Sunday, September 30, 2012

"The Perks of Being a Wallfower": Logan Lerman plays a promising teen

First, let me say that if I want to get my own screenplay filmed, I wonder if I’ll need to rent an extended stay apartment in Pittsburgh.  For a second straight day, I see a film about schools and kids, filmed in the “City with an Entrance”, and in today’s film, the tunnels (specifically, the Liberty Tunnel under “Little Mount Washington”) become a significant prop.  (Don’t stand up in a convertible when going through a tunnel;  I once got cut off  by a truck in the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel, not far away; could have been a catastrophe.) The movies make Pittsburgh the most scenic city in the nation (except for Seattle, perhaps). 

I had thought that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, directed by Stephen Chbosky (based on his novel), would be a sequel to “Charlie Bartlett” (Sidney Kimmel’s 2008 film for MGM) because the protagonist’s name is Charlie, and in the previews, Logan Lerman at least superficially resembles Anton Yelchin from the earlier film.

In the story, if I track properly, Charlie enters high school – that normally means ninth grade – as a freshman, at age 15, to turn 16 on Christmas Eve.  That would put him a year behind. The “normal” age would be 14. It is still believable that this character, unusually articulate and verbal for his age, could start there. But later, there is some intimacy; maybe the filmmakers didn’t want to suggest underage activity under Pennsylvania law (which is pretty complicated if you look it up).  In any case, Charlie is cognitively mature enough to know what he is doing – now, but there’s a hitch.  Back to that later.
  
The film seems episodic and expositive. It starts with Charlie, a likeable introvert, writing letters, or a kind of diary, to a “friend”.  We don’t see cell phones and Internet, but we do see CD’s and 45-rpm records both, so we know the time is about 1990.  If this were a later time period, we might see Charlie blogging instead.  But diaries have always been important.  In the movie, Charlies types on a conventional ribbon and gets a typewriter as a present; by 1990, people already had PC's (and programs like WordPerfect).  

Charlie thinks that Sami (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) are dating, and rather likes watching things from the outside, like a kibitzer at a chess tournament.   Charlie says he wants to become a writer, but he needs people to write about.  He still needs to keep his distance. But, at a low-key “initiation” party, Charlie walks in on Patrick having a gay encounter with a make classmate.  Patrick asks him to keep a secret. But the incident will draw Patrick into his own real life.
  
In time, Charlie will migrate towards intimacy in both directions.  I think it’s perfectly natural for young men to want intimacy for more than one purpose.  In the heterosexual scenes, he finds that certain “natural” instincts are hard to control (I’m reminded of a similar scene in the TV series “Everwood” where teenage piano prodigy Ephram “loses it” prematurely when with an “older woman”, his first “experience”).  The film remains within the PG-13 area as to what it shows.

In the film's "middle section", Charlie grows enough to act in a musical -- specifically, "The Rocky Picture Horror Show", where the "penalty" is to go into drag.  It's rather tame and non-threatening, fortunately. (I saw the stage version in Minneapolis myself in 2002.) 

The movie gradually drops hints of Charlie’s troubled past, and there is an eventual brief breakdown, which is not completely clear in its cause and resolution.

Logan Lerman  (now 20) does make you really hike his character, or like him. He still seems a bit like “Bobby” in the show “Jack and Bobby” where Bobby protects his mother in a particularly well-written campfire scene back in 2005.  He was never “just a kid”.

Summit Entertainment offers this official site (will start shockwave) link. 

I saw the film Saturday afternoon at the new Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA, in the largest auditorium, curved screen, prefitted to regular aspect. There was a small crowd.  


There’s also a little side diversion with an English teacher (Paul Rudd) who (after recognizing Charlie's obvious talent for "writing") ferrets out Charlie’s shyness and gives him a copy of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”.   But people did read that in ninth grade when I substitute-taught.  I don't think there is a film of the novel (legal reasons) but Lionsgate has "Chasing Holden" (2001), by Christopher Eberts and Malcolm Clarke. 

Could someone envision a "sequel" about what happens a few years later in college (and what happens to Patrick when he goes to college. since he is a graduating senior in the movie)?  I guess one can envision a movie about an older "professional wallflower" like me.  I like my perks.  And remember, a wallflower is not a wildflower.

And why does the movie title say "being" rather than "becoming"?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Won't Back Down": To reform underperforming public schools, you need to win converts, not arguments


I went to see “Won’t Back Down”, the next “high stakes” drama about an inner city (Pittsburgh) school late last night, after another engagement “failed”, and with vivid memories of my own history as a substitute teacher a few years ago.  The film, directed by Daniel Bartz and written with Brin Hill, plays heavily on audience rooting interest in what is legally and politically a complicated problem to address:  the idea that teachers’ unions protect ineffective teachers who then don’t try hard enough in low income schools.  I’m not sure that this always plays out.  Michelle Rhee, Washington DC’s controversial school counselor, was able to shake things up within the union framework.  Teachers’ unions in large cities have always been politically powerful.  In New York City, the teachers’ union (under Shanker) helped save the City from its financial crisis in 1975 (the “Ford to City: Drop Dead” incident), but the same union has supported “rubber rooms” that waste taxpayer money on failed classroom careerists.  (For more on Rhee, see "Waiting for Superman", in which she appears, reviewed Oct. 1, 2010). 

The film, from 20th Century Fox, was produced by Walden Media, known for family-related dramas.  
  
Maggie Gyllenhaal is overbearing as the mom Jamie who will lead a charge to help her dyslexic little girl (Emily Alyn Lind) have a chance to become president (or a surgeon) some day.  Her interpersonal technique is to win converts, not just arguments.  She knocks on doors and barges in on people – exactly the kind of activity that normally repels me.  Quickly, she recruits fifth grade English teacher Nona (Viola Davis), who quickly decides, for the sake of her own son who had become somewhat disabled in a tragic childhood accident, to join leading the charge to restructure Adams school, in a way that non-performing teachers will no longer have job security.

There’s an interesting subplot involving a private school, and its administrator (Holly Hunter), who tells Jamie that most school board administrators send their own kids to private schools.  Shouldn’t Jamie do the same thing because that would be best for her own daughter?  They’ll even get her daughter a “scholarship” if she’ll just back down on her threats to the teachers’ union.

This sequence raises a question about the balance between individual self-interest and eusocial altruism.  Is putting her own child first the “altruistic” thing to do, in the best interest of family?  Or is taking a bigger risk so that other people’s children will have a better chance part of the moral assessment of possible sacrifice that should occur?  Jamie, after all, is “just” a parent, struggling to keep her job as used car salesman (within site of the Pirates’ ballpark).  She isn’t a teacher herself.  She should be.

