Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Tracks": a young woman's journey across the Australian outbreak, and she has company


The film “Tracks”, by John Curran, recounts the 1700 mile journey across the Australian outback in 1975 by Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) with her black dog and four camels, for a magazine article.  She is hardly alone, as she meets up with a huge variety of Aborigine peoples, and is followed by a “boyfriend” photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), who creates a real presence with his lean body, specs, and quirky but energetic manner.
  
I’ve always thought of Australia as a distorted copy of the US, with deserts in the west but without the high mountains.  In fact, the western part of the continent has only a few modest ridges, some of them cut up by surface mining. The journey starts in Alice Springs, in the “Midwest”, although it’s near Ayer’s Rock, as important a feature as any in the content.  Robyn shows her street smarts, gets odd jobs (parlty for barter), camps out, and procures her camels (Australia has more wild camels than any other country because of breeding after imports).  It’s a bit of a surprise that it takes 29 days to get to Ayer’s Rock.

Seeing this wide screen movie is a way to see the outback without an expensive trip.  But actually most of the film was shot in South Australia. The outdoor scenery is rather consistent scrub (like west Texas) with just some occasional low mountains. 

The dog and camels are major characters in the film, but the dog may come to an unfortunate end. Robyn says her motive is to be alone for a while. Robyn apparently had no intention to write about the journey in the beginning, but it wound up as a big National Geographic Article.  She also wrote a book (same title as the film) on the journey.  She would later have a relationship with Salman Rushdie. 


True, in the outback, she doesn’t get to shave her legs. 

The official site is here (TWC and E-One). 

Wikipedia attribution link for road map of Western Australia  

I saw this film before a fair Tuesday night crowd (reduced prices) at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington.
 
One could compare the film to Peter Weir's "The Last Wave" (1977). (see my "cf" blog, Oct. 25, 2011).  Another comparison would be Nicholas Roeg's "Walkabout" (1971). 
    
“Tracks” was also the name of a famous gay disco in Washington DC in the 1990s.  I wonder if there 

Monday, September 29, 2014

"The Sacrament": Eli Roth and Ti West recreate Jonestown in a "current" horror trip


The 1978 Jonestown, Guyana massacre inspires a recent (2013) “found footage” horror film by Ti West (produced by Eli Roth), “The Sacrament”. Actually, the film delves into some moral questions.
  
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) is an attractive (presumably gay or bisexual) fashion photographer comfortably building his career in New York.  He has some connections to a tabloid media company, Vice, with journalist Sam (A.J. Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg). Patrick gets a mystery letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), asking him to come and visit her at an intentional community that seems to be in northern Brazil or some mystery location.  The trio has to fly and be taken to the commune without knowing where they are.
   
The place, Eden Parrish, is first presented as a paradise, where all the residents have sold all they have and given it to the community, run by Father (Gene Jones).  The story mentions the Internet and cell phones, which aren’t allowed here (or won’t work), so we know the tragic story is moved ahead about two or three decades.  Father holds a merriment party for the guests (who stay in bunks – who is “top” and “bottom”) and Sam debriefs him with “The Interview”.  Soon, a mute woman passes a note asking the guests to help them,  By now, the three visitors realize they are in the throes of a leftist religious cult, probably violent.  
      
When the gig is up, Father realizes he can’t let the men go back, and that the authorities will come looking for them.  So, just as in Jonestown, he arranges for everyone to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Koolade. The rest of the film makes is watch which men get out of there with their lives and the hand-held footage, which they have filmed “secretly”.
  
The script poses moral questions: Sam wants to help others escape, and Jake doesn’t, saying at one point, “We’re not the Red Cross”.  Journalists, perched at a distance and claiming objectivity, sometimes are put in compromising positions, and of course may become targets of enemies who want to see them as potential combatants anyway.  (See review of “Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty”, on the “cf” blog, March 3, 2009.) 
  
  
The official site is here  (Magnet Releasing),  The film is now on Netflix Instant Play. 

The film was shot in Georgia and New York City.
  
There have been a few films about Jonestown, such as “Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People’s Temple” by Stanley Nelson for PBS (2006); “Escape from Jonestown” (2008, CNN), and “Jonestown: Paradise Lost” for the History Channel in 2006.

The film has no connection to Clive Barker’s 1996 novel about a gay wildlife photographer, and it would make an interesting film in its own right;  I read it in 1997. 
 
Picture (mine):  James River in Richmond, VA

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Black Death" from Christopher Smith seems deadly today


The German-British (Hanway) period horror film “Black Death”, set during the (bubonic) “plague” in 1348, directed by Christopher Smith in 2010, now seems relevant in many ways.  The writer was Dario Poloni, but Smith made many changes to the second half, reducing the “supernatural” element placing the young monk Osmund’s final torment in more earthly terms, with an epilogue which Smith was allowed to add only by winning an argument.
  
Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) arranges to leave his monastery to join an “illegal” lover Averill (Kimberky Nixon), who was forced to flee.  This leads him on an expedition (with Ulrich, played by Sean Bean) that takes him to a “utopian” village where no one seems ill, and where people have allegedly been brought back from the dead by a necromancer, who may be either Hob (Tim McInnerny) or Langiva (Carice van Houten).  Osmund gradually learns the rumors about the village on the road -- that nobody is sick yet, and that necromancers should be eliminated. The monk and his cohorts wind up trapped in water torture and rendition, and some of the party are challenged to renounce their faith in god (by Langiva).  Does she want to join with Satan, or deny that we need a God at all?  One member is dismembered (on camera) by horses and pulleys (as in “It Rains in My Village”, Oct. 7, 2013). 

The epilogue is indeed grim, as Osmund has taken to dispatching women in series,  He has entered his own inferno.  The pandemic catches up with the village just because it had been only a matter of time.  God's will was to let nature run its course. 
       
The film may seem timely now given the critical mass being reached by the Ebola epidemic in Africa. But is also obviously makes for telling commentary on blind loyalty to religion, or to the tribal system propped by religion.  The idea of making someone renounce his faith in public with torture to follow seems all too prescient right now, given the actions of ISIS. The director Chris Smith says he portrayed several kinds of Christians, including fanatics, and moderates like Osmund as the film starts. But he also mentions the transformation of Osmund from being a man who loves God to a man who will kill for God, but some of the others in his cohort were more like this in the beginning.


The official site is here (Magnet and Magnolia).  The film was shot entirely in Germany, in actual chronological sequence from the shooting script, a practice that is actually uncommon. 
      
The DVD is available from Netflix.  The DVD has many extras: "Bringing 'Black Death' to Life" (directed by Toby James); HDNET's "A Look at 'Black Death'", a "Behind the Scenes" (that shows how the dismemberment happens and also shows Redmayne with a circular bald spot on his scalp; and about twelve interview segments, as well as deleted scenes.
 
