Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"The Mars Underground": Gripping documentary makes case for manned missions, settlement and terraforming of Mars


The Mars Underground: The Secret Story of Planet Mars” (2007/2014), by Scott J. Gill (narrator, Rob Thorne) and Orange Dot, is a compelling 77 minute documentary which outlines and makes a case for human settlement on Mars and even eventual terraforming of the planet within a few hundred years.The 
  
The central proponent for the project is engineer Robert Zubrin, who established the Mars Society (link ) and authored “The Case for Mars”.  An important colleague who often also appears is David Baker.

 

Zubrin, born in 1952, was a boy when Sputnik launched in 1957, and felt inspired to become a scientist.  Within a few years of the first man walking on the moon in 1969, the space program floundered, and Zubrin became a science teacher, before finishing graduate school and becoming an engineer again.

Even by the early 1990s, Zubrin had advocated a plan called “Mars Direct”, which would involve sending separate unmanned components to Mars, to be assembled by robots, before people land.  The first manned explorations would require a 2-1/2 year commitment, with over 500 days (the Martian day is slightly longer than Earth’s) on the planet.  Crew would use pre-mailed material to grow food and generate an atmosphere within living quarters, as well as to fuel the return.  Fuel can be made with 19th century chemistry that used to run gas street lights before we had electricity.

The most visually striking part of the film shows what Mars would look like after terraforming, which would be accomplished by what is happening on Earth – release of greenhouse gases, which would set off a runaway chain reaction that would release water from the Martian soil with rapid warmup of the planet (although this could take a few hundred years). 

Zubrin argues that we should be determined to get to Mars as simply and cheaply as possible at first, and force ourselves to settle new lands, just as our ancestors did when they explored new worlds.  He points out that man is naturally a tropical creature, which gradually adapted to colder climates as it migrated by inventing technology, although this took tens of thousands of years.

Selecting the crew, and the initial settlers, would certainly raise issues we’ve never faced (although Zubrin says that long ship voyages were just as challenging).  Would initial astronauts be people who did not intend to have children?

The film can be viewed free om YouTube from Documentary HD, but it appears to be connected to Radius TWC.  It has been viewed over a half million times so far. I think it would make sense to process it with Extended Digital and show it at science museums, like the Baltimore Science Center or the Franklin Museum in Philadelphia, or similar facilities around the country.  It could make some money that way. 

See also a related film "The Last Days on Mars" Dec. 17, 2013.  A couple of major films were "Mission to Mars" (2000, Brian de Palma, Disney) and "Red Planet" (Anthony Hoffman, WB, with Val Kilmer), also 2000).  Don't forget John Carpenter's "Ghosts of Mars" (2001, Screen Gems).

I'll reiterate a link for Disney-Epcot's Mission Space and "Rocket to the Red Planet", which I hope to visit in April 2015, here , with a YouTube video here with a crash landing on the polar ice cap. . 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"Big Eyes": Tim Burton shows how male chauvinism used to take over art


Back in 2003, in a pre-interview for a “sales” job in life-insurance, the presenter said, “We give you the words.”  In these days before social media would preclude double lives, I still wondered what kind of person could live with this, being paid to pretend he was something he wasn’t and proselytize someone else’s content.  I don’t include acting in this.  But I do include pretending someone else’s work is yours.
  
Tim Burton (“Big Fish”, 2003) takes this on, somewhat, in his art satire “Big Eyes”. Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) is the flim-flam marketer, pretending to be the artist who really painted his wife’s (Margaret, played by Amy Adams) works, all comical faces with pancake eyes.  The only psychological justification seems to be old-fashioned sexism: meeting her, after he left first husband in 1958, it made perfect sense to him that he could possess his bride’s work as his own if he “protected” her and she could perhaps give him progeny.  To me, it’s hard to believe that such an arrangement could maintain sexual excitement, let alone any integrity.  But the world then was not as individualistic as now. 

The film is really quite funny, as Walter’s scheme descends into the picture, a fa├žade disguised by their upper income lifestyle in the California wine country.  Then, as so often with Burton, it ceases to be funny – until the final courtroom climax in Hawaii, where the script makes a useful distinction between libel and slander, and then gives both husband and wife a “laboratory examination”.

Some of the background history is interesting -- like the clips of the construction of the New York Worlds Fair in 1964 in Flushing, near what is now CitiField for the Mets. I actually visited the fair in the summer of 1965 with college friends.  The film also shows an amusing Perry Mason excerpt. 
     
  
The official site is here. (The Weinstein Company).

The concept of Walter reminds me of the lead character "Gentle" in Clive Barker's huge fantasy novel "Imajica" (1991) because Gentle is an art forger (see Book reviews, March 28, 2006).  The film has yet to be made.  
   
I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA before a moderate evening crowd, but the auditorium was very cold. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

The early days of the Internet during the "Dot-com Bubble" created its own "Ivory Tower"


Ivory Tower” has been a film title more than once (June 23, 2014), but this review is about a 1998 indie film from Vanguard, directed by Derrin Ferriola, concerning Silicon Valley startups in the earlier days.

The setup is that the likable protagonist Anthony (Patrick Van Horn) gets a new project in the dot-com boom world, but is upended when an autocratic new vice president (Michael Ironside) walks in the door and makes his life miserable.

The new boss (Mr. Felice) indeed off the charts, looking the employees into the office and taking out the coke machines so they won’t leave their cubicles.  And he plays every conceivable game of office politics.

One problem with the film now is that the scenario is dated, since the dot-com boom crashed.  This film long predates social media as we know it today.  But the idea of Internet TV is discussed. There is some discussion of firmware engineering and one demonstration.  

The “green boss” wants to maximize short term profits with older technology, and doesn’t want to gamble with profits now with investing in the future.  That was more a common business dilemma in the 1980s, with hostile takeovers. The boss doesn’t even see the value of the World Wide Web the way we know it today. But at the very end, he pulls a pleasant surprise. The title of the film comes from a viewing perch from which he overlooks his underlings at a "science fair" toward the end. 
   
The DVD transfer is of somewhat substandard quality;  the resolution is weaker, and the images tend to expand slightly width-wise.

  

Comparisons could be made with “August” (Aug. 1, 2008) and “Startp.com”.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

"Into the Woods": Disney brings the Sondheim musical to screen, with some subtle adult twists


Into the Woods” is Disney’s film adaptation (directed by Rob Marshall) of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical fantasy, and the plot trick is to bring together a number of characters from Grimm’s Fairy Tales in one story. As is so often the case, this “kids’ movie” has a lot of undertone for adults to ponder. 
 
The genesis of the story is the desire of a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to start a family, and they are kept from doing so by a curse of The Witch (Meryl Streep, who is appropriately dominating and chilling). The Witch demands that the Baker couple obtain four critical items, which include a gold slipper.
  
