Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Fatherhood Dreams": Canadian documentary about gay men who become fathers (and want to)


A 54-minute mini-feature documentary by Julia Ivanova, “Fatherhood Dreams”, traces the development of three families in Canada where gay men become fathers.

The film starts out by saying that Canada is one of the few countries to recognize gay marriage, but it dates back to 2007.  It then presents us with a middle-aged couple Randy and Drew, who have adopted a little boy Jack, and are raising him in the mountains near Vancouver but are looking for a house in the city. They traveled to Edmonton to meet the boy’s grandmother (rather youthful),  who demonstrates that she really does make all her grandkids understand the family.

Steve, a patent lawyer in Vancouver, co-parents his daughters with a lesbian couple living on Protection Island off the British Columbia coast.

Scott, from Montreal, has fraternal twins by a surrogate mother, who by Canadian law cannot provide surrogacy for money, just expenses.

The film shows all the men in family intimacies with their kids, an earthiness with which I personally would not be comfortable. 

The film does start from the presumption that gay parenting is novel, as many people, even in liberal Canada, say that children need “a mom and a dad”.  However, in a broader scheme of things (“generativity” and sustainability), having everyone able to pitch in and take up the duties of parenthood may some day come to be seen as a necessity.

The website for the film (from Seventh Art and Interfilm) is here


For today’s short film, take a look at the 14-minute video by AmanJohnX, “ Society Breeds Gay Men?” 

What’s interesting here is Aman John’s filmmaking style. He is good looking, so, yes, his presence on the screen confers pleasure (even his legs).  Yes, he looks like be burns 4000 calories a day.  When he shows illustrations, quite creatively drawn (sort of in Khan Academy style), he partitions the screen and shows the image on the lower fight.  And he uses color filters as a metaphor.  He sits on a sofa in front of a door with a knob, and odd effect.  He talks about critical thinking – which I like – but sometimes he gets into author intrusion with phrases like “what I’m trying to say” – like a chemistry professor that I remember from undergrad days.  At the end, he says or implies that the third son may well have congenital influences that influence a sense of sexual identity, but society’s notion of “what it means to be a man” (i.e., be the Sea n Connery implementation of James Bond) may well encourage the upward affiliation that we often see in gay men.  I am an only child, though (but with an older than normal father).  His link is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Edmonton picture. I visited the city in September 1983. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Short films: "The Keeper"; "Watch Over Me"



I got an email on my Gmail account from the “Once a Week Film Festival” inviting me to watch an Italian short film, “The Keeper” (“Il Custode”), by Ludovica Gibelli and Marco di Gerlando, 12 min, 2012.
  

The film confronts us with an iconic middle aged man running some sort of children’s home in a religious estate in Italy, and then takes us through a hide-and-seek game in the form of a pseudo-horror film.  It reminded me of a game we used to play in those Ohio farm summers as kids, called “Green, Yellow, Red”.

As another short film, I watched “Watch Over Me”, a new etude (13 min) from Israel’s “Mysh”.  It’s a little hard to follow for someone who doesn’t understand the details of how the Israeli military works, especially in the West Bank.  The film deals with prisoners,  the possibility that gay Israeli soldiers might have relations with Palestinians, political leafleting, and a curious bond resulting in a confrontation “on the beach” (is this the Dead Sea?) with a denouement that explains the title. There is a bit of homage to camp horror. 

Neither film seems to be indexed on imdb yet.
  
I’ll advise if I see either one named as in a shorts film festival.  I don’t recall either one in the recent DC Shorts. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Trust": a film about the dangers of chatrooms for teens


Families have varied experiences with their teenagers using the Internet.  While sometimes kids do very well on their own and innovate new companies, in many more cases people get into trouble.  The idea of a “family computer” certainly de-emphasizes personal ownership of one’s own expression and activity.

The independent film “Trust” (2010), by David Schwimmer explores this problem, by depicting a 14 year old girl Annie (Liana Liberato) who meets a troll in a chat room.  He turns out to be a 35 year old man, who has an obviously illegal tryst with her in a motel room (set in Chicago).  Annie tells a high school best friend (Catherine Keener), who in turn tells the high school, which in turn contacts police.  The father (Clive Owen) is very upset that the school system went over his head. Annie, is also upset that her father and "best friend" involved themselves and made her "unpopular" at school.  

Eventually the father plays “Peej” (as in NBC Datelines’ famous program about a sting) and the man is apprehended.  But the family faces serious emotional fracture.

Yes, in this case, the criminal activity is heterosexual (as were most cases on the Dateline series).
It’s interesting to compare the issues presented in this movie (through chat rooms) with other issues like cyberbullying (Oct. 3). I think an indie film on “online reputation” and the job market would be a good thing, although my own script deals with that.

The official site (Millennium films) is here


The film can be rented on YouTube for $2.99.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Comes a Bright Day": a shy boy develops a relationship while under stress


In the new British dramedy by Simon Aboud, “Comes a Bright Day”, Sam Smith (Craig Roberts) plays a baby-faced bellboy with business aspirations to buy and run a restaurant. Maybe he ought to go on “The Apprentice” or “Shark Tank” (if these reality shows are have counterparts the UK) as he seeks investors. He also seeks girlfriends, and fears rejection.  Sam meets Mary (Iomgen Poots) at a cafĂ© and follows her back to the jewelry story, Clara.  Maybe he’ll impress her with something. But then the store is held up by brutal armed thieves (Kevin McKidd and Josef Altin), who take the couple hostage while shooting police officers who try to intervene.  Sam’s own gumption will be tested.

The link is here


The director says that his film deals with how people can develop a relationship when facing a dangerous threat together.   Personally, I find the idea troubling.  I couldn’t have dealt with this.

In Nov. 2012, there really was a smash-and-grab robbery in north London from bicyclists going onto a shopping mall's upper levels to get to a jewelry store. 

The pre-book from Strand is Oct. 16, the street date for the DVD is Nov. 13.  The film reminds me a little bit of "Inside Man" (2006) with Jodie Foster.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

"Cloud Atlas": proof of reincarnation, and maybe the end of the world


The idea of nested or layered stories certainly applies to my own writing, so I rushed out this afternoon to see “Cloud Atlas” in Imax, in the days before a putatively apocalyptic storm strikes the East Coast.

One can check the Wikipedia summary for the six stories in David Mitchell’s book (2004).  The characters seem like near or possible reincarnations, spaced about a generation apart.  And in each story but the first, a lead character reads or views the story of the previous generation through some sort of media device (although no Kindles!) And the corresponding characters are faced with similar problems, trying to escape something, just like in a dream.  The actions in one story inspire similar activity in succeeding episodes, so everything is connected.