Unrated Film has an interview with the director here

Bill 

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Once Fallen": a young man getting out of prison battles his father to stay clean


The small film market still likes the story of redemption of someone who has stumbled in life. “Once Fallen”, by Ash Adams, gives us Chance (Brian Presley), who wants to “go straight” after release from prison.  He is drawn into three different directions.  One is his father (Ed Harris), in prison for life but still conducting his Aryan Nation activities.  Another is a dear friend (Chad Lindberg) who has to pay a debt to a local kingpin.  Finally, he finds out that he is the father of a five-year boy, August. 
   
Presley is quite handsome – until you notice his arms are completely covered by tattoos, as a kind of coverup.  There is a scene with his friend that is quite touching.  But dad will come do a well deserved and violent end in prison, but only after reconciliation.
   
   
The production company is “Freedom Films”, the DVD (Netflix) distributor is First Look.  The film can be rented from YouTube for $2.99. The film seems to be set around LA.  

I usually have a problem warming up to movies centered around prison.  Call it lack of empathy if you like. But this film is rather popular with some other reviewers.  





Thursday, September 25, 2014

"A Walk Among the Tombstones": Liam Neeson shows how to love the sinner


The previews of “A Walk Among the Tombstones” had make the film look almost supernatural, with the shot of a man jumping off a roof (like in “The Leftovers”).  It turns out to be a conventional but graphic drug underworld crime thriller, most of it set in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn in 1999 (well before Hurricane Sandy).  That’s two movies about the drug world in Brooklyn in a week (“The Drop” was reviewed recently) I don’t think that’s how Brooklyn really is.  Bed-Sty, to the north, is coming back.
  
Liam Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a “really private detective” who is unlicensed and works outside of the law, but is the only kind of agent who can get some things done.  Isn’t that how it is?  After a 1991 prologue, the movie opens with a meeting with a nice-looking drug kingpin Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) in his artsy brownstone.  Pretending to be a legitimate artist and actor, he makes his real living as a drug dealer (which is a rather cynical idea).  He confronts Neeson with the fact that his wife was kidnapped, and apparently murdered even though he paid the ransom.  (“Never pay ransom” has become an edgy debate in the issue of international terrorism.)  Scudder reluctantly eventually takes the job, and hires a homeless minor African American kid TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) as a sidekick, after meeting him in a public library.  Set before 2000, the film shows use of microfilm, clunky cell phones, and evidence of the coming Y2K scare.
   
Gradually, Neeson finds a pattern with several other cases, as all the victims are wives of other kingpins.  A brutal sequence in a cemetery near the end of
   
   
The official site is here.  The tagline is “People are afraid of all the wrong things”.  Well, these people asked for it.  They got into this world.  That’s not the same as the crimes some international groups have threatened.  The film is directed by Scott Frank and based on a novel by Lawrence Block. 
     
Universal is the US distributor, but Exclusive Media, usually a distributor of verturesome indie dramas, is a production company.  Cross Creek is another production company and it has a nice trademark with a running model train.
   
I saw this on a big screen (essentially RPX) at Regal Ballston common.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"The Maze Runner": the boys are being tested to see who can carry on; they aren't savages at all


The previews of “The Maze Runner” (Wes Ball) suggested an artificial setup, a confined environment will little opportunity for visual variety.  As the film opens, its protagonist Thomas (23-year-old NYC actor Dylan O’Brien) arrives by crude elevator, his memory erased, and finds himself living in a glade, with a few dozen other young men (varied races) in survivalist mode, surrounded by an outfield wall, maybe a mile square, that periodically opens into a “maze”.  As the film progresses, it explores first the natural “Eden” (with only one female Teresa [Kaya Sodelario], who arrives later), and then the channels of the maze, populated by monsters called “grievers”.  They look like giant spiders (a cross between “Arachnophobia” and “Alien”) that we will find out later are partially computer controlled. The maze innards become more varied (remind one of some scenes late in “Inception”) turning into blades, and then various channels that lead to the nerve center and probably a desolate “on the outside”. 
  
My own screenplay “Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted” bears a certain similarity. The protagonist (me) wakes up “etherized on a table” perhaps (as in T. S. Elliot’s Prufock poem), not knowing where he is (in a hospital, in the afterlife, at bizarre job interview?) but he does remember his entire life until recently, when he was abducted after a particular sequence, which he reconstructs during the movie.  He’s on a spaceship, it turns out, but like here, there is a whole world within it, and maybe an outside world to return to.  The “Mobius tunnel” in my piece becomes the equivalent of the maze.  And as in this movie, the protagonist makes multiple trips through the same area (the tunnel, or parallel railroad) until he figures out what is really going on.
  
Thomas could reasonably think that this is a kind of prison.  True, the boys have their power structure and rites of passage.  But it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a group of gang members.  The young men seem articulate, probably well-educated.  They’ve implemented a simple system or rules.  Some of them are likeable and show real leadership, such as Newt, the tall, slender blond guy with a British accent (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who always seems able to get others to negotiate their differences (Donald Trump would hire him).  One of the guys, Gally (Will Poulter) wants to keep the status quo and discourage escape, seeing the place as a permanent home.  He’ll set up the test of innovation and courage for the whole group by opposing it.
  
At the mid-point of the film, we’re shown a model of the Maze as a few of the kids, designated as “runners” (able to get back before the grievers catch them) have built it from memory. There is even a mathematical code sequence to how the various sections open that turns out to be crucial to solving it.
  
Eventually, we learn that is indeed a government setup, and that it seems to be a great honor to be chosen for this “test”.  But the world that these kids will go back to is indeed badly broken, as mentor Ava (Patricia Clarkson) explains on the monitor in the nerve center when the kids finally breach it.  In a curious way, the film carries an “Ayn Rand”-like message, much more effectively than the Atlas Shrugged films.  Thomas is the one person most willing to take risks and innovate (with the support of three or four of the other boys); Dylan O’Brien will become popular if he plays this sort of character often.
  
   
The official site is here.   The film comes from regular Fox, not Searchlight, although it has the attitude of independent film (based on the novel by James Dashner).   It was shot in Louisiana and Vancouver and seems to have Canadian production.
   
I saw the film at Regal Ballston last night in one of the smaller auditoriums.  But the film is available in IMAX or RPX in some locations. “Go big or go home.” 3-D would have been effective here, in the maze sequences.
 
As much as I liked O'Brien's performance, it is all too easy to imagine casting Richard Harmon ("The greatest of all time" -- especially in wind sprints and therefore "maze running") from "The 100", "Continuum", and "Judas Kiss"; few actors have his intensity for a role like the lead in this film. 
          
Many viewers will compare the movie to “The Lord of the Flies” (MGM, 1990), based on William Golding’s novel, which everyone reads in ninth grade English in high school.  When I worked as a substitute teacher, I remember handing out reading quizzes on the book (like video worksheets on “Hotel Rwanda”).  The pop quizzes and tests tended to be rather detailed.  In this movie, though, the boys don’t disintegrate into anarchy. I guess you could conflate the title with "Blade Runner". 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"The Zero Theorem": Terry Gilliam's latest fantasy takes off when Lucas Hedges takes over the film


The Zero Theorem” is the latest film by Terry Gilliam, and the director perceives it as a long awaited completion of a trilogy comprising “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys” (the latter of which I remember back in 1996). 

