Thursday, October 31, 2013

"The Big Fix": documents the BP Deep Horizon oil spill in 2010, and pins the lobbyists

The Big Fix” (2012) starts out with a history of how BP (British Petroluem) came to have such a presence in the Gulf of Mexico.   The filmmaker Joshua Tickell explains how, growing up in a large family in Louisiana (although Australian born), he became a filmmaker (Rebecca Harrell Tickell also co-directs). (Tickell directs “Fuel”, Sept. 19, 2009).
  
Louisiana, he says, became a target for “internal colonialism” and mercantilism, as the big oil companies controlled the state government. 
  
The film then covers the huge BP Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.  It sent a plume of oil all the way out beyond Florida into the Atlantic Ocean.  The company claimed to have capped the spill by July, but the film presents plenty of evidence otherwise.  One of the most disturbing revelations is the medical problems of residents in the area, particularly huge skin ulcers, especially on the legs, and rashes, and chemical pneumonia, and probably cancers.
  
The film does make some comparison to the Exxon Valdez accident near Alaska in 1989, and then returns to the issue of lobbying, which the film says is the largest employer in Washington.   It mentions “Americans for Prosperity” and the Koch brothers. 
  
Matthew Simmons, author of “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock” appears. So does Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
  
I did have Exxon in my portfolio for many years (since the 1970s) and it served me well.   Another family member owned a gas well, which paid for her eldercare.
  
Will we face comparable disasters with the inevitable pipelines from Canada, transporting new shale crude and natural gas? Will we be able to get off fossil fuels eventually?  How does the Pickens Plan, of a conversion to domestic natural gas, fit in?
   
The official Facebook is here.   The film is distributed by GoDigital and Lionsgate.

  

I watched the film on Netflix Instant (the DVD is due soon), but it appears to be free on YouTube.  

Picture: Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina, my picture, Feb. 2006

Update: June 16, 2016

Media reports that Omar Mateen, implicated in the Orlando Pulse Club attack on 2016/6/16, appears as a security guard at an oil company in this film. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"All Is Lost": a survival story at its simplest, and then a metaphor

“All Is Lost” is a set piece made as simple as it gets.  We can compare it to “Gravity” as well as “Castaway” and “Life of Pi”, and maybe even to some Hemmingway (“The Old Man and the Sea” has a bit more plotting). But here there is no volleyball and no lovable tiger to set free.  The sea is not so much a source of wonder here.

The sailor, a 77-year-old freckled Robert Redford, has been enjoying his solitude on a sailboat yacht in the Indian Ocean for no explainable reason. One day, the boat gets hit by a floating shipping container with tennis shoes inside.  Sea debris can be as deadly as space waste. The sailor even makes some crude repairs, but with subsequent storms the boat takes on too much water. He winds up on his inflatable life raft with a sextant, but even that isn’t enough, and big Maesrsk line ships don’t stop for him. As the film starts, the sailor is writing a letter to his family, to put in a jar. 
  
The film, for most of its 107-minute length, does takes us through the losses that make happen at the end of life.  In that sense, it becomes a powerful metaphor.
  
It isn’t fair to say whether he makes it.  The film is directed by J. C. Chandor and Zachary Quinto is listed as an executive producer.  Much of the film was shot off Baja California.

  
The official site is here. The film represents another distribution collaboration between Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.
  
I saw the film in a late afternoon presentation at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Operation Sofia": B-movie has a premise that does question just how much the NSA spying accomplishes, when there are street people who know more

Well known stars do appear in B movies that appear to be about important things, and the thriller by Isaac Florentine, “Assassin’s Bullet”, also titled “Operation Sofia”, seems almost like a caricature of the genre.
    
While the US government and Interpol struggle to find a variety of terrorists, a vigilante, who appears to be either female or in drag (as if from Brian de Palma) goes around knocking them off, with a very high powered weapon in a knapsack. 

In time, we learn a little about the traumatic nature of her background. Hypnosis helps.  I’m reminded of a case where a diplomat was kidnapped in the late 1970’s and deafened by loud classical music being piped into his ears. She is certainly skilled with her disguises, bu tmaybe that's all acting.
   
A ambassador (Donald Sutherland) brings in a former FBI agent Robert (Christian Slater) to track down the suspected woman (Erika Portnoy), maybe with his male charisma. The US government is concerned that all its surveillance and NSA spying can’t catch people that a determined street vigilante can, but maybe that’s a credible moral premise.  Timothy Spall plays the psychiatrist, Dr, Khan.  Given that this is 2012, Robert could lose the cigarettes.  He’s not from the X-Files.

Sutherland has a great line. "I'm a political appointee.  I gave a bag of money.  I don't get to make decisions." 
    
The film was shot on location in Bulgaria, and Sofia looks more prosperous than I would have expected.
  
  
The DVD (Netlifx) comes from ARC Entertainment and Atlas International (any relation to the old American International or motorcycle movie fame?) 
  
The DVD has a sort “Making of Sofia”. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Sofia picture. 


Monday, October 28, 2013

The Counselor: Cormac's gangsters without the humor

I expected something significant of “The Counselor”, coming from Ridley Scott and based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, but what I saw Monday evening lacked the humor of Coen Brothers’s “satires” and seemed a bit perfunctory, if spectacular.

At the end, I at least wanted to see the cheetahs roaming in Big Bend, as (rather like the tiger in Pi) the only winners in this bloodbath, as they escape during a drug gun fight. 

The centrum for the film is a rather opportunistic lawyer “Councelor” (Michael Fassbender), who seems to want in on a “better” life.  Yup, he goes to Amsterdam to get the best possible diamond ring for a finance (Penelope Cruz), and I would not have done that when I was dating heterosexually (even though one of my short stories, as edited, implies that I might have).  He wants in, and slick-talking Westray (Brad Pitt) seems amicable enough.  Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz round out this mess.  The basic trouble is that all the characters are despicable, and there just is no grounding in any of them.  I liked only the cats. Oh, what finally happens to Westray on the streets of London in broad daylight is horrific enough.  That’s how organized crime works. Heads roll in this film, more than once. 
    
