Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Wild Tales": Six short films from Argentina give the moviegoer a roller coaster ride


The vignette sextet “Wild Tales” (“Relatos salvajes”) by Argentinian director Damian Szifron,  and produced by Pedro and Augustin Almodovar) indeed gives the movie goer a wild ride of black comedy, often culminating in revenge and perverse violence. They are a bit in the "grindhouse" genre.  

The film does not name the stories until the closing credits, and I had to translate the Spanish “titles” freely as I watched and memorize them as best I could. (My Spanish knowledge comes from the movies and one brief course in Dallas during the Cuban refugee “crisis” in 1980; it seems that Latin American Spanish is more idiomatic and harder to follow than the Spanish from Madrid. But, when I was substitute teaching – kids, don’t assume I you talk in Spanish I don’t hear you!)
  
Pasternak” plays before the opening credits, and is the shortest and simplest film.  Passengers on a flight approaching Buenos Aries start discussing a misfit artist, particularly as a music critic excoriates a classical composition “Pasternak” had submitted.  Other people overhear him, and soon it’s clear that everybody on the plane knows this misfit Pasternak, before it goes down.  The idea of a failed artist is disturbing – that’s how Hitler’s life started.
  
Payback’s a Bitch” (that’s a favorite aphorism from “Days of our Lives”) gives us a waitress (Julietta Zylerberg) serving eggs and fries to a loan shark who had destroyed her family, when another, obese cook (Rita Cortese) insists on poisoning the customer (and his son, who drops in this stormy night).
  
Road Rage” gives us a contest between characters played by Leonardo Sbaraglia and Walter Donaldo, near a stream overpass in the spectacular mineral-bearing Andes foothills, and it gets gruesome. The audience laughed with this one more than any of the others.
  
Bombita” gives us a demolition engineer (Ricardo Darin) who explodes at city bureaucracy after he is towed.  Let’s say he doesn’t harm anyone, only property. This short gets well into the corruption of Argentinian politics. The film gives us spectacular day shots of Buenos Aries.
  
The Bill” (or “The Proposal”) gives us a bourgeois man (Oscar Martinez) trying to protect his immature and spoiled (“affluenza”) son who has killed a pregnant woman and unborn child with a hit-run leaving a (gay) bar.  The media coverage has the public in a fury.  The land baron will bribe a low level groundskeeper to take the rap, and go to jail, for enough money for the rest of his life.  The police doubt the story, and the son wants to come clean (but he wouldn’t survive in prison).  But as the set-up guy leaves, the vigilantes come with the machetes.  This is the darkest tale, and it seems intended to carry on the theme of corruption from the previous tale.  It’s probably the most important (and longest) of the six films.
    
’Till Death Do Us Part” is the yielding commitment that everyone makes as a wedding vow, and one of the reasons marriage has always existed in a matrix of social support that gives it meaning.  At a wedding party, the bride finds out from cell phone spoofing that her groom (Diego Gentile) had just cheated on her.  (That reminds me of Will and Sonny, both with Paul, on “Days of our Lives”).  A comic ruckus ensues, involving fights, injuries, a suicide threat, vomiting, and general mayhem.  At the end, the party goes on and the couple makes up, which I did not expect.
  

The official site is here  Sony Pictures Classics distributes it in the US. Sony (Columbia Pictures) has been aggressive in acquiring the hardest hitting independent films, foreign and domestic. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. photo by “Own Work” of Quebrada de Cafayate, similar scenery to what appears in the “road rage” sequence, here

I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA before a fair late Friday crowd on a cold, icy night.  The film was nominated for best foreign Language Film.  The audience applauded.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

"The Last Five Years": Chamber off-Broadway musical about an artistic couple's failed marriage translates rather literally to the screen


The Last Five Years”, directed by Robert LaGravanese, is a film version of the Off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown.
  
The music tells the story of a failed marriage between Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), a novelist, and Cathy (Anna Kendrick), a struggling actress.  The story is told in flashback in alternating solo songs by the parting husband and wife. Cathy’s story is in reverse chronological order, but Jamie’s is forward.
  
The film and musical are based on real life, the composer’s failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill, which resulted in her threat of legal action, and Brown’s changing one of the songs to “Shiksa Goddess”, where Jamie dates outside his faith.
  
Most of the action takes place in New York, but in the middle, Cathy spends some summer time in Ohio. There’s one scene where she looks like Julie Andrews as “The Sound of Music” opens. Other scenes have the characters singing in quite intimate poses.
  
There is also some material about how Jamie works with literary agents, something I remember well with my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book in the 1990s. 
  
The tendency for artists to write about their own experiences, or even compose music based on it, has always seemed controversial.  “Write what you know” migrates to “write what other people want.” It's interesting that the film shows a typed double-spaced manuscript, and that the writer isn't submitting his material online. He doesn't want to get stuck as a midlist author. 
      
The film shows in the Avalon and Angelika Popup in Washington DC, both inconvenient to reach from Metro or to park at.  But it is also available on Amazon video-in-demand and iTunes.
  
  

The official site is here  (Radius TWC).  The original title did not spell out the number, “The Last 5 Years”.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"A Summer's Tale": from a quartet of "seasons" romantic films: a young Frenchman has all the possible choices in the world in front of him; most of us don't


A Summer’s Tale” (“Conte d’ete”) is the third of a quartet of romantic French films by Eric Rohmer based on the four seasons (without Vivaldi).
  
The 1996 film had a belated theatrical release from Big World Pictures (site ) in 2014, and played at the West End Cinema in Washington DC.  Curiously, it is shot in the old 1.37:1 aspect ratio (like “The Artist”), in garish colors, seemingly according to the dogme technique. 
  
Gaspard (Melvil Poupard) is a shy young man, having an advanced degree in mathematics, but preferring to make as much of his song-writing (on the guitar) as possible.  The backgrounds in the film mention at least two Debussy works (“Clair de Lune” and “La Mer”) but his music is more that of a simple country singer.  He often whistles this little waltz theme that he has composed.
  
He awaits the arrival of a girl friend Lena (Aurekia Nolin) on the Brittany coast. But over the summer two other young women cross his path: Margot (Amanda Langlet) and Solene (Gwenaelle Simon). He has a lot of choices to make.  At the end of the film, what kind of career he will choose seems up in the air.
  
Gaspard is also eye-popping in his Adonis-like beauty, or shall we say he is pretty, if straight.  Why did it take 18 years for this film to come to the US?   I watched it on a Netflix DVD.  This is a gentled film. 
  
   
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Dinard, France beach, taken by Diliff, licensed under Create Commons 3.0 Share-Alike license.  It looks a lot like the famous circle beach in San Sebastian, Spain, which I visited in May 2001.  I was not too far from Brittany (in Bayeux and Caen), in 1999. 
 
