Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Force Majeure" examines the responsibilities of fatherhood and then plain manhood in a spectacular vacation setting


Force Majeure” (alternate title “Turist”), directed by Ruben Ostlund, is a most original dramedy. In Swedish, set at a ski resort in the French Alps, filmed in both France and Italy, with a spectacular, big screen look.  It is funny and suspenseful, and has an edgy atmosphere that you almost expect in mystery.  But the major is not simply family responsibility, for one’s wife and kids once one has chosen to have them, but male responsibility in a broader sense.

Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two kids seem like the idea family, very much together as they pose arm-in-arm for a photographer compressing them in the movie's opening shot, still sharing “the family bed” when in their chalet room.  The camera gives some hints as to his issues with masculinity and his wife’s acceptance; he is rather smooth. Twenty minutes into the film, the family is having lunch in an outdoor café at the foot of one of the slopes.  The film has given some foreshadowing with small blasts, apparently intended to create small avalanches to break up unstable snow.  Suddenly, an avalanche hits the café.  There is a brief whiteout, but no real damage, and soon the air clears, just leaving a mess for the restaurant.  In the confusion, Tomas seems to run away without picking up his kids.  Actually, I didn’t see it at first, but the married couple next to me at the theater said they did.  If you have kids, you notice things like that.

Soon Ebba is needling Tomas about his apparent cowardice.  The marriage is threatened, and the kids pick up on it, starting to pout, and the boy even blurts out when entering a gondola that he fears they will divorce.
  
Other stuff happens.  There are some scenes with a drone masking as a UFO (even indoors).  Ebba talks to another couple, who have an “open marriage”, and wonders how it can work.  They get together with another young couple for some improvised therapy.  A gay man, (and in fact “the cigarette smoking man” as from X-Files”) stares at the couple outside the door from the atrium, when Tomas is in his skivvies.
 
Eventually Tomas breaks down emotionally, and has a wailing and sobbing session with Ebba.  Then, his courage will be tested twice before the end of the film.  He has a chance at redemption.

The last scene, with the bus on a mountain road and a new incompetent driver, tests the idea of “women and children first”, for everyone, and that is a point.

Back in 1971, when I was going through my period of attempted heterosexual dating, there were expectations.  I paid the checks.  I was supposed to walk on the street side (after we went to see “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” – an odd choice for a “straight” date).  What if something had happened ans some emergency had occurred?  Could I have protected her?  What about when I was substitute teaching?  What if there had been a shooter or some serious physical threat?  Could I have defended or protected the kids? 
  
I grew up in a world where this was expected of young males before they married and had kids.  Essentially, it was expected of everyone.  Marriage is a result, not a cause, of chivalry, in this environ.

The official site is here (Magnolia).  The music score uses “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Seasons” effectively.  The credits didn’t mention Dolby, but the stereo location was good.  I saw this in a smaller auditorium at the AMC Shirlington, on a 35 MM print (but 2.35:1).  The film probably would benefit from digital prints and showing.  The film shows a lot of the details of skiing, like how rope tows work.  

Pictures are mine;  last is Mt. Washington, NH, 2011, others from a train set.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Point and Shoot": a young man becomes a conflict journalist and humanitarian soldier at the same time, in the world's most dangerous places


Point and Shoot”, directed by Marshall Curry, may be the penultimate autobiographical selfie movie, and it may be the nearly final challenge to selfishness. 

The subject is Matthew Vandyke, a tall, blondish and good looking man who sits in his brownstone in Baltimore, where he grew up, and tells his life story to the camera.  He graduated from Georgetown, and decided he needed to define his manhood, to face the world on his own.  That sounds strange because it still didn’t have a “regular job”. And he really doesn’t explain where he gets the money for his globetrotting.

He also explains his psychological issues, including OCD, which often makes him retrace his steps.  His discussion resembles that of Bud Clayman in the film "OC87" reviewed here Nov. 22, 2014. 
  
He buys some video gear and flies to Europe, then goes down to north Africa and buys a motorcycle and does a great tour. He eventually travels to Iraq and Afghanistan and makes some money as a contract conflict videographer for a news organization.  He makes great friends, adapting to the new culture, most of all when in Libya.  He returns to Baltimore and reunites with his girlfriend. In early 2011, he watches the Arab Spring and the rebellion in Libya.  He decided that out of loyalty to his friends, he is morally compelled to go and help fight for them. He flies out abruptly.  When he lands, he drives from Cairo to Benghazi, getting across the border, and then to Bayda. 
  
Only about eight minutes of the film, skillfully animated, show his nearly six months in Gaddafi’s prison. He benefits from an abetted escape and feels a bit like a celebrity for the rest of the war.
   
The men accept him as Christian (apparently Roman Catholic) and never try to convert him to Islam. 
   
There comes a point where he is asked to shoot an enemy whom he can actually see as a human being. He later learns that he missed, but the event makes him reconsider his values as a conscience soldier, which is not the same thing as mercenary. 
  
In the QA (at Landmark E Street in Washington November 29, sold out), Vandyke explains his plans to do humanitarian work in Iraq and (I think) Syria.  He mentioned ISIS, but did not seem concerned about the now obvious risk.
  
I spoke to him after the QA, and he feels very strongly that there is moral obligation sometimes to step up to defend other people.  In the QA he actually said, “I believe in revolution.”  So does Katniss in "Hunger Games" (Nov. 27).  I did say to him that his loyalty to come to his friends paralleled the shaming by ISIS of Muslims in western countries for staying homes when their "brothers" are being attacked, and he did not disagree.  
   
But I think Vandyke's view needs to be seen as a personal moral position, not a political one based on any religion or ideology (or belonging to a predefined "group").  In any civilization, there are things all competent adults should be able to step up to, when the need is great enough. People should be able to give CPR, to swim and water rescue, perhaps.  I don't carry rifles to defend other people, but I'm 71.  But there are other things, like sometimes being able to care or other people's children.  Is this the right spin?   All this brings back my own experience with the Vietnam era male-only draft, and student deferments. 
                  
So, is he a journalist, a soldier, or an aid worker?  He is all three.  Normally, journalism is seen as being in conflict of the other two, because journalism purports to be “objective”.  But Vandyke (who renamed himself “Matt Hunter” after his movie heroes) has really bridged all of these. 
  
At the QA, another person made a pitch for the James W. Foley Legacy Fund, link here.   Foley was a journalist murdered by ISIS earlier this year while in captivity.

 

The official site is here. (The Orchard, and PBS POV). 
   
The end credits are followed by a brief epilogue, where Vandyke plays "Easy Rider" in the desert, breezing past camels. 

