Sunday, May 31, 2015

"My Own Man": a sensitive filmmaker assesses his own "masculinity" as he turns 40 and his wife has her first two children


In “My Own Man”, filmmaker David Sampliner, as he turns 40, reflects on the pressures on him to conform to conventional pressures of manhood, as he becomes a father to his first child.  This film has a little bit of “Morgan Spurlock”-style “Inside Man” character to it, but it is “softer”.  I recall that some biologists say that new father’s testosterone levels go down even more when they do child care, a favorite point from the “Family Research Council”.
  
David grew up as a second child under a more “masculine” older brother.  His father, a successful surgeon, had been a typical 1950s-style patriarchal husband in a Jewish family.
  
David reports that he lost the ability to throw a baseball like a man at 10, and doesn’t know why.  So he won’t become a Clayton Kershaw.  But later he gets feedback that he lacks the “killer instinct” to survive and protect people dependent on him. There is a play-acting confrontation where he doesn’t show the instinct to say “F- you, get out of my way” that a more aggressive man would.
  
He graduated from Yale, but bounced around a while (not becoming a history professor), even working in a fast-food job (“paying his dues”) before becoming a filmmaker.
  
Perhaps he is what Paul Rosenfels would have called “psychologically feminine”.
  
He takes a testosterone test, and the results put him at the low end of normal.  In appearance, he looks male enough, relatively trim with a hairy body.  But compared to his brother in gym exercises, he lacks coordination.
  
So he goes on a quest to discover masculinity, including hunting lessons (aka “The Deer Hunter”).  His father thinks there is something of existential importance to being able to survive on your own with a weapon and live on what you can kill (which Mark Zuckerberg has tried).  He also takes voice lessons on assertiveness.
  
I remember a rude question on a job interview to become a debt collector, whether I had ever gotten results by ordering other people around.  And authoritative assertion was a problem when I worked as a substitute teacher. 
  
The official site is here  This is a Netflix (“Red Envelope”) original documentary, an opportunity I will make personal note of.  It is available on Instant Play.
  
At the end of the film, his wife announces a second child, proudly. “Another baby in our family.”
  
The filmmaker has appeared on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
  
I think this is filmed in New York City suburbs. 

Bill 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

"Transcendent Man": the futurism of Ray Kurzweil's "singularity"


Transcendent Man: Prepare to Evolve” (directed Robert Barry Ptolemy) is a biography of information scientist Ray Kurzweil, based on his book “The Singularity Is Near”.
  
The Singularity is that event where machine or artificial intelligence can reproduce itself (without biological sex).  He says, God doesn’t exist yet, but will when the Singularity occurs.  Biological intelligence, actually starting with information (from reproductive molecules) becomes machine intelligence and promulgates.  But of course that begs the question, could this process have already happened on other planets.
  
The movie opens with a scene from “I’ve God a Secret” in 1966, where a 17-year-old Kurzweil plays a perfunctory piano piece sounding like a Classical period fugato, and the secret is that it was composed on a computer.
  
Kurzweil notes the amazing miniaturization of computers, and predicts that nanocomputers will eventually move inside our bodies and enable telepathy and mind control, way beyond today’s Internet (although it seems like dolphins can do this now).
  
Kurzweil invented the flatbed scanner and reading devices for the blind. Kurzweil believes that the original human body is rather unimportant.
  
His own father died of heart disease before age 60, and he had open heart surgery recently to repair a value.  He described the procedure as turning you off and back on again.  Of course, you’re cracked open like a lobster. He shows his scars, which are surprisingly small.
  
Kurzwell wants to transcend death and offer immortality, and doesn’t think it is inevitable. He describes it as moving from empty room to another.  But some NDE’s describe a blackness called “The Core”.
  
  
The official site is here. (New Video). The score has a lot of music by Philip Glass. 

“Technology is an amplifier of what we do.”
  

The DVD includes a QA from Tribeca Film Festival. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Survivor" depicts a rather unbelievable New Year's terror plot, but the ending echoes "Strange Days"


Survivor” (2015, directed by James McTeigue and written by Philip Shelby) is a fast-paced thriller about counter terrorism, but it pulls too many coincidental punches to be believable. 
  
Kate Abbott (Mila Jovovich) is a foreign service officer with a lot of non-European language skills and hints of CIA connects, assigned to the US embassy in London to help with security. Soon she screens a supposed physician Dr. Emil Balan (Roger Rees) and becomes suspicious. Though the embassy employees don’t share her concerns, she persists.  Balan builds a plastic bomb and tries to use it to kill her when she is eating at a nearby restaurant.  She survives, and in a rather improbable chain, is framed for the death of another visitor.  In saving herself, she uncovers a plot to create a huge natural gas explosion at Times Square in New York on New Years Eve, the details of which really seem impossible to pull off.   
  
There is also another subplot, to create stock market chaos on the first day after New Year’s and profit from massive short selling. The opening of the film shows a captured Green Beret in Afghanistan being burned alive by Taliban captors, but the soldier’s companion is kept alive and tortured. The film implies that the soldier is the doctor’s son, and that the “doctor” went on a rampage of assassination to pay ransom to the terrorists in Afghanistan to save his son.
  
The film (indoors shot in Bulgaria) often gives a handsome look at modern downtown London.  The acting and chase style is that of many 80s and 90s thrillers. 
  