The ensuing plot brings in other stories, first Cinderella (to be a Disney remake in March) about Jack and the Beanstalk (which creates two falsetto tornadoes), the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp, rather in drag), Rapzunel, and Little Red Ridinghood.

The film seems to come to a premature happy ending, as the Baker fulfills the demand and the wife has a baby, two-thirds through the film, but then there is a long sequence in which “happily ever after” is not exactly that.  A major complication is that the wife is now attracted to the Prince (Chris Pine).  And an oversized female villain (as if they were all Lulliputians) has to be destroyed because she keeps causing earthquakes in the kingdom.  Maybe they all live in someone’s model world.

The Prince and his friend (Rapzunel’s prince, Billy Magnussen) engage in an odd quasi-gay scene at almost the midpoint of the film.  The both pull apart their own shirts, showing (at least in Pine’s case) shaved chests.  Pine repeats the stunt in the closing credits.  It’s almost as if the characters had been tempted by something else, and the Witch picked up on. 
  
Sondheim’s music has more dissonance than do most Broadway musicals, with an odd theme on the interval of a fourth that reminds one of Britten.  The last song ends quietly, but the credits start with an epilogue song that ends with some triumph, and there follows what sounds like a concert overture in the orchestral style of Prokofiev.
  
I saw this Sunday afternoon at Regal Ballston in a large auditorium before a small crowd, but I know performances at Angelika Mosaic were selling out.
  
  
The official site is here.  Note the image of Chris Pine, differs from the movie. 
  
The original Broadway production won a lot of awards in 1998.  Material like this really works better on stage.   It’s interesting to see a musical based on the “moral issues” that surround making decisions to have children, or even not have them.  There’s also the idea (touted by the Family Research Council) that men give up some testosterone once they become dads. That’s for grownups.

Update: Jan. 3

Talking Points Memo has an article by Ester Bloom, "Before 'Into the Woods' was a Disney movie, it was an AIDS Parable", here, as Sondheim structured the last part of the musical when he wrote it in 1987, when AIDS had raged for several years in NYC, link here.   

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Drafthouse does a bang-up job of showing "The Interview"


I went to see Sony’s “The Interview” at the Alamo Drafthouse in Ashburn, VA, in Loudoun County, on a mild December Saturday “in the country”.  In fact, when I bought the ticket online Friday night, I got the next-to-last seat, and was on the front row.  But in the Drafthouse, with the food service and wider rows, that’s OK.  For security, there was a uniformed officer from the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office in the lobby. At the Manassas 4 (in another exurban community thirty miles to the south) it didn’t seem you could buy tickets online at all.
  
And Google’s home page, for a while om Christmas Day, had read “Our goal is to make the world’s information accessible, yes, even Seth Rogen movies”, with a link to rent on Google Pay (or YouTube) for $5.99, here 

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg direct the satire (really of the ‘Dr. Strangelove” genre) and Seth Rogen and James Franco play buddies (tabloid producer Aaron Rappaport and talk show host Dave Skylark) who set up “The Interview” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) – initiated by North Korea.  Now Franco (now 36) looks a little weathered but is by far the fitter of the tag team.  Rogen, well, is a bit like an aging bear, a little fattish, but not as foppish and smooth-skinned as the North Korean emir, who is worshipped as a sexless god by his people – he is said never to excrete and have no “holes”.  The Golden Calf made a better idol.  Kim's attempt at "radical hospitality" and acting like a good buddy collapses appropriately. 
    
The opening scene sets the tone of the film, with a Korean woman threatening the US.  Soon Skylark is interviewing Eminem, who says he utters homophobic slurs because he’s gay himself. Really?  Once Rappaport sets up the “interview” the CIA shows up (with the female agent Lacey played by Lizzy Caplan) with its plan to “take him out” with ricin conveyed in a palms-down handshake – the scene widely touted in trailers.
  
The film really does play up the national security dangers (to us) of a nuclear North Korea.  Remembe how George Tenet had warned around 2003 that the DPRK was capable of lobbing a missile as far as the US Pacific Northwest. And, for all the screwball slapstick comedy, Skylark gets the chance to humiliate Kim in debate – which may be the most humiliating aspect of the film for Kim in real life.  Indeed, the film proposes that his regime is overthrown after he goes.  What if the people in North Korea really do get copies of this movie?
  
I recall back in the 1990s (during the Clinton years) that a lot of the talk about the challenges face by the military centered around the idea of a second war in Korea, not so much on radical Islam.

Is seeing the film now a "patriotic act"?  Some people argue that watching plays into Kim's hand, of falling for a deep double-cross and giving him propaganda for his own people.  But I rather buy the idea that balloons laced with DVD's flying over the North could start something. 

  
Sony’s official site requires entry of a Tumblr password, which seems bizarre.  The Facebook site is here. The branding is still Columbia Pictures, although the distribution is more like what you would see as Sony Pictures Classics. 

Alamo played, as a preshow, a spoof of SNL, which seemed to be hosted by Wallace Shawn, with one skit showing a gay “bear” motorcycle couple preparing to marry in Utah, in Monument Valley.  A later spoof made fun of the acronym “GOP”. 
  
On Friday, Dec. 26 NBC Today had aired a cooking show segment from NE South Korea, from near the DMZ. 

A couple of other movies to compare this to, besides those already mentioned: The James Bond “Die Another Day” (2002), as well as “Red Dawn II” (cf blog Nov. 22, 2012). See an earlier posting that discussed the hacker threats against this movie and Sony's waffling at distribution on Dec. 18. 
    
Picture:  The Moon surface, on display board at One Loudoun in front of theater.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

"Unbroken", by Angelina Jolie and the Coen Brothers, makes the POW experience from WWII Japan seem very personal


I am not particularly a fan of “life-raft” movies, or of films focusing on torture of good guys forever.  Nevertheless, I found “Unbroken”, directed by Angelina Jolie, quite compelling.  The end result was somewhat that of a big 80s movie, but that “ain’t bad”. And this time, it leads to more reflection of my own character. The film is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.”  The screenwriters are the Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan Coen) but this film hardly seems typical of their work.
  
The film is a biography (through V-J Day of WWII) of Louis Zamperini, (Jack O’Connell), who survived a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean in 1943, and was held under brutal conditions in a Japanese POW camp until the end.  The Japanese did not follow the rules of the Geneva Convention, which we were taught in Army Basic (in 1968), to say the least, but the conditions may have been more survivable than either Hitler’s or Stalin’s.
  