There;s an interesting historical sidelight. The weekend Osama bin Laden was killed (May 2, 2011, on a Sunday night), there was a lot of NATO bombing over Libya that may have been a diversion, making people believe Gadaffu would fall immediately.  Vandyke did briefly mention the Benghazi attack in the QA. 
  
A good comparison of this film could be made with “Rosewater” (Nov. 16). 

First picture: near Baltimore Inner Harbor, Feb. 2014, my visit.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Spanish Lake" examines white flight from a St. Louis suburb, very timely film given the Ferguson Unrest


Spanish Lake”, a new documentary by Phillip Andrew Morton, concerns a suburb of St. Louis, undermined by white flight, somewhat northeast of Ferguson, site of the death of Michael Brown when shot by Darren Wilson in an incident whose details are still not adequately explained in any manner that adds up, at least in my reckoming. It seems most timely that it became available on Amazon Instant Play, iTunes, and other online formats today.
  
It also came out on a day when this morning my regular broadband Internet had been very slow because of technical problems and had gradually improved during the day.  At first, I had to struggle to get it to play (buying it instead of renting helped – it as only $1 more in SD).  It’s lucky that it’s only 78 minutes.

The film starts out with reminiscence by “The Lakers”, former residents, one of whom had the zipcode (63138) outside his wrist.  As a bedroom community after WWII, it would gradually be undermined by redlining, poor zoning, opportunistic real estate practices, and developments in nearby communities.

The director grew up in the community, and at the end of the film, he shows his return and visit to the current resident in the home on Maple where he grew up.  He is shocked at the deterioration of the area since he left for college and then a career in Los Angeles.

During the early development of the area in the 50s, sales people advertised asbestos walls in the homes, which would make them even more undesirable now given the health risks.  They were also said they were in the foothills of the Ozarks.  Well, that’s only if you count the “Illinois Ozarks”.  The real “mountains” are a hundred miles away.  The middle class was heavily unionized and could afford the suburban lifestyle in those days.

The film covers the earlier attempts to address desegregation and housing the poor, including projects like “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” (March 16, 2012).  Zoning policies, though, tended to encourage resegregation, as with the activities of a town called “Black Jack” west of Spanish Lake.  (The filmmaker makes a humorous reference to Clive Barker’s horror film “Candyman”, set in Chicago’s Cabrini Green, resembling Pruitt-Igoe, whose demolition is shown here. )   As Spanish Lake and other communities saw more African-American residents, unscrupulous realtors would swarm and encourage whites to sell.

The film also goes into the Section 8 program, which gets blamed for many “problems”.  The highrise projects like Pruitt would be replaced by garden apartments like Countryside, some of which would start attracting crime when they did not carefully screen new residents because of government policies.

The film also mentions the family breakdowns, with single mothers who work multiple minimum wage jobs and expect older children to raise their siblings (“babies raising babies”).  The film pertains to family values on another level, that people think that racism is a way to "take care of their own first" and that business will sometimes exploit that. 
   
Here is the director’s Kickstarter trailer.


The film does name it supporters in the end credits. 
  
The official Facebook site is here (Amberdale).  There is a new DVD available. 

I wanted to add that as a boy, I visited the more affluent suburb of Clayton sometimes, on summer trips, as my father had distant relatives and business connections there.  I remember a visit on a family trip right after graduating from high school in 1961.
 
The "Show Me State" (Harry Truman) is not living up to its name these days. 
     
First picture: from the Ferguson grand jury no-bill protest, Washington DC. Nov. 25.  Second is confluence of Mississippi and Missouri rivers, p.d., Wikipedia link

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Part 1": the trilogy divides and conquers Panem; a wonderful bird and cat


Thanksgiving Day, I journeyed (lightly) to the new ArcLight cinemas right near the intersection of I-495 and I-270, near Bethesda, MD  Getting there and parking and getting the ticket was easy on a holiday, with moderate crowds.  The theater has a café (a bit like Angelika) but with sit-down service.  I tried the salad, delicious, but the service was slow; the server didn’t seem to realize I had to get to the auditorium and it took 20 minutes to get the food on a not-so-crowded day,

The movie was “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1”.  It’s based on the third in the franchise by Suzanne Collins.  The financial success of her trilogy may have more to teach fiction authors than even the “Harry Potter” series.  At least “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” (and “The Hobbit”) provide us with alternate universe worlds, conveying some notion of what future generations could find if they do make alien contact.  “Hunger Games” provides us with a totalitarian future after society as we know it has failed.  I think it’s more interesting to write about the “failure” process itself, and whether it can be reversed.  That’s what interests me in my own writing. But it seems easier to sell books with character-driven adventures in worlds totally separated from ours.  Collins does provide us with a convincing female heroine role model Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the idea that even in an adverse culture one can find a way to shine.  That may be a message that a lot of young people like. But it gets involved into mandatory fitting in with the group, joining rebellions, and remaining loyalty to revolutionary leadership.
  
The third film was probably shot before Vladimir Putin’s latest misadventures (Part 2 will be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last film, and so it had to be done before 2014 started).  Yet, the course of the film did remind me of both the violence in Ukraine, as well as Syria and Iraq (the latter with a scene where prisoners are hooded in black before being shot).  It’s not too much of a stretch to compare President Snow (Donald Sutherland) with Putin, although Snow is not buff and not exactly a family patriarch.
  
Of course, many have written that Panem should be compared to the Roman Empire, as if civilization reverted back to an old political format after its tribulations.  Collins herself says that the trilogy was first inspired by Greek mythology, where Theseus agrees to join the victims (rebels). 

The film opens with Katniss alone in a mysterious isolation room (my DADT screenplay will start out like this) before we learn she is in some kind of prison hospital where she meets up with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Outside, District 12 has been destroyed (and the destruction is always around in the outdoor scenes, restricting the visual variety of the film).  Katniss adjusts to life underground in District 13, where she meets up with her sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who has managed to save her cantankerous cat, who become a supporting character in the movie.  This cat is huge and articulate (maybe a bobcat).  Sam Claffin  and Liam Hemsworth (who looks like Chris Pine) round out the young male companions, and Woody Harrelson is appropriately decrepit.
  
The rebels manage to blow up a dam at the movie midpoint, in a spectacular scene.  The lights go out in the Capitol.  Toward the end, we learn that Part 2 will apparently show the overthrow of Panem, a complete revolution.  Will it turn communist?

The mockingjay is a hybrid bird (pretty obvious) that becomes the trademark for these last two films.
   
The film was shown in the ArcLight’s widest auditorium (designed so that widescreen is the best aspect, not cropped). ArcLight advertises a process similar to RPX and Extended Digital, something not quite Imax but almost. 


