Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Paradise: Love": first film in an intriguing trilogy by Austrian director, a hit at the festivals, but problematic

Paradise: Love” (“Paradies: Liebt”) is the first of three parallel films by Austrian director Ulrich Seidl.  Each film tells the story of what three different women in family do one summer. 
This film may be the most explicit and disturbing of the three. 
  
As the two-hour film opens, Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) seems like a strict mom for her teenage daughter, who can’t have candy or cell phones in her room back in an Austrian city.

But then Teresa goes to Kenya on holiday, to the little known east coast.  She meets a wide range of young black men (let’s hope they are really of legal age) who meet, shall we say, her needs.  Some of these are pragmatic indulgences, from men who don’t ask for money for themselves but who have families (not of their own progeny, but younger siblings and parents) to take care of.  

 One needs money for medical treatment for a family member.  A few of the scenes are explicit, but seem to build more on curiosity than actual sex. Teresa also talks about what she “has” and is “losing”, to other women, in a wa that reminds me of parallel male concerns.

I do think this is a film about the poor serving the rich (potential class warfare later), but I didn’t really see it as sex tourism.  But I have to agree with Ashton Kutcher: “Real men don’t buy girls” (or boys, for that matter). 

The film trio showed at Filmfest DC, and this first film showed at Cannes and various other festivals.  (I think it also showed in Baltimore)  Audience reaction (most people who want to see it are female) is reported as enthusiastic.  I was left rather cold by it.    
  
I knew a gay male couple who served covertly (without being out) on a church mission in Kenya, and they said that conditions were rather oppressive, but still not as bad as Uganda.  The horrible anti-gay initiatives in Uganda (and now Russia) would make for a good documentary film.  It is rather difficult and challenging to be of service (or to be employed on infrastructure projects) deep in the developing world, so the behavior of Teresa in the movie is a bit off-putting, to me at least.  



This film will be available on DVD from Strand  (site ) on Aug. 6, and I viewed a private advance copy 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"The Hunt": a male teacher is unable to fend off "accusations" made by a child

I went to see the Danish film “The Hunt” (“Jagten”, directed by Thomas Vinterberg) out of a sense of follow-up to my own period as a substitute teacher in northern Virginia a few years ago.

I remember in that job being sent to special education assignments, even though that was not on my profile, and being very surprised that the intimacy that could be expected (even in high school, with severely disabled students).  Once I was asked if I would be OK with “helping the kids in the locker roojm and manning the deep end of the swimming pool.” No, that was not OK. I was rather surprised on an early “extended day” when a six-year old girl asked if I could tie her shoes,

This can get dangerous, as this movie shows.  Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a 40 year old divorced father trying to get to see his son Marcus (Lasse Folgelstrom) more often, and having been laid off from a regular teaching job a while back.  But he has gotten a new job at a grade school and kindergarten, and in the movie’s earliest scenes, even he is surprised at the “help” some kids need, even in the bathroom.

The film’s first scene establishes Lucas’s basic social popularity, when he dives into cold water clothed to help another man in an outdoor swim deal with a cramp. 

Twenty minutes into the film, the principal Greta (Susse W old) calls him into the office for an informal conversation.  She can’t be specific, but a little girl has told someone that Lucas has behaved inappropriately.  The specific language is graphic. 

Things spiral out of control quickly. School staff and parents assume that kids, particularly this little gril, never lie about something like this.  (How could a little girl know about some things?)  They turn on him quickly, with a savage social witch-hunt.  He isn’t allowed in the supermarket, and neither is his son.

I won’t explain the metaphor of the title here, other than to say that the son Marcus will get a rifle and go on an autumn hunt as a rite of male passage, which fits into the denouement.  I’m not sure that the ending convinces me.

I saw this at Landmark’s Bethesda Row Theater in Maryland, the only theater in the DC area showing it the first week.  There was a fair crowd for a Monday night.


The official site from Magnolia Pictures is here


Magnolia lately has distributed “controversial” foreign films. 

Some of the outdoor scenes were filmed in Poland. 

My own experience with the "special ed" issue as a sub is on my main"BillBoushka" blog July 25, 2007.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Blackfish": The orca should not be kept in captivity for human entertainment; this "animal" is our moral equal

Blackfish”, a new documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, examines the morally problematic nature of the entire marine mammal entertainment industry, particularly through the lens of one Florida company, Sea World, and a male orca (killer whale) Tilikum, who has killed three trainers, most recently Dawn Brancheau in February 2010.
  
The orca may be the most intelligent creature on the planet besides man, an "alien" among us commanding our seas, where we can sail but not live ourselves.  The “convergent evolution” of cetacean and primate intelligence in formerly separate environments on the same planet is seen as evidence that, in the right conditions, intelligent life will develop if conditions are right.  The killer whale is large because he is supported by water.  He or she does not have the ability to make tools with hands like man does. Instead,, the animal has the biological equivalent of wireless Internet (a concept developed in James Cameron’s “Avatar”) built into sonar, a capability that human underwater navigation sometimes interferes with.  We have two or multiple kinds of animals on this planet with about the same personal  "soul" sentience and intelligence, creating moral problems the likes of which we have hardly contemplated.  Capturing orcas for entertainment sounds like the moral equivalent of slavery.
  
This sort of political and moral dilemma is likely to be common on other planets with intelligent life.  Human beings are lucky that the races are all so similar biologically.

The orcas live in close family groups, and adults never leave their mothers.  Different pods also make different sounds that seem like the logical equivalent of human languages. 

Yet, marine mammal entertainment parks tear individuals away from their families and mix them with other animals with whom they cannot communicate.

The film covers an OHSA trial in Florida, which winds up requiring Sea World to keep the orcas apart from the trainers by physical barriers.

Many former trainers speak in the film.  They do have conscience pangs -- they had to believe in what they were doing, and couldn't bite the hand that fed them (figuratively).  The company is necessarily mum on the issue.  If you work in management in an adversarial situation, you don't have the freedom to speak publicly.


The Los Angeles Times has an interesting story about his movie here
  
Magnolia Pictures offers an official site here.

"CNN Films" has purchased the rebroadcast rights and will air the film Oct. 24, 2013.

I saw the film at Landmark E Street on  Sunday night, small auditorium, and it sold out. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Miami Seaquarium picture. This is NOT the same facility as the Sea World in the film, which also mentions and shows an affiliated facility in the Canary Islands, Spain. 