Note also, Wikipedia has an article describing the history of the mainstream acceptance of the bikini, here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The Old Maid": post Civil War classic relives a disturbing concept for women of the time


The Old Maid” may sound like a derogatory term from times past – remember that scene in “Gone with the Wind” where some of Scarlet’s friends worry they will grow up to be just that.
   
But it’s also a rather forgotten 1939 drama film, black and white, directed by Edmund Goulding, based on the play (rather literally) by Zoe Akins (adapted by Casey Robinson), from a 1924 Edith Wharton novella, “The Old Main” The Fifties” from a collection called “Old New York”. 
   
I think my parents saw it together shortly before they got married (in 1940). 
   
Bette Davis plays Charlotte, the “old maid”, but already gives a hint of the chilling character she would become in “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” in 1964.  The plot of this 95-minute film is rather intricate.  It starts in 1861, with warnings about war. Charlotte has a baby, Tina, out of wedlock with Clem, who gets killed in the Civil War.  (There is a sign trying to recruit soldiers to defend Washington!).  Her cousin, Delia (Mariam Hopkins) winds up raising Delia as hers after Charlotte runs an orphanage, and then subterfuges Charlotte’s opportunity to get married to another man who will the die in a horse accident (echoing “Gone”).  Tina remains unaware that Charlotte is her mother even up to the time Tina is to get married herself, in 1881.
  
The film actually looks sharp, with a lot of detail to the interiors;  Warner Brothers did a good job of restoring the film for DVD. There were a number of films set during and right after the War Between the States made during this period. 

The title, of course, reminds one of the popular card game from past generations.  I think there is one in the house somewhere, but couldn’t find it. So for the artwork, I used a copy of “Judge”.
  
  

When my cousin and I made filmstrips back in 1954 (account on here ) I think one of my strips was called “Old Maid”, and my mother got upset about it and told me to destroy it!  The idea was very disturbing to young women in previous generations, and it’s worth pondering. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Of Two Minds": straightforward documentary about people with bipolar disorder


Of Two Minds” is a documentary, by Douglas Blush and Lisa J. Klein, looks at the lives of three people living with bipolar disorder. 
  
The condition seems less well defined than many other issues (even OCD) covered by other documentary films. 
  
One artist says he suddenly feels, he can’t take care of anything, that he’s never been normal, when he has always taken care of things.
  
A young woman says her illness started when a bird landed on her head. Later she discusses being bisexual.  During "up" phases, there is a tendency "you" can have anyone. 
      
Another older man, also an artist and architect, says, “artists are temperamental.”  He had also enjoyed cross-dressing, but was not truly transgender. He also used crack, and once barely missed getting busted. After standing on a bridge over an overpass, he said “I had to live”. 
  
“It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not.”  One of the men says that the mania is great, but sometimes people actually “enjoy” the depression.
  
One big problem is that medication “dulls” creative people.  
  
Health insurance has been a huge problem for people with bipolar disorder, as a pre-existing condition; it’s not clear how well Obamacare (“The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act”) has helped with this. Medication typically costs about $600 a month. 
  
NIH has a detailed page on bipolar disorder, and suggests that it can be quite acute and disabling.  
  
When I was growing up, it was called manic-depressive. 
  
  
The official site is here  (Docurama and New Video).
  
I watched the film on Netflix instant video. 
   
The film should not be confused with the TV movie of the same name by Jim O’Hanlon, reviewed here March 11, 2012.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

"American Denial": PBS Independent Lens film tracks the work on race by Gunnar Myrdal


Monday night PBS stations aired “American Denial: The Roots of Racism”, 50 minutes, directed by Llewellyn W. Smith, as part of its “Independent Lens” independent documentary film series.  The film gives the history of Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal and his visit to the United States, starting in 1938, at the behest of Carnegie, to study race.  The end result was eventually the book “The American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy” in 1944.

Myrdal was shocked when he visited black neighborhoods, and learned one could not understand behavior until willing to walk in their shoes.  Myrdal had originally focused on Jim Crow laws and segregation, and did encounter the stories of lynching (as with the unfinished film “American Lynching” of Gode Davis).  But he found that individual Americans, both black and white, 

personalized anti-black prejudice long after they renounced discrimination intellectually.  Well into the 60s, Blacks traveling in the South could not find black hotels and had to stay with other families. 
One of the tools to measure inherent prejudice was the Implicit Association Test, where people were asked to correlate works with positive connotations with blacks and found it hard to do so.  Blacks would underperform on academic tests where they were told that the tests “count”. 

Myrdal’s book would be cited in the Supreme Court’s “Brown v. Board of Education” decision in 1954.  Myrdal would live until 1987, 33 years to the date of the decision.

Myrdal’s wife was also accomplished, as they worked together.  But Myrdal was capable of male chauvinism, and his wife Alva complained that he hindered her own career.  Again, people could profess one thing publicly and behave differently privately.  We call that hypocrisy. Myrtdal became troubled about the crisis that this work produced within his own personality. 
  
Myrdal also drew parallels between racism in the US and the anti-Semitism that had exploded in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. 
  
   
The official site link is here

The film was presented as part of Black History Month.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"McFarland, USA": yes, this is a lesson in karma as well as sports, but it gathers speed toward the end


McFarland, USA”, directed by Niki Caro, for Disney, is a formulaic, feel-good movie where the protagonist coach Jim White (an ironic last name), played by Kevin Costner, overcomes obstacles to coach an entirely Hispanic (sons of fruit pickers) cross country track team to victory, and give the kids the American chance to make something of themselves.  It’s politically correct, with a lot of dialogue that seems a bit strained. It’s also based on a true story from 1987.
  
But it gathers momentum toward the end. The large audience at the pre-Oscar show at an AMC Tysons Corner today applauded.
  
As the movie starts, White has been fired from two consecutive high school football coaching jobs because of temperamental outbursts, and the family takes a step down to live in a migrant town in the California San Joaquin valley, north of Bakersfield, when White takes a coaching and teaching third job, from a principal (at McFarland High School) who warns him this is his last chance.  (In the school world, they call this “passing the trash”).  His wife and two daughters take a step down.  The family solidarity will be an important theme in the film. 
  
Football doesn’t go well, but White notices that the kids all run well.  They all work in the fields before and after school, from age 10 on, to help support their families.  They run fast because they have to, and most of them eat a natural Mexican diet;  processed foods tend to make people of their background obese.
  
White has to learn to both walk and run in their shoes.  At one point, he plays “Inside Man”, just like Morgan Spurlock (TV blog, July 28, 2013), learning what it is like to work in the fields. He has to deal with parents who are concerned about the loss of income from time taken for running.  And some fathers don't think their kids need college educations to stay in the food business, "real life".  
      
