is here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

West End Cinema opens in DC; "Gerrymandering" is like a mini "Inside Job"

Last night, I did make it to the opening of the West End Cinema at 2301 M St NW (at 23rd St) in Washington DC. The link for the new art house is here. There are three screens. The venue seems small compared to larger art houses like Landmark’s E Street and Bethesda Row, AMC’s Shirlington in Arlingon (it seems as though the property it is on is doomed by new real estate construction; maybe in the future AMC could partner with the Signature Theater and combine the space for plays and art films, and the CourtHouse property looks like it needs renovation, too); and the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA (again, needs renovation; I’ve wondered if Landmark was interested in it). Throw into that mix is the idea that Reel Affirmations likes the Harman Theater, which can show movies as well as present Elizabethean plays.



Also representatives from “Just Voices” were there selling DVD’s of Budrus (even though that film was playing) and an earlier film “Encounter Point” (check Netlfix). However, I picked “Gerrymandering”, directed by Jeff Reichert, from the Green Film Production Company (the director says it is self-distributed). The director held a Q&A afterward.  The film appears one week after Sony's "Inside Job" and is perhaps a valuable, if low-budget, counterpoint.


The film, of course, deals with the process of redistricting, which happens after every diennial census, and will start in April 2011. Politicians, of course, use this to “appoint their voters” and insulate themselves from competition. Much of the “story” deals with Proposition 11 in California, which Gov. Schwarzenegger supported in 2008. The Ballotpedia entry on this bill is here.

Even though it’s easy to blast gerrymandering, it’s hard to come up with a philosophically clean alternative. Some democracies, like Germany, use proportional representation, a movement that was getting some traction in the United States in the late 1990s.

Gov. Schwarzenegger (who, by the way, seems to get along with Log Cabin Republicans as far as I can see) has a funny line when he talks about the Prop 11 campaign: "like a movie script", he says, "it has a beginning, middle, and end". And Reichert did use the California campaign to structure his film, even though he mentions gerrymandering issues in many states. The funniest one may be in Iowa, where almost the entire district consists of prisoners who, according to Census Bureau rules, are recorded there but who cannot vote; therefore, the relatively few "free" residents run the show.

The website for the film is here.

The small auditorium was about half full for the 9:45 PM show. The sound left something to be desired; it seemed to be mono. The screen is small, but properly shaped for 2.35:1 (this film appeared to be conventional digital video at 16:9). I've never seen "Stella Artois" placards on movie seats before. The seats are separated, and do not have cupholders.



Update: Nov. 1

Check the Washington Post editorial "Time for redistricting reform" here.  Note the detailed explanaitons of Propositions 20 and 27, on the ballot Nov. 3 in California; one expanding the duties of the Citizens Redistricting Commission, the other abolishing it. There are also two important ballot initiatives in Florida.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"La jetee" was a New Wave look at man's foolishness with war technology, and whether time travel could give him a second chance

I suppose that if “they” make another movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis (like “13 Days”) it should belong in my didactic “disaster movies” blog, but I’ll put some comments about the classic New Wave short film “La Jetee” (“The Pier”), 28 minutes, directed by Chris Marker, from Janus Fims (1962), here. It certainly was inspired by the Cold War.

The narrator (Jean Negroni) speaks in English in the Netflix version (the French is sometimes subtitled), and the mark is played by Davos Hanich. One day, when on the pier at Orly airport, WWIII occurs, and in the aftermath (the destruction, as is the rest of the film, is shown in black and white stills) “they” (the powers that be) conscript soldier Davos into a time travel experiment to bring power and food to a “post-war” world, defeat the “arrow of time” and save the world. But the laws of physics, perhaps, would not permit him to survive in the world that he saves.

A 9-minute animated short version was produced in 2008.

The story is told in typical French artsy fashion, and I’m not sure the logic quite works today.

I’m reminded of another short, “The War Game” (1965, UK, dir. Peter Watkins), 48 minutes, which I saw at the University of Kansas in 1967 (I remember the line of a girl in the devastated world, “I don’t want to do nuttin’”). That film supposes that President Johnson's 1965 escalation in Vietnam (perhaps even is 1964 Tinkin chicanery) draws in the Soviets and leads to WWIII, destroying London, too. It's a kind of reverse domino theory. There's no second chance from time travel here.

This film is a bit related in content to “The Road” (Dimension, dir. John Hillcoat) and “The Book of Eli” (WB, dir. Albert and Allen Hughes), which I reviewed on Nov. 28, 2009 and Jan. 15, 2010 respectively.



Wikipedia attribution link for picture of wormhole

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

HBO's "Temple Grandin"

Temple Grandin is now a professor in Colorado and one of the individuals responsible for more humane handling of livestock (although judging from the old movie “Babe” we have a long way to go). She was also first diagnosed as schizophrenic and then autistic. She says she “sees in pictures” (I do somewhat, but I also see things in abstractions.) It’s probably more appropriate to say she has something like Asperger’s Syndrome.

The HBO biography “Temple Grandin” , directed by Mick Jackson, stars Claire Danes as Temple. For 103 minutes it’s a little hard to listen to and watch her. But she does raise the issue as to what people who are “different” accomplish when encouraged or sometimes merely permitted to, as well as “normal” people see them both as dependent and as competitive threats. Gradually, she learns to mediate her behavior to make it at least acceptable.

The film shows, often by geometric diagrams, just how her brain processes information “differently”, and reacts to it very literally.

David Strathairn ("Good Night and Good Luck") plays Dr. Carlock.

HBO’s site for the film is here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gregory Smith plays sheltered nerd as a juror in "Manson, My Name Is Evil"

Gregory Smith plays another curious role in the Nixon-era satire “Manson, My Name Is Evil”, directed by Reginald Harkema. Here, he has taken a job as a chemist and is sheltered from the Vietnam era draft, naïve about the role of the manufacture of herbicides. And he has fallen in love with a hippy girl (Leslie/Kristin Hager) who is connected to the Manson ring. After the Manson “incident” he is called for jury duty, and she is a defendant. Of course, he should have been struck, but then there would be no movie. He has to be sequestered.

The script makes some interest points about the values and cultural conflicts of the Vietnam period. Perry (Greg’s character) and his girl friend have a naïve idea about Christianity. Later Perry’s father chastises him for taking a draft deferment and walking out on a “patriotic duty” and says that even God had to sacrifice his only Son. But in earlier eras, people did “owe” the country service and sacrificial exposure. Today’s Internet generation has forgotten that this is how it used to be.

Later the prosecutor says “These defendants are not human beings; they are mindless robots.” I’m not sure this is what we normally expect from “courtroom drama”.