The film starts with an air battle, which leads to the crash.  The earlier events are told in flashback, and those related to combat (including an earlier crash landing) are a bit confusing.  But his boyhood as a “wop” (played by C. J. Valleroy) is compelling, and leads to his running track in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, expecting to repeat in 1940 in Tokyo!  I wanted to see more of the 1936 event, to see what Germany looked like to athletes then, and if they could pick up on any clue as to what Hitler was doing.  But that might have made a different movie.

Once in the camp, Louis has repeated confrontations with the abusive “Bird” Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), who makes his (and the other prisoners’) status as an enemy very personal, gratuitously so.  He was said to be spoiled when raised in the aristocracy, and he acts sometimes like his sadistic pleasure is sexual.  At one point, he gets the prisoners to perform a Cinderella show in drag.

The life-raft sequence has the guys catching an albatross, but vomiting after trying to eat it; but soon they learn the virtue of “free fish”, even if raw.

There's one other point hinted.  The movement of prisoners to Tokyo (before taking them high in the mountains), might have figured into Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb on (other) cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
  
Other stars include Garrett Hedlund and Australian heartthrob Jai Courtney, neither of whom you want to see abused. 

The film calls to mind a number of films of partial genre match: “All Is Lost”, “Life of Pi”, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983). One might even draw a comparison to “Pearl Harbor” (2001) with the Doolitle raid at the end.

Tom Brokaw discussed the movie tonight on NBC News, interviewing Louis at age 97.  The idea came up that the people who survive enemy capture best are those who are extroverted and “like people’.

All of this gets personal for me.  I “volunteered for the draft” in 1968 and “served without serving” in a rather sheltered capacity, although I spent three weeks in Special Training Company at Fort Jackson SC.  I used to say, when a grad student (before service), that if I were maimed or disfigured in Vietnam combat, I didn’t want to come back.  In fact, I wasn’t the only one who said that then.  It may sound cowardly, and most of us don’t really know how we would react.  But the idea of expecting someone to love you (even sexually) after disfigurement or extreme disability caused by the violence of others, has always seemed revolting.  Yet, I can understand that unless people are game for that, a whole society will become fractured and more vulnerable to dismemberment by enemies.  That may be a valuable point to remember in considering the “values” of enemies of the West today (probably radical Islam – Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Iran – more than communism, even North Korea).  Yet, I tend to see the personal aspect of this as cut and dried.  Sacrifice is what it is – paying back karma, perhaps.  Playing up victimhood or even heroism doesn’t work for me.  Yet, I understand that forensic psychiatrists say people have to learn this as part of "resilience", maybe not so much for their own immediate good as for everyone else. 
  
  
The official site is here, from Universal and Legendary (which usually works with Warner Brothers, especially with Christopher Nolan).  I saw this at Angelika Mosaic on Friday afternoon, Boxing Day, before a sold-out crowd.  The film is long, at 137 minutes, and rather expansive, like a director’s cut, and somewhat styled like an independent film (like Universal Focus) rather than studio.  Yet, to do justice to the Olympics material, which should have been done, the film would top at about 160 minutes.  Expect the DVD to include more background material on this matter.  The film was shot largely in Australia, including the use of Fox studios there, swell as Queensland for the tropical scenes.  The music, by Andre Desplat, is not as original as some of his other scores. The film has no relation to M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" (2000)  although the similarity of title is noteworthy, but probably coincidental. 
 
See more of an earlier broadcast by Tom Brokaw on this movie on TV blog Dec. 9, 2014.
 
Wikipedia attribution link for Japanese surrender in 1945. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Selma" hits hard as a dramatic re-enactment of the heart of the Alabama civil rights movement


Selma”, directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb, is probably the most complete account of the (three) Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marches in March 1965 in all visual media.  
  
The two-hour widescreen film opened to only four theaters in the DC area Christmas Day.  I saw it today at the AMC Hoffman Center in Alexandria, VA, in a very large auditorium, two-thirds full, largely African-American audience.  It applauded at the end. The detailed history is given in Wikipedia here

An early scene shows a black woman trying to register to vote, and the country registrar makes her recite the preamble to the Constitution, then give the number of counties in Alabama (67), and name all the county judges, which of course no one could. Another scene reenacts the bombing at a Baptist church in Birmingham AL in 1963, resulting in the death of three girls.  

Then there are many scenes between Dr. Martin Luther King (David Olewoyo) and President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, who is not as convincing a likeness as one might want).  Johnson is interested in his war on poverty but doesn’t want to focus on voting rights by itself.  But after the first march, on March 7, 1965, leads to vicious police trampling of the demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in front of 70 million viewers live on CBS, things do change.  The second attempt at a march, after many sympathetic white people come from the North, aborts even though police withdraw, as King, after prayer, fears that the police have set a trap.  Finally, Johnson is persuaded to protect the marchers with federal troops.  The argument is made that he is already sending men to Vietnam, but this was very early in Johnson’s Vietnam buildup with the huge draft calls that would come soon (and [‘ensnare” me in 1968).

There is a conversation where Johnson says to King, “You are a civil rights activist, I am a politician”. King sometimes gives collective guilt rhetoric, and makes participation in group demonstration a moral imperative.  
  
There are also some conversations between Johnson and Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth).  Wallace had an odd way of rationalizing what he knew was wrong and spinning double-talk.  I remember Wallace’s run for president in 1968 as an independent was interesting, because he wanted to combine opposition to desegregation with otherwise liberal Democrat social spending (Wiki ).  When I got stationed to Fort Eustis VA in September 1968, one of the soldiers in the barracks and coworker, trying to convert to Mormonism, said that he admired Wallace because he wasn’t a “candy-ass”.  Later the young man’s views moderated as he came to share the view of most soldiers that Nixon would be more likely to end the war in Vietnam sooner than a Democratic candidate, a position that sounds odd now, but was reasonable then.  It seems shocking now what our attitudes were then.
    
In early 1965, in fact, I was still a full time student at George Washington University in Washington, living at “home” after the 1961 catastrophe at William and Mary.  I would finish in January 1966 and enter graduate school at KU immediately.  I didn’t realize how sheltered I was. 

The film plays up the practical concerns of vigilante Klan violence and the corruption of the local police and sheriffs, the latter of whom feared they would lose office once blacks could vote (and they did). For example, the name and address of any black who even tried to register to vote was publishes in local newspapers so that local Klansmen could come after them.  It was a kind of domestic terrorism.

I visited Selma myself this year on Friday, May 23, 2014.  I visited the museum and its film on the road from Montgomery.  To me, most of the state still looks economically backward.  The film appears to be filmed on location in Alabama, as the river and main street areas of Selma are exactly what I saw.  I found it hard to find an appealing place to have lunch after walking the Pettus Bridge area. 

Other cast in the film include Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King (MLK’s wife), and Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper.

