Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Romeos" (Germany) examines personal life issues for F-M transsexual

Romeos” (or “Romeo’s different than you think” or “Romoes anders als du denkst”) is a new film from Sabine Bernadi from Boogiefilm (Germany), Kino,  and Strand Releasing (Jan. 17). 

Lukas (Rick Okon) opens the film telling us by Skype that he is going female-to-male, and giving himself injections.  Then he moves into a female dormitory during a period of civilian service, in Cologne. (Germany required military service for men until 2010, but civilian service could be substituted; this point about  potentially unequal treatment of gender in a liberal modern state hits home immediately – in the film, it seems that both genders do at least civilian service, though.)  He soon meets  Fabio (Maximillian Befort).  Pretty soon the film is exploring the idea that gender identity and sexual orientation are totally separate concepts.

Very early, we see Lukas exercising and doing measurements, and inspecting his darkening leg hair. Only later do we see visually that none of the surgery has been done yet.  I don’t know how the film accomplished this, whether the actor is transsexual, or some sort of CGI was used – but it so, it is very effective “technically”.  Gradually, the film develops Fabio, and a couple other characters from men’s dorm, especially the attractive Sven (Felix Brocke).  At the end, the “obvious” issue with a relationship – and the “discovery process” – must be dealt with. One of Fabio’s shirts had a particularly convenient cut for the near-final scene. 

There's a bit of irony. Lukas is ready to fall in love with a man when he is one himself -- biologically, as much as possible -- and would refused earlier, when there would have been a possibility of children.  In scenes of Lukas, the female aspect is indeed made to seem grotesque.  This indeed is portrayal of "upward affiliation". 

When I was a patient at NIH (1962), one of the female patients said she wanted to be a man, hardly acceptable in 1962. My own father would say, after visits, “Poor (name), she’s not very feminine”.  In 1993, one of the guest on Scott Peck’s radio program in Washington was a sailor who had gone male-to-female transgender, forced out of uniform, but still in civilian intelligence service, and a lesbian.

The film says that Germany’s health care system pays for Lukas’s change.  When I grew up in the 1950s, performance according to biological gender was viewed in “moral” terms only, as if (as the Vatican claims) it was only one special challenge among many that almost everyone must face while meeting obligations to others.  No question, the status quo was about preserving power structures.

Official site from Media Luna in Germany is here

MGM and Fincher offer "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", almost the same film, in English; but typical Fincher moods

I wasn’t going to “bother” to re-see “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, so soon after the trio (no pun with a musical scherzo) of thrillers from Sweden in 2010. But with David Fincher as the director, I was just too curious, and too in need of a “guilty pleasure” last night. And I was curious that the big film may help mark a rebirth of the grand old MGM studio (with the help of Sony and Columbia).  My review of the Swedish version of this film occurs Aug. 14, 2010 under the label “Millennium Trilogy” base don Stieg Larsson’s novels.

The remake in English seems to be very similar to the first film, in plot and even style.  What that says is that the entire trio is somewhat typical Fincher raw material.  There is a sequence where Lisbeth (Rooney Mara, who invokes Lisbeth’s no-nonsense manner of talk well) shows that a sequences of European murders in the 50s and 60s follows verses in Leviticus – a typical Fincher concept (remember the movie “Se7en” or “Seven” (1995), where the pattern is based on the Seven Deadly Sins, for Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman to unravel, even shaving to wear wires!)  It's not always snowing (the way it rained in "Seven"), but Sweden is either dark or in twilight much of the film. 

Daniel Craig is a bit too cookie-cutter-like as the tainted journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Christopher Plummer is effective as the suspicious family patriarch.  The whole plot seems a bit like a dream. When Blomkvist travels north by train from Stockholm, the film shows the train going through mountains. That doesn’t happen in Sweden until you go north of the Arctic Circle, toward Kiruna, and iron-mining town that I actually visited in August, 1972. The estate, of course, is on an island, with the bridge and geography driving much of the plot.

The sentient house cat (big, almost like a bobcat) who lives in the guest cottage turns out to be a major character,  almost human, constantly seeking attention and bossing around Mikhael as a guest.  As in “The Future”, you wish the cat could have a happy end.  But cats can be trained to perform in the movies. 

I guess the plot is a warning about the risks professional journalists run – so what about amateurs? It’s also a warning about what determined hackers can do, especially at the end.