The second story centers around a young composer Robie Frobisher, struggling to work, and dealing with a landlord suspicious of his homosexuality since he sleeps sometimes with Rufus (James D’Arcy) in 1930s Britain. Actually,  both young men can chase women, too, so that complicates what happens. Frobisher gets a job with an older composer (James Broadbent) as an amanuensis, transcribing what the old man sings, as if he were a human “Sibelius” or “Finale”.  When he outs himself, the older man is offended, and tells Robie that his music will never get heard if he leaves and doesn’t change.  The composition, the “Cloud Atlas Sextet” becomes the musical leitmotif for the movie.

The third episode involves a reported investigating a nuclear power plant in 1973, and the fourth is a bizarre story of a vanity press publisher (who received the previous story as a manuscript) who winds up having to escape from a nursing home.  The fifth is in a dystopian future Korea where a clone acts as if the whistleblower, as if a manufactured human being could take on a reincarnated soul.

The last shows a tribe (with Tom Hanks, who also played a dishonest doctor in the 1850s opening, which will take us into “Lincoln”) in a post technological world where most people died in “The Fall”, perhaps from an EMP attack (maybe because of a “Revolution” after the fifth episode).  On  Hawaii, a remnant tribe hosts visitors from the lost world and try to figure out what happened.

The photography of the “new Korea” and race scenes were indeed stunning.

It’s useful for me to compare the structure of this movie (2 hours, 45 minutes) with my own screenplay, “Do Ask Do Tell”.   I have a three-way layering, centered around the idea that a character likes me finds himself abducted into some kind of ashram, which might be the afterlife or might be a job interview.  He learns he is on another planet, and that his kindly, generally likeable and largely (though not entirely) young adult captors call themselves angels (maybe even Matt Damon and Ben Affleck from “Dogma”, without Wisconsin), who have learned that not all of them are immortal and who are going to let Bill help them decide how an elimination ritual (sort of like reality TV, maybe “Apprentice”) turns out.  In the “reality” layer, Bill has to be trained in “real life”, and once he learns certain physical and interpersonal tasks, he finds that he can ride a Mobius tram train and go back to earlier periods of his own youth and reexamine himself.  The lowest level is a fiction screenplay (shown in black and white in the movie) in which he gets into legal trouble as a teacher when “surrenders” to one of the angels posing as a high school student.  The middle layer is his own true history (which he can revisit on the tram, with the help of one of the “geek” angels who operates a special ashram computer), largely centered around what happened when a student (while he as substitute teaching after layoff from his career) found his screenplay on the Internet with Google.  The “lawyers” dug out the rest of his history (as they vacillate both directions, from litigation to prosecution), which Bill can re-experience from the work-sites along the tram.  Finally, Bill learns how he got there, and that a “purification” on Earth will lead to a thinning of people (a “contraction”), more of less like ”The Fall” in “Cloud Atlas” – but this hasn’t even happened yet as my  movie unfolds.  Bill has to revisit one more critical point in his life (in a miniature of New York, maybe as in Las Vegas) where his own values – what is important to him in other people and whether he can stay with someone – map to resolving the “battle” among the angels.  At the end, he goes back to “Earth” to face a more “aesthetically real” future. 
I do think that the new Warner Brothers epic (the R rating may hold down audiences) is indeed an epic with important ideas.  It’s directed by Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski, and was filmed largely in Germany and the UK.   The official site is here

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Everything Must Go": How does it feel to be forced to sell your possessions in a yard sale when you hit bottom?


In elementary screenwriting, “they” tell you to put the protagonist into the deepest possible trouble at the outset, and then make it get worse.  The character has to discover his own resources to survive and become something new.  The trouble is, you have to like the character.

As “Everything Must Go”, Nick (Will Ferrell) is getting his severance package (and even a bonus) from his younger male boss, who is reasonably nice about his booze problem.  He goes to his suburban Arizona home and his wife kicks him out.  Content to keep his possessions outside and live it up in the mild winter, a local cop prods him into selling all his possessions in a yard sale, or else go to the tank.  He has to give up everything up.  He also has to hire a local overweight teen at minimum wage to help with the sale and become an entrepreneur, and then learn empathy for a pregnant neighbor.

Nick can't even get a hold of his own money, in a joint account.  His wife has frozen it.  Then she serves him divorce papers.  

The question is, do you really like the character? Do you really see any value in his redemption?  Maybe not in a comedy. 
  
The 2010 comedy, from Dan Rush, Lionsgate and Ro0adside Attractions, has this site

The  DVD offers a short  “In Character” in which Ferrell explains the film.


For today’s (other) short film, consider “Democracy Starts Here”, an eleven minute introduction to a visit at the National Archives in Washington DC.  The most interesting mini-episodes concern the way descendants of Holocaust victims got the rights to Nazi gold, and the way the Japanese Americans were treated during WWII.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Go see "Sister" in order to visit the Alps for the price of a movie ticket


If you go see “Sister” (“L’enfant d’en haut”), a new film set around a Swiss ski resort by Ursula Meier, see it for the spectacular mountain scenery and great shots from the ski gondolas.  See it in a large theater.

The story ought to be more compelling.  Simon (Kacey Motet Klein) is a likable and resourceful 12-year-old, who, while mixing with the rich and famous, makes a living by stealing ski gear from them and fencing them, rather like a bold entrepreneur who would draw the admiration of Donald Trump.  The problem is, he is beholden to a young woman Louise (Lea Seydoux) who is presented as his older sister.  It’s hard to see how she can afford to live in the high-rise in the valley, except by liging off of Simon’s “business”.  The key to a film like this is that you like the kid and that he can really redeem himself.

The film introduces a few young adult male characters, keeping you guessing where the film will go. One of them

There’s a clever line where Simon tells another older woman to address him as “tu” rather than “vous”, having significance in French.

 The official site for the film (distributed by Memento films and Adpt Films) is here


The soundtrack, despite the Dolby Digital marking, sounds substandard. That's too bad; the visuals of the film demand Imax. 

Today’s short film is “Paint the Ceiling”, a 3-minute Hulu film about a 70-year-old painter who describes how he started painting ceilings as a kid (shown as a short before the previews at Angelika Mosasic).

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Killington in Vermont, the only major mountain with a beginner’s trail from the summit, which I skied down myself in Feb. 1973.  Second picture, Mt. Washington (mine), 2011. 



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Mansome" in the age of "Metrosexuality"



Morgan Spurlock has another little whimsical documentary, “Mansome” (2012), from Paladin Pictures (and Electus and Warrior Poets), produced in part by Jason Bateman and Will Arnett.  It rather fits as a companion to the earlier TLA release of the British series “Metrosexuality”  (1999, by Reade Beatl Blair). 

The movie poster is a little bit suggestive of what may happen in the movie.  It is all about looks.  It covers the development, that now men are allowed to decorate themselves, just as women always had been.  Men groom themselves not only to find mates for reproduction (they do that, and it’s an essential part of immortality), but they also do because they will be judged by other men.