  
The official site is here (Millennium films).  The movie has a very limited theatrical release, as I saw it at AMC Hoffman in Alexandria., before a modest audience.  The audience seemed to agree that the plot was very improbable.  It was probably financed  (with a lot of Canadian backing) for quick DVD and streaming release.
  
This film should not be confused by a 2014 film of the same title by John Lyde, about a crashing landing on an alien planet. 
  
The countdown scene on New Year’s Eve in NYC reminds me a similar scene near the end of “Strange Days” (1995) by Kathryn Bigelow, with New Years Eve 2000 set in Los Angeles.  In that film, (with Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett) there is the plot device of mind reading (or hacking) and wireless transfer to other people wearing the same device. This is a riveting film (one of the best from the 90s). When I saw it at Pentagon City in Arlington, the film broke 20 minutes before the end, and I went later to see the end, although people were discussing the ending on AOL message boards at the time. 

Remember that a real terror plot on the West Coast was intercepted New Years Eve 2000. 

Picture: Times Square, Dec. 1, 2011, my visit.

Note: "San Andreas" is reviewed on my "Films on Major Threats to Freedom" blog May 30. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Woman in Gold": a lawyer's epiphany regarding bookselling turns the plot in this true post-Holocaust story.


One of the most interesting confrontations in “Woman in Gold” (by Simon Curtis) occurs when young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) does a job interview in downtown Los Angeles. He is quizzed on what went wrong when he went solo practicing law, and is asked if he is “ready to work with people”.  (That question could be asked of me, but it doesn't work if I have to pimp someone else's business.) The interviewers note he is grandson of composer Arnold Schoenberg.  That composer’s reputation, and his twelve-tone technique get mentioned a few times, and some of the tone poem “Verklarte Nacht” for string sextet (which is an early postromantic work and tonal) gets played near the end.
   
Schoenberg has one possible client dangling, however.  When he goes to the home of Holocaust-survivor Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) he makes some social faux pas.  But that only starts a jerky relationship where he represents her legal battle to get back a painting of her aunt “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” from the Austrian government, since it was stolen by the Nazis when they sacked Vienna as Hitler took over most of continental Europe.
  
Her back story, shown in sepia (without green in some scenes, as a colorblind person might see it) of the harassment of her family by the Nazis and of her escape, is quite harrowing.  The current day parallel of course comes from ISIS.  The brutality is expressed in political terms, as the “Jews” are called “pigs” by invading soldiers.  But the extreme Left called most well-off middle class people that in the late 1960s.
  
Randol’s new employers don’t think he has a case (they’re wrong), and he winds up having to quit to pursue the case on his own, and resurrecting his own law firm, going into debt even as his wife (Katie Holmes) has a second child.  Despite his analytical, personally reticent nature, Randol seems to be quite tender in caring for his own family. In this manner, the structure of this movie’s plot resembles “Pilot Error” (yesterday) where a reporter quits to pursue her own urgent news story.
  
After the first visit to Vienna with Maria, Randol has an epiphany in a Barnes and Noble bookstore when he finds a coffee table art book with a reproduction of the painting.  He realizes that if the Austiran government-owned museum is doing commerce in the US with American booksellers, a lawsuit can be filed in the US.  This is certainly interesting to me, as soon I will be dealing with booksellers regarding my own book.  I wondered if the same would be true of the book were sold online to customers in the US but not in physical stores.  Eventually, Reynolds argues before the US Supreme Court (the judges played by actors) which rules in 2004 that the suit can go forward (“Republic of Austria v. Altmann”) because the Foreign Sovereignty Immunities Act (and its exception) apply to conduct before 1976. The argument that Altmann could jeopardize US foreign policy (then in Iraq) gets some laughs.
  
There’s a scene where a clerk confuses “Austria” with “Australia”.
  
Randol Schoenberg has his own video "The Art of the Heist: The Lady in Gold" on YouTube to supplement the film. He is a major founder of the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles.  

  
The official site is here (The Weinstein Company and BBC).  I saw this early Thursday afternoon before a small audience at Regal Ballston. 

Bill 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Pilot Error": a journalist goes it alone to expose airline and aircraft manufacturer culpability for a major ocean airplane crash


The film “Pilot Error”, directed by Joe Anderson, written with Roger Rapaport (the producer), based on Rapoport’s novel.  And although the end credits have the usual “fiction” disclaimer, the film appears to be based on the 2009  crash of Air France 447 (Airbus A330), from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris, as explained in Wikipedia here.  The flight tragedy may be related to an icing of the aircraft pitot tubes, and the inability of the other systems and possibly the pilots to respond correctly.   
  
The film, essentially a live-action docudrama, might be compared to documentaries about other high-profile aviation disasters, including “TWA Flight 800” (2013) by Kristina Borgesson (My “CF” blog, Jan. 4, 2014), and CNN’s “Vanished: The Mystery of Malaysia Flight 370” (TV blog, Oct. 8, 2014).  The tone of the film also would apply to the investigation of the major Amtrak Train 188 wreck in Philadelphia earlier this month, where engineer error seems to have happened but might have been related to distraction, sabotage or some other equipment failure (as well as lack of automated speed control).  
  
The movie and book provide a fictitious airline (“Air Paris”) and aircraft (“Atlas”), and suppose an eager reporter in Milwaukee uncovers a quasi-coverup by the airline.  Rio is replaced by Buenos Aries. 
   