The official site is here.  This franchise constitute's Lionsgate's main adventure in "big studio filmmaking", although it owns Summit, which handles the Twilight movies.  Lionsgate normally releases quasi-independent films largely produced overseas or especially by Canadian and Australian producers.  I'm hoping it will look at Clive Barker's "Imajica" but that would definitely be a big budget project (probably two films).  

I have to say that I’m not keen on franchises dividing their individual movies into Parts, but Harry Potter has already done it.  Yet this film is not quite at the level of “Darkly Hallows”.
  
Lionagate forgoes its orchestral trademark and lets the brooding music from the movie start immediately.  I think this is a mistake.  Show all the trademarks first with all their music, and then start the movie. 

Update: Dec, 11

Lionsgate has paired with CNN to release "Dinosaur 13".  There is a full review on my TV Blog Dec. 11, 2014.

Update:  Feb. 18, 2014

Bluehost tweeted a UK Telegraph article showing a video of all the deleted scenes, which give more character backstories, here

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Photographic Memory": a filmmaker connects with his own teenage son by revisiting his own past in France


Photographic Memory” is a touching film by director Ross Mclwee about how he repairs his relationship with his rebellious teenage son Adrian (apparently in North Carolina, near the Wilmington studios) by going back to France alone to retrace an important formative period in his own young manhood when he went through the same process. But the greater availability of social media and technology has allowed Adrian to bypass learning why some things in life have to be earned.
  
Much of the film intersects three layers: past shots of Ross’ raising Adrian as a young boy along with Adrian’s more recent interest in extreme winter sports (does that happen in Quebec?); past shots of the older technology he used in France and earlier in his own career as a filmmaker, and present progress of his trip to Brittany, where he interviews people locating the rogue man Maurice who had hired him three decades before as a wedding photographer. He says he was eventually fired for some reason never explained.

Adrian finally gets his act together and, at age 21, is ready to make his first film about “free fish”.  He still probably will ski or snowsled backwards and videotape selfies. 


The official site is here  (First Run Features). I watched it on Netflix Instant Play.  
    
I did wonder if the film as going to be about true "photographic memory" (a coworker in the 1980s had one) or "eidetic memory".  In a sense it is about the latter.  

I almost got to Brittany in May 1999, when I visited Bayeux. 

Bill 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Street Thief": very layered mockmentary about the life of a Chicago burglar

  
In the 2006 mockumentary doc “Street Thief”, filmmaker Malik Bader follows one of Chicago’s most notorious serial burglars in the early 2000’s, Kaspar Karr. The burglar explains the logic behind striking cash-rich businesses, like ethnic groceries, movie theaters, and particularly bars and nightclubs. 
   
In one scene, the climbs over a burglar bar grating to get to a security system wire above it, to turn it off.  He cases businesses for months before striking them when no one is there.
  
He says he has no regrets.  He is what he is, a burglar.  “I’m two steps ahead of you.”  In another incarnation, he could change to something else.
  
The film also interviews another burglar, Larry Evans in Statesville. 
  
Toward the end, the film goes into the issue of reporter privilege, and whether the filmmaker has to reveal his sources to state police.  Illinois has a pretty strong law protecting journalists.
  
Then Karr disappears, and enough blood to indicate his violent death is found in his car.  Some people give a particular interpretation to this ending. 
   


The official site on Myspace is here. The film (AE and Sundance Selects) is on Netflix instant play. 
  

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Foxcatcher": a sports tragedy unfolds as a mystery of the Hitchcock kind, with some good old 80's storytelling


The film “Foxcatcher”, directed by Bennett Miller, and written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, is a slow-paced but absorbing character drama, centering around wrestling and the team in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea, and the tragedy that follows.  Stylistically, the film combines elements of late 1980s storytelling (which I like, and so do a lot other moviegoers) with the close-up intensity and mystery of Alfred Hitchcock (who probably would have directed this if he were still alive), with a touch of eccentricity of the Christopher Nolan and David Lynch brand.  The film, though long (134 minutes), is rather simply filmed (almost in dogme), with the usual 1.85:1 aspect so that the face and body closeups dominate.

It is based in large part on the booklet “Wrestling with Madness: John E. Du Pont and the Foxcatcher Farm Murder”, website (inexpensive purchase) here

As the film opens, we are presented with the Schultz brothers, Mark (Channing Tatum) and David (Mark Ruffalo), who look and act like Jacob and Esau from Genesis.  David has raised Mark after a family tragedy, and as both men aim at wrestling careers, Mark has trouble getting out from under the charisma of his older brother.  One day, however, in early 1987, Mark gets a bizarre phone call in his apartment (in New York State).  His new benefactor is to be John Du Pont (Steve Carell), who wants to use his family fortune to do the patriotic thing and sponsor a winning wrestling team in the 1988 Olympics, to help end Ronald Reagan’s years in glory. He’s also interested birds and in stamp collection, and general philanthropy.

You can tell that Du Pont is a little creepy.  His mouth is always agape, and he stares as he talks to Mark.  Remember Carell’s roles before.  He has hosted SNL, and he starred as the “man-o-lantern” in “The 40 Year Old Virgini”, where his chest is strip-waxed on camera.  This role seems to fit all the others.

Then, remember that pretty boy Channing Tatum starred in “Magic Mike” (July 1, 2012), where a female character asked his avatar, “Why do you shave your legs for work?”  All of this sets up the innuendo.  Du Pont is constantly intrusive and meddlesome as the wrestling team works on his “Foxcatcher” farm. When the ride a chopper together to a dinner in New York, John takes out the cocaine, and introduces Mark to it, and Mark is quite unwilling.  And never do we hear Nancy Reagan on background TV say “Just say no to drugs.”  It’s also apparent, two-thirds into the movie, that John (who married once with an annulment in 90 days) has a gay crush on Mark.  The homoerotic tension boils, in and off the wrestling mats.  It’s hard to imagine wrestling in the straight world without the protection of homophobia.

The sequence at the end of the movie, recreating John’s murder of David in 1996, is a bit muddy. History says that John had become a paranoid schizophrenic.  The film would leave the impression that David somehow kept him from a bigger relationship with Mark. By the way, the AIDS epidemic is never mentioned, although research in the 1980s could have used John’s money.
  
It’s also not so clear why David joins Foxcatcher in the middle of the movie, since Mark has said that David cannot be bought with money. But David becomes a dedicated trainer again, even helping Mark make weight in vomiting sessions. 

Vanessa Redgrave is terrific as John’s moralistic mom, who even says that “wrestling is low”.
     