In retrospect, “The Social Network” seems a bit outside the box for Fincher.  In that film, all of the young male characters (not just Mark Zuckerberg as played by Eisenberg) have moral flaws, but you like them, and covet their world, want to belong to it.  In “Tattoo”, there is a sense of unrealness, and corruption everywhere.  You admire Lisbeth’s fearlessness, but you don’t really want her in your own life. Fincher offers us a couple of scenes where men undergo some physical mayhem  in sensitive ways, yet for the most part, Fincher offers a more heterosexually-inclined Lisbeth in order to play before large mainstream audiences.  Lisbeth is no female Zuckerberg.  Bold as she is (even dangerous to bank accounts), she is not capable of ruling the world. 

The early scenes in the film (which interlope Lisbeth and Mikhael before their future connection is developed) present Lisbeth as institutionalized because of her lack of "sociability", which sounds improbable in liberal Sweden -- but you have your exploits beneath the surface. 

The new music score (with the “whistle theme”), by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is spooky in “Se7en” style.

How would Fincher handle my "Do Ask Do Tell" screenplay?  I guess when the "Character" (Me) realizes he may have passed on  but might have to go back, he would convey the appropriate sense of menace. 

I saw the "Tattoo" remake in a small auditorium at Regal in Arlington VA, not knowing in advance which shows were in the larger auditoriums.  It was almost full late last night.  The auditorium did not have Surround speakers, although there was conventional two-track stereo up front only.
The new film has this link from MGM.  I thought Oprah was going to rescue MGM financially. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"The Power of Forgiveness" from Journey Films

The Power of Forgiveness”, from Journey Films, directed by Martin Doblmeier, quickly draws a distinction between tolerance and forgiveness.  It requires compassion and mercy, not  justice.  It requires being “tough minded by tender hearted”. It was shown on some, but not all, PBS stations in 2008.

It then first examines the issues surrounding the conflicts in Northern Ireland, and a program of forgiveness education.

It then examines forgiveness in the Amish community, after the Nickel Mines  (PA) tragedy (Oct. 2, 2006). The community is strong enough as a society that the people don’t need to bear the burden individually.

The notion that “all people have worth because they are members of the human family” and not because of personal accomplishments or merit, is presented.  A person is more than what he/she has done.  A course in both seeking and offering forgiveness is presented in Ireland.

The film moves to the Holocaust, and Elie Weisel (“Night”, often read in high school) discusses the PBS Masterpiece play “God on Trial” (TV blog, June 20, 2010, by Frank Cottrell Boyce).

There is a discussion of the biology of justice, which the brain craves, and forgiveness. People were hooked up to electrocardiographic monitoring to study physiological reactions in detail.  Men were seen as more like to forgive in a critical moment than women.

The issue of forgiveness in connection with 9/11 is presented.  One woman looks for her son in a dump in the meadowlands.  She says “understanding” and “doing” are different things.

The project for the Garden of Forgiveness in NY (link) is discussed by a priest from St. Paul’s Church, and that project is based on a similar one in Beirut, which is shown. The National Council of Churches has a link on the Garden project.

Toward the end there are personal testimonials of forgiveness from crime victims that is hard to watch.
The link for the film is here.

Robert Enright  International Forgiveness Institute (link) appears.


What is hardest, I think, is that loss, because of the wrongs of another, is real for the victim. It makes the victim accept for dependence on others.  But, “forgiveness is something you do for yourself.”  I have the idea that, if one does not forgive, one must personally keep paying for part of the wrongdoer's deeds.  The law of karma makes us share some responsibility for the deeds of others anyway. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Russian film "The Return" -- a road movie, a morality play, a father-sons struggle, with an existential twist

Back in 2002, a passage in an online copy of my second book, where I was discussing the possibility of nuclear terrorism, was hacked.  Some of the jibberish that got overlaid onto a particularly sensitive passage appeared to point to some lakes around the border between Russia and Finland.  It never happened again. It was weird.

Well, Eastern European films can definitely have sharp edges to them on deep moral problems. So I was curious when I saw “The Return” (“Vozvrashchenie” or "Возвращение"), a 2003 film in Russian by Andrei Zvyagintsev, and noted in the Netflix summary that it’s about a father’s forcing a “rite of passage” on his sons, I was curious.

The film opens with two brothers, Andrey, about 16 (Vladimir Garin) and Ivan, about 12 (Ivan Dobronrarov) “playing” with other kids on a jump tower near a cold seacoast.  Ivan is afraid to jump and dive, and his “single” mother (Natalya Vodvina) rescues him and protects him from the bullies, but the boy will be called a “coward” and “pig” by his playmates anyway. They go back to their Spartan home, and suddenly the father (Konstantin Lavronenko) has returned after twelve years of mysterious absence.

