Monday, February 28, 2011

"Sasha": film about immigrant family in Germany, with a troubled but gifted young pianist

Sasha” is the third foreign language film I’ve seen in the past two weeks about immigrants in Europe, and the range of social tensions that can ensue. It’s the second from Germany, and the second from Strand Releasing (not the same pair). This film, directed by Dennis Todorovic (and production company EastArt), has a Serbian or otherwise Balkan family living as permanent workers in Cologne, Germany, but returning regularly to the homeland. The father Vlado Petrovic (Predrag Bjelac) needs autocratic, patriarchal control of his family to keep his own marriage intact; this family includes his two young adult sons Sasa (Sasha Kekez) and Boki (Jasin Mjumjovic). The more conventional Boki enrages him by getting a shoulder tattoo, and early on there’s a foreshadowing argument with Dad over who “owns” Boki’s shoulder!

But it’s Sasa who makes it interesting. Vlado begrudgingly lets Sasa pursue a possible career in piano. But Sasa loses his head when he falls in love with his thirty-something gay piano teacher, German native Gebhard Weber (Tim Bergmann) and becomes jealous when Gebhard is about to leave on a professorship in Vienna.  In the meantime, Sasa can feign heterosexuality by befriending violin student Jiao (Yvonne Yung Hee). But Boki will get interested in her for real, all of this bemusing to good old dad.

Sasa even (with the curious help of Jiao) "follows" Gebhard to a gay disco, where a brawl ensues.  In fact, in my own experience, fights or "trouble" in gay bars are very rare; I've seen only one fight in my life, and that was in London in Soho in 1982 (the Bobbies came). 

In the course of all this emotional turmoil, Sasa “fails” a piano audition, where he plays the first movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. He blacks out near the end of the Exposition, and the committee lets him pick up again, and then he stumbles in the Development. I don’t know if this is how pianists could have blackouts, like a CD getting stuck. I once got caught in a loop in a piano festival playing a Schumann song without words.  The movie has other music, including the Moonlight Sonata and Mozart Turkish. The young man who follows Sasa in the audition hall starts playing the Liszt Dante Sonata (a favorite of Washington DC pianist Thomas Pandolfi).

The “audition” issue was central to the WB television series “Everwood”, where piano prodigy Ephram (Gregory Smith) walks out on an audition at Julliard because of a dispute with his father, a curious parallel to this film.

The movie builds toward a dangerous and yet ironic climax, which need not be spoiled here.

The actor who plays Sasa (born in Germany but with a Serbian name) carries the part with great charisma and athleticism. Pianists have to be strong, much stronger than some look; but the actor here could almost be a match for Tom Welling.  You get the feeling that such a person would be more stable than the character is. The intimate scenes (between Sasa and Gebhard) could be taken even “slower” than they are, and become more effective. 

The film pre-booked on Feb. 22 and has a “street” date March 22. 

I guess I’m game for even more movies about young musicians and composers.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Lifetime or HBO make a documentary about the tragic loss of young violinist Tyler Clementi.

Strand’s website for the film is here.

Most of the film is in German, with subtitles a bit hard to see; but German is normally the easiest "foreign language" for me to watch without titles (as when I am in Europe). It seems almost like English here. 

YouTube from “Trailers”. 


Pictures: my own "life" (not from film), but they would have fit. 


This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the distributor. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"King's Speech" takes best picture; "Social Network" and "Inception" do well; local church makes "paranormal" short film with a moral point

Okay, everyone has heard the news by now, “The Kings Speech” won best director, best actor, and Best Picture.  For political reasons, I hoped “The Social Network” would win best picture. It helps me.
James Franco looked so wholesome cohosting with Anne Hathaway, but that little venture into a Town DC drag show, with a low cut dress, well, James doesn’t have that much to lose.

For the finale, the Oscars show aired clips from all ten nominees, but played “The Kings Speech” literally, with Beethoven’s Allegretto movement from the Seventh Symphony.

I was pleased to see Luke Matheny win best live action short for “God of Love”.  But he wasn’t quite prepared for his bout of public speaking, which is easy. Neither was Colin Firth, who had to excuse himself to go backstage for a case of nerves.

“Inception” won four awards, but not best music score; personally, I thought Hans Zimmer’s orchestral score to be riveting.  The “Social Network”  took that win, and two other awards, including best adapted screenplay.

Here’s Forbes’s Magazine (and “See Saw Films”, no relation to “Saw’) analysis of the race for Best Picture: 


Today, I saw another “short film”, about 5 minutes, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA, called ‘Friday’s Aliens.”  (This is Church: on Good Friday, you know Sunday is coming; that was David Day's famous sermon at MCC Dallas in the 1980s.) The youth of the church had a 30 hour fast, during which one of their tasks was to make this film. They had less time that the “48 hour film project.”  It was kind of a spoof on “Paranormal Activity” (with a touch of the upcoming "Battle LA" or perhaps Rogue's "Skyline")  with flying saucers created out of shadows and digital camera faults. There was a CPR scene, without the defibrillator of my own notorious screenplay.  But there was a moral message. I’ve never done a fast (in fact, the Lama Foundation in New Mexico used to have a $100 weekend called “Purification by Fasting”), but it sends a certain message. No one lives just for his own ends, everyone is a social creature, no how well he or she competes.  That’s supposed to make a stake in the next generation possible, and a long time commitment possible, too.  There were youth sermons based on Matthew 6 about worry, and about the leveling of mountains from Isaiah (it sounds too much like mountaintop removal).  It’s always seemed to me that the New Testament begs an intellectual double standard on some moral precepts.