Oh, the film looks sharp. It shows you wide-screen vistas of Juarez, and El Paso and the surrounding desert. My first weekend living in Texas, in January 1979, I actually spent in El Paso, and drove a rental car into Juarez a few miles.  I wouldn’t do that now.  Then I went up to White Sands, getting waved by border stations because I am white.  A coworker from Dallas, went down way into Mexico by himself in the spring of 1979 and got a flat tire, but made it back.  It’s dangerous out there.
Actually, my first weekend as an official resident of New York City, Labor Day in 1974, was spent in Mexico City, and I was actually at the “inauguration” of a new president of Mexico.


The official site from Fox is here
  
I saw this film before a small audience Monday night at the posh AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA.

I was reminded of "Touch of Evil" with its border sequence.  The existential meeting between Counselor and Pitt's character early in the film reminded me of an after-show dessert with a friend in New York in the 1970's, which led me to interesting emotional places.  


Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Visioneers": a satire that shows people too much into their own dreams

Visioneers” (2008) is a little satire by Jared and Brandon Drake, available on Amazon instant and Snag.
   
The premise of the film seems to derive from concerns over the loss of “social capital” expressed by Rick Santorum, Charles Murray, and O.S. Guiness.  Society has carried hyperindividualism to the point that people are so into their own little worlds that they explode, literally.  The blowups come as a result of dreams that seem to become an alternate reality.  (Can people share dreams?)  Actually, people can have cardiac arrests in intense dreams. No, the film doesn’t show bodies exploding (like “Alien” did), and I think it would have helped the humor if it had. 
  
There’s a big company, the Jeffers Corporation, that the government has contracted to draw people back into “working together” and conformity.  I think you could say that Facebook has actually created a mentality of social compliance. 
  
George Washington Wimsterhammerman  (Zack Galifianakis) is said by the doctors to be a passive, subordinate man, the doctors aren’t too concerned when he starts having symptoms of a possible blowup. But they want him to start taking the tests and doing the exercises.  At his palatial home, George tries to repair his marriage with Michelle (Judy Greer).
    
The technical quality of the 95-minute film seemed substandard; the definition wasn’t quite standard and the sound was muffled.  But the Amazon rental ($2.99) is legal.
  
  
The official site is here. 
     
D.W. Moffett is chilling enough as Mr. Jeffers, the mogul who is willing to exploit the “moral weakness” of everyone else to become the next Hitler.
  
The film was shot around the Seattle area and in the Cascade foothills.  But the indoor scenes at the corporation are indeed monotone.  These are people, after all, who, like the patients at my 1962 NIH stay, want to be “dulled”.
   

Zach’s dream is interesting enough, to time travel back to the time of George Washington. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"La Source": a Princeton janitor returns to Haiti to help a new water project, post-earthquake

La Source”, a little documentary by Patrick Shen, gives us another look at the clean water problem in the developing world. Don Cheadle narrates.

I see that on my Books blog on June 2, 2007, I had documented some other media on clear water projects around the world, including a faith-based project in Guatemala, and efforts in Africa by Matt Damon.
  
This new film, on Amazon Instant Play and iTunes, traces the generous efforts of a janitor, Josue Lajeunesse, at Princeton University, who had emigrated from Haiti and who is now a single father who also drives a cab, to raise funds and support a new water project in his home country. He has been in the habit of sending money back to support relatives besides his own kids, a common expectation in immigrant cultures.  “La Source” will be a system consisting of a cistern in the mountains and new trenches to bring clean water down to destitute villagers. Previously, the villagers either used contaminated water in a river (risking cholera) or hiked up the mountain to carry down water manually.
  
The project had been conceived before the 2010 earthquake. The film shows how the earthquake left so many people permanently homeless because the landlords, often offshore, decided not to bother to rebuild.
  
Josue enlists the help of some Princeton students, some of whom help raise money with “Waves of Mercy” events, and even travel to Haiti for volunteer labor.  I do wonder how easily faith-based groups can do projects in Haiti compared to other countries that have not had the same scale of disaster.
Josue says “other people’s problems are my problems”.
  
The link for the film is here. Maybe there will be a similar film later about the Philippines typhoon disaster. 

   

The film is distributed by “Film Buff” and Transcendental Media.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

"God Loves Uganda": a chilling account of "Christian" evangelism leading to scapegoating of gay people and a harsh anti-gay bill

Tonight, the documentary “God Lives Uganda”, by Roger Ross Williams, opened at the West End Cinema in Washington DC with a lively Q-A after the 7:20 PM show, and there will be similar sessions next week (Monday and Tuesday, I believe). Other guests will include Urban and David Kim.  The writers include Benjamin Gray and Richard Hankin as well as Williams.  
     
The film starts in the heart of the evangelical community of mid-America, especially the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.  The early parts of the film show young people being “recruited” as Christian missionaries to go to the “heart of darkness” in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Uganda, but probably other countries, to win over converts from Islam.

Gradually, the focus of much of the ministry shirts to scapegoating gay people.  In the end, there seems to be no pretense of any rational moral ideology or reading of Biblical scriptures. Making an “example” of a susceptible group of people seems to be a way to gain political control, in a way no longer possible in the United States or western countries in general.   It sounds like a kind of radical “Christian” fascism.
  
The film goes trace this transition back to change in US aid policy following the AIDS epidemic in Africa, which, in general media reports, was largely a heterosexual disease.  At one time, condoms were part of public health policy, but during the (second) Bush administration the emphasis changed to abstinence only, with the idea that all sex out of traditional marriage is sinful (even though the implications of such a belief vary on different people)/.

Eventually, public furor over homosexuality leads to the introduction of the “Anti-Homosexuality Law” in the Ugandan parliament in 2009, with a sickening demonstration. This is no longer a world of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.  People are hunted down and outed in local tabloids like the “Rolling Stone”. 
    
The film often focuses on an appealing young couple, who think they are preaching the Gospel and look the other way on the rumors of the bill and anti-gay violence.

The film follows several other people. One of them is Rev. Kapya Kaoma, who had fled Uganda and now lives in Boston. At the other end is, for example, Rev. Scott Lively, who even claims (ironically) that the Nazi Party was founded by gays (although rumors about Hitler have been the subject of books and film by people like Lothar Mochtan, and the film “The Hidden Fuhrer”.  The film also shows the angry rhetoric of Martin Ssempa.
  
Near the climax of the film, an angry speaker (I think it’s Ssempa) takes on the question like, “Why is what you do in the privacy of your own home my business?”  He then shows explicit still black-and-white photos of the most possible graphic sadomasochistic male gay sex.  The crowd goes into a furor.
  