The father takes the boys on a road trip, past the cafes and into the wilderness.  (At one point, the father  dispatches a thief who tries to steal from Ivan, as if the world were one with no real morality or sense of law and order.) The boys  fish in canals, tar the bottom of a boat and then make a trip with father to a “mysterious island” where they will be challenged and initiated.  The film develops the complex relationship between the boys and with their father and plays on the idea that in their culture, boys must prove their competitiveness and “machismo” (ability to protect women and children) before they can go anywhere else in life.

Toward the end, the father digs up a chest in a remote shed, and a heavy tin box inside it. We’re never shown what’s in the box (you think of [“The Box” and “Darko”] Virginia-rasied director Richard Kelly), but imagination is a good thing here.  One could presume that he will leave his sons an “inheritance” if they pass their tests.  All you get to see is a watch.

A little test does happen, and then there is tragedy, which is enigmatic.  Before the closing credits, the boys review some pictures (maybe from the box) that give some clues as to what may have happened to their father.  One can imagine that the box could contain gold – but not that much, really – or something very heavy and very dangerous.  The father was obviously “on the lam” and had hidden something away, perhaps with shady business dealings in post-Communist Russia, or maybe even with booty from the Cold War.

The film was shot around the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, more or less near areas in the hack, and the film was made about the same time as the hack.  For me, it’s all rather curious. Early in my novel manuscript, “Brothers”, the protagonist (a part-time CIA agent who publicly is just a history teacher) journeys to the Gulf of Finland area to pick up a mysterious “heavy” object disguised in an old Radio Shack computer, with clues toward a turning of our whole civilization.  The scenery is pretty much as I had imagined -- very flat, with lots of waterways and bridges.  It reminds me a bit of northern Minnesota (like around the Burnside Lodge, near Ely, where I stayed one weekend in 1999). 

The English translation of the title matches the name Beethoven gave to the last movement of his "Les Adieux" Piano Sonata. That's curious.  A little music from Mozart's Requiem appears in this movie. 

Kino’s official site is here

There is a “feature length” documentary about the making of this film from RenFilm on YouTube, the first part here:


Wikipedia attribution link for map of Ladoga area.




Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"My Reincarnation" follows a Tibetan master and his western son's growing awareness of a past life

I went into town (the West End Cinema) to see the small film by Jennifer Fox, “My Reincarnation,” expecting it to be important to see now. It was. 
 
Tibetan master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu moved to Italy to escape persecution by Communist Chinese, had and raised his family, particularly a son Yeshi Silvano Namhkai, whom he, at his son’s birth, believed to be a reincarnation of his lost uncle, whom he also believed may have died at the hands of the Chinese. 
 
Yeshi, however, grew up as a western person, and worked for IBM for a couple decades as a systems analyst and project manager.  He would have his own family and daughter.  In time, particularly after his father’s bout with cancer (lymphoma), he began to feel drawn more to his father’s world. His father recovers. But  In dreams, Yeshi became connected to his great uncle, even to the point that he believed he had experienced the uncle’s death in a Chinese prison, leading to a bridge to the continuity of his own life. As a child, he experienced prescient dreams of a monument in Tibet that was not actually built until around 2005. 
 
Yeshi “looks” western, more Caucasian than his father (the acne was distracting), perhaps a little bit plump – he actually looked better (probably because of losing weight) after he increased his spiritual practice.  At the close of the film he is in his mid 40s and still looks youthful. 
 
Chogyal is called “Rinpoche” in Tibetan, meaning guru or teacher.  He is a wise man somewhat in the sense that Paul Rosenfels (discussed elsewhere in my blogs) was.  
 
What do we make of the “reincarnation”?  It seems that with time Yeshi gradually incorporates the progressive memories of his great uncle’s life as if they were his own, but with many details missing. But none of us remembers all the details of our own lives anyway.  That name on the tip of the tongue that escapes us – it doesn’t defeat the integrity of our identity. (Today, I struggled to remember the name of a famous 1981 film, discussed on The View – finally it clicked, “On Golden Pond”.)

The film has an initiation ritual, which reminds me a little of a Rosicrucian "Feast".  
 
Mathematically, there are not enough people alive on the planet today for everyone to have been reincarnated.  But maybe that just argues for the sure existence of other habitable planets for us to go to and work out our karmas – at various stages of development, some “terra nova’s” 40 or 50 light years away.  Maybe some day we will really find Clive Barker’s “Imajica”.