If "Friday's Aliens" shows up on YouTube, I'll post.

Update: May 28, 2011: The same church released to its members a 2 minute film "Rebuilding Together" about a volunteer project touching up a home for the developmentally disabled in Arlington VA. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Cedar Rapids": a comedy about sales culture, filmed in Michigan

For the second time in three days, I see a movie about Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where you’re supposed to go to have some fun. Actually, Fox Searchlight’s “Cedar Rapids” (director, Miguel Arteta) was largely filmed in Michigan (which is counting on building up a film industry), but real river shots of the town’s downtown area appear, as well as mention of the 2008 floods.

Actually, the film is a situation comedy, pretty goofball, as a “conventional” late thirty-something insurance agent Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), who represents Brown Star Insurance in a small Wisconsin town (“brown star” could be a “brown dwarf”, a super Jupiter threatening Earth in some future science fiction script, like my own “Baltimore Is Missing”) gets sent to a motivational convention in a Cedar Rapids.

We all know the tone of the event when Tim finds out that he has two roommates in the hotel suite.  I recently traveled on business, had a one bedroom Hyatt suite to myself in Charlotte (wouldn’t be a bad place to live for an extended corporate assignment), but forced “roommates” would have been unthinkable.  But on my very first job, my first night at the Royal Manhattan on 8th Avenue in 1970, I was supposed to have a roommate, who didn’t show. (He had a wife in New Jersey.)  And in RCA’s MIS training program in 1970, people stayed three to a room in a New Jersey motel. I think EDS used to do that.

All this stuff about “bonding” in the comedy gets pretty silly. In this heterosexual romp (where Anne Heche, ironically, and later ‘Ripley” Sigourney Weaver shine), the salesmen engage in some pretty crude locker room bonding.  They’re hairy and soft-bellied.  Ed Helms, who is 37 in real life, would look pretty good if allowed to, but for this movie he looks just too mushy (nobody in this film looks at “Men’s Health” and emulates the profiles of Ashton Kutcher or best body Garrett Hedlund (from Tron), ot perhaps Details with Andrew Garfield, who is “thin” but with gigantic upper body muscles).  Tim here is no Timo, nor is he a Lincecum.  

This movie could have intermingled with characters from “Twelve Thirty” (Feb. 23), as Johnathan Groff could have beefed things up.

To its credit, the film script mentions gay marriage (and the attending debate) recently legal but challenged in Iowa. 

And there is the bit about sales culture. At least I didn’t hear the “Always Be Closing” from Brent Huff’s “100 Mile Rule” from a Minnesota screening in 2002.

I was approached by two companies in 2005 to become a life insurance agent. In their initial interviews, one of them talked about a "fast start".  I'm not a peddler.  I'm not interested in volume leads by email or Facebook, but I still get emails from the encounter. People with experience with the technology of the business may not want to personally sell it.  

Here is Fox’s site for the film, link. It’s a “comedy with a dirty mind.” Or a mind in the gutter.  And, “Who wants to get waster?”


Wikipedia attribution link for Mays Island picture, used in film. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"When We Leave": German-Turkish film shows existential conflict over "family honor"

Family honor is a big concept in many cultures around the world, including Islamist. Without commanding it (if you are a man) and continuing your legacy of people, you are nothing, in their line of thinking. Such is a theme of the co German and Turkish production “When We Leave” (“Die Fremde”), from director Feo Aladag.

A young woman Umay (Sibel Kilekki) flees a bad marriage in Istanbul with her little son Cem (Nizam Schiller) to Berlin, but the family patriarch, with high blood pressure (which he can manipulate) doesn’t like the strain her disloyalty puts on the family. He decides to send the son to the father back in Turkey, so Umay tries to move out to keep the boy. A tragedy, which you don’t really see coming, is inevitable.
The film is in Cinemascope, which seems like overdoing it, diluting the effect of the family closeups in the indoor scenes, filled with constant conflict (including two bizarre disco scenes). But the few outdoor scenes in Turkey are really spectacular.  There is a shot of the Berlin train station in the center of town that almost duplicates the same shot in “Unknown”. 

I saw this at the early Thursday evening show at Landmark E Street in  downtown Washington (before a moderate crowd), and as this was the last day, the film accidentally started a few minutes early.

The film is from ARTE and Independent Artists in Germany, and Olive Films for distribution.

The site for the film is here

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Twelve Thirty" is an interesting midwestern film that anticipates some shades of "Craigslist".