The final races takes place above smoggy LA, and passes the Mt. Wilson observatory.  Running uphill is a major part of the sport.  One of the most explosive runners, Dan, is a bit overweight so his speed (if erratic) is hard to explain.
  
This brought to mind my own “mile run” in Army Basic in 1968.  My best time was 7:18.
  
   
The official site is here
   
The final push, toward the finish line, reminded me of the informal sprint contest between Richard Harmon and Timo Descamps, here
   
When high school students run track, they run all the time, every morning before breakfast.  In one case I know, even before church. 
   
Wikipedia attribution link for Sam Joaquin Valley picture by Amadscientst, under Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Public Domain Declaration. 
   
I last drove through the area in February 2002.  Surprisingly, in some area, you can’t see the Sierra mountains.  The film shows some training in the coast mountains nearer LA. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Almost Human" is not the most encouraging account of the alien abduction, body-snatcher scenario


I can recall a news story in 1997 about a female jogger disappearing in Wyoming, her tracks just stopping, with nothing else around.  “She went up”.  In fact, my screenplay script for "Titanium" begins with an incident like this.  
  
Movies about disappearances to alien abductions (like on Aug. 18, 2014) pop up occasionally, sometimes inspired by the old “body snatcher” idea.  But the idea that someone becomes a killer when returned to Earth is not particularly appealing.
  
But in fact, that is the premise of “Almost Human” (2013, 79 minutes) directed and written by Joe Begos.  The setting is supposed to be around Patten, Maine (to impress Stephen King) but in fact it was filmed in Rhode Island, some of it in the Warwick area where the late filmmaker Gode Davis (the unfinished “American Lynching”) lived.  The film is set in 1987, before cell phones, and is supposed to be based on “true events”. 
  
As the film opens, nice guy Seth (Graham Skipper) returns home, telling his housemate Mark (Josh Ethier) that a friend riding with him had been taken sick, and when allowed to stop to puke, been taken up in a lightning flash and disappeared.  The power flickers out and on, even though it’s not clear that a big thunderstorm is really happening.  Mark walks outside the house to check the power failure and approaching T-storm, and is himself struck by a blue blot and disappears.
  
During the film opening credits, the movie shows movie coverage of the two disappearances, and police are actually suspicious of Seth, for no good reason, and detain him briefly.
  
Worried about his best friend, Seth starts having nightmares and feeling ill at work. His sympathetic boss asks him to take time off, as his job performance is slipping.  Soon, Mark turns up, nude and covered with slime.  He awakens and becomes a violent, crazed killer.  The film progresses to show his sequences of carnage and spree killing.  Whenever someone tries to call the cops (landlines, in the days before cells), he shrieks in high-pitched wails and deafens and paralyzes them. 
  
Eventually, the other victim does the same thing, and other abductees also come back to life from sacks in a barn (like the pods on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”).  Mark, as well as other abductees, grows a penetrating organ which he can project from his mouth to attack women (it’s pretty graphic).  Eventually Seth outwits him, but the ending will not be happy.  The movie, with a final scene after very long credits, implies that the aliens will be back, of course.

  
The official Facebook is here

The film is distributed under the brand “IFC Midnight”, as if it were intended for late night horror shows.
  

I watched it on Netflix Instant Play on a snowy day.  Don't confuse the film with the television series by the same name.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

"The Man Who Knew Too Much" (two films): Hitchcock uses music skillfully to make a point very relevant to today's crisis


Not often is a major symphonic work composed for a movie and its climax worked into the plot, but Alfred Hitchcock accomplished this with Australian composer Arthur Benjamin and his “Storm Clouds Cantata”, for both versions of the classic and now very pertinent mystery “The Mann Who Knew Too Much”.

I’ve seen the 1956 film on television before, and will return to it on my Wordpress blog. But tonight I watched the Netflix disk of the 1934 film, in grainy black and white.
  
  
Leslie Banks and Edna Best play Bob and Jill Lawrence, on a ski vacation in Switzerland.  Jill loses a clay pigeon shooting contest to a stranger Abbott (Peter Lorre) after being contacted by a stranger Louis (Pierre Fresnay).  Jill is dancing with Louis when he slumps over, from a bullet through the window (eerily reminding one now of Copenhagen).  He gives her a note of an assassination plot against a head of state to happen at a concert in London.  But then their daughter is kidnapped, to keep the couple silent. 
  
The plot line is well known for showing how an ordinary person or couple can be accidentally caught up and become a pawn in a foreign struggle. But the couple had not sought attention.  Since Bob has a family to protect, he feels he cannot cooperate with police, the goon idea usually known in Mafia movies later.
  
The villains have a bizarre religious cult, which again could be compared to Waco or to Jonestown, or even ISIS. 
  
During the concert, which occurs about an hour into the film, Jill deflects the assassination at the moment of climax of the music.  The movie denouement leads to a tremendous shootout in primitive London streets, before the villain kills himself when cornered.  It sounds too familiar by today’s headlines.  But maybe living as a “know it all” can be dangerous.
   
The film has some memorable lines, such as one about not having children.  There is a curious scene with an electric train, that looks like the Mars train I had as a boy, but running on an elevated track.  Later, Abbott takes on a disguise by going to the dentist, strangling and then masking him with laughing gas, a scene that reminds one of “The Clutching Hand” (which ran on “Movies for Kids” in the 1950s) and even the first “The Little Shop of Horrors” movie with the scene of the masochist and sadist.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Ink": horror film about a comatose child taken by nightmares: did I encounter this script with Project Greenlight?


Ink”, an indie film by Jamin Winans (2009), may be low-budget inspiration for “Inception”, as a horror film;  it might also have roots in classics like “Jacob’s Ladder”.  It also reminds one of the world of David Lynch.  The main "phantom" also reminds me of “Slender Man” and maybe the Dark Night.
       
Ink is a monster character, covered in black drapes (diapers?), with an elongated nose and distorted face (maybe from neurofibromatosis) who comes and kidnaps a little girl (Quinn Nunchar) from suburban Denver streets.   (I thought, this film was made three years before Aurora.)  In the meantime, she lies in a coma in a hospital, while her father John (Christopher Soren Kelly) seems more concerned about his business merger than with behaving properly to keep custody of her after a divorce. 
  
The film jumps among reality layers, using sepia tones (not that effectively), as the demons or warriors (one has his eyes taped over) try to take Emma forever into the world of the “Incubi”. I would suggest a truer color focus for the “normal reality layer”. 

The idea that the content of dreams can cross over to reality (e.g., the Christopher Nolan film) is certainly interesting, invoking the idea that people could communicate telepathically. 
    

The official site is here. The distributor, Double Edge Films, offers some super elaborate frills with the DVD purchases.  I watched it on Netflix. 
  