Update: Sept. 10, 2015

Check this article by Alva Hope Rutlin on orca intelligence and social behavior, here. Or this article, "Killer whales are non-human persons", here.  Cetaceans (descended from hoofed animals 50 million years ago, when they returned to the ocean for "free fish") have evolved, independently of humans, to about our level of brain power -- a strong case for intelligent life developing elsewhere in the universe. They are the closest thing to "aliens" we know -- and we barely really know how to communicate with them, in any kind of psychological depth. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Tomboy", French film about a possibly TG child, screened by William and Mary GALA in Washington

On Saturday, July 27, 2013, William and Mary GALA sponsored a screening of the 2011 French film “Tomboy”, directed by Celine Sciamm, from Wolfe Video – at the Busboys and Poets restaurant at 5th and K in Washington DC (nearest Metro is Mt. Vernon Place and the DC Convention Center).  The main speaker was Leisa Meyer, William and Mary History Department chairman and Professor of American Studies and History at the college. (See Oct. 21, 2011 entry on this blog for account of a short film about GALA.)  She is author of "Creating G.I. Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women's Army Corps". 

The film depicts a 10 year old girl, Laure (Zoe Heran), who is mistaken for a boy by her peers and masquerades on the playgrounds as Mickael, until eventually her pregnant mother (Sophie Cattani) finds out and confronts her. 

There are some obvious delicate scenes involving challenges among the kids, but what is more interesting is the family dynamics (Mathleu Demy play the more versatile father).  Mother, eight months pregnant,  is often on bed rest and needs attention from the family, and a new baby is born, leading to a scene that curiously reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” (1975). And there is dialogue that boys, to become men, need to learn to protect women and children.

There were lots of questions from the audience (heavily female) after the screening, including one from me, about whether people today understand the culture I grew up under a half-century ago, where it was believed that people had to step up within their biological roles and be ready for “sacrifice” or others would have to.   The professor mentioned that progress in the military, not only the lifting of “don’t ask don’t tell”, but the acceptance now that women can serve in combat.
  
   
The official Facebook site is here

The film can be rented “legally” on Youtube for $1.99.  Wolfe is particularly enthusiastic in warning consumers about the harm of piracy to LGBT filmmaking.
  
Visitors may know that I have discussed my own expulsion from William and Mary as a freshman right after Thanksgiving in 1961 for “admitting” to the Dean of Men in a called meeting (curiously, the Friday evening after Thanksgiving) that I was a “latent homosexual”.  That’s covered in detail in my books and on the “BillBoushka” blog Nov. 28, 2006.



Saturday, July 27, 2013

"Gril Most Likely": Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions go after bigger, if sometimes more stereotyped, films; this comedic contrivance starts with a good idea

The idea of a has-been writer or playwright now not paying her own way and maybe looking for something new to say, sounds important.  Take that concept and try to concoct a story to make it funny, into a near situation comedy.  That was the commercial task taken up by screenwriter Michelle Morgan and directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini in the new comedy “Girl Most Likely”, another “mainstream” collaboration between Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.  Both of these companies now have new legal music trademarks.
  
Kristen Wiig looks surprisingly over the hill as playwright Imogene, who, in an opening scene, is coaching kids to follow her direction in saying lines they don’t like (something about the Wizard of Oz).  He get the idea that her own ideas have already gone stale.  Soon, she sits in front of her boss, who, toying with a thin iPad, rebukes her for injecting her own views into the Broadway reviews she was hired to write and fires her. That particular scene is dramatic and well-acted.  
  
One problem is that she is so self-indulgent  A half-hearted pill-taking attempt lands her in the psych ward as an m.p., and she’s released to the custody of her even more obviously aged mother  Zelda (Annette Benning), and taken back to her beach home in Ocean City, NJ (before Sandy, but the film end credits congratulates the residents of the NJ coast and perhaps Chris Christie for rebuilding quickly).   So it’s back home to mommy.  But in mommy dearest’s home there is a new cast of characters.  There’s baby brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), who operates as a seaside vendor and has invented the WiFi "crab" shell to live in, which will figure into the climax.  There is Annette’s boyfriend George the Bousche (Matt Dillon, who looks a little heavier than he did in “Rumble Fish” decades ago, and hairier, despite a lightning strike that he relates as part of his secret agent work).   And there’s an attractive renter Lee (Darren Criss), who presents the obvious “younger man” opportunity for Imogene.  Lee runs a boy band and sings for tips in clubs, and takes her back to New York to try to get her stuff.

One other piece of the plot concerns Zelda’s lifelong lie, that Imogene’s father is dead. The trips back to the Big Apple develop the idea that the dad is himself a Salinger-style rich reclusive author (Bob Balaban) who wrote a cynical bestseller “The Myth of Thanksgiving”.


The official site is here. The film (from Maven, Anonymous Content, and Ambush Entertainment) had originally been titled "Imogene" at Toronto (story). 

The rather substantial Friday night show audience at the Angelika Mosaic laughed with the movie, but I found Imogene’s helplessness , vomiting, and tendency to show up and beg (at friend’s apartment doors) rather annoying.


Check the new Lionsgate intro here  and Roadside Attractions here  The Lionsgate reaches for the skies, although I like the “machinery” logo that opens up on the real Lionsgate in Greece, under the heavenly clouds. The studio has acquired Summit Entertainment and seems to be going for much larger films than it did a few years ago.  Indie Wire says that Lionsgate also acquired part of Roadside, and explains their team relationship here. Roadside Attractions is on Blogger, but hasn’t maintained the Blog since 2009, here.  The company really should keep this blog up.  Should I be hired to do it for them?  (LOL!)

Photo: Seaside Heights, NJ (mine, March 2013). 

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Detour", 1945 film noir: If you act guilty, maybe you are (and don't hitchhike)

Sometimes people have a hard time not incriminating themselves, or at least they fear they will get framed.  Maybe that’s because the really do have skeletons in their closet, or at least some bad karma.  That seems to be the idea between the 1945 film noir classic “Detour”, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, just 67 minutes, from “Producers Releasing Corporation” (PRC, which sounds like the 1970s Beltway contractor, “Planning Research Corporation”).
  
Perhaps all this philosophy gives the film just too much credit; it’s just storytelling, entertainment for a date or for a couple’s night away from the kids (or maybe with the kids) in post-War America.
  
Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is a nightclub pianist who improvises (Liberace-style) on the Brahms waltz and on the Chopin raindrop prelude.  But’s he’s wholly hetero (given the times, anyway), and hitchhiles cross country to meet his girl, Sue.  Hitchhiking was acceptable practice in those days, maybe necessary.  He takes turns driving, and his host Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald) drops dead from a heart attack in the seat. 