The non-profit Avalon Theater in northwest Washington has been showing Jeff Lipsky’s talkative coming-of-age family drama “Twelve 30” (the “Twelve” gets spelled upsidedown) or “Twelve Thirty” (and not "Twelve Moneys").  A young man Jeff (Jonathan Groff), claiming to be an aspiring writer and perhaps architect of 22, consorts with the adult female children of another Iowa family headed by Vivien (Karen Young) and her bisexual husband Martin (Reed Birney).  Claiming to be a virgin, his sincerity gradually gets him into trouble, possibly testing his own moral limits and serious legal consequences.   Jeff doesn’t go as far down the wrong path as the Craigslist guy, but the film gives more ideas as to how it might happen. On the other hand, the film really doesn’t make as much of Martin’s “other life” as it could, however. This is a film about the impulsive behavior that goes on in the "straight world."

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the backstories told by the two older parents, particularly Vivien’s story of the difficulties and waiting lists she faced getting her father (with dementia) into a nursing home.  Martin tells a story about being bullied for being “different”, and yet in the film, up front, he is about a patriarchal as it gets.

This film, which doesn’t seem to have official distribution yet  (I hope Strand Releasing will look at it), also is not rated;  but the explicit scenes are necessary and make the case that “NC-17” should not be viewed as a death sentence for a film’s box potential; there is a real place for films for adults where explicit scenes are necessary to make certain kinds of points.

The film sometimes makes effective use of the Cedar Rapids location. 

The official site for the movie is here

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Cedar Rapids flood, link here. I visited the city once, in November 1998. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"The Birth of Freedom": how political democracy transcends "individual inequality"

Recently Howard University Public Television aired the one hour documentary “The Birth of Freedom”, directed by Simon Scionka, from Action Media and Cold Water Media, 2008.

The film starts with an existential philosophical question. How can people be regarded as equal, or at least of equal rights, in a world where they are so obviously unequal as individuals in ability and circumstance.  In ancient times, philosophers – even the Greeks – often justified the idea that people naturally fit into different stations in life, hence slavery. But the position of the film, somewhat conservative in tone, is that religious Judeo-Christian values during the middle ages really did set the stage for modern individualism and innovation, even if it had to go through many stages, such as feudalism (as opposed to slavery),and even if slavery would return and become controversial.

In fact, the filmmakers believe that the American Revolution was closer in nature to moral truth than the French Revolution, and therefore settled into a productive end.

The film also offers explanations of ancient experiments in democratic institutions and their tendency, as with Rome, to fail. 

Values associated with Christianity eventually allowed the idea of the rule of law and the recognition of contracts, which would help encourage gradual innovation, probably from about the time of Leonardo da Vinci  (and lead back to early episodes, such as the signing of the Magna Carta).

The film covers, quite telescopically, hundreds of years of history, leading to the modern civil rights movement.
The film paid particular heed to the history of William Wilberforce and his actions in Britain to eliminate the slave trade and then slavery in the colonies, as dramatized in the 2006 film from Michael Apted and the Samuel Goldwyn Company, “Amazing Grace”, with Ioan Gruffuld.

I think it’s interesting to look at the implications of democratic value systems for individual’s own value systems in interacting with other people.  If it is OK to exclude people from one’s life on the basis of arbitrary characteristics (and view them as “deficits” that could be scored), then democracy itself could be undermined, because eventually many people would sink out of sight (as “unworthy”).  My own father used to talk about this idea in terms of "seeing people as people" rather than as foils.  (Katherine Kersten of the Center for the American Experiment in Minneapolis had weighed in on this in a 2000 book; see my "issues" blog Feb. 3).  The film talks about the idea of “social contract”, as an agreement of rights and responsibilities among a community (its leadership) and its individual “citizens”, as needing the “checks and balances” of American republican government.  But some social conservatives have talked about “social contract” in terms of family and community responsibility demanded of everyone, regardless of personal choice.  The strange paradox is that some sort of social structure is necessary to sustain individual freedom.

The website for the film is here

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lifetime presents controversial docudrama on Amanda Knox trial and Italian justice, over protests from Knox family (litigation, maybe)

On Monday, Feb. 21, Lifetime Television presented the film by Robert Dornhelm, “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy,” about the shocking conviction of Amanda Knox for the death of Meredith Kercher in a rented house in Perugia, Italy.

Amanda’s case is being appealed know, and Amanda’s parents, from Seattle, objected to the film’s being shown, as in this story from CBS affiliate KIRO.   In fact, some sources report that the Knox family may sue Lifetime over the movie, here. It’s hard to see defamation, though. 

The ”docudrama”  film races through the courtroom drama, and clearly shows that the prosecutor seemed to want to gain political visibility out of circumstantial evidence that could make Amanda (Hayden Panettierre) and her handsome boyfriend (Paolo Romio) look like self-indulgent drug-abusing kids, caught in their own web of jealousy and coverups.

I have a major posting on the Amanda Knox trial on my “International Issues” blog Dec. 5, 2009, where the weaknesses of the justice systems abroad are discussed. The Italian system had no interest in shielding jurors from the intense publicity.  The NBC Dateline film “The Trial of Amanda Knox” is reviewed on my TV blog also on that same day.

The interrogation scenes are quite chilling, and Amanda was thrown into interrogation quite suddenly. The parents are now indicted for libel for telling British papers about Italian police abuses.