The protagonist is a computer hacker Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) who works in a ragged home that seems to be an abandoned church, surrounded by playthings.  Outside is a psychedelic city, which may supposed to be London, although the cars drive on the right side.  (The film was made in the UK, Romania, France and Germany.)  Leth waits for a phone call, and expects a complicated computer assignment form the “Management” run by Matt Damon, for his technocratic employer Mancom. After a party given by Joby (David Thewlis) and interactions with a therapist (Tilda Swinton, right out of “Snowpiercer”) and an imaginary playmate (often on a kind of Skype) girl friend Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), Leth gets his assignment, to prove the “Zero Theorem”, which says that the Universe adds up to nothing and will eventually contract back to a black hole (often illustrated), a singularity at the point of creation.
  
One could challenge that idea.  The Universe may expand forever, or eventually self-destruct in “the Big Rip”.  The laws of thermodynamics predict entropy, and then suggest that life, consciousness and free will contradict entropy and keep the Universe developing.
  
Leth’s appearance is worthy of note.  His head is shaven, as is his chest.  This may all be necessary for him to wear a data suit (an innovation described in the 1990s by Omni Magazine) and experience a virtual reality (or perhaps “Second Life”) relationship with Bainsley.  In some scenes, he’s on a tropical beach, rather like Hawaii but perhaps on another planet, with his stringy  scalp hair returned, although he looks quite middle-aged.  Bainsley wants a relationship of sorts, but no babies, which she says would be impossible.
  
The film comes together half way through when “Management’s” son, 15-year-old Bob (Lucas Hedges, as from “Moonrise Kingdom”) enters the house to comfort Leth, fix his computers (Leth had smashed it in a tantrum, like in “The Terminal Man”), and pass along to Leth what is really going on.  Now Hedges looks about old enough to be half way through high school, perhaps;  but he is kindly, talkative, idealistic, and charismatic.  At one point he says “I’m nobody’s tool”, perhaps a pun, suggesting that his own attitude on life comes from Ayn Rand.  You could describe Bob as an equal mixture of teen Harry Potter, Jack Andraka, and the college-age Mark Zuckerberg.  Bob is capable of some emotional bonding and Leth becomes interested as they move outside like a tag team. Bob even procures the pizza, which a rat sneaks out to munch the scraps from. Suddenly, again indoors,  Bob says that he does not feel well, and wants to be put in a cold bath to reduce a fever.  Leth puts him in the bath (the “process” isn’t shown in the theatrical release), but soon men come to take Bob away, and make comments that Leth has behaved inappropriately with a teenage boy.
  
Now, the audience wants the most for Bob (just as it would the best for Clark Kent or Harry Potter) so I wondered if Bob was really sick and if this was some kind of trick to test Leth.  There is a similar idea in my screenplay “The Sub”, which I have now embedded in “Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted”.  That led to a row when I was substitute teaching back in 2005 as I have explained elsewhere (man blog, July 27, 2007).   The same concept, that was so offensive to some, seems to be in play here.

  
The official site is here. The distributor (Amplify, along with Voltage Pictures) is not as well known,

I wonder why there isn’t bigger distribution (like IFC or TWC).  Maybe Rogue is involved, since Hedges gives an interview on Rogue here

I saw the film at the AFI Silver Theater, the only venue showing it.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them" is supposed to be three films in one


The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” (directed by Bed Benson) is either the third film of a series, or it is a summarized composite of the first two parts, pronouns, “Him” and “Her”, in telling the story of a young couple’s failed marriage and attempt to come back.  It’s easy to wonder if this should have been a cable series.  The Weinstein Company apparently encouraged the composite version, still over two hours, and a bit meandering.
 
The prologue shows the couple – Connor (James McAcvoy) and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) on a romp through the park together, after they don’t go Dutch for dinner and Connor doesn’t pay the bill. After the opening credits (I wonder if TWC recalls that “Them” as a title of a notorious horror film in the 1950s, as well as another independent film recently) we jump into loss.  Eleanor makes a suicide attempt in a jump from a bridge (Tyler Clementi did not survive such a jump) and Connor gets hit by a car, but isn’t badly injured. 
  
Connor’s life goes downhill financially, as he will lose his bar (Bill Hader is effective as his sidekick cook Stuart) and wind up maybe working for his dad (Ciaran Hinds). 

Eleanor tries to rediscover herself with some college courses and a sympathetic professor (Viola Davis).  There’s an annoying lecture hall scene where Connor spots her, and becomes a bit disruptive.
The entire film simply seemed too much of a muddle.  We’re told briefly that the couple lost a child, but we don’t’ have enough specifics to believe the relationship.

James McAvoy, however, carries his usual charisma.  And, yes, he is quite “cute”, especially in the bedroom scene.


The official site is here    (I had to hunt for it.)  Rumor has it that showings of all three parts will be arranged in New York and LA and a few art houses around the country.  The DVD will presumably include everything, as will view-on-demand offerings. Again, the whole set is likely to wind up on cable a few times.  A lot of work went into this project!
        
I saw the film before a small audience Saturday night at the AMC Shirlington. 
  
I have a proposed project where two interrelated films have to fit together, in the last two chapters (short stories) of my DADT III book.  I discuss how I would to it here. The film could be called “Two Road Trips” (or “The Home Team Bats Last”), and the two interrelated stories are “Expedition” and “The Ocelot the Way He Is”. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"The Drop": Is this how the world of bars really works?


The Drop,” by Michael R. Roskam, starts with a reflection of the Brooklyn Bridge in a pool.  I wondered if BargeMusic was nearby.  But soon we’re into the bowels of the underworld, a smaller reflection of “godfather”.  It seems that tainted money is laundered by “drop bars” in Brooklyn, that are then “protected” by the mob.  In the early 1970s, in fact, it had been popular to believe that all gay bars were “Mafia bars”.   The film is based on a short story (and novella) called “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane.
    
The heart of the story is generated when an attractive but lonely bartender Bob (Tom Hardy) finds a wounded bulldog puppy in a trashcan, next to a brownstone home owned by Nadia (Noomi Rapace).  He nurses the dog to health and adopts the animal as his own.  It seems to be an odd Mafia trick.  Soon his bar is held up, and an elaborate story involving the protection racquet and Bob’s older cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, in the last film before his passing).  There is a dashing but manipulative young Chechnian mobster Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts, from Belgium). 
   
Some of the plot seems to concern illegal bookmaking on the Super Bowl played in February 2014 in Met Life Stadium in New Jersey, where the Seattle Sea Hawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 (Love that two-point conversion). 
   
Is this really the work of bars now?
    
The official site is here (Fox Searchlight).  I saw the film before an ample Sunday night crowd at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax Va.  

"Paris-Manhattan" is a rather slight French comedy with a cameo and epigram from Woody Allen


Paris-Manhattan” (Sophie Lellouche) is a rather minimalist romantic French comedy about star-worship.