Al fears that the police will blame him (why does he act so guilty?) so he assumes Haskell’s identity – so this becomes an old tech story of identity theft.  But then, keeping the Haskell’s car, he picks up a dame himself., Vera (Ann Savage) who isn’t above blackmailing him.  In the meantime, as befitting a 1940’s plot, Haskell was wanted for murder.
  
So this many not end happily for Al.  He may not remain free.  You know the saying, “Follow the rules, or don’t get caught.” 
  
  

I rented a DVD through Netflix, but the film is available “free” on YouTube.  I don’t know if TCM has aired  The rental DVD is in black-and-white, but apparently, judging from YouTube, the film has been colorized.  I greatly prefer to see BW films in BW, the way they were intended to be seen.  The BW in this movie is very crisp.    

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"White Frog": a teen with Asperger's struggles after his protective older gay brother dies in an accident

Wolfe has released its share of LGBT films that try novel situations and concepts and take us along for the ride.  That’s what I look for.
  
White Frog”, available in DVD and Amazon Streaming, is such a film.  It opens portraying a close relationship between two Chinese-American teen brothers living in southern California.  They both look mixed.  The older brother Chaz (Harry Shum, Jr.) seems All-American, and protects his socially backward younger brother, Nick (Booboo Stewart), who has somewhat severe Asperger’s.  Other kids don’t want Nick around because he needs “social skills” but Chaz seems welcome everywhere.
  
Chaz dies in a tragic auto accident while bicycling. It’s not shown (and neither are the expected police aspects), and the film suddenly confronts us with Chaz’s funeral out of the blue.  Nick is left alone. Slowly, however, Chaz’s friends start to accept Nick, partly because of a mutual connection to a volunteer community center for kids and teens.  First, Doug (Tyler Posey) looks after him, and then Randy (Greg Sulkin) starts teaching Nick to drive a car.  There are some interesting scenes where the kids play poker and Nick wins by counting cards, but angers others by his lack of consideration for their feelings.   Nick starts trying to look into Chaz’s past by cracking the password on his laptop.  Eventually, Randy confronts Nick with the history that Chaz was gay and that Chaz and Randy were dating. Both Posey and Sulkin look super in the film. 
  
Nick’s reaction is “moralistic” in a superficial sense.  The script shows an Asperger’s person as needing to see “rules” followed and attaching great meaning to them, even if in modern society the “rules” no longer make a lot of sense or in any community’s best interest (or violate basic human rights, for that matter).  But slowly, through a confrontation involving his parents and the volunteer center at the end, Nick comes to understand the whole situation.  “We are all different” he says, and makes an analogy to a lesson in biology class where a tadpole becomes a frog.

   
Wolfe’s site for the film is here

I was told "point blank" that I have Asperger’s by filmmaker Gode Davis when I met with him on New Year’s Day 2003 for dinner near his home in Rhode Island.  Since his passing, I don’t know what has happened to his “American Lynching” project.  As a child and then as a teen, I lacked physical competitiveness, and my behavior was eccentric, but not as fractured as Nick’s in the film.  My tendency to take things literally was more pronounced and disturbing when you put a lot of things together (the way school grades related to vulnerability to the military draft).  A couple of my famous quotes in high school: “All learning is memorizing” (and not just your trigonometry identities); “Don’t kiss her on the lips.” 

Let's see more films like this that "take risks" in the LGBT market!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer" is a close look at "old time religion" in the African-American community, with a dark secret side

I hadn’t watched a “Spike Lee Joint” in a few years, and the drama “Red Hook Summer” (2012, from Variance and Image Entertainment) seems like the most intimate look inside the African-American community ever, this time in “The Hook”, the Red Hook area of lower Brooklyn.  This film has no connection to the thriller by that name that I reviewed here June 28.  The area has attracted interest because it was heavily flooded by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, not too long after this film was shot.
  
Flik Royale (Jules Borwn) arrives in Brooklyn  (from Atlanta) to spend the summer with his pastor grandfather Lourdes (Limary Agosto), who leads the “Lil’l Peace of Heaven Baptist Church” (several choir members are in the film).  Flik expects a summer of playground baseball and other recreation, but Lourdes wants him to get some old time religion.  Flik is already vegan (although that diet allows potato chips) and resists Lourdes’s ironically southern diet of including fried chicken. 
  
The film has a lot of church and old time gospel music in the first hour, reminding one of the 1982 classic “Say Amen, Somebody.”  (Somehow, I’m reminded of the fact that Lynchburg VA has named one of its expressways after the late Jerry Falwell.)  Flik befriends a mischievous girl in the congregation.  Gradually, tension builds, and a dirty secret in Lourdes’s past comes out into the open.  I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that it has to do with abuse of of a child, and of a congregation’s need to pay “love money” to get a pastor to go away.  Lourdes, however, thinks he has redeemed himself.
  
The official site is here.  Spike still uses his “40 Acres and a Mule” trademark for his productions.
  
  

The film can be rented “legally” from YouTube for $3.99.  I watched in on regular rental DVD (technically quite sharp); it’s available on Netflix Instant play to subscribers, too.  It’s long (a little over two hours).  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

HBO examines "The Cheshire Murders" in July 2007 (six years ago)

On Monday, July 22, 2013, HBO aired its disturbing journalistic documentary, “The Cheshire Murders”, by Kate Davis.  This two hour film was an examination of the home invasion of a doctor’s home in Cheshire CT before dawn on a Monday morning,  July 23, 2007.  Dr. William Petit, although badly injured, escaped and survived, but wife Jennifer and two daughters, both assaulted, died in the arson fire.
  
The family was apparently deliberately targeted after one of the suspects saw Jennnifer in a supermarket and followed her home and plotted an attack.  The two perpetrators were Stephen Hayes, 44, and Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, both white. 
  
The film focuses a lot on the apparently slow and ineffective response by the Cheshire Police Department, which was unable to stop the attack after a bank teller contacted them after Jennifer was kidnapped and forced to withdraw money early Monday morning. 
  
The film probes inconclusively into the psyche of both psychopathic perpetrators.  Apparently they had intended a robbery, and the murder and arson occurred to cover up DNA evidence (although that would not explain the assaults).  Both men were abused in childhood.  The film focused particularly on the younger suspect, Josh, who was portrayed as physically attractive (disturbing), and artistically talented, also little known.  (The same has been said recently in Rolling Stone about music and the older Tsarnaev brother).  Both suspects sought heterosexual outlets, but Josh had been assaulted and the preached to about the supposed evil of homosexuality as a boy, as well as presented a rather simplistic idea of religious morality.   
  
Toward the end, the film explores both the grief in the town, and then examines the death penalty.  Life in solitary confinement might even be worse punishment.
  