Police also used online evidence (especially Myspace, and particularly the boyfriend Rafaele) to suggest poor character and bad motives for Amanda and Rafaele.  Yet the prosecutors said that this case would not be tried by “bloggers”. 

After the film, Lifetime aired a History Channel-like one hour “Beyond the Headlines: The Amanda Know Story”, examining the evidence. A lot of the prosecution’s theory related the bizarre nature of the “break in”.  American prosecutors would have been more likely to focus only on Rudy Guede (Djirbil Kebe) and the DNA evidence was certainly weak.

The feature  film was produced by Pilgrim Films, and apparently Sony Pictures (Classics) also had a hand in it.

Lifetime’s site for the film is here

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hunt down "Number Four": the witch-hunt for extraterrestrials ("don't ask, don't tell")

I Am Number Four”, from Disney/Touchstone/Dreamworks and director D. J. Caruso, is a somewhat manipulative resetting of the Smallville premise, a teen superhero (“Captain John Smith” played by 20 year old Brit Alex Pettyfer)  or future hero from another planet, who looks just like us. He wants to be good and productive in a democratic society (like young Clark, most of the time), and falls for a girl (of course) (Dianna Agron), and has a godfather  Henri  (Timothy Olymphant), dedicated to protecting him from interplanetary assassins, who look like tattooed freaks from a comic book.  In high school, he protects a science nerd Sam (Calla McAulliffe) from the hall locker bullies, and Sam turns out to be one of the movie’s strongest characters (so is John’s adopted pooch), who could well discover he is “one of them” himself.

That part of the plot seems artificial and set up (the concept of Phantom Zone in Smallville seems stronger). The idea that gifted extraterrestrials could mimic us while mixing in socially can be compelling, as in the NBC series “The Event”, but they need to have a reason to.

The first three immigrants from this other planet (“Gliese 581 G” maybe) have been tracked down by the minions and eliminated. Each time, John gets a scar on his body; the third one, in Florida (in an opening scene over the Key West highway quite well filmed) results in some disfigurement of John’s leg, which looks like it was partially shaved for the film (ask Ashton Kutcher about his experience).  In fact, he is dark-haired in the opening, and the blond hair is another disguise.

Henri has moved him from Florida to New Mexico and now to central Ohio, at the end of Appalachia. The credits say the film was shot mostly around Pittsburgh, but there is one scene that really looks like it was shot in the town square of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, a town which I am quite familiar with because of family ties. (I was almost expecting to see the software company Divelbiss in the area show up as a backdrop. )  John really wants the fulfilling experience of high school, but (like Clark Kent) has trouble controlling his “powers” as they start to appear.

Eventually a female Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) appears to help save him. By now, we’ve seen the pooch capable of expanding to mammoth size to fight newts matured into crocodiles.

One aspect of the otherwise silly plot is important: the Internet (and Facebook) issues. Henri tells John to keep a low profile and stay off the Internet. But he can’t stop other kids from photographing him and tagging his images on Facebook and Blogger.  But Henri deploys a Trojan virus that searches and destroys all these images. I wonder if something like that really exists.  Henri couldn’t reveal enough to hire Michael Fertik’s “Reputation Defender” to remove the images “legally”.

Actually, being able to find someone so easily and track them can be a big deal.  You can’t have a double life anymore.  You give out a cell phone number for business, and it’s also personal on the Internet, people know now what you’re really about, even if you’re from another planet.

The film also borrowed some other concepts from Smallville, such as “blue kryptonite”. 

I was the film in Imax digital at an AMC Tysons in northern VA, a moderately full auditorium on a Saturday night.  The Imax used the entire screen because the film was shot as a “mere” 1.85:1, which otherwise would make it seem smallish.  AMC has been using vertical cropping to show 2.35:1 in Imax.

The website for the film is here

Here’s a Hollywoodstreams interview of Pettyfer and Caruso. Note the forearm tattoo that wasn’t in the movie. You’ll find an Ellen interview Youtube too where he disrobes (“thmooth”).


Clark Kent, remember, was temporarily “disfigured” by the “S” scar in Season 2.  


Pictures: Kipton, Ohio (near Oberlin), about as I can get right now to the setting of the movie.  But I expect to visit the Columbus area later this year. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Unknown" is a pretty conventional "trick" thriller about a "plot"

My reaction to the title of this movie is to remember those little test tubes in qualitative analysis in college chemistry. “You’ve got one too many”, the instructor once said, back in 1962.

But the thriller “Unknown” from Warner Brothers, Dark Castle, and German Studio Babelsberg, presents the word as a super-plotted kind of identity theft, in the physical world.  Dr. Richard Harris (Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin with his wife (January Jones – what a first name for an actress) for a biotechnology conference where sensational developments may occur, that could put a lot of old agribusiness into Chapter 7.  This sort of thing, an international meeting, used to happen a lot in the 1960s novels of Irving Wallace (“The Prize”, “The Plot”, etc). 

Now, we see him leave a locked briefcase on a taxi stand, unlikely, and then have go back and retrieve it. That ought to make the audience think it has been set up. There’s a horrific tax accident, and “Harris” winds up being rescued from an icy river (and it’s only Thanksgiving). Then the coma, and then the idea (as in NBC’s “The Event”) that you go back to your hotel and find out nobody knows you exist.

