Saturday, January 31, 2015

"The Hermitage: A Journey in Time and Space": A complete tour of the huge museum and former Czar residence in St. Petersburg, Russia


The 2004 documentary “The Hermitage: A Journey in Time and Space”, by Vladimir Ptashchenko, was released on DVD by Kultur in 2014.  The visuals in the film are outstanding in clarity, despite that the DVD is standard. 

The film starts with some shots of the entire long structure of the museum on the water, and then a concert inside the museum starts, with a Mozart overture.  A variety of music by Bach. Vivaldi, Mozart and Haydn play for most of the film (especially Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony in F# Minor); gradually the music moves to Tchaikovsky and even Schnittke.

The film ends with a lights festival outdoors at the museum.  In between, we get the grand tour, with lots of detailed descriptions of many of the paintings and sculptures, with explanations of how the pieces fit into Russian Czarist history.

There is gemstone corset with a whole rainbow of brilliant colors.  There is a room with an unusual collection of green jade sculptures balancing the more ordinary room colors.


The museum was a residence until the Russian revolution.

Film may be the best way people can see parts of Russia right now, especially St. Petersburg (on the Baltic Sea, not too far from the Finnish border).  Tensions are high, and the Russian anti-gay propaganda law of 2013 might present issues for LGBT people with public blogs about their lives that are accessible in Russia (I have yet to hear if any arrests of tourists have happened for this reason). For all its beauty, St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) had an anti-gay speech law before Russia as a whole did.
  
The official site from Kultur is here
   
I have a related review of an older film “Russian Ark” (by Sokurov) and the associated documentary “In One Breath” on Wordpress here
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Hermitage entrance picture by Yair Haklai (Creative Commons, Share-Alike 3.0).  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Best live-action shorts (for Oscars) emphasize personal empathy


I got to the 2015 Oscar nominated shorts today, and the program, from Magnolia Pictures, runs a little longer than in the past, at 118 minutes.  And there is a recurring theme of receptiveness to interacting with strangers, even “radical hospitality”.  (Maybe that should be the name of a movie as well as a famous 2012 sermon in Arlington VA.)
  
The biggest film (39 minutes), and for me the choice to win, is “Aya” (site ), directed by Oded Binnum and Mihal Brezis, Israel.  The film is a curious combination of “Locke” and “A Man and a Woman”.  A young woman Aya (Sarah Adler) trolls the “reception line” at Tel Aviv airport.  A man holding a greeting sign asks Aya to hold it for him for a bathroom break, and when the guest, a Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen) arrives from Helsinki, she winds up letting him hitch a ride to his swanky hotel in Jerusalem.  (I thought, you aren’t supposed to take hitchhikers.)
  
I wondered, where is this material going?  Overby (from Denmark) is a music researcher and perhaps piano teacher.  Is this going to be some political scheme, or just plain heterosexual opportunity, which does quickly come up with the thigh shots.  The movie manages to build some suspense, with a few spectacular shots of the Israeli countryside and of Jerusalem at night.  A big hint is that she already has a family.
  
  
The music score, listed as by Ishai Adar, included a piano passage (through Overby’s headphones), has a passage that I think sounded like the fast middle section of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, and later some slow tempo piano music that sounded very familiar but resembled Poulenc. 
  
The first chapter of my own “Angel’s Brothers” has two young men (one with a family, the other a precocious gay college student) meeting “by accident” on a visit to Auschwitz, and sharing a cab ride back to Cracow, leading the reader to wonder if there is a connection.  There indeed will be.  The tone of this movie was a little bit like my own first chapter.
  
The film is shot 2.35:1, but cropped smaller to fit the consistent shorts format. 
  
The second biggest film was Parvaneh (25 min, site), directed by Talkhon Hamzavi, Switzerland (spectacularly filmed, apparently round downtown Zurich, in winter), in German.  Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) is about 19, and working alone in Zurich and tries to send money back to her parents in Afghanistan.  When Western Union turns her down, she begs in the street for someone to help cosign for her.  Who would really do this, given the world today?   Another young woman, Cheryl Graf, wants a commission cut on the deal at first, but gradually befriends her, taking her to clubs and at one point protecting her from a potential rapist.
  
The third longest was “The Phone Call” (21 min, site ), directed by Mat Kirby and James Lucas.  In London, Heather (Sally Hawkins) takes a call in a help center from an elderly widower (James Broadbent).  contemplating suicide. This didn’t work for me.  And why the wide screen format?  Yet, I once wrote a short story called “Friendship on the Phone”.  Ironically, “Phonecall” is the name of the most popular song YouTube videos by Belgian singer-actor-producer Timo Descamps (even though one of the earliest videos), and the subject matter is quite happy.

The fourth is “Butter Lamp” (“La lampe au buerre de Yak”), by Wei Hu (China and France), 16 minutes.  A photographer takes pictures of socially cohesive Tibetan villagers against various Chinese photos and tapestries as backgrounds (defeating the purpose of film).  Gradually, a political agenda emerges.  At the end, we see a spectacular shot of a Chinese construction project in the Himalaya, apparently unpopular with the people.
  
The last film is “Boogaloo and Graham” (14 min, site ), by Michael Lennox, from Northern Ireland.  A father, mother and two boys in a chicken farm tend to their birds, contemplating new additions to the family (literally), while IRA violence subsides outside. 

I saw the films at a late afternoon show Friday at Landmark E Street in Washington DC, before a half-full large auditorium.  
  
Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Israel, author “Yuval Y”, similar to what appears in first film  (Creative Commons-Share-Alike 3.0 unported). 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"The Blood of Yingzhou District" tells the story of children orphaned by AIDS in China, caused when parents are forced to share needles to sell blood


The 40-minute documentary “The Blood of Yingzhou District”, by Ruby Yang (2006), presents a shocking picture of AIDS and HIV-disease in rural China, transmitted through the re-use of needles when parents sell blood for income.  The film is shot in a flat, winter landscape of poor villages in the province of Anhui in China, in the eastern part of the country at mid-latitude, about 200 miles in from the ocean. 
  
Much of the film focuses on one orphaned child, Gao Jun, who speaks at the end of the film when fed a flower plant by an uncle, HIV-infected himself, who has finally taken him in as a foster child. 
  
The film talks a lot about family responsibility and “filial” piety.  Other family members often wind up raising children orphaned by AIDS.  A few of the children presented in the film were infected themselves at birth.  All of the children are stigmatized in rural schools. 
  
The living conditions shown in the rural villages are indeed shabby and rather shocking, Toward the end of the film, there is discussion of attempts to get medication from the West for Chinese families in rural areas, presumably like protease inhibitors. 