Connecticut has since repealed the death penalty, but intends to execute both convicts in this horrific case.
  
The HBO site for the film is here.

The case seems almost like an example of domestic terrorism, and seems not to have much of a motivation.  It would be logical for HBO to follow up with documentaries about Aurora and Sandy Hook.  But at the time, this was one of the most horrific home domestic rampages ever committed.  

Advocates of Second Amendment rights will want to speculate whether Petit could have stopped the attack at its inception had he been armed.  That's possible, but this is very much a two-sided argument.  I recall (from the media, perhaps CNN) a specific comment by defendant "Josh", not reported in the film, that he (the suspect) wanted to test the homeowner's "courage".  That sounds perverse, and certainly exhibits a particularly disturbing chain of "logic" but is common in authoritarian cultures.  The defendants seemed to exhibit a particular contempt of "rich" people whom they saw as "luckier" than them, with a ferocity that resembles domestic terrorism.  They did not seem to realize how easily they would get caught, even by an less than optimal local police department.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

"More Than Honey": the secret lives of "alien" social insects

The documentary “More Than Honey”, by Austrian filmmaker Markus Imhoofm provides a detailed look at the commercial bee industry in the United States (especially California and western states), Australia, Germany and Austria, and China.
  
The film goes beyond a targeted look at “colony collapse disorder” , to present a whole way of life for people who work in the industry, which has become big agribusiness even though, like most agriculture, it started in families.
  
The film also presents a detailed look at the “secret life of bees”.  Life in the colony is complete communism, with individual workers fulfilling their genetically programmed roles and sacrificing themselves for the group.  Male drones die after mating.

Does the entire colony have a "soul" that might correspond to the volitional consciousness of a human being or higher mammal.  Bees and ants seem like alien life in this movie.  Suddenly, we feel we're a lot like our own cats (especially big ones), dogs, and dolphins -- as they all have individual personalities -- but not like social insects.  Maybe only in North Korea.

Even if the hive as a whole has a group mind (that was even true of the alien spaceship hive in "Independence Day" (1996)), in the film a lone female worker bee goes on reconnaissance to find a new cave location for the an entire colony. She must think she' special.
     
Commercial operations make colonies more productive by splitting them up and creating new queens.  The biological process of a queen’s development is shown in fascinating detail.
  
Colony collapse disorder may have not a particular single cause, but may be the cumulative effect of commercialization of the industry.
  
Toward the end, the documentary examines the effect of the new Africanized bees, which seem stronger and which, despite the fear of them, may save the industry.
  
  
The official site (Koch Lorber) is here

A film by Walt Disney, "Secrets of Life", in the 1950's, had also provided a detailed upclose look at social insects (ants and bees both).  

There was also a film about "Bees" shown at the Science museum in Amsterdam, at least in 2001.  
  

I saw the film at Landmark E Street before a small crowd on Sunday night.  

Picture (first): Hungary, from Smithsonian folk life' (second); NC Blue Ridge. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Perfidy": Chilian director gives us a curious introspection of a hit man on a mission in a winter resort

  
Perfidy” (or "Perfidia") is a term I should have learned about in Army Basic, as it can violate the Geneva Convention, when it involves a “false surrender” in war.

But in the little independent film by Chilian director Rodrigo Bellott, it’s a little less clear how the concept applies, although the 85-minute film is a fascination up-close journey of a young man’s “mission”.
  
For most of the film, we follow Gus (Gonzalo Valenzuela), as he rides a bus to an obscure resort in snowy upstate New York, and settles into his room.  Attractive enough, he preens himself (false foreshadowing), and finally removes his beard and mustache, even trimming his hair himself enough to reveal a “widow’s peak”.  He does calesthenics, he irons his clothes.  (How many young men do that?)  He takes a bath.  Then he goes out to the pubs briefly.
  
He spots another young couple (Levi Freeman and Heidi Schreck), and soon confirms that they’re in an adjacent room.  There is some mysterious appointment at 4 AM, and he starts using his room safe.  There is money, and a weapon with a silencer. 
   
At this point, it would say too much to go into the speculative twists, which are open to interpretation.
The only official site comes from the small distributor, Ondamax, here, a company that focuses on Latin American films.

  
The Netflix stream offers the film in English, Spanish or Portuguese with subtitles.  The actual shooting locations were in the Finger Lakes area of New York State, I believe. 
   

The camera tends to dawdle on the “male form”, and the film has a lot of long takes, expressing a style and outlook rather like some of the “1313” movies (July 18).  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Fruitvale Station": very timely release by TWC, a riveting conclusion

The Weinstein Company certainly picked the timeliest possible weekend for the nationwide theatrical release of Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station”.
  
The film is named after5 BART station in Oakland, CA where, at around 2 AM on New Years Morning, 2009, a 22 –year old black man Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) was shot by a white policeman (Johannes Mehserle) during a riotous confrontation.  The cop thought he was reaching for his taser and as convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served about one year in prison.

The film traces the last day of Grant’s life, New Years Eve.  It starts out slowly, showing Grant as a man capable of tending to other people (as in a grocery scene where he calls his grandmother to get a recipe for another shopper), particularly other children in his extended family, and women.  The film shows hin as somewhat caught by the economic system.  He has gotten fired for being late to a retail job, is helping a friend with rent, and sells a little pot for income.  He does not lead a sheltered life like some of us.

There is a flashback to an earlier stint in prison, when his mother (Octavia Spencer) visits him.  That shows Oscar’s potentially dark side, but the film is always sympathetic. 

His mother and grandmother encourage him to take BART rather than drive to New Year’s Eve parties.  They are on the train when the clock hits midnight.  The disorder develops in the car, which is emptied out into the station leading to a confrontation with police.  That sequence starts about 40 minutes before the end of the film, and is riveting. It's significant that a cop fulls Oscar off the train car after he tries to get back on and get out of the situation. 
   
The film played at Cannes and Sundance and won the big audience awards at Sundance.
   
TWC’s official site is here

There are some cell phone videos of the actual shooting, such as this one by JewelzTV here (requires Google account sign in to view).  Some of this or similar video is shown in reduced aspect as the film opens.   
I saw the film at the 8:45 PM show at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA Friday night, and the show came close to selling out.

I stayed in a Comfort Inn near the station in October 2000 when I went to am SLDN event. 

Angelika has been showing a short animated film in BW by Apple before some shows. 


I want to mention a Slate story by Peter Suderman, “Save the Movie”, about a 2005 book on cookie-cutter screewriting, “Save the Cat”, by Blake Snyder, that apparently is thought to be reducing Hollywood big budget films to formulas, link here. More on this later.  That hardly applies to this film.  