The writing about the reporter’s professional and personal situations seems a little overwrought, following screenwriting 101 ideas about creating rooting interest and insurmountable obstacles for protagonists.  Nicola Wilson (Kate Thomsen), as the film opens, takes repeated voicemails from a helicopter mom in Paris as she sits in an airport.  Soon, we learn she missed the flight and went back to work.  (I broke a vacation once in 1976 for quirky reasons.)  Along the way, the film brings up the idea that you could forget to bring your passport for an international flight, or that you could use your spouse’s (don’t know if that’s true).  Then, the movie has her taking “fear of flying” remediation lessons.  Well, I don’t swim.  I guess you could build a movie plot around that.  In fact, that idea could reinforce a plot point in my own novel, in a way I hadn’t thought about before.  
  
But when she learns that her best friend apparently died on the crash (there is a suggestion that Nicola’s own fear put the friend on the flight, some bad karma) she delves into it, and gets into a fight with her employer.  Her bosses (such as Richard Riehle, who reminds me of Wilfred Brimley) warn she need to write the stories that readers want (to make the paper profitable) – well, aren’t reporters and journalists supposed to be objective and tell the complete truth?  The paper would run a big lawsuit risk because, in France, truth alone is not an adequate defense to libel (Kitty Kelly has said the same thing about British law in talking about her book “The Royals”).  
  
In anger, Nicola quits and develops an independent video blog to report on the accident.  She maxes her credit cards and needs to pimp her site and beg for money.  I guess she needs to follow all of Blogtyrant’s (that’s Australian blogging guru Ramsay Taplin) advice on how to make niche blogs make big money.   

She writes a book manuscript and seems to have a separate publisher (she won’t have to self-publish, even if she has already self-instantiated on the blog). But another writer plagiarizes her but then changes the conclusions to blame the crash on “pilot error”.  Eventually she travels to France for a surprising conclusion.  
  
  
This film has been produced by the author (Dewey Decimal Productions) and distributed by Michigan Blue Lake (site ). The on location filming was in Michigan (a state that want so use the film industry to bring back Detroit), around Milwaukee, and in France, and looks sharp.   It has very limited showings.  Yesterday, there seemed to be an error in search engine show times, and I went to the Cinema Arts theater in Fairfax VA and was told that the theater had been rented to show it one day previously.  The producer provided me a screening link on Vimeo to watch it this morning.  He also says that theaters asked that the film not be released on DVD or streaming while showing in limited theatrical release.  This practice sounds silly (and unfair if he really had to rent the theater, as I was told), keeping content ‘scarce”, when it shows in few theaters and only briefly.  (A normal Amazon rental is $6.99, less than most movie tickets.) I’ve talked about this issue by email with Mark Cuban (Blogmaverick and Magnolia Pictures) who admits that “lowballing” (my term) is a fear in media circles, but Magnolia Pictures has been willing to release pictures on DVD or video and in theaters at the same time, hoping that sincere movie customers (in larger cities) will go to see the films in theaters.  IFC did the same with “Good Kill”, reviewed here Monday. The same issue exists in book publishing, especially with self-published books, where hardcopy competes with Kindle or Nook and free PDF’s online.  This is becoming known as the “It’s Free” problem.  
  
The film make come across, ultimately, as a didactic on what airlines must do to make flights safer.  Toward the end, some of the scenes seem written to make these points, rather than simply to follow the story.  One can certainly ask, should this film have been a non-fiction documentary about the Air France flight instead?  It seems odd that it would be shown in rental spaces (like Christian films are sometimes) rather than (as far as I know) enter the festival circuit and then established corporate distributors.  I do wonder if IFC or Magnolia would be interested in this film, it would seem to fit their cultures. 
     
Picture: Crossing Lake Michigan, westbound, my flight, June 2011.  







Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Iris" is a nice biography of a famous designer, now 93


Iris” is a gentle biography of New York fashion and interior designer Iris Apfel, now 93, and her husband Carl, now 100, directed by Albert Maysles.
  
Iris usually appears in very intricate fashions, with huge glasses.  Although using a cane and sometimes a wheelchair, she remains as intellectually sharp and wise as ever.
  
Early in the film, she is interviewed by domestic diva Martha Stewart, in 2006 (after Stewart’s own return from incarceration and home confinement for insider trading (there was a 2005 TV film by Eric Bross. “Martha Behind Bars” with Cybil Shepard).   
  
She often mentions a business connection with “Old World Seamsters”, a name that reminds me of the novel “Silas Marner”.

Iris makes many comments about taking herself in stride.  She does not covet women who were “pretty” but who “lost it” as they aged.  She insists on making herself as active as possible, not thinking about aches and pains of aging.  Her momentum keeps her going.  But she does mention recovering from a hip fracture.
  
I saw the film at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA in early evening in a small audience.  However, I had expected to see Joe Anderson’s “Pilot Error” (about a little known plane crash);  it had played for only one day and was for a while mistakenly listed as playing today.  I am trying to see if there is a DVD for that film.
  
  
The official site is here  (Magnolia). 
  
The new film “Iris” should not be confused with a 2001 film by that name, by Richard Eyre, about Irish author Iris Murdoch (with Judi Dench).  I remember reading “The Unicorn” many years ago.   