The film starts innocently enough, covering mustaches and then beards.  Morgan shaves his own handlebar mustache (no fistful of dollars here), and when he points out that something is gone from his face to his three year old son, the boy suddenly cries.  That scene with daddy is quite moving (in an earlier film about bin Laden, Morgan ended his dissertation with his showing his tenderness during his wife’s childbirth).

The beard used to be what distinguished men, and a couple of men who win beard-growing championships are shown.  Lions have manes, but tigers (genetically almost the same) don’t, since tigers aren’t social animals.  It’s always seemed interesting to me that, what distinguishes men from women conspicuously, is normally removed.  It has always been women who were to be noticed for looks, until more recent times.
Then the film moves on to “The Body”.  It presents us with a professional wrestler of middle Eastern ancestry who prides himself in becoming smooth.  He shaves his own body with an electric, and lets an attendant do his back. (There’s one other scene of back waxing).  The film focuses particularly on back hair is inappropriate.  But otherwise, it always seemed that, for Caucasian men especially, body hair was something that stayed out of sight except in warm weather, and wasn’t supposed to be noticed – but was (except in soap operas).  Men might use it as a measure of competitors’ manliness.  Back in the 1950s, as I recall, the Washington Post had reported on a British study finding that bald men had more chest hair.  In terms of heredity, it seems from general observation, that perhaps “hairy” is dominant. 

The movie stays in the heterosexual world (metrosexuality is for straights, but not for sissies).  And while the gay male world sometimes parades hairlessness in porn magazines and circuit parties, in the “real world”, it’s not very different.  The most popular stereotype on the dance floor today is tall, thin, well muscled, and probably hairy – virile.  Back in June, 1999, in fact, the “Weekly Standard” (a conservative rag) had run a comical piece by David Skinner, “Notes on the hairless man”, which said that Western society had developed a fetish for immaturity, what we now know as the Justin Bieber larval look.

Here’s the official site


I recall a funny sermon in Lawrence Kansas back in the 1960s, when I was in graduate school, “What does it mean to be a man?”  Then, it was to emulate James Bond.  Remember, Sean Connery had a hairy chest, but later Roger Moore didn’t.  Washngton Nationals Manager Davy Johnson said, one time, after a walk-off win, that he liked pinch hitters to have hairy chests.  On the other hand, it seems as though some Hollywood males, notably Justin Timberlake, have taken to thinning out their conspicuous body hair.

The film pays some homage to another institution – the barber shop (itself a movie franchise from MGM).  Here’s another oddity I’ve noticed.  In my coming of age, everybody expected women to shave their legs, out of sight, and were shocked when they went to Europe, where many women didn’t.  On the other hand, many people (women and men both) lose leg hair as they age, for reasons that seem to go unnoticed – probably an early warning of atherosclerosis.  As one guy said back in 1972 in a commuter carpool, "a lot of guys go bald in the legs."  Particularly if they smoke cigarettes.


Update: Aug. 12, 2013

Morgan Spurlock did an interview on this film for CNN here. Spurlock calls himself a "Manicorn".  He says he likes the idea of keeping enough chest hair to "feel like a man" (but you don't need as much as Robin Williams has, especially in "The Birdcage").  What if you have to star in "Mrs. Doubtfire"?)  

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Secret Agent", a 1936 Hitchcock film, tests whether a well known writer can change his identity and become a spy


A lot of the work of Alfred Hitchcock, especially his earlier films, involves espionage, and one his most curious concepts occurs with the 1936 film “Secret Agent” , from Gaumont British (DVD from Westlake).  The plot is based on two stories from William Somerset Maughan’s “Ashenden: Or the British Agent”.

It’s a little hard to believe that a famous writer could work as an intelligence agent.  He would be too well known; imagine that circumstance with today’s Internet.  When Brodie (Sir John Gielgud) returns to in 1916, he immediately finds that his death has been reported, and that he is to be given a new identity (Richard Ashenden) to go out and track down a German spy. In fact, he’s to take on a fake wife Madeleine (a name that would occur again – played by Elsa Carrington). 

The film goes through wonderful sequences of action, including finding an organist as a corpse, slumped over, the organ playing a continuous loud dissonance.  Later, there is a ride up a ski gondola (anticipation of “Vertigo”) and wonderful subtlety as a man is pushed off a mountain.  There is a traveling American (Robert Young), and a “Mexican hairless” (a term I used to hear in Texas in the 1980s) sidekick played by Peter Lorre.  The climax of the film happens with a violent train wreck instigated by attacks from low-flying “red tails”.  The scene inspires similar endings to “Saratoga Trunk” and even “Atlas Shrugged: Part II”.  The story is made to seem generic, and just barely skims the surface of the political issues in WWI (“The Great War” when this film was made).


In my own spy novel manuscript (“Angel’s Brothers”), the protagonist (Randy) is a 30-something ex-military part time spy with a veneer of stable family and community pillar as a high school AP history teacher.  He meets a mysterious “Renaissance Man” 20-sih college student who ignites his latent desire for same-sex intimacy, and following that path puts him in possession of world-ending secrets that even his bosses don’t know.  There is another character based on me (“Bill”) who is “the writer” (now largely on the Web), and his writings seem predictive of the new reality that unfolds.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alex Jones lays out an "Endgame" for civilization as we know it in his "Blueprint for Global Enslavement": the rumors about the Bilderberg Group


Conspiracy theories are legion, and the 2007 film “Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement”, by Alex Jones,  seems a bit of a rant, running for 139 minutes.

The basic premise is that the Bilderberg Group, a group of world leaders, collected by invitation only, are plotting to replace our current world with a single-government dictatorship, populated by a small elite( the  1%), who will be coddled biologically to live forever, with the next 20% of people serving them, and the remaining 80% eliminated.  One could say that the group came out of the Third Reich after all, but it sounds like it grew multifocally, de nuovo.  There has always been an “moral attraction” for some people that individual humankind should be forced to get better, to strive to be prefect – and that this aim makes a laudable endgame goal for civilization.

In fact, modern conservative thought has often said that it does care about protecting the most vulnerable among us, but that ought to be the moral expectation of every one of us, through the natural family first and foremost, not through government.

Indeed, this “world dictatorship” idea seems to mix totalitarian elements from both the far left and far right, in a way that both Hitler and Stalin, in ways more similar than different, did more than a half century ago.

Jones predicts a future where the people allowed to survive had electronic implants following their every move.  People won’t be allowed to move, and the cities will be depopulated.  Oddly, he also claims that many parts of the country will be depopulated and returned to the wild.

The film spends quite a lot of time on eugenics, and has a dramatic skit of a teenage girl’s being told she will be taken down to a hospital for involuntary sterilization because she isn’t fit enough. Sounds very much like Nazi Germany returned.

The film also presents the issue of organ harvesting, for transplants (to enable the privileged few to live forever), and accuses the Chinese of killing people for their spare parts.  The film here reminded me of Robin Cook and his 1970s novel and film “Coma”,  recently remade for AE Cable. There have been other horror films with this theme, like “Clonus”. 