Wikipedia attribution link for Oakland City Hall.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

"The Heat" is a female police comedy; "Heat", almost two decades ago, was dead serious

The Heat” (directed by Paul Feig and screen-written by Katie Dippold for Fox) is a police situation comedy, big and bloated, that extracts as much humor as possible from the gratuitous violence needed to track down organized crime and drug rings.
  
Sandra Bullock is macho enough as the FBI agent Ashburn, but the real macho woman is overweight but physically combative tag team sidekick Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), the best Boston PD undercover cop ever. McCarty might well get a supporting actress nomination for this role. 
  
Ashburn gets sent to Boston to prove herself, almost as homage to the world of Damon, Affleck, and Marky Mark – “The Town” and “Mystic River”.  Except that here, hurting some people gets funny.
  
There’s plenty of gender bending, after Mullins cuts off some of Ashburn’s clothes to make her disco ready.  At the end of the disco sequence, Ashburn even shouts, “we girls were born with hair on our legs, too”.
  
The “straight” disco scene evokes a growing issue, however tangentially: people being photographed in bars.  It wasn’t thought about much until maybe 2011, when social media and tagging of photos caused many people to believe that the standards of expected courtesy should change.
  
The “comedy” gets pretty racy toward the end.  There’s a scene where Mullins has to give a man a tracheotomy when he chokes on food.  Then, at the very end, the rogue criminals have to be shot in very sensitive spots – reminding one of Lorena Bobbitt.
   
The official site is here
  

I saw the film at a later show Thursday night at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA, before a fair crowd, which was laughing a lot, even early.
 
Ashburn's lovable feline friend, Pumpkin, helps with a pleasant surprise at the end.  One of the hugest domestic cats ever in the movies.
  
This film has nothing to do with Michael Mann’s 1995 drama “Heat” for WB, in which Al Pacino and Roert De Niro have a famous confrontation, and in which there is shown one of the most elaborate bank robberies ever in cinema.  And that film used the Lutoslawski Violin Concerto to establish its serious tone.
So the newer film is distinguished by the direct article.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

"1313: Bermuda Triangle": this sci-fi series for gay men follows its own formula too closely

Having been moderately tantalized by a “1313” film about Roswell by David DeCoteau (June 30), I tried another, contemporaneous, from the series, “1313: Bermuda Triangle” (about 78 minutes) on Netflix.
  
Although the very earliest shots of tropical Caribbean scenery (but actually filmed near Mailbu Beach) look promising, very quickly we encounter the same “cookie cutter” formula for a “horror” film.  Shirtless young men, one at a time, wander through the hall of resort (that indoors seems to the same stage resort as in the other film, down to the half-car) and meet a bizarre demise (this time, sudden lightning bolts). 

The correspondences among the characters to the other movie, however, are a bit different.  This time, the “ring leader” male, Sean, is himself up to no good, and we learn that quickly, as he hires (and then “murders”) a young Jamaican to run an errand for him as he sets up his “treasure hunt” that will make him famous and rich. Sean (Stefan Gatt, who has also appeared in College Humor Media [July 14]) is bulked up and overbuffed, down to having shaved even his underarms.  The older female character this time, Echo (Michelle Bauer) is a blogger, who has been hired mysteriously to cover the treasure hunt, and starts checking up on Sean, finding he has a record.  We learns she also sometimes works for a police department, which is an odd thing for a “professional” blogger to do, at least from my perspective.  Well, bloggers do get “classified” material passed to them sometimes.  There’s an opportunity with this kind of setup to play a Wikileaks angle in the story, but this film is too far away to take advantage of that plot possibility.

  
The other guys who show up to work for Sean (and are sworn to confidentiality agreements, even about their own theories about the Bermuda Triangle) are pretty stereotyped and hard to distinguish – except for Clay (Kip Canyon), the “oceanographer”.  He behaves a little bit like Spock, and is the only male character to show up not shirtless, an important clue in this formulaic film.  And he’s the only guy with chest hair.  We like Clay more than anyone else, and pretty soon have good reason to.

Picture (unrelalted): WWII "victory garden", Oak Ridge, TN, 2013, personal trip


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Short films about the Manhattan Project and secret research at Oak Ridge during WWII

The American Museum of Science and Energy (link) in Oak Ridge, TN shows several films in its theater. 
  
The most important short is probably “The Day Tomorrow Began” (1967), a history of how the Fermi reactor was built in Chicago  (at Argonne National Laboratories, as the “Chicago Pile”) in 1942, and the replicated at Oak Ridge.  A number of scientists, many Jewish, were alarmed at how Hitler seemed to be moving toward acquisition of nuclear technology before WWII began officially in 1939.  This led to the first sustainable chain reaction leading to enriched uranium.  Scientists and workers had to build a huge honeycombed structure housed by lead and graphite, with individual pellets of uranium to be inserted, the purest in the middle, and controlled by cadmium rods.


“The Oak Ridge Story” (10 minutes) tells the history of the lab in the 1940s, after federal agents came to east Tennessee and told poor farmers to get out (they were compensated under eminent domain eventually).  About 20000 workers had to be housed in the new “secret city” in pre-manufactured housing.

I have seen “The Enola Gay Story”, about the bombing of Hiroshima, in the past.  It’s a good predecessor to the 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor”. 
  
"Ten Seconds that Shook the World” was shown during my visit (because of the tour), but is available on Amazon video.  But it can be rented from Amazon for $3.99 (50 minutes, about 1950).  Directed by Alan Landsburg and narrated by Richard Basehart, it takes the history of Fermi all the way to Hiroshima.  Civilian scientists were "drafted" to Oak Ridge, Hanford or Los Alamos and not allowed to leave until after the War  There was a fear that Fermi's experiment could destroy Chicago, or that the New Mexico test in 1945 could ignite the world. The "ten seconds" refer to the countdown in the Trinity New Mexico test. 


Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Coffee Town": College Humor Media offers new comedy on Instant play at same time as theatrical; Josh Groban in the movies

Again, I found another little movie where the producer assembled a cast of popular people.  This is the little comedy “Coffee Town”, available for streaming rental from Amazon video ($6.99) while it’s in a few theaters like in NY and LA.  It’s produced and self-distributed by College Humor Media.

The best known star is singer Josh Groban, who manages a “Valley” coffee shop in LA, and plays for tips at a club at night.

The narrator is website manager Will (Glenn Howerton), who uses the “free” WiFi to make the coffee shop his office, and has to pump orders.  When some real estate developers want to convert the coffee place into an upscale bistro, the cast of characters arranges an Argo-fake robbery to keep the place less desirable to investors.   They even have an inside man from the LAPD, Gino (Ben Schwartz).