  

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Good Kill": military operations of drones overseas provide challenge to notions of personal cowardice


Good Kill”, as the title of a film, sounds like an oxymoron, and the effect of this indie film by Andrew Niccol, is rather disturbing. ("Drones" is an alternate original title.)  The obvious comparison will be with “American Sniper” (January 16), where the political left (like Michael Moore) called sniping “cowardly,” rather like "fighting with your fingernails." This film is much smaller, with only a few characters and most of the action “simulated”, although set up in Morocco.  Here, an Air Force Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke), relieved of flying sabre jets, works in a detachment in the desert near Las Vegas playing video games, directing actual drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and later Yemen.  It’s the ultimate “fight without fighting”.  It’s not hard to predict that the ethical problems will affect his marriage (wife January Jones) and family in a tract house maybe ten miles from the Strip, totally treeless.  It shouldn’t be hard to anticipate that alcohol will affect him, too.  The events take place in 2010, and are supposed to be based on real history.
  
The complications set in when the detachment is contacted by the CIA, directly from Langley, VA (where Egan thinks life is green and safe – he doesn’t know Washington DC), and told to make kills under more generalized circumstances (based on “signatures”).  The commander (Bruce Greenwood) is OK with this, but not so much the other crew members, especially Airman Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) chosen for the unit because of her unusual IT and gaming skills.  At this point, a movie reviewer has to say, I don’t know if the CIA really does this, or how the chain of command really works when the CIA interacts with the Armed Forces.  But the president (Obama) has apparently approved.  Remember, this history occurs before Osama bin Laden was taken out in 2011 (“Zero Dark Thirty”, Jan. 11, 2013).
  
The discussion leads to the rationalizations for taking out civilians as “collateral damage” (again, the problem uncovered by Bradley Chelsea Manning (CF blog, April 7, 2010).  The commander points to the civilians in the Twin Towers on 9/11.  But Vera says that the Times Square plot (which was foiled by sharp-eyed public and NYPD) was motivated specifically by the fact that civilians in Muslim countries had been killed by Americans.  (In fact, Jahar’s “manifesto” scribbled in a boat said that.) This sounds rather personal.  I can recall, back in 1972, listening in on a (secular) far left wing meeting in Newark, NJ where even individuals who benefited from the capitalist system and were sheltered as salaried professionals “had it coming to them”.  I certainly have some unfavorable karma on my hands.  I worked as a math instructor in grad school and flunked some students, probably exposing them more to the Vietnam draft.  Then I was able to game the system when I was eventually drafted to avoid combat.  Put all this together, it isn’t pretty.  Death itself eventually comes to every single one of us, and is not controversial.  But some of us don’t have the right to ever be called victims (instead of casualties) or be memorialized.  We need to get this right.
  
Eventually, Egan chokes on the job, leading to an ending that I don’t completely buy.
   
The film has very limited theatrical release, but I saw it at ArcLight in Bethesda MD, before a small audience Memorial Day. It’s also available on Amazon Instant Play ($7). I think it helps to see this in a theater if possible. The distributor is IFC and I suspect major studios didn’t want their brands associated with this film. But Paramount  (Vantage) is listed by YouTube as renting the film.  Voltage Pictures and Dune (usually associated with big sci-fi and Universal) are listed as production companies.
   
The official site is here
The credits say it was filmed in New Mexico and Morocco (where the villages are set up as ancient courtyards), but there are plenty of shots of Las Vegas.

Picture: My trip, May 2012.  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Odd Man Out", film noir set in Northern Ireland in the 1940s


Odd Man Out” (1947), by Carol Reed (screenplay by F.L. Green), makes an adventure story of a fugitive for a “terror” organization after a robbery goes bad, without taking sides in the bigger political issue.  That problem, of course, would be the IRA, as it developed later in Northern Ireland’s history in succeeding decades.  The film appears to be shot in Belfast, which is not named.
  
James Mason plays Johnny McQueen, the fugitive.  He has been shielded by a girlfriend Kathleen Sullivan (Kathleen Ryan). After a firefight, in which he is shot and in which he has shot a cop, two other female passers-by take him in and give him first aid before he gets strength to leave.
The film also plays on the idea that ordinary people face practical dilemmas when sheltering outlaws or particularly political rebels.  They might have to choose between the law on the one hand, and protection from gangs on the other.
  
A good part of the first movement of the Schubert "Unfinished" Symphony in B Minor plays early in the film. There's a line "in the left wing" (where Johnny hides) that makes a great pun. There's a great reflective image of different images in "soap bubbles".  There's a line from a Catholic priest, "in my profession, there is not good and bad, only guilt and innocence".  Toward the end, the symphonic music of composer William Alwyn (like in his symphonies) kicks in, as the couple heads for a tragic reunion before police, after Johnny, running around with his arm in a sling, sermonizes from Corinthians. 
   
  
The film was produced by the J. Arthur Rank organization, which became known as perhaps the leading British film company in the 1950s and which was often played in “arthouses” at the time (like the McArthur and Ontario theaters in Washington DC, and later the Biograph).  The distributor is Janus.

I wonder if this film inspired the 1966 film "The Chase" as well as "The Fugitive" (two films).  
    
Picture: Northern Ireland, in the 1980s, Mother’s estate picture (not from film, which is in black and white).