The official site is here. The film has the look of large independent film with Pathe (a European production company for festival-ready material) and Harpo Films (Oprah) but is distributed on the main Paramount brand.  Harpo also usually works with MGM.  I could easily have imagined this film coming from TWC.
This one should get on the Best Picture list for the Osca, alongside “Lincoln”.

Scenery pictures are mine from the May 2012 visit.  The BW photos are from an iPhone, the color from a Nikon and a Casio.  


Update: Jan 3.

There is controversy, in the way some say that the film unfavorably portray's LBJ's hesitancy, CBS story here.


Update: Jan 13

Tim Lee on Vox Media explains Paramount's decision not to quote MLK's "I have a dream" speech directly, but to rewrite it, out of a very conservative use of copyright law and fair use, because of the possibly catastrophic result of a lawsuit from an estate known to be litigious, link here. There's an argument here to strengthen fair use or to shorten copyright terms. 

"Black Nativity" goes against "It's a Wonderful Life" on Christmas Eve viewing


HBO was good enough to broadcast the overlooked 2013 musical “Black Nativity” (directed by Kasi Lemmons) on Christmas even (going against Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” on NBC).
   
The musical is adapted by the director from a libretto by Langston Hughes and has a lot of “soul music”, reminding me of the 1982 fest, “Say Amen, Somebody” (George T. Nierenberg). The latter film I remember seeing in Minneapolis in 1998 while recovering from my hip fracture, getting a lot of attention in a Landmark theater there. 
  
“Black Nativity” tells the story of street-smart teen Langston (Jacob Latimore), raised by a single mom in Baltimore.  In one of the songs early in the movie he describes himself as “motherless”.  He hops on a Peter Pan bus to New York City to visit estranged relatives, Reverend Cornell and Aretha Cobbs (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett).  He resents the minister’s rules and gets in trouble with the law, trying to rob the father (Vondie Curtis-Hall). who had abandoned him in a climatic scene that seems over the top. He gets a measure of faith, even from a street prophet (Nas Jones).
  
  
The official site is here  (Fox Searchlight and Maven).
  

As for the James Steward character George Bailey in the classic 1946  film mentioned above, I’ve always been impressed by how much difference one’s own life can make on others. I think that's still true of me.  See other comments Dec. 23, 2007 about this classic.  Note the "complete film" on the Paris Theater in New York City in he picture above (Sept. 22, 2014). 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Film version of "Moses and Aaron", opera by Arnold Schoenberg, would complement Ridley Scott's spectacle this year


New Yorker Films (aka Rialto and Janus Films) sells a DVD of a 1975 film version of the opera “Moses and Aaron” (or “Moses und Aron”) by Arnold Schoenberg, composer of the music and writer of the original libretto in German in 1930. The directors are Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub.

Moses and Aaron are played by Gunter Reich and Louis Devos respectively. The German Radio Orchestra is conducted by Michael Gielen.
  
The film has all three acts, but music was completed only for the first two, and the third act, with spoken dialogue only, is very brief.
  
The film stresses rather static acting outdoors, in a setting that appear to be shot around the Sea of Galilee in Israel. The scenery, if a little faded with age, is breathtaking, with panoramas that remind me of “The Sound of Music” even if the music here is expressionistic and disturbing.  It's interesting to see this film now after Ridley Scott's "Exodus" (Dec. 14).  
  
Actually, Schoenberg isn’t hard to get used to.  His earliest works are late romantic, following Mahler (like the “Gurrelieder”) and even his larger “atonal” works start striking the ear as the logical outcome of very late Maher.  The music really makes perfect sense and supports the story, and is almost lush, for all the atonality and dissonance, especially in the massed choral passages as well as the more intimate chamber-music interludes.
  
The most controversial sense in the opera is Scene 3 of Act 2, “The Golden Calf”, taking about 25 minutes.  While Moses is on Mt, Sinai receiving The Ten Commandments, the Israelites grow impatient and start worshipping the golden calf idol that they have built.  The libretto describes all kind of debauchery, including the undressing of virgins, songs about fecundity, and even suicides.  
  
The film visuals soft-pedal these activities, although there is some distant nudity in a couple spots. There is a passage of actors’ break-dancing to the music (not “dirty dancing”), some of which really grabs the attention of the musical ear with the unusual sequences of 12-tone passages in the brass. The whole episode makes one ponder why one has to “take orders” in how to believe in Jehovah (or Allah, for that matter), and why the worship of one’s own ideals (“upward affiliation”) can lead to social breakdown – a constant theme of social conservatism, especially religiously based. 
  
The DVD has a 16-minute short film “Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene’” (1973), where letters from the composer are read.  The material relates Schoenberg’s growing concern over fascism and the need to leave Germany in the 1930s.  He also expresses a skepticism about the morality of capitalism and even too much emphasis on private property, as he sees it as leading to neglect, and corruption from those seeking to keep their wealth.  The ideology, as read, sounds like Marxism to me. 

The DVD libretto booklet includes commentary by Michael Gallope ("Sacred music you can't consume") and Allen Shawn. 
  
  

The YouTube excerpt above comes from a 2006 performance of the work with the Vienna State Opera. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Sea of Galilee picture (second). 

Videos about the experience of black hole travel; a note about Carl Sagan's film "Contact"


Having visited a spectacular “alien worlds” exhibit in Baltimore last week (Dec. 17), I looked at a few more films that actually give some idea of what a visit to a black hole would “look like” if you could survive it.
  
The best of these is a six-minute short from “Deep Astronomy”, titled simply “Journey into a Black Hole”, written and narrated by Tony Darnell. 
  
  
The film shows how an orbiting spacecraft and the capacity to escape the gravitational field work in relation to the “Shwarzchild Radius” (link ).   If a black hole is very large and if for a while you could be shielded from the intense heat and radiation, you might not notice anything wrong as you entered it, but time would stop (after slowing down) and you could never escape.  Eventually you would be torn apart as you descended.  But the light show you would see is quite mathematically interesting (more than just in “2001: A Space Odyssey”).  This would be a good film to adapt to show in a planetarium in a science museum.
  
There is a Featurette for “Interstellar” that shows how the special effects for the black hole were designed, and they do resemble those in this short somewhat.

A channel called “Documentaries in HD” offers “Cosmic Monster Black Holes” (link), a 66 minute video, focuses on the monster black holes at the centers of galaxies and what happens when they merge.  But the film seems a mashup (from both NatGeo and the History Chanel):  Toward the end, it presents a story about UFO lights and crop circles in Britain in the late 1990s.  It also presents what Earth and Moon look like from Saturn.  The film notes that stellar-mass black holes are relatively common and there could be a few million in our galaxy.  Fortunately, none are close to us (as far as we know). 
  