Harris may have a double identity, but he at least knows it. (In comparison, Jason  Ritter’s character  in the NBC series probably doesn’t know who he really is; I’ve covered that on the TV blog).

This film isn’t quite subtle enough for a cameo from Alfred Hitchcock. There is something awry about a thriller where the lead character (and "omniscient observer") knows more than the audience from the getgo. 

Frank Langella is every bit as creepy as the master assassin as he was in "The Box".  Maybe he could play Pie'O'Pah if Clive Barker's "Imajica" gets filmed (sometimes rumored, like "Atlas Shrugged").

Compare this film to "The Tourist" (Dec. 13). 

The official site is here


Wikipedia attribution link for Berlin picture from the Spree River http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Berlin_night.jpg

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"That Evening Sun": a parable on how we treat our elderly

That Evening Sun” starts with a blurred vision of the outside world through a window, from inside a nursing home, communicating what has been lost once one is “committed.” Abner (Hal Holbrooke) has been put away, by a lawyer son Paul (Walter Goggins), who sets up all the powers of attorney and sells his farm right out from under him to an old nemesis Lonzo  (Ray McKinnon). So Abner walks right out of the facility (he doesn’t have Alzheimer’s so he’s not on a locked unit), and gets a cab back to his East Tennessee farm, and tries to get it back.

The motives of Paul seem the most disturbing, but the reflect how our culture treats elders as they live longer with more disability. But in this film, Abner doesn't seem that badly off medically.  So there is clearly some family betrayal.

The son's behavior would get him into trouble with Adult Protective Services in many states, but then again, he's a lawyer himself. He gives the law profession a bad name with his own "power of attorney abuse."  The film could be seen as making the case that it is too easy to give adult children power of attorney when elders start to lose it. 

The film is directed by Scott Teems, and comes from Dogwood Pictures, Image Entertainment, and Freestyle Releasing (and maybe Summit Entertainment), and the Independent Film Project (IFP). The film is based on a short story by William Gay ("I Hate to See that Eveningg Sun Go Down"). The DVD recommends a blog, "Indie Minded", here.

The link for the film is here.

The DVD has a featurette "That Tennessee Sun" and another short (35 min) "Arts & Crafts" about the making of the film. Both show the heavy gear and professionalism involved in making even a "small" film. They make the case that shooting for theatrical release is different from filming for TV, even though modern plasma TV and Blue-Ray bring them together. The short talks about the "Satie-like" piano score by Michael Penn, which curiously invokes distant echoes of southern rural life.

The cast interviews talk about the aging of the population, and the clash between "gentry" (Abner) and working classes, each with their own delusions, particularly in rural areas. Neither Abner nor Lonzo are capable of running the farm. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Rage": Spanish thriller provides a twist on the immigration debate

Strand Releasing continues to find films that explore interesting variations of social and political controversies.  The latest is “Rage” (or “Rabia”) from Spain and Colombia, director Sebastian Cordero, and producer Guillermo del Toro (also ThinkFilm). It's based on a novel by Sergio Bizio. 

A wealthy family in Spain (the credits say San Sebastian, but it didn’t look familiar; I was there in 2001 and the Basque city is very wealthy) has hired a live-in maid Rosa (Martina Garcia), and they don’t completely trust her as a Colombian immigrant. So the film is kind of a mirror of American concerns with using immigrants to do work we don’t want to do. She has a gaunt and already weathered boyfriend  Jose Maria (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) whom they fear comes over when they aren’t looking. Indeed he does. From Colombia himself, he doesn’t get along with his Caucasian boss on the construction site, who fires him. In a brawl that follows shortly, he socks and accidentally kills the foreman. He then hides out in the elderly couple’s mansion like a ghost, from moment to moment, decaying.

The couple’s family is in play: the older son had been paying attention to Rosa, setting up a love triangle, so that’s one potential second tragedy. But when Rosa gets pregnant (with Jose), the couple wonders if it should be responsible for the baby. Imagine how the same idea could play out with live-in caregivers or nannies in the U.S.

The film will be available in theaters and DVD in March 2009. I received a complimentary sample.

Strand's site for the film is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for San Sebastian circle beach picture, here 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Luke Matheny's earlier short film "Earano"

Luke Matheny’s earlier short film, “Earano” (2007), about 12 months, is available at the New York Magazine site, here for Part 1: 

I included the embed for Part 2. 


Luke plays Earl, a slender, "big eared" and  likeable young tutor and substitute teacher, in a library with some kids and students, seeming to need special education. He seems to have the charisma to handle the class.  But he’s interested in a librarian (Emily Young) when a “janitor” claiming to have “been a doctor” in the Ukraine arrives.  It’s based on a story by Cyrano de Bergerac.

I tried to watch it from Matheny’s site (post on Feb. 11) but the embedded Quicktime video would not load for me in either XP or 7. 