There are two short films included, “10 Minutes Behind the Scenes” about how the film was shot without financing, starting in 2006.   After showing his first audition, he says no one would even read the script when he tried to get an agent.  I believe I had heard of this script somewhere, maybe when I entered (Miramax) Project Greenlight in 2004 (with “Baltimore Is Missing”, which is conceptually not so different), or maybe when I was living in Minneapolis and mixing with IFPMSP and a screenwriting group.  And there is “Coffee with Chris and Quinn”, at the Berkeley CafĂ© in Denver.  (“Feast”, by John Gulager, won the writing contest in 2004, and I would see it in 2006 at a screening at Landmark E Street in Washington. "The Battle of Shaker Heights", by Efram Potele and Kyle Rankin, won the 2002 contest, and I think I saw that in Minneapolis.)

As for the color schemes (and for that matter, the blurring of the edges), IFPMSP did a lot of workshops on film stock when I lived in Minneapolis. 
   
Anyone who remembers Project Greenlight (I recall two contests in 2002 and 2004) is welcome to tweet or Facebook me about the scripts in the contest.  At one point, there was supposed to be a party in LA, but it never came off as far as I know. 
    
Wikipedia attribution link for skyline of Denver by Hogs555, Creative Commons 3.0 Share Alike license.  This is the view of Denver I remember when staying there at a HoJo motel in 1973.  I was also there in 1994.  My first experience with the city was as a KU grad student in 1966.  Second picture is from a train show.  

  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Stand" documents the oil spill risk to the Canadian Pacific coast if a pipeline is completed


Stand” (2013), with the longer title “What Do We Stand to Lose?” is a 45-minute documentary, directed by Nicholas Telehrob and Anthony Bonello, about the risks to the way of life of people, especially native, along the western British Columbia coast if a pipeline is completed (by Calgary-based Enbridge, which declined interview for the film) to Kitimat, deep on an inlet.  The risk is that oil tankers will traverse the region, and another Exxon-Valdez spill could occur.
   
The film documents a canoe or kayak journey by Norm Hamm through the at-risk area, which centers around the islands of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), as well as the Hecate Strait. It also moves north toward southern Alaska (toward Juneau), and south toward Vancouver Island.
  
The film is quite breathtaking in its scenery, although the overlays are unnecessary.  There are wonderful scenes with bears, wolves that look like German shepherds, otters, and even a scene eating a sea urchin delicacy.
  
There is a moral point, concerning risk and potentiality.  We all depend on fossil fuels for our own lifestyles, which express our identities (mine at least).  But were an accident to happen, the lives of the people would be destroyed, insofar as their own personal identities are at stake, even if they were financially compensated and relocated.  There would be issues already known from Exxon and particularly BP in the Gulf.
  
One young woman, Blake Carpenter, spoke about a 48-hour hunger strike.  Others spoke about demonstrations and getting arrested.  I don’t do that, but that raises other questions:  should I think I am above ever doing that?  I thought for a moment about the 30-hour fasts that the young people of some local churches have (during which they sometimes shoot short films!)
  
I have reviewed a number of films about oil (including the tar sands and pipeline issues, especially fracking) and coal (including mountaintop removal) and fossil fuels in general.  I've presented both or all sides to the issues that I find.  
   
   
The film is distributed by Joker Films , a Canadian company that describes itself as “a simple way to license movies” but doesn’t explain how this works. I watched the film on Netflix Instant Play. 
    
Wikipedia attribution link for map of Queen Charlotte area,  by Koba-Chan, Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike License.  Second picture is a model railroading scene showing coal operations. Note that the title.

"Stand" has been used for many films. There is a new Russian film with this title, dealing with anti-gay repression in Russia, and I am trying to find out when it will be available.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"The Notebook": Hungarian film shows boys turning savage during war conditions


The Notebook” (“A nagy fuzet”), by Janos Szasz, is a grim presentation of how war and conflict hardens kids or growing boys.  In 1944, a mother leaves her twin boys (Laszlo and Andras Gyemant) with their alcoholic grandmother (Piroska Molnar) in Hungary, near the Austrian border and a Nazi encampment.
  
The boys didn’t even know they had grandparents, and grandma is quite unpopular in the village anyway because of her boorish manners.  The boys try to immunize themselves from the pain of war by hurting themselves and going through self-imposed rituals that remind one of ancient Sparta. The film shows graphic bombings, and the rigors of rural farm and village life. 
  
The boys keep track of their lives in a handwritten diary or “notebook”, which in fantasy gives itself to crude animations of war.  In one scene, the triumphant end of the Tchaikovsky Symphony #5 plays during war carnage, when the Pathetique would have been more appropriate.
  
The film provides some insight into how young men become radicalized, a pertinent issue today. Perhaps there is a bit of "Lord of the Flies" in the concept, too.  
    
  
The official site is here (Sony Pictures Classics).  The film was released in late August and had fair theatrical presence but the DVD has come out pretty quickly on Netflix.
   

The film should not be confused with the 2004 romantic drama by the same name. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Make your own LGBT film festival on YouTube -- some interesting new stuff (short films)



Here are three short “gay” films on YouTube, reviewed.
  
The main attraction is “Teens Like Phil” (2012), 20 minutes, directed by Dominic Haxton and David Rosler, from ASPD films (link on YouTube; official site ) .  A gay teen, Phil (Adam Donovan) faces bullying in high school, which seems to be located in Brooklyn, NY, near Fort Hamilton.  One of the bullies is a former friend, Adam (Rosler), who, according to a backstory, became angry when Phil made a pass while they were observing Phil’s obese, stoned uncle sleeping in the woods.  It seems that Phil also watches films of Adam working out on a computer.
  
The narrative gets complicated, with Phil’s parents, and a teacher who, after an essay Phil turned in on personal experiences related to “Janus”, has arranged counseling.  Phil attempts to hang himself but the film implies that Adam finds him in time.  So the story is rather specific and nuanced.  One can imagine making a documentary about Tyler Clementi.

The style of the film resembles that of a Terrence Malick retrospect and meditation, with certain choppy flashbacks and contemplative music. There is a speaker talking about entropy and decay and how reproduction is nature's only answer.   As for looks. Phil is as perfect as one can get.  
   
The next film was "Hearts and Hotel Rooms" (2007), 13 minutes, by Justin Nicholas James, distributed by HBO, which charges $1.49 to watch the film on YouTube (link; official site here ) .  Brian (Wes Tyler) meets Jimmy (Aaron Harp) in a bar and they have an encounter in a Beverly Hills hotel.  The film presents the story out sequence, and even rolls the film action backwards, as if there were a time machine.  The characters seem overdressed for California climate. Brian loses his wedding ring (is it heterosexual? – given the time the film was shot, pre Prop-8) and has to get it back.  Jimmy may lose something more subtle.  I think the choppy narrative drains the film of potential suspense.  