The film was produced by New Real Films (Canada) and is now distributed by Lionsgate. The official site is here.
At the very end, Perry doesn’t get out of things. He balances his karma. During the closing credits, we hear Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” speech. North Vietnam cannot defeat us, he says; only Americans can do that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Inside Job": with Matt Damon narrating, is the slickest account of the Collapse of 2008 yet

In 1964, in my college years (not my best), I received a quarter in the mail with an invitation to participate in a chain letter. It claimed I could earn $64 for the investment of a quarter. I did it, and got back just two quarters. I was naïve at the time.

The new documentary (from Sony Pictures Classics, effectively Columbia Pictures), directed by Charles Ferguson and narrated by Matt Damon (having a big October weekend) is “Inside Job” and it gives us a slick rendition of the way Wall Street ran wild after deregulation and gave us the Financial Crisis of 2008. It looks big, photographed in full 2.35:1 with many aerial shots of big cities (Singapore as well as New York), and it actually starts out with landscapes of Iceland, when the country was healthy.

We have heard the history of derivatives and credit default swaps, but the most remarkable aspect of these instruments was the inherent conflict of interest: they encouraged investors to bet against their own clients, or buy insurance in other people’s property and bet against it (violating the cardinal “insurable interest” rule).

Later, financial institutions were buying off the three major investors’ rating agencies. Amazingly, lawyers tried to argue that these agencies had a “First Amendment” right to express their “opinions”, an idea that could not possibly hold legally in the face of conflict of interest. But later, the financial institutions bought off academia, paying professors to publish economic analysis that favored their deregulation. The “conflict of interest” has been a major topic on my main “BillBoushka” blog, and the only way this obviously illegal arrangement held together was a culture of collusion and looking the other way. The same arguments could have serious implications for unsupervised Internet speech and employer blogging policies, as I have covered.

The film makes an effective companion piece to “Wall Street II” a few weeks ago.

The film also covers how globalization disrupted the stability of American manufacturing, as suddenly a huge global badly underpaid workforce became available.

The site for the film is here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter": Matt Damon wanted this role

Once again, Clint Eastwood gives us a studied, introspective film, “Hereafter”, from Warner Brothers and Speilberg’s Amblin Entertainment. The issue is “life after death”, but what’s interesting is how, as in the film “Babel”, three very separate lives around the world slowly come together.

Also what’s interesting is a moral point, that our “karma”, and perhaps connections from the beyond, can draw us into externally caused catastrophes, and also save us from them.

The two incidents are rather like manual bookends for this 2 hour-plus film. The opening sequence, where a French journalist (Marie / Cecile de France) almost drowns in the 2004 tsunami (apparently Sri Lanka, although the credits say this sequences was filmed in Hawaii), and the 2005 London underground bombing (Al Qaeda), where a little boy, Marcus (Frankie McLaren) escaped because of the intervention of his deceased twin brother (Jason / George McClaren). These scenes are quite compellingly filmed, making the moviegoer experience “what it would be like”. (The withdrawal of the undertow as a predictor of the tsunami is particularly effective; then everyone is shocked that a twenty foot wave can cause so much destruction.) Furthermore, Jason lost his life on London streets when running from bullies (a timely topic after this film was made) into the path of a SUV.

The central character, George Lonegan, is played by a stout Matt Damon. He has an unwanted “gift” of seeing people’s deceased loved ones (on touch), which he says he acquired after an unusual childhood spinal infection (a kind of meningitis) and unusual surgery. But to get away from what he experiences as a curse, he pays his dues by working as a manual laborer on the San Francisco docks (as a longshoreman), when he gets laid off. He complains that the company (or perhaps union) has favored married men with families in the layoff process, an interesting injection into the film from writer Peter Morgan. He’s also taking a cooking class (quite interesting to watch; some of the shots remind me of the ”yfrog” tweets of NYC classical composer/cook Timo Andres) where he meets a young woman who wants to challenge his gifts. Then, after the layoff, an old buddy tries to get him set up again as a medium.

In the meantime, Marie takes liberty with her job, where she is supposed to write a “Bob Woodward” style book about Mitterand, to write instead a book about mediums. Publishers jump at the work, and pretty soon she is on book signing parties that draw bout George and Marcus.

Whenever George touches a subject, the film shows his “afterlike” visions, which are fuzzy and not all that original. (They’re nothing like those in the Robin Williams 90s film “What Dreams May Come” or the earlier “Defending Your Life”). I thought here in writing a review I would share some of my own dreams on this. Typically I find I have been (in the dream, there is no element of choice) taken (or “abducted”) to a barracks-like structure in a forest, with plants of unusual colors, almost black (hint, another planet, around an M-star). Inside, I go around and look for a room to claim; there are bedrolls and nothing else. Sometimes there upper stories. In one case, there was a bar that appears. But later, I wind up in an apartment building in a city resembling Minneapolis, with more corridors and elevators that the real one, and some features of other dormitories and apartments I have lived in. There are computers, separate terminals for connection to the Earth’s Internet , and to the new planet’s (even it has Facebook). Sometimes there is a planned community, low rise buildings with people living communally, having few or no individual possessions. The land around is in a kind of perpetual twilight (hint: the planet keeps one side toward its sun), and relatively flat, with few mountains; lots of waterways, and mild temperatures like those around San Francisco. Am I seeing a vision of “heaven” or of the nearest people-inhabited planet (Gliese 581 G)? It seems possible to start a new, self-driven (rather than “purpose-driven”) life there. But have I made a bad choice? No, none of this is about making and following up on choices.

Warner Brothers has a site here. I don't know why AMC Theaters marks this film as "Independent"; it looks like it had the full support of WB during production.



The original music is by Clint Eastwood; he adapts the orchestral melody (without piano) from the E Major slow movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with some effect; he also uses several excerpts from opera, including Carmen and Turandot. (Sorry, no atonality or even polytonality.)

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Inferno ; rather curious view of a possible afterlife (not good; looks too much like the barracks in my dreams; the chest isn't bad, though ).

"Out of Annapolis": gay alumni of the Naval Academy tell their stories as "don't ask don't tell" approaches its well earned demise

The second half of the Reel Affirmations “don’t ask don’t tell” doubleheader Oct. 22 was “Out of Annapolis”, a 71-minute documentary about gay and lesbian graduates of the Naval Academy. The website is here.