It’s well to remember, though, that the same kind of rhetoric used to be made by people like Paul Cameron in the US during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, especially before there was a clearcut test for HIV. We’ve climbed a huge mountain in the west from those days toward military and marriage equality.

The official site (Variance Films) is here.

Earlier news stories in the Metro Weekly (a gay paper in Washington DC) had reported that Ugandan (and African in general) culture emphasized the idea of having descendants because people had little economic opportunity on their own.  Homosexuals, particularly males, were perceived as 'weakening" or "killing"  their families by not having children.  In their culture, older siblings have to raise kids because parents have died because of AIDS or other disease or violence.   This viewpoint didn't come up in this film.  
      
In the Q-A, Williams mentioned a trip to Maldives, with anti-gay culture, and also said that a law similar to Uganda’s bill has actually passed in Nigeria (now having a piracy issue) even though it was little noticed.  Nigeria at one time actually had several Metropolitan Community Church congregations.

Williams also explained how we was able to trick his way into being able to film people with extreme anti-gay rhetoric.  

See also a related BBC film about Uganda and anti-gay attitudes here Sept. 15,  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Enough Said" for serendipity; different folks do need different strokes as they age

Enough Said”, the romantic comedy by Nicole Holofcener, really seems to convey the idea, “Different strokes for different folks”.  That’s the case even with accidental love parallelograms.
   
Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), divorced, carries around her massage bed for work in Valley and Hollywood homes as if it were airport luggage. Well, besides diversity, she also encounters serendipity.  She fears loneliness as her daughter prepares to leave for college. First, she befriends the gentle middle aged bear Albert.(James Gandolfini), and then a woman Marianne (Catherine Keener) who really can make a living with her poetry, enough to belong to the Author’s Guild.  Oh, I remember those days in English lit when we had 50 pages of poetry to read for each lecture, with possible card quizzes.  I don’t know if all those literary nerds really made a living at it.  But, guess what, there are other relationships behind the scenes.

The script makes a lot of Albert’s portliness and, well, he has to find inventive ways to pretend to be attractive.  You really don’t want to imagine him naked. Is this "comedy" a pitch for aesthetic realism? Does the movie suggest that there is some moral imperative to stay in the game when over the hill, for the good of everyone else?
     
I’ve never watched “The Sopranos” and I’m not particularly fond of that sort of character (like Stefano in “Days of our Lives”) whose main virtue is fecundity.

The official site from Fox is here

   
I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA on a Thursday evening, before a small audience.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Unraveled" documents the house arrest of Marc Dreier as he await sentencing for his Ponzi scheme, second largest after Madoff's

Unraveled” is a riveting Showtime documentary, directed by Marc H. Simon, of the last 60 days or the “purgatory” house arrest of Wall Street lawyer Marc Dreier, before his sentencing for securities fraud in 2009.  His case would have been one of the largest ever were it not for Bernie Madoff.

Dreier lives in an Upper East Side penthouse, without cell phone and Internet, with visits from his attorneys, and the company of his loving dog and of his grown, college-age son, who often visits. Dreier’s son and mother would have been held responsible had Dreier somehow jumped bail. Imagine living the last days of your freedom with the clock ticking and the calendar advancing.
  
Through flashbacks (with some storyboard drawings) he recreates the history of his Ponzi scheme involving forged promissory notes.  He even "promoted himself" by opening his own law firm, with an unusual "autocratic" structure, at 499 Park Avenue, an address that will earn the notoriety following the Lipstick Building.  After the financial crisis of 2008, the scheme started to unravel and hedge funds started demanding payment rather than rolling loans.  Dreier went to Dubai in late 2008 on a strip and even considered staying there because Dubai has no extradition treaties with the US.  But he came back, hoping to see his family and scheme a way out.  He went to Toronto and tried to forge a signature on a loan in person, and was caught and arrested.  The legal and dominoes in the US quickly fell.
   
Dreier often comments on his flaws, why ambition led him to believe he could get away with this, and gave a nod to people whose character would keep them honest even when nobody is looking.  He admitted that honesty is the core of all virtue.
  
  
The official site on Tumblr is here.

The film can be watched on Instant play on Netflix.
    
I rather like to watch “financial thrillers” and documentaries.  I think that it’s time to make a documentary about the national debt, entitlement reform, and the debt ceiling issue.  



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism": a mom from Iceland travels the US getting an education for her son

A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism” (alternate title “The Sunshine Boy”, or “Solskinsdrengurinn”, 2009), directed by Fronik Por Froniksson, is a documentary in which an Icelandic mother (Margret Dagmar Ericsdottr) travels with her autistic young son and America on a quest to overcome his challenge.  Kate Winslet joins the  narration.

The film takes her to many other families, in Wisconsin, Colorado, California, and Texas.   She spends a lot of time interviewing Colorado zoologist Temple Grandin, who overcame her disability and who explains it in terms of the brain not having all the necessary wiring between its different components.
 
Typically autistic individuals can understand their environment and reason, but cannot communicate.  There are various ways some are gifted (visually, music and pattern recognition needed in mathematics and chess, and verbally). 
  
The film covers the “regression” form of autism, where a child suddenly loses his communications skills at around the third birthday.  David Crowe relates how his son Taylor, right after his third birthday, one day said at breakfast, “Daddy, my mouth can’t say the words.”  Yet, Taylor gradually overcame the disability and became employed as a graphic designer.
   
Much of the film takes place at a school in Austin, Texas named Halo.  Soma Mukhopadhyay explains how her son Tito learned to communicate and has written several books on physics. 
  
Toward the end, the film relates the process of communicating to writing music, and in fact the music score plays what sounds like a chaconne composed by one of the students, adapted for chorus.

Another expert in the film is Simon Baron-Cohen (np Sascha).   The film maintains that 1 in 150 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder, and with four times as many boys as girls. Children of engineers or computer scientists seem a little more likely to show it.




The official site (HBO, Frontier Media and First Run) is here.
  
The film does cover Asperger’s syndrome, but it’s apparent that there is a really continuous spectrum.  Successful education of people who seem to be severely affected is improving.
    
There are books about success stories, reviewed on my Books blog, such as “The Spark”, about Jake Barnett (July 4, 2013) who now is amazingly articulate as a teenager and physics student, and “Game of my Life”, about basketball player K-Mac (March 8, 2008), who appeared on Larry King Live.
CNN also produced a documentary film about an autistic female college student “Autism Is a World” in 2004.
  