There’s a male math teacher (Oscar Isaac), who loves to teach and entertain his kids with his ukulele, whose lines reveal the quandary for “real teachers”.  “I’m not anti-union” he says.

The retiring school board chief (Dante Brown) is quite feisty and takes charge of the final board meeting to bring the film to an “end”.

There are some supporting scenes about sports, in this case, ice hockey (the Pittsburgn Penguins) and only incidentally, baseball.  


Walden’s site for the film is here

I saw this in a renovated auditorium at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington, only five other people in the audience for the 10 PM show. 

This is a good place to mention another film, in early 2007, "Freedom Writers", starring Hilary Swank as the creative English teacher in a low income LA school, from Paramount and director Richard LaGravenese.

Pictures: Mine, from a 2007 trip.  Pittsburgh is the "Denver of the East". 

Friday, September 28, 2012

"Oslo, August 31": a young man in despair, surrounded by the prosperity of others in modern Scandanvia


Near the end of “Oslo, August 31” (directed by Joachim Trier), the protagonist Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), having returned home, sits down at a grand piano and starts to play what sounds like a Bach Partita (not identified in the credits).  He plays it reasonably well, with a few mistakes, but then, a bit frustrated, stops in the middle.

He goes to the bedroom to initiated his own tragic end.  I had to play spoiler.  But I felt, what a waste.
The film documents a full day in the life of a recovering drug addict, who takes a day of liberty from his treatment center (or maybe he is getting out), and visits his old “friends”  in town (Oslo, Norway) and even applies for a job (unsuccessfully, as the employer needs to explain the gap in his resume). 

Anders, whose hairless body in early scenes seems to emphasize a surprisingly clean-cut, preppie and crew-cut look, has apparently been raised in intellectual privilege (his parents valued brains more than sport, he says) but doesn’t seem to value anything, in himself or in other people.  The film has some existential conversations that seem to run around in circles.  He admits that he can’t face “starting over”.

I thought of a number of Dr. Phil shows where Dr. Phil sends a client to a drug and alcohol rehab program in Texas. 

I visited Oslo myself at the end of July, 1972, visiting friends “from church”.  There was actually a heat wave.  I took a train to Bergen, flew to Trondheim, then took a train across the Arctic Circle to Narvik, and then another train to Kiruna and back down to Stockholm. 

I reviewed a screener from Strand.  The film played at the West End Cinema in Washington DC a few weeks ago but I missed it there. 


Strand’s official site (the DVD is now in stock) is here

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Oslo Royal Palace. 

The scenery of the city Oslo emphasizes its neatness, perfection, and prosperity, in comparison to the emptiness of the central character. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Saratoga Trunk" from Warner Archives: what a railroad!


I’ve noticed that some classic films never seem to get to Netflix on DVD or Instant Play, and one of these films is the 1945 classic “Saratoga Trunk”. I discovered that the film is in the “Warner Archive” and that Amazon will print the DVD on demand for a normal price.  But right now some of these films you can’t rent cheaply from a subscription service.

Warner’s own site for the service is here

There is also a story about the service on “Switched”, here.

I tried the service from Amazon with the film. The DVD jacket had an odd warning that the DVD might not play in any machine that can record (including PC drives). I’ve never seen that. I put it in my Samsung BluRay player, and it cycled for a moment on “Play” before starting, and then it played fine, with 10-minute interval scene cuts.  The film is long, running 135 minutes.  In the restoration the black and white photography, especially in the indoor scenes, looked crisp.

The film is based on a novel by Edna Ferber, and was directed by Sam Wood.  The basic idea is that a headstrong woman and man come together (read “Scarlet and Rhett”) to gain revenge against those in the world who mistreated them.  As the film progressed, I wondered if the film was a partial inspiration for the ABC series “Revenge” (as well as a Dumas novel).

The Creole woman, Clio (Ingrid Bermgan) comes back to New Orleans from Paris to avenge the treatment of her mother by her father’s family, the Dulaines. Throughout the film she is accompanied by tag-team sidekicks: a Haitian servant Angelique (Flora Robson) and a dwarf servant Cupidon (Jerry Austin).  There is an interesting early scene in a restaurant (pre air-conditioning, as this takes place during the Reconstruction) where the family recognizes her.  How often does accidental recognition (or mistaken identity) occur in today’s bars? 

Clio meets Texas cattleman and gambler Clint (Gary Cooper).  She wants to marry big to prove she is “good enough” (the “Gone with the Wind” mentality).  Clint tells her about Saratoga Springs, NY, the racing center where all the shakers in the world come together.  In the meantime, a lawyer from the Dulaines wants to pay her off to go away and keep quiet (a most effective scene).

Eventually Clio finds herself torn between Clint and another businessman Bart (John Warburton) as Clint gets involved in a scheme to get back at railroad barons who cheated him.  The “Saratoga Trunk” refers to a short like from the Saratoga area to the Finger Lakes area (although the literal metaphor of a "Trunk" as an object is used -- and I've reviewed another horror film here called just that.) A wealthy woman (Ethel Griffes) tries to blackmail Clio (again) in a scene the tone of which is quite startling:  people like that woman exist in English literature (Thomas Hardy novels, for example).  The railroad business battles morph and culminate in a wild ride with Clint’s boys in which a train has a head-on collision with another train (15 minute before the end of the film) just after coming out of a tunnel.  (The railroad parallels I-88 from the Albany area to Binghamton, which I actually drove in early August).  The collision is quite destructive (the locomotives practically evaporate) and spectacular, and anticipates a similar scene in the 1997 film “The Peacemaker”  (Dreamworks, Mimi Leder, with George Clooney) in which one of the trains carries a nuclear payload.

The tunnel idea was interesting to me, because in my novel manuscript (“Angel’s Brothers”) I have a confrontation happen in a bicycle tunnel in Wisconsin, which is “attacked” while the riders are in it.  I wondered how the movie would work out if the head-on collision happened inside the tunnel.  Clint can tell that another train is coming from sensing the vibrations from the track while in the locomotive. 

The film has loads of juicy lines, as when Clio says, “I’m just a woman. I’m not allowed to think”.
If you want to see this film inexpensively, best bet is to wait for it to reappear on TCM.  It is long. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"The Billionaires' Tea Party": documentary made too soon for debt-ceiling debate


Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham’s 56-minute documentary “The Billionaires’ Tea Party” (2010)  makes a nice companion to “Koch Brothers Exposed” (Sept. 20), curiously, I can’t find it on imdb (see below), but it is available for Instant Play on Netflix. The tagline is “How corporate America is faking a grassroots revolution.”