The film is a lot more subtle than comparable films about boxing (“Raging Bull”, “Cinderella Man”, and even the “Rocky” series).

The film has an effective piano score by Robert Simonsen.  Stylistically, the music fits in with other contemporary piano music from young NYC composers like Ted Hearne and Timo Andres.  


The official site is here   Annapurna pictures (Zero Dark Thirty) produced the film, and Sony chose to use its Sony Pictures Classics brand rather than Columbia Pictures, and this movie fits Columbia’s own brand culture to a T, complete with liberty statue. 
  
The film was shot largely around Pittsburgh, although it the story takes place in the Brandywine valley in SE Pennsylvania.   

It;s worthy of note that in the 1988 Olympics, diver Greg Louganis  ("Breaking the Surface") became the subject of controversy.  

I saw this film late Monday at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA with a moderate crowd for a weekday. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"The Unbelievers": Equal time for doubters, especially at communion


The brief 2013 documentary feature (at 76 min) “The Unbelievers”, directed by Gus Holwerda, offers scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, traveling our planet and establishing the case for science and reason, and for a willingness to not take religious doctrine too seriously.  Yes, it’s better for the world if most of us are apostate.
   
The film takes the position that religion, at least fundamentalism, wants to close off all discussion. 
    
I can recall taking communion at MCC Dallas back in the early 1980s, and one of the communion prayers was “I am a believer, not a doubter.”  The individualized communions tended to get personal.  I’m been on the receiving end of quite a bit of proselytizing.  The Mormon church probably does a good thing in getting young men to do service, but then this service amounts mostly to recruiting people into the faith.
  
And we’ve heard a lot recently about the rhetoric from ISIS and radical Islam, that “unbelievers” or “apostates” are enemies.
   
In earlier times of civilization, religion was “all people had” as a source of wisdom.  Now, we find that the human brain is able to come up with the mathematics that explains the universe.  No other creature can do that (maybe the orca could if it lived on land and could see and contemplate the heavens). 
   
Yet, life is uncertain and hard for “most” people, and religion confers a sense of purpose, and a sense of finality and meaning that transcends ordinary justice.  No wonder some people will fight for it.
   
The film has some embedded remarks in black and white cameos, especially Woody Allen, at the beginning and in an extensive epilogue (in a relatively short feature).  Much of the film seems to be shot in Australia. Stephen Hawking speaks at least once through his computer.  
  
   

The official site is here. The film is available on Netflix instant play. Gravitas Ventures offers the film on YouTube for $3.99 rental.  

Picture: The Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, last night (personal photo). 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger's Movie": self-revelation and reflection


OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie”, by Bud Clayman (with Glenn Holsten and Scott Johnston, 2010) is a reflexive autobiography of a middle aged man with all the mental illnesses listed in the title.  The story is supposed to be about how this derailed his becoming a filmmaker, but then he makes this film!
  
He talks about his OC as in fact “harm OCD”.  There is an unsettling scene where he sits with his therapist and holds a knife near the therapist’s wrist, to prove a point about self-control.  I thought, well, he could just shave the wrist.

A typical symptom of “harm OCD” is having to retrace steps to make sure you didn’t harm someone.  You drive and hit a pothole, and believe you have to revisit the scene and make sure you didn’t run over someone.

There’s a prolonged sequence where he rides a bus in Philadelphia, and talks about looking away, outside, to avoid eye contact, and particularly staring at people.  I can remember a relevant incident like this myself in 1987 while on jury duty in Dallas.

There was a comment (maybe by the father) early in life that his disorder was “laziness”, not real mental illness.  He needed work.  He also had hoarding issues.  His symptoms were severe enough sometimes to require residential treatment. 

There is the idea of “purpose and service” to offset the idea of performing compulsions.  As the film progresses, he establishes links betweem OCD and Asperger’s. 


He looks a bit ungamely and potty as a middle aged adult, and at times seems unaware of it.  The appearance seems like that of neglect. But his dad, Morton Clayman, pesters him about “when are you going to meet someone and have children?”

In time, Bradford (his real name) starts to see "OC87" as a fantasy that keeps him from actually experiencing life rather than just watching it.  I know from experience that my own life seems very "real" to "me" but, at at a certain intellectual level, I appreciate that it is not pertinent to others, who take in intimate commitments (marriage and having children) that just aren't part of my own "reality".  Little details, about the workplace or personal matters, become "a world" or "universe" of their own. One reason that this develops is inability, when young, to do what society expects, especially according to gender.  Hence the "laziness" idea. It comes to be viewed through a moral lens.
 
Bradford makes reference to a clip from "The Anti-Matter Man" from the TV series "Lost in Space" as analogy to his own mind process.   His own film project becomes "Good Buddy, Bad Buddy". He also takes up boxing at one point.

This film does get me to reflect on how to make a movie about one's own life and make it interesting without becoming too self-indulgent.  I've always felt that I needed more "externalities" in my own writings and concepts than this presenter does.  I gave it 3 out of 5 stars on Netflix (liked it "moderately").
    
The official site is here (FilmRise).  I watched the film on Netflix;  it is free on Amazon Prime.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Food Chains" examines abuse of migrant fruit pickers and other similar workers, in our produce industry


Food Chains” is another documentary, this one by Sanjay Rawal, playing the social justice and personal (as well as corporate) karma cards. 
  
The film documents the plight of migrant workers, mostly in south Florida (especially around Immokalee (in the swamp, east of Fort Myers) and also in the Napa Valley, CA (site of the film “The Dark Place” coming in December).  It also reminds me of a Morgan Spurlock “Inside Man” episode (TV blog., July 28. 2013), where even Morgan had a hard time holding down a job picking oranges (nearer to Orlando). Here, the fruit is tomatoes. 
  
Men aren’t paid until the dew burns off and they actually deliver the vegetables.  Typically, they can make only about $45 a day and live in trailer parks because they can’t afford more.  Many are undocumented; they don’t complain because of fear of deportation; it would be interesting (as a post script to the film) to examine the effect of President Obama’s executive order announced last night.
  
The film takes the viewpoint that big corporations, especially the supermarket companies, control the market and distance themselves from the labor conditions in the fields.  The most important corporations discussed in the film are Walmart and Publix. Companies are gradually pressured to join the Fair Food Program (link).  Less than .1% of the Publix budget, and only cost the average consumer about 50 cents a year.  I’m skeptical that this math really works.

During the time span of the film, the workers stage a hunger strike in south Florida.
  
The documentary notes a 1960 black and white documentary “Harvest of Shame”. 
  
The film has a brief exploration of worker abuse overseas by tech and garment companies, and shows the results of a fire in Bangladesh.