When people who “outgrow” autism spectrum become successful, they sometimes seem aloof or insular, which can be offsetting to others during challenging or hard times and become a source of tension.  Often they may understand what is going on but not show or communicate it.
   
When I was a substitute teacher, I did have a couple of surprise assignments with severely disabled teens.   One was almost completely inert but in time started calling me “Santa Claus”.  In one class, teens with autism were mixed with Downs Syndrome, which is totally different.  Children with Downs Syndrome, according to the film, can sometimes learn by imitation and can be mainstreamed (a couple have actually acted parts in independent movies successfully, such as “Girl Friend” (July 16, 2012).  Kids with autism typically do not imitate and cannot easily mainstream unless they suddenly progress (as in “The Spark”).   In still another class, I was asked if I could “help in the locker room and the deep end of the swimming pool”, which I could not, because I am not a swimmer.  That assignment went bust.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Searching for Sugar Man": The humble life of songwriter Sixto Rodriquez

Searching for Sugar Man”, by Mark Bendjelloul, tells the humble story of singer Sixto Rodriquez, born and native to Detroit, MI, who wrote and recorded two songs in the 1960s and then dropped out of the music world after the music didn’t sell, worked in manual labor, lived modestly, and ran for city council once.  But he became popular in South Africa, and only learned of his overseas form when his daughter found a fan website for him.

The film also tells the story of the two big South African fans, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew, to track him down, and disprove the urban legend that Sixto had passed.
    
Visually, the 86 minute film (winner of Best Documentary at the 2013 Oscar) is striking, comparing the looks of a shredded, wintery Detroit with a modern, expansive Capetown, with its left-side driving and constant views of Table Mountain – a city much larger than I had thought.

The music is somewhat familiar, and the instrumental portions of Sixto’s music are quite striking in their simplicity.

  
The official site from Sony is here
  

I watched the film from a Netflix rental DVD.  But instant play is not available yet, and the YouTube rental is $12.99 (when $3.99 is a more typical price).  

Picture: downtown Detroit, Aug. 2012, my visit 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Hating Breitbart": documentary about controversial conservative blogger raises questions about "new media" vs. old

“Hating Breitbart” (2012), by Andrew Marcus, is as much a documentary about citizen journalism as it is a biography of the somewhat polarizing conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who died at only 43 of a sudden heart attack in March 2012. 

Breitbart is on camera for most of the film, and isn’t necessarily funny (he could have chosen to be).  He says that the left wing media establishment sees him as a threat because he understands “it” so well, better than anyone else in the world.  (Somehow that reminds me of Suze Orman’s claiming she is the personal financial advisor for the world.)  He does claim to be the voice of self-empowerment, right out of Ayn Rand.
     
Breitbart presents himself as quasi-libertarian and a fiscal conservative, and, as someone who lives in Hollywood, does say that government doesn’t belong in the bedroom either.  Curiously, he helped “The Huffington Post” as much as the Drudge Report. 
  
The film touches on the “controls” in the media establishment, and how this oversight is threatened by individual bloggers (even like me) as well as social media.  It doesn’t go into the various special issues that could bring down the whole setup that makes self-broadcast possible.  These include the way piracy has been handled (proposals like SOPA and ProtectIP), and newer threats to Section 230, the legal protection to ISP’s from downstream liability for what the “amateurs” say.  Other problems, like "do not track" could also affect Internet business models.  Make a documentary movie about these issues!
   
The first two-thirds of the film cover his skirmishes regarding a number of other controversial groups (like Acorn and its undercover videos scandal) and people, including the lanky and attractive Jim O’Keefe.   The film comes to a head with the fiasco over Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official whose speech was edited in such a way as to make her look like she had practiced reverse discrimination. Sherrod resigned (she got an email demanding her resignation while she was on the road) and was offered her job back, but according to Wikipedia has sued Breitbart’s estate.  The film presents the whole selective editing exercise as itself ambiguous.
   
Breitbart’s glorious days may have come at a big rally on the National Mall in September 2011, shortly before his sudden death.
   
 
   

The official site, from Freestyle Releasing and Pixel and Verse, is here.   The Breitbart site is still active. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"12 Years a Slave" presents the brutality of the antebellum South, hits harder than ever in any previous film

12 Years a Slave”, a film by Steve McQueen based on the 1855 autobiography by Solomon Northrup, is one of the most brutal and hard to watch films about I’ve ever seen, and that’s not just limited to films about the antebellum South. The comparison that comes to mind is the 1997 film “Amistad” by Steven Spielberg.
   
Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free (by birth( black man living near Saratoga Springs, NY in 1841, when he is approached by two white men to go to Washington DC and work for a circus.  He is suddenly kidnapped, and the experience is shown out of sequence, almost like a UFO abduction could happen.  He wakes up in chains, and only gradually remembers what happened. 
   
He spends the next twelve years in on a plantation in Louisiana owned by Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbinder).  He has run-ins with other family, like Tibeats, played by Paul Dano, who gives a curious performance.  It’s hard to imagine Dano in any mean role, and here his own behavior is always contradicting itself. On the very of recognizing Northrup’s book learning, he will go into rage.  Later in the movie, there are lines like “a slave is supposed to work, not read and write”.  I heard stuff like that as a recruit in the Army back in 1968 (see my review two days ago). 
  
The brutality intensifies, as Epps forces other slave females to have children by him (that’s how he got more free labor and “property”).  In one scene, he forces Northrup into brutally lashing another female slave. The film does show how slave trading was integrated into the southern economy, and often used to pay debts. 
    
Northrup desperately tries to get handwritten letters (that’s all there was) sent up north to get freed.  Finally, a progressive-thinking Canadian Bass (Brad Pitt – who else?) acts on his need.  But just before he does, Bass engages Epps in the necessary moral debate.  As sure as Epps feels that the law is behind his property rights, Bass reminds him that revolution can happen, because there is a higher moral sense of right that man cannot change. I recall similar conversations in the 1995 Ted Turner film "Gettysburg".  By comparisons, the similar discussions in "Gone with the Wind" seem like living in denial.  Northrup would become active in the abolitionist movement after regaining freedom. 


The official site from Fox is here. Summit-Lionsgate distributes the film internationally, and the film was produced by an amalgam of big companies, including Regency, Riverroad (USA) and Plan B and Film 4 (UK). 
  