The film traces the rapid growth of the informal “Tea Party” from the time of Obama’s inauguration, but was apparently shot before the debt-ceiling “debate” in the summer of 2011. 

Charles and David Koch are identified as the fifth and sixth wealthiest individuals in the world. I’m not sure where Mark Zuckerberg is on this list, but I don’t think he’s part of the “tea party”.

Other pro-free-market organizations are identified, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Freedom Works (as well as Americans for Prosperity).

There seems to be a total lack of intellectual honesty in the highly partisan political areas.  One activist describes how he goes on to Amazon and other sites and assigns “stars” to books and movies based on their political correctness (from a right-wing viewpoint) rather than artistic merit. I'm reminded of a line in ABC's last standing soap "General Hospital": "I'm a publisher. I manipulate information for a living." I guess journalists can't be publishers.

Another speaker (propaganda expert Crispin Miller) says that the “real currency in a democracy is honest information” and that rich people or companies have an artificially propped right (by the First Amendment) to buy the public distribution of falsehoods. 

The film presents the two biggest target issues for the “right” as climate change and “Obamacare”.

One supporter of conservative pundit Glen Beck says “I’m not too old to have heroes” or idols. 

The official site is here


There is a longer (90 minute) version of the film called “(Astro) Truf Wars”.  (I do see an entry for this on imdb now.) Maybe the Boehner  debt-ceiling debate gets covered here.   How about calling it “Turf Protection”?  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The trouble with a hanging curve is that it can become a gopher ball


Baseball movies, and sports movies in general, can be pretty intense, but “Trouble with the Curve”, in which Clint Eastwood plays an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves, seems a bit light in the loafers, and a bit trite, even patronizing.

Eastwood did not direct this film; the direction and writing honors go to Robert Lorenz and Randy Brown. Perhaps it shows.

The story meets the cluches of script writing.  Gus (Eastwood’s characters) is already going blind with macular degeneration. He’s mistrustful of the computers and statistics, and goes by instinct, which could make him valuable.  His daughter (Amu Adams) risks a law firm partnership to come and look after him out of filial responsibility, but she doesn’t fill the role of Jonah Hill’s character in “Moneyball”. 

Providing triangulation is a Red Sox scout   (and announcer wannabe) Johnny (Justin Timberlake) who looks and acts a bit silly. There’s an introductory scene where he, in a soliloquy, narrates a kids’ farmyard game.  His backstory is that of a pitcher whose career was ruined by injury – perhaps supporting the caution the Nationals have taken with Stephen Strasburg.  As for his appearance, at age 31, he looks less “virile” than he did in his last days with ‘Nsync.  Why was edge toned down, or why did he “lose it”?

There’s a line somewhere about a “retarded question” that should have read “clown question” (as per Bryce Harper).

There’s also a subplot about how players are signed, about a particularly obnoxious minor league rookie who slugs homers but can’t hit the curve (and how Gus can hear this is interesting), and, at the end, about a left-handed pitcher who looks like the Nationals’ Gio Gonzales (and throws like him, too). 

The film was shot on location in Georgia (and North Carolina), including some scenes in Turner Field in Atlanta. As of this writing, the Braves are just behind (four games) the Nationals for the 2012 National League East race. 

The official site from Warner Brothers is here.


I wish Warner Brothers would use its wonderful Casablanca musical trademark to open every film.

I saw the film in a newly renovated downstairs auditorium in the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA.  The red cushioned seats are wonderful, and stadium seating has been added. The screen is still wide enough not to have to be cropped vertically for 2.35:1 (as in this movie).  The larger auditoriums are on higher floors, and some are not yet open from the renovation.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Turner Field, Atlanta. Second picture, minor league park in Richmond, VA (mine). 

"Payback", documentary based on Atwood's book: conscience money isn't enough


The 2012 film by Jennifer Baichwal, “Payback:  Some Debts Can’t Be Paid with Money” is based on the book my Margaret Atwood, “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth” (2008, House of Anansi). Margaret Atwood often speaks, and she sounds a bit like Elizabeht Warren.

There’s a great quote, late in the film, that could set the tone for the whole message: “Forgiveness is a link between the past and the future; it isn’t about restoration of the past prior to injury.”

In economic terms, the movie relates debt to slavery.  There is a tendency to encourage workers to become indebted so they have to continue to work for free or for low wages.  One could look at the “company towns” operated by coal companies in the past as following this model. The film spends a lot of time on the organizing of migrant farm workers in the tomato fields around Immokalee, FL  (the sugar cane and poultry industries could have provided similar material).

One speaker notes that capitalism developed in a time when human activity seemed small in comparison to the natural resources of the planet. Now, with climate change and issues like “peak oil”, human activity is on a scale that approximates nature.  Capitalism can no longer assume that it operates in a universe of essentially unlimited potential.

At a moral level, then, people have to be concerned about the idea that their own individual prosperity could depend unhealthfully upon the unseen sacrifices of others.  “Payback” could not easily come just from conscience money.  It requires direct sharing of labor and personal attention. It could slide into Maoism.
The film goes into the subject o blood feuds, and interviews members of Albanian families involved in an incident dramatized in the film “The Forgiveness of Blood” (reviewed here March 10, 2012).

Debt has always been associated with personal psychological shame.  What constructive purpose does this personal aspect serve?

The film was produced in Canada (DGC), and much of it is in French, Spanish and Albanian as well as English (with subtitles).  Zeitgesit is the distributor. The official site is here.


The music score (composer not identified) is often brooding, and reminds one of "Samsara" (Saturday, Sept. 22), as does some of the photographic imagery.

The film is available on instant replay on Netflix. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Gen Silent": Documentary shows difficulties seniors face with receiving (and giving) eldercare


The Arlington Agency for Aging, at the Arlington Department of Human Services near the Route 50 and Washington Blvd Interchange in Arlington VA, held a screening of the 63-minute documentary “Gen Silent” this morning. The film (63 min), directed by Stu Maddox and distributed by Interbang, documents the currents status of eldercare for gays and lesbian seniors, focusing on the Boston area.

The film tells the story of at least six aging seniors.  There is a 40-year interracial male couple, where one, now with lymphoma, has been the other’s (Lawrence) caregiver for ten years and contemplates having to put his lover into a nursing home. There is a sprightly older female couple with a household of cats (who steal the camera’s attention). There is a tragic story of KrysAnne, a transgendered person and veteran (as a male).  After she had her gender change, she met resistance in her own extended family, who would return mail with “lose this address” scribbled as refusal notices.  She slowly dies of lung cancer, and the film documents her progression.  Finally, volunteers arrange a system of caregiving shirts that reminds one of what was done in the 1980s by PWA Buddy Projects. It would take a lot for people to give others this kind of time now. 