The film is directed by Steve Clark Hall (one of the earlier Alumini) and contains soundtrack songs by Heather Davies (another one), and from production company Q-Boat. Other alumni include Jose Soto, Franklin McNeil, Lou Adissi, Mike O’Donnell, and Brian Bender. There are eleven in all, and most of the film consists of speaking segments with photos and video clips, of even of events at the White House, throwing hats at graduation, and climbing a monument at the end of Plebe year. There are lots of shots of duty stations, for example inside submarines. Gay and lesbian alumni tended to choose duty specialties (including the Marine Corps as well as submarine life) in the same ratios as everyone else. Until recently, only men could serve on submarines.


Most of the narratives dealt with the terrible burdens of keeping gay private lives secret. According to servicemembers, before the 1993 law (and 1994 official Pentagon Policy), “don’t ask don’t tell” made things slightly easier for many, inasmuch there were some areas that the military wasn’t supposed to investigate (such as visits to gay bars). Prior to 1993, the NIS would visit the parking lots of gay bars (particularly near Paris Island, SC) for base stickers. At least one of the protagonists in the 1993 debate, Tracy Thorne, appears in an image in the film.

Most of the graduates left the Navy “quietly” after finishing initial obligations, out of fear of discovery. A few, however, were nabbed by witchhunts and discharged.

As I recall, director Hall was the officer who pretended to live as a "straight man in the Castro" when stationed in San Francsico.

The Service Academy Alumni (SAGALA) have a website here.  It was interviewed on Scott Peck’s 1993 Sunday night radio show and some of the female members said on the show that coming out would actually be good for unit cohesion.



Hall and three other of the alumni were present for a Q&A. Toward the end of the Q&A, there was mention of the Internet and Facebook and their effect and help pushing the end of "don't ask don't tell". There was also some discussion of circumstances at West Point (Army) and Colorado Springs (Air Force).

There was a wine and cheese reception at the Navy Memorial Museum between the two films.

I have a review of Joseph Steffan’s book “Honor Bound” (Vintage, 1992) on Oct. 10, 2007 on my Book Reviews blog. Reichen Lehmkuhl has a book "Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force" about gays at the Air Force Academy, 2006, from Carroll & Graf.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"A Marine Story" spins a yarn about "don't ask don't tell" with a tough female

Ned Farr’s “A Marine Story”, the first and principle film of a double feature at the US Navy Memorial tonight (Oct 22) on “don’t ask don’t tell”, is the first film to my knowledge to build a complex fictitious story around the policy.

Alexandra (Dreya Weber) has returned home to the inland California (maybe the Owens Valley) area after being discharged or resigning from her commission in the Marine Corps, and she takes on the challenge to whip up a young woman (Paris P. Pickard), charged with meth possession, into shape to join the military or face jail. (That’s not done very often.) She stirs things up in the local town, beating men at arm wrestling. The film tells her back story, of how an “investigation” of her lesbianism started with an email sent to her military computer. Her commander (Jeff Sugarman) tries to be sympathetic, and even says he personally doesn’t care and that he understands that if gays can serve openly in the military, politicians can’t deny them other equal rights like marriage. But then some photos show up from vengeful men. The story accelerates (and becomes a bit opaque) toward the end as she takes on the drug ring, and winds up as a sheriff, with her protégée successfully in the Marines.

The film supposes tha Congress finally repeals "don't ask don't tell" and that President Obama signs the repeal. That part of the film is definitely fiction (as is the whole story), although maybe not for long.

The film (from LightRON) is big , in digital anamorphic HD Panavision, professionally made, and ought to attract a major indie distributor before long. (Or will it be Frameline?)

The site for the film is here.

Frameline has a YouTube video here



After the screening, SLDN and Servicemembers United (Freedom to Serve) held a Q&A after the screening (see my LGBT blog for recent developments).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Light Gradient": Jan Kruger's minimalist gay "thriller" from Germany, maybe in the ilk of Carter Smith

Light Gradient” (“Ruckenwind”) is a small gay “horror” (of sorts) film from Germany, stretched to feature length (75 minutes), although it could have been a short. Directed and written by Jan Kruger, it is a little bit in the tradition of “Bugcrush” but even more elusive. It’s thriller, mystery, horror, art, and eroticism, all of these things – and minimalist to boot.

The film focuses on two young men, apparently lovers, and a mother and a teenage son at a farmhouse. As so often in these sorts of films, the teenager (maybe 14) is the most mature and psychologically intact of the lot, and oddly the most immune to harm. He could never be abused, so the posters for the film may throw us off a bit.

The film opens as Johann (Sebastian Schlect) reads a story about the fox and the hare, and he seems to be in a mental institution or jail, about to be interviewed. The rest of the film is then backstory, as we see Johann and another young man Robin (Eric Golub) on a train, then going on a hike to develop a relationship. They lose their bikes (misterioso), and then they ambush an older couple for food, letting you know that someone is not completely stable (but it happens so fast you’re not sure). They arrive at the farmhouse. After the teen first defends the home at gunpoint, the mother arrives and they “family” takes them in with almost Christian hospitality. The teen Henri (Denis Alevi) accepts their homosexuality but seems curiously aloof, almost as if he were observing an experiment. Eventually, we begin to see that the Johann and Robin have their own agendas, leading to the film’s sudden conclusion.

The title of the film appears early, as the boys read a topographical map. The film has rather sparse dialogue (the subtitles would be unnecessary, as the German sounds almost like the English derived from it), and the camera tends to move between the farm scenes, often along trails of varying lighting (almost like in a film school exercise), to scenes of intimacy that sometimes are really “interesting” (involving the men only); there is some focus on “exploring” male chest and legs. Then, the script ventures into literature, old books lying around, providing backstories to anticipate what will really happen here.

Like Carter Smith’s notorious short, this is one of those films where DVD owners or renters will want to watch some scenes repeatedly to find all the little clues. This is film for its own sake, telling stories in images with few words.

The film has won awards at several LGBT film festivals, including Outfest, Frameline, Torino, and Miami. It would be interesting to see how it would do in the more “established” international circuit (San Sebastian comes to mind – a city I have visited with its famous beach – and I hope to visit a festival there some day). I think it’s interesting to try to merge gay “culture” into the mainstream.

Strand has announced a street date of Nov. 9, 2010 and pre-book of Oct. 12.

One might compare this movie to Lars van Trier’s “AntiChrist” (reviewed here Oct. 26, 2009). And the camera style here did seem to follow many of the concepts of Dogme.

Strand’s site is here. http://www.strandreleasing.com/films/film_details.asp?BusinessUnitID={9C59ED8C-EABD-41AB-AC02-A4148B8F14C3}&ProjectID={FA857754-BFE2-4A31-8BB8-9D98009E5AE0} Strand’s own summary of the plot doesn’t quite do it justice.

Youtube had only one trailer:



Picture (mine): October night in Kipton, Ohio (near Oberlin), a historic town that would make a great background for low budget mystery and horror movies (and that part of the country needs an economic boost!)