The music is by Brian Keane, but includes a famous cello and piano passage by Bach.  
  
  
The official site is here, from Thomas Lennon Films and Cinema Guild.

I thought about the 1968 MGM film "The Shoes of the Fisherman", by Michael Anderson (based on the novel by Morris West), where the first Russian Pope (fictitious) settles a crisis (resembling the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962) by a deal to feed "starving Chinese", just dealing with Mao's Cultural Revolution. A Catholic friend, himself another graduate student with whom I saw the film, disagreed that this could even happen. The 1963 book had a very sympathetic passage about homosexuality in the Catholic Church that sticks in my mind.  
  
Wikipedia does not have a lot of images of the region; one of the closest would be the bridge in Fuhang, link here , p.d., not author given (Creative Commons 1.0).  But all the scenery in the film is rural.  The second picture is mine, winter in rural MD. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Leviathan" is a stunning look at local corruption in Russia, all filmed on location in a bleak, alien-looking Arctic environment


Travel to Russia is less practical now for many people (especially LGBT) now than it used to be, largely because of the political situation and Vladimir Putin’s behavior, but the expansive film “Leviathan” (or “Leviafan”), directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, filmed on location on the Murmansk Oblast, offers, in wide screen, a stunning look at the northwest corner of Russia, along the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean, mostly in Summer.  The province borders Finland, an area politically contested early in World War II (the film “Ambush”, by Olli Saarela, which I saw in 1999 at the University of Minnesota) and possibly at future risk today under Putin.  I saw the film on the large curved screen (full Cinemascope) at the old Avalon Theater in Washington DC.  I wasn’t aware that the area is as rugged as it looks.  Among the cliffs and canyons are nestled these small towns with Soviet-style apartments (low high rises), warehouses, dilapidated businesses, towers, bridges, and dirt roads.  It looks like another planet.  The city of Murmansk is along the coast, and was indeed used for the urban scenes.
  
In one scene, the corrupt mayor (Roman Madyanov), quite fat, talks to the aggressive handsome Moscow lawyer (Vladimir Vdovichenko), who is trying to expose the major and threatens him. Behind the mayor, who even puts off being served afternoon tea, is a picture of Putin. 

The story centers around the unexplained campaign or vendetta by the mayor against local auto repair shop owner Nikolay (Aleksy Serebryakov), his wife (Elena Lyadova) and almost charismatic teen soon Romka (Sergey Pohkadaev) from a previous marriage.  The mayor uses eminent domain, paying almost nothing, for the right to demolish the home and business in a picturesque location for development  When Nikolay resists and brings the attorney into the picture, the mayor turns him into a modern day Job, eventually framing him for his wife’s convenient murder.
  
The role of the Russian Orthodox church (so exploited by Putin in the anti-gay campaign) is clear.  The priest condemns Nikolay for not fasting and praying enough, and in a funeral at the end (as winter comes) says that personal freedom is in antipathy to morality.  “All power is from God” and from Putin. Life is not to be about personal desires.  I thought, Putin wants “large families” to repopulate this barren, ruined land (although there is a lot of oil and minerals in the area).  The scene where the house is demolished is quite overpowering.  The title of the film comes from a whale skeleton found on the beach by the boy.

The film, up for best foreign language film, is distributed in the US by Sony Pictures Classics, and it’s surprising it is in only one theater, harder to reach than most by subway and with only street parking. (It's a 15-minute winter walk, along the street above, from the Metro.)  Sony is to be commended by continuing to release films that slam modern authoritarian governments, even given “The Interview”.  Curiously, in the script, the term “roadside attractions” occurs (the name of another major indie distributor).


The official site is here (Sony and Palace Films). 

Neil MacFarquhar has a front page account of how the film has been received in Russia.  That is to say, negatively, and believed to be libelous, and making rural Russian people look bad.  Putin really intends to repopulate this motherland? 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for scene (first picture) in Teriberka (on the Arctic coast), where the whale skeleton was located, here  (wiki author "Blair175", Creative Commons Share-Alike 4.0 international). The Wikipedia image used here (with permission) is almost identical to a shot in the film.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Night Will Fall" documents early filmmaking about the Holocaust


Night Will Fall”, by Andre Singer, is a new documentary (2015, 77 minutes) about the lost film footage made by Sidney Bernstein and Alfred Hitchcock in 1945 as the Allies discovered the concentration camps when liberating Europe from the Nazis.  The documentary would be called “Memory of the Camps” (70 minutes) and focused on the existential challenge to mankind’s future in civilized living, in that could degenerate into such animal-like brutality. The title of the film refers to how the Allies discovered the first camps:  from the stench at night, but they didn’t really see it until broad daylight.  Later, Billy Wilder would make a documentary short, “Death Mills”, which was more matter-of-fact, on the guilt of the Germans.
  
The film shows lots of graphic footage of the remains found by the Allies. 
  
It also notes that the Nazis hoarded all the physical possessions of the prisoners, from toy trains to sewing needles, even to teeth with jaws removed.  Much of the footage comes from Auschwitz-Birkenau, which I visited myself in May, 1999.
   
The film aired first on HBO Monday January 26, 2015.  The official site is here. Today, January 27, is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (BBC story). 
   
The title of the film recalls the book “Night” by Elie Wiesel, which is often read by high school students in translated, abridged form.  Lesson plans for ninth-grade English (even with reading quizzes) used it a lot when I worked as a substitute teacher.
  
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of barracks at Birkenau, near Cracow, Poland (photo by Joshua Doubek, Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 unported). .  

Monday, January 26, 2015

"The Humbling": It's hard out here for an over-the-hill stage actor


The Humbling”, directed by Barry Levinson and adapted from the 2009 novel by Philip Roth, with Al Pacino as the aging actor protagonist, ought to have been a major indie player in the Christmas season.  But the film is a bit tedious and rather wastes its anamorphic wide screen space, so it seems most consumers are just seeing it on Instant Play. 
  
There’s always an issue when writing about an “over the hill” anti-hero.  Do you show his life from his viewpoint, or (perhaps more interesting, though not done here), through the eyes of younger adults (or even teens) around him?  How do you bring in the backstories of the other characters?  In real life, that’s usually complicated, and in the movie business that’s one reason we get “prequels”.
  
The novel, while short at 140 pages, is rather intricate, and in three parts.  The 112 minutes of the film seem to gloss over the serious problems in some of the other characters’ lives, somewhat focusing too much on Simon Axler’s self-pity and vulnerability.
  
One interesting concept of the film, though, is its layering.  Some of the thespian’s issues will be played  out in his roles as he returns to the stage.
  