There is a  45-minute video “Black Holes and Wormholes”, from Discovery, which I think I have seen before and probably discussed on the TV blog.  But I wanted to reemphasize the discussion of micro black holes, which might get generated by the Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Wikipedia has a discussion of Micro black holes here and relates their evaporation (through Hawking radiation) to possible dark energy. The video also discusses the idea of wormholes as a “subway” system among universes, and says that the Big Bang might have been an example of a “White Hole”. It also examines the logical paradoxes of backward time travel.
  
 The video mentions the 1997 film “Contact”, based on the novel by Carl Sagan, directed by Robert Zemeckis, with Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey, from Warner Brothers.  I saw this film this film the day I published my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book (July 11, 1997).  In the film, scientists receive encoded messages from aliens, and eventually go through a wormhole.
  
Stephen Hawking has his own short “Black Hole Time Travel” put up by “The cosmos is within us”, showing how time slows down for astronauts orbiting close to a black hole.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain": clandestine documentary about Burma, the second most reclusive country on Earth


They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain”  (2012) is a visually stunning documentary about the world’s second most reclusive country, directed by Robert H. Lieberman, a Cornell physics professor, and written by David Kossack.  The film was shot in clandestine fashion over two years.  That would make for a good short. 
     
The film stresses the religious background of the people, Buddhist, and their belief in karma and reincarnation.  There is a feeling that you lead the life you deserve.  You share hardships.
   
And indeed, the livings standards except for the super rich are low.  The film shows villages built right on canals on the water, almost like “Lake-Town” in “The Hobbit”.  It also shows shantytowns, not too far from spectacular monuments.  Electricity is unpredictable.  Children have to go to work to support their parents and siblings, and can be sold.
  
The military dictatorship seems to lack a coherent ideology, and has not particularly visible leader (unlike North Korea).  Young men go into the military because there are no other real opportunities, so they tend to reach positions of power with little education. 
  
The film also shows a major typhoon and its effects.  Myanmar (aka Burma) is on the Indian Ocean between Bangladesh and Thailand. The entire middle of the country is very low and near water and floods easily. 
    
Toward the end, the film covers briefly the history o Aung San Suu Kwi, about which Cohen Media had released “The Lady” (April 27. 2012).
  
The official site is here  (Docurama and New Video).    

  
It appears that the film can be watched free on YouTube.  I watched it on Netflix. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for topographical map of Myanmar 

Monday, December 22, 2014

"Eastern Boys": powerful film looks at the street life of illegal immigrants (including a gay hustler) in Paris, with political ramificiations


Eastern Boys”, by Moroccan-French director Robin Campillo, is a powerful film about not only the politics of immigration and sexuality, but also about personal engagement with others.
   
Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is a relatively fit gay man in his late 50s, well-to-do and living in a comfortable condo high rise in suburban Paris.  One day, near  a train station in north Paris, he runs into an attractive hustler Marek (whom we later learn Is Rouslan, from Ukraine), played by Kirill Emelyanov, and makes a deal.  But Marek asks for his address and want to come the next day.
  
The door knocks “tomorrow” all right, but it is a tween, who warns that he is a child and that Daniel will get in trouble with the law for soliciting a minor if he doesn’t go along with the scheme.  A horde of about ten young men (mostly straight) and one or two women come in with successive knocks, in a “home invasion” where they take Daniel’s electronics and art.  But then Rouslan shows up, and Daniel indeed falls in love with him, and begins to support him with an allowance.  When Rouslan returns to the cheap hotel where the other illegal immigrant kids hang out and hide from the law, Daniel winds up having to “rescue” him.
  
This is a long film (128 minutes), which I reviewed from a screener (First Run Features), although it may be a director’s cut and some scenes might get deleted before formal release in February 2015.  It is in four “chapters”, almost as if it had been conceived as a cable TV series once: “The Mystery of the Street”, “The Party of which I Am Hostage”, “What We Mean Together”, and “Hotel: Dungeons and Dragons”.  The film is shot in full 2:35:1 and has a grand look, and was obviously very professionally shot and edited (with Studio Canal).
  
The first ten minutes, around the train station, have almost no dialogue:  you hear the street noise of a Paris “gare”, often viewed from the air.  Immigrant boys behave in odd fashion, at least one jumping and riding piggyback on the back of a stranger.  I’ve never seen that happen in person when in Europe or anywhere.  I’ve been around a lot in areas like this, in Paris, London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Brussels, Amsterdam, Toulouse, Lisbon, San Sebastian, Hamburg, Stockholm, Oslo.  In fact, I do remember that an older man tried to pick me up at a hotel bar in Kiruna, Sweden when I was 28.  All this comes to mind.
  
Daniel seems to be a somewhat detached loner as the film starts, and we don’t get much information about what he “does”, in work, or in any kind of self-expression.  He seems to be a bureaucrat, not particularly artistic.
  
The film touches on some political hot points:  legal recognition of gay relationships (marriage itself doesn’t come up, but it could have, at the end), and gay rights in Eastern European countries.  Were Rouslan to get deported, he could go back to a country somewhat hostile,  The movie doesn’t say this directly, but his circumstances would get even worse if he is from eastern Ukraine or Crimea and it gets taken over by Russia, with its anti-gay laws. This film won’t please Vladimir Putin. 
  
Visually, the movie somewhat plays up the stereotypes.  The camera keeps emphasizing Rouslan’s smooth, hairless body, contrasting it with Daniel, who looks a bit like an oaf.  You would wonder if Rouslan himself is underage, even though socially he seems very street smart and mature, even articulate.
  
I don’t see awards for this film;  I would have expected it to win some in the festival circuit.
  

The official site is here. for First Run and Peccadillo.    Apparently it comes to some cities very soon (New York, LA, etc).  This sounds like a good film  to show in DC at the West End Cinema, or for an HRC screening with Reel Affirmations.  About half of the film is in English; the rest is in French, with some Russian and Ukraine, with subtitles. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for shot of Paris similar to film opening (photo by AFP - French Press Agency as author, CC-SA 3.0, unported).. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Eye for an Eye": drama from the 90s brings back the topic of citizen vigilantes


Vigilantism may be an current topic now, and the 1995 film “Eye for an Eye” (and maybe “tooth for a tooth”) by John Schlesinger, from Paramount, dramatizes the issue in workmanlike manner.
Sally Field plays Karen McCann, an middle-aged mom in Santa Monica, and is talking on the cell phone on a clunky 90s cell phone in LA traffic with her teen daughter, when a delivery man Robert Doob (Kiefer Sutherland) rapes and murders the child. 
  
The police (Joe Mantegna as Sgt. Denillo) catch him, but prosecutors blow it on a technicality (failure to present some crude DNA and sperm evidence to the defense) at a preliminary hearing.  Doob, who is quite creepy, walks free.
  