Alice (played by Alice Taglioni) works in her dad’s Paris shop as a pharmacist, and she eventually inherits the business,  Her older sister has stolen a romantic love Pierre (Louis Lo de Linquesaing). Dad insists on finding her a different potential husband. She cavorts with an attractive Vincent (Yannick Soulier) and alarm salesman Victor (Patrick Bruel), a security alarm technician whom she doesn’t find attractive (itself a paradox because older men are desirable in this kind of comedy) but who introduces her to her idol, Woody Allen himself in a climactic encounter.

There are some platitudes, like Allen’s saying about sex and work, the “desire for order” instead of desire for death, and Allen’s Talmudism.  There’s an alarming pharmacy holdup scene that could go very wrong. 


The film refers to earlier classics, like Woody’s own “Manhattan”, and MGM’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask” with Gene Wilder.
  
The official site is here , from Palace Films.  The movi is relatively brief at 77 minutes. 
  
I watched this film from a Vimeo screener from Strand Releasing. The DVD appears on Sept. 23, 2014.
   

Wikipedia attribution link for Paris train picture. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt"? He looks a little pudgy


There is a scene near the end of James Manera’s “Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?” where Galt (a slightly pudgy and scraggly Kristoffer Paloha), returning to his little secret Manhattan walkup where he stores is “Motor” in a secluded panic room, passes a hapless homeless person sleeping on the stairway.  That little pass-by does highlight the moral problems with objectivism.
  
Absolutely true, Galt has accomplished more in life than the homeless person.  And most of it has been by Galt’s own efforts.  Galt can do more with his own hands, even without hiring labor, than most people.  But it is true that Galt is also more “fortunate” than the homeless person.  He most likely had attentive (probably monogamously married) parents who could sacrifice some of their own personal “prestige” for his own future when necessary (which is not always).  He probably inherited better economic circumstances.  But he probably started ahead in line. True, he probably didn’t “exploit” the hidden labor of others overseas as much as most of his do, and that leads to other morally problematic areas which Malcolm Gladwell would love to analyze.

Without some moral ukase to respond to the homeless person's entreats sometimes, he is left to die, or perhaps be eliminated, following what the Nazis or ancient Spartans would have done.  But sometimes so did Stalin and the Khmer Rouge. We also need to remember, if we allow people to live too freely off the unseen sacrifices of others, "money" loses its meaning and society becomes unstable.  But true, without rewarding someone like John Galt, there's no innovation. And people become powerful wrongfully and corrupt by trying to implement "equality".

Of course, it's easier for someone like Galt to be generous, because doing so might not cost him something, and might promote his own agenda.  Most of us are beholden to others in ways we don't want to admit and it's a lot more challenging to become generous, especially in personal ways, especially when people come knocking.
         
Back at in the Valley (“Galt’s Gulch”)  in Colorado, which Galt runs more or less like it were an intentional community known to the left (even if he uses gold coins rather than work hours as “currency”, which places like Twin Oaks and Acorn in central Virginia do), Galt has a sign above his master motor, which he shows proudly to his first uninvited guest, Dagny Taggart  (Laura Regan).  It reads something like, “I will not live for the purposes of someone else, nor will I expect anyone to live for me.”  (The Gulch is protected by an electronic dome that probably inspired Stephen King’s novel and the current CBS series.)
    
I feel that way. I read “Atlas Shrugged” while in the Army, and I remember reading the torture scene on the bus home from Fort Eustis.  The “extreme rendition” by a US  government that has turned out to be rather like Vladimir Putin’s is handled rather clumsily.  Galt’s meager body hair survives the repeated electrocutions, and Dagny gets him out.  Then all the power goes out forever – not because of a solar storm or coronal mass ejection, or because of an EMP terrorist attack, but because the nation has run out of copper wire.  And Galt sees the dollar sign in the sky.  The men who produce and who went on strike will go back to the world. (I recall Galt as being described as tall, lean and blond in the book, but not so in the movie.) 

The torture scene does remind us that people can go into need because of the hostility of others.  Galt overcomes it with Dagny's effort.  Galt says that if he ever has to submit to the purposes of someone else, he will end his own life.  That sounds defiant to be true, maybe offensive to some.

The idea of making electricity from the air counters the idea in NBC's "Revolution" but getting power from lightning would be interesting.
  
I have to say, the Taggart Transcontinental train looks like a model railroad.

 The official site is here. The official Community Forum is here.  The film is also known as "Atlas Shrugged: Part III" (or "Atlas Shrugged III" or "Atlas Shrugged 3").
   
Yeah, the dialogue in this film, as in all three, is rather silly, stilted and forced.  You wonder if a comic book treatment would work.  Why does a series like “Smallville” work (Clark Kent is more like a real John Galt than this character), and this film seems flat?

I saw the film late Friday before a small audience at Regal Ballston Common in Arlington VA (in regular aspect ratio in a small auditorium).  Two people got up and walked out.   

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Gaysian" and a few other items from DC Shorts pose subtle moral questions


I got my DC Shorts online access working again, and watched a few more items, including LGBT (with Reel Affirmations).

Gaysian” (Show 12, 8 min), by Austin Wong, asks the moral question: is it wrong to refuse to consider intimacy with people of other races?  An Asian gay man asks why white men reject him, until he meets a young man who looks and acts more like him than expected.  “To reject another race as undesirable is racist.”  There are differences, though, in features, height, even body hair, that can become fetish concerns.  Filmed in Toronto.
  
Bears” (Show 2, 4 min), explores “diversity” in the world of hairy men.  There is a scene at the Friday night “Bear Party” happy hour at Town Danceboutique in Washington DC.  I have been to that event, but I didn’t spot anyone in my immediate social circuit.
  
Je t’aime” (Show 10, 10 min) is a musical, apparently from Norway.  A gay man with a girl friend who taunts him has to come to terms with his own identity, and falls for the priest at a straight wedding.
  
2:43” (Show 1, but omitted when I saw it in a theater, 10 min) is rather the straight equivalent of one the first two films.  The film starts with just a phone handset and answering machine, and after three minutes a man walks into the room.  His girl friend is saying she has cancer, but he wants to break up with her but feels guilty. Could not determine language (eastern European).

Helsinki” (Show 6, 15 min, Juan Beiro), as a film title, refers to brand of beer.  In a Madrid bar, two female bartenders talk about time travel, and try to contact the ideal man at the ideal age (for reproduction) at any point in space-time that they choose.  


Update: Sept. 21:  3 More

"The Profile of Jonas Aquino" ("O Perfil De Jonas Aquino", 22 min, Brazil, Henrique Moreira, Show 10).  An attractive late-teen man deletes is "Facemob" profile, facing irrevocability, and then finds the perfect alter-ego has been created for him online, as he suddenly becomes popular.  Is this real?  Photoshop did a good job, as sometimes he has chest hair, other times not.  There's a an odd scene where his alter-ego jumps out of the computer, and then where he has a chance to slay his other self.  At the end, there is a gay angle.