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Tomorrowland": plenty of spontaneous time travel, but I don't get a hotel stay with it


When Disneyland opened in the 50s (first in California, and later in Orlando), and had its weekly television series, “Tomorrowland” was my favorite kingdom (although Adventureland, source of nature documentaries like “The Vanishing Prairie” and “The Living Desert” and even "Secrets of Life") was about on peer, followed by Frontierland (Fess Parker), and Fantasyland.
  
I don’t know if the futuristic city of spires, monorails, roller coasters, and fall-through swimming pools, rising like Oz from  prairies (call it “Metropolis” – KCMO – from “Smallville”) is actually replicated at one of the Disney theme parks (like Epcot in Orlando -- and I do intend to visit Orlando soon). If so, even with Imax, you don’t get to see a lot of the geography of the place. In my own “space station” in my DADT screenplay, I propose a monorail tunnel set up as a Mobius strip, which can get interesting.
  
The story, by Canadian director Brad Bird, Jeff Jensen and Damon Lindelof, seems rather cluttered, but the backstory concept seems fair enough.  The pre-history starts at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing (across the #7 IRT tracks from the Mets Citi Field now), which I visited twice.  This was a curious time, early in LBJ’s administration, just as Vietnam was getting started, when the City had been “cleaned up” (by closing down most gay bars, except those controlled by the Mafia).  You see the optimistic, science-fair idea of innovation, and take a ride “It’s a small world.”  The boy Frank Walker is given a mysterious orange and blue pendant that transports him to the future temporarily, to see the teeming city. 
  
Then in present day, high school student Casey Newton (an aggressive Britt Robertson) finds the same pendant in Houston, sees the future, and goes on a wild chase across the bayou (this section was apparently filmed in Florida) until she encounters the decrepit home and lab of the adult Casey (George Clooney).  Sidekick Athena (Raffey Cassidy) will turn out to be a hologram, as is the family dog.  They also encounter a techie sage (Tim McGraw) who helps unscramble tachyon theory, that somehow enables one to view the future.  The concept of splitting the Eiffel Tower for a rocket launch is rather silly. 
  
And the future they see is grim, taking us through global warming leading to nuclear terror.  So, somehow we get to change the future, less some alien civilization colonize and replace us (and it’s emerald city might not survive our waste, either).

  
The official site is here, filmed in Florida, Los Angeles, Spain, France, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Bahamas.  I expected to see Louisiana in the credits for the bayou scene.
  
I saw the film at the AMC Tysons’s in Imax.  The Saturday afternoon crowd was not as large as I would have expected.  The aspect ratio is listed as 2.20:1, but it seemed a little less wide than that on the Imax screen.  Standard anamorphic is wider, 2.35:1.
  
Two pictures: a “Tomorrowland”-like city from my own train set, and a Mobius strip. 

Bill 

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Echelon Conspiracy": Prescient of today's NSA, Snowden, Putin, and a whole worldwide cast of characters in cyberwar?


Echelon Conspiracy” (2009, Greg Marcks) is the second conspiracy film this week for me.  And this one is all of the map in anticipating the supposed abuses of the NSA and Edward Snowden’s revelations, but, in mixing in some sci-fi with some intimations of artificial intelligencve,  it piles on too many separate “plot pieces” to be believed.  The movie plot happens in a backdrop of the NSA’s wanting continued funding from Congress for its most clandestine activities. And today Congress struggles with renewing the Patriot Act. 
  

Max (Shane West) is appealing enough (even looking good in shorts) as a computer security engineer.  He starts getting bizarre text messages that change the course of his life.  One of them gets him to miss a flight from Bangkok that subsequently crashes.  Down the road, he gets another message that enables him to make a killing at a casino in the Czech Republic. I thought about the movie “21”.   But this is just hacking, not card-counting.  Furthermore, Max proves he can deal with others and manipulate them on the fly to “get what he wants”.
  
Max also contacts a (handsome) Russian hacker, Yuri (Sergey Cubanov) to take advantage of his “luck”.

The plot turns here as the casino security chief (Edward Burns) comes after him. But then the NSA jumps in, under the direction of Raymond Burke (Martin Sheen), who thinks that these incidents are signs of cyberwarfare directed from an AI system called Echelon.  Maybe it’s quantum computing, and maybe it’s run by the Russians, or maybe it’s run deeper within our own CIA and NSA (in the midpoint of the film, the project is identified as belonging only to the NSA, but don't believe it). Of course, now Max runs for his life. 

The movie really doesn’t give a very credible picture of how international intrigue really works, being too fast-paced (brief at 100 minutes).  But it is a spectacle to watch, with scenes of Bangkok and Moscow (especially the Kremlin, for real).  It finally winds up in Nebraska (near SAC).
  
The epilogue, with Yuri’s shaving his face (not his chest) before a meeting in Moscow, is enigmatic.  Does it anticipate what Vladimir Putin is doing now?
   
As a matter of credibility, I don’t think I would “obey” a sequence of texts I got sent to my smart phone, even if the first one could save my life. 
   
Paramount no longer has an official site for the film.  I wonder why studios don’t keep these up.  I rented the film from Netflix.  This film is much more "conventional" than the quirky indie "The Conspiracy" reviewed earlier this week. 
   