(A review copy was provided to me by the distributor.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Rivers Wash Over Me": race relations and sexuality interplay in modern Alabama

John G. Young worked almost a decade on his new film “Rivers Wash Over Me”, the title of which surely reminds one of “The River Runs Through It”, but this is a totally different, and open-ended experience.

The title probably refers to a scene near the end, where white gay teen Jake Anderson (Aidan Schultz-Meyer) teaches African-American teen protagonist Sequan Greene (Derrick L. Middleton) to float, with the effect of a baptism as much as an expression of love.  There has been some literature lately that African American children don't learn to swim.  I had difficulty learning in the 1950s, although I somehow managed to pass a college PE course in it with a C (no, I didn't have to do water survival like most courses). 

Sequan has come to the hills of northeastern Alabama (which I visited last in 1989) after his mother died in New York, to live with relatives. But the family is troubled; Sequan’s cousin Michael (Cameron Mitchell Mason) covers his own insecurity over race and sexuality by bullying the sensitive Sequan, often with very bad words and physically, too. Sequan befriends a “bad girl” Lori (Elizabeth Dennis). Ironically, Jake, her 15-year-old brother, is the most grown up and stable character in the film (which gives some meaning to otherwise disturbing subtetxts about minors, for example).

The plot elements seem a bit random, but so they would be in real life. The film progresses slowly and episodically almost as if it were a Robert Altman film; just as Jake's character provides some sunlight, the plot seems to head toward violence and tragedy. Will the movie end in a minor key after all?

There’s an English teacher (a middle aged white male) who makes a lot of “12 grade English” with multiple choice quizzes, moving on, however, to a comparative essay for a final exam – hooking in to Sequan’s talents as a budding writer. He likes William Faulkner’s “Absalom” (a very provocative Old Testament character; see my drama blog in Aug. 9, 2009) and carries around a copy of James Baldwin’s “Nobody Knows My Name”; the movie also mentions Goldman’s “Lord of the Flies”, which everybody reads in high school (usually before senior year in high school). In my own senior English, we surveyed Shakespeare (“Macbeth”) and English literature. “It’s a better literature” our own Mr. Gibbs always said.

The film was shot in the Catskill foothills north of New York, but the summer countryside resembles northern Alabama more than one would expect.

The film will be distributed by Strand Releasing, and won best feature film at the Chicago LGBT film festival. To get distribution, you have to get into the festivals and win prizes. When you go to a film festival and vote on a film, people really count the votes.

I couldn’t get the film’s site to come up, but here is the Facebook page.


(A review copy was provided to me by the distributor.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Strand about to release the latest in its famous series of gay short films

Strand Releasing has a new film-DVD in its famous BL series, “Boys Life 7”, which is named after the famous magazine of the 1950s, but has become a famous LGBT film franchise of its own.
The latest installment has four films, all selected from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, all having some sort of rewards.

The Young & Evil” (15 min), directed by Julian Breece, is perhaps the most “issue-oriented” in the set. Specifically, Breece is examining the whys of the high rate of HIV infection in the African American gay male community, compared, he says, even to whites. A teen, Karel (Vaughn Lowery) visits a health counselor but then seeks a “submissive” relationship with an older man Naaman (Mark Berry), with all caution thrown to the wind.

Spokane” (29 min), directed by Larry Kennar, is the longest of the set but for me not so remarkable. The name comes from the “other” city in Washington state, in the eastern “inland empire.” A straight man meets an openly gay man at a wedding party; they get to talking, and then have an energetic tryst in a motel. The dialogue progresses in such a way that the “orientations” pretty much merge. Much of the film is very darkly lit, making the action less inviting to watch.

First Date” (20 min), directed by Gary Huggins, may be the most shocking of the set. The film opens with an Internet chat of the kind that Chris Hansen and NBC’s Dateline made a notorious series about. The perpetrator (Santiago Vasquez) is an ex-con who somehow works as an undercover informant. But he goes over the line with the teen date (Tian Wei), resorting to violence when he wants to, but still willing to react to an accident as a cop, apparently his earlier life that went down. I still think that this whole subject deserves to be explored in documentary film. It’s not funny. Huggins says that he hired non-actors whom he had met at an inner city public library.

Raw Love” (“Amor crudo”, 16 min, Martin Deus, Argentina, in Spanish with subtitles). Two friends face separation after graduation from high school. I remember my own experience with this situation in the summer of 1961, although my own behavior had to be much more restrained.

Sorry, there's nothing in this set that rises to the accomplishment of "Bugcrush" in BL6 (review Jan 29, 2008)

Strand says that the set's Street Date is Dec 7, 2010 and the pre-book is Nov. 9. 

My original embed here disappeared, so here is one of Strand's own promotional videos.



Picture: from a shoot of “Transformers III” in Washington DC Columbus Day.

(A review copy was provided to me by the distributor.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A film biography of pianist Glenn Gould

Koch Lorber, White Pine Pictures, Bravo, and PBS American Masters, with Canadian directors Michele Holzer and Peter Raymont have issued a biography of pianist Glenn Gould, “Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould”, a controversial Canadian artist whose life spanned 1932-1982, to die of strokes at age 50.

Those of us who came of age musically in the late 50s and early 60s thought of Gould as an eclectic pianist who performed mostly studied interpretations of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and was remarkable for making Bach sound interesting on the modern pianoforte rather than on older instruments. Gould had been taught a particular technique Guerroro of keeping wrists close to the keyboard, releasing piano keys, and leaning into the instrument, giving his performances a deliberative sound.

As his career progressed, he showed a certain degree of introversion, despite rather enthusiastic heterosexuality at times (including one episode with Connie Foss, wife of composer Lukas Foss) . He developed a dislike of performing concerts and turned first to radio (for a while living as a hermit in the Canadian arctic) and then to recording technology, making many recordings for Columbia. He was quite interested in the technical aspects of high fidelity in the earlier days of stereo and in the pre-CD days of vinyl records and turntables and tone arms.

On one occasion, he performed the Brahms First Piano Concerto with Leonard Bernstein, who made an “apology” for him. Critics found his slow tempi as a sign of possible lack of technique; but today it is common to take the monumental First Movement in very moderate tempo.

He composed a little, at least one string quartet, somewhat in a postromantic style.

Physically, he appeared quite handsome and “masculine” in his young adulthood, but would start to age in his 30s. However, his hypochondria became notorious; he wore coats and gloves in warm weather and asked others not to shake hands with him because that could endanger a pianist’s hands.

In general, the film raises questions about the “ethics” of being one’ s own person in the face of demands for more conventional social responsibility.