As the movie opens, Simon is quoting Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, the passage about “all the world’s a stage”.  Indeed, fiction and fact will mix for him.  He seems to be banned from entering a theater, after a previous meltdown at the Kennedy Center. But somehow he gets another chance, and dives off the stage, and winds up in a psych ward. (That scene might make an accidental connection to “Birdman”, a much snazzier film (Nov. 5).
  
He spends a month in rehab, and meets a woman who describes a horror story of how she discovered her husband’s abusing her daughter.   Simon courts legal trouble (as an accessory) by allowing discussions as to how she could hire a hit to get rid of her husband.  By now, we’re in material that might belong in a Robert Altman movie, but not handled as well.  In time, Simon is back home (is that Scarsdale? – suspect it was shot in Toronto) and in a relationship with a “former” lesbian Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), whose recent African-American lover is now transgender to male.  Pegeen’s parents, at one point, tell Simon to “stay away” from their daughter.  You hear that in soap operas, but you hope most seniors recognize where they are not welcome in time.
  
Simon will eventually return to the stage.  Apparently the play is supposed to be Eugene O’Neill’s “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night”.  That was itself a film in 1962, and not on DVD, but I seem to recall a video of some of it in a lesson plan for an AP English class when I worked as a substitute teacher a few years back.  Maybe this new film would show up as viewing in a college drama class.  The climax of the film concerns what Simon may do to himself when acting the part in the play at the end.  It sounds like he is quoting Shakespeare again. Actually, I recall a line where Simon says he wants to do "King Lear" (which we all read and took quizzes on in English as seniors in high school -- and I remember all the intra-family jealousies).  Maybe that was the setting at the end.  
  
  

The official site is here.(Millennium films). The film can be rented legally on YouTube for $6.99, same price on Amazon.  A little cheaper than a theater ticket.  Nice to have a big home screen.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Goodbye to All That" puts a hapless husband through separation, divorce and single fatherhood -- and tries to be a comedy


For the second day in a row, I have a film that shreds the straight world.  “Goodbye to All That” (2014, directed Angus MacLachlan) is an indirect satire of the whole world of heterosexual marriage, divorce, and custody issues, and the “burden” it places on men, even in the conservative South.
Otto Wall (Paul Schneider) is a well-meaning husband and father to daughter Edie (Audrey Scott), but has an accident, and serious surgery for a leg fracture.  At one point, the surgeon even warns of possible amputation.  But as he is coming out of all of this (pun), a therapist, hired by wife Annie (Melanie Lynskey) tells him that “it’s over”, and that his wife wants a separation and later divorce, and that he must move out.  It’s not clear why.  It seems that she is interested in someone else, and that he isn’t sexually attractive enough to her anymore.  The actor playing is only 38, but looks a bit older, with legs going bald already.  It’s all rather like a juvenile fantasy.  Women don’t usually ponder these things.

So Otto has to negotiate the world of one-night stands, with women who sound reluctant and eventually push him away.  And there is the issue of, effectively, single fatherhood.  Toward the end of the film, Annie wants to take even visitation away because Edie said he had sex toys in his apartment.

Nevertheless, the idea that Otto gets "rejected" because he is no longer "hot" enough has disturbing implications.  I visited this area earlier in my own life. 
  
What a trap.  Is this an argument for married men’s rights?

  
The official site is here  (IFC films). 
  
The music score offers excerpt from four Haydn piano concertos.  Why Haydn, not Mozart?  Haydn’s concertos sound even more “classical” and comical, playful, less emotionally engaging. 
  
The outdoor scenes were shot in the North Carolina Piedmont (in autumn) and Blue Ridge. I think there was a shot of Roan Mountain (link).
   
I rented the film on Amazon Instant Play. 

Picture: Blue Ridge Parkway, NC, my visit, July 2013 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"The Boy Next Door" inverts the "teacher-student-inappropriate-relationship" problem and makes it into stereotyped stalker horror


The Boy Next Door”, a stereotyped January thriller form Rob Cohen, takes up an important topic – a teacher’s inappropriate relations with a student – but turns it into typical B-movie stuff with all the ingenious but clich├ęd plot points and devices for a “damsel in distress”. 
  
Jennifer Lopez plays Claire Peterson, who teaches AP junior English in a Bay Area high school.  Okay, she can’t “accept” an old library copy of Homer’s Iliad as a “gift”, and that rings a bell.  Her marriage (husband played by John Corbett) is on the rocks because of his philandering, and the most likable teenage geek son Kevin (Ian Nelson), first a geek, is encountering unlikely problems with high school bullies.
  
Enter “the boy next door”, Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman), who seems like a handyman in all things, including fixing a garage door opener, and who even teaches Kevin to replace a car alternator.  Noah is supposedly taking care of an uncle after both parents mysteriously died.  (Red flag.)  He starts “moving in” on Claire, and soon signs up to be in her class after a mysterious high school transfer.
   
Noah says he’s 19, and the actor who plays him is 27 (and looks it, although there really shouldn’t be that much difference).  That takes the “underage” aspect out of the story, even though it’s still a crime to have sex with one’s public school students (see ABC report on TV blog, Sept. 29, 2012).  But it’s Noah who has turned things upside down.

It isn’t too long before Claire figures out he is a psychopathic stalker, and the movie is predicated in part on school officials behaving in ways that are unlikely. Noah, along the way, hacks into the school’s system.

Yes, there’s a lot wrong with the “characters” here.  First, take Kevin.  It’s really not likely a kid with this temperament would take up boxing, or drive a sports car 100 mph in the California Coast Mountains, even his dad in it.  And then Noah himself.   Thankfully, it is very unusual for someone like this to be in an AP track – almost unheard of.  The whole concept of the character seems cynical, the old “clay feet” concept.

There are other movies to compare this to – most of all, Lifetime’s 2003 thriller “Student Seduction”, reviewed here May 4. 2010.  That film took up the idea that a female teacher could be prosecuted if she was set up by a male student.  But here, prosecution and serious discipline from the school system seem far away, even as Mrs. Peterson has to clean up her classroom after Noah vandalizes it with the principal and students trying to come in.  In fact, this newer film starts out a little like a Lifetime movie, before it wanders into more conventional stalker horror.

I’ve often talked about my own rogue screenplay “The Sub” on these pages.  In my screenplay, the precious student saves the Sub’s life with a defibrillator before a somewhat (and ambiguous) improper “relationship” starts, but the plot never turns violent;  in fact, after the “sub’s” death in prison (from the heart condition), the kid performs the sub’s’ music publicly.  In this new film, the student does save the son’s life in one scene by giving an adrenalin shot after the kid goes into shock.  That also figures into the plot later.