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Kremlin by Alexander Gusev, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 license.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Mad Max: Fury Road": An 80s franchise doesn't offer anything new


I remember the “Mad Max” movies from the 80s, when living in Dallas:  “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome”.  But while George Miller’s new “Mad Max: Fury Road” may do what movies should do, place you in another world, it doesn’t present much to root for, that’s relevant.
  
The opening shot (actually Namibia) looks like Mars, until a lizard emerges from the rocks to get stomped by Max (Tom Hardy).  Soon, we meet Imperator Furiosa, a crew-cut an mannish Charlize Theron, who has lost an arm.  The movie comprises a fighting adventure to get her back to her homeland from which he was stolen, which is supposed to have an ancient oasis.
  
We could wonder if this is another planet, until someone mentions a satellite still orbiting in the night sky.  So we’re dealing with the dystopian, post nuclear war world, filled with mutants, the most spectacular of whom appear at the end, among the iron works and deformed humans (and albino) who look like “The Guild” from Frank Herbert’s “Dune” (I actually liked that 1984 film).
  
So is this demolition derby worth two hours and the price of a 3-D summer movie?  Matter of taste.
    
There are some spectacular effects, like the haboob, with the embedded tornadoes. The music, by Christian Vorlander, is most effective.  At one point, the score excerpts the Dies Irae of Verdi’s Requiem. At the end, before the credits, when an aquifer finally gushes, the music moves up in a scale to a tremendous climax on a final C Major chord (like the end of the Sibelius Seventh).  The music during the closing credits sounds like a genuine concern overture, sonata-like, crashing down to a C Minor close.
  
  
The official site is here.  Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow played sound effects similar to Lionsgate's "movies to die for" during their opening trademarks. 
    
I saw this in a smaller auditorium at the Regal Ballston Common, before a fair weeknight audience. Regal played 25 minutes of previews, running the trailer for “Jurassic World” (introduced by Chris Pratt) twice.  I have to admit that “Ant-Man” and “Entourage” look interesting. 
   
Picture: New Mexico, 2011

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Another "DC Short" by accident, and then two more important foreign LGBT short films


Today, before a satellite performance of “Man and Superman” (Drama blog), the host Angelika theater showed “Espana Is Different”, by Salvador Guera, from DC Shorts.  Somewhere in a modern Spanish city, a teenager gives another boy a ride on his bicycle, and the image winds up in an art gallery.
  
I added two more gay films to the mix for the day.
  
In “Violine” (Germany, or “Violin”, by Roman Ilyushenko, 11 min), a young violinist (Johannes Huth) brings home a trick to his apartment in former East Germany (so it looks).  There is an out-of-tune piano (like in “Wozzeck”) and a violin, which Johnannes plays.  He tries to give his more athletic-looking guest (Hannes Sell) a lesson.  It turns intimate, before there is an unfortunate interruption.
  
  
The main film for the day is the Swiss short “Prora” (23 min, Switzerland, in German, French and Polish, it sounds).  Jan (Tom Gramenz) explores the ruins of Prora, a former Nazi camp and later East German communist detention center on the Baltic Sea.  He meets another college-age kid Matthieu (Swen Gippa), and the boys explore the dangerous ruins together.  They become intimate, and then Matthieu has second-thoughts about what has happened, and they fight, leading Jan to be slightly injured.  But then they reconcile, keeping all the boundless energy of youth just before brains are fully grown (that takes to about age 25).  The youtube link is here, and official site is here 

Picture: Fort Washington, MD, ruins comparable to Prora. 

 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Little Hope Was Arson": how the lives of two young men on the Bible Belt unravel


Little Hope Was Arson”, by Theo Love, is a rather tragic documentary about the demise of two young men in East Texas. It does present the police work, but it plays up the human element and down the sensationalism, compared to, say, a Dateline crime episode. 
  
Early on New Years Morning, 2010, a Baptist church in Tyler was burned down, shortly after a New Year’s Eve gathering.  Nine more churches within a 40 mile radius would burn, with the fires started with some degree of “skill”. 
  
A break would occur when a female dispatcher with a sheriff’s department would learn that her brother could be involved.  Eventually, two young white male suspects emerged.  One of them had been an outstanding teen and taken church seriously, but mysteriously drifted into drugs once in college.  The defendants seem to have little motive other than compulsive behavior.  But one of the defendants, from prison, seemed to resent the self-righteousness of some “Christians”.
  
The film, consisting mostly of interviews, does explore some of the values of the Bible Belt.  One woman talks about the idea of a Bible verse for every problem (like a toothache).  But she also says she wouldn’t turn in a family member to the law, because that would be snitching.
  
Both men would, after guilty pleas, get concurrent life sentences plus extra time to make parole difficult.
  
  
The official site is here (Orchard Films).  I watched it online at Netflix. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

"The Conspiracy": two brothers follow a global conspiracy into its initiation rites


The Conspiracy” (2012, 84 minutes), directed and written by Christopher MacBride is another road (essentially) thriller winding up with a tantalizing ritual (but so does “Bugcrush”).  It also takes an overview of conspiracy theories, with news footage of both 9/11 and the JFK assassination.
  
Aaron and Jim (Aaron Poole and James Gilbert), brothers in their late 20s, work together as documentary filmmakers in Toronto.  Jim, a little more laid back, is married with a family.
  