Matheny's little films seem to be getting at something:  one needs to learn "connectivity" to other people (and a sense of joy in helping them) as something separate from the ability to make one's own choices and execute them. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Metro" from Christopher Dorrah: "real life, real people"

Netflix has a little African-American film called “Metro” (there are many by this name) that I can’t find on imdb, self-distributed (through “All Out Video”) by writer and director Christopher Dorrah (2007). The filmmaker advertises the film with the phrase "real life, real people."  To my own mother, "real life" had a very specific meaning (openness to having kids).

A street-hardened gang survivor (Curtis McNeil, Jr.) contemplates all of his own values as he prepares for the next job in the streets in an unspecified city "The Metro" (Detroit?  -- toward the end of the film, there is a mention of a race for "Mayor of the Metro"), while leading a double-life as a “detective quasi cop", trying not to get pulled under. The film takes into black and white flashbacks to various times in the recent past (and sometimes distant, back to 1987) where he considered his values as to getting married and raising kids, and finally transcending his situation as a provider. In fact, we learn he’s depended on women to support him, and had some kids who expect him to be “Daddy.”. It’s all pretty basic “George Gilder” stuff. (“It’s a beautiful thing, having a baby in the house.”)

The cast includes Eddie Dukes, Leslie Drake, Constance Gibson, Sonya Sims, Valencia Howard, and Ryan Young. As the film progresses in layered fashion, it presents some flashback moral confrontations for some of the other characters. The movie gradually takes on the character of a docudrama.  Later the theme of family protectionism emerges, as loan sharks describe how family members are targeted in one conversation.

The DVD plays when loaded with no menu or scenes. It is full screen, and sometimes the quality is low, and looks over-exposed. The black-and-white scenes look better technically

Netflix lists the DVD as lasting 1 hour and 15 minutes but in fact it took 2 hours 30 minutes, and said "to be continued".  There is a lack of sense of direction in the script, or a sense of coming to climax.
.
The film opens with maximum self-focus, with the wrists of a man over a washbasin, soliloquizing for a few minutes about life in the streets before the film starts.

The Myspace site for the film is here.   The film seems to anticipate a sequel; this is called "Volume I".

Stylistically, the film reminds me of a little black-and-white indie film from Minneapolis(IFPMSP) in 1998, “Cut Glass”, about a woman injured in a whiplash accident who gets people to care for her.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Landmark E-Street airs the Oscar nominated shorts (Live Action reviewed here)



Landmark E-Street is airing both sets of Oscar-nominated shorts this week, with this official site 

The Confession” (26 min, dir. Tanel Toom) is the longest of the set.  Two boys are indoctrinated into the idea of confession by a priest in Britain. When one of them leaves a scarecrow in a road, there is a tragic accident.  The boys have to deal with guilt, and the tragedies escalate.

Wish 143” (24 min, dir. Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite) was maybe the most emotionally provocative. An 18 year old boy (again in the UK) dying of cancer wants a “night to remember” with a woman (and has to scheme to get out of the hospital). The intimate encounter leads to his and her  revealing and dealing with the gross disfigurement related to his treatment.  This film brought to mind “My Sister’s Keeper”.

Na Wewe” (19 min, dir. Ivan Goldschmidt) has a Belgian civil servant mediating the Rawandan conflict at a roadblock.  There is spectacular on-location scenery, and a lot of neat script lines about the moral silliness of ethnic strife.  There is some recollection of “Hotel Rawanda” here, which is now often shown in high school.
“The Crush”  (15 min, Michael Creagh). An Irish school boy has a crush on his female grade school teacher and challenges his teacher’s fiancée.  You can second guess the “morality” of several characters in this bizarre drama.




The Crush”  (15 min, Michael Creagh). An Irish school boy has a crush on his female grade school teacher and challenges his teacher’s fiancée.  You can second guess the “morality” of several characters in this bizarre drama

God of Love” (18 min, Luke Matheny site)  is a curious little film in Black and White, along the lines of “Crush” in concept but much more wholesome. A singer (played by the gangly young director and filmmaker Luke) and dart throwing champion Ray (played by Luke) receives a mysterious gift of “love-inducing darts”.  The movie opens with his motorbiking in what looks like the Fingerlakes Region of NYS, before the backstory moves to NYC.  Luke makes himself very likeable in this curious story (great gams, too).   Somehow the song “Rhythm of Love” on Sirius XM comes to mind. Seriously, at one point the movie quotes “Swan Lake” (it’s probably coincidence, but I wonder if Matheny had seen “Black Swan”), and later, Vivaldi’s Gloria.  But the bar scenes evoke the “I Love Lucy” area.  Matheny starts and ends his movie with strong statements that you can’t choose who you love. The movie does make his case.

The films are distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Two of the films (“Confession” and “Na Wewe”) were in full anamorphic and were cropped from the top, even though the theater can show 2.35:1 without cropping.

One of the world's shortest films (above). From a Canon camera. For some reason, Windows Media Player won't play films less than about 2 meg (at least on my Windows 7 laptop; that's about 2 seconds), but Blogger will.


Feb. 16:  I found this clip by Luke about his Facebook chat. Also note the review Feb. 13 of his other film.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sony treats camcorder purchasers to a spiffy short film

I was treated (or perhaps subjected to) a short film by Sony itself, on the PMB (Picture Motion Browser) application, on my new Handycam CX550v camcorder.