Some of the humor in the film is weird indeed.  When Will gets displaced from his favorite chair and works on a sofa, he gets a laptop burn on his thighs and elsewhere, which a girlfriend whom he takes home discovers. 

There’s also a sequence with a man with Down Syndrome, which may seem tasteless to some people. But the character pulls a major surprise in the plot.

And, there’s also the issue of the dead hand, telling a story from the grave, maybe.

The film is written and directed by Brad Copeland.

The official Tumblr blog for the film is here

   
I’m not sure this one will get that far.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Unfinished Song" (or "Song for Marion"): a lonely senior widower connects to others through his wife's music

The English drama “Unfinished Song” (with alternate title “Song for Marion”), by Paul Andrew Williams,  fits into the genre established earlier with “Quartet”, connecting senior citizens to music – this time, more of the pop kind.

Terence Stamp plays an elderly Arthur, taking care of a declining wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave), with an estranged middle aged son James (Christopher Eccleston).  He has resisted performing in public or enjoying group social activities with other people in a community.  One night, Marion passes away, right beside him.
He tells James not to see him again, but then the lure of Marion’s past draws him into working with his wife’s choir.  Eventually, he sings solo himself at the end of the film.  The song (by Laura Rossi) has some of the broad melodic contours of “In the Moonlight”.  Some of the songs during the ending credits have a real lilt.

I remember Stamp as a younger actor, playing “The Collector” (William Wyler) in 1964, where he plays a man kidnapping women with chloroform, until one female “tempts” him in a particularly curious scene that sticks to memory.

The Weinstein Company’s best official site appears to be this.

   
I saw this film at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA before a small crowd late Friday night.



Friday, July 12, 2013

"Great Expectations": Dickens novel (and many movies) makes Pip and everyman in "class struggle"

I recall an episode of “Twilight Zone” in the 1960s where a character named “Pip” appeared, and I didn’t recall who that was until I mentioned it to a “boyfriend” (a doctor) when I was living in Dallas in the 1980s.
I guess Charles Dickens’s thirteenth novel “Great Expectations” makes good reading for high school, and the relevance becomes apparent when you watch any of the several films.  I wasn’t aware of the 2012 version, but I rented the 1946 version by David Lean (“Dr. Zhivago”) from Janus Films and, originally, the J. Arthur Rank organization in Britain.
  
The plot does indeed involve moral ideas of karma.  Pip (John Mills, but Tony Wager as a boy) is training as a blacksmith’s apprentice when one day a lawyer (Francis J. Sullivan) appears and offers him a permanent income and a chance to become a “gentleman” in 19th century Britain, from whom there will be “great expactations”.  (The University of Virginia, back in the 1960’s, insisted that its undergraduates wear coat and tie and act like southern “gentlemen”.)  He is not to reveal his suspicions about the identity of the anonymous benefactor. 
  
Looking back, the movie begins when the boy Pip helps an escaped convict Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie) steal food and cut his chains.  In time, Pip will suspect that the convict somehow got rich (in Australia).  In the meantime, there are other subplots, such as his childhood love with Estella (Jean Simmons).   Teen love was perhaps more acceptable, even legally, in the 19th century than it is today in our world. 
  

Payback (for unearned wealth) comes when Magwitch contacts Pip, and the denouement of the movie and novel involve the Pip’s helping a botched escape at sea, and the consequences (including the death of Magwitch).  At this point, the films often simplify the ending in the book.  Pip will lose his income, and he is already in debt for profligate spending and threatened with debtor’s prison himself.  But Magwitch has a mystery daughter (so often the plot twist of Victorian novels)  and Pip’s way to wealth again may be heterosexual marriage.  That was so often the way "inherited" wealth was controlled.

The novel and movie really are a commentary on a "class" system of society. 
  

The music score, by Walter Goehr, is quite postromantic and familiar.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"The End of Love": A single dad and young actor struggles in a "reality play"

I wondered if a film titled “The End of Love” could be “new-wave” like “In Praise of Love”.  No, this intimate film by Mark Webber presents a number of younger Hollywood (mostly television and independent film) actors playing themselves in a story that might center around Mark, or at least what Mark believes could happen.  I know a few young players, and I find the idea that they would want to portray such a story rather perplexing.  

The film opens with Mark caring for his two-year old son Isaac.  The care is very intimate, and it struck me that I feel incapable giving a total dependent  such attention.  OK, if I were straight and had children, it would be different, right?  Or maybe it’s a chicken and egg problem.

We learn Mark is trying to get a part in an indie film at a table reading of a screenplay that seems to parallel his own world. 

Gradually, we learn of Mark’s other troubles.  He doesn’t tell everyone, but he had lost his wife in a terrible auto accident.  He has been borrowing money from friends (including Jason Ritter from NBC’s “The Event”) and is about to be evicted from his apartment.  In the mean time, he meets another single mom and starts the beginnings of a relationship, but she doesn’t even know at first he has kids.
  
But old friend Michael Cera  (“Juno”) has a house party, with various parlor games, most of them fun, but unfortunately including a tasteless game of Russian roulette with a weapon, recalling a scene from “The Deer Hunter”.   Afterward, Mark sinks deeper into despair, explaining (with a goldfish in a dry fishbowl as a metaphor) what end of life is about.

Note: Ashton Kutcher once invited all of his Twitter followers to a Hollywood Hills house party -- all one million or more?  As it happened, he missed the weekend I was in LA by just one week.
Some viewers thought that Mark was immature and unprepared to be a father. But most of this quiet film he constantly tending to his young son.
  
Official Facebook (Variance Films) is here

  

I rented the film on Amazon Instant Video. It’s $3.99 for three days ($9.99 for Cloud purchase), and free if you play it immediately.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park offers two important short film documentaries

The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in Harpers Ferry, W Va, has two significant documentary short films for visitors, in the old village. (You have to pay to park on the National Park lot, or simply have a passl a shuttle bus is provided/)   

One is “A Place in Time: Harpers Ferry”, by Paskowski, which is a 20 minute documentary that traces the history of the town on the Potomac River, where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland come together, after the Civil War. There have been several destructive floods, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, which flooded buildings downtown in the village up to one whole floor sometimes and required enormous work from the townspeople to recover.  The film mentions Storer College (wikipedia) which operated from 1865 to 1955 to educate the freed slaves, but was technically one of the first integrated schools in the United States; ironically, it closed after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. To see the college was a reason for my 70th birthday visit.  It also mentions the Niagara Movement, a predecessor of the NAACP.