It's sad to see a serious trend these days -- teachers getting arrested for inappropriate relations with students -- turned into rather silly entertainment.  The national trend of busts and arrests (not to mention ruined lives) has rapidly increased since about 2006.  And some of the defendants are women. 


The official site is here
  
I saw the film before a small audience at Regal Ballston Common Friday evening, in a large auditorium.
   

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Bodega Bay, CA, which I visited in December 1966 and then November 1995, site if the Hitchcock film “The Birds”. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has major science films, including "Wildest Weather in the Solar System", "Titans of the Ice Age", and "The Last Reef"


A package visit to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA includes some films, and yesterday I saw three “long shorts” of considerable interest, among a wide choice. .

Wildest Weather in the Solar System”  (2011), from National Geographic, is projected in the Planetarium as if it were Omnimax.  It’s directed by Dana Barry and Lawrence Gay.  The museum said it ran 25 minutes, but imdb says 44, and there seems to be a “free” version of the longer version on YouTube (not sure if it’s legal).  I would experience this in a theater (although I think that Imax is a better format than a planetarium).  The film starts with an explanation of a “solar flare” and coronal mass ejection (which it doesn’t name) which then blasts Mercury’s surface.  (The biggest CME’s can endanger power grids on Earth – and we aren’t fully prepared for solar weather.) It then takes us to Venus, and shows us the inferno-like landscape of a planet ruined by runaway greenhouse effect.  (This may have happened in the last billion years.  Maybe there was life there before.)  Next comes Mars, with a dust tornado, several miles high, and then a planetary dust storm.

The spacecraft takes us to the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, and the anticyclonic Red Spot, with its tremendous lightning. I’ve always wondered what the hydrogen “ocean” on Jupiter would look like, and the metallic hydrogen underneath.  The film skips Io (whose volcanism is interesting) and moves next to Titan, offering the best view of the methane lakes and dune-like mountains in orange twilight to be shown on film (that is, with very realistic animation and CGI).  The film says that methane thunderstorms occur on Titan – I wondered if the methane molecule has the electrical polarization inside (like water, with its bonding angle) that can lead to lightning.  The raindrops are large, and for long periods of time, the methane lakes are quite placid, with little wind.  There is one shot of a still black lake that is quite breathtaking.
  
  
The film moves on to Neptune, with the strongest winds in the Solar System (driven by internal heat), but also with possibly a liquid diamond core layer that leads to diamond “sleet” in the atmosphere (although there seems to be very thick water and ammonia ocean). The moon Triton has volcanoes of liquid nitrogen that lead to bizarre plumes driven by winds in the very think atmosphere.
  
The second film was “Titans of the Ice Age” (2013, directed by David Clark, again NatGeo) in the Tuttleman Imax theater, was actually OmniMax, which tends to distort the picture.  This 45-minute film (narrated by Christopher Plummer and Christoph Waltz) almost sold out. The film starts with a fast-frozen baby wooly mammoth found near the Arctic Ocean in Russia.  It then recreates a world where mammoths lived and co-existed with packs of wolves, and roaming sabre-tooth “cats” – tigers twice today’s size.  Had human primates not come along and developed tools and technology, cats might rule the world today.  It seems that the cats always drove away the wolves.  Think about it, humans are actually rather large in the grand scheme of things.  Most of the film is shot in the Wasatch Range in Utah.  The film explains how the Ice Age developed and subsided and contains a subtle warning about global warming. 
  
The third film was “The Last Reef” (2006), by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, shown downstairs in the Franklin Theater, a standard screen with 3D.  The official site is here.   The film starts by showing the gradual natural repair of a reef destroyed by nuclear weapons testing in the 1940s and early 50s.  It then examines coral reefs around the world. 

As a supplement, watch the 4-minute "Landing on Titan" short video (by Pop Tech) on YouTube here, with a simulated surface view from "Titanian Airlines". And here is a one hour lecture on the hdden ocean beneath the icy surface of Europa, by the Mars Underground.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Dam Nation" documentary, showing glorious scenery, argues that electricity and jobs should give way to "free fish"


The documentary “Dam Nation”, directed by Ben Knight and Travis Rummel, argues for removing dams or for not building them, partly out of honoring native Americans, particularly for restoring natural spawning grounds for salmon.  The scenery in this indie documentary begs for Imax 3-D in a science museum.
  
Nevertheless, dams provide relatively clean hydroelectric power and have provided water for agriculture in the West, even though even that is somewhat threatened by climate change and drought.

“Dams give us irrigation and jobs”, whereas “salmon gives us dinner”.  So it does for bears, too. And “FDR never saw a dam that he didn’t think should be built”.  Or “If I chose between birds and airplanes, I choose birds.  Between fish and electricity, I choose fish.”  Well, that is, “Free fish!” (May 13, 2013).

The film has an interesting sequence showing how native Americans fished on the Columbia River before dams were built.  
  
The film considers some dams on the Snake River in Idaho as among the “worst offenders”, providing only 4% of the electricity in the area.  Barging was used as justification for the dams.
A man with Parkinson’s describes his experience fishing in Oregon, in an area “threatened” by dams. 
  
The film also visits Glen Canyon Dan, between Utah and Arizona, at the town of Page.  The film discusses abandoned Chaco ruins in the area. There is some canyon scenery similar to that of “127 Hours”. 

The film shows the Glines Canyon Dam in Washington State before its removal in 2014.  I believe I visited the area in July 1996 during a day in Olympia National Park.
  
There was graffiti painted on the dam at Ojai, CA (site of a major concert, Drama blog June 17, 2014).
  
  
The official site is here.  It was featured at SXSW. The film title is often listed as one word as a false pun, “DamNation”.
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Hoover Dam picture (photo author "Kuczora", CC-SA 3,0, unported).  I visited it in December 1997, on a trip to Las Vegas.  And I recall passing through Page, AZ in May 2000. 
   
See also “Chattahoochee Unplugged”, March 30, 2014 here.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"A Most Violent Year": low-key mob drama about an "ethical" gangster in the early 80s


There is a scene a third the way through “A Most Violent Year” (directed by J. C. Chandor) where newcomer Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), driving at night with his wife (Jessica Chastain) hits a deer.  He thinks for a moment that it’s a bullet.  I recalled one of my most dangerous close calls recently:  driving back from Shenandoah National Park in the late fall in the dark on US 211 (not a good idea), I saw a deer on the road at the last moment, slammed on the brakes, and missed it.  I didn’t lose control, but people often do. 
  
The rest of the dangers in this movie are manmade.  The early part of 1981, about the time Reagan took office, was one of the most violent times in New York City’s history.  I had lived in Manhattan from 1974 through the end of 1978.  It has boomed since I left, partly because Giuiliani’s “broken windows” police policy and because some of the corruption has been cleaned up.
  