When you dream, you don't know how you got there, nor do you care, unless you're having a nightmare. When you wake up from general anesthesia, you can remember being wheeled into surgery, and nothing more, but all of your life up to that point seems intact, as if you were a computer having just been rebooted. With reincarnation, it sounds as though the experience of a past life might come back in snippets through meditation, but in time, you would have to take responsibility for what had happened (even on another planet) and would develop a sense of continuity with some of that life.  What if you had children? What if you had been of a different gender? (and sexual orientation?) Could a dream of an encounter with someone today really be a recall of a relationship in a past life (with that other person being a matched reincarnation)?  The film "Judas Kiss" (June 4) even posed the idea of a relationship with a past self. 
 
Here is the official site. The production and distribution company is “Long Shot Factory”. 
 
 
There is a new review of “The Darkest Hour” on my blog “Films on Major Challenges to Freedom”.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"War Horse": Spielberg starts slowly, builds to a shattering climax in the WWI trenches


Steven Spielberg’s latest film, “War House” (Touchstone and Dreamworks) is a period epic, leading to World War I, the “Great War”.  It starts modestly in rural England but, with an episodic narrative (the film runs 2-1/2 hours) works up to one of the most gripping and horrific war scene climaxes ever filmed.  It certainly leads us to wonder why “The War to End All Wars” was not such. 
 
Well, one reason is that young men – as well as horses – were drafted and left to die in the trenches, under chemical warfare attacks, fighting for nationalist agenda imposed by others. 
  
But adaptive life is not easy even in the tense pre-war peace. Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) is a strong-willed 16 year old who takes up the challenge left by his father  (Peter Mullen) when the elder overpays for a questionable horse. The wife (Emily Watson) reminds them all that they have to raise enough crops to pay the rent.  I didn’t realize that average Brits rented their land in those days from the Tories. 
 
Albert takes up the challenge, bonds to “Joey” and in a couple weeks has him tilling the soil. But when WWI comes, the father sells the horse.  The movie becomes episodic, tracing the history of Joey as he gets “captured” by German soldiers. One interesting observation is that it is hard to tell the two sides apart.
Eventually Albert is old enough to be drafted (he wanted to go with Joey), and winds up in the trenches. It’s not too much of a spoiler to suggest that Joey will find him the way loyal animals do. But the way he does is truly harrowing.   They truly save one another’s lives. There is even a “negotiation” between two corporals which puts the War to shame. 
 
The movie has a schmaltzy score by John Williams.  Some music from Britten’s “War Requiem” would have fit. 
 
I saw this in a smaller auditorium at a Regal in Arlington (opening Christmas Day to large crowds), and the projection has some problems in the middle of the cropped screen.  See this on a big screen and with digital projection if possible. 

Here is the official site  (Enable scripts and plug ins.)

ABC's interview follows:

ABC has a similar interview on YouTube (no embed) here.



Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Young Adult" (as performed by Charlize Theron) brings back memories of my own "good old" days in Minneapolis

I was “attracted” to see “Young Adult” (dir. Jason Reitman) in part because of the Minnesota location. In fact, in the opening sequence, downtown Minneapolis is shown, and there are a couple of high rise balcony shots that appear to be taken of the Churchill Apartments (link), downtown, near the Post Office, two blocks from the Mississippi River. I lived in the Churchill for six years, from 1997-2003, on the PO side, the last two years in an end corner unit on the NE side. 
 
Charlize Theron plays fiction writer Mavis Gray. She’s not monster this time, but she is manipulative.  She journeys to “Mercury MN”  (I couldn’t find the town, but there is a company by that name in Faribault, 50 miles south of the Twin Cities on I-35) to hook up with a previous boy friend Buddy (Patrick Wilson, who had starred in “Little Children”), when Buddy’s wife unwisely invites her to a baby shower. It seems that there is love lost, and a tragedy behind it. The confrontation at the "party" gets quite ugly. I wouldn't get into anything like this myself.
 
She also consorts with a portly high school chum Matt (Patton Oswalt), who very early in the film tells the story of his being “gay-bashed” when he wasn’t gay – but left badly crippled “down south”.  His legs have surgical scars as a result.  That’s a little bit timely because a school district north of Minneapolis, normally seen as a “blue state” area, is having controversy over not doing enough about anti-gay bullying.
 
The script makes an interesting story of her career as a writer or, as she says at least twice, “author”.  Her teen-oriented series is not selling so well now.   I guess she suffers from the “midlist author” syndrome, much dreaded in old-fashioned trade book publishing. She has a confrontation with a young bookstore clerk (Brian McElhaney) when she wants to autograph all the books – and he says they are about to be sent back “to the publisher”.   In fact, a couple copies of my “Do Ask Do Tell” book were at the Barnes and Noble store in downtown Minneapolis for most of 1999 in the LGBT section.