The John Brown Museum shows three videos (total about 25 minutes) in three separate rooms called collectively “John Brown’s Raid: Las of God, Laws of Man”.  The second of these has an interactive map of the raid, resembling a much larger one in Gettysburg. 

Brown had actually proposed a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, and had wondered how wealth and power could rationalize a moral outrage.



West Virginia Public Broadcasting offers a short documentary on Storer College (above). You have to drive to that (from the Bolivar side), or hike to it along the Appalachian Trail.  

Between films, I was outside and chased into a luncheonette by a sudden thunderstorm.  About 50 high school and college kids came in at the same time.  Everyone seemed well educated and well behaved, but the staff was overwhelmed.  


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"Broken Rainbow" documents struggles of Native Americans in Arizona against big coal

Broken Rainbow”, directed by Victoria Mudd , narrated by Martin Sheen, made all the way back in 1985, documents the involuntary resettlement of Navajo Indians off their own ancestral lands (some of them belonging to Hopi) to make way for coal and energy companies in the Black Mesa area or northeastern Arizona.  This development, lobbied for by the energy companies, was masked by the Navajo-Hopi Resettlement Act of 1974, Public Law 93-531.
   
The Native Americans describe their hardship, which include cancer for men who had worked in the uranium mines, and combat injuries for men who had served in the military. Many people, especially women, were not able to deal with a “money” economy where they had to pay rent or mortgage, and lost their homes.
   
The film could have gone more into the issue of diabetes among Native Americans when they eat a western diet of processed foods.  It did describe their trade and farming methods, that they had sustained for centuries.  It’s interesting, though, to wonder what happened to the nearby Chaco culture two hundred miles away in New Mexico.  It gradually deconstructed itself. 

The DVD has a 21-minute short subject, “The Struggle Continues” (2006), with more native testimonials, and an account of the effort by Senator John McCain to revise the act.  The short mentions the connection to Enron, which wen under in 2001. The original film also discusses Peabody Coal Company.


I have been in the Black Mesa area a few times, mainly 1975 and 2000. 

I've always wondered about the "morality" of American takings of Native American lands (we all "benefit" from it today), and the legality of the reservation system, which I saw a lot of when living in Minnesota (particularly with visits to the casino at Mystic Lake). 

Western coal seams are much thicker than those in Appalachia and tend to occur in less mountainous areas, but energy companies say it is not practical to replace Appalachian coal from mountaintop removal with western coal. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Black Mesa picture, here
  

Compare this film to “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon” (2005, PBS, with Robert Redford) and “Smoke Signals” (1998, Chris Eyre).  

Monday, July 08, 2013

"Stranger Things": an English woman bonds to a homeless man in her inherited cottage

I remember some days a decade ago networking with IFPMSP in Minneapolis, and it seems that in the IPF independent film world, simplicity is a good thing.  That’s really true of the quiet British film (made in part with IFP in New York) “Stranger Things”, directed by Eleanor Burke and Ron Eyal.  The title is a pun.
   
Along the English Channel coast south of London, Oona (Bridget Collins) inherits a country cottage and attached garden shed when her mother, whom she had cared for, finally passes away.  Unbeknownst to her, a homeless man and apparent Muslim, Mani (Adeel Akhtar) has settled into the shed and started drawing and building up a little collection of personal art and writings in a diary.  No high tech stuff here.

She even shows the little flat to a realtor, and then, just after the realtor leaves, discovers him. First, she orders him out, assertively.  But then she begins to notice his situation and his talent, and gradually develops a bond.

There’s another man on the beach, who appears in Mani’s story, who is even more desperate, and who may be Mani’s dad.

I rented the film on Amazon Instant Video for $3.99. It was simple and convenient to do. The Washington Post Weekend had reported that this 2010 film was being released directly to various video distributors.  Is that the wave of the future for smaller films?

The official site is here

  

The only company listed is Faces Films.  This may be more common in the future, self-distribution to video and DVD outlets.  I wonder how industry rules (regarding guilds, script clearance, and the like) will be followed.  

Sunday, July 07, 2013

"Bad Boy Street": A French-American gay comedy with a bizarre "legal seafoods" plot twist

The Franco-American “gay” film “Bad Boy Street” (“La rue du mauvais garcon”, 2012) by Todd Verow starts out in a provocative (if trite) enough way when middle-aged French “renaissance man” Claude (Yann de Monterno) finds an American young hunk (Kevin Miranda) passed out on a Paris street near his apartment.   Finding no identification, he carries the guy to his apartment (I wouldn’t do that, but this is a movie).  The guy quickly recovers, and is an American, not French speaking, named Brad.  No, this doesn’t become a horror film. Quickly, the become intimate, and Brad is surprisingly receptive.
   
Claude is prosperous and cultured – he comes across as an impersonation of Clive Barker’s character Gentle from his 1991 novel “Imajica” (I wait for a movie on that one.)  He is capable of bisexuality, as he has a girl friend, too, Catherine (Florence d’Azemar).  He also says that he returned to France after a failed relationship in the US.  (I know the feeling;  after “it’s over”, it’s sometimes good to start over in a new city.)

The 80-minute film goes the way of modest Parisian gay social situation comedy for a while  But two-thirds the way in (a little past the screenwriter’s “middle”) the plot takes a bizarre twist indeed, and probably something important, that lawyers (and maybe Electronic Frontier Foundation) will make note of.  Brad has departed for a bit, and still a bit of a mystery;  Claude gets a text, and a middle-aged American, who says he is “Brad’s” agent pays a visit to his apartment.  Brad apparently is starring in a film and his studio has made him sign a “morals clause”.  That seems out of place for 2012.  But the agent goads Claude into signing a confidentiality agreement.  I wondered how this could even be possible.  Claude himself has no legal obligation to “Brad” or to the studio, and has no contract with it;  he seems to get no “consideration”  (in legalese) for it.  Add to that the fact that the studio is in the US (California).  Would such an agreement be recognized in France?   I wondered if a situation like this could occur for bloggers or particularly for operators of celebrity “fan sites”.
  
We get to see a little bit sci-fi film, about Luna of something; it seems as though Brad plays a Clark Kent-like character, although the excerpt is a bit silly (no match for “Man of Steel”).  Maybe he’s making the movie for a comic book franchise (of the ilk of Marvel of DC Comics) that really would try to enforce a clause like this on its actors.  I wonder.   (They could have imagined making “Imajica”.)