It was a real short film, about 7 minutes, mostly about golf and lifestyle pleasantries. No dialogue, just a lot of pretty images or courses and funky music. Just call the film "Handycam PMB". 

I made a film of about 10 seconds, where I talk about my own debutante experience in 1960, in my own basement, in front of a small grandfather clock still there.  The playback really looked sharp. It had file type “.moff” (and “.m2ts”) and the files show up with a Windows 7 search, but I can’t find them in Windows explorer.  The film looked great, in HD, but took 14.5 meg for 10 seconds.  The Sony film took almost 400 meg. So I don’t know yet how you get one of these films (when you shoot it and own it) up on YouTube. 
A much lower quality video on a cheap digital camera still takes about 14 meg for about the same amount of time.  It seems to run a meg a second.
 This little short film, called "Drippy", came from the cheapo camera, for now. (It's a Canon, a bit like Ashton's Coolpix, but a little better.) I'll have to figure out how to get HD uploaded. I don't know if Blogger or Wordpress will accept it. 

I may take up making a short subject about the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels (like Sideling Hill, used in "The Road") as my first little filmmaking project with the HC cam.  I need to get a new mountain bike, too, to do that. I don't know how I would get it uploaded to YouTube if it's that big in meg.   But I think something like this, however unusual, would be of widespread interest and would get lots of traffic.  I want to get to this by March, when it warms up.

Also, somehow the brand name "Handycam" makes me think of "handyman", the idea of paying your dues in the workplace. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

YouTube offers famous film noir "D.O.A."

Well, I got two cracked DVD’s from Netflix this week (in all honesty, that has never happened before in seven years), so I turned to streaming, and caught up with a “freebie for CM”, a complete copy on YouTube, appearing on a search of “film noir”, of a now P.D. film “D.O.A. – Dead on Arrival” from United Artists, directed by Rudolph Mate.

The pretext is classic: A man shows up at a police station reporting a murder, his own. He’s been told by “doctors” that he’s been poisoned, and that nothing can be done to save him.  The scene where the doctor’s “tell” are particularly melodramatic.  So you have the ultimate “cliffhanger” crisis common in all screenwriting classes. 

Eventually the backstory gets into smuggled iridium, which recalls the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” with its prescient plot about high enriched uranium.

Edmund O’Brien plays Frank Bigelow, as the Everyman hero, who goes to San Francisco for a last week of fun before marriage to Paula (Pamela Britton).  That’s a rather humorous pretext for going to San Francisco in 1950.  Oh well, Truman was still president then.   But toward the end of the film, as his own demise approaches, he appreciates the importance of a potential marriage.

He saves the life of someone else caught in the “bill of sale” scandal.  But it’s too late for him, at the end, in the police station.


By the way, experts are pretty skeptical as to the film's of "luminous toxin" as real. It may be white phosphorous, or paracetamol, or an extract from the Amanita mushroom (link).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Chomet's "The Illusionist" seems small compared to his earlier "Triplets of Belleville"

Sylvain Chomet’s new animated feature “The Illusionist” (“L’illusionniste”) doesn’t fascinate me with the wonders of the earlier film “The Triplets of Belleville”, where a  competitive cyclist (with all required of “riders”) navigates wondrous mechanical miniatures (including many toy trains) after being “kidnapped”, and where there is that wonderful song.

Here, a Parisian magician travels to Scotland a meets a young woman, leading to tame domestic situations in a flat (not the least of which is the annoying blinking night light of “Joe’s Hotel”). Again, Chomet treats us to physical comedy (rather like Mr. Hulot’s Holiday from the 50s), and a tepia rendition of Edinburgh (which I personally visited in 1982, though staying in an outskirts motel).  And there are some nice steam trains, extracted from the world of Harry Potter.

The music, with its happy waltz theme, does venture into some impressionism sometimes, with interesting piano effects reminding one of Ravel.  Much of the music is by Chomet.

Probably by coincidence, this film shares a title with a strong 2006 period-piece film by Neil Burger, “The Illusionist”, starring Ed Norton as a magician, challenged economically, in 1900 Vienna (from Bob Yari Films).  That would be followed soon by Newmarket’s “The Prestige”.

Sony Pictures Classics has an official site here. I wish Warner Brothers and New Line would reinstate their indie labels (including Picturehouse); Sony is gobbling up a lot of the mainstream "independent" market. 


Wikipedia attribution link for Edinburgh picture    The cliffs were drawn in the film.

The second picture is mine, taken in 2004 at a museum at Strasburg, PA. 
  

Friday, February 04, 2011

"Princess Kaiulani": a curious bit of Hawaiian history, and a bit of paradox

Princess Ka’iulani” presents a true enough story of the American Revolution in reverse, or at least contraposition. Q’orianca Kilcher plays the Hawaiian princess, raised in Britain after her mother’s death, who returns to Hawaii in the late 19th Century to try to save her country from the “tyranny” of American business! To do so, she must maintain royalty.  It’s interesting that she needs to maintain monarchy to restore liberty.

Nevertheless, she wants a constitution giving all native people the right to vote, regardless of “property interest”. It would be hard to say where this fits into libertarian thought.  The episode would make a good subject for an SAT essay.