The film contains much black-and-white archival footage, but also some colorful autumn scenes of the Ontario countryside around some of the Great Lakes (including the opening image of the film).

I personally share Gould's type of introversion.

The film has a Wordpress site here



The Avalon Theater in Washington is running limited performances this week. A sole Sunday afternoon performance was over half full upstairs.  The non-profit Avalon is launching a major upgrade program, and seeking contributions.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Bear City": a young actor enters the NYC gay "bear" scene

While Reel Affirmations has postponed its LGBT film festival for Washington DC until around April 27, 2010, it is running “mini-festivals” until then. Tonight (Oct 16), it screened at the Harman Shakespeare Theater the comedy by Douglas Langway, “Bear City”, from TLA Releasing and SharpLeft Studios. The film won some awards at Outfest.


A young actor Tyler (Joe Conti) with “thmooth” features tries to break into the “bear” social scene in New York City after an audition; he also develops a mini-relationship with a nerd Simon (Alex Di Dio). In the film, the “bear” scene is roughly equivalent to the leather scene, populated by “large” and often hairy “daddy-like” men. It’s not so clear why he wants in, other than the script can develop some gay situation comedy with it. There are some soft core scenes that would probably give the film a gentle NC-17. The film was shot largely in Brooklyn, with a scene at the Ramrod on the West End of the Village (you can’t get in with a dress coat; I had that experience once); Kellers was always nearby.

Tyler is certainly likeable enough; you find yourself rooting for him at the bowling alley where a new bear friend urges him to get a spare with the bedposts. In some scenes even he looks a little mushier in the middle than he should have.

There's a subplot where the heaviest character (Brian Keane) contemplates bariatric stomach stapling surgery, as if he were going to appear on Allison Sweeney's (that is, "Sami") "Biggest Loser" on NBC. There is some chubbychasing in this film.

With my more serious mind, I wondered some things. First of all, you could do a lot more with the potential implications of an audition (I do that in one of my scripts called “Make the A-List”). Also, why to Bears have to be mostly “overweight”? In the real disco scene, the most “virile” men are lean (and look rather like the Nev character in “Catfish”, although that character is straight).

The Harman venue somehow did not get the clearest possible soundtrack. The screen was large, and in some shots the HDcam photography doesn’t stay focused on all layers.

After the 110 minute film, a number of actors appeared for a panel discussion. The show appeared to sell out.

The site for the film is here.



I can remember an Advocate article around 1984 (when I was living in Dallas) titled "Are hairy men more masculine?"  (The article talked about the notion that [Caucasian] men needed something that "women don't have".)  I also recall a weird short story in that mag that year titled "The Body Shave".  Private choices and private preferences used to be just that, until people tried to make them important.  The Internet has the potential to make all of this mean a lot more than it used to.




Here are a couple of snapshot medical records from my days at NIH (in slightly "reparative therapy") in 1962, concerning the subject matter of this movie. (I've explained the history elsewhere on my blogs, such as Nov. 28, 2006 on the "BillBoushka" blog.)
and this:
Remember the B'way show "Hair" from the 60s?

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Bullied", from Southern Poverty Law Center: a victim fought back against a negligent school district in court and won

The Southern Poverty Law Center is offering a complimentary DVD of a 40 minute film “Bullied: A Student, a School, and a Case that Made History”, the story of Jamie Nabozny, who was bullied in the middle and high schools of the Ashland, WI school district when perceived to be gay (and then for being open), and who won a $900000 legal judgment from the school district (with assistance from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, LLDEF). The film is directed by Bill Brummel and Geoffrey Sharp. The link for obtaining the film is here .

The docudrama is acted, with David Chandler and Jason Collett playing Nabozny in middle and high school respectively. Th film shows the adult Nabozny in public speaking engagements on his experiences.

The most disturbing element of the story in the film is the unwillingness of school officials to act. The female middle school principal said “Boys will be boys” and that Jamie should tone down his behavior. It’s as if there were a double standard: one is the legal one, teaching equality, and another, allowing gang or mob rule (with the “snitch” concept) to ensure that society’s less conforming members are forced to go along with the collective will of the group (in terms of risk taking, for example) and “pay their dues”. This is clearly morally wrong, but this sort of thinking also becomes involved in the way the military has enforced the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, which might send a hidden message to civilian school districts that underground bullying is all right.

Jamie runs away to Minneapolis a couple times, and the city is shown well in the film.

I actually visited Ashland, WI Labor Day weekend 2001, just before 9/11, and stayed there, a coincidence. It’s 70 miles east of Duluth,,, on Lake Superior. I would have expected that part of the country to be more tolerant.

I experienced bullying in grade school and junior high school, especially in seventh grade, in Arlington VA, in the 1950s. It was based on my not being physically competitive with other boys, but not on perceived homosexuality specifically. It went away in high school (Washington-Lee), then one of the best high schools in the country.



The DVD comes with a booklet and viewer's guide for classroom and school district use.  There are quizzes. For example, most bullies are physically bigger than their victims, when referring to physical bullying.

The credits of the film list all donors, including students, and the list takes about eight extra minutes to run.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Ashland of Soo Line Bridge.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

If a movie studio was called "Do Ask Do Tell", what films would it make or distribute?


“Methinks” that “Do Ask Do Tell” would make a nice trademarkable name for a movie production company and distribution for independent-oriented film (with the black and white stripes from the cover of my book as trade dress – I love black and white Cinemascope!), and if I could pull the business interests together (yes, investors), this is what I would want to make.Some of this overlaps what an outfit likes Participant does, and there could be some collaboration.