The film starts out at a Boston LGBT Pride parade, and shows how older people experienced harassment, back in the McCarthy era, and discrimination unknown to many younger adults.  Some seniors march, and they even stage their own tea dance. But soon the film is showing how many seniors experience mistreatment by staff in institutions, and how, at least outside the most expensive major cities, senior living companies have not tried very hard to train staff on LGBT issues. So many return to their older internalized homophobia, and some don’t even want openly gay visitors.


The film has played in many LGBT film festivals, but not yet, as far as I know, in DC's Reel Affirmations.  

The link is here.

The film does not cover an overview problem, which is that with longer lifespans and smaller families, caregiving responsibilities are going to fall on many more people in the future, including many of those who did not have their own children.  A few generations ago, unmarried women were expected to stay around home as “family slaves”, but their own parents didn’t usually live long when they became infirm, as they do today. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Master": Another intense period story by Paul Thomas Anderson


In “The Master”, director-writer Paul Thomas Anderson accomplishes something similar to what he did a few years ago with “There Will Be Blood”.  He takes a historical period a few decades ago, puts together some political and cultural history, and comes up with a story, told with intensely drawn characters, of what “might have happened” but didn’t quite.

Here, the protagonist is a troubled Navy veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who,  close to living on skid row, comes under the mentorship of a charismatic philosopher (“The Master”) Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), rapidly becoming leader of a “cult” that not too accidentally resembles the popular  or commonplace conception of the Church of Scientology.  Oh, no, there’s no literal inference.  This just might have happened. 

The trouble for me, at least, was that I did not “like” the characters as much as I did in Anderson’s 2007 film. A story about a "master teacher" and his student (or students) can be promising, but the students need to be promising as people.  Here, Freddie never really gets out of his reckless "masculine" rage (and alcohol abuse), unless you want to interpret the last scene generously.  

The pace of the movie is slow and deliberate. It is enhanced by the brooding French-sounding, syncopated, and moderately paced musical score of Jonny Greenwood.  A particular musical entr’acte will be playing during a scene change, carrying the psychological meaning over to a new setting. 

The film is shot in a 70 MM Panavision original, but presented on an ordinary 1.85:1 screen after a lot of digital oversampling.  This is most effective in theaters that have to crop  vertically to show anamorphic wide screen.  The standard aspect ratio is used because of the extensive closs-ups of the characters.  Partly because of the nature of the cultish initiations and conversations, the scenes, often indoors, tend not to have a lot of clutter in them, and the camera focuses on intense close-ups of faces and sometimes bodies (there is some female ceremonial nudity).  Distant backgrounds tend to look crisper and deeper with the 70MM format, particularly because Anderson tends to keep the composition of his images rather consistent (as in the opening shot of ocean water near a ship, that recurs a lot).  Alfred Hitchcock used this style of cinematography in the 1950s; it worked so well in Vistavision with “Vertigo”, and the look of this film is very much like that of Paramount’s process. Anderson revisits a few of the landscapes of his earlier work, especially in the desert.  The "easy rider" scene is effective. 

The tendency of the camera to dawdle on personal detail is obvious right at the very beginning, on the beach, as it exaggerates male body hair of the sailors, even to showing up an empty area of Phoenix’s chest.  Later, when women are shown, the camera focuses on moles in “personal areas”, making the viewer wonder if they’re malignant.

A couple of the scenes in the previews didn’t show up in the main film (they’ll probably be deleted scenes in the DVD).  One was an image of men jumping from a bridge; another was Freddie, when in jail, screaming to Lancaster, “Tell me something that’s true” -- a line right out of Rosenfels. 

Question:  Had Joaquin Phoenix said he was quitting acting?  Or is he back?

The official site (The Weinstein Company) is here.


I saw the film at the new Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.  The theater trailer announced that previews would start, but then the feature started without previews.  But there was a 3-minute short film “National Women’s Day” from South Africa, showing how mining companies now prefer to hire women for underground mining jobs. 



Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Samsara": how the world works, and it's scary to watch


When I went to see the film “Samsara” by Robert Fricke and Mark Magidson at the new Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax County, VA, I was expected another abstract visual adventure like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Konyaanisqatsai” (“Life out of Balance”, 1982, music by Philip Glass), or a French nature film shown in the science museum in Amsterdam (name escapes me).  This new film, shot in 70MM Panavision with digital “oversampling”, is indeed that, but it really carries a political and social punch that will stick.  The title, referring to “cycle of life” (or “Tree if life, maybe) is ambiguous enough.

The film opens with a formal shot of three Asian women presented as symmetric sculpture, and then jumps to the Hawaii volcanoes.  In the early parts of the movie, we are treated to a variety of natural landscapes (starting with the Sahara) and native human habitats and ceremonial sites that build on fractals and, by resurrecting a lot of forgotten civilizations, make the Earth like the home of a lot of extraterrestrial-looking civilizations.  One of the critical early shots is in Lhasa, Tibet; we move inside from the landscape to a scene of monks working tediously to build a “Tree of Life” mosaic out of sand.

Then the film really does something.  I’ll come back to that.

Let me mention, first, a couple of images that really meant something to me, for my own fiction writing. One is an indoor ski resort in Japan, so massive that it seems like a model alien planet under one roof. Another is a shot of an old man, apparently wanting to make himself into a clown, progressively disfiguring himself, as if doing so would let him become the top voyeur.

We start to see some more destruction, particularly the insides of flooded homes in the lost Ninth Ward in New Orleans.  Hint: an inconvenient truth.  There's also a shot of the canyon country in Utah, an obvious reference to "127 Hours".

Close to half way through, the film gradually switches to masses of people being regimented, first in the workplace, with various assembly line scenes.  We also see massive industrial slaughter of animals, as with one particularly shocking chicken slaughter plant in Denmark. We see scenes (particularly in Brazil) of high rise upper middle class neighborhoods right next to shantytowns and slums. 

In the midst of all of this there are a couple more particularly graphic individual images.  A man with a particularly gross pot belly is being marked up for liposuction or surgery, and I felt a kind of anger at his kind of indulgence, as a waste to the world.  I whispered “bring out the machete”.  Then I realized such sadistic satisfactions could come at my expense, too. Later, we see an Army staff sergeant, in dress greens, with a particularly gruesomely disfigured face, from combat.  I remember my own days with the draft.  I got out of Vietnam service.  But used to think, it anything like that ever happened to me, I don’t want to come back.  I can’t see expecting someone to love me looking like that. Talk about sacrifice.