The movie presents world wars (especially WWI) as financed by big business to get rich, and also claims that "climate change" is a lie perpetrated by those who want to control the movements of individual citizens. 

Much of the film takes the form of “reporting” outside a mystery gathering in a hotel in Ottawa, Canada, where the group supposedly meets. 

The film is produced by “Magnolia Management”, and I doubt that has any connection to Magnolia Pictures.

The DVD has three add-ons: "The Bilderberg 2007 Report"; "Battle for the Republic", and  the song "Jimmie Vaughn: Shackles on Me" (check for it on YouTube).
     
Alex Jones has a website called “Prison Planet”, here. Jones has become infamous by trying to have Piers Morgan deported during the gun control debate.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Smashed": an alcoholic teacher, after firing, gets sober but will her husband?


In a sequence very near the beginning of “Smashed” (James Ponsoldt), grade school teacher Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Windstead) imbibes some whiskey in her car in the teacher’s lot before starting her first grade glass.  She seems really into the job, pampering the kids with their English and arithmetic lessons. One kid comes to the board to work a problem. She stands aside, lunges for the wastebasket, and vomits.  She apologizes to “you guys”.  One of the kids figures out that she’s pregnant and gets her off the hook.  There is some sympathy at school for what seems like a horrible incident. 

We’ve seen this kind of grossness before.  Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” (Jan. 14) had a scene with such utter humiliation.  It happened to president George H. W. Bush at a state dinner in 1992, before he started downhill.

In fact, we don’t see the title of the “film” until this sequence and 12 other minutes have passed (in an 85-minute feature) that seems mercifully brief.  Hannah is married, but her nondescript, spoiled husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) is on the bottle too.

It has to get worse before “it gets better”.  Kate lives her lie for a while, but not before getting thrown out of a convenience store for peeing on the floor, and then snorting with a homeless woman outside a bar. Meanwhile, the kids notice she isn’t getting bigger, so she has to make up another story, about miscarriage – because she gets pressed by the kids concerning the politics of abortion.

A sympathetic vice principal (Nick Offerman), who has recovered from alcoholism himself, gets her into an AA group. But now she will have to deal with the fact that her husband will really get left behind. There is a scene where Charlie is biking drunk on an LA street (Santa Monica Blvd?), and you wonder if he just never learned to ride a bicycle. 

The real principal  Barnes(Megan Mullahy) has a quiet showdown with Kate, who is getting uncomfortable with her lies.  Barnes (the same name as the dean who threw me out of William and Mary in 1961!) is sympathetic at first, but when Kate feels compelled to “confess” her lie, Barnes suddenly changes her tone and says, “You have no idea what you’ve done. I can’t have you in this school any longer.”

All of that reminds me of a confrontation I had with a principal in December of 2005 when I was a substitute, after I had told a teaching intern about my website (in response to a real political controversy in the news) when the school knew (but wouldn’t tell me) that it was concerned about the provocative nature of one particular fiction screenplay on my site.  What must have happened behind the scenes here would make a real movie.  (See my “BIllBoushka” blog, July 27, 2007). 

The official site is here


I saw this film at the Angelika Moasic in Merrifield VA, before a small Saturday afternoon gathering. The facility seems a bit palatial for this film.  The cafe sandwiches there are tasty and low-fat, if pricey. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Ethel": History told through the retrospect of Robert F. Kennedy's widow


There is a moment early in HBO’s “Ethel” where Ethel Skakel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, is told by her film director daughter Rory Kennedy that she is the subject of this documentary film.She is a little bit surprised. 

The gentle 95-minute recitation gives us a pretty good synopsis of the history of the country through the 50s and 60s. 

Maybe the most telling moment came when Robert asked  Ethel and his kids if they wanted to be sent west to a bunker (could that have been the Greenbrier in West Virginia?) during the Cuban Missile Crisis (which occurred exactly fifty years ago).  The kids wanted to stay to the end.  Historians say that at one point there was perhaps a 50% chance of nuclear war.

The film somewhat softpedals the 1963 assassination of John Kennedy in Dallas, but presents Robert’s decision to run for president in 1968 as a way to serve his country.  In one scene, he speaks to a crowd, without security, and tells them that Martin Luther King has been shot.  At the time, I was in Army Basic in Fort Jackson, S.C. and we were on “red alert”.  Then, the film covers in detail Robert’s own end in Los Angeles (at the hands of Sirhan) in a hotel in June 1968.  At the time, I was at Fort Myer, assigned to the Pentagon, and I remember that morning well.

But much earlier in life Ethel was involved in knocking on doors for family members’ campaigns.  She never questioned that she should “proselytize” for the family.  Now, it doesn’t sound so different from what Mitt Romney did for his church as a young man.

HBO’s official site is here


No, this has nothing to do with Fred and Ethel of “I Love Lucy”, but the title brought back even those movies of the 50s.

Wikipedia attribution link for aerial shot of Columbia SC and Fort Jackson, where I was stationed while critical parts of this film take place. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:South_Carolina.jpg

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Breaking the Code": 1996 BBC biography of Turing, like a stage play, is a riveting account of his own unraveling


I did watch “Breaking the Code: Biography of Alan Turing” (1996) on YouTube, a 90-Minute film from the BBC, PBS and Anchor Bay, directed by Hebert Wise, based on the book by Andrew Hodges and play by Hugh Whitemore.

The film does unfold like a play, and is shot in many long scenes, out of chronological sequence but placed in an order that shows the tragedy of the way Turing’s life ended after his contributions to breaking the Nazi code during World War II (posting Oct. 17, yesterday).  It was interesting to me that a film with such long takes on static sets could be successful, but some of Alfred Hitchcock’s early films were shot that way. The film has the look and feel of a PBS "Masterpiece Theater" episode.  I think it would be a good older (15 years) film to show to high school social studies classes, if the class is mature enough (11th grade and up).  

The adult Turing is played by Derek Jacobi.  During the unfortunate unraveling in the early 1950s, he looks about his age.  He looks older than he should in the WWII flashback at Bletchley Park
 .
The film does a good job of setting up his personality:  his lack of “social graces”, his sincerity and direct honesty.  A lady friend, who actually wants to chase him, says it would be better sometimes to tell a little lie.  He is counseled about his social “openness” during WWII, being told that his telling people about his lifestyle could upset them, contradicting everything they have been taught and believed.  Turing is made to look almost arrogant himself because of his intellectual superiority to “ordinary fok” (or, as in one angry email to me, the “cretins of the world”).

Turing could be a little reckless at home when inviting young men over in the early 50s, and a little pushy in ways that attracted notice in the homophobic 50s (touching men’s knees, for example; there is some intimacy in one scene).  It’s not quite clear why he takes the initiative to discuss a possible burglary with police, but then he shows his naivetĂ© when admitting homosexual acts at home to a detective visiting his house in 1952.  He cannot understand why the government cares about acts committed with other consenting adults in private.  That whole sequence reminds me of my own unraveling, when I was expelled from William and Mary for “admitting” to the Dean of Men that I was gay in the fall of 1961.  Did Turing need to “tell”?  No, he wanted to make a point.