McCann stalks him, and see some harrowing behavior, like grooming of kids in a playground.  Nevertheless, police tell her not to follow him.  She joins a vigilante group and takes firearms and self-defense training, something that will please today’s 2nd Amendment supporters.  But the group is infiltrated by a female FBI agent who warns McCann that she could go to jail for life if she takes out Doob on her own.  The agent is interesting:  she is presented as an African American lesbian raising a biological son in a relationship with a white female.  In the meantime, police keep stumbling trying to get evidence on Doob.
  
McCann “solves her problem” by enticing Doob to come to her home to attack her, where she can shoot him down in self-defense in a bombastic conclusion.
  
Ed Harris plays the middle-aged husband, sympathetic but a bit oafish in this role.
  
The film is rather plodding, not as gripping as some other police films of the 90s, like David Fincher’s “Se7en”.
  
  

The film can be rented on YouTube for $2.99, and is available from Netflix.  

Picture: San Diego at night, University Blvd area, my trip in 2012 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sony probably needs the wholesome musical "Annie", promoting adoption, right now


I hope it was indeed a really patriotic act to buy a regular movie theater ticket (at Regal Ballston) to a Sony-Columbia release tonight, the musical “Annie” (remade from 1982), music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Matinin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan, based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray, with this new version directed by Will Gluck.  This is supposed to be one of the films released to pirates by the Sony Hack, so seeing this movie legally may help a little.
Annie is played by Louisiana-born Quvenzhanze Wallis, and Jamie Foxx plays Will Stacks, the rich, single NYC mayoral candidate.  Cameron Diaz plays the sassy foster mom, who clearly needs the $157 per child a month from New York State. Bobby Cannavale plays the unscrupulous election campaign manager.
  
The big event in the film is Stacks’s taking over foster care of Annie as a single dad, after some prodding, because it looks good to the campaign, catering to “family values”.  He certainly offers "radical hospitality", although it need not cost him. His penthouse is a real showplace that would please Donald Trump.  There are plenty of video murals on the walls, but the real views outside seem to look on the new Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan (which means it would have lost power during Hurricane Sandy).  There is an odd white player-piano, which also plays manually – reminding me of a concert that I attended in a condo (though near Central Park) and written up on the “Drama blog” Dec. 11, 2010.
  
There’s also a pooch, who looks a bit like a fox.  Annie is very street-smart and helpful to Will. and it's a bit surprising when she mentions her illiteracy.  Annie asks Stacks why he has so much space, and he says he likes to work alone with a lot of space around him, and that in life there will be very few people who actually will love you.  Annie’s question almost seems like one from a moral lens, that so much space and splendor should house more people.

There really is a moral edge in this near-kids' movie.  Should Will be expected to prove he can provide for others before he earns fame through work, or only after?  It's also interesting that in another sense he is seen as an African-American male role model:  a "self-made" man who started a novel telecommunications company.
            
There is a curious line about Kim Sung-Il in the script.  Sony didn't try to remove it at the last minute because of the hack, thankfully.
          
I could imagine that sort of pressure being put on me.
  
  
The official site is here
    
I saw this in a relative small auditorium.  I guess Regal doesn’t always “go big” even with big-budget spectacles. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies": the Tolkien prequel gives us warrior values in a parallel "Middle Ages" world


Having been engrossed in New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy last decade (the last film is literally a 195-minute cliff hanger – “The Ring is mine”), following a prequel series (even from Peter Jackson) leaves me a bit ho-hum, and I believe Tolkien’s original novel “The Hobbit” is blown up for financial gain.  The details of the plot don’t seem to matter too much. But the action and settings are spectacular, most of all in this third installment, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”
  
Nevertheless, this is the story of how Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) went on the lam for a few years and helped save Middle Earth from a whole set of villains.  At the end, he returns home to the middle of his own estate sale.  I wonder how much his little hobbit-home with the circular archways sells for.
  
Middle Earth is, after all,  rather like an Earth-2, maybe in a parallel universe, or maybe a few hundred light years away.  The civilization looks like the Middle Ages here, but with the people more genetically varied, and hence we have hobbits, and monsters.
  
The movie starts with the sacking of Lake-Town (by Smaug and company).  Refugees are driven to the walled, gated cities in the mountains.  Remember how Late-Town looked like an Elizabethean village.  It still does, or did, until it burned.
    
People in this culture can live only communally.  They have to stick together and depend on one another.  Men are expected to fight to protect women and children.  Several times in the movie there is a scream like “women and children only”.  One warrior (I think Thorin, Richard Armitage) says he will come from behind the fortress walls and fight like a man.  There’s fake transsexual character, Alfrid (Ryan Gage) who seems to be gender-bending to get out of fighting (his slip shows, he wears falsies, and his chest is hairless).
  
Even the monsters sacrifice themselves, throwing their behemoth bodies against fortress walls to knock them down, before dropping dead. 
   
   
Official blog is here. Warner Brothers distributes a joint production of New Line and MGM.
   

I saw this in 3-D and extended digital at Regal Ballston before a small audience. It seemed like a “patriotic duty”.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"We Are Aliens" at Maryland Science Center shows Mars, Europa, and an extrasolar planet.


Today, at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, I saw the Planetarium film “We Are Aliens”, directed by Max Crow, narrated by Rupert Grint (from the Harry Potter movies).  This film used the entire ceiling, rather than half, as in Omnimax.
  
The film opens with an interesting animation of a Planet, set up as a kind of spherical model railroad, with buildings, channels, and trains. I had suggested a concept like that in my own novel manuscript “Tribunal and Rapture” in 1988.

The film soon takes us to Mars, and shows some pretty good scenery, especially a map of where the oceans once were.   But the most interesting part is the visit to Europa, moon of Jupiter.  A robot dives down a spectacular ice canyon, and then into the under-ice ocean, where we see fumeroles and what look like colorful tube worms, and various other smudges.  There are also luminescent rotifer-like creatures. (See "Europa Report", Aug 2,. 2013).

I'd like to have seen the surface of Titan (moon of Saturn) shown (and by they way, it has a subsurface ocean, too).  Ganymede (satellite of Jupiter) also has such an ocean. 
    
Then the film shows some extrasoloar planets, including a hot Jupiter, a waterworld, and a furnace.  Finally it shows an odd habituated planet.  It seems to be tidally locked. The civilization, probably a satellite from a “master race” seems to be on the night side of a warm planet, with a climate like South Florida at night, and with the inhabited areas laid out in illuminated hexagons.

Finally, the film shows a possible galactic map of many civilizations.  Would they all have Facebook?
  
The site for the film is here

The video below from National Geographic, with Linda Spilker, is similar


If in fact the meteorite that landed in Antarctica in 1996 came from Mars and has biological substances, maybe we are all Martians, just as we are all "black".  
   