Morales, to make it in the City, has no choice but to play along with the corruption and crime family control “On the Waterfront” as he tries to build a heating oil business.  The orange and green trucks populate the screen, in what is otherwise a sepia winter landscape around docks, tunnels and warehouses.  Why should consumers in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx depend on a crime-family business just to buy heating oil for their homes?  Is that how it was then?  Morales hires kids to sell door-to-door, and one of the kids gets kidnapped leaving and dumped in a landfill, alive, to teach him a lesson.  A bigger problem is that drivers are gunned down or carjacked.  A major plot thread concerns the determination of one driver (Elyes Gabel) to arm himself (as a Second Amendment matter) and that leads to a major incident on a bridge over the East River. 
  
The biggest problems for Morales, though, is dealing with the local district attorney, just starting to clean up the mob (at his own risk) and most of all loan sharks, as he gets in deeper, needing to get land access to the waterfront at one point around the Rockaways in order to survive competitively. He wants to do the right things, and even resists carrying a gun himself.  In one scene the family cat almost saves him.  
    
The film seems to be well received, although it is smaller in ambition that the “godfather” films of the past.  But mob violence is no longer entertaining as it once was.  Today, we all take it seriously.

But the film honors the conventions of screenwriting, making us empathize with a "good gangster" who has little choice, putting him in jeopardy, and making us root for him. To bad the kids' birthday party gets broken up by the NYPD.

To make it in his world, you had to compete socially and take care of your own, even if you had to skirt the law.  Thankfully I wasn't raised in this environment.

The action in the film happens just before the first cases of AIDS would be reported in New York.  That was a dangerous year in other ways.
       
  
The official site is here.  A24 has started releasing bigger films, it seems.  Production companies include Washington Square and FilmNation.
   
I saw this at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA before a small weekday crowd.
    
Picture: The Rockaways, my visit, March 2013 (after Hurricane Sandy).  


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Shenandoah": documentary of a hate crime by high school students against a Latino immigrant in Pennsylvania in 2008, and the huge aftermath


Shenandoah” (2012, by David Turnley) is an introspective documentary of a hate crime (and apparent police coverup) in Shenandoah, PA, an anthracite coal mining town in northeast Pennsylvania. 
  
On July 12, 2008, four white football players allegedly beat a Latino man to death in the street after a random encounter.  The victim, Luis Ramirez, was said to be illegal or undocumented. The four players, in this town of largely Polish descendants, were Brandon Piekarsky, 16, Derrick Donchak, 18, Colin Walsh, 17 and Brian Scully 17.  Piekarsky was acquitted of third-degree murder and Donchak of ethnic intimidation, but moth were convicted of misdemeanor assault. But a federal prosecutor went after Piekarsky and Donchak for hate crimes, and each received nine year federal sentences.  Members of the police department would also be incited.  A detailed account of the case is here.  Sam Dolnick has a followup story in the New York Times Aug. 10, 2012 here
  
The film starts with the high school football team a few years later trying to recover from the horror, starting over again as a losing team.  It almost reminds one of Penn State.
  
The crimes occurred in the context of adult battles over illegal immigration and even, at least indirectly, the Bush administration’s way of handling the war on terror.
  
The community faces its economic decline, even with the loss of a Lithuanian church.  The boys graduate from high school with caps and gowns, but two of them face prison.  The police officers are convicted of lying to the FBI and head to prison. But in a way, this sounds a bit like double jeopardy, But the Feds can prosecute for a different charge after a state acquittal.  It happened with Rodney King. 
      
  
The film has somewhat the presentation style of a Dateline or 2020 crime episode. 
  
The film can be viewed on Netflix instant play.
  
The film should not be confused with the 1965 musical by that name;  I saw the stage play of the musical in Dallas in 1979. 
   
Picture is mine, 2010, a town south of State College.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Blackhat": Chris Hemsworth doesn't quite make the James Bond genre


The public may be ready for a January B-movie (that is, Michael Mann’s “Blackhat”) about cyberterror, and particularly when the idea is not really terrorism but thuggery disguised as politics.  A  nuclear power plant in China is hacked, threatening a meltdown, and the Chicago commodity exchange is hacked simultaneously. Manipulating soy futures.  At least soy is easier to “take delivery” on than pork bellies.
  
The government is so desperate that it lets “ethical hacker” Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) out of prison to solve the case.  His history is illustrative:  He had served 18 months for a bar fight, and then, as a felon, unable to get normal work in Silicon Valley, so he got hired to hack, got caught and sentenced to 15 years.  He indeed has street smarts, manipulation and assertiveness skills, and some of the toughness of prison, not common with programmers. He's fluent talking about RAT's (remote access tools). 
    
He is “ethical” in that he says he went out of his way never to hurt individual people, only big banks.  Like most young men in Putin’s Russia today, he needed to make a living somehow.  He’s rather a robin hood, ready to protect the little guy, physically if necessary.  He’s rather a revolutionary, almost a Bolshevist fighter. And of course he develops a romance with a co-plotter, a young Chinese woman (Wei Tang).  The leader from the Chinese side is charismatic enough, played by Leehom Wang.
   
Chris Hemsworth is appropriately physically spectacular, at 29.  His chest is still completely hairless, and before the closeup camera a lot (like you don’t want anamorphic wide screen then).  Another hacker in California is depicted as covered with gang tattoos, which wouldn’t be characteristic.  He types very fast, and never has trouble memorizing long, meaningless passwords.
  
The movie has impressive shots inside the nuclear power plant (although the sarcophagus in the Ukraine is more interesting in real life), and scenery in Hong Kong (about half the movie), Malaysia (the open pit tin mines are spectacular, and although near the coast, remind me of “mountaintop removal” in the IS), and Jakarta. The connection to nuclear power plant terror—see the movie, that’s a spoiler.

The credits mention Kuala Lumpur, but the buildings in the movie match those in Jakarta on Wikipedia.  There is a climactic scene near a merry-go-round (echo of Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train”) and Balinese dance festival. The shootout and violence may recall the terror disco attack in Indonesia in 2002 (another one was prevented). 
        
So the film doesn’t quite make Nick into a “James Bond”.  It tends to stick to the conventions of Screenwriting 101 for commercial movies (especially those that need to make money in Asia as well as the US), keeping the protagonist in maximum trouble all the time. 
  
The film also uses another optical device – showing the insides of a printed circuit, with the electrons making their journey.  This image comes right out of the 1979 Disney movie “Tron”.  Remember, users are what our programs are for.

Viola Davis stars as one of the fibbies, and is pretty effective.  
  