Later, Turing is telling another friend in a restaurant that (unlike Oscar Wilde) he stayed out of prison by agreeing to chemical castration and taking female sex hormones.  He mentions that he is growing female breasts.  This, to a modern person, sounds like the most shocking and cruel of treatments, even more so than “reparative therapy”.   I remember, as a teen, that the idea of being forcibly shaved could be the most humiliating possible hazing experiences, to be (as I thought then) made to “feel feminine”.  Freshmen at William and Mary were supposed to attend “tribunals” in a dorm basement the last Friday of September, where “they shaved the boys’ legs”.  I skipped out on that, which added to the suspicion that would lead to my own unraveling.  That’s how it was. Physical shame could become life-ending. 
  
In a scene near the end, Turing, despite having been neutered, is talking to a civilian security officer “John Smith” about how even US allies of the British government in the Cold War (against the Soviets) are worried about Turing’s access to secrets when he has practiced homosexuality.  This plays right into the circular chestnut of the past, where homosexuality was seen as a security risk. Turing would finally end his own life by eating an apple that he laced with cyanide; that part gets a bit disturbing at one shot. 

But there is a parallel scene in 1940 when he is interviewed for Bletchley, where he is told that working as a mathematician will not excuse him from “moral responsibility” for participating in war, after Turing says he would rather work math than fight. That sounds familiar to me, given my own experience with the Vietnam era draft, deferments, and sheltered MOS (one of which was “mathematician”, “01E20”) for those with graduate degrees.

An early scene, in Turing’s early teen years, where he treasures a male friend, shows Turing’s initial mathematical interests and his tendency to stammer.

Turing did make a fascinating link between Goedel’s “incompleteness” theorem, and the way electric circuits could be designed to break code.  Other scientists (William Tutte and Tommy Flowers) would take his ideas further against more advanced Nazi machines. In other scenes, Turing talks about fractals and Fibonacci sequences in nature, and says that "numbers" are his friends, because numbers are dependable.  I had a clinical psychologist friend in Dallas in the 1980s  who used to say that.  

It’s fascinating to watch a film that shows the circular attitudes that society had about homosexuality a couple generations ago.  One could imagine a film about Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, who was fired from a government job as an astronomer in 1957when the fibbies (or goons, maybe) found out he was gay. Look how far he came back from that.

There is a trailer for the new “Codebreaker” film, and I’ll try to buy or rent a DVD copy and review as soon as available (or has a regular commercial run).  The site for that film is this


Wikipedia attribution link for picture of computer at Bletchley Park. 

Other picture: Strong Hall, Department of Mathematics (in the 1960s at least), University of Kansas, Lawrence (where I got my MA). 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Decoding Alan Turing", short film, is viewable on Amazon; we need DVD's of two TV feature biographies from UK; "Enigma"


Amazon video offers a 16 minute short film, “Decoding Alan Turing” (2007), directed by Christopher Racster, as a short biography of Alan Turing, inventor of the prototype of the general purpose computer. Turing was known for his work at Bletchley Park in Britain, breaking German codes while he worked in “Hut 8,” which is shown in the film. Turing, then in his mid 20s, was made manager of the group, but he was not good at delegation.

An interesting aspect of Turing's cognitive process concerns the way he waded through enormous numbers of combinations of codes by elimination. It's interesting to see 1940s computers as assemblies of switches. 

The later part of the film covers his homosexuality, but at a high level.  Turing was arrested in 1952 (the film doesn’t say how he was “caught”, but apparently he was quite “open”) and treated with chemical castration in lieu of prison, but that led to his suicide by cyanide poisoning in 1954.

The film shows some scenes of the gay community in modern day Manchester England.

The film can be watched free by Amazon Prime members, or rented or purchased at low cost online. The direct link is here

I learned by a tweet from the Washington Blade that one performance of “Codebreaker”  (aka “Britain’s Greatest Codebreaker”) will be presented at the AMC Georgetown in Washington DC tonight, which I cannot make.  This British TV  (Channel 4) film is directed by Clare Beavan and Nic Stacey. I am networking to locate a DVD. BBC has a similarly named video called "Code Breakers: Bletchley Park's Greatest Heroes".  I don't know if it's the same film, but I will check into it.  The link is here. Note the UK's link for the Bletchley facility here

There is also a 1996 BBC film “Breaking the Code”  by Herbert Wise. Neither of the two above films is appears to be available from Netflix yet. There is a free version on YouTube here which I haven't seen yet (check later).

In 2001, I saw “Enigma” (directed by Michael Apted, based on the novel by Robert Harris, from Miramax and Manhattan Pictures).  A brilliant young man Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) has to “rebreak” a German U-boat code in 1943, in a story involving his (heterosexual, in this fictitious story) lover’s possible deception.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Hut 4 at Bletchley Park:

Update:

I watched the BBC film "Code Breakers" with link above (59 min), directed by Julie Carrie, so it doesn't seem to be the same film. It starts with the accomplishment of Turing in breaking Enigma and goes on to present the work of William Tutte and Tommy Flowers in breaking the German Lorentz machine.  The mathematics of code breaking rather resembles group theory and vector spaces (maybe rings, too).  Flowers designed the electrical components of the most advanced computer at the time, and on D-Day his staff had to work in a wet environment to keep it from shorting out.  Computer work was very much more physically demanding then, but the military really did use "mathematicians" (which was my MOS in the Army 1968-1970).

Errata (apologies): The word "Turning" in the URL name should be "Turing", corrected manually.  Automated typing is too easy, and word processor spell-checks don't catch this. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Spencer Tunick roams his "Naked World": so does the individual "body" matter at all?


It may seem daring even for cable (HBO) to display sweeping canvases of “artistic” nudity, as Spencer Tunick roams the world to set up mass photographic shots of “volunteers”, or sometimes individuals against interesting backdrops (like emperor penguins), in “Naked World” (2003).  The film (directed by Arlene Nelson) is a sequel to “Naked States” (2000), where Tunick had sought individual “volunteers”, like for KP in the Army.

He sets up his craft in midtown Manhattan (where he was arrested in 1999), Paris, London, Ireland. St. Petersburg, Russia; Melbourne, Australia;  South Africa, Japan, on a Greek ship off the coast of Antarctica, and finally Sao Paolo, Brazi.

One gets the impression that gratuitous nudity (particularly in masses, that certainly remind one of the Holocaust, but even individually) conveys the notion that all bodies are “the same” and that individual variations become meaningless.  That could be one reason why most of the civilized world limits public nudity – so that some suspense and individuality (close-up) is saved for intimate situations when appropriate (and not just in marriage). Remember, at a personal level, discrimination means "noticing differences." 