In "Eden" (2014, 15 minutes), by Sean Willis (Youtube link) two young men are locked in a mental hospital named after the film in 2042 in a fascistic state.  They come up with a clever scheme to escape "the cure".  
  
Then there is “Gay Over” (2014, 8 min, directed Mitchell Bonen, from LA Outfest and Sony Shorts, link), Austin MacKinnon plays a gay teen who meets a disapproving father and again ponders suicide.  But video games let him enter an alternate universe where he is accepted.

"The Language of Love" (2013, 9 min), from the Voices Project, produced by Ellen DeGeneres, directed by Laura Scrivano, presents Kim Ho in a classroom, talking about his best friend in a soliloquy, almost as if from "Carousel".

  
 
Audition” (2014, by Adam Tyree, 6 min).  A young actor (Brett Green) reads some kinky lines to the director before a green screen.  Is there a connection between the part and his real life?  Then the director asks him to strip so his body (“thmooth”) can be inspected for permanent perfection.
  
The opening of my own script “Make the A-List” has an audition with somewhat parallel cirucimstances, writeup on Wordpress here
  
I auditioned for one part myself in 2002 while living in Minneapolis, that of a Nazi ghost in the film “The Retreat” by Darin Heinis, set in 1944 in the Hurtgen Forest, with American troops during the Battle of the Bulge.  I almost got the part.  
  
Picture:  NYC Pride, June 29, 2014. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Kingsman: The Secret Service": Be wary of what in life is "free", it can winnow the population of the Earth (as villain wants to hack human brains through cell phones)


Kingsman: The Secret Service”, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is based on the comic book  “The Secret Service” by David Millar and Dave Gibbons.  It is also a juicy satire on both megalomania and meritocracy, and a spoof on the James Bond films. 
  
The “Service” (in London) is trying to solve the abductions of various celebrities and royalties – perhaps a conceivable plot given the times.  It has lost its valued agent Lancelot (Jack Davenport) and puts a number of youth through a competitive training program in a dorm right on the grounds (recalling “Ender’s Game”, Nov. 2, 2013).  The headmaster Merlin (Mark Strong) treats them all badly, and finally the last three candidates are Gary “Eggsy”, a short working-class youth of the Harry Potter type (Taron Egerton), a taller more obviously charismatic guy (Edward Holcroft) and a girl (Sophie Cookson). One of the points is that a more homely kid turns out to be the hero. 
  
The arch-villain is Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who has a Hitler-like plan to save the world from global warming, which he calls a “fever”, with an exploding population of people the “viruses”.  The arranges them all to get free Internet with a Sim card giveaway (here we go, with the “Reid.ing” “It’s Free” shorts, May 13, 2013).  But the Sim cards are programmed to interact with the neurological circuits in their brains and get them to turn on one another.  As a demo, Valentine arranges for all the members of a “hatemongering” fundamentalist church in Kentucky kill each other in a service when triggered (and it’s pretty obvious the film wants the viewer to think about the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, which is in Kansas, however).  But the trigger comes from “Galahad” (Colin Firth).  Michael Caine has a grandfatherly role in the film recalling some of his roles in the 60s. 
  
The people who are supposed to survive his arranged Armageddon all have neck implants.  The climax of the movie offers a wonder spectacle of all the “SS” at a party, with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance music, with their heads exploding to the movie when Eggsy hacks his system in the film’s convoluted but spectacular climax.  The film offers both skydiving and hot-air ballooning, of sorts (rather borrowed from Roswell), both activities having been offered at one time in the DC area by the LGBT outdoor “Adventuring” group. You had to take lessons before you could do a real jump.
     
Eggsy gets treated to a whole world of devices (remember “Q” from the Bond movies), all hidden away in carefully tailored suits (indeed in 50 shades of gray).  All the candidates get a dog to train, and Eggsy’s provides a pivotal plot point and moral test. Unlike other movies, all the male post-teen candidates got to have chest hair.
  
  
The 125 minute film really gathers momentum, after a somewhat unremarkable beginning (the CGI of the Andes and also of the Middle Eastern desert looks cartoonish).  There is one mention of stopping a dirty bomb plot, which could really happen.
  
There is discussion on the politics of the film.  In general, conservatives  (of The Washington Times ilk) are probably going to like this “comedy”.  No wonder, it comes from Fox.  The film does make a statement of how easily we (the supposed “liberals”) can slip into “master race” thinking without seeing where we are going.
  
The film was filmed in London at Warner Brothers and Pinewood, but belongs to Fox and is released on the major 20th Century Fox label. 
  
I saw it in a large Regal Ballston auditorium late Sunday on a cold day before a fair audience. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Timbuktu" depicts life under strict Islam in Africa


Timbuktu”, written and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, is practically a docudrama about village and rural life under strict Islam, set in Mauritania (the city itself is in nearby Mali).
  
A desert village has gradually come under control of strictest possible Islam with Sharia law, with all kinds of rules that are demonstrated in the film.  Men have to roll up their pants, women have to wear gloves; no music is allowed, no smoking (that one I like).  In fact, a visiting jihadist wants to increase control, and is chided by a local imam for bringing a weapon into a mosque during prayers.
  
Meanwhile, cattle herder Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) and his wife (Toulou Kiki) live in relative, almost libertarian freedom, as nomads in the nearby country, in rather well equipped yurts.  His life is disturbed when one of his cows gets caught in a fisherman’s net, and the fisherman spears it.  That scene is quite remarkable (the film had to go to lengths not to harm animals).  Kidane threatens the fisherman and somewhat accidentally shoots him.  The long shots of the pond that follow.
  
The wheels of Sharia justice follow, and they are quite deliberate.  Kidane knows what will happen to him.  His daughter will be orphaned.  The informality of the court is rather unsettling. So is a preparatory scene of a stoning.
  
The film, distributed in the US by Cohen Media Group, is getting limited screenings.  In the DC area, it was moved up and is now shown at Landmark Bethesda Row, where I saw it today, before a large crowd.  The film is nominated for best foreign language film (French, Arabic, and various African languages).
      
There is something about the desire for righteousness and moral perfection (as Islam is shown here) that is arresting.  It seems critical in a small tribal community to hold everyone to strict standards of personal behavior (“submission”) so that the tribe can survive in a world of challenges and enemies.  
  
The psychology of it is rather military.  At the same time it also defends people from having to express any real emotion for those who waver.  Intolerance serves its own ends.  But freedom requires openness to unwelcome emotions.
  