An alternate title is “Twelve Years a Slave” (spelled out).

I saw the film at a nearly sold-out audience Saturday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA. The R-rated film has limited release this weekend, but will surely play in many more theaters after a week.
  
Hans Zimmer was listed as the composer of the music, which is more hypermodern and win slower tempos, and often quieter, than many of his other scores. 



Update: Nov. 4, 2013.  Richard Cohen has an interesting perspective (for the Washington Post) on the movie here, comparing it to "Gone with the Wind" and perhaps "Cold Mountain".  The Margaret Mitchell classic does show the "southern" point of view and sense of personal loss to right a moral wrong -- an idea that may seem bizarre or unnecessary now, but this is an accepted classic.  But Cohen says that the film shows that slavery was always brutal, and that landowners knew it, a different perspective.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

"The Fifth Estate": the largest film so far about Wikileaks and Assange

The Fifth Estate” would logically comprise the blogosphere and social media, particularly when deployed, however by amateurs, well enough to reach a large audience and affect policy or possibly incite revolutions.  And the movie, of course, sees the site Wikileaks as the most influential “amateur” website ever created. The movie is based on two books.  One is Berg’s “Inside Wikileaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website” and the other is “Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by British Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding, and the screenplay was written by Josh Singer.

There have been a number of documentary films about Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and at least one film about the young Assange.
  
But the new film by Bill Condon, from Dreamworks with distribution by Disney Touchstone, is by far the largest film so far and the first with major Hollywood backing.  The focus of the film is the relationship between Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl), leading eventually to a rift after the release of the huge inventory of classified cables by Bradley Manning (aka Chelsea Manning), including a 40-minute video of “Collateral Murder” showing civilian journalists killed by friendly fire in Iraq by US helicopter forces.  Assange wanted to release everything unredacted, at least at first, where as Berg was sensitive to the idea that civilian sources in Afghanistan could be targeted by the enemy.
  
Cumberbatch’s performance overemphasizes Assange’s Australian accent.  
  
The film is somewhat choppy in narrative, moving quickly from one scene to the next and one city to another.  The film was shot on location in London, Berlin, Ghent, Antwerp, Iceland, Washington, and Kenya.  Many of the scenes are metaphorical, set up rather like on a stage play, as with a set of desks and computers in a huge warehouse without heat and snow on the floors.  There are many scenes at glitzy discos, bars, and celebrations, next to dingy quarters.  Assange and Berg can always open their laptops and get everything running in the most primitive settings. The style of filmmaking has been compared to that of “The Social Network” but the pace here is much more hurried and seems a bit random.
  
One aspect of Assange’s life is particularly interesting. He became a prodigious geek at a young age;  his curiosity and willingness to tinker with almost anything as a teen led to his extraordinary skill as an adult.  But he was also able to recruit others to his cause.  He was sometimes “homeless” and crashed in people’s homes for years.  It is this zeal and persistence in dealing with people that made his asymmetric site so effective.  Otherwise, he could still be in my shoes, as “just a blogger”.
  
The official Dreamworks site is here
  
I saw the film in a small auditorium at the Regal in Arlington VA, about half full.  A large screen is recommended. 




Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Path to War": HBO drama by Frankenheimer shows how LBJ, McNamara fell into the trap of war in Vietnam; recalling my draft in 1968

Path to War” (2002) is a studied dramatization by John Frankenheimer, for HBO, of the lumbering momentum of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the War in Vietnam, which started in earnest in early 1965.
  
Michael Gambon is not exactly a clone of LMJ, but Alec Baldwin makes for a reasonable facsimile of Robert McNamara, who authored the book “In Retrospect” explaining how insidious the road to war in Vietnam really was.  Donald Sutherland is a little bit comical as Clark Clifford, and at one point, after McNamara has been awarded the Medal of Freedom, Clifford says that McNamara is no “ostrich”.  That may have inspired the use of “animal names” when I was stationed at Fort Eustis in 1969; one of the lieutenants was called “The Ostrich” just as I was “Chickenman”.

The Tet Offensive occurs near the end of the film. It happened just before I entered the Army myself on February 8, 1968, to arrive at Fort Jackson and the Reception Station at Ft. Jackson, SC in the wee hours of the next morning.  Despite a stint in Special Training Company because of physical backwardness, I managed to use my education to remain stateside and avoid getting sent to the meat grinder.  But this was a dangerous time to go in.

Johnson comes to a realization of the quantity of men needed very early in 1965.  He computes at one point that he could need a million men.  He quibbles in public about the need to ask for families to sacrifice their young men.  Later, when one of his own young staff complains about the war, Johnson threatens to fire him and get him drafted by the Marine Corps.  Yes, it was possible to get drafted by the Marines in 1968.

  
The film shows the gradual evolution of LBJ’s understanding of the nature of this war. His administration, as McNamara wrote in his book, fully believed in the domino theory, and top brass meetings showed a real concern about China's entering the war and using nuclear weapons if the US didn't nip this on the bud on the ground first.   He gets angry that Ho Chi Minh won’t give up, especially in one scene at Camp David.  By 1968, Johnson has come to grasp the asymmetric nature of guerilla war and that brute force from a superpower won’t compel surrender.  The film ends with his March 31, 1968 speech (link) when he says he will not run for reelection. I was in Special Training Company, at my lowest moment, cleaning the grease pit while on KP.  But I think I recall hearing that speech on the radio. Later, after I had returned to Basic, I recall hearing on the radio that peace talks had started while I was cleaning ammo in the rifle range.

HBO no longer seems to have a link to a site for this specific film.  It is available from Netflix on DVD only. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"First Circle": a documentary about foster care in Idaho

First Circle” is a documentary about the foster care system in the Boise, Idaho area, directed by Heather Rae, released in 2010.
  
The film traces the work of a female deputy sheriff (Jerrilea Archer) assigned to child protection. She visits and inspects the homes of families of people on probation or out of prison, or follows up on complaints, and determines whether children need to be removed and placed in foster care.
  
A local charity called The Bridge purchases two homes, each to house six to eight children, and “hires” a couple or single parent to live there full time and care for the children.  But eventually the homes close down and are sold, as it seems difficult to find the adults to do the job.
  
Later the film presents a “Wednesday’s Child” segment (shown on many NBC local affiliates) with a pre-teen boy with a gift for playing the violin.
  