(1)   My own story, as it relates to concentric issues, like “don’t ask don’t tell” (how narcissistic!)  Visitors to my main blog or readers of my book may know this story. It might be set up as a kind of “Catfish II”.  (Oh, my, God!. Complete psychopaths!; Sept. 24)
(2)   A documentary about how classical music composers “make it” today.
(3)   A documentary about the “truth” behind the founding of Facebook. Let Zuckerberg, the Winkelvoss’s, Greenspan. Saverin, Parker, Hughes, etc., the real people, all appear.  The real people seem better than their caricatures in “The Social Network” (Oct. 3).
(4)   Here’s a serious one: A documentary about the kind of “men” nabbed by Perverted Justice and Chris Hansen’s notorious Dateline series; particularly disturbing are the cases of former Rabbi David Kaye and former TV meteorologist Bill Kamal.  What were they thinking when they did it, and what is the prison rehabilitation like. This is a good topic for documentary film; it might sound like it belongs on HBO, but I think it is even more sensitive, and ought to be in indie theaters.
(5)   A documentary about the explosive crisis about to occur in eldercare, and how this relates back to the “culture wars” over “family values”.
(6)   Clive Barker’s fantasy novel “Imajica” (1991) about the reconciliation of Earth with four other extraterrestrial worlds called “dominions”.  But the conclusion of this book would be too much for some people. Maybe a studio already has eyes on this; probably would be made in New Zealand, like LOTR.
(7)   My own screenplay “Titanium”.  A journalist’s fiancée disappears (sounds like “The Event” – but wait.) It turns out she, while pregnant, “went up”.  The journalist is not so virtuous as Sean in the NBC series; he has another girl friend; the police are suspicious of him (in common with TE), and he also is bisexual and a “male friend” leads his investigation to a bizarre religious and right wing cult in west Texas, running a school to prepare people for the tribulations, apparently able to bring down “angels” who may be themselves extraterrestrials.  A bizarre beta hifi tape from the 80s links all the threads together, leading to a showdown at an initiation ceremony (the “Nighthike” – something like that happened in “The O.C.”), and then a very public “Event” indeed for the whole world. I wrote this in 2006, long before NBC’s. I have a sequel called “Prescience” which shows life on a world like Gliese 581 g (an annular civilization, set up in a ring like a model train.)
(8)   Two other screenplays of mine “69 Minutes to Titan” (extraterrestrials set up camp on Saturn’s biggest moon), and “Baltimore Is Missing” (entered in Project Greenlight in 2004): the entire Earthly civilization turns out to be a higher power’s model railroad.

Here’s a  recentYouTube video on Independent Film Financing from GetMovieMoney.


I guess I have a lot of work to do.

Monday, October 11, 2010

At Transformers III shoot in DC: Hi-ya Shia LaBeouf likes Muscle Milk

I didn’t see Hi-ya Shia LaBeouf at filming site for “Transformers 3: The Dark Side of the Moon” at the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Constitution Hall in Washington DC this Columbus Day, all less convenient to visit with Metro disruptions. (Note, 6/30/11: The correct title is now "Transformers: Dark of the Moon".)


But a workman said he had delivered three cartons of “Muscle Milk” (protein supplement) to Shia today. Shia prefers chocolate, but what I saw was vanilla.

I’ve never been too much of a fan of the Transformers concept, with robots materializing out of nothing to fight battles. And I guess now the enemies have encamped on the far side of the Moon.

All the equipment had the Paramount trademark, although Dreamworks SKG (now a subsidiary) is the official studio.

Dreamkworks musical trademark is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uXBt9VeDqo

The director is Michael Bay.

Dreamworks was also going to shoot at the Air Force Memorial on Columbia Pike in Arlington and on the Mall.

Here’s another Transformers shoot in Chicago YouTube.



Another little tidbit from "The Washington Examiner": some bystanders saw Shia smoking like a chimney while on break. How depressing.

There is a full review of this movie June 30, 2011 on this blog.

"Under Suspicion": 1991 thriller from Columbia-Rank imitates the great director

Once in a while (or maybe “once upon a time”) we find other films in the noir “gotcha” style of Alfred Hitchcock, with the same sense of momentum and almost doom. That is the case with the 1991 Columbia-J Arthur Rank British thriller “Under Suspicion”. About the only feature that distinguishes this film from the great British mystery director is the use of Cinemascope here, which he didn’t like. But Simon Moore certainly can provide a facsimile of the style.

In 1959, in Brighton England, Tony Aaron (Liam Neeson, of course), driven out of the police department, makes a living as a slimeball, setting up fake liaisons (using his wife [Maggie O’Neill]), and photographing them to give other women legal outs for divorce. One of these setups leads (for painter Stasio [Michael Almaz]) to murder, and Aaron becomes the prime suspect. His legal problem is that he may have done when driven by his affair with Stasio’s mistress Angeline (Laura San Giacomo). Kenneth Cranham plays his ex-partner, now leading the police investigation leading him to the hangman’s noose.

The story had to be set in the 50s for the capital punishment angle to work, and the telescoped finish, while spectacular (with a botched hanging) does strain credulity. This film could have done better being longer than 100 minutes.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today: German film used at trails resurrected

Sandra Schulberg (and Budd and Stuart) have resurrected a 1946-1948 film from the German Federal Republic “Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today” (“Nurnbug und seine Lehre”) of footage of the Nuremberg trials of 1945-1946, with footage of Nazi atrocities and documents, in grainy black and white. The footage consists of trail proceedings (unusual, since in the US most trials cannot be videotaped) and extra film from German vaults used in the trial to prove conspiracy, since films sent to the Allies before the end of the War could have been altered. The original footage was directed by Pare Lorentz.

The film is distributed by Metropolis the Schulberg family (SPI), and Sandra Schulberg spoke at the Avalon Theater in Washington DC today at a performance (link ). The site for the film is here.

The documents show the attitude of the upper ranks of Nazi Germany, the total disregard for any human rights as we normally understand them, with only a concern for the “Deutsch Volke”. The purges not only included the concentration camps, but also the “useless eaters” among the native German population; Nazi thinking was both collective (in terms of the good of “their people”, hence “national socialism”) and “hypermoral” in the idea that one has no rights until fit, but that idea had been shared in ancient societies, like Sparta in Greece and to some extent the Romans.

At the end of the film, ministers of the various countries interpret the trials (the state is for man, not the other way around) and read the individual verdicts. One of the speakers says that anyone who wages war in the name of his government will be held accountable personally. The legal basis for the "tribunal" is somewhat controversial to some people.



This film could be compared to "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961, United Artists, dir. Stanley Kramer, 186 min).

Wikipedia attribution link for military air photo over Auschwitz in 1944.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Greg Berlanti ("Everwood") explores mandatory parenthood for singles in "Life as We Know It"

Greg Berlanti has, with me at least, a reputation for dramatizing intense and unusual family situations, often initiated by tragedy. This was best shown in the WB series “Everwood”, which starts with a surgeon’s moving his son and daughter to Colorado after loving his wife to a car accident, and later builds on another accident caused by a neighbor’s son.

In the WB-Village Roadshow film “Life as We Know It” that he directs (Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson screenwrite), we see a theme pretty popular in Hollywood comedies, but not often discussed by political policy makers. Again, single, childless people wind up raising other people’s children, pretty much by coercion. That would please the “natural family” crowd like Carlson, Mero, and Longman. The idea has been visited before in movies like “Raising Helen” and “Saving Sarah Cain” and another WB series from Spelling, “Summerland”.