The movie then moves on to mass armaments. We see assembly lines producing bullet casings (I presume this film was shot before the Colorado massacre).  We meet see the North Korean DMZ and see the soldiers, and then see both sides in the middle East.  We meet a survivalist family, with teenage kids at port arms.  We see massive Muslim prayers, and a long sequence with the hajj, the center of which moves in counter-clockwise fashion, like a storm.

But we see that it’s not religion alone that drives the world into dangerous directions, or even class struggle in the usual Marxist sense. The problem is more that, individually, our lives depend on the hidden sacrifices of others that we never see. 

Near the end, the Buddhist monks destroy their “Thanka” artwork, bringing the grains of sand back into entropy. Then we see a shot of the Sahara, almost as if we could become a lifeless planet.

The film is distributed by Oscilloscope, which seems to have taken over from the old Warner Independent Pictures.  The official site is here.


Wikipedia link for “Wheel of Life” picture. 

Another picture here is my own of Mono Lake in CA (2012).
See this in a big theater. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Keep the Lights On": a gay documentary filmmaker tests his dedication in "real life"


This morning, I attended the official commercial opening of the Angelika Mosaic Cinema and Café in Merrifield VA (near Gallows Road and Lee Highway, behind the Target) and saw a small gay Danish-American film by Ira Sachs, “Keep the Lights On”.

A gay Danish filmmaker, Erik (Thurle Lindhardt) has been working forever on a documentary about the work of filmmaker Avery Willard.  There actually is a short film “In Search of Avery Willard” which I have not seen (descriptive link, as part of "Queerer than Fiction")  for Outfest here.)

Already in his early 30s, he plays the hustler scene but has a girl friend  Claire (Julianne Nicholson) who wants to have a child by him before her biological clock runs out (a taste of “demographic winter”?) 
   
Living in New York now but traveling a lot, he faces criticism from those who struggle with “real jobs” (it’s not clear what he lives on -- although he says that for documentary film you don't write a script, you just start raising money at the outset).  He meets an attractive, smooth-skinned young lawyer Paul (Zachary Booth – when you want Zac Efron!), falls in love, but soon finds himself dealing with Paul’s drug and alcohol problem.

The film then traces their relationship for eight years (it starts in 1998), and actually tries to show the subtle progression of age with facial lines.  Erik finds his capacity to love really challenged by Paul’s mindless exploitation – yet by convention it is Paul who should have been the more stable.  Erik and  Claire arrange interventions, at least twice, with Paul going through Twelve Steps at Hazelden in Minneapolis.  

Yet, Erik keeps his organic, earthy intensity all the time.  He is not just a head (even though we see him editing his movie in Final Cut Pro on a Mac). But when Paul is away, he does meet other people.  One of the best people is Igor (a handsome Miguel del Toro), who I wished would lose his cigarette.  There’s a passionate scene in a bar (is the bar “Therapy” in Hell’s Kitchen?)  where the mutual unbuttoning is about to occur, when suddenly Erik throws up.  I’ve never seen this happen in a "real" dirty dancing disco scene.  Yet Erik’s intensity continues.

The film seems episodic, with the introduction of intimacy often telescoped. It's curious that, even with the sideplot about the girl friend, the gay world in this film seems closed, like it was on another planet: personal growth is for its own sake, regardless of how it could depend on the outside world.  On the other hand, the relationship between Erik and Paul sounds like it came right out of Rosenfels (book reviews, April 12, 2006); it would have been easy to imagine a well-polarized pair like this in one of the talk groups at the Ninth Street Center back in the 70s or 80s.    

The film was an official selection at Berlin and Sundance (even though the scenery invokes Tribeca). The official site from Music Box Films is here


Will Music Box put the short film about Avery Willard on the eventual DVD?  It has apparently been funded through Kickstarter/ 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Koch Brothers Exposed": Greenwald's indictment of a particular family in the top one percent


The “Koch Brothers Exposed”, directed by Robert Greenwald (produced by  Brave New America and viewable online on Netflix) is a somewhat hysterical documentary that appears to blame one family for manipulating the entire political system to keep the rich  ("The One Percent") not only in their palaces but in control of ordinary people.

The Koch family founded Koch Industries, a large industry conglomerate.  When I lived in Minneapolis, I often passed the Koch-owned Pine Bend Refinery, about 17 miles south of downtown St. Paul on Highway 52.  It’s the largest refinery in any state that does not have its own oil reserves.

The film, of course, focuses on enormous lobbying efforts supposedly made by the Koch family against what are often seen as progressive initiatives by mainstream political science. 

The family is said to have formed the organization "Americans for Prosperity", link (starts Shockwave) here

One speaker says,  “They don’t want to see government money spent on people whom they believe are beneath being worthy of being taken care of.” And later, someone says “they have a strong ‘libertarian agenda’”.

The film goes on to cover the lobbying for privatization of Social Security (which I think should be done, but in a very carefully managed and graduated fashion), and even quotes David Boaz of the Cato Institute on the matter (Boaz authored “Libertarianism: A Primer” and “The Libertarian Reader” for the Free Press in the 1990s.)  Then it turns to the issue of Scott Walker’s “attack” on public employee unions in Wisconsin.  There’s a viral joke on Twitter now, about whether Gov. Walker (R-WI) honors Labor Day.

The most valuable sequence in the film concerns the water pollution near Crossett, AR, resulting in a lot of illness in poor people, from the unregulated discharges of a Georgia Pacific plant.  The film could have gone into other areas, like coal and mountaintop removal (and water table damage) if Koch has any connection to these. But in a “libertarian world” functioning properly, companies should be held accountable for environmental damage that they cause.  Of course, given the best information on carbon emissions and climate change, this could be very difficult to do without “government” and regulation.

The film also accuses the Koch family of supporting efforts to reverse school desegregation in parts of North Carolina.

The film seems to take the position that the poor are helped only by organized government programs and unions.  A much tougher challenge is to question the moral limits of individualism and to ask, when is an individual personally his brother’s keeper even though he didn’t “choose” anything or “contract” anything specific to incur the responsibility.  This has a lot to do with “social capital”.

The link for the film is here


The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Interview film "Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero?" lets the whistleblowing master speak for himself


Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero? Inside the World of WikiLeaks”  is a curious 90-minute video available for instant vliew on Netflix, from “Blow Whistle Blow” films (and MVDE Entertainment).  I can’t find it on imdb, and it lists no director.

The film consists of interviews of Assange and various other people connected to him.  It is divided into a number of sections (each with a banner reading “Courage Contagious”), the last of which is a live question and answer session with Assange and one other activist.

The initial interviews in the film cover the incidents in 2010 that led to the disclosure of leaks regarding the war in Afghanistan.  There is also a lot of coverage of the video “Collateral Murder” (available on my “cf” blog, April 7, 2010) of a serious “friendly fire” incident in Iraq, supposedly released with the activity of Bradley Manning.