"Red" ("Rojo", 20 min, Venezuela, Show 6) has a young man arranging to meet a Facebook gay fiend in a park, identified by a red shirt.  Was his father setting him up, or did he entrap his own father as a pedophile online?  Indeed, a variation of NBC's "To Catch a Predator".

"Cadet" (15 min, Belgium, Kevin Meul) has a 13-year-old track star coached by his father, who pushes performance enhancing drugs.  The boy will turn the tables on his dad at the end.  The film has some moderate gay elements and hints of ephebophilia as well in the script.

Update: Oct, 28

Not in the festival, but "Forbidden Love" ("Verbotene Liebe", 3 min) Germany is worthy of mention, if for the heterosexual distraction on the beach.  Found it by accident in a motel room.


"

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"La Commedia", a "video opera" film by Hal Hartley and Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, based on Dante


La Commedia” is presented on DVD by Nonesuch Records and Possible Films as a new art form: a movie, or a stage opera, together, take your pick.  The set is sold with a conventional film DVD, and 2 music CD’s.  The inspiration for the work is Dante’s “Divine Comedy”.

The filmmaker is Hal Hartley (American), known for iconoclastic independent film that mixes morality play with sci-fi.  Well, I like to do that.  The composer is the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen (B 1939), with some additional electronic music by Anke Brouwer (and a touch of Debussy).  The format of the film is to present the “modern story” as like black-and-white silent film, as the opera is sung, and in performance the film is to be projected onto a screen.  The DVD intersperses the “silent film” with some of the stage performance by the Dutch National Opera, in garish colors, like for the “Blue Barge”, and with translucent spherical pods that seem to come right out of “Alien”.

The cast includes Jeroen Willens as Lucifer and Caccidaguida, Claron McFadden as Beatrice, Christina Zavolloni as Dante, and Marcel Beeman as Casella.

The opera-film is in five sections: (1) “The City of Dis, or the Ship of Fools”; (2) Racconto Dall’Inferno; (3) Lucifer; (4) The Garden of Earthy Delights; (5) Luce Etterna ("Eternal Light"). 

The first three sections start in the “Inferno”, which in the video is modern day Amsterdam.  But this seems like no city of gay pleasure;  it seems like an extraterrestrial place, a gateway to existential challenges.  The second part takes place largely “On the Beach”, which might indeed be a reference to Nevil Shute.  (I have seen the 1959 film with its “Waltzing Matilda” conclusion.)  The film though returns to the city, which to me is not necessarily as logical as would be a consistent geographic progression on another world.  (Clive Barker, in his book “Imajica”, which has to become a film some day, moves back and forth among the different “dominions” because of “reconciliation”, an idea that might be in play here.  At the end of the book, we see Heaven, as a super-city, like in China, not what it is made out to be.)  The “Purgatory” section is the “garden”, and it hardly recalls the corresponding movement in Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.  It starts on a boat with lovers kissing, with Dante as one of them, and we really don’t know whether this is a man and woman or a lesbian pairing, nor should we care.  Procreation is no longer possible.  In Purgatory, the minions have to move in unison, like soldiers in D-and-C;  and there are casualties.

In “Heaven”, well, we’re often back in Amsterdam, and it’s hard to say how it is changed.  Maybe it’s the modern city, well after the Nazis were driven out.  As David Lynch said in “Eraserhead” (that is, the Lady in the Radiatior), “In heaven everything is fine”.  That would really work here. 
There is some dialogue by Lucifer at a bar in Heaven.  No subtitles;  good thing that Dutch is pretty close to English.  Then “the prodigal children” run back “on the beach” as the world around them disappears into white light, 


The music during the closing credits ends loudly and triumphantly (in A Major), unusual in modern opera.
   
The very detailed notes on the Nonesuch set are written by Brooklyn-based composer-pianist Timo Andres.  To my knowledge, this Timo’s first association with a “film” but I think there will be more.  (I think he would create a real presence in film as an actor, but that’s another day.)  As I watched, I recalled another “Timo”, that is Belgian-Flemish-Dutch singer-actor Timo Descamps, and his role in a preview clip of a sci-fi film “Floating” where paradise is not what it seems.  “TimO” is a good name to have.

The Nonesuch link is here.

The film runs 105 minutes.
  

The title “The Comedy” recalls the fall of 1962 when I was a “patient” at NIH (while the Cuban Missile Crisis broiled outside).  My relation with the other patients was somewhat strained, and I called all the goings-on in the unit “La grande comedie”.  The therapists and nurses didn’t like to hear that. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"What's Wrong with Virginia?": early work by Dustin Lance Black in the heterosexual world seems muddy


The film “Virginia” (2010), also called “What’s Wrong with Virginia?” (or maybe “The Trouble with Virginia”, to paraphrase Hitchcock; maybe the question mark doesn't belong) is not Dustin Lance Black’s best work.  The E-one DVD has a 20-minute featurette where Black looks like a 20-year-old (he was 35 when making the film) and where he and the cast demonstrate their dedication to the concept.  (OK, so does actor Gabriel Mann as Nolan in “Revenge” look almost like a late teen; if you are lean, you look younger.)  Black wanted to prove he was comfortable with 100% heterosexual material, but you wonder about his own attitude toward his world. Say that also about producer Gus Van Sant.
   
And that idea is to weave a story about some rather unlikeable characters, and even make the likeable teen do some bad things at the end.  In my own screenplays, most of my characters are “good” and major-keyed, as if I didn’t think that glorifying lesser souls meant anything. Maybe that’s a problem.
  
The setup is a love rectangle.  Near Virginia Beach (although the film is shot near Lake Michigan, with one scene in Atlantic City) a local sheriff Richard Tipton (Ed Harris) decides to run for state senator.  He likes to present himself as a good Mormon and family man (does that make him a Republican?)  Married (Amy Madigan) he has carried on an affair with a schizophrenic single mom Virginia (Jennifer Connelly).  It all breaks lose when her nice teenage son Emmett (new Aussie actor Harrison Gilbertson) dates and marries Tipton’s daughter (Emma Roberts). 
   
Part of the story involves Virginia’s poverty, her fake pregnancy, her apparent lung cancer (she is coughing up blood while chain smoking – which is why I don’t empathize with her).  At one point, she comes up with a goofy scheme to rob a bank, which fails, though she escapes.  Her son is a nice kid, but gives in to crime himself to protect his mom.  There are also a couple of drag characters (including Toby Jones) involved in the heists. 
   
There are some other goofy lines.  The two Mormon “elder” missionary boys hide “in the closet” from the gunfire in one scene, and there’s a second funky line about Mormon undergarments.  Earlier there is a line about snow in Virginia Beach, which is pretty uncommon.
   
  
The film can be rented on YouTube for $1.99. 


  
This is an early film by Black, but an earlier important one is “The Journey of Jared Price” (2000), now from Wolfe, with Corey Spears as a kind of role model young gay man on a journey encountering real world dangers and temptations after moving to LA from Georgia. 