The official site is here.  This time, Legendary went through Universal rather than Warner Brothers.

Wikipedia attribution link for Jakarta picture (author Sanko, CC-SA 3.0 unported). 
  
I saw this before a fair late Sunday afternoon crowd at AMC Tysons, maybe in ETS. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Still Alice": a college professor's descent into early Alzheimer's is hard to watch


I’ve made it a point to review many small films about people with various disabilities, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.   Sometimes the commercial films seem to gloss over the most intimate points.  But “Still Alice”, directed and written by Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland, adapted from Lisa Genova’s novel, presents the full horror of the descent into early onset Alzheimer's and is hard to watch.  I did hear of a case like this when growing up and in the 1950s it was called "softening of the brain", without much pretense of compassion. 
   
Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, the renowned Columbia University linguistics professor, whose symptoms start when she has trouble pulling all the words in her lectures, at age 50.  Soon she has various tests (which are familiar to me from my mother’s course in her last year), an MRI and PET scan, and finally genetic tests.  They confirm she has an inherited form of early onset Alzheimer’s.  In a manner similar to Huntington’s Disease, he kids will have a 50-50 chance of inheriting it, and could choose to be tested.

Her husband, a medicine professor played by Alec Baldwin, stands by her and honors the “in sickness and in health” part of marriage.  Her progression is choppy and uneven, and probably accurately portrayed.  Her husband is offered a position at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and he wants to go, and she fears he doesn’t want to stand by her, even though of course she would go.  It would sound like a good idea, as the best possible chance for treatment might be available there.

Of the young adult kids who come to all the family gatherings, Lydia (Kristen Stewart) is the most challenging.  Instead of law school or medical school, she is following the thespian life, and early in te film confides to her mother that in return for her theater opportunity, she has to help raise funds – like paying for her own job (a common trend today) rather than having a real “professional” career.   Later, on the beach, Lydia says that what is expected of her “isn’t fair” and Alice retorts, “It doesn’t have to be fair; I’m your mother.”



The official site is here  (Sony Pictures Classic).  I saw the film late Saturday afternoon at the AMC Shirlington before a large audience, 

Picture: Columbia campus, my visit, MLK weekend 2014. 

"Aliens on the Moon: The Truth Exposed": If this isn't all made up, it would be serious; impressive "fake" Moon landscape photos in BW, and alien autopsies


Aliens on the Moon: The Truth Exposed” (2014), by Robert Kiviat, seems like a SyFy cable channel TV broadcast, with its little interruptions, and hysterical tone.  I could talk tongue-in-cheek and say “I will accept nothing less” than the presence of aliens in our solar system.
  
The film claims later Apollo missions found concrete evidence of alien mechanical artefacts.  Ed Mitchell talks a little, and Buzz Aldrin is silent.  There is even an account of a supposed Apollo 20 finding of an alien woman’s corpse in a space module, and a second being, apparently with medical tubes.  The beings, while looking vaguely oriental, have a third eye in the forehead.  The footage reminds me of the “Alien autopsy” videos following the Roswell incident in 1947.
  
The film has a lot of interesting artwork recreations of supposed arches and skyscrapers (one 20 miles high) on the Moon, claimed not to be natural.  The images are in a nice black and white. 
  
There is also a claim that the moon Phobos of Mars has a slab similar to that in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
  
  
The film proposes that some structures could be surface mining equipment, looking for regolith mineral that contain an isotope of Helium that can power nuclear engines. 
  
The film even mentions the Cuban Missile Crisis, which started with U2 photos in 1962, which the film considers comparable to those on the Moon.  The film implies that the CIA does have responsibility for fielding suspected alien existence or activity, because it is likely other countries (especially Russia) would have similar reports and investigations. 
  
It also mentions similarities to structures on the Moon to ancient pyramids around the world.
   
About the only way aliens could get here from another solar system light years away would a wormhole, as in “Interstellar”.  It might be near one of the outer planets, like Saturn or the moon Titan.  But if just one kid like Clark Kent from “Smallville” really exists, then the wormhole must exist, too. 
 
As an additional short film, watch NASA's "Why There Are No Waves on Titan" here. Some of the best landscapes from Titan (including artists' drawings) available anywhere, appears to be p.d. Most interesting vacation destination in the Solar System.  It takes light a little over an hour to get there, 
    
Wikipedia attribution link for gif with lunar libation.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

"American Sniper": once the biography of Chris Kyle gets going, it sweeps you away


I did get to the one-day sneak of “American Sniper”, directed in the quiet, pacing style typical for Clint Eastwood, late Thursday night in a sold-out auditorium at AMC Courthouse (with the reclining seats) in Arlington.  The presentation was not IMAX, but seemed to be extended digital, in full anamorphic (“Cinemascope”) in all scenes. (It’s worthy to note that generally features shown in IMAX are not entirely shot in the process, only selected scenes, and not in full anamorphic.  It’s not clear that it pays to use it.)
  
The movie, adapted by Jason Hall, is adapted from Chris Kyle’s own book (written with Scott McEwen and James Defelice).  There is a good biography on Wikipedia here which could be read before seeing the movie, link
  
The film starts with the notorious shot (in Iraq) of a female carrying a bomb, before the movie then goes through a half hour of backstory, starting with his strict upbringing in Texas.  This part of the film is rushed and a little superficial, which is understandable given the need to stay within about two hours length.  (I run into the same problem with backstories in my own novel, especially early chapters that give summaries of each major character.)  The rodeo injury is hardly mentioned, and the Navy Seal training is covered very quickly.  How did he overcome the injury to become so good as a sharpshooter?  I thought, you could make an interesting indie film about what Army Basic in 1968 was like for someone like me (and the “knowhow” is in my DADT-3 book).  By the way, I did make "sharpshooter" in Basic (47/80), but a lot of guys made "Expert" (60/80).  

But once the film gets into his four tours, admixed with his marriage and home life (and his wife’s having a baby, document in detail you expect from Morgan Spurlock) it gets into high gear.  The battle scenes are even more intense than “The Hurt Locker” (July 12, 2009) and there is some influence of Kathryn Bigelow in Eastwood’s own technique. 