The director (herself Cherokee) tells some of her own story, with a brother in jail and a sister-in-law recovering from drug addiction.
  
The official site is here.  The site give the complete title of the film as "Family: The First Circle". The 2010 film showed at Sundance and Tribeca, and was produced by Appaloosa Pictures and Priddy Brothers. There is another detailed account by the Native American Film Festival here

  
The film, available on Netflix Instant Play, does not seem to have a trailer.  The short film above is about Covenant House, from PBS, about kids aging out of the foster system. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Idaho scene. My own most recent visit to the area was in July, 1990.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Beneath the Darkness" is another loosely Poe-inspired horror film

Beneath the Darkness” is another film very loosely inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Release in 2012 by Image, this film by Martin Guigui sets up a respected mortician Ely Vaughn (Dennis Quaid) as a covert killer.  It takes place in a Texas Hill Country town (Smithville or Bastrop).
  
It all started when Ely became jealous when his wife Rosemary (Amber Bartlett) cheats with a popular English teacher’s husband, he kills her but preserves her corpse so that he can dance with her as a fetish.  Some of the teacher’s students stumble onto this, and go into Ely’s house.  One of them, Danny (Devon Werkheiser) is killed in the intrusion.  The remaining kids, especially Travis (Tony Oller) keep after Ely, eventually pushing his psychosis over the edge. It gets dangerous as Travis gets shot in the thigh, and then gets charged with burglary as a result of his investigations. Ely uses more coffins to his advantage.  It’s a horrible way to go. Finally, Travis gets to turn the coffin, so to speak.
  
The screenplay has the typical structure, of the kids as heroes, facing urgent (if a bit contrived) dangers and obstacles. 
  
The film has a couple of interesting high school classroom scenes, one in which the kids act out Shakespeare.  The kids seem like role model teens, except that Travis has let his grades slip (there’s an image of a graded test with an “F”).  The teens indeed are very clean cut. 
  
  
The official site is here
  
The film has songs composed and performed by Dennis Quad and The Sharks. 


Monday, October 14, 2013

Justin Timberlake looks a bit ripe as a "Runner" for an online poker offshore business

Justin Timberlake is starting to look a little older than even a typical graduate student, but is still nimble enough. Brad Furman’s “Runner Runner” follows the rules of screenwriting, by making his character, Richie Furst, unable to afford his MBA tuition at Princeton, so he sets up an online poker site to make enough money to pay his expenses.  The dean at the university doesn’t like this.
  
Richie makes one last attempt and loses everything, but his web skills are good enough that he suspects he was hacked.  He tracks things down to an entrepreneur Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) in Costa Rica, and goes down there and introduces himself.  Ivan hires him to help run the business, promising an 8-figure income if he can learn to become a mobster.  Soon the fibbies are kidnapping him, too, offering him immunity from supposed misdeed if he will go undercover.
  
Richie has got plenty of street smarts, and is able to stand up to everybody, including the bullying and beatings.  Ivan, while protective, is not above some pretty horrible stuff, like tossing enemies into a lagoon filled with crocodiles (conditioned by “free fish”) after covering them with chicken poop. 

Yet Ivan can also utter platitudes about morality, saying if you want to get rich, you have to get roughed up sometimes, and you can't worry about low wages overseas that we depend on/ Ivan has an odd idea of the aphorism, "Pay your dues."
  
Timberlake did change his surface appearance somewhat after he left Nsync.
  
  
The official site is here.  
  
The film does not appeal as much as did “21”, about card-counting, a few years ago.
  
I saw the film on Monday evening before a small gathering in a small auditorium at Regal Ballston Common in Arlington.  With small screens, the company slogan “Go big or go home” seems a bit off.

I had used the domain name "hppub.com" for my book sites until 2005, when I released it and put everything on "doaskdotell.com".  The domain name was quickly taken over by an online gambling site, but eventually that closed. 
     

On business matters, visitors will want to look at a Wall Street Journal article today by Ben Fritz “Hollywood’s Latest Thriller: How to Keep Scripts Secret”, with a discussion of Syncopy’s security procedures, here  I guess budding screenwriters shouldn’t give away their plot twists by posting their own scripts online if they want to be able to agent and sell them later.  

Picture: Princeton campus, my visit, April 2010. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson": a basketball career was almost derailed by a racially motivated trial in Virginia in 1993

No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson” (2010) is an 80-minute documentary by Steve James for ESPN Films’s “30 for 30” series, a biography of the youth and early career of Philadelphia 76er’s basketball player Allen Iverson. The original film, from Kartemquim, was shown at SXSW in Austin.
  
The centerpiece of the film is Iverson’s arrest and conviction for assault in a fight or brawl in a bowling alley in Hampton VA, one of the major Virginia Tidewater cities at the mouth of the James (20 miles from Williamsburg) in February 1993.  The fight was said to be racially motivated, as was the prosecution and original stiff sentence of 15 years in prison, most of it suspended for parole. Iverson would serve four months before being pardoned by Virginia governor Doug Wilder. 
  
The film contains footage of the fight, based on video shot with technology of the time.  There was some question as to whether identification of the participants in the brawl was accurate.
  

I am familiar with the Hampton Roads area, as I was stationed at Fort Eustis, in Newport News, VA for about 16 months, mostly in 1969. 
    
The official site is here. The film is available from Netflix on DVD or Instant Play. 

Another ESPN “30 for 30” film, “Broke”, is reviewed on the TV blog, April 5, 2013. 


Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Antibodies": A German thriller echoing "Silence of the Lambs"

Antibodies” (“Antikorper”, 2005), by Christian Alvart, shows that conservative Catholicism and Old Testament fundamentalism is alive in some rural areas of Germany, which is supposed to have cleaned itself of right-wing attitudes.  The film starts with some Biblical quotes about how life cannot be fair, and ends with a father, a policeman Michael Martens (Wotan Wile Mohring).  At the end, he recreates the sacrifice of his tween son, whom he suspects of having become a depraved serial killer, but, his worst suspicions may, by the breath of God, be wrong after all.
  
In a film that echoes “The Silence of the Lambs” and anticipates “Prisoners” (Sept. 25, 2013), the cop is manipulated by a captured serial killer Gabriel Engel (Andre Hennicke), as one particular case remains unsolved.  The cop has to go back into his own background, his own fantasies, and his own practice in raising his son, and accept the horrific possibility that the guilt is within.