Wikipedia attribution link for typical Mauritania scenery by Eammneul Brunner, Creative Commons 2.5 Share-Alike license  This resembles the scenery in this wide screen film.  

Update: March 7

News reports indicate that the real Timbuktu and surrounding area in Mali has become a "no-go" area because of Boko Haram and other extremist insurgents, despite the presence of French troops near the city, 

Friday, February 13, 2015

"Fifty Shades of Grey": aka "The Ocelot the Way He Isn't"


There’s a lot of hype about “Fifty Shades of Grey”  (directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, a woman), based on the novel by E. L. James.
  
The basic setup is that a gradually college co-ed Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) does a clumsy interview with young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), and he, by persistence, manipulates her into becoming his private sex slave.  Actually, as the movie progresses, it becomes a question of who really controls the relationship, which is always a main point of S-M.  He doesn’t sleep with anyone or marry anyone.  He controls his partner.  In return, the partner gets to have him (or experience “upward affiliation” with him).  He even draws up a legal contract between the Dominant and the Submissive.

Does all this deserve the controversy and objection from some women?  Probably not.  Because the movie is really about what can be done with fantasy life, where someone can take it. 
It’s possible to compare this film to a couple others, dealing with abusive or perhaps S-M relationships.  One of these is “The Duke of Burgundy”, reviewed here Feb. 10.  That was in turn compared to “Bugcrush”.  That is, when a “yielding” person is courted by a “power” person and wants it, where will the storyteller take it, since so much of a fantasy element, which tends to dead-end, is in play? 
  
Christian’s company is housed in a spectacular tower in downtown Seattle.  The movie says that Anastasia lives in Portland, OR, and goes to school in Vancouver, WA.  The film credits say much of the harbor scenery is in Vancouver, BC, and some indoor work was shot in London.  There is also a side trip cross-country to Savannah, GA, which looks real. (Remember “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” from 1997? -- "New York is boring")  That is followed by a glider trip in Georgia mountains, which would be 200 miles away.  There is also a scene that looks like it was shot in Olympia National Park (I have been there once, in 1996).  In fact, I saw John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” in Port Angeles, WA on that trip. 
  
Christian does have about fifty business suits all in “grey”, which kind of gives him a “cloudy day” look.  (Somehow I think of the antonym, actor Richard Harmon who calls himself “just a big ball of sunshine”).  He does not like to be touched.  He says he is 27 but looks more like 34, as imdb says the Irish actor is.  The repeated disrobings in the film tend to dilute erotic suspense;  the bodies are not the most remarkable in the world, in my taste. The dialogue, though taking itself seriously, often comes across as genuinely funny. Twice in the film Grey says he is not "gay", with some funny effect. (The first time, Amanda indeed is in mandatory "do ask do tell" mode as a reporter.) 


The film (official site here)  is officially distributed by Focus, to brand it for the “indie market”, but produced in part by Universal, which puts its Wagnerian logo on the film.  That’s unusual.
  
Fox has another YouTube video where it reads comments by Robert Jeffress to the effect that this movie in combination with gay marriage will bring about the Apocalypse, here
  
One could make a distant comparison to “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (1956), which I saw around 2000 on cable, with Gregory Peck, directed by Nunnally Johnson. Not the spelling of the garment tint adjective.
    
Besides these other comparisons, there is a basic similarity to the short story “The Ocelot the Way He Is”, which is the last chapter of my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book.  Again, a power-submissive relationship, encouraged by the aggressor, in my case in a gay context, but subtle and in a “road movie” setting.  And the “submissive” character winds up doing what he should do after he gets what he wants.  In the meantime, the world around them is being taken apart by external forces. My story involves where fantasy takes you when you are confronted with external realities.  
    
I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax, VA before a fair audience Friday afternoon.  The title might also appear as "50 Shades of Grey" (or "Gray"), but correct is to spell the number out. 

Wikipedia attribution link for downtown Seattle picture in public domain, by “Rattlhed”. I have been in the city in 1966, 1976, 1978, 1990 and 1996.

Update: March 8

Vox Media has a story by Kelsey McKinney about the "Bechtel Test" for motion pictures, regarding the engagement and importance of female characters (when not played by Bette Davis), here.  I'll have to consider this test for my own writing.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Mall", new thriller, provides an unusual twist on the mass shooter problem and perhaps the gun control debate


The new B-movie thriller “Mall”, directed by Joseph Hahn (“Linkin Park”), adapted by Sam Bisbee from the novel by Eric Bogosian, depicts a horrific attack on a suburban Los Angeles shopping mall by one gunman, with the arsenal of a whole infantry platoon, but provides a few ironic plot twists among the shoppers running around, almost the way Robert Altman might have.  Normally, in an event like this, the Mall would be closed and locked down, but the sniper is going after the cops, hindering the process.  In fact, the attacker seems to be concerned only with attacking his former boss and then the police (both LAPD and security guards), not civilians.  He bears some resemblance to Eric Matthew Frein, who was finally caught in northeast Pennsylvania in late 2014 after hunting down cops (and I suspect that will make a documentary film subject soon).
   
The film opens with Malcom (James Frecheville) shooting his wife (presumably) and torching her trailer with an accelerant.  You hate to see a good-looking guy like this be the villain.  But indeed he is.  The smoking is a giveaway. (And most mass shooting incidents are perpetrated by white males, not blacks or Latinos.)  He proceeds to insult an overweight female clerk in a convenience store, and even terrorizes her into not calling the cops (a tactic recently reported in the news in Maryland in a string of restaurant robberies, so this really happens sometimes).  He then heads to the Mall to hunt down his former boss.
  
The film also shows lots of animal and other trip-like images, suggestive of schizophrenia, or of drug trips.  Malcom seems to be at the end of life, perhaps from meth.
   
The film, early on, sets up a nice teen character Jeff (21-year-old Cameron Monaghan).  A cop (Ron Yuan) finds him crashing on the Mall parking lot, and Jeff asks, in typical radical Left-wing fashion, why people can’t sleep wherever they want and suggests that Mall property owners are capitalist pigs.  But as the movie progresses, Jeff becomes its nicest character and the only one to help others, especially people who “deserve” much worse.  Curiously, the Jeff also sees some of the “drug trip” visions, which give him a strange empathy.
  
Another major player is Danny, the middle-aged “creep” (Vincent D’Onofrio). The scene where he is so quickly arrested after playing “peeping Tom” on a department store changing room where a female customer carelessly leaves the door open, is quite well done and convincing.  Like, don’t do this.  But then the cops who take him become targets.  A major subplot of the movie concerns how other people in the mall (especially one particular woman, and then eventually kindhearted Jeff) treat him, is a major point of the film.
  
Reid Ewing appears as Becket, a somewhat dominating young man whose character is named after a Medieval saint.  Though experienced with substances, he does seem to have the interests of others (like Jeff) at heart with his street smarts.  But the movie rather dead-ends on the story of this character.
  