There's a scene at a bar called "Cedar Saloon" (as I remember); actually, "The Saloon" is the most popular gay dance bar in Minneapolis (more popular than the Gay 90s in my experience; nevertheless, the 90s could have made for a good backdrop). 
 
I saw this at the AMC Shirlington Theater in Arlington, with a prefix for “AMC Independent”. Nevertheless, Paramount lists itself (rather than “Paramount Vantage”) as the US theatrical “distributor”.   (It seems that Paramount now brands films with Vantage only when foreign-sourced.) This is very much in the style of a small film (although the $12 million budget is substantial, probably because of Theron and Wilson in the cast – the movie hardly works without a lead like Charlize).  The production company, Mandate, has usually made smaller domestic films.  I didn’t see any credits for IFPMSP, but I did see the Minnesota Film Commission.   Some of the small town scenes were actually shot in Orange County, New York, however.    There is one scene that appears to be shot at an outdoor strip-mall in Roseville, MN on Highway 36 that I often visited. As for the references to writers, Minneapolis has a very strong National Writers Union group, and a screenwriting group, and a Mayberry award for local film.  
 
Here is the movie site.


First two pictures: from East balcony Apt 711 in the Churchill, winter 2003, where I lived.  I believe that motion picture companies often rented upper floor apts in the building.  Third picture, from the East Bank, my visit, June 2011; the Churchill is the first building behind the bridge. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Go see TWC's "The Artist" and learn something about film

The Weinstein Company’s  and French director Michel Hazanavicius’s holiday social experiment, “The Artist” is indeed presented as a black-and-white silent film, in the original 1.33:1 ratio that used to be standard.  There is spoken dialogue only in a couple of places, as when George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) dreams that he is in talking pictures, and at the end, when he goes for “all that jazz”.

The movie also embeds some silent films, opening with an orchestra playing in a theater in 1927, the way these films were presented.  And George gets to do some kinky stuff, like drown in quicksand. 
 
But by now the word is around, the story is about the actor’s inability to move from silent to talking, while a female idol Peppy Miller (Berenice Belo) stars in them – or perhaps the studio’s unwillingness to let him try and prove he can learn. 
 
So when the 1929 crash comes, he is cast off, and sinks into poverty.  But in a tantrum, he burns his own celluloid, almost perishing in the fire, and only is sentient human dog saves him.  The logical question is why she doesn’t help him sooner.  
 
The film has a dazzling classical sound track, with some rather impressionistic original orchestral music by Louis Borce, some Ginastera, some jazz, and a climactic sequence using some of Bernard Herrmann’s 1958 score from the climatic sequence in “Vertigo”, where in this movie the plot takes on a curious contraposition. The sound track also quoted the 1981 hit "Pennies from Heaven", which I did see in Dallas then (not my favorite).
 
There are some other curious effects, as when Peppy “makes love to a suit”, pretending she is being embraced by the sleeves.  In a late scene where a "talking" movie is being filmed, there are separate chairs for director and "screenwriter", as if the writer had to be present for the filming. Is this what happens now?
 
This is, in the end, a near-tragedy about the life of a somewhat self-indulgent artist and "problem child", who may not be able to adjust to a “new world” with new modes of expression. 
 
This film is also, like “Hugo” and “Marilyn” (also from TWC), about the movies as they were years ago, even in very early times.  
 
I saw this at Landmark’s E Street in downtown Washington (apparently its debut outside NY and LA) on this Friday night (two days before Christmas) in the large auditorium, and it did not sell out – I had thought it surely would.  It’s unusual for a screen designed to show full 2.35:1 without vertical cropping drawn in to the old aspect ratios of the 1930s. 
 
Here is the official site 


CNN and TWC have been offering a sweepstakes contest for consumers with a prize of a stay in LA, details here.

Other critics have compared this film to "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), which I have never seen. I've just added it to my Netflix queue (DVD only, there's no instant play, which would be a good thing given the interest).

Another comparison is "A Star Is Born" (1954, George Cukor, Warner Brothers), in the original Cinemascope, where Norman Maine (James Mason) helps Esther (Judy Garland) grow as an actress despite his own alcoholism.  I saw this in Dallas at Fair Park at a special benefit in 1984.

Second picture: My father's, from southern CA, in the 1920s, about the time of the film. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Two Weeks Notice": Hugh Grant in conventional romantic comedy; he made made a curious comedy about "geography" back in Wales; AMC history

Well, I go back in time, to a 2002 mainstream romantic comedy that I missed, “Two Weeks Notice”, from Warner Brothers, Castle Rock, Village Roadshow, and Fortis, the last of which listened to my passionate pitch for ‘Titanium” at a 2006 screenwriting class in DC.  This genre is not my element, and seems formulaic. The director was Marc Lawrence.
 