Specifically, Atlanta bakery shop owner Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) and sports TV producer Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) had once been “makematched” by friends with a baby daughter Sofie. The blind date didn’t work (I’ve never seen one fail before they leave the house). But after an auto accident kills the friends while the baby is being sat, Holly and Eric, godparents after the wedding, find they are named as preferred guardians of the baby in the will, in which a mortgage-free house is offered (Berlanti’s situations get set up with people fortunate enough to have money). The “obvious” question is, will they become attracted to one another (or “learn to love”) and want to marry some day?

I’d sort of like to see Berlanti tackle an “Everwood 2” film, and show us what happens to pianist Ephram, and whether the new character Kyle makes it to Julliard.

Official site from Warner Brothers is here.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"Captain Abu Raed": Jordanian film about mentoring

It’s interesting that a drama about mentoring would come from the Islamic world, but such ias “Captain Abu Raed”, directed from Matalqa, from Neo Classics Films (and Gigapix and Paper and Pen Films). Nadim Sawalha plays the aging janitor with a bookish inclination but a lack of opportunity in modern day Amman, Jordan (“Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”). One day a boy Tareq (Udey Al-Qiddissi) mistakes him for an airline pilot. Abu begins to weave stories of world wide travel to inspire the boys. Gradually, he comes involved with the boy’s family, which is not always kindly. We see a strict father willing to burn a hand to install discipline, and parents concerned about daughters who might grow up to remain spinsters.

The director focused the action around the Citadel, Roman ruins on a plateau overlooking the city, often giving the film ($2 million budget) spectacular views. The director actually went into the refugee camps and role-played with kids to find his cast.

The music score was composed by Austin Wintory. The DVD has a short on scoring the film, with a “scoring captain” in Austin’s studio.

The producer explained the process of selling the idea of making film in Jordan to sell to the world.

Here is Neo Classics's site with videos. Neo Classics has a flashy musical ritornel and animation for trademark, but I haven't found it on YouTube yet. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Jordan picture

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

"Fall from Grace": the anti-gay campaign of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS





Very recently, the Supreme Court heard a First Amendment case where a family of a servicemember who had died in Iraq sued the Rev. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS for a vigorous protest at the military funeral in Westminster, MD. The basis of Phelps’s protest is that the US military has homosexuals in it (a ridiculous extension of the “don’t ask don’t tell” debate) and that the entire country is being punished by God – through radical Islam and 9/11 – for accepting homosexuality. Phelps and his nepotism-based church is the most vitriolic anti-gay group in the country, exceeding even Paul Cameron in the 1980s.


The 2007 film documenting all this, now available from “Red Envelope Films” for DVD and instant play on Netflix, is “Fall from Grace”, directed by K. Ryan Jones (72 minutes). I’m not sure if it has had any theatrical runs as at Landmark. But the fanaticism of the church far exceeds that shown in the film “Jesus Camp” a couple years ago.

The church is located in a residential area of Topeka, KS, but the film spends some time at a protest at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where I went to graduate school and earned my MA in Mathematics in 1968. The film also shows a clip of a gay pride parade on Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence, where KU is located (25 miles east of Topeka, 40 miles from Kansas City). Lawrence is a rather typical college town, a smaller version of State College, perhaps, a funky and liberal place in a very conservative Midwestern farm state.  Phelps actually calls KU a "nice place" (before it was "contaminated").

The film says the church was founded 50 years ago, but went into the anti-gay mode in the early 1990s, around the time Clinton took office. It doesn't cover its relationship, or lack thereof, with any Baptist convention.  But about ten years ago Phelps was attracting a lot of attention, particularly from ABC reporter John Stossel.

The film does provide a biography of Rev. Fred Phelps, and consists mostly of interviews with the family members (including two of the fifteen children who left the family, by phone), and various other pastors, law enforcement and local officials who must walk the line on how they handle this matter. In the end, one pastor makes the point, “the opposite of love is fear, and fear leads to hate”. But that says that fear comes between love and hate.

I believe that Phelps might be viewed (by psychiatrists) as having a narcissistic personality disorder, or of selling his own sense of pain. Most of his rants (in the film, at least) are pretty directly reformulations of passages in the Bible. But it sounds as though he is playing into a mindset of pure authoritarianism, leading to totalitarianism. He wants to see a world where everyone has to play the “game of life” through a set of rigid rules, with absolutely no exceptions. The rules in his case come from the Bible (he thinks), just as the rules for the Taliban (rather similar) come from the Koran (they think). But there are secular versions of this mindset, ranging from Nazism in the 1930s to Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” in China in the 1960s, where everyone had to take turns becoming a peasant. To me, it all looks the same. One person says "he is addicted to hate."

No doubt, the film is filled with the “fa_” word, often on colorful posters (ironically rainbow-like) carried by Phelps group. When I lived in Minneapolis, Phelps’s group visited All Gods Children Metropolitan Community Church once, and we were told to stay away from them, at least on the other side of the street, to avoid any risk of litigation.

The film has also aired on Showtime.

The website for the film is here.




Pictures: Mine, from a 2006 trip (not from film). The sign is blatant.

See also review of the play "The Laramie Project" Nov. 14, 2010 on the drama blog. HBO and Good Machine have a film version of this play in 2002, and MTV has "Anatomy of a Hate Crime" (dir. Tim Hunter, Max Ember) in 1998, and NBC had a TV-made "The Matthew Shepard Story" also in 2002.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"Never Let Me Go": an alternate universe England clones kids for body parts, and fools them

The “alternative universe” idea can be useful in exploring slight-to-huge moral perturbations. In a parallel world, England in 1978 still pretends to be a democracy but has adapted some of the practices of the enemy it defeated in WWII. So it is with the British film “Never Let Me Go” from DNA, Dune , and Fox Searchlight, directed by Mark Romanek, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Tommy (as adult, Andrew Garfield, also in “The Social Network”), Cathy (Carey Mulligan) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) grow up in an English boarding school called Hailsham, apparently near the Brighton Beach coast (where a good friend of mine once worked for “low pay”), but tucked away in the country, and away from modernity, although there are box-like TV sets. The kids look forward to trading their play currency (colored chips) for dolls and playthings, and are encouraged to draw artwork to help the teachers decide if they even have souls.

The “problem” is, of course, that they are test tube clones, who one day learn from a rogue teacher what life “has been set out for you.” When they become adults, they will start donating organs, until they “complete”. Now we are in territory of movies like Gattaca, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, and even Clonus.

The movie advances to 1985, when the kids are 18 and living in cottages near the coast, closely watched but allowed day trips. They never try to escape; when their days come, they submit. But there are possible exceptions. Ruth becomes a “carer”, which is a pretty good job with some adventure in the “outside world”; Tommy and Cathy fall in love, hoping that by doing so, they can get deferrals (which remind me of “deferments” from the military draft in the 1960s). Are they really supposed to have kids?