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"The Cold Heart", animated version of German fairy tale, leads the first show of "DC Shorts"


“Show 1” of DC Shorts concludes with arguably one of the most visible films in the whole festival, “The Cold Heart” (“Das Kalte Herz”) by Hans Ralle, animated in expressionistic style, 20 minutes.  It seems like a remake of the 1950 film “Heart of Stone” by Paul Verhoeven. Yes, the new English title reminds me of “The Normal Heart”.
  
  
In the 19th Century, Peter lives as a charcoal burner in the Black Forest in Germany.  When he meets the gray forest spirit Glasmenlein, he makes and gets wishes for more.  He has a glassworks business (my own father was a rep for a glass company) and gets richer but squanders it. Under the influence of an even darker spirit Peter becomes like Faust, giving up his soul to become ruthless as a crimelord, even having his wife killed when she shows kindness.  Is there still salvation for Peter?  I think this theme can be developed in a much more subtle way, where indifference alone is the sin that brings someone down, especially if one is challenged by others in an unequal world.  This film was a real favorite among the festival judges.
  
A Special Day” (“Un Dia Especial”, 13 min, by Daniel Padro), filmed in a church in Barcelona, sets up a wedding as the kickoff (as did the feature “The Remaining”).  David (Dafnis Balduz) becomes confronted with the idea that his bride Amelia (Carmen Balague) is perhaps superwoman, or is maybe a monster.  I’ve never seen a groom vomit at a wedding in film before.  Finally, he says “I do” anyway.
  
Mosquito” (Timo von Gunten, 12 min, Switzerland) is rather like a David Lynch short.  (No relation to Peter Weir’s “Mosquito Coast” (1986) which I recall seeing when I lived in Dallas.)  An aging man (Manfred Liechit) lives alone in a flat above a bar in a stylish European city (simulated in part by CGI).  He has a hand-cranked record player and listens to Tchaikowsky’s “Swan Lake” (hint: “Black Swan”). When the record player runs down, the music develops annoying wow and flutter.  It tracks heavy; maybe it has old wood needles.  A mosquito, maybe carrying disease, taunts him.  He is willing to “use an atom bomb to swat a fly” as they used to say when I lived in Texas in the 80s.  The room fills up with water and he drowns.  By the way, the director’s first name seems so popular with young male artists in Europe.  Timothy in the Bible is a good guy.

Job Interview” (9 minutes, by Julia Walter) was another film that drew me to this showcase.  A young women shows up for an evening interview at a Munich company, given by a woman about the right age to be a romantic rival.  That turns out to be important.  So is the “stress test”, and the “memory test”.  The setup reminds me of my own feature screenplay, “Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscription”, where a man wakes up and doesn’t know if he is in a hospital, in the Afterlike, is abducted by aliens, or being interviewed by the CIA.  Maybe it’s all of these.  This little short doesn’t have my Mobius Strip or my embedded time machine (next short).  What it does have is murder, a touch of Hitchcock.

One-Minute Time Machine” by Devon Avery.  Shot in Burbank CA in an outdoor park, this film pits sweethearts James (Brian Dietzen) and Regina (Erinn Hayes).  James has an astrobabe-like toy that keeps restarting the last minute of his life and their encounter in a parallel universe.  This is indeed an exercise in string theory.  Something odd:  in the initial and final scenes, one of James’s arms appears to have a tattoo; in the other scenes, they’re just appropriately hairy. 

He’s a Fighter” (7 min).  A drug-dependent mother explains how her son overcame his poor background and became a prize fighter. That’s not necessarily a good outcome. Boxing is not a desirable sport in my world.  But the kid was also an honor student.

Everything Starts Somewhere” (4 min) a couple recreates its one-night stand in monologues,
  
I saw this Monday afternoon before a fair crowd at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax, VA.  For some reason, the short “2:43” was not included. 

For a 6-minute short film on life in Ar-Raqqa, Syria, from the Wall Street Journal, see my International Issues blog today. 
    
Picture: a classic car near racetrack in W Va. (mine),  


Monday, September 15, 2014

"Heal H Street" and many other films from DC Shorts available on online coupon


I watched three more films from DC Shorts online with a coupon pass, which I bought by physically going to a performance, for $15.  It is supposed to be effective until September 21, 2014, but it only let me use the code in one session.  I will have to check with DCS today on this. Not all films seemed to be available (maybe 50%).  
  
The largest film I watched was “Heal H Street”, (Show 9, 15 min), by Craig Corl (link ).  Craig is referring to H Street NE in Washington DC, site of the new streetcar line (there is no real close Metro stop).  H Street, like 14th St NW, was severely affected by the 1968 riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King (while I was personally in Army Basic).  The area remained depressed for about three decades.  In recent years, the area has become more gentrified as higher income people move back, but that means the poor people are driven out, to Prince Georges County.  The same thing has happened with the new U Street corridor, and with the area around Nationals Park and the Navy Yard.  H Street has a street fair in Setpember.

  
The YouTube video above is Craig Corl’s “A Meditation on Winter”.

An important small film (4 min, Show 10) is “A Life with Asperger’s”, by Jaime Ekkens, portraying a young man Emmett Goldman, who is still able to go to college on his own and live in New York City.  He says he was pressured to be more sociable than he wanted to be.
   
Hellyfish” (Show 5), by Patrick Longstreth and Robert LcLean, shows a small boy putting a lost radioactive component underneath a small purple beach animal, that looks like a cross of a crab and a jellyfish.  It grows into a monster with both blob and tentacle components, biting off people’s arms and drowning helicopters, all at Tybeach Island (SC?)  No box jellyfish in this movie -- although cubozoa would make a good subject for a documentary. The box jellyfish (July 13, this blog) is one of the most bizarre creatures on Earth, almost seeming alien. It's venom is just about the deadliest. 
    
Pictures:  From H Street NE festival in Sept, 2012 (mine).  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Film about a fire-blowing skydiver Tony Valenci concludes another DC Shorts set


DC Shorts Show 4 offered 8 films.  The most important of these is “Down in Flames: The True Story of Tony ‘Volcano’ Valenci”, 29 minutes, by William J. Stribling.  This was a mockumentary of daredevil and magician Valenci, who died in an “accident” by blowing fire while skydiving.  The skydiving shots over northern New Jersey are spectacular. His two assistants wind up on house arrest for the student.  What makes someone want to do this?  There are other “illusionists” who swallow swords or eat glass. Sounds like eating crayons and getting your stomach pumped. 

  
The End of the Line” (“Le Bout Du Fil”), by Francois Raffenaud, has a heavily freckled and aged actress, 86 , waiting for a phone call to get one last hurrah at fame.

Ella’s Wedding Day”, by Dana Lerer, 11 minm makes fun with the whole expectation of a lavish wedding, following by consummation.  Ella is quite distracted by a playful bell boy, with his multiple rings.  Is her perspective husband, who may be less cute, threatened?  Some men would be.  The husband has a piercer himself as a solution. 

Last Shot”, by Greg Popp, 11 min. has a bartender trying to close down when an angry customer threatens him over old grievances.  Effective black and white backstory.
  