There are others, like the motel housewife who seduces Jeff, and the other girl who tortures Danny (and that scene has some rather disturbing ideas).
  

Does the film add to the debate on gun control and background checks?  No, even armed shoppers could not have defended themselves against someone like this, but the guy really was just after cops.  How did Malcom accumulate the military arsenal?  Piers Morgan will weigh in on this movie. 
   
The film can be rented on Amazon but doesn’t seem to have its own site yet (Freestyle Releasing). 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"Love Is Colder than Death": gangster comedy was Fassbinder's first film


I tried an older film tonight, said to be Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first feature film, “Love Is Colder than Death” (“Liebe is kalter als der Tod”, 1969).  This was the first of a triptych of three gangster films (“Gods of the Plague” and “The American Soldier”).  The Wellspring DVD has a trailer also for “Beware of the Holy Whore”.
  
It is shot in rather simple sets, in black and white, in Munich, in the 60s, in West Germany, long before unification.  The film tends to go outdoors in the second half. The box-cut style is supposed to add to humor.
  
Fassbinder plays Franz, a somewhat unattractive pimp, who refuses to join a mob.  A hit man Bruno (Ulli Lommel), quite attractive, is sent after him, but they become, so to speak, friends.  Franz even let Bruno sleep with his girlfriend, Johanna (Hannah Shygulla).  When she gets tired of Bruno, he plots to kill her but is killed by police himself.   

The problem with the concept of the film, for me, is that the hero himself doesn't inspire much sympathy or admiration. Of course, being forced to join something is a big problem, as always with organized crime.  Today that's an ISIS tactic. 
  
  
Netflix offers the Wellspring DVD but the Criterion Collection also carries it.
   
I was in “West Germany” once, in 1972, and could see the Wall from the train north of Frankfurt at one point.  I would visit Berlin (unified) in 1999, as well as Dresden, and take the night train East to Cracow. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Duke of Burgundy": rather like "Bugcrush" for lesbians


The Duke of Burgundy,” by Peter Strickland, sounds like a strange title for this gay horror film, which is conceptually similar to the class long short “Bugcrush” (2006, reviewed here Jan. 29, 2008) by Carter Smith (a much better film), this time done with women instead of men.  In fact, in 2006 there were suggestions that Smith should have made that film as a feature, but no one was sure how to follow-up on or explain the ambiguous (and maybe horrific) end.  Well, this film is not exactly a sequel.

As the film opens, Evelyn (Chiara Dana) reports for work at the forest estate of an aging lesbian Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Pretty soon, the abusive obedience routine is a smokescreen for sadomasochistic sex, including mouth-washing with soap and being kept in a coffin.  Cynthia is a university professor and entomologist, and is obsessed with bugs.  The film starts going through cycles of the same dialogue and experiences (“That’s not a problem … yes it is a problem…”), and gradually the bugs enter the picture. Occasionally, other people appear, in town or when Cynthia lectures her zoology class (yes, a biology teacher).  The music (no composer listed in imdb), sometimes chamber and sometimes with a chanting chorus, tends to hypnotize the moviegoer as the movie progresses, almost as if this were a session in Hemi-Sync at the Monroe Institute.  You start tripping out.  You see a skeleton in the coffin, and expect a catastrophe (like in “Bugcrush”, maybe).  But all that is clear is that Evelyn, through her submissiveness, is actually controlling the sex and the whole agenda.  Yes, the very end lends itself to more than one explanation.
  
The credits identify all the bugs in the film.  There is also a wonderful, sentient cat whom you want to lift out of the screen and take home. (The title of the film is the name of a particular butterfly whom Cynthia collects.)
  
  
The official site is here  (IFC films, Sundance Selects, and Film 4).  The film was shot in Hungary but produced by British companies.
  
In ninth grade, I wrote a draft of a play of the same title, and have lost it.  It was in two acts, and as best I recall it dealt with the capture of Joan of Arc.
   
I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC in late afternoon, before a fair audience.

Monday, February 09, 2015

"Red Army": the story of the Soviet Union's hockey team, and how it might have helped the 1991 collapse


Did sports, specifically pro hockey, help accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union through the latter part of 1991? Remember, the “Commonwealth of Independent States” really came to nothing.
  
That’s the impression left, on me at least, by the new documentary “Red Army”, by Gabe Polsky, which traces the history of the USSR’s “Red Army” hockey team and its players (most notably Slava Fetisov) from the 1970’s onto the present day. This is the antithesis of the "Red Dawn" movies.  
   
Sports, both individual and team, were big politics in the Soviet era, as an ideological vehicle to show that communism “works”.  The film presents an analogy to chess, where the Soviets dominated the world (apart from Bobby Fischer) at least into the 1980s.  Anatoly Karpov speaks in the film (but today’s anti-Putin dissident Garry Kasparov does not (see Books blog, Sept. 27, 2007).  There is one scene where chess pieces are placed on a model hockey rink and moves are played, as if hockey strategy were similar to chess.  Sometimes you should shoot for the goal rather than pass.
  
The lifestyles of the players were regimented.  That paralleled the lives of the people in the USSR, who were unable to compete with the West economically. 
  
In time. Soviet hockey had to deal with the possibility that players could defect when in the US, or would try to get contracts with US or Canadian teams (n the NHL, National Hockey League).  In time, the Soviets allowed this in some circumstances, but players had to turn over most of their earnings (although even this decreased in time) to the State. 
  
The film quickly shows the rebellion against Gorbachev in August 1991, and his resignation on Christmas Day, 1991.  It also shows some of present day life in Russia, where people actually have trouble making it in a market economy.  But it doesn’t really get into Putin’s neo-authoritarianism. 
Ronald Reagan (“John Loves Mary”) appears once, to say that not all movie stories have happy endings. 

The official site, from Sony Classics, is here.  Again, Sony is venturing into films exposing totalitarian states.  The Washington Times will very much approve.  The film is brief, at 75 minutes.  Sports Illustrated has a detailed review and history here
   
I wonder at these tweets from “Chess Quotes”, some of them rather heterosexist, but a lot of repeated calls for abandoning capitalism and “exploitation” or ordinary workers.  But you can’t do that without setting up a totalitarian state.

I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington late Sunday afternoon before a small audience. Wikipedia attribution link of the Moscow White House under Creative Commons Share-Alike unported, owned by “www-kremlin-ru”.  Wikipedia also has another picture (of less certain licensing) of the Taman Shelling of the White House in October 1993 (link ). 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

"Two Days, One Night": Workers get to vote on the jobs of their peers


The Belgian film “Two Days, One Night” (“Duex jours, une nuit”), by Jean –Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, sets up the nightmare of a corporate management’s pitting employees against one another as individuals in competitions for their jobs.  This is something that would not be allowed in a unionized environment, and I would be shocked that this could happen in Europe at all.
 