There is a particularly disturbing account of a hack, apparently engineered from Melbourne, Australia, aimed at NASA’s launch of the Galileo.  Had it caused the space ship to explode in the air (like the Challenger), it could have killed a lot of people in Florida because of its plutonium payload.

Daniel Ellsberg is often interviewed, and he says that Assange replaces him as “The Most Dangerous Man in the World”.  See my review of the film about Ellsberg Feb. 28, 2010.

Bob Finkel, author of “The Good Soldiers”, says that Assange offered the Iraq film without appropriate context.

Assange starts the film with a quote that says that people have to be naïve to do extraordinary things, and be willing to break little laws to serve a higher purpose.


There is a website for the film, here

At least, it’s good to listen to Assange explain his ideas in his own words. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The critters of "Madagascar" weren't "Born Free"


I finally got around to seeing a “Madagascar” movie, as sillier “kids’” movies usually don’t stay on my radar screen.  I'm content with just the first one, 2005.  The franchise member count is up to three, now, I think.

And even the Dreamworks logo starts off with the song “Born Free” (1969), but this time we won’t get to see a real “Elsa the Lioness”.

Instead, a lion, hippo. Zebra and giraffe escape form New York City’s Central Park Zoo, wind up on a boat to Africa, and then have to learn to be “free” wild animals on the island universe of Madagascar. After their ship capsizes.  (The anchor is quite cleverly drawn.)  Their initial escape is assisted by some “Happy Feet”.

At the end, they can’t resist the idea of going back to New York to be like people, and to see Spain and France along the way.  They’d rather be real free “people” than animals.  But, then, don’t most pets think they’re people?


Practically all the “current rock” music of a generation gets heard in the sound track, including Saturday Night Fever. 

The DVD has a one-minute short in a preview track, “Dolby Digital”.  Yup, that can make for a short film.

Chris Rock, the voice of the zebra, appeared in an anti-drug high school assembly in Fairfax County VA in 2007 when I was substitute teaching.  The other voices are Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and David Schwimmer. 


Sunday, September 16, 2012

DC Shorts holds Closing Night Party at Atlas, near H St Festival; last showcase



Saturday September 15, 2012. I attended the DC Shorts Showcase 12 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in NE Washington DC; link here
  
It’s a good thing that I took the X2 bus, and didn’t try to park.  I didn’t even know that the H-Street festival was going on at the theater site.  After the film, I attended the Closing Night Party, in a theater in the Atlas;  it was small as it stared.

The video below was a 2009 interview of DC Shorts for Comcast.

   
Try a Little Harder” (13 min) has a young man balancing his dedication to art work against attentiveness to his girl friend , and a piece of his art gets “stuck on her”, resulting in some public physical comedy.  Matt Damon would approve.
  
Viral” (13 min, dir. Dustin Waldman) examines the way user-generated content gives “ordinary” people a chance to be noticed.  He gives an example of a YouTube video of a boy’s dentist visit that got millions of hits.  A Kansas State University professor talks about the relationship between anonymity and temporary fame.  The film was sponsored by Florida State University.

Controlled” (“Ferngesteurt”, Germany, 17 min, dir Hendrik Maximilian Schmitt). A female therapist probes a handsome teenager Maik (Janik Schumann) to learn why he stabbed an immigrant (not necessarily Muslim), and the gradually revealed backstory reveals heavy stuff, including his being bullied and then called a “gay Nazi”, as if that were not an oxymoron.

Outside My Window” (5 min.):  A man’s opportunities pass him by, and then comes tragedy.
“Advancing Age” (7 min.):   At age 30, you’re not yet ready for black balloons, but the colorful ones will keep chasing you.

The Christmas Tree” (11 min).  A father tries to buy his son a Christmas tree, only to have it stolen at a gas station.  Appears to be filmed on Long Island.

Ideologies” (“Furet, Ommbitt”, Norway. 6 min).  Military veterans recall their days as lifers while now in a nursing home, and they don’t know they’re no longer in the Army.

What’s Life Got to Do with It?” (16 min, dir. Noah Weisberg).  Noah directs himself as a handsome and nerdish twenty-something bachelor looking for adventure and finding he has signed an apartment lease in modern  “Valley” LA with a zombie.  He’s forced to make best friends.  Compare to Strand’s 2011 feature horror comedy “L.A. Zombie”. 


Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Arbitrage": a somewhat artificial, brooding thriller


I recall, in the late 1980s, when I was working for Chilton Corporation in Dallas (an ancestor of Experian), and when it was acquired by Borg-Warner, which was subsequently “attacked” for possible hostile takeover by Ivan Boesky, that the newspapers started talking about leveraged buyouts and “arbitrage”.  We played word games in French: “le beau arbitrageur, la belle arbitrguese”.

In the dramatic thriller “Arbitrage” (directed by Nicholas Jarecki), an over-ripened Richard Gere plays the upper East Side arbitrageur Robert Miller, and Brit Marling (“Sound of My Voice”) plays his grown daughter Brooke, the “arbitraguese”.  She has more moral scruples than her dad, and fears they will all be taken down.  His wife (Susan Sarandon, who rather resembles Sigourney Weaver here) is practical, willing to cover for him to get what she wants. She knows about the mistress Julie (Laetita Casta).

Robert has already played some Ponzi games (of the Madoff kind) when a deal from Russia falls apart, and faces the DOJ; it gets artificially complicated when Robert takes her up to Westchester, falls asleep at the wheel, and gets involved in a deadly rollover crash (well done), and escapes, leaving her to dissipate when the car explodes. 

An inquisitive NYC detective (Tim Roth) enters the scene, and the denouement of the plot will come from overzealous and dishonest tactics on the part of police.

I did not find the film as captivating as “Margin Call” about a year ago.  The film has an ambiguous beginning, but really picks up in the "middle" with the crash.  Structurally, the screenwriting and storytelling are fairly cookie-cutter. 

The link for the film is here


I saw this film at a Saturday morning show at the AMC Shirlington, before a fair crowd.

While Roadside Attractions is the theatrical distributor, Lionsgate has offered the film on YouTube for rental at $6.99.  Lionsgate and Roadside seem to collaborate a lot these days on dramatic films. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

DC Shorts helps Angelika open indie theater in northern VA; film from Iran deserved 4 stars


Tonight, I visited the new Angelika Mosaic Cinema and Cafes, apparently its first public opening, in Merrifield, VA, behind the new Target Center (where I parked) at Gallows Road and Less Highway, for Showcase 6 of the DC Shorts Film Festival.  I have been to a similar Angelika property in Dallas, TX (Nov. 20, 2011). The link for the new theater is here

I am grateful to a young tech-savvy employee in a Home Depot across Lee Highway who knew (or figured out) where this place was.  Google maps doesn't have the are correctly shown yet, because the side streets are so new. 