I can remember a church encounter group, back in the spring of 1972, in the days I was trying to go hetero, when the leader started with, “What about the body?”


I recall that there is a "no clothes" summer resort near Gibson, PA, in the Poconos, off I-81, S of Binghtamton NY.




For today’s short film, I’ll propose “Felix Bamugartner: Stratosphere Jump, Full Version”, YouTube link (9 min) here.  No, I don't have the courage to "try" this kind of "space tourism".  Wouldn't AMC Theaters like to license this video to show on its IMAX screens? Try converting it to 3-D. 


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Daniel Prophecy: a high-level warning, based on the book of one of the Bible's sturdiest young men ("The Daniel Project")


The Daniel Project”, directed by Debeorah Forrest, presented by Jeremy Hitchen, in memory of James Gennell,  from Studio Scotland, covers prophecy that I have heard in church for years, particularly when I was living in Dallas in the 1980s (and especially in conjunction with “The Rapture”, on my “CF” blog, Sept. 3, 2012).

The presenter’s theme is that we all ought to pay attention to what the prophecies could mean.  Most of us are too “self-absorbed” with our own agendas and families to care (one could say, “too sinful to notice’).
The major elements of prophesy are diaspora, followed by re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, the return of the Hebrew language, agriculture in the desert, the blocking of the East Gate to Jerusalem, and many other signs.  Mankind did not have the ability to destroy himself until the 1940s. The film points out a typical conservative theme – that a “world government” would make the entire planet susceptible to the actions of one man (like Hitler), who could be defeated in the past by other separater nations.

The film asks why anti-Semitism has always existed, and gives a relatively impersonal reason: a relatively small group of people (the Jews) had control over a promised land that many other groups wanted, in a largely desert part of the world. It doesn’t get into the intellectual issues like smugness.

However, it does raise the idea that the lowering of standards of personal morality by individuals could accelerate the approach of the end times.  This was always a common idea, which could be used against people who are “different”.  However, in recent years, personal morality has been connected to debates about “sustainability”.  If the world is going to end anyway because of prophecy, why would issues like climate change (and personal wastefulness) matter?  The early Christians faced a similar dilemma, because they thought the Second Coming was near then.

The film link is here.   The film is available for Instant Replay only on Netflix.

Curiously, I could not find a regular imdb listing for this film, but I did find a 7-minute tease on imdb here

Note: "The Daniel Prophecy" is a book by Kelly Nelson Birks, self-published under XLibris. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Argo": The film is a cliffhanger, with goofy "fake" comedy and even fake direction


Well, for one thing, my screenplay probably will require a storyboard as a way of presenting my high concept.  I got that out of the climax of “Argo”.  Near the end, six Americans, who had holed in in the home of the Canadian ambassador in Tehran, convinced the customs guard that the airport by showing a storyboard and convincing the guards that they really were a fake movie crew.  The fake movie, “Argo”, sounded innocent and generic enough a sci-fi story.

Ben Affleck’s new film is notable for the way it mixes Hollywood comedy with genuine, gritty suspense.  The opening of the film, where the US Embassy is attacked by the Ayatollah’s “revolution” is shocking, and it impresses on the viewer that in times of “revolution”, individual people are held personally responsible for their having benefited from the illegitimate (perhaps parasitic) older order.  The Hollywood punchlines that marked the previews start rolling in half way into the movie, after Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck himself) has traveled to Hollywood and proves he can play “bigshot without doing anything” while doing his intelligence work.

Affleck’s character is introduced ambiguously. We see some rather womanish leg, exposed underneath trousers, and we don’t even know if the character is a man until the camera pans to the head of the bed.  Affleck is only 40, and his face looks younger in the movie (hardly any gray in his beard).  And he gets the idea for the fake movie from his son’s watching “Planet of the Apes”.

The Hollywood moguls (players include John Goodman and Alan Arkin) truly make serving their country look funny. The previews, which emphasized these scenes, made the film seem a bit cuter than it really is. 

The film was shot in Turkey, and the background panoramas of Tehran do look a little “fake” themselves, rather like matte paintings.

The final climax, the airliner takeoff, is written as a typical Hollywood cliffhanger.  And the film gives one an idea of just how politicized the jobs were in Hollywood at the time (still are); the presence of a “screenwriter” on the crew helps give the fake movie credibility.

Interesting, too, is how the six captives have to memorize and master other people’s (Hollywood) resumes.

The official site (Warner Brothers and GK) is here


I also recall the rescue of two EDS employees by EDS private commandoes in 1979 when I was living in Dallas.  The EDS property on Forest Lane carried a count of the days the hostages had been held.  The Follett book “On Wings of Eagles” became a TV miniseries in 1983. 

I also remember the morning in April 1980 when President Carter announced the failure of his “Operation Eagle Claw”.

It has always seemed odd that the Ayatollah hated Carter so much that he let the hostages go as Reagan took office in 1981.  

I saw "Argo" at the Regal in Arlington VA, large auditorium, fairly full house, late Sunday afternoon. Apparently there are plenty of non-football fans around Ballston, as the Redskins were winning at the same time.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Atlas Shrugged: Part II": "Either-Or": let the angels abduct their own kind and set up their own planet with perfect people


Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged” is generating its own movie franchise, namely “Atlas Shrugged: Part II”, called “Either-Or” in the book, using a theatrical distribution company by the same name.  (Lionsgate is said to have been interested in the project at first.)

As for the filmmaking, the beginning and end are the best.  The film opens at the end, as heroine Dagney Taggart (Samantha Mathis) is following another sabre jet in the Colorado mountains.  At the end, she’ll go through a time warp, crash land, and meet a shadowed John Galt (D.B. Sweeney, now about 51, but looking pretty preppie in his imdb picture).

It’s pretty apparent that the “people of ability” are disappearing, and, as in one sequence with a plasma energy innovator in Utah, by invitation only, to this ashram, which might as well be on another planet.  It’s not so clear why Dagney, and steel magnate Henry Rearden (Jason Beaghe) haven’t been abducted yet.

Just before the final sequence, the film offers a colossal train wreck in the Taggard Tunnel, no doubt inspired by similar wrecks in “Saratoga Trunk” (Sept. 27) and “The Peacemaker”, which aren’t in tunnels (but sometimes near them).  (The train might be entombed forever as a sarcophagus.)  I wish that the government parasite Wesley Mouch (Paul McCrane) had been on it.

The middle part of the film is tedious with artificial political dialogue.  It does make the points of objectivism well, and lays out the scenario for economic purification.  (What about debt ceilings and "demographic winter"?)  Because productive people have left, gasoline now costs $40 a gallon, and transcontinental flights operate only once a week.  The government has passed the “Fair Share Act” which allows it to expropriate from those according to ability and dispense according to need.  There is a line “capitalism is a failure”.

The “Occupy” protestors are evident on streets rather empty of cars.  So are counter demonstrators, who get what the government moochers have been doing.
  