I recall that back in the fall of 1972, the Peoples Party of New Jersey (associated with Dr. Benjamin Spock at the time) organized a “lettuce boycott” that didn’t accomplish a lot.

  
The main site is here (Tribeca Film).

I saw this film at the West End Cinema today in Washington.  Representatives of Fair Food were in the theater.  The even show was sold out, and the late afternoon was half full.   

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Sounding the Alarm: Battling the Autism Epidemic" documents the increase in reported cases, medical research into causes


The one hour documentary “Sounding the Alarm: Battling the Autism Epidemic”, directed by John Block, presents several families and is often difficult to watch.  There is one kid with both Down Syndrome and autism.  Another has OCD, and though quite developed physically, is actually hard to control.

Much of the early material comes from Bob Wright, of Autism Speaks (link ).  There is a typical history of a little boy, Christian, who loses his communications skills suddenly over a 4-month period between ages 1 and 2.
  
A family in South Carolina moves to Indiana, where grants for treatment, which costs about $2400 a month, are more available.
  
The percentage of children (boys outnumbering girls 4 to 1) has diagnosed with autism has risen sharply since the 1970s, and the obvious question is whether this is the result of better reporting, or whether it is really increasing.
  
The causes seemed to quite varied, and genetics may play only a minor role (which we already saw in earlier films about ALS).  One factor could be that parents have children when the parents are biologically older.  Researchers at the Martinos Imaging Center at MIT point to inflammation of cells in the brain, and the possibility of fetal antibodies from the mother, which might be possible to treat.
  
The film covers the issue of “aging out”, and how autistic teens will be placed as adults.  Some live in group homes. According to the film, about 60% become employed.  The film presents a carwash owner in Florida employing autistic young men as attendants.  Some seem to likely the regularity and repetitive jobs.

The film has a brief excerpt from "Rain Man" (1988), with Dustin Hoffman.  

The film doesn’t cover Asperger syndrome and the controversy about placing it within the autism spectrum.  Some people have said that I am in that spectrum.  I worked for 30-plus years as an individual contributor in information technology and was quite stable economically, compared to many people.  But I tend to shun many relationships and personal manipulations that others want.  As a blogger and columnist now, I produce a lot of content which has the potential to influence or affect people when I don’t have a real personal stake in others now.

I’m quite struck by the potential personal aspect of disability.  When I worked as a substitute teacher in the mid 2000’s, I twice was unexpectedly put into situations with people with a wide range of severe disabilities, some of the autism but mixed with other problems, probably wrongfully, in special education.

Autism could strike any family.  What if I had indeed married and had children?  I might have had a slightly greater risk than average of having an autistic son. 

One good question would be whether music therapy could help with autism, as it has for elderly people with dementia. 


I couldn’t find an official site (Virgil Films) but here is a review from the Autism Women’s Network, link with valuable comments.

The film could be compared to CNN's "Autism Is a World" (2004), which traces the experiences of a female actually in college.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"The Better Angels", in black and white, makes the simple frontier life of Abe Lincoln's boyhood absolutely surreal


The Better Angels”, directed by A. J. Edwards (under the supervision of co-producer Terrence Malick) dramatizes the boyhood of Abraham Lincoln (Braydon Denney) in the primitive frontier conditions in southern Indiana around 1817.  Dad, Thomas Lincoln (Jason Clarke) has no option but to be a taskmaster in this environment, and the mother Nancy (Brit Marling) dies of undulant fever. Some well-acted minor incidents show how Abe learned the trait of honesty, to the point that near the end of the film his dad says he will do great things.  And he did.
  
The custom of the time was that the father was entitled to the son’s earnings until age 21.  Abe gradually took over as he grew older, and became a champion wrestler.
  
The film opens with a shot of the US Capitol, and it takes a moment before we realize that the film will be in black and white, with cinemascope.  The effect is almost that of the Twilight Zone, almost like we were color blind living in another culture on another planet. The details of daily life, like how women made clothes on looms, is interesting.
  
The film is largely told in narration by young Abe, with minimal dialogue.  The classical music in the background is captivating.  It includes excerpts from the slow movements of Bruckner’s 7th and 8th symphonies (see Drama-Music blog Oct. 26), excerpts from both Kalinnikov symphonies.  Let me digress a moment and recommend listening to the Kalinnikov Symphony #1 as played by the Ukraine Symphony, appropriate given conflict in that part of the world, here. There is also some music from the Dvorak New World Symphony and some Vaughn Williams.  It struck me that almost all the late romantic and modern music in the background had been composed after the time period of this movie, even after Lincoln’s death (and a final scene of the film shows the aftermath back in his boyhood era in 1865).  Lincoln and his family members could never have known this music.   

  
The official site  has a lot of effective black and white rural video to watch. The distributors are Amplify and Variance.

I saw the film at Landmark E Street in Washington, before a fair weekday audience. 

Picture: I think that's near Vincennes Indiana, in the 1940s, photo in my mother's estate.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"So Much So Fast": architect Stephen Heywood battles ALS


The documentary “So Much So Fast”, directed by Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, from Sundance in 2006, presents an account of a young man with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a form of “motor neuron disease”), and it will be of interest since there is a current popular film about Stephen Hawking playing (Nov. 14 here).  The film is based in part on material in the Pulitzer-Prize winning book “His Brother’s Keeper: A Story from the Edge of Medicine", by Jonathan Weiner.
  
This time the person is Stephen Heywood, who was diagnosed at age 29 in 1999.  He was an architect who remodeled old houses in Massachusetts.  I don’t recall if I ever saw him on “This Old House” on PBS,, but that would be likely.
  
His older brother Jamie would become a major crusader for research, and for getting pharmaceutical companies to develop medications for which there would not be a large market in patient numbers (the orphan disease problem).
  
Stephen would marry and actually father two children.  He would slowly progress, to needing a feeding tube and then a respirator.  He would use a computer to talk and the voice (from Microsoft) sounds like Stephen Hawking’s, except that Heywood’s messages would be longer and more personal. 
  
The film opens and closes with scenes of Stephen in the water or on the beach.  The film was completed before Stephen died at age 37 when his respirator became detached, according to Wikipedia.

  
The official site is here from Balcony Releasing and Cinedigm.  The film occasionally offers impressive shots of Boston, especially in February blizzards.
    