Sandra Bya (Marion Cottilard) has been on medical leave for, in part for “depression” (which doesn’t get a lot of sympathy, from me, at least, as a reason for medical leave – even though the debate in the US on paid sick leave and even paid family leave is very important).  She has two sons and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) has been supportive.  When she tries to return to work, she learns that her boss has determined that the company can do without her, if it demands a small amount of overtime from each of the other 16 employees and offers each a 1,000 euro bonus.  The other workers, in a perversion of the “self-managed teams” concept of the modern workplace, get to vote on whether she stays.  There was an open vote, but it has been arranged that there can be a secret ballot.  Sandra has two days to go door-to-door and pimp her needs to keep her job to get the nine votes.
  
The film certain pays homage to screenwriting precepts:  put the heroine in peril, make her become creative, and provide unforeseen obstacles on the way, and a surprise at the end.  The concept, however, is rather disgusting.
  
The vote, as it develops, is close and will go to the wire.  The responses are varied.  Generally the “No’s” are based on “I need the money (for my family)” and “I didn’t create this dilemma, my boss did.”  But that is a strategy of psychological warfare, to threaten one person and hold others responsible for the outcome.  Terrorists do that.
  
In a salaried workplace, the playout could be different.  Typically people don’t get paid overtime.  There can develop an unhealthful incentive for an employee with fewer responsibilities (someone who is childless and single) to “lowball” the others (with more debt and less disposable income) when layoffs are threatened by working for less.  This undertone used to exist, driving some anti-gay discrimination.
  
When I was laid off, along with thirteen other people, on a Thursday in December, 2001, the remaining people had additional night-call, which didn’t get compensated.  One person laid off was actually on the call list that week, so someone else had to go on.  I was well taken care of, since I could “retire” and get “bought out”, but this was bad for some younger employees at mid-career.
  
  
The official site is here  (Sundance Selects).  The film is in French, rather than Dutch (which would be more common in films from Flanders).  
   
I saw the film before a fair early Saturday evening show at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Liege, by Eric Dodemont, Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 license, unported  The scenery in the movie made Belgium look more rugged than I expected from a “low country”.  I have traveled through it by rail (in 2001).  Second picture, near where I worked in Minneapolis when I was laid off (from Churchill Apartments).  

Saturday, February 07, 2015

"Jupiter Ascending": long on fantasy and action, short on science


I was hoping “Jupiter Ascending” (directed by The Wachowski’s) might offer a geography lesson of nearby extraterrestrial life.  There was interesting stuff to watch, but it was largely in the comic book genre, with maybe a touch of astrology. 
  
Other reviewers say there are three different planets offered.   I had trouble keeping track of which world I was on.  The main home planet seemed to have a lot of volcanoes, cliffs, waterfalls, and architecture resembling Middle Earth.  But there were space stations filled with hotel rooms and wedding halls, spaceships that themselves looked like arthropods, and most curious off all, a major communications center, filled with spire-like tower buildings and rather menacing endless iron framework, constructed in the center of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, as if the atmosphere below was thick enough to support it. 
  
The movie opens in an apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia, and introduces Jupiter (Mila Kunis).  Soon the family is living in an ethic neighborhood in Chicago, and Jupiter, along with other family, works as a domestic.  She soon will be abducted as for some reason she is the disputed heir of a large intergalactic fortune. 
  
Her mentor will be Caine (Channing Tatum), whose smooth body makes him a curious choice as a wolf-man.  (Remember, in “Magic Mike” that he “shaves his legs for work”). Aliens and spaceships materialize out of the sky and attack the Willis Tower (rather like in “The Fantastic Four”) but then, out of goodwill, quickly repair it.  Once on her new planet, Jupiter learns about the politics surrounding the inheritance.
  
Actually, she passed through the Red Spot first, and meets local ruler Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), who seems rather like a pipsqueak.  Once on the main home planet, she courts the rest of the fueding Abrasax family, including “ladies man” Titus (Douglas Booth), who really seems almost foppish, and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton).  There is a curious philosophy that seems to come from Vladimir Putin: “all of life and meaning is based on lies”.  Later, “society is a pyramid; there are always people at the top and paeans on the bottom”.  Thus line reminds me of my own early novel “The Proles”;  it seems that some people are, by mathematical tautology, better than other people.  Soon Titus proposes marriage (yes, social conservatives, heterosexual marriage means the same thing throughout the universe, or ours, at least) with the ceremony in a lavish Czarist hall in one of the space stations.  There is also an interesting bureaucracy covering payment of taxes and granting of zoning permits that would put most American local governments to shame.   The processing hall looks like a curious mishmash of 19th century gadgets and knickknacks, and innovations from Steve Jobs.  There are even some old fashioned typewriter keyboards around, and an astrolabe. 

I had hoped that the movie might offer a vision like Clive Barker's book "Imajica", still yet to become a movie.  That book offers four other planets ("dominions") that become "reconciled" to Earth (connected by a wormhole, rather like in "Interstellar").  In that book, the four other worlds (one of them is arguably "Heaven") have a real geography that could go onto a board game (printed, not just Xbox).  There are real cities, mountain ranges, lakes, gay bars, and political systems (more or less Czarist).  Actually, "Star Wars" offers some geography, if someone wants to map it. This movie was much murkier.  (Yes, I wonder how many light years it is to the nearest extrasolar planet with a gay disco.) 
  
  
The official site is here. This is another collaboration between Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow.  It was filmed in Chicago, Spain, Quebec, and Australia.  There's one scene with an image of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain in the shot (I visited it in 2001).  
  
I saw the film in 3-D but in a smaller auditorium at Regal Ballston in Arlington.  The theater does not tell you which auditorium you will be in. A film this big needed to be in the big auditorium.  What happened to Regal’s “Go Big or Go Home”?

By the way, a friend drew my astrology chart when I was living in NYC, around 1977, and I have have it around somewhere.  
   
Picture: That’s from my own setup, something that looks like an extraterrestrial (or maybe just Chinese) city. 
  
For a short film, try on YouTube “What Would Happen If You Were to Free-fall into the Planet Uranus?”,  by “Qwikili”, link here.  A similar result would occur with Neptune (which might have been a better choice for his film). But it would be more interesting to do this with Jupiter, and explore layers of liquid hydrogen and then metallic hydrogen.  Neptune and Uranus may be “ocean worlds” of supercooled water and ammonia and hydrocarbons, under immense pressure, so intense that at some point the carbon turns to liquid diamond that forms hail.  (See similar film here Jan. 23.)