As for the acting, Sienna Miller is laconic and gritty as Taya, and appropriately challenging to Chris. For example, once she has the kid, she demands that Chris allow others to do the sacrificing. As in real life, he says he regrets he didn't save even more soldiers' lives, and he has no regrets about any of the kills.  (There is one scene were a kid puts down a bomb just in time.)  Chris also says that one of his buddies died over a disloyal letter rather than battle itself.  (I thought – should the childless sacrifice in battle more for those with kids?  I guess it happens.  Remember, Clint Eastwood is well known for his libertarian political views.)  But let’s get to Bradley Cooper as Chris.  Bradley Cooper is often viewed today as the perfect young white Anglo-ancestry American male.  (I think his namesake Anderson Cooper appears in one CNN clip – when will Anderson have a real part in a script?)  But for this movie, Cooper apparently gained a bit of weight (going the opposite direction from Jake Gyllenhaal).  He looks flush and bloatware-loaded, and the scene where a civilian nurse notes his high blood pressure seems fitting.  I thought about Morgan Spurlock and “Super Size Me”. 

After Kyle “comes home” he goes through some PTSD and adjustment, and there is a particularly graphic scene where he helps out grievously wounded and disfigured veterans (teaching one to use a rifle again).   The film has already launched a few surprises with prosthetic limbs in domestic scenes (including an encounter between Kyle and a soldier whom he had saved).  But suddenly we see men with arms and legs still attached, but horribly scarred and remodeled in various ways, where one would have expected amputations and prosthetics.  These scenes were probably shot with real veterans.  A critical issue is the ability of such a person to stay in a (marital) relationship or find a new one.  Earlier films (“Body of War” (April 7, 2008) and “Fighting for Life” (March 20, 2008) deal with this.  One of the concerns earlier in my own life was that my “presence” disrupted the ability of others to deal with this possibility after taking risks that I would avoid.

As the closing credits start, the film roll explains briefly Kyle's death stateside at the hand of a veteran, and shows the funeral procession to the stadium in Arlington, TX.  Again, this important detail seems glossed over. 

  
The official site is here. This is another Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow collaboration.  I wish WB would always use its Casablanca music when introducing its films, but Eastwood often wants no music.

I barely missed seeing this film in 2014 when I was in NYC Dec, 29.  I didn't get to Regal Union Square quite on time and then had a train to catch.  This film should not have been held up for regular viewing (and neither should have "Selma", which DC got to see on Christmas day).  
     
The scenes in Iraq are filmed in Morocco. 

Michael Moore has created some controversy about the film by saying that "sniping" is a "cowardly" way to do battle, an odd notion. And Seth Rogen ("The Interview", Dec. 27) made an odd comparison to "Inglourious Basterds", reviewed Aug 28, 2009 (story).

Zack Beauchamp of Vox Media has criticized the film's account of why we got involved in Iraq, here.

Filmdrunk has this disturbing report about the reaction of some people, reminding one of "The Interview", here
 
NBC News reports the mixed reaction of today's Bagdad residents, who depend on an unreliable Iraqi government and military to keep ISIS at bay, here.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA aerial of Baghdad   Second picture: rural TX, my visit, 2011.


Update: April 23

There is controversy over showing this movie at the University of Maryland because of Muslim complaints, supposedly, Fox news story here.

Update: Aug. 15

Jesse Ventura (former governor of Minnesota) has won a defamation suit against the Kyle estate over a matter in Kyle's book, explained on my main blog today. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Living on One Dollar": Grad students and filmmakers from NYC experience living as poor people in Guatemala


In “Living on One Dollar” (2013),  two grad students and two filmmakers from New York City live for 56 days (in the summer of 2010) in a village in Guatemala, simulating extreme poverty of the native Mayan population (it doesn’t even speak Spanish, let alone English), and learning how to survive with elbow grease and microeconomics.
   
The four men are Chris Temple, Zach Ingracsi, Sean Leonard, and Ryan Christoffersen.
   
Because most villagers earn erratic income based on piecework in the fields, the young men draw numbers for the money they have to spend in the market that day.  A diet of rice and beans doesn’t provide enough calories, so they learn from the villagers how to use lard and make refried beans, which explains why this is common in Mexican restaurants.
   
The men also experiment with the world of microfinance, and then with the world of slightly more substantial loans from village.  They have to deal with health care on a budget when one of the men gets a common parasite, to which villagers have more natural immunity. At the end of the film, one of the young men teaches Spanish.  
     
The film shows the effects of a hurricane that had struck Guatemala in late May of 2010.
  
  
The official site for the group is here
   
I watched the 56-minute film on Netflix. 
  
A distant relative worked for two years on a water project in northern Guatemala after graduating from college in mechanical engineering.   Guatemala does have major Mayan ruins that tourists see – relics that remind us that we can fail as a civilization.
 
Guatemala does have problems with corruption and drug cartels, leading to illegal child migration, but probably less severe than Honduras and El Salvador.  
   
Wikipedia attribution link for volcanic lake, similar to what is shown in film 



"It's Not Over": Documentary by Andrew Jenks about HIV in South Africa, India, and the US Midwest




I found a second film by Andrew Jenks, “It’s Not Over” (2014), in which Jenks tracks the stories of several people in South Africa, Indiana, and India to combat HIV and AIDS.
  
The film has a long telling caption “Tell me, and I forget; Teach me and I may remember; Involve me and I will understand.”  At the end, Mr. Jenks says that it took a year to make the film, and he asks what comes next. Should a journalist cross the line and stay involved with the people on whom he reports?
    
Jenks is about eight years older than in the film I reviewed Jan.13.  The long-hair style works better before the camera, and he looks a little more commanding here.  What’s remarkable is the way he can interact with the people, rather than talk at them and film them.  (I’m reminded of “Blood Brother” with Rocky Braat, Feb. 16, 2014, as well as footage “The Mission in Belize”, “drama” blog Nov. 4. 2012, and even the video by Timo Descamps, “Tomorrow”, shot I think in India, reviewed on the “drama” blog March 27, 2014). There’s a scene in South Africa where he’s having an outdoor conversation and someone walks by and greets him.  He asks, “does he know me?”
  
The South African segment, in a township called Khayelitsha is visually the most striking.  I wondered about filming in South Africa now given the tremendous crime problems  (the film “Tell Me and I Will Forget”, reviewed here Feb. 4, 2014, and another story on my International blog, Dec. 30, 2014).  The extent of the shantytown is shocking, it must be five miles square at least. 
  
For India, Mr. Jenks lands in Mumbai, with a shot of the large hotel (remember there was a major attack there in 2008) and mixed with the people, going to Gay Pride Day, shortly after the Supreme Court in India had allowed the old sodomy law, a relic of 19th Century British colonialism, to be reinstated (most recent article here ).  The meets playwright Sarang Bhakre, who puts on a gay setting of “The Shanti Priya” or otherwise called “Dushyantpriya”. The film shows a few minutes of the play about a reunion. Jenks interviews a female prostitute in the red light district, and she says she has to make a living to feed her kids. Again, the film shows shantytowns in India. 
  