There is, near the end, a scene involving the son and a girl in a barn, and the girl makes an odd remark about the apparent immaturity of the teen's body, a rather unusual occurrence in film. 
    
This is a well-made thriller, and long (127 minutes) and rather expansive (some great Bavarian cliffs and mountains at the end).  It’s brutality may have deterred major distributors in the US, as it was released in 2007 by Dark Sky (by Tartan in the UK). 
 ,
  

I watched the DVD from Netflix.  It did not offer Instant Play.   

Picture: a fundamentalist church in rural NC (2013).  

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Captain Phillips", riveting at the end, yet a workmanlike morality "play" at sea

“Captain Phillips”, from Paul Greengrass and Columbia Pictures, is certainly riveting for most of its length.  How with the Navy, waiting for the Seals to arrive, strategize the hostage situation and rescue the Captain (Tom Hanks) who has been taken off the ship by the pirates (the lead teen is played by a gaunt Barkhad Abdi in a small orange motorized lifeboat.  It is written by Billy Ray.
  
Yet, the universe of the movie is rather limited, except for an opening sequence in Vermont (actually Minnesota) where Phillips tells his wife that the shipping companies are placing increasing pressure on captains. It’s sea and ships and not much else, rather like the contents of the 1993 weekend when I visited a submarine and various ships at the Naval Base in Norfolk early in the “military ban” debate. 
  
One thing I wondered is why commercial ships in the area don’t have armed security.  On an issue like this, the NRA is right.  An attack like what happens in the movie would be impossible. Actually, it’s in stages: first, a couple of “skifts” are hosed away, but then the ring leader comes back in a bigger boat with the idea of ransom money. 

There are a some great lines.  The lead teenager says “Look at me”  Yes, it’s all right to look at me. “I am the captain now.”  Later, when Phillips says that fishermen don’t need to kidnap people, the teen answers, “In America.”

No question, the extreme poverty and warlord social structure of Somalia seems like a moral "explanation".  The young men live in a gang culture.  But the leader is taken alive and tried in America, and sentenced to thirty years in prison. Maybe he will be better fed "in America". 
  

The official site is here.
  
A lot has been written about the real-life lawsuit against the shipping line Maesrsk, which claims that the Alabama had been told to steer several hundred miles farther East to avoid the piracy risk, as in this account in Business Week, link. And, before the first encounter, the crew of the ship complains that the men aren’t trained to defend themselves. Phillips doesn’t let them whine.

I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington, in a sold-out auditorium.  

Update: Feb. 13, 2014

I posted a review of NatGeo's "Hunt for Somali Pirates" on the TV Blog today (43 minutes).  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Paradise: Faith": second film in Ulrich's quiet trilogy

Paradise: Faith” (“Paradies: Glaube”) is the second of a trilogy of three slow-motion films by Ulrich Seidl about middle aged female characters finding themselves. 
  
Maria Hofstatter plays Anna, a medical technician who does rather personal cat scans on cancer patients at a Vienna hospital.  But at home she is totally pious, belonging to an ultra-devout Catholic sect committed to converting Austria back to Catholicism.  The film opens with her praying in her tiny apartment, even whipping herself. 
  
For her summer vacation, she goes door-to-door in low-income tenements to proselytize, perhaps in a manner that calls to mind Mormon missionaries (as in films like “God’s Army”, “The Falls”, and “Latter Days”) or Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She is quite aggressive at the door, pretty much barging in and lecturing the residents about “faith” and sexual morality.  One of the people late in the film is an alcoholic who also makes a lesbian advance.  
  
About forty minutes into the film, she gets an unpleasant surprise.  Her disabled Egyptian Muslim husband returns.  He still wants to sleep with her, but she will have none of it now.  Gradually, religious and spiritual conflicts between the two escalate, to the point that she no longer reveres the crucifix.

There are several scenes where Anna plays a small home Casio with organ sounds (and not a full keyboard) and sings hymns. 
    
The site for the film from Strand is here. I reviewed from a Vimeo private screener. Yje DVD becomes available Oct. 22. 

  

I have never accepted the idea of just accepting someone’s scripture as truth, worshipping it, and then trying to convert people.  I like to win arguments, not converts.  But I do have my own kind of faith, and belief.  

Picture: Cathedral of Hope, Dallas (mine, 2011).  

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

"Tell Tale": a modern, and somewhat expansive, setting of Poe's story; can people trade consciousness?

The 2008 film “Tell Tale”, by Michael Cuesta, is obviously inspired, possibly loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe’s notorious short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which I remember reading in 11th grade English. I did see the 1960 film decades ago. The film was partly produced by Ridley and Tony Scott (“ScottFree”).
  
Josh Lucas plays Terry Bernard, a young single father raising a girl with a genetic degenerative disease. Apparently he has some sort of idiopathic or viral-caused cardiomyopathy, resulting in his needing a heart transplant.  As the film opens, he sees visions of the donor’s last moments as the donor is murdered. 

Now, the idea that transplanting an organ could transplant elements of consciousness is intriguing. In my novel manuscript (which I need to get back to), “Angel’s Brother”, I play with the idea that a bizarre virus (encapsulating a nano-sized black hole) could transmit memories between persons or “soul-entities”. 

Terry feels compelled track down his donor and their killers, which gets him into a rather dangerous and self-contradictory predicament, as he gets recruited into some sort of supernatural mission, like it or not.  In the meantime, he falls in love with his daughter’s female physician.

The original heart surgery has left Terry in amazingly good condition.  Yes, there is a long, narrow surgical “zipper club” scar, but the chest hair has come back, almost hiding it.  (If I were an actor, I would have to have to go through the makeup for this medical situation.)  The transplant has resulted in some mysterious effects: His blood type changes, as some how the translanted heart cells migrated to his bone marrow, effectively causing another transplant.  His daughter mysteriously improves tremendously. But there is a price to pay, as the killers hunt him down.

In the climax, there is a lot of undressing and chest opening, and the villain is fortunately (for himself) smooth.