A blogger sends them a link about an aging conspiracy theorist Terrance G. (Alan Peterson).  They want to make a film about him, but shortly after they meet him, the codger disappears.  Aaron, the more articulate and aggressive, tracks down some charts other materials left in the old man’s apartment concerning (as Aaron later finds from another single source) a “Tarsus Club”, and Jim agrees with him to proceed.  They put all they know up on the Web and see what Google will bring them. (They probably don’t follow all the detailed advice of “Blogtyrant”.)  Aaron’s apartment gets burglarized, and Aaron moves back in with his brother’s family, even though they both suspect he was targeted, although the police think it was just random.
  
The writer who had identified the Tarsus Club contacts them, and says he will help them only if they take down all they have put up from the Internet. (I’ve been asked to take down very specific materials about a few people over 15 years, but only in rare circumstances.)  The club, of world leaders, believes in a legendary pre-Christian diety, Mithras. The custom of the handshake is said to have originated with the secret society.  What follows is an engaging treasure hunt, as the brothers are eventually led to an initiation ceremony in a large rural estate. 
  
The progress of the initiation takes about 20 minutes of the film, and is partly outdoors.  The brothers become separated as Aaron is “chosen” and wears the bull mask, although his business suit  stays on.
The film has an epilogue in which we learn that Aaron has disappeared and might have joined Terrane, while Jim continues raisin his family, transformed by the experience, wanting to hunt for truth while needing to have his work make money.
  
The movie does play the World government card, and rehearses a JFK speech about the shadows.
I would like to see what exactly happens to Aaron, even if it were in a deleted scene on a DVD. (I watched it on Netflix, but I see there is a BluRay DVD.)  I have a similar initiation scene in my novel, and one in my main screenplay, and you really need to know accurately what happens with each character.
  
  
The official site is here  The main site comes up “unavailable”.  The production company is Resolute Films; the distributors are XLrator and E-one.

 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"The Purchase Price": pre-code film by Wellman explores Depression-era marital values


The Purchase Price” (1932) is another pre-code film, relatively brief at 68 minutes, in black and white, by William Wellman (on the same DVD from WB and Netflix as “Other Men’s Women”, May 14), with some interesting moral and plot concepts that anticipate Douglas Sirk.  The film is based on the story  “The Mud Lark” by Arthur Stringer.
  
The heroine, Joan Gordon (Barbara Stanwyck), singing “torch” in NYC clubs, rejects her Mafia-connected boyfriend Eddie Fields (Lyle Talbot) for the more upstanding Don Leslie (Hardie Albright). For her safety, she flees to Montreal (actually shown once), where she tries to change her name, but the criminal syndicate recognizes her picture.  She bribes a homely chambermaid (who wears wool stockings to cover her own gams) to use her name after the chambermaid tells her that she (Leila Bennett)  had agreed to go to North Dakota to marry a farmer who had found her through a “marriage agency” and that she had used a phot of Joan instead of her own because Joan is more physically attractive, and more likely to get a husband.  This is an example of pre-Internet fraud with “photo-tagging”.
  
Joan, unaware of what will be like to live on a ranch during the Great Depression, makes the journey. The new husband Jim Gilson (George Brent) has to keep his distance at first, but gradually they fall in love.  The values of rural life (horse-drawn wagons, no cars) become apparent, when a local newspaper prints a story about their two-day journey to get a scuttle of coal.  Neighbors help one another in this culture, as there is now FDR big government yet to help them.  At one point, she visits a neighboring girl, where a teenage girl takes care of her mother and newborn baby brother because father is away, and she finds she can really help people.  That scene, in  particular, shows what family values meant in this culture, even if the topic o arranged marriages seems silly and exploitative. Women really had to take care of the home in this world.

Things get complicated as the bank tries to foreclose on Jim’s farm, and a wealthier neighbor Bull (David Landau) offers to bail them out in return for Joan’s favors.  Then Eddie shows up, having skip-traced her through the underworld. Eddie thinks he can get Joan back if he secretly bails out the farm, but then a jealous Bull almost burns them out.  The title of the film has some double entendre.

The North Dakota scenes sometimes appear to have been shot in Arizona, and other scenes show wooded hills. The western part of the state does have some buttes and badlands (less extensive than in South Dakota), which I visited in 1998. 


The DVD has two shorts. One of these is the 17-minute “Clue” tale, “The Wall Street Mystery” (1931), by Arthur Haley, where Dr. Crabtree (Donald Meek) solves the murder of two stockbrokers at night in an office. The movie has 1929-puns like “killing on Wall Street”, and a woman (found in the “closet”) who had “lost everything but the vote”.  At the end, Crabtree says, “I a man bites a dog, that’s news. But if a dog bites a detective, that’s good news.”
  
There is also an animated short “Moonlight for Two”, by Rudolf Ising, which WB says it includes only to demonstrate the racial prejudices of the era, but says it does not approve of these.  There is a courtship battle between “white” and “black” dogs,
  
On a 2011 Samsung DVD player, I found that the player could not access past track 8 on the second feature (because of the unusual organization of the DVD), a software incompatibility.  It did work OK on a more modern player with my newer  computer. 
   
The Netflix DVD belongs to the Warner Brothers "Forbidden Hollywood Collection". 
    
The feature film can be rented on YouTube legally for $2.99. The picture above comes from my mother's estate, farm life around 1920 in the midwest (probably Illinois). 