Manny Gets Censored”, by Graeme Robertson, 8 min, from Australia, presents a 28-year-old Manny (James MacKay) up close, with the camera dawdling over his body, from the fungal toenails (when uncut), to meager chest hair, to an aging time lapse into the future. Yes, he has “girl friends”.  One day, the gets a letter in the mail telling him how to live a G-rated destiny.
  
Ronald”, by John Dower, is a portrait of a Ronald McDonald “super hero” clown in Las Vegas.  He looks nothing like a hero.

Foxed!” (5 min, animated), has a young girl working in a mine after kidnapping by a den of foxes.
  
Lialou”, from Germany, lets an average young man judge others by their shoes. 



"Last Days in Vietnam": Riveting documentary by Rory Kennedy about the final failure of the war that defined my generation


Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam” documents, with somewhat faded news footage, the fall of Vietnam in 1975 and the efforts of the US, especially through its ambassador, to evacuate as many South Vietnamese civilians as possible from the roof of the US Embassy building on the last night, April 29. 
 
When Nixon signed the peace accords in January 1973, he added a promise that the US would return if the North Vietnamese didn’t honor the agreement. When Nixon resigned because of Watergate in August 1974, the North Vietnamese felt emboldened, and began an invasion in March 1975.  The North Vietnamese had lists of South Vietnamese civilians whom they considered “anti-Communist” and often butchered then during the invasion.  After taking over South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese sent many civilians to “reeducation camps.”
   
The film depicts the behind-the-scenes activity of the Ford Administration, which was quite bumbling and finally broke its promises to get everybody out of the embassy.
    
The behavior of the North Vietnamese anticipates the Khmer Rouge, as depicted in Rolabd Joffe's 1984 film “The Killing Fields” with Sam Waterston. 
   
It’s striking to me that this war was what the draft was all about.  I went into the Army in February 1968, right after Tet, but was able to use my graduate school education to avoid Vietnam and combat. 
   
   
The official site is here
     
The film was released directly by PBS American Experience.  I saw it late Saturday at Landmark E Street in Washington DC.  Many shows sold out.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Death Bed": Will George Barry's 1977 campy "zero budget" horror film become a cult classic?


I found “Death Bed: The Bed that Eats”, a campy horror film made from 1972-1977 (at the Gar Wood mansion in Detroit) by George Barry on Netflix. The director offers an introduction where he explains the history of the film, which he says he couldn’t find distribution for.  One problem was the cost of converting 16 mm to 35,  But in the 1980s, with the introduction of the VCR, the film was often pirated, and he found out about the copies in chat rooms when the Internet took off in the 1990s.  The DVD was released in 2002.  Does this film show up as a midnight horror show sometimes?

The plot is simple.  A young man (rather attractive) lives inside a painting, having passed from consumption, in an old house, near a canopy bed.  That sounds like Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, doesn’t it.  Everyone who comes into the use and uses the bed gets consumed by it, most often by a yellow foamy blob (again, “The Blob” was another classic).  There are variations, which the narrator (the young man) explains in rather loose narrative. One time, a woman is asked to eat a lunch which a maggot has started to consumer in front of her.  The low-budget special effects are hokey and rather hard to characterize.


The film does demonstrate the idea of "zero base budgeting". 
   
Eventually two women and a brother test the curse.  The young man (William Russ) is attractive enough to have something to lose when he “gets it”.  His lower legs and forearms are consumed.  You could say, “they shaved his arms”.  Indeed, all that is left of his hand and forearm is the skeleton, and the pieces start falling off. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

"The November Man": indeed, "There Are No Spies", but there are angels


Roger Donaldson’s “August” thriller “The November Man” is based on Bill Granger’s book “There Are No Spies” and it could have been titled “there are no victims.”  One of the most revealing lines occurs early when Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), an old CIA “uppie” says to Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan, looking quite grizzled early) “the CIA is about collecting people”, not just information.  Indeed, an important question in any CIA novel or movie is how the upstairs-people learn what they know and how they really set priorities, what makes them tick.
  
The plot revolves on some dimensional axes.  Peter has trained a clean-cut apprentice Mason (Luke Bracey), who seems as nice and innocent as the kid at the end of “Boyhood”. (“What do you want to do when you grow up, Mason?”)  When Mason messes up in the prequel (resulting in a child’s death in Montenegro), the conflict between the two is set in motion. Five years later, after Peter has retired and lives in Switzerland. Hanley wants him back for a double-crossing operation that will capture the next president of Russia, Federov (Lazar Ristovski) and bring him into the west.  There are female agents involved, especially Natalia (Mediha Muslovic) to win over and trap. 
  
The resulting plot is one of the most complicated of all time.  The details of the synopsis are on Wikipedia, and they go on forever.  It’s amazing this fits into 108 minutes.  Federov is not Putin (for one thing, he has chest hair).  The movie tends to suggest that the CIA was originally behind the meltdown in Chechyna, and the transparent implication is that such treachery led to the Boston Marathon bombing, as if the aim of the CIA were to go after Muslims anywhere.  The film will require a messy reconciliation between Peter and Mason.  An interesting subplot concern’s Mason’s female neighbor in Belgrade, Serbia (where most of the film is shot), a connection started by her cat, who decides that Mason must be a good person. Animals know a lot.
  
  
The official site is here, from Relativity Media and Rogue.  This film appears to be independently produced, although it is marketed as a suburban mall movie.  The title of the film means that Peter's character normally leaves death behind him.  But he has a tween daughter who becomes another pawn in the plot. 
 
It's rather curious the way a piece by French compoer Erik Satie is used in the background score. 
     
The movie differs from my own book “Angel’s Brother” in some important aspects.  I start in present day, and my two agents, one of them a college student getting recruited, become male lovers, breaking up the older man’s marriage.   I have little violence.  I present the backstories in subsequent chapters and interludes, some of them embedded in the writings of the mystery character “Bill” whose writings the college student has hacked from the Cloud.  Since the “adversaries” (as such) seem to be human space aliens (as in “The Event”) the CIA brass has no agenda for using them at first, it really needs to know if the “dorm rumors” or barracks banter is really true. 



Thursday, September 11, 2014

DC Shorts 2014 opens; Show 3 offers "Ziazan", "Alfonso", "Inside the Box"


The DC Shorts Film Festival opened tonight, September 11, 2014, and I attended Show 3 at the US Navy Memorial Theater.
  
The largest film was “Alfonso”, in German, by Swiss director Jan-Eric Mack (as part of a degree requirement), at 19 min, follows the genre of “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige”.  A magician, eager to please the judges, hypnotizes a woman to sing Schubert’s “Ave Maria”.  But then the “prestige” part off the act goes bonkers.
  
  
The audience seemed to like “Ziazan” (15 min), by Durmaz, a Turkish director who was the only to show for the QA.  A four year old girl hitches a ride in a suitcase from Armenia to Turkey to get some chocolates for her friends.  A bit of Forest Gump.  Some breathtaking scenery, shot in Armenia, but the script mentions Georgia.