The program started about 20 minutes late, as there were some problems getting out of a computer loop that caused commercials to repeat.

I’ll cove the three largest, and from my perspective, best films of the set first.  Some of the others were rather manipulative and trivial.

Suddenly, Zinat” (“Naagahaan, Zinat”, Iran, 21 min, directed by Navin Azid).  Simin (Raya Nasiri) is successfully raising an adopted daughter Zinat after losing her own family.  But one day, the mumbling and desperate biological mother (Nager Nikkhah Azad) Nasibeth appears and says she need to take the daughter back because her husband has gotten out or prison early.  It’s obvious to Simin that the drug-addicted young woman is incapable or raising anyone.  This film could well expand to a feature, and has all the meat of “The Separation”.   In a time when there is so much hostility about a badly-intended extremist American film, we actually see some outstanding film about family relations made by an Islamic world ready to try to understand what has happened to its own culture.


Deleting Emily” (UK, 15 min., directed by Zak Klein) would be a nice companion piece to “The Social Network”.  Andrew (Will Close), about to leave his working class town in north England for six-month job in Singapore, struggles to save both his “power” and “privilege” in his jeopardized relationship with his girlfriend, Emily (Gina Bramhill).  He doesn’t her to delete him from her Friend’s list in Facebook before he can delete her, as a matter of pride.  There are more complications about how to do this on a smart phone and even how to use gMail (no mention of two-step verification).  The film makes a comic commentary on the significance people give to their standing with others on Facebook, and makes the point that even if you have hundreds of friends on Facebook, you probably only know a handful of them well enough to call them real friends.  So the idea of “concentric publication” to specified lists seems superfluous.  Has Mark Zuckerberg seen this film?

Unremembered” (UK,  15 min, directed by Kelly Parslow) presents a London vicar (Tim Heath) obsessed with finding out who is buried underneath a gravestone with only initials behind his London church. He visits a nursing home to try to interview the previous reverend (David Manson),  now suffering from dementia, and asking him “are you a homosexual?”  The film takes the position that we need to accept the idea that most of us become obscure after we pass away. Live your life to the fullest when you can.

Aquadettes" (10 min, directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari) presents an elderly woman, who has for years led a group of synchronized swimmers in “the O.C.”, struggling with multiple sclerosis. I was not aware that nausea and vomiting occur with the disease, and she explains how medical marijuana (which we see her smoking) keeps her in her lifelong activities.  And she has a husband to take care of.

Applications” (8 min, USA).  A young woman, appearing to be into heavy makeup, starts her own self-destruction. This is indeed a horror film, and I cringed to watch the hemoglobin flow.

A Night at the Office” (5 min, USA).  A monster who looks like one of the “Grays” is about to abduct and convert everyone pulling an all-nighter to meet a workplace deadline (before a stock market crash, maybe).  And extraterrestrials are apparently quite comfortable hacking Windows-based PC's. 

The Bench” (5 min, Switzerland), a silent film in black-and-white shows a smug young professional get pickpocketed by those in need.

Four Daughters”  (3 min., USA).  I woudn’t want the responsibility for being father or the bride(s). The script makes something of supposed “selfish intentions” inherent in procreation.  At least dad doesn’t have to take his daughters to work and show them off.

Shave Ice is Nice” (4 min, USA).  At least the Hawaiian coast is spectacular.




Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Puss in Boots" has a 1969 animated version from Japan


In a hotel recently, HBO aired the modern “Puss ‘n’ Boots” after  “Marmaduke” (Aug. 25), about the time I went out to the local bars.  I checked Netflix, and found a 1969 animated film “Puss in Boots” (or “The Wonderful World of Puss ‘n’ Boots”)  from Japan (distributed by the notorious American International studio (associated with motorcycle movies like “Born Losers” but also with “La Dolce Vita”), and by Discotek).  (The title in Japanese is “Nagagutsu o hieta neko”; the film is directed by Kimio Ybuki and has subtitles. The original book is by Charles Perrault.)

The story parallels human concerns about tribal loyalties and “conflict of interest”.  A cat Pero goes on the run for rescuing mice, and then seeks fame with the boy Pierre. 

At one point, Wagner’s “Wedding March” plays, although without much conviction.

The film, oddly enough, is shot in full widescreen aspect, like the Disney cartoon feature “ Lady and the Tramp” (1955), the first animated feature in Cinemascope.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Kumare": A filmmaker performs a social experiment by "becoming" a guru


It’s probably fair to say that all your own spiritual truths can be found within yourself.  A pastor or a guru is only a guide.  And he doesn’t have to be academically qualified or licensed or anything else.  He just has to be able to manipulate you.

That’s what filmmaker Vikran Ghandi, or Indian parentage but raised in New Jersey, proved, when he grew his beard, put on some robes, and started a gentle little “cult” in the Phoenix area.

Eventually, he would “come out” to his converts and let him know this was a social experiment.  And, guess what, most of them stayed loyal to him.

That’s the subtext of the autobiographical film “Kumare”, the name that Vikran took on for himself.
    
Kumare is quite affectionate with his students, sometimes with some mild homoeroticism. In one scene, a companion gives him a body rub with a rotating buff brush (the kind they use to buff floors in Army barracks).

Before his big announcement, he plays “Samson” and, with a bit of ritual, shaves his beard and cuts his hair down to a normal businessman’s appearance.

The movie mentions the "Urantia" book, which I have somewhere.  I cannot explain its theology in detail, but it has a full history of all major religious figures. 

The official site is here


The film appeared at SXSW in Austin, Texas and is distributed by Kino and IFC.

I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC before a surprisingly good weeknight crowd.  There were only two shows per day.

For today’s short film, I want to suggest  “The Punishment”, a 22-minute film about “ragging” (extreme "college hazing) in India, from Blue Ocean Films, YouTube link here

I have discussed the international controversy in Middle East of the amateur online film “Innocence of Muslims” on my International Issues Blog (postings yesterday and today).  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Documentary explores Toynbee Tiles mystery, presents theory of afterlife


In the days before the Internet, some introverted people found inventive ways to broadcast their messages. That point is made well by Jon Foy’s documentary “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles”, in which Philadelphia-raised gumshoe Justin Duerr investigates the mystery of the mass volumes of tiles found in Philadelphia and other cities comprising a message about future resurrection of the dead.