The Midwest US portion focuses on a female college student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, Paige Rawl (site ), born with HIV acquired from the mother, who got it from her husband who, according to the film, does not know how he was infected.  In the film, Jenks, Paige and two other young women go on a road trip to Nebraska in mid winter.
  
There is a moment where one of the women, riding in Jenks’s car, says that women don’t pass HIV to men as easily as men pass it to other men or to women.  That seems to be true, although not a reason for heterosexuals to be complacent.  But in the early 1980s, in Texas, the right wing tried to use this “chain letter” argument to put forth a bill to make the state sodomy law at the time quite draconian, banning gays from most occupations, although the bill did not get out of committee, thanks to effective lobbying by the Dallas Gay Alliance in the spring of 1983.  I was living in Dallas at the time and in the middle of the controversy with letter writing.  I cover this episode in Chapter 3 of my first "Do Ask, Do Tell" book and it would be well to cover this history in documentary film. 
   
    
The official site for the film is here. I watched the film on Netflix instant play.  It seems unrelated to the music video by Daughtry by the same name. 
   
Picture: Indianapolis, Aug. 2012, my trip.  


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"When I Walk": A young filmmaker documents his journey with multiple sclerosis


When I Walk” (2012), by Jason DaSilva, is the young filmmaker’s account of his own battle with multiple sclerosis (MS).

This is an autoimmune disease which tends to strike women more often than men.  It is not the same thing as ALS (which struck Stephen Hawking).  I recall, sitting in church in MCC Dallas in the early 1980s, when a woman got up and announced from the pulpit that she had MS, and sobbed with her partner.
  
DaSilva has made a number of innovative small films, often overseas, including “Twins of Mankala” (short, in Kenya), “Olivia’s Puzzle” and “A Song for Daniel”.

In 2006, Jason started noticing weakness in his legs and was diagnosed with early MS at age 25.  In December, on a tropical beach, he suddenly couldn’t get up after a plane flew over them – an incident caught on camera.  Friends helped him up.

The film, sometimes with animation, documents his progression into disability, needing a walker and then a motorcart, as he lives in the East Village in NYC (maybe not too far from the Ninth Street Center, which I used to visit in the 1970s).  He tries a kind of procedure (a catheter from his leg to his neck) to open some veins and reduce inflammation and it helps only a little.  Still, he travels, to India and then particularly to Lourdes, France.   I visited Lourdes in May 2001, and saw the pilgrims, and also saw teens do a dance on stage.  I had visited Fatima in Portugal in 1999.

There’s a scene in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, on 5th Avenue.  I visited the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain in 2001 (shown in the 1997 Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies”), but I don’t think I’ve visited the one in NYC.  I will try to do so the next time I visit NYC.   I’ll need to do that to ride up the Freedom Tower when it opens.
  
He builds a relationship with a young woman, who says she is attracted to him because of a certain “softness”.  They marry outdoors in a lower Manhattan park.  In fact, I passed such a wedding one time on a trip to NYC;  maybe that was his!   Toward the end of the film, they have a baby.  Actually, Hawking had biological children.  One of Morgan Spurlock’s films ends with his showing his wife’s delivery.
  
My own history is one of possibly “mild” disability, being much “weaker” than a male should be, and possibly relatively unattractive by some people’s standards.  But one time, around 1972, a particular friend’s wife suggested that I should play a different chord, grow a beard, hippy bangs, and carve tattoos to attract women.  I found the idea offensive, although I didn’t show it.  I was not willing to consider an erotic relationship that somehow made something “all right”, even if I can see that this is in some ways a puritanical attitude, with disturbing implications.
  
   
The official site is here   (Sundance Selects and Netflix).  I watched it on Instant Play, but he DVD is available.  Did I miss this in Tribeca in 2012?  I’ve heard of it before.  Is the director’s name based on Portuguese (Brazil), or Spanish (Puerto Rico)? 
    
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Lourdes   Second picture: East Village, mine, 2004

Note WJLA-7 in Washington has an article on pregnant women with MS, and it seems that the baby sometimes shows symptoms of the disease (passed through the placenta) which then resolve, link here.  There was also a story of two brothers, one with MS and another with myasthenia gravis, also autoimmune. The brother with myasthenia gravis was treated by thymus removal through a new lathroscopic procedure at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington DC.  It would be interesting to see if such treatment could work for MS also.  A family friend died of MG (male) at about age 70 when I was growing up.  



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Andrew Jenks: Room 335" - A young man lives in an assisted living facility and films his social interaction with the residents


The HBO documentary “Andrew Jenks: Room 335” (2006), starts with the filmmaker, at age 19 and rather handsome, making phone calls to assisted living centers around the country to see if he can go live there. Most of them say that they have a minimum age of 55.  
  
He finally gets invited to live at Harbor Place, Port St. Lucie, FL, a bit north of West Palm Beach.  The film shows him driving south from New York State.  He mixes socially with the residents and helps out minimally, driving them to activities.  A friend, Jonah Pettigrew, seems to be operating the camera. He lives there for a few weeks before his well announced departure.  But before he goes, he is with one resident when she passes away, also with a priest present for prayer.  She may be in a hospice at that point.  Her passing is graphic and difficult.  My own mother, who passed at 97, was effectively in a coma her last three days, in a hospice.  Various other residents have to go to the hospital, and one of them will wind up in a nursing home.
   
One resident comments to him that few African American and Latino elderly are in assisted living, because “they take care of their own, hands on.”  But upper middle class white people don’t have the time.  Life and work are too competitive.  And the kind of intimacy required may be off-putting. And whites tend to have fewer children.
   
One old man, at 80 (“Bill”) says he is still “learning” every day.  I’ve seen rooms at a couple of Emeritus assisted living centers (as well as Sunrise, which runs the Jefferson in Arlington VA), and some residents have personal computers and Internet.  Some are physically impaired but able to work mentally.  These may be less interested in the social life inside the center than others. 
   
When he calls home, he says there are a lot of patients with dementia and Alzheimers (assisted living facilities lock units for these patients to prevent them from wandering).  I remember being told by Emeritus that about 70% of Alzheimer’s patients are female, because women live longer than men.
Andrew tends to be low-keyed in his conversation style.  He says he want to live in their shoes for a while, not just be the guy with the camera. 
   
There is a brief episode with a power outage. I wondered if there could be issues with sudden sinkholes.
   
   
The official site is here. The film has played in film festivals in Sydney, Amsterdam, and Phoenix.
   
I watched it on Netflix instant play.  Judging from what I see out on imdb, Jenks seems to be making film about significant issues.  I’ll check into more of his work soon. 

Picture: Punta Gorda, FL, my trip, 2004.