Michael Cuesta also directed “L.I.E.” (“Long Island Expressway), a film about a pedophile played by Brian Cox,  which I saw at a special benefit at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis on 9/11/2001.  (The DVD corrects a scene by removing the WTC towers.)  Cuesta was present for the Q&A that night, which of course was stressful given what had happened.  In fact, a coworker had traded nightcall with me so I could go.  Afterward, Cuesta could not fly home, and some of us went to a bar on Hennepin. No, it wasn’t “The 90’s”, it was something like The Metropolitan.  Cuesta couldn’t return to New York for three days.  I do recall conversing with him at the bizarre “after party”, on a day when we didn’t know what would come next.
The screenplay was written by David Callahan. I think it is challenging to construct an interesting feature length film from a classic short story.  The film is shot in Providence, RI.  The late filmmaker Gode Davis (“American Lynching”) lived in West Warwick, RI, and I saw much of his film on a visit on New Year’s Day 2003. I haven’t heard if anyone has picked up the project, but I’m game to work on it if others want to.


The American distributor is now Genius Entertainment. The film was produced by a company called, ironically, Social Capital.  Rick Santorum will not be impressed!
    
Wikipedia attribution link for coronary bypass surgery image. I guess the chest is ruined. 
  
For today’s short film, see “Your Money at Risk”, 29 min, form Merrill Edge, about Social Security, reviewed on my retirement blog earlier today. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

"Hank: 5 Years from the Brink": Henry Paulson describes how he handled the bailouts of 2008, and it's a warning for today's political debt ceiling crisis


Hank: 5 Years from the Brink”, by Joe Berlinger and from Bloomberg Business Week and Radical Media, should be mandatory viewing for members of Congress right now, most of all the Tea Party Republicans willing to hijack the system and force another financial crisis to force the rest of the country to accept their “cold turkey” ideology. 
  
The film is, of course, an autobiography of Hank Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury during the administration of George W. Bush. He presided over the bailouts in September, 2008 after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG.  He had also effectively seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac a few weeks before.  For much of the film, Paulson speaks to the camera and tells his story, as video of the events is edited on top of his own narration.  But this is not mockumentary. 

Paulson was born in Florida in 1946, but apparently was raised in a rural environment in the West, by a strict disciplinarian of a father.  He talks about family camping trips with blueberry cobbler cooked on the range;  he was quite handsome as a young man.  His wife, Wendy, describes their first date in college as a disaster, when people through paper airplanes at a Boston Pops concert.  His career started with another bailout situation in 1971, of Lockheed, and logically sets up his capacity to handle the who evolution of the housing bubble and the collapse, which really started in 2007.

The details of his actions during the bailout meetings are interesting. At one point that third weekend of September 2008, he called his wife, who gave him inspiration with a verse from one of the Timothy epistles.  But some hours later he developed dry heaves and vomiting in one of the meetings, but had to carry on.

Paulson, listed as a Republican in Wikipedia (some of my friends describe his as a Democrat anyway) defends his heavy government intervention under a conservative Republican president as absolutely necessary to prevent a total economic collapse.  Otherwise, he says, we could have started another Great Depression, with public soup lines, 25% unemployment, and generalized lawlessness and breakdown of civilization.  I think this observation is particularly relevant right now as Congress and the president battle not only over the shutdown but also the debt ceiling.  Some radical Republicans, who seemed to have leveraged partisan power in asymmetric fashion, talk like ordinary Americans need to take their medicine now and go cold turkey on entitlements so that borrowing stops.  There are “doomsday prepper” radicals who want to see an “NBC Revolution” so that a new order based on local family and neighborhood power develops, even if the society of old is gone.  After watching this film, I would wonder how the financial world we know could survive a formal US default (although there are those who say that not paying entitlements does not constitute default).

The narrative about the passage of TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) seems prescient of today’s partisan battles over Obamacare and the debt ceiling.  None of the banks at that October 2008 Monday meeting wanted to be the “littlest midget” in the room, most of all Wells Fargo.  Another interesting observation is that the money market mutual funds, common in many retiree’s portfolios, were themselves illiquid, inhibiting the ability of savers to get money out, but also contributing to the freezing of credit markets.

Some of my own friends socially adamantly opposed the bailouts in 2008, with some people saying it really was time for people to live within their means, even if it meant living in the streets like poor people for a while,  
   

Bloomberg’s site for the film is here. I urge anyone involved in today's political crisis to watch this film.  It is sobering, and it is riveting.  


I watched the film on Netflix instant play. It is also available free on YouTube (I’m not sure it’s legal).  

An alternative name is "Hank: Five Years from the Brink".  

Monday, October 07, 2013

"It Rains in My Village" is a bizarre satire set in communist Yugoslavia

The bizarre black comedy “It Rains in My Village” (“Bice skoro propast sveta”) by Aleksandar Petrovic, dates back to 1968, at the time that the Soviets would clamp down on Czechoslovakia.  That history fits into the film, set in former Yugoslavia, in a quaint rural environment.  Folk music is sung and played on guitars and banjos throughout the film, despite the carnage that goes on.  The film is distributed by MGM’s United Artists, which distributed indie films throughout the 90’s and it may have been reissued around then.
  
The plot concerns a somewhat gullible hog dealer, Trisha (a reasonably handsome Ivan Paluch) who is persuaded by buddies to marry Goca, a mentally disabled young woman.   I thought that the concept of the film was curious for this reason alone, because I cannot conceive of sexual attraction to someone like this, an existential point.  Is that the best he can do?  Soon Trisha falls in love with a new gal in town, Reza, a teacher, who offers herself to other men, particularly a biplane pilot who crashes into a tree in the village.  Trisha shows his own dim wit when he impulsively murders his hapless wife, as her body is found, throat cut, in Hitchcock fashion.  Trisha’s father takes the rap (it’s hard to see why) but then changes his mind.  The townspeople act as vigilantes and string up Trisha in a belfry system (remember “Vertigo”) and which tears him to pieces.
  
All of this happens within the political context of a gradual communist takeover, which makes the film even more bizarre.  The idea of a “village idiot” is well known even from Shakespeare;  in “Julius Caesar”, the cobbler fulfills that purpose.

Just before he gets caught, Trisha witnesses a visiting freak show, with a mustached woman, and is curiously attracted to a man with a tattooed chest.  He is offered the tattoo himself, and it is done, again curiously without having to shave his chest.

Despite the implied brutality of the film, which may be a sideshow commentary to Soviet aggression, relatively little is shown completely on camera.  The film pretty much stays in PG-13 territory.




The film is available free on YouTube and for Instant play on Netflix.