Inside the Box” (15 min), by Spanish director David Martin Porras, depicts a policeman (Wilson Bethel) in Texas (the film is shot in California but produced by a company in Barcelona) who is quizzed at home by an assistant DA  in front of an expectant wife about his odd handling of an arrest at a local bar, where he cleaned up the suspect himself.  We learn afterward that he hides his own Protease inhibitors in a box, and that Texas punishes transmitting HIV.  And the film implies he got it heterosexually. The film title recalls Richard Kelly. 

The Ring Cycle” (14 min), by Erin Cramer, presents a woman, walking the streets of London near the river on a cold January day, trying to figure out what to do with her wedding ring when her marriage breaks up.

The Silly Bastard Next to the Bed” (9 min), by Scott Calonico, gives a retired USAF officer and college professor from the summer of 1963 in the Kennedy administration a chance to learn about his accidental role in a political scandal.  The film shows a map of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Ike Interviews God” (9 min), by Eli Shapiro, has an ordinary guy (Ryann Wesley Gilreath) tasked to negotiate with God to stop the end of the world.  This is a comedy.

Decorations” (7 min), by Mari Miyazawa. Life in busy Tokyo is told through characters on pastry cakes in a kitchen.
   
For “Deported” see my TV blog today,

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth", 2009 documentary, as updated, airs on some PBS channels


Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth” is an hour-long 2009 documentary by Anne Galisky, and was aired on Howard University Television PBS Wednesday night in Washington DC. The film has an epilogue that traces the history of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) in Congress in 2010, when the House passed it but the Senate blocked it with filibuster. (The Act would consider military service and college as enabling one to stay, supporting the idea that for some people there is a sort of "back door draft".) The film was sponsored in part with a grant by Cathy and Kenneth Shine.
  
The film discusses the issue of education for undocumented minors, which the Supreme Court has mandated, and points out that several southern states have blocked access to state universities for documented students.
  
The film says at one point that sometimes kids do need actual sponsors to stay in the US.  I don’t know how this works, but it could become a moral expectation of people capable of providing that kind of support.  But the Congress and administration don’t want to create a situation where a “moral burden” on individuals encourages more minors to come illegally, as with the case of the recent flood of immigrant children from Central America. 

The documentary presents one episode where a mother asks her teen son if he is gay, and then asks the son to get out of the car when he says he is; then the mother changes heart and says she loves him. 
   
The film traces the history of several high school and college students.  At one point near the end, at a demonstration, there is a bizarre sight of a Caucasian-looking teen with a hairless chest and the words “Do I look illegal?” painted on it. 
  
  
The official site is here  and there is also a book.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

"The Remaining Resources" offers a more graphic version of the "Rapture" than "Leftovers" (or even Duchovny's 1991 film on the topic)

  

The Remaining”, by Casey La Scala, is a new film from Sony Affirm, that makes a rather lightweight argument for faith in the midst of horrific events surrounding the rapture.  This is mostly horror, almost of the “Legion” variety (with a bit of “Skyline”).  The movie was shot in Wilmington, NC, with a climactic scene near a drawbridge over a sound near US-17, over which I drove once in 1993.  The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNC) film school helped produce the film, so some of the credits are probably for students. OK, I could say this is the first “Christian horror” film that I have seen.

The film begins with a glitzy wedding scene, that might have fit into ABC’s “Revenge”.  It also reminded me of the first half of “Melancholia” (the latter being a much better film, Nov. 21, 2011).  In all the merriment, that is supposed to lead to wedding night consummation (in a Christian world where people avoid any sexuality before marriage), some people get on an elevator in the atrium of the hotel hosting the event.  (I guess there’s such a place in Wilmington, right on the shore, in the path of hurricanes.)  Suddenly, both members of an older couple (parents) drop dead, then do some other people.  In the atrium, maybe a third of the people have dropped.  In all the panic, it takes a while to figure out that this is “The Rapture”. In fact, that was the title of a famous 1991 film by Michael Tolkin with David Duchovny and Mimi Rogers, where things happen more gradually (but wind up with a prison let-out). 
  
Indeed, the heavens descend.  There are tornadoes, earthquakes, and hail, and then the demons at night sweep down like aliens and snatch unbelievers and dispatch them.  These fallen angels are a lot more sinister than “Friday’s Aliens”.  Most of the good kids (Johnny Picar, Shaun Sipos, Bryan Delchart and Alexa Pena Vega) flee to a church, which gets attacked.  There is a pastor who decides he had to become a real pastor and show real faith, which he realizes he never had.  One of the kids has been running around videotaping everything, Cloverfield-style, so the movie has the edge of hand-held, dogme filmmaking (no doubt taught at UNC). 
  
The movie differs from the HBO series “The Leftovers” (TV blog, July 1, 2014) in that the bodies of the “raptured” to remain on earth as corpses, and the movie also differs in that it presents the immediate aftermath of the global catastrophe. (To be honest, the HBO show never explicitly explains that the disappeared people were "raptured" although it makes a lot of the "Guilty Remnant".) Amazingly, the power and Internet function well enough for the government to broadcast emergency messages (like in “Goodbye World”, here Aug. 21), and chase everyone to that military triage center where, at the very end, everybody is fodder for the “devil tornadoes”.  There is a good theological question as to whether those that “remain” (that means, “got detention” in middle school) can be saved if they demonstrate faith during the coming Tribulations.
  
When I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, I heard a lot about “The Rapture”, even from Rev, Don Eastman one Sunday night at MCC in early 1983.  On the radio (often on when I “drove friendly” all over the state) pastors would carry on the “pre-Tribulation” vs. “post-Tribulation” rapture. 
  
  
The official site calls the film “The Remaining Resources”, here

I saw this film at the AMC Tysons in northern Virginia. 

Wikipedia attribution link of the shot of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is here.   That does bring to mind the 1991 film “Cape Fear”, by Martin Scorsese (Universal, actually shown at Tribeca) with Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte, where an released prisoner stalks the family of the lawyer who had defended him unsuccessfully.  There is a bit of rapture even in this concept.  I recall seeing that film at the Shirlington more than 20 years ago.  

Monday, September 08, 2014

Renee Phoenix and "Fit for Rivals" band makes nice little animated short film "Hit Me" about a bisexual cheerleader


While out at a baseball game tonight, I got an email advising me of a “short film” called “Hit Me” from a “punk-pop” band named “Fit for Rivals”.   The link for the 3 minute film, which combines rock, animation, live action, and black-and-white on color, is here. The story concerns a high-school cheerleader who comes out as bisexual, although she seems rather stereotypically “butch lesbian” in the video. 
   
The film mixes urban landscapes with trains, with robot-like creatures that remind me of the sci-fi animated film ”Walle” a few years back. The performer is Renee Phoenix. 
   
   

The interview of Renee above comes from “Beneath the Grid Music” and discusses the band.  The video seems to be made by Sputnik Music.  

Picture: from NYC Pride, 2014.