Much of the film concerns solving the mystery of how the tiles (many now erased by street repaving) could have been placed, and documents how the individual used short-wave radio to get others to receive his message.  Of course, today he could have simply used blogging and social media.

Duerr talks about starting his investigation in the mid 90s, when the Internet was new, and actually going to a public library to use it to search for information on Toynbee tiles.

Duerr eventually identifies a “prime suspect”, James Marasco, a pseudonym for Severin Verna.  He also presents the connection to a short play, “4 AM” by David Mamet (link).

The actual message is hopeful enough, and seems to be inspired by the end of the MGM 1968 Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Oct. 4, 2009).  That is, that “molecules” or atoms (or “vibrations”, as Rosicrucians call them) hold the consciousness of a person that can be reassembled by science. Now, I rather think that this idea violates the laws of thermodynamics, which require new live to reverse entropy. But perhaps a soul’s “consciousness” is a permanent part of physics, somehow linked to matter and energy in a way that it cannot be destroyed.

Director Jon Foy also composed the music, and uses a “3/4” slow waltz theme with shifting harmonies (a four-note motive) to haul the viewer on the journey. 

The film (2011) is distributed by Focus Features and E-1 (UK), with major site here


It strikes me that an investigator could make a good indie film about Dan Fry, his organization "Understanding” in the 1970s (near Phoenix), and maybe even his book “To Men of Earth”, where he claims to have hosted an alien as a house guest.

I have a review of Paul Ziller’s “Solar Attack” on my “cf” blog Saturday September 8, 2012.

Wikipedia attribution link for Toynbee tiles picture. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Crazy Eyes": can a rich (heterosexual) playboy become a real man?


Adam Sherman has a new film about a young man’s capacity for maturity (that is, real manhood) being tested, called “Crazy Eyes”.  He says it is a bit autobiographical.

He wrote the film with Guild writers Dave Reeves and Rachel Hardisty.  Sherman has said that the Writers’ Guild has some rules as to who gets credit on a film, and that was complicated by the way he did the collaboration. But in the end, everybody got credit.

His collaboration seems controversial because he says the film is largely autobiographical.  If so, that may not do him credit.  I face similar issues myself, but with a twist.

Lukas Haas plays the central character, Zach, a boozing young man, about 30, living a playboy’s life in Hollywood Hills (or maybe Bel Air – I’m not sure I know the boundaries even though I stayed on the 405 myself (at the Angelino) during my recent trip to LA).   Despite his swagger, his hairless chest provides an early visual metaphor for what the plot will become, perhaps.  His best friend is a bartender Dan (Jake Busey), hardly macho himself – and Dan will put up with him despite his tendency to get into fights in straight bars.  (I’ve only seen two fights in gay bars in my life, since 1973, one in Hawaii in 1980, and one in London in 1982.)

He’s already divorced (Ex is Moran Atias), with a little son (Blake Garrett Rosenthal) already into piano but maybe dealing with mild Asperger’s.  You wonder from his behavior, however, how he even got married. 
He wants a more mature woman, Rebecca, called “Crazy Eyes” (also the name of a mixed drink), and she won’t have him until he grows up. He remains childish, however, even as he learns of his father’s stroke. His parents, played by Ray Wise and Valerie Mahaffey, have half-heartedly try to tame him, but it seems like they are unable to cut him off.  (He couldn’t possibly work for a living – no, he’s not a “sergeant”.)  He does sit by his dad’s side, though, and starts to get a little closer to his son.  But he says some pretty stark one-liners to his boy,  “God is not real” and “Many people are stupid.”

Will some family responsibility, from an “East wind”, make him grow up?  The film throws some playful twists in its last half hour.  I’m not sure they work for me, though.

How would this sort of movie play out with a character who “successfully” lives from a fantasy perch, and never marries or has kids in the first place (because of self-absorption)?

Strand has announced a release date of Oct. 9, 2012 for the DCD (pre-book on Sept. 11).  I reviewed it from a sample.


Strand’s official site is here

The film was an official selection at SXSW and won best director, actress and cinematography in Madrid. 

Section picture: My trip to LA, May 2012. 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

"The Cold Light of Day": The CIA vs. the "natural family"


In "The Cold Light of Day”, the young male action hero Will Shaw (Henry Cavill, born in the tax-sheltering Jersey Islands), still single and running his own brokerage company before 30, doesn’t question the idea that his parents and brother are his “family” when he hasn’t created one of his own.

Will also doesn’t know, until too late, that his dad (Bruce Willis) is really a CIA agent involved in double ops, while pretending to be a cultural attaché at the US Embassy in Spain. 

His “family” has invited him to spend a week’s vacation on the clan’s sailboat in the Mediterranean off the Spanish Riviera.  He didn’t exactly want to come, because his company back in San Francisco is tanking.  When he gets a cell phone call that his company has gone under, his dad want’s him running the sails and throws the Blackberry into the sea. 

It’s an odd setup.  Will swims back to town (this family’s hobby of sailing is very physical) to get some medication after a little accident  (to his brother’s “girlfriend”) caused by his indifference, and when he swims back, he finds his family “gone”.

The rest of the movie is largely spent in Madrid in a sequence of chases, extreme renditions, and double crosses (and one disco scene with great music), with rogue double agent Carrack (Sigourney Weaver, who plays a character inspired by Sofia in “The Event”).  There is a brief case that the government wants back – and it’s hard to see from the story why it’s so critical.  It relates to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, but it would need to have nuclear codes to be this important.  (It’s like wondering what’s in the tin box in the Russian film “The Return”.)

Will has lost is company, and his dad; but not to worry, the CIA wants to offer him a new career at the end.
I doubt the CIA really works this way.

Since the character is named “Will”, I wondered how Chandler Massey (playing a character with the same name and perhaps similar personality in the soap “Days of our Lives”) would have worked in the part. Maybe this movie is a future cross-over.

The film, from Summit (now part of Lionsgate) and E1 Entertainment, and director Mabrouck El Mechri, does remain in the B-movie, popcorn action genre, not quite drawing out its potential for character, plot, and message the way a Hitchcock film in the 60s would have.

In my own novel manuscript, the CIA agent has a “day job” as a high school history teacher, and his recent increase in covert activity has led to increasing assignments.  His wife has limited knowledge of this (a problem that I need to work on more  -- the benefit to me of watching a movie like this in checking my own work!), from his military past.  She doesn’t know he’s bisexual and unraveling.  In my book, the agent himself is mugged once (to give him an artifact) and then abducted (as opposed to kidnapped), and then later his son is abducted (but not harmed).  But the parallels in the story don’t get any closer.

The official site is here


There was a very small crowd in a large auditorium at Regal in Arlington VA on a Sunday night.