The museum has a big exhibit “Life Beyond Earth”. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Edge of Tomorrow" (or "Live Die Repeat") plays the "time reset" game; fiasco over "The Interview" could pose significant issue for all "nuisance" media projects


Edge of Tomorrow”, (aka “Live Die Repeat”) is indeed a summer movie (from May 2014), directed by Doug Liman, based on the “light novel”, “All You Need Is Kill” by Horoshi Sakurazaka.
  
There is a premise which recalls another movie, “Source Code”, which I reviewed on my “cf” blog April 2 2011.  Another more distantly related film is “Vantage Point” on 2008.
  
Tom Cruise Mapother plays US Major William Cage, who is “detailed” to fight an alien attack in Europe.  The aliens are “colony” organisms with an “Omega” brain and many layers of tentacles, who can “reset time” (much as in “Source Code”).  Cage fights the aliens in multiple battles, getting “killed” each time but waking up in the same spot, prodded by his bosses for battle again, having learned more about the aliens’ weaknesses.  Emily Blunt joins in as Sgt. Rita.  There’s no problem with women in combat. 

I’ve never been particularly impressed by time-travel scenarios.  Generally, they confound logic, But I’ve actually proposed something a little like this for my own early novel “The Proles” (discussion here on my Wordpress blogs )  . 

There’s another idea that’s important here:  Cage doesn’t want to risk his own butt by going into combat himself.  He wants “proles” to be cannon fodder in his stead.  This sounds like the moral debate we had in the 1960s over the draft and student deferments.  He also doesn’t believe he has to report to European authorities. The script has lines like "the battlefield is redemptive" and that warriors are the most important people on the planet.  
  
The alien attack seems to cover Eurasia (including China and Russia) but not North America.  It would be interesting to dramatize what really would happen in the first days after public alien contact.  I’m working on it.

The film has a visually striking climax a the Louvre (I visited it once, in 2001).

Don’t confuse the film with “The Day After Tomorrow” or the expired soap opera “Search for Tomorrow”.
  
  
The official site is here    This is a typical collaboration of Warner Brothers and Australian production company Village Roadshow. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Louvre picture 
  
There’s another big movie story right now – the Sony hack.  This concerns demands that Sony not release “The Interview” (directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, with James Franco) in which two journalists, to be played by Rogen and Franco, are “stumped” by the CIA into an assassination plot against the “emperor” of North Korea.  The actual evidence tends suggest that the malware (and threats) perhaps did not come from the DPRK, but from someone with inside knowledge of Sony (although this could be a party overseas, like in China, familiar with Sony and "hired" by DPRK).  The threat "escalated" today and has been reported as physical, trying to intimidate Sony into not allowing the film to be shown in the US, at least in theaters, maybe not at all.  There will surely be much more news on this matter quickly.  The FBI and DHS might not have shared all they know yet with the media.  The most balanced account so far seems to be on Vox, which leads to a detailed link story by Timothy B. Lee. 
  
What is so disturbing about the matter is the psychology of it.  The idea that a foreign element would interfere with private business and activities of private citizens for a reason that sounds facetious and silly is indeed disturbing.  Imagine intimidation of studios over other movies, of book publishers over certain books, or of Internet hosts over certain politically motivated sites by specific UGC users or customers.  (The later idea of "nuisance content" -- not spam -- occurs in at least three of my other screenplay plots, most notably, “69 Minutes to Titan”).  The attention is on movie theaters right now, but that can always change with the next incident.  This whole matter also reminds one of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad Cartoon Controversy in Denmark in 2005, and the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for the short film "Submission" (2004).  And remember Salman Rushdie and "Satanic Verses".  At the time, publishers stood up for freedom of speech from foreign threats. 
    
There is also the issue of when “fiction” in a film or book is taken as a representation of likely future fact – that is, a possible threat (as in the SCOTUS "Elonis" case, discussed on my main blog Dec. 1, what I call the "implicit content problem").  I talked about that in the review of “Blackbird”, and a parallel experience with my own script., “The Sub” (as now embedded in my layered screenplay "Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted", which really starts out as a kind of "Interview" and which, ironically has its own "time slice" concept).  As far as “threats” go, talk is cheap.  Any disenchanted person can make something up.  But, there’s always the real-world fact that anyone who says certain things at an airport will indeed be arrested. 
     
The New York Times has a more sobering story (by Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes) Tuesday night    The Wall Street Journal has a similar account (Ben Fritz, Dannny Yadron and Erich Scwartel) here.   All of this point to the idea that in an asymmetric world, the “disenfranchised” can try to interfere with the lives of ordinary Americans by making it appear that the “system” will no longer work for them.  I know from my young adult days, with contact with the radical Left, how strident the demand to “walk in the shoes of others” can become.  But, then, again, the leadership of the DPRK isn’t “disenfranchised” – its people are.  Others, though, can try to exploit this. 

As if all this weren't enough. there is a strong 1998 Australian film "The Interview" by Craig Monahan (Pointblank and Cinema Guild), where a detective and suspect (Hugo Weaving) duel verbally in isolation. I saw this at a film festival in the Twin Cities that spring.  

Remember, extraterrestrials and aliens still don’t care!

Update: evening, Dec. 17

Sadly, Sony is reported to have given in to the "heckler's veto" by North Korea, and for now has no plans to release the film "The Interview".  Maybe they will change their minds when things calm down.

The FBI is reported to have connected North Korea as having initiated the attacks and threats, as in this Fox story.  More formal announcements may be made Thursday.  The Obama administration had apparently "prescreened" the film in the early fall.

I see that I had reviewed "Team America: World Police, Uncensored and Unrated" (2004, Paramount, Trey Parker), animated, back on my older "doaskdotell.com", on a page where it is paired with "Southpark: Bigger, Longer and Uncut", complete with "blaming Canada", the USO, Big Gay Al, and libertarian support for personal responsibility.

Michael Moore says that "Fahrenheit 9/11" caused threats, and the company and theaters just hired more security.

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post writes a ballsy analysis of the idea that "The Interview", however very silly, may be more "political" than we admit. Of course, the DPRK fears that copies o the film would leak into the country and get seen by "ordinary people."

Update: Morning, Dec. 19

George Clooney has an "interview" on Deadline here. He discusses a petition that others in Hollywood would not sign.

CNN  says that early Friday morning Sony executives received another message late Dec. 19 saying "you did the right thing" and that no further damage would occur if Sony behaves.  Really?