There’s a really curious incident where a pianist and composer Richard Halley (Darren Server) who performs a piano rhapsody, sounding Ravel-like (not credited), and who never returns for the applause, rather leaving the sign “Who is John Galt?” on the Steinway piano.  Later, the script says that artists and composers destroy all their own work before they are abducted to the ashram, because they don’t want the proles to have it.  I don’t think real composers would do that.

The film ducks the question about how a society that values human life for its own sake, takes care of the less able.  If government shouldn’t to it, then the moral burden falls on individual people.  So is it moral behavior for “the angels” to desert the rest of us “cretins” and abduct their own kind? Will they just set up their own planet?  It seems that “de Tocqueville” would have allocated the responsibility to each one of us.

I have to chuckle at the implications of the "Fair Share Act".  Theoretically, since I am a sole proprietor owner of my own blogs, the government would be telling me exactly how many blog postings I could do each business day.
   
The actors are different, and the action more daring, yet this film comes across looking like a cable B-movie.  It’s also true that the story, based around railroads and steel, seems anachronistic, although energy crisis could bring the railroads back.

Latest official site is here


I saw the film at the Regal Potomac Yard in Alexandria, VA on a large screen, a fair turnout on an early Saturday afternoon.

Before the regular previews, Regal showed a short by Universal on the making of the film version of "Les Miserables", which is being filmed "live".

Friday, October 12, 2012

"The House I Live In" presents the War on Drugs as right-wing class warfare; criticizes mandatory minimum sentences


I recall Harry Browne, Libertarian Party presidential candidate in the 1990s, repeatedly saying, “We have to end this war on drugs”.  The argument was facile: by making drugs illegal, we make it profitable for people to try to make, sell and traffic them underground.

I also remember Richard Nixon’s announcing his “War on Drugs” in 1971, and the NYC subway signs in 1973 warning people “don’t get caught holding the bag” when New York State passed a tough new drug law.

I remember Nancy Reagan and her pious “Just say no.”

I remember Oliver North, on his radio talk show in the 1990s, saying that people who buy drugs are responsible for the wrongs of the world.  Get rid of the demand by criminalizing it.  That has long been a way of looking at “moral” issues.  If you could cast every illicit desire to transcend one’s reality as a character flaw, and enforce laws against it, everything wrong with the world, all the unfairness, would be fixed.  It’s all about individual morality, right?  Remember “The Moral Majority”? 

The new documentary by Eugene Jarecki, “The House I Live In”, starts with a brief retrospect of a family surviving the Holocaust, and his determination that he owes something back to the world for the life he was able to lead after all.  He quickly moves to the “War on Drugs”, as it emerged in the early 1970s, as an attack on “immoral individuals”.  He gives a sound-bite of former NYC major Giuliani talking about “personal responsibility”.  But then he moves to the ghetto, and shows how drug trafficking is the only “employer” in the inner city ghetto, which is like a “one company town”.

He traces how individual drugs became illegal.  Opium was criminalized in order to put down Chinese immigrants who competed for American jobs.  A similar history exists for marijuana and Latinos in the 1930s, although much of the criminalization seems to have been motivated to keep hemp from competing with other forest products in big business.  Cocaine was seen as a drug of African Americans (although it was also a source of pleasure for the idol rich), and crack cocaine was especially so.  Therefore, criminalizing use (possession, sale, distribution) of a substance could be seen as a way to imprison and contain many members of a minority.  Finally the same thing happened with meth, which tended to attract poor working class whites and gays.  (I have yet to meet a gay person addicted to meth, so that idea may be an exaggeration.)  The practice of mandatory minimums continued, as was illustrated with a white man in Iowa who, after layoff, sold a little meth and got sentenced to life without parole.  (ABC 20-20 had covered a Montana couple that grew marijuana inside to protect its ranch from foreclosure during the farm crisis, even at the urging of the couple’s bank.)

Toward the end, the film shows prison, often being taken over by private companies, as big and profitable business.  So there is a temptation to take the “bottom 15%” of people whom the workforce doesn’t “need” and keep them in prison (that is, concentration camps) as “business”.  Jarecki concludes by showing that this kind of thinking helped create Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.  Find and enemy and make money putting it away. 

The film interviews a judge in Iowa who sees the fallacy in mandatory minimum sentence laws.


The official site (starts Shockwave) from Charlotte Street films is here 

I saw this Friday afternoon at the West End Theater in Washington DC before an almost sold out audience. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead": another pitch for natural plant food


Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” makes the case for severe diet revolution, as it traces primarily two morbidly obese men.

Joe Cross is overweight and bloated both with food and steroids to treat an autoimmune disease.  After a fruit and water diet, which he calls a “fast”, he is eventually able to slowly get off the prescription drugs, too. He travels almost the entire country (as well as some of Australia) before meeting Phil Staples who, after a heart attack (which he describes in detail) joins the public fight.

The film, like “Forks over Knives” and Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize Me”, is very critical of commercially processed food. It has a lot of animation showing bad eating habits and the concentration of empty calories.  Gabe Mirkin would be proud of the men.

The “tough love” treatment seems to be in vogue now with most doctors, who advise very severe fat restriction.  Bill Clinton has been saying that the vegan diet is the only way to go.  

It also offers a trademarked phrase, “Reboot your Life”. 

The film is directed by Joe Cross and Kurt Engfehr.

The official site  (Bay Pictures) is here.


The film placed in many categories at the Somona International Film Festival.

The film can be rented on YouTube for $1.99. 

There is a short film “The Kin” about making “Take in the Sunlight”.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Harry and Max": two "pop star" brothers, forbidden relationship


In “Harry and Max” (directed by Christopher Munch), I have to say that I like the characters, and they turn out well. 

This 2004 film (from TLA and Antarctic Pictures)  starts out with two brothers Harry (23, Bryce Johnson) and Max (16, Cole Williams) going together on an early spring camping trip in the San Gabriel Mountains north of LA.  It’s going to be cold.  We see some fuzzy flashbacks of childhood spent amongst Yosemite scenery and performing science fair projects echoing Homer Hickum (“October Sky”) shooting rockets. The brothers are close.  We pretty quickly get the idea that this film will be a precursor of “Old Joy” (Dec. 4, 2011).

The brothers are very close, and just how close makes the film controversial.  They have similar talents. Harry has been the head of a boy band, now in decline, while Max is a rising rock star, with his mother as a money-grubbing manager.  Why don’t they become a “Jonas Brothers” team?

Both brothers are capable of swinging both ways as they find themselves.  In California, some of the behavior of others (both men and women) with Max would be illegal. 

The film becomes episodic  and somewhat unfocused (whereas “Old Joy” stays on the trip and becomes genuinely suspenseful, to the point of being one of the best films of this kind ever made)  Nevertheless, all kinds of other varied issues come up, ranging from circumcision (see “Partly Private”, June 18, 2009), to “incest”,  to intellectual property problems like copyright and libel (both brothers have the habit of suing people).
   