The best site for the ALS Association with basic facts is here. ALS can develop very gradually.  It is usually diagnosed in middle age or even after age 60, but it occasionally occurs much earlier.  It is not always genetic, and may be related to toxins, pollutions, autoimmune disease or viral infection.  There are other related motor neuron diseases which may be milder.  I think it is possible to have very low level symptoms for many years and not have them become disruptive until later years.  Once diagnosed, life expectancy is poor, but may be increased with a respirator and feeding tube, which can allow the person to remain mentally active and work with a computer.  The mind is not usually affected. 
  
The ALS Association was associated with the Ice Bucket Challenge, which became involved in a bizarre trademark legal fight.  Some people saw the ICB (with its chain-letter of “nominations”) as coercive and in poor taste.  Belgian actor-singer-producer Timo Descamps offered a creative response to the ICB in this short video on the CA coast, link
  
In both this movie and in two movies about Stephen Hawking, I’m impressed about the readiness of someone else to have an intimate marital relationship with someone with a major disability (and that can cover a lot of ground, including war injuries for veterans).  If one is not willing to consider this, it can be much harder to be helpful to others, without being in a “pay your dues” mode.
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Stephen’s Profile illustration. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Kaboom": a potpourri of sci-fi ideas, and a catastrophic conclusion that you aren't expected to believe


The indie gay sci-fi film “Kaboom” (Gregg Araki, 2010) experimented with lucid dreaming and reality layers about the same time that Christopher Nolan was finishing “Inception”.  The film might also be compared to “Judas Kiss”, but this film is much faster-paced and has a more fun with itself.  Don’t take this romp too seriously.
  
At a college around LA, Smith (Thomas Dekker) explores his sexuality, wanting his surfer straight roommate Thor (Chris Zylka). There are plenty of women around, and people in masks.  One problem is that Smith keeps having some bizarre dreams, about a corridor leading to a dumpster, and people in the dreams keep popping up in “real life”.  Some of them (beach beefcake) he wants.  Is he schizophrenic?  No, there seems to be some kind of plot set up by a cult, a New World Order, run by a hunky “Messiah” (James Duval), which has wired up all the major cities of the world with nukes.  This sounds like something that ISIS would want to do now.  Gradually, Smith tracks down his single mom (Kelly Lynch), who has raised him to be a pretty nice person.  He learns that his missing dad (Michael James Spall) maybe the lynchpin of the whole group.

Smith says early that he wants to become a filmmaker, even though people say the movie business as we know it may die out.  Well it will certainly die in the plot of this film!
    
One problem with the film is that, apart from Smith himself, the other characters really don’t present themselves as particularly intriguing (whereas in the slower sci-fi “Judas Kiss” (June 4, 2011), all four male leads make themselves fascinating).  This may be a matter of the film’s intent (comedy), the writing, or the acting.  Yet, the film was well liked at Cannes and Sundance.
  
A couple of other pointers.  There are some disco scenes (as was the case with Judas), but I’ve never seen someone vomit on a disco floor before, in a film or in real life.  Well, and let’s skip to the end of the film. The nuclear weapons are a little more effective than intended, and the whole Earth blows up.  The same thing happens at the very end of my 1969 novel “The Proles” and I guess I’ve blogged that and given that little plot tip away before.  Somebody read it.
  
The official site is here (IFC and Wild Bunch).  The outdoor scenes were shot in LA, indoors in France. 

  

I watched it online on Netflix.  But apparently this had a presence in the lgtb and sci-fi festival sets.
   
The title of the film is sometimes spelled with a hyphen, "Ka-Boom".  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Rosewater": Jon Stewart's treatment of Bahari's book about his own experience as a journalist accused of spying in Iran


Rosewater”, written and directed by Jon Stewart, and based on the book “And Then They Came for Me”, takes us through the interrogation and imprisonment in Iran of Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal, as in “Bad Education”), which started eleven days after he arrived in Tehran from London to cover the June 2009 elections, in which Ahmadinejan defeated the possibly more progressive Mlousavi.
  
The film opens as police come to Bahari’s quarters, and accuse him of possessing pornography as they rummage through DVD’s of western movies and TV shows (like “The Sopranos’).  It then flashes back, and for forty minutes traces his days in Tehran, hiring a motorcycle driver and befriending young men in the local population.  He records a satirical skit about the election from a media comic, suggesting that the election was rigged, and provides it to the BBC, which is probably what leads Iranian authorities to accuse him of spying for the CIA.
 
More than half of the film presents him in prison, in solitary, blindfolded, sensing only the “rosewater” of his interrogator (Kim Bodnia) who keeps getting pressure from the higher-ups as Bahari is forced into public apologies and various confessions about cheating on his fiancé to get release, after getting international attention, including comments from Hillary Clinton. The prison scenes tend to limit the visual impact of the second half of the film. 

The rhetoric of the prison guards plays up the victimization of Iran and of Shiite Islam by the west, particularly the past support of the Shah, before the hostage crisis, and then personalizes the outrage by acting as if Maziar were somehow individually responsible for all of it.  The rhetoric makes a kind of bizarre sense as circular word salad, and nothing more.
   
The film seems to have impressive on location shots in Tehran.  I don’t know how they did it.
   
A Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian, has been held by Iran for over 100 days, story by Carol Morello, here.
  
  
The official Facebook site is here, for Open Road and Oddlot/ 

I saw the film late Sunday at the Angelica Mosaic in Merrifield, Va. Before a small audience. The theater provided free posters of the film.  
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Azadi Tower picture. 
   

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"The Overnighters": a pastor tries to help unemployed and homeless men coming to the North Dakota oil shale fields; he soon faces his own problems


The Overnighters”, a new documentary by Jesse Moss, purports to depict how two issues intersect:  homeless men out of work, and the oil shale boom in North Dakota, specifically at Williston.
  
Pastor Jay Reinke (in his mid 50s), of the Concordia Lutheran Church, takes upon as part of his personal family, the responsibility to house and help the inbound men.  At first, he puts them up in the fellowship hall at the church, to the growing chagrin of church members.  Soon he selectively allows one or two at a time to stay in his own home, where he has a wife and three tween-to-teen daughters. He certainly practices what he preaches, which amounts to "radical hospitality", taken as far as it can go.   
     
The working men believe they will find work easily, and there is a line that you can make “six figures” doing manual labor on the rigs even if you have a criminal record.  Some do find work, and need housing.  Others drift.  Reinke is soon counseling individual men, telling one, who asks why he is viewed as “trash” (almost like the Andy Warhol term) that men sometimes have to share the burden of the injustice that others experience first.  You can say that about inequality:  if one personally doesn’t take it seriously when others knock, one will help pay for the sins of others.  Many of the people certainly are in the mode of “I’ve got mine” (as Michael Moore would put it) and will look after their own families, and fellow church members and no one else.