Smooth-skinned Hugh Grant plays a rich real estate lawyer (George Wade) who hires “Lucy”, a sassy Sandra Bullock, who soon resents his treating her like a nanny. But when she tries to give him two-weeks  notice to quit, he blackballs her and browbeats her with non-compete clauses. 
 
Grant is caught in a bind: he has her, when hiring her, promised to build a Coney Island community center and “give back” to the community (he says his life is like Monopoly), and his own boss insists on short-term profits only in the post-9/11 world.  He can say the platitudes (real estate makes “strangers into neighbors”) but can he live as a real human being? He’s a bit like the Rich Young Ruler. 
 
There’s a scene where Grant is playing chess, and the analogy to chess pieces (predictable) and women  is made.  (Is Grant playing the Shevshnikov?)

He also asks Lucy a curious post-interview question, about picking out environmentally friendly stationery (and this is 2002).  On the web, employment consultants often discuss whether to ask a candidate whether he/she can start immediately and ditch a current employer. 
 
As for Coney Island (and the terminus of the D and F trains) I remember the Seaside Courts and the paddleball games along the Boardwalk on Coney Island from a visit around 1989.  Is it still there? Or did a real Community Center and Condo complex get built there?

There's also a scene at Shea Stadium where George as a fan interferes with a foul pop fly.  The ballplayer says, go root for the Yankees.  Citi Field is a much more interesting place than Shea was. The fans boo.  (I was actually an extra for one second in a film scene for Morgan Creek's "Major League 3", with a live scene filmed at the Minneapolis Metrodome in November 1997.  They bought us din-din.) 
 
There are lots of familiar pop songs, like “Ain’t no paradise” and “The Way”.
 
Hugh Grant played in a curious little British comedy in 1994, by Christopher Monger, as cartographer Reginald Anson in “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came down a Mountain” (Miramax), in Wales.  The issue was whether the hill was over 1000 feet high, deserving the name “mountain” and the color orange-yellow in a World Book Encyclopedia 1950 relief map. Rising sea levels could bring it down to “hill” status.  I remember seeing this in an old AMC property at the Skyline Mall at Bailey’s Crossroads VA.  


There was a curious incident at that old complex (now long demolished and replaced). Late on a Saturday afternoon in September 1992, when I went to see Clive Barker's silly "Candyman";  I had previously thought that his movie was “School Ties” (Paramount, Robert Mandel), a woman walked into the small auditorium before the show started and warned people about talking during the movie.  This has never happened any other time. The "school"  film, by the way, concerned a Jewish boy (Brendan Fraser) hiding his religion from an anti-Semite (Matt Damon) at a prep school.  (During that time, and for a number of years, AMC operated a theater complex at Union Station in Washington DC and advertised a “no talking” policy at that complex only in the newspapers; bizarre.)


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Trunk" reduces horror to two people and a very confined space

I suppose that Straw Weisman’s proof-of-concept film “Trunk” shows what you can do with just two characters in a movie taking place in a very confined space.  I don’t know that this is too helpful, except that it might give a novice filmmaker an idea “where to start”.
 
Jennifer Day plays Megan, and I suppose it can be dangerous for a young woman to walk alone to her car in a commercial city (probably Toronto) garage at the end of the work day.  David Blanchard plays George, her captor. That’s about it.  You can imagine she’s in the worst possible trouble – again, urgency and dire straits are what they teach in screenwriting.  (She tries cell phone 911 calls, but not the escape hatch idea.)  And he invokes an almost Alfred Hitchcock response – he has no MO, no motive.  
 
The film, from Maverick, (site) mercifully runs less than 90 minutes.  If you rent it, you’ll want to be doing something else while it plays (like solve computer programming problems if you’re self-employed).  
 
We’ve seen with “Old Joy” or “My Dinner with Andre”  (or, for that matter, “Brokeback Mountain”) how films with (almost) only two characters can be fascinating; with this one, we see how it can become boring classwork. 
 
Maverick offers the whole film on YouTube here.


 I notice that "Saratoga Trunk", a classic, is not listed on Netflix but is "manufactured on demand" when ordered from Amazon. Haven't seen this situation before.  I've never seen this noir 1945 film. I wonder if Netflix rental and video won't be adequate to get everything.  (I did find two versions of the full movie on Youtube "free"; I don't know if they're "legal".)  A subscription model that works for all films is an important strategy in preventing piracy in the long run.
There is a much "better" movie that shows what can go wrong in a parking garage, "Family in Hiding" (2006, Timothy Bond) from Lifetime, where a woman (an executive played by Brenda Strong) witnesses a hit on a DA in a garage and her family is put in witness protection in Seattle, which is very hard on her and the kids, and very hard to watch.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy": they lived in their own world, far from the ideology

For a “semester” exam in VA and US Government in twelfth grade, in January 1961, just as a blizzard started, we had to write an essay in class comparing Communism to Democracy. 
 