TLA’s site is here. The film is also called “Harold + Max”.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

"The Paperboy": rather difficult journalism "opportunity" for a young man growing up in the swamp


The Paperboy”, directed by Lee Daniels and based on the 1995 novel by Peter Dexter, seems like “another” southern film noir, evoking moods that remind one of “Body Heat” (maybe even “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte”). 

Most of the time, the story, set in 1969, is told through the eyes of the named protagonist, a “paperboy” and possibly aspiring journalist, Jack Jansen, supposedly around 20, played by HSM’s Zac Efron.  Jack had been a champion high school  and college freshman swimmer, but got thrown out of school.  Since then, he’s been drifting, and he no longer looks as smooth as (say) Ryan Lochte, but is still quite fit.  Part of the problem with following the movie is that, at first, Jack really doesn’t get what is going on when his older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) enlists him to help write a “Pulitzer” story to free a man Van Wetter (John Cusack), now on death row, supposedly wrongly convicted of the murder of a sheriff some years before.  The other reporter is an African American Yardley (David Oyelowo). The movie gets into some muddled discussions of truth and journalistic integrity. 

The film, in fact, opens with a woman telling this little backstory, which (some of it in black and white) is quite graphic.  But then we generally know what Jack knows, and he has to get smarter (and he does) before we can get it.  Jack grows as a young man, and Zac Efron (in real life, a “teacher’s dream” kid populating AP classes in high school as he started his acting career on “Summerland”) seems more convincing playing the character at the end than  as the story starts, where he seems miscast as a kind of angel in hiding.

Jack learns that his wild brother is gay, and tends to get into trouble with his behavior.  Ward, around 40 or so, looks ragged and has BO; he does drugs, his health will soon go (years before HIV); his legs are balding – a bit ironical when you consider the actor’s role in “Magic Mike” (review July 1).  And he may be very wrong about Wetter’s character, which will help set up the film’s climax.  (Cusack looks more haggard than I have ever seen.) Remember, this story takes place about the same time as Frank Sinatra’s antics in “The Detective”.  Stonewall had just happened.  People didn’t know it could get better.

Jack’s own sexuality is interesting.   He can be interested in older, motherly women, like Charlotte (not an accidental name) (Nicole Kidman), who had tried to fall in love with Wetter while he was in prison.  And toward the end, we get the idea that he would like closeness with men, too; if only his own brother had been a better role model.

There’s a sequence, in the “middle”, where Jack is attacked by a jellyfish while swimming. (At least it's not the Australian box jellyfish or chironex, a cubazoan.)  He gets better perfectly when Charlotte plays an old cat trick (golden shower) to neutralize the venom and keep him out of shock.  He quickly recovers.  But that sets up the climax, where Jack’s ability to swim underwater in a swamp set up the conclusion.

The film was shot in the lower swamps of  Louisiana, even if set in Moat County, FL (the county doesn’t exist).  The swamp scenery is quite striking, and is augmented by animals and props like the innards of alligators.

The official site (from Millennium Films) is here


I wondered how this fictitious case would come across if reported in "Datelline" investigative style.  At least we'd get to the facts sooner. 
   
I saw the film at the new Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA., on a flat screen. The theater crops vertically only slightly for the 2.35:1 aspect, and can enlarge the width slightly at the same time. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie": a satire in 50s 3-D BW; short film "Inner Child"


I was curious about Tim Burton’s “kids’ movie” because it was in Black-and-white 3D.  “Frankenweenie”, with voiced-over puppets and “real-looking” suburban surroundings, is pretty a satire of both 50s horror films and of 50s-style science and “Levittown” suburban life. Victor (Charlie Tahan) dearly loves his dog Sparky and has the troubles as a kid with fitting in to the expectations of future manliness (like playing sports).  The kid comforts himself and protects himself from bullies by taking Sparky everywhere.

One day at a baseball game, right after Sparky’s nemesis, a judgmental white cat, shows up in the spectator stands, and on the “good old two-strike pitch”, Victor (shocking everyone) clobbers a  towering home run.  Before he runs the bases, Sparky runs through a hole in the outfield fence to get the ball and gets hit by a car. 
In the meantime, Victor is tantalized by the gaunt middle school science teacher (Martin Landau), and soon tries an experiment (inspired by Benjamin Franklin) with the dog’s carcass (taken from the grave) and lightning in a Pennsylvania thunderstorm.  (Is this a “positive lightning strike”?)  The dog comes back to life, and pretty soon other kids want to try experiments with other animals. The teacher makes a comment about relativity, to the effect that the observer (his attitude, or love for the animal) can affect the outcome. Mayhem ensues, as the movie soon mocks both “Blood of Dracula” and “Horror of Dracula” along with “Young Frankenstein” (which I saw at the old St. Marks theater in the East Village in the 70s with a “date”), and “Mill of the Stone Women”, and even the notorious Japanese flick “The Giant Behemoth”.  Unfortunately, the cat does not come out as well from the rampage as does the dog Sparky, and I’m a believer in equal time for cats.

The film's opening is notable: Victor's family is watching an 8mm home movie reel of the kids playing with a model city of cardboard buildings, like the kind I used to build in my own basement (or that we kids built behind grandma's house along the walk to the outhouse in Ohio back in the 50s), with the dog running through it.  

In 3-D, the detail in this film is just out of this world, most of all in the baseball scene.

Disney’s official site is here


I saw this Columbus Day afternoon in a small auditorium at Regal in Arlington. Even in the smaller auditorium, there is more room for screen than is allowed.  I wish Regal would publish online on which screen each performance is  shown.

For today’s short film, try the 20-minute impromptu “Inner Child”, (dir. J. D. Walsh) with Jason Greene and Reid Ewing and a few guest performers.  The film (looks like San Francisco) stays completely within PG-13 territory (almost just PG) and explores the joy of a relationship for the psychological benefit of two young adults who live it, rather than from what society wants to make of or recognize legally in it.  Reid says something like, “I have to be able to satisfy myself before I can satisfy anyone else”.  We seem to have a cultural divide over this in the debate over marriage: should someone be his own person first before getting married, or because of marriage?  The YouTube link (free, Igigistudios, 2 parts) is here. (Note: the video has become private;  perhaps it will be offered "for pay" in a DVD or streaming, or Amazon, etc.; I'll post when I find out.)

There is a "sequel" to "Inner Child" called "Reidoing", dating to Oct. 2012, a spoof on emulating Julie Andrews, being "who you are", and "street smarts over book smarts".  Reid and Jason star, and there is no way for Jason's character to "change".  Just "climb every mountain."  Donald Trump would approve.  It's easy to find on YouTube under Reid's name.  One must say that the relationship between Reid and Jason follows the "Polarities" (see Books blog, book by Rosenfels, April 12, 2006).

Note (July 30, 2013):  "Inner Child" is now available on the new site belonging to "Igigi" Productions.