The film gets more personal, rather quickly, as it moves into even more troubled shifting sands.  Reinke learns that a particular man in his home is a registered sex offender, although the particular offense seems to have been (heterosexual) statutory rape as a teenager, without the benefit of a “Romeo and Juliet” law.  Soon a local reporter is chasing down the idea that Reinke is housing sex offenders, playing the scoop for the sensationalism, with none of the critical thinking behind the idea that there are serious flaws in our whole system of labeling people that way.  Reinke is forced to come to terms with “herd mentality”, like it or not. He has a very interesting conversation with the "client" in a WalMart about the idea that "not sharing enough" can endanger others, when popular belief is that sharing too much (like in social media) is what drags in other people.  
  
At the same time, the city council is unsympathetic to even listening to Reinke’s pleas to help the homeless.  It maneuvers to shut him down on zoning rules.

At the end of the film, it all falls apart.  Reinke, narrating to the moviegoer, says he has same-sex attractions.  Like some other evangelicals, it seems, he has led a double life, with marriage and family, while carrying on homosexual contacts (which are pictured in the closing credits – adult men of varying looks -- at least that's how I originally by opinion interpreted their images being presented here, although that doesn't mean they were necessarily the same men as those needing shelter or that they were even intimate contacts at all) secretly.  At this point, it’s worthy to compare his story to that of Ted Haggard, as in Pelosi’s film reviewed here Jan. 29, 2009 (also, Book reviews blog Feb. 15, 2009).  Reinke, at 57, certainly is no eye candy himself, least of all in his shorts. Reinke says he was blackmailed, which is something that may happen in conservative religious circles but is becoming less common as social attitudes change.  
  
When the film goes outside, it’s visually magnificent.  You see the “limitless universe” of the western North Dakota high plains, with and without snow.  The land seems table flat, except for some buttes that rise up was you enter the state from I-94.  I have driven the area once, and visited the Theodore Roosevelt National Park myself once, in May 1998. 

The film seems to imply that the church itself dissolved, but in fact it is alive and well now and appears to have a new building, judging from the website, here

  
The best site for the film right now is Jesse Moss’s own, here.  I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC on Saturday afternoon before a nearly sold-out audience in a small auditorium.  (Hint: it’s a little too hot in that one auditorium; they need to turn the heat down.) This would be good film for a director QA.  I see that the Alamo Draft House cinema in Loudoun County, VA (30 miles away from DC) has some screenings in a large Imax-sized auditorium. The distributor seems to be DraftHouse films. The film ads say that 10% of the proceeds from the film go to help the homeless. 

Here are a couple more references on the pastor's issues, on Buzzfeed ny Kate Arthur here and a comment by Miller on Patheos here.  The comment notes that the director says that the pastor denies that any of the men who came for help were intimate contacts.  Gay City News has an interesting perspective on the film ("Boom and fear on the Great Plains" by Steve Erickson) here
           
Wikipedia attribution link for “Target Logistics Bear Paw Lodge” to house oil workers.  Second picture, Flint Hills, Kansas, 2006 (mine).   Note the comments here. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

"The Theory of Everything": New biography of Stephen Hawking depicts his marriage; there is some more cosmological theory


The Theory of Everything” was what Stephen Hawking, now 72, attempts to develop.  This “boutique studio” (Universal-Focus and Working Title) biography of the physicist aims to please larger mainstream audiences and sell more tickets than some other smaller films available online, one of which I reviewed Nov. 12, as narrated by Hawking himself.  The movie title is the same as a book by Hawking himself. 
     
The film, directed by James Marsh, tends to consolidate a lot of details, which are quite clear in Hawking’s own film for PBS.  But what it accomplishes is making us watch the painful (at first subtle) transformation of a young man (Eddie Redmayne), vigorous enough at 19 as he bikes, into physical dependency (because of ALS, for which "motor neuron disease" seems like a euphemism of a name).  He seems really quite likable as an older teen, a nice roommate, interested in chess and Wagner, trying to date women.  He gets a spot on the rowing team, but seems to be a coach rather than rower himself.  Until about age 19 he seems to be of average physical strength and endurance.  His very early symptoms resemble some of my problems, but I never progressed into frank disability, and the cause of my own issues is still a mystery.  But it could be related in some way (not yet discovered) genetically to more severe neurological disorders. 
     
There is a scene where his future wife Jane (Felicity Jones) grabs him and kisses him, early in his troubles.  That reminds me of a time when I watched a woman I had once dated, before I came out the second time, do that with someone.  It’s funny how movies can make decades-old events pop and play in your own mind. Jane was able to fall in love with him, and, despite the disability, Hawking would father three children in marriage.  The presence of people who took care of him would gradually destabilize the marriage.  The handsome music teacher Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox) is, besides being helpful around the house and on camping trips, quite effective as a choir director and with piano lessons, and has the best intentions, but gradually he and Jane fall in love.  And Stephen would fall in love with his nurse, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake).

The film actually does go more into the “theory of everything” than does Hawking’s own account for PBS.  Of great controversy is the existence of Hawking radiation from black holes.  This concept seems to contradict the concept of a black hole, but is predicted by the mathematics of quantum mechanics.  In fact, black holes can gradually lose their mass.  This is troubling if, as some cosmologists propose, the surfaces of black holes contain the information associated with souls between incarnations.  That information (a soul’s “akashic record” as Rosicrucians call it)  could disappear (an idea actually mentioned in a Monroe Institute video discussing the afterlife and “soul family” – a whole area that Hawking himself sees as unnecessary – although in more recent years Hawking may have questioned his own atheism.  (The film makes a lot of Jane’s Christianity through the Church of England – Anglican or Episcopal.)  More interesting – and an idea explored in my novel (Angel’s Brother) and at least one screenplay (based on DADT III in a sci-fi setting) is that a “micro black hole” might contain a soul’s record but be subject to loss or complete evaporation much sooner because of low mass.  This processing of micro black holes (and what ever "information" they might carry) could explain dark matter and dark energy.  In the movie,  Hawking mentions the idea that a star could explode as a supernova, leaving a black hole, and in theory the black hole, given enough time, could evaporate completely (like snow in the sun on a day when the temperature is still below freezing),, meaning everything came to nothing.  If such an idea were applied to the Big Bang itself, it could mean that the universe could disappear some day, it seems.  That means, even “God” could die (which is what happens at the end of Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica”!) Maybe, as intelligent, rather large but clumsy primates (loving our pets just capable of free will), we’re at a particular point on a spectrum of conscious entities, and gods, who can span more dimensions than we can, are above us.  The LDS Church believes something like that.
  