At the end, she dies in 1899, at 23, of a broken heart, hardly literally. But not before a clean cut love affair with Clive (Shaun Evans).

The film, directed by Marc Folby, was made with partly British resources (see comment), and distributed by Roadside Attractions and now the DVD by Liongate (of course), quite proudly.

The film has also been called "Barbarian Princess Kaiulani" and there are some other YouTube videos (besides pointed here) that claim that the film distorts history. Again, maybe a good topic for a high school term paper. 

It would be instructive to compare the story of this film with that of the 1966 Mirsch film “Hawaii” of Michener’s novel,  with Max Von Sydow and Julie Andrews.  There was some line early in the film emphasizing the importance of people “getting married”.

The Lionsgate DVD contains a 35 minute short from the Island Film Group, "Kaiulani: Crown Princess of Hawaii", directed by Roy Tjioe. The short (which reproduces the New York Harbor speech) gives much more detailed history, including the conviction of the Queen and pardon for treason, and the visits of novelist Robert Louis Stevenson. The political and legal process of annexation to the United States is discussed. The medical causes of her death are explained.

"The native peoples were plundered by people who wanted more." This was America's first forced regime change. Ironically, I just got a book by George Friedman "The Next Decade" that maintains America has an unintended or accidental empire that threatens the nature of its Republic.

The music soundtrack (including that of the featurette) includes some uncredited piano music that sounds like a Chopin nocturne. The original music is by Stephen Warbeck and the Honolulu Symphony is used, and it plays quite well. 

The website for the film is here


Wikipedia attribution link for Honolulu picture. I visited the city in August, 1980.
Second picture (mine) from Smithsonian Museum of American History. 


Thursday, February 03, 2011

I. M. Pei: "First Person Singular" and "Museum on the Mountain"

ETV has a DVD of two films by Peter Rosen about architect I. M. Pei: “First Person Singular” (84 min) and “Museum on the Mountain” (50 min)  the latter about the Miho Museum near Shigaraka Japan, (website url) link .  The two films are shown full-screen.

The first film is essentially Pei’s autobiography, through his interviews and commentaries on his buildings, such as the Pyramid entrance to the Louvre in Paris, which I visited in 1999, and the Rock and Roll museum in Cleveland.  He also designed the new National Museum of Art in Washington.  Pei was born in Canton, China and raised in Shanghai ("the Venice of China") and Hong Kong long before Communism. 

There is a certain self-focus suggested by the title, reminding me of the character Howard Roark (v. Peter Keating) in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" (itself a rushed movie in 1949).

The film makes heavy use of the music of J.S. Back, especially the D Minor Toccata and Fugue, as some music from various suites. The "gebrauchmusik" of Paul Hindemith ("Matthias the Painter") also appears with effect. 

The second film chronicles the building of a huge museum in Japan, where the top of a mountain is removed, and then replaced above some of the building after completing. That sounds like an odd commentary on the practice of “mountaintop removal” in mining coal, already covered on this blog.

The museum also has a long pedestrian tunnel through the mountain, and an unusual suspension pedestrian bridge.

The films can be compared to “My Architect” (2003, New Yorker and HBO), about Louis Kahn, directed by illegitimate son Nathaniel Kahn, and featured when Landmark Theaters opened its E Street Cinema in January 2004 in downtown Washington.

Another comparison could be made to “Sketches of Frank Gehry” by Sidney Pollack (Sony Pictures Classics), which included the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which I visited in April 2001.


Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Miho pedestrian tunnel 


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

"The Rite": a "true" story about training an Exorcist?

The Rite”, based on a book by Matt Baglio and directed by Mikhael Hafstrom, is supposed to be a true story of how a likeable young seminarian Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) became one of the country’s few licensed Exorcists, and he had to learn his craft in Rome from the master  Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), who, the logic of storytelling demands, would need an exorcism himself.  The film mentions an interesting point, that demonic possession is becoming epidemic and pandemic, as if like in "28 Days Later".

Hopkins here does a repeat performance; it seemed to me that ten years ago he was a lot more convincing as a Hannibal about to return to public life. (Remember the open skull and dinner in that movie?)

In the beginning, Michael is confronted with a choice between becoming a mortician (the family business, and not just a front for Halloween, like the Black Suit that I used to wear) and a priest. At one point another student asks him if he’s gay (remember, the Vatican recently wrote about “incompatibility” because lack of “paternity”), but his real problem is “Doubt”.  Yup, he has to be a doubter before he can become a believer, as was Mother Teresa, and Father Trevant.

The sequences in this movie seem a bit arbitrary; there’s not the steady progression that we saw in the 1973 masterpiece “The Exorcist”.   You want to see Kovak more engaged, even at risk, physically (and maybe Trevant's many cats should like him).  But there’s a great line where Kovak tells the Devil in Trevant to “Leave”.  I remember one evening in 2005 when someone said that to me in a bar, early, before it was crowded, when I seemed like a lurking millstone.

New Line now goes through the Warner Brothers trademark to introduce itself as the owner of the film. It’s fallen a bit since its glory days with the LOTR films.

The official site for the film is on WB, here