Nowadays, the emergence of a spy thriller set in the Cold War seems like a big event. And the British spy thriller (based on John La Carre’s famous novel of the same name) “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, directed by Thomas Alfredson makes one singular impression from all the labyrinthine complexities of the plot: spies live in their own world, separate from the normal of us, and really don’t care about ideology. They probably couldn’t have written that semester essay exam that I took.  But, oh yes, this movie really has a plot!  Literary agents (and purchasing agents for studios looking a screenplays) love that. 
 
The movie (like “Mission Impossible IV”) opens in Budapest, with a shocking hit in a café, leaving a mother dead with a nursing baby, as well as the intended target Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong).  Soon British Intelligence (aka “The Circus”, more or less) is calling back Control (John Hurt) and Smiley (Gary Oldman) into service to root out a mole.  The movie builds on its dusty look as long as it lives in London; everybody smokes, and the equipment – Amdek tape deck recorders, teletype machines, Turing decoders, and various microphones and cameras, looks all too macro and physical for audiences used to computers.  (When you go into a reading room, you aren't even allowed to take in pens.) The story takes place in 1973-1974, not only the height of the Cold War (really past it – the worst was the Cuban Missile Crisis), but about the time of the Arab Oil Embargo and also of Watergate, neither of which is mentioned. 
 
The middle section of the film, happening in Istanbul, is the brightest, with a “Rear Window” like episode.  Younger spies played by Simon McBurney and Tom Hardy (who look at little too alike) invigorate the story.  Physically, the men don’t look the worst for wear despite their lifestyles.  But the older cadre does.  Toby Jones is meaner than usual as intelligence boss Percy Alleline. He’s a far cry here from Capote.

The "Tinker Tailor Soldier" are compared to chess pieces, but more could have been done with the analogy (maybe show a real game in a controversial opening). 
 
The film was produced by Studio Canal (France) and Working Title (Britain), and is distributed in the US by Focus (NBC Universal).  The novel had been the topic of a TV series with Alec Guiness in 1979.  Had the film been made sooner, like in the 80s, it would have been branded as a major studio film. 
 
A Tuesday afternoon performance in Washington DC at Landmark, on a day when the Metro had serious problems, was well attended.  Maybe the lawyers downtown like to take their clients to see this film, or maybe the FBI agents across E Street enjoy it. 

Here is the official site

This film could be compared to Martin Ritt's 1965 film "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" (Paramount), with Richard Burton, in black-and-white, also based on a Le Carre novel.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"King of Devil's Island" (quite far from "Shutter Island") hits a current topic hard

The Norwegian film “King of Devil’s Island” (“Kongen av Bastoy”), directed my Marius Holst, is, on a certain level of storytelling, a bit like “Shutter Island” (Feb. 21, 2010).  But the purpose and emotional effect of the film is even more shocking. 

The movie is based on a story by Lars Saabye Christensen, and reflects what could have happened around 1915, at an island prison for supposedly delinquent boys.  Today the institution is said to be a model facility.
A new prisoner, 17 year old Ehrling (Benjamin Helstad) arrives,  to be shocked at the total regimentation of life here. No personal possessions are allowed, everything is watched, and prisoners are used for slave labor. The boys are told that their past histories do not matter, and the outside world does not exist for them (World War I had started, but it is never mentioned). One other boy, Olaf (Trond Nilssen) may be nearing “graduation”.  The island is run by a governor (Stellan Skarsgard) and a creepy assistant (Kristoffer Joner), the later of whom is not afraid to take advantage of some of the boys, whereas the governor looks the other way. 

In the film's "middle", there is a tragedy. A particular boy, a victim of the assistant's exploitation, drowns himself with a rock (the sequence reminds one of Benjamin Britten's operas like "Peter Grimes" and "Billy Budd").  The governor characterizes him as a "weak" boy, and "not fit to live with other people".  That particular sequence reflects the pre-Nazi values (even though this is not Germany) in films like "The White Ribbon" (Feb. 13, 2010). 
 
Now, the film hits the streets right after the Penn State scandal broke loose, and that is perhaps a fortuitous coincidence. 
 