The closing credits offer a “universal show” of nebulae and galaxies, more varied shots of these objects than were actually shown in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (Nov. 8).  Most moviegoers who saw Nolan’s film would want to see this one soon after.
  
  
The official site is here. I saw the crowd before a substantial Friday afternoon crowd at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA, on the first cold day this fall.  The film has a limited opening last weekend (New York and LA), expanded into more cities this weekend,  and would presumably show everywhere in one more week. 



Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Lost for Life": a crime, once committed, is irreversible, even for a minor


Lost for Life”, by Joshua Rofe (76 minutes), now available on Netflix, interviews several adult men now in prison for life for murders they committed as teenagers.
  
The film concludes by reporting the Supreme Court decision in June 2012 that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for persons under 18 were “cruel and unusual punishment”, but that it would be permissible to impose them case-by-case.  The cases were Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, as reported in the National Center for Youth Law here
  
The film opened with the interview of Brian Lee Draper (wiki for Cassie Jo Stoddart case ) in Idaho.  He and a companion (Torey Michael Adamcik) seem to have been motivated by Columbine, and by a series of horror films called “Scream”.  Draper stammered and was already balding at age 21, as he appeared in prison.
  
The film would interview Jacob, who had killed his parents in Woodland Park, CO, and an African American serving life for a gang crime; he had converted to Islam in prison.
  
One prisoner said that the system makes anything he does in prison “immaterial”.  Society does not consider his life valuable or worthy of attention, given the need for retribution.  The film also pointe out that the teen brain is not fully grown biologically, in the ability to “see around corners” as Dr. Phil puts it.
  
There is a site for a National Organization for Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM).  
  
The documentary seemed to focus on crimes that had been premeditated.  It did not go into the possibility of compulsive or impulsive acts, which would also be irrevocable.

  
The official site  (Snag Films) poses the question “Could you forgive?”
  
The film did not cover rampage thrillers;  on Feb. 2, 2013 I reviewed the PBS Nova “Mind of a Rampage Killer” (with Miles O’Brien) on my TV blog.  The film also did not go into any wrongful convictions.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Hawking": The famous physicist tells his own story in a fascinating autobiography


Stephen Hawking’s own autobiography, titled simply “Hawking”, as filmed by Stephen Finnigan and aired by PBS in 2013, is quite stunning, with the candor of Hawking’s own words recounting his entire life up to now (he is 72) and a great deal of actual footage from his young adulthood, augmented by lively animation showing his cosmological theories. This is a good film to watch on Netflix now, following “Interstellar” and the anticipated “Theory of Everything” due in December.
  
Hawking grew up in an academic family that encouraged critical thinking.  The family was willing to discuss social issues often considered off the table in the 1950s.  Academic smarts came with a degree of privilege that, in comparable situations in my own life, became off-putting.  There was an attitude that if you were smart enough, you really shouldn’t have to work.  That doesn’t fly too well in my world. He entered college at Oxford at 17 and actually adjusted socially pretty well after a time, joining the rowing team.  But in his last year he developed a startling clumsiness, falling down the stairs once and forgetting who he was for a day.  His symptoms worsened in his first year of doctoral studies, and a medical evaluation in Christmas 1962 diagnosed ALS (or “motor neuron disease”) resulted in his being given two years to live.  He certainly beat those odds.
  
He got married, and his physical deterioration slowed somewhat, and he maintained the ability to speak and function somewhat until the early 1970s.  He developed his theories regarding the big bang, which would say that the universe had no predecessor.  He also developed mathematics that suggests that black holes can actually evaporate and emit “Hawking radiation” (containing information), an idea that is important to Christopher Nolan’s film mentioned above.  He spent a year living in southern California and teaching at Cal Tech.  
  
After pneumonia in the 1970s, he was intubated and unable to speak, but computers were developed to enable him to communicate.  He would actually remarry, a nurse in 1995.  Today, he does need constant attention, and the film about Roger Ebert’s life under severe disability from cancer, “Life Itself” (June 6, 2014) comes to mind.  Even with his disability, Hawking was allowed to ride in a weightlessness simulator.
  
  

I do wonder about Hawking's "attitude" as a teen before he became disabled.  It was just a bit snobbish, and I entertained the same ideas at his age, to the social disapproval of others, including my  own father, with his moral lectures about "learning to work".  I was gifted but not as brilliant as him, and slightly physically disabled, but not to the point that I could "get out of things" without recrimination.  I noted that Hawking liked to listen to classical music recordings -- he mentioned Wagner (and the film showed tone arm and vulnerable vinyl).  Similar personalities and slightly different circumstances make for different outcomes.  How would Hawking have done with his work if he had not developed ALS and had normal physicality?   Yet, I know others today, two generations younger than me, with gifts like mine and with no disability, but an "attitude" -- and they do fine.  External culture matters too.

At one point, Hawking declares that there is no afterlife, and that he has to make the most of every single day. Yet his life seems like a perfect illustration of the idea of intergenerational karma, the way they teach it at the Monroe Institute. I think that free will and consciousness are part of the universe, as they come into being, and they can't be destroyed.
 
The official site is here and the film played at SXSW. 

Update:  Note Hawking's own account on his change of view on black hole radiation and maintenance of "information", link here

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Bitter Honey" examines polygamy in Bali (Indonesia); I recall an incident there in 2002


The film “Bitter Honey” by Robert Lemelson documents the practice of polygamy in Bali, of Indonesia.
    
About 10% of all married men in Bali have more than one wife, and often “marry” a second time without permission of the spouse.  A lawyer explains that Indonesia law allows it when the wife is unable to bear children or continue the obligations of marriage.  The film doesn’t mention Sharia.
     
The film particularly follows the families of three men, who tend to be overweight, tattooed, an unattractive by western standards. Again, do looks matter?   Not here.
   
The women say they are left without support when their husbands provide competing spouses.
   
Toward the end of the film, there is a scene in a disco in Bali.  I recalled the October 2002 attack in Kuta, as described in Wikipedia here. Shortly after that incident, I got a bizarre email inviting me to a disco party in Bali.  This might have been spam, but it was sent long before spam had become so commonplace.  I forwarded it to the FBI office in Minneapolis where I lived then.  About three days later, news media announced that another terror plot aimed at another disco in Indonesia had been thwarted, with mass arrests. 
   
Wikipedia attribution link for Bali Memorial picture 


Remember that Bali was the site of some of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" (in the 1950s from Fox) including several of the songs.  It seems as though some of the musicals of the era trivialized what people really went through. 
    
Official site for the film is here.  The production and distributor seem to be Elemental Productions.  I saw the film Monday afternoon at the West End Cinema in Washington before a fair audience.