The movie advances to 1994, when Ruth lives in a grimy high rise (England looks bad here), and will encounter the couple. Her own fate may not be so secure after all, but Tommy and Cathy stare down the inevitable, now starting to grasp the moral implications.

The idea that your own being is subjected to the needs of others, and that your own body is shaved and cut up seems to be morally revolting.

The official website is here.

Fox Searchlignt offers this YouTube featurette (4 min) about the film:



On Facebook, Philip Chandler recently offered a more detailed review here.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

"The Social Network": Facebook gets "The"

The Social Network”, as a title of the “biography of Facebook”, expresses its own paradox. It was started by a socially awkward young man who preferred to externalize “socialization” in the code of a computer before experiencing it himself. And the film makes clear that early on, it was supposed to be different in that it was supposed to help you relate to people you already knew, on a campus. Facebook wasn’t originally a platform for global self-display, soap boxes, or self-publication . But in time, because of the path of growth and financial enticements, it has become an adjunct to the old Web 1.0 model for “new “ political activism, while still growing as the most visible social networking site on the Web. Early on, Mark Zuckerberg is critical of the older Myspace and Friendster for being too much about publication.

Yet, Zuckeberg is guilty of what he would later learn are some of his own sins. As the film opens in a bar and a girl friend calls him not just a nerd but an “a—“, he runs back to his dorm room, and says “let the hacking begin.” While drunk, he builds a campus site that lets boys rate coeds for who, let’s say, scores the most points. I’ll pick language gently. Now, if you take this sort of thing to its logical consequences, you can see that it can marginalize people who don’t “compete” well socially, and could even be construed as hostility or, in today’s context, cyberbullying.  While hacking, Zuckerberg also "blogs" specifically about other female students, not a very considerate practice in the "online reputation defense" world.

But the main thread of the film’s story is shown as a depositional drama, where Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) flashes back to earlier incidents. He gets sued bigtime by the Winklevoss brothers (Arnie Hammer and Josh Pence) for stealing their work for their Campus Connect. Now, Zuckerberg compares this to saying if you work for a chair company you can’t design your own chair. True, if his own system was entirely his own code and designed in a manner substantially different from what he did for the twins for pay, he probably is not guilty of copyright infringement. (This sort of situation can happen in information technology work all the time; I even had a very minor incident involving it in the 1970s after leaving NBCV.) The other lawsuit involves his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who believes Zuckerberg has backstabbed in a stock deal after an incident involving freezing accounts.

The previews or trailers of the film make Eisenberg’s performance as Zuckerberg seem bratty. In the film, he is bit more likeable, talking fast, always seeing through things, and staring beyond people. Physically, he is shorter and less obviously “masculine” than some of his peers, so he has motivations for indirect ways of social connection. Halfway through the film, Justin Timberlake appears playing Napster co-founder Sean Parker (not to be confused with Shawn Fanning, who actually appears in “The Italian Job”). Timberlake (in this film) is as powerful as he looked as the ‘Nsync leader some years back; but that cover picture of him on Entertainment with his arms shaved looks ridiculous (this has happened before).

The real Zuckerberg seems more careful and measured in his television and YouTube appearances, but that may be learned behavior. The paradox of his accomplishment suggests something that is borderline Asperger-like; after all, a physician with Asperger’s developed hedge funds involving credit default swaps and predicted the 2008 crash.


The film, in scope, stays visually compelling despite its indoorness, with small (and messy) dorm rooms and apartments, bars, and legal boardrooms. The quick back-and-forth storytelling keeps the two hours moving. There is a darkness to the film, as that characterizes David Fincher’s work (“Se7en”; “The Fight Club”). The screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin (explaining Zuckerberg’s fast talk) and is based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich (see my Book review blog, Jan 8, 2010). It's true, some of Zuckerberg's real life IM's, such as the one "they 'trusted' me", revealed in the New Yorker article by Jose Antonio Vargas, discussed in my "BillBoushka" blog Sept. 20, 2010.

Patrick Mapel plays cofounder Chris Hughes, for which there are sources describing him as gay (such as here). His role in the film is downplayed, as much of the dialogue in the film is rather heterosexist. My own take is, had I been one of the roommates in that dorm, I would have fit in and become part of it. Zuckerbeg’s mind works much the way mine does. I would also compare him to DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee (“Waiting for Superman”), in that both care little about what people think of them. (Zuckerberg is reported to have a girl friend in medical school; but he and Rhee probably would have been compatible in a relationship, in my opinion. It’s fun to play matchmaker.) There is an early scene in the film showing Harvard hazing, which I didn’t think went on (at William and Mary in 1961, they called it “Tribunals”, where “they” shaved the boys’ legs, etc. I skipped out on it.)

The website from Columbia is here with the tagline “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Columbia did not use its musical trademark as its statue of liberty appeared, instead playing funky music from the film that diluted the trademark effect. Studios should lay full claim to their trademarks by always displaying them in full, including music. I’m surprised their lawyers don’t insist on this. (See my July 24 2010 review of “Salt” to find a link to the musical trademark.)

I think a good project would be to make a documentary about Facebook with the real Zuckerberg ("The Toddler CEO") and real other people if possible. Maybe if I could make my “doaskdotell” into a movie company label, it would make a good project.




The October 25, 2010 issue of "The Nation" has an op-ed on p 6 by Ari Melber on the movie and on Zuckerberg, "The Antisocial Network". Melber writes that Facebook has swelled to 500 million members "because people really like being alone together" and later says "Zuckerberg thought nothing of conscripting people's pictures and personal information into his web experiments," link here.  I think Melber overreaches and is a bit strident himself. However, any generation younger than that of my own parents (and I am in my 60s) has a much more individualized notion of sharing oneself; but earlier generations understood you can't always "choose" your connections to others and their effects.

I would also add that the Facebook paradigm may be more about "being on your own together" (than "being alone together"). That's a cultural change, associated with hyperindividualism, which may be very hard on people brought up to accept and expect more interdependence.

Update: Jan. 6, 2011

See TV Reviews blog Jan. 6, 2011 for coordinated review of CNBC's "The Facebook Obsession".

Also, is the "Thirsty Scholar" in the opening scene based on the "Thirsty Bernie" restaurant (link) like this one in Arlington VA?
Update 2: May 11, 2014

There was an incident where in a high school students wanted to do a "draft" of girls for a senior prom on Facebook.  This was stopped but the school, but it reminds one of the "Who is the hottest?" contest at the beginning of the film.  (It sounds like, \who is the more reproductively fit"?)