As for the film, in its dingy, wintry environment, the storytelling picks up as the hope of rebellion and escape builds up.  There is an accelerating climax, where the assistant nearly gets what he deserves.  The final escape sequence on a frozen lake, with the ice unstable, is riveting, and partially tragic, and ironic.  (It’s even more dangerous to do a fireman’s carry on ice because of the combined weight.)  This is one of those films where not many of the characters have a good outcome. 
 
I saw the film at the West End in Washington, and the projection was done from a BluRay DVD. As a result, the screen image was cropped both vertically and horizontally for the 2.35:1 format, which would have fit the theater screen from a normal print. 
 
The distributor is Film Movement, which concentrates on European films (other than France and Germany) exploring moral issues.  (I’m a little surprised that Sony missed this one.)
 
The official site is here. No question, this is a major contender for best foreign language lfilm in 2011.This is a major European film, big in production and very professionally made.
 
 
I suspect that in time there will be a documentary film about the problems with “scandals” in sports programs and school systems.  It’s a little early to editorialize on how Penn State (and Syracuse) will turn out yet.    The culture of “looking the other way” is a huge social problem, as we know from the Catholic church (which has generated some documentary film).  A few years ago, there was controversial series on NBC Dateline (with Chris Hansen – see my Books blog, March 17, 2007) about men, mostly with no criminal records, caught in Internet stings trying to contact minors.   In these cases, actual abuse did not occur.   That would also make for a good documentary examination, such as the really disturbing story of Rabbi David Kaye, convicted in 2006. I would even be interesting in participating in making such a documentary film. 
  
When I was a substitute teacher a few years ago, there were assignments involving special education students where the possibility of having to have questionable physical contact with a student could come up.  I turned down these assignments, but I was ambushed by a couple of them.  Again, this is a topic worthy of news reporting and maybe documentary film.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Michael Dowse brings Terry and Dean back for a second satire on manhood; I was looking for a different film, involved in the piracy fight

Today, I thought I could make another contribution to the debate on movie piracy, and found out almost at the end I had watched the “wrong” film. So, we will have a debate on energy policy (oil shale), the welfare mentality, and “what it means to be a man.” 

I had never watched the earlier Fubar comedy from 2002, so when I watched Michael Dowse’s 2010 sequel to his own satire of the heterosexual world, this time called “Fubar: Balls to the Wall”, or “Fubar II”, I thought I was watching a comedy whose release had been endangered by piracy. More about that later.  “Terry and Dean are back.”
 
In fact, the movie at hand seems like a conservative-launched satire that would probably please Rush Limbaugh.  The term “Fubar” is an acronym for something (look it up).  In this comedy, Terry (David Lawrence) and Dean (Paul Spence) get evicted after chainsawing and torching their Montreal apartment during a wild party. They head for Fort McMurray, Alberta, to get rich as oil field workers, in the tar sands.  The film shows the “gas chamber” training and drug testing, and their rubber stamping. They really need workers. But the money isn’t quite that good and Dean can’t keep up, so he injures himself to get workers comp.  His medical examination shows advanced testicular cancer, in this case meaning the loss of “both” (which almost never happens in real practice).  Dean (the film makes a lot of his bodily hairlessness) is to lose it all and not be a man any more.  Hence, the title of the film. 

There’s more comedy about paternity and being able to have a lineage, and Terry gets married, having a kid that looks too much like Dean (that won’t be a good thing).  Dean, his voice having become more high pitched (that would incite mockery from my old Army buddies at Fort Eustis) becomes the wedding singer.
The on-location scenery around the old fields and of life on the northeastern Alberta tundra is quite breathtaking.  There is also a sequence at the Mall of Canada – that is, the West Edmonton Mall, which I visited myself in 1983.  Edmonton itself has a pyramid building resembling that in Memphis. 

The film is released by Screen Media and Alliance Pictures, with FU2 Productions and Cardinal Films as production companies.  The official site is here
 

As to my intention, it was to see the 2011 comedy by Penepole Spheeris, called simply “Balls to the Wall”, which is not yet on Netflix.  The use of the title seems to be a coincidence.  With the latter movie, the Los Angeles Times has reported that pirated copies showed up from Europe, jeopardizing  US release.  (See posting on “BillBoushka” blog Dec. 7, 2011, about “Creative America”, as well as post here the same day about the short “Stolen Jobs”.  IMDB shows the Spheeris film as having US distribution from Midwest Movies.  I will have to follow up on this.  I suspect it will turn up on Netflix soon. But the only DVD I could find on Amazon right now with the title was the Dowse film. I really tried to do this right!

Wikipedia attribution link for area picture from Athabasca.