Update: Dec. 23 

Sony has agreed to a limited release Christmas Day to standalone independent theaters.  CNN has a story here, with a list of theaters, including the Alamo Drafthouse in Loudoun County, VA.  I don't see the West End Cinema in Washington yet, but the owner had said that his theater would never give in to bullying, so I suspect it may show up there soon.  It would seem likely that shows will sell out online quickly, and that additional police will be on hand.  Moviegoers on Christmas Day will have to weigh other films that are, frankly, more "important" socially, like "Selma" and "Unbroken". I'll review the Seth Rogen comedy when I have seen it on a separate posting.

Update: Dec. 24.

The partial list of theaters is here. West End Cinema in Washington DC has an entry here.  The film can be rented on YouTube for $5.99 as of now, but I'm not sure if there are problems with huge sudden demand.  I will next discuss this film when I have time to see it.  Frankly, there are a few others, for artistic reasons and my own schedule, in front of it.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Endure" is a workmanlike police detective and rescue drama set and filmed in central Florida


Endure”, directed by Joe O’Brien, is a well-paced police drama, set around Lakeland, FL, showing us how police work is really done and how it affects their lives.
  
The film is a bit sensational as it opens as we see a (pregnant) young woman Daphne (Clare Kramer) gagged and bound on a floor.  Right after the credits, a middle-age man ties her to a tree in a swamp, and then drives away, and is suddenly killed when his car strikes a deer. 
  
The rest of the movie traces the efforts of detective Emory Lane (Judd Nelson) and his partner, “criminology major” and rookie cop Zeth (Devon Sawa) to find the woman.  Zeth struggles through some computer hacking to find a criminal partner in Alabama (Tom Arnold, who looks appropriately creepy), who eventually travels to the site to try to exploit Dapne, but ironically helps save her.
  
The mortician (no black suit) discovers that the kidnapper and crash “victim” Douglas (Tyler Cravens) has actually abused himself (possibly severely), and that’s reinforced it you look closely.
   
Another plot complication is that Emory’s wife is dying of cardiomyopathy.  He has a caregiver at home which allows him to work on the case.
  
The plot seems to be based on a true-life case in South Carolina, with a co-conspirator in Alabama, presented on HLN this summer;  I caught the story by accident while in a hotel room in NYC before going out (TV blog, June 29).  I think Nancy Grace has discussed this case before.  It could have made a good Dateline report.
  
The lead role Judd Nelson says it is harder to play a good guy than a villain, in the “Behind the Scenes” short. 
  
  
Official Facebook is here. (NFocuas and Naedomi Pictures).
  
The DVD for the 2010 film may be rented from Netflix.  This movie reminds of the big studio mystery "Body Heat" in 1980, also set in the same area.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ridley Scott creates an alien world in his retelling of the Biblical "Exodus: Gods and Kings"


My overall reaction to Ridley Scott’s retelling of the Exodus story “Exodus: God and Kings” is that it helps explain “tribalism” and the tendency for people to have to do things in groups, in solidarity, especially religious or ethnic solidarity.  It also helps show the susceptibility of people to radicalization, at least revolution.  That’s the way of the most of history, and I escaped most of it for most of my adult life.
  
The film obviously gives Scott a chance to show off the latest CGI in 3-D, and the movie conveys the look of an alien civilization on another planet.  The vision, however cluttered with ancient urban shanty, is impressive and detailed.
  
I saw “The Ten Commandments” with my family in 1954 at the old RKO Keiths in downtown Washington, and so it’s pretty hard to top that.  Scott-Free's new film short circuits the whole Golden Calif episode.  Arnold Schoenberg tells the story in his opera "Moses and Aaron".  

When the pestilences come, about 90 minutes into the 150 minute film, the play out in quick, hushed succession.  They indeed take the movie into horror, however directed at “the enemy”.  There is even some impressive CGI work creating multiple tornadoes in the Red Sea scene.

Christian Bale is charismatic enough as Moses, but in the movie’s length, his loyalty change back to his own people is really not told clearly enough.  Scott’s idea of using a child as an angel representing God or Jehovah is interesting; another adult would compete too much for Bale.  Some of the rest of the cast, such as Joel Edgerton as Ramses, Ben Mendelsohn as the viceroy, Andrew Tarbet as Aaron, and Sigourney Weaver as Tuya, are just OK.  Some critics have noticed that most of the cast, even playing the Egyptians, are white.
  
This movie is of the “spectacle” genre.  The best film of all time of this nature was the first Cinemascope picture from Fox in 1953, “The Robe”, based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas.  I remember crying at the end, at the age of 8.  I saw this in the old Jefferson Theater on Route 50 near Falls Church, VA, the first “neighborhood” theater to be remodeled for Cinemascope. 
  
  
The official site (from 20th Century Fox) is here.    The Fox trailer starts “when men ruled as gods”.  But they had clay feet.
  
The film was shot largely in Spain and the Canary Islands (only a little in Egypt).   The latter is ironic, since the Canaries have a volcano, Cumbre Vieja, which could cause a 100-foot or more tsunami all the way across the Atlantic (with an 8 hour warning) if it erupted and caused an underwater landslide (link). 
  
I saw this film before a light Sunday night audience in a large auditorium at Regal Ballston.
  
I did see Otto Preminger’s "Exodus" (based on Leon Uris) in high school (in 1960).
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Red Sea photo. 
  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"What It Was": another "Tree of Life" meditation, this time in a NYC community of color


At the QA for a showing of his film “What It Was” at the HRC Friday night Dec. 13 for Reel Affirmations, director Daniel Armando said that he was inspired by the style of Terrence Malick.
  
Indeed, the story is layered, reflective and visual, with little dialogue.  Adina (Arlene Chico-Lugo), a Latino actress, has lost her sister and seen her marriage collapse while living and working in LA.  She returns home to the Bronx, and finds her true self, partly with another woman (Deidre Herlihy), but also with another male Puerto Rican actor (Lenny Thomas).
  
The film does have some odd effects, making a lot of body art and paintings sessions. 

There have been other esoteric gay films, most notably “Judas Kiss”, in Malick-style, but this time the emphasis are on the artistic and visual values of a community of color. And the experience is truly bisexual. 
   

One could wonder if the film could have a “prequel”, showing what life is like in LA for younger and less established actors, leveraging themselves on social media.

I could imagine a film with this concept, about my life when I returned from "my own life" in other cities home to look after my mother in the past decade.  It wasn't pretty. Maybe a better title would be "What It Had Been." 
        
The look of this film is often mid 70s or 80s.  I don’t recall much modern technology in effect.  This how some of New York when I lived there in the late 70s.
  
Afterward there was reception, and the food was definitely ethnic, and right out of an Anthony Bourdain “Parts Unknown”, which has visited the Bronx.

  
The official site is here  (Novo Novus).
  
The music score, by Sean Balas, uses a lot of religious choral music, somewhat in the fashion of “Tree of Life”.