The music score, by Greg Sabo, has an interesting continual progression of fast motives over a passacaglia-like ground bass, a bit in the manner of Glass.  The music sounded familiar (maybe has been performed in a classical concert somewhere). I didn't hear the song "Bad. bad boy" from the 60's;  it would fit. 
  
The official Facebook (TLA)  is here.  I watched it on Netflix, and TLA sells the DVD.  I think this film would make a good candidate for the YouTube “legal” $3.99 rental. 
   

I can think of ways to make this plot idea more compelling.  Keep it within one country.  Instead of making the “issue” the gay one, make it have to do with the movie business or unions (although then the film would demand more from the audience.)   The  idea might work well with a UK setting.  

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Liam James is up front, but fiftyish Steve Carell is "way back" in new comedy from Sundance

Canadian teen actor (is that Ontario?) Liam James was probably 16 when he played coming-of-age teen Duncan in “The Way, Way Back”, and he certainly dominates the entire film.  He reminds me of earlier versions of Logan Lerman, Gregory Smith, and even Shia LaBeouf.
  
The film opens as he sits facing backwards in a van, driven by his divorced mother’s (Toni Collette) new “man friend”, Trent, played by Steve Carell, who taunts the boy over his apparent apathy.

Carell does not look good in the film.  Remember, he was the “man-o-lantern” in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” in 2005, where he got his chest waxed on camera to impress a woman.  I’ve always wondered why that would impress women. In any case, it still looks waxed (from what you can see), and his legs are going south, too.  The film does demonstrate the perks of youth.

Allison Janney (“The West Wing”, “The Ice Storm”, not to be confused with Allison Jayne)  plays Betty, the mother of a nerdy playmate for Duncan early on.  But Duncan, in this little northeastern beach community, makes friends at a local water park, and finds his social bearings among all the odd characters there as he takes a summer job, unbeknownst to his mom.  He learns dance moves, like Napoleon Dynamite (2004) – even break dancing. 
  
The beach town is apparently Duxbury, MA.  I stayed there one night with a family of a NYC friend in 1976, on the way to Mount Washington from Provincetown.  I still remember that Labor Day Weekend.    

The film is directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. 

The official site (Fox Searchlight and Rogue Pictures) is here

  
I saw this film before a moderate audience late Friday night at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA.


Wikipedia attribution link for Duxbury, MA beach picture.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

"The Lone Ranger": "tons of fun" with trains and 19th Century technology

In depression-era San Francisco, with the half-built Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, a boy visits with Tonto at a local carnival.  Tonto, a very made-up Johnny Depp, tells the story of “The Lone Ranger”, where a bookish, self-righteous county prosecutor  John Reid (Armie Hammer) in the old West turned into a force for vigilante and homemade justice. 

Gore Verbinski  has made an imaginative and fantastic western adventure,  monetizing Nineteenth Century technology to its ultimate, particularly around trains and railroads.

The story starts in Texas (the countryside looks more like Shiprock in New Mexico) and move up into Utah for the closing of the first transcontinental railroad, which generates the climactic sequence of the movie.
  
There are two enormous train wrecks.  The first home happens with an attempted robbery, as the train runs to the end of the tracks, and the locomotive scuttles sideways across the desert.  In the ensuring coplications, Reid is kidnapped and left for dead, but found by Tonto.  Reid quickly returns to health and becomes the western legend.  The second  wreck occurs in a complicated layout around a mine, after a trestle has been blown, with the train falling into the river, with an effect much like in “The Cassandra Crossing”.

There’s a curious scene where a boy plays with an electric train, before electricity would have been widely available.  The model railroad scene contributes to the metaphor in the story. 
  
Armie Hammer (26), in his appearance, makes the most possible of young male virility. There is always a soft edge to his somewhat intellectual personality as he becomes the famous character.  In a bizarre scene in a native American camp at midpoint (and the sacking of native Americans is another theme in the movie) Tonto opens him up, in order brand or tattoo a little bit of his super hairy chest. 

The movie is also a parable about “progress”, as railroads were seen as a way of mastering
“time and space” in a way that predicts today’s Internet.  And it takes its potshots at extreme capitalism.
   
The official site (Japan) from Walt Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Touchstone Pictures is here


The film seemed not to be available in 3-D. I saw it in Extended Digital (almost Imax) at the AMC Courthouse late lastnight. Oddly, the show the first night (Wednesday July 3) did not quite sell out. The localization of sound is as detailed as I have ever heard in a theater. 
   
The music score, while borrowing from Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, is by Hans Zimmer, and often uses a curious slow waltz rhythm.  The ending credits present music like a late romantic symphonic slow movement, ending quietly on a dominant chord. 
  
The film is long (150 minutes) but eventful, and may well be in the Oscars race this year despite its “summer movie” genre.

Picture: from Roadside America, PA, 2011.  

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

"20 Feet from Stardom": for musicians and artists, a mediation on the limelight and on humility ("imagine me clothed")

20 Feet from Stardom”, directed by Morgan Neville, is an informal documentary that presents the world of backup singers, all the way from before WWII until today. (An alternative spelling is "Twenty Feet from Stardom".) 
  
Backup singers stay out of the limelight and make much less money than the visible solo stars.  In one scene, a woman with such a job as a domestic in a movie star’s home in Beverly Hills hears the song she helped record come on the air on Christmas Day.   Then she moves to New York to pursue a more personal career.
  
The film does present some of the past superstars, especially the androgynous David Bowie (remember “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, by Nicholas Roeg, in 1979) and Mick Jagger. There is an emphasis on traditional “Rock and Roll” and the film ends with a ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (link) in Cleveland, which I visited grounds in August, 2012.
  
Why do some people make it big and others “follow” without recognition?  One backup singer, a male, says it’s a lot about luck and fortune, more than talent, and singers have to deal with it.  It’s not about “fairness”. 
But in the film, the female singers (often African-American) say that it takes a certain personality to want the limelight, to place oneself naked (at least imaginatively or figuratively, if not literally) in front of the public.  It takes an ego, a certain kind of pride.  It often takes youth and physical fitness. 

The official site (TWC) is here

  
Many modern pop star singers (especially young men) have backup instrumental bands (guitars and electronic instruments) behind them but not backup singers.  That’s how the beloved songs in “Modern Family” work.  It seems that Justin Bieber often has “backup dancers”, too.  Often, backup instrument players are shown.  In the film, backup singers sometimes appear before the audience physically, and sometimes not.  In the distant past, radio singing was more important.
  

I saw this film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA on a rainy night.  I was the only one in the audience.  As was the case with “Kids in America” a few years ago at an AMC theater, this show was just for me. 

Pictures: Mine, Aug. 2012 (that's me in the second picture)