 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"While We're Young": comedy by Noah Baumbach creates conflict over the ethics inside documentary filmmaking


While We’re Young”, by Noah Baumbach is about filmmaking, ethics, truth, marriage, and morality, all in a 97-minute little New York comedy.
   
Josh (Ben Stiller), married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and still childless in middle age, teaches film and is trying to finish a 6-hour documentary about political power.  He has trouble telling people what it’s about, especially Cornelia’s dad, also a director Ira (Peter Yarrow).  One day they meet a couple a generation younger, Jamie (Adam Driver), also a documentary filmmaker, married to Darby (Amanda Seyfried).
  
Josh has told the class that documentary is about other people, while fiction is about the self.  He says that non-diction documentary should be about the self, too.
  
Jamie is quite flashing, warm, non-judgmental, and willing to look as free as necessary with the body art (temporary) on his forearms.  His documentary has to do with a soldier Kent (Brady Corbet) returned from Afghanistan.  He has a bizarre idea for how to pick subject other than himself, depending on real-world responses from old friends from surprise Facebook contacts.  In my own life, there are people who prefer everything be real world (no social media).  That idea creeps into the script. 

Their interaction gets quirky.  At one point, the two couples attend a purification ceremony in an apartment where everyone vomits after taking ipecac. 
    
Toward the end, there’s an ethical battle, as Jamie “falsifies” his own part of the story, setting up a confrontation at the climax of the film.  Finally, the issue of having children, and adoption, even from troubled areas of the world, surfaces. Do younger adults have a looser moral compass, depending on the idea of over-sharing and that "everything belongs to everyone?"  That does, for example, bear on copyright and piracy issues in film and music.  (At tone point, there was a quote of the infamous Karl Marx quote about abilities and needs, that got banded about in parody in the barracks in my own Army days.) Is any journalistic license allowed in reporting?  That sounds like the problems with Brian Williams, former and now defrocked anchor at NBC for "exaggerating" (although Williams isn't so young).  Journalistic objectivity is another good issue, in a society that sometimes needs people to take sides. 
     
The film uses a lot of Vivaldi, and some pop songs.  At one point, Josh seems to be singing to himself “I want to do it” in a theme that resembles the “I want to do you” from Modern Family (not credited).
  
  
The official site is here (A24 films).
    
I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington before a small late Saturday audience.  Picture is mine, NYC, 5th Ave., Oct. 2014. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Saint Laurent": rather personal biography of the famous fashion designer, at the height of his career


Saint Laurent”, directed by Bertrand Bonello, is a snazzy biography (dramatized) of the peak years of the career, and accompanying gay love life, of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel). 
  
The film is framed at two levels.  At the beginning, we’re in 1974, when Yves, now 38, checks into  hotel in Paris to do an interview that could lead to legal problems (not well explained).  The movie then takes us back to the mid 1960s and marches forward.  In the last forty minutes or so, an old Yves remembers the end of the height of his career, and imagines an obit in 1977. Actually, according to Wikipedia, the career went on a long time.  Yves, apparently having escaped HIV, died of a brain tumor in 2008 (right after a male civil union)  at 72. 
    
The film shows some of relevant history, fast-framed. These include the 1968 French student riots (also a backdrop for Bertolucci’s 2004 film “The Dreamers”) as well as Vietnam War protests in the US.  It barely mentions St. Laurent’s early days at Dior, and the effect of his conscription in 1960 into the Algerian uprising (remember the film “The Battle of Algiers”).  Yves himself was born in Algeria.
    
Of course, it’s the love life that keeps one’s attention.  There’s an effective early disco scene, with 70s music reminding me of my own time in New York.  For a long time, his lover would be Jacques (Louis Garrel).  The film is very explicit in a few scenes, with total nudity, but in other scenes the camera tilts away, as in one tragic scene where a beloved dog eats pills and will die of the overdose.  I suspect the DVD will have a director’s cut or deleted scenes with more “detail”.  There’s a party with a barber chair, which is not really used to its full potential.  Yves, as a 30-something adult, is shown as slender and attractive, but starting to dwindle from his chain-smoking and drug abuse. 
   
The film is rather long (at 150 minutes) but keeps moving.
  
  
The official site is here (Sony Pictures Classics; Europa).

The film uses the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto #20 in D Minor, especially the opening orchestral ritornel, to establish a sense of foreboding at spots.  
   
I saw the film in the AMC Shirlington before a small audience Friday night.
   
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Paris De Gaulle airport (my last visit 1999), photo by David Monniaux, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike license.




Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Other Men's Women": an early "pre-code" sound picture does some spectacle with trains


Other Men’s Women” (1931, directed by William A. Wellman, Warner Brothers) is a brief (70 minutes) but surprisingly effective black-and-white drama film, “pre-code” in the early “talking pictures” period, with two train wrecks, a pertinent topic right now.


The story concerns a steam locomotive railroad engineer Bill (Grant Withers) who gets into a competition with co-worker Jack (Regis Toomey) for the same woman Lily (Mary Astor).  A fight leads to a small train wreck (at the film’s mid point) where the caboose on their train from a merging branch track is struck by another locomotive, and Jack, injured, is blinded.  But later, in a storm resulting in massive flooding, Jack save’s Bill’s life, before being wiped away in a river when a bridge collapses as the train crosses it (shades of “The Cassandra Crossing” in 1977).


The film, following the practice of early “sound” film of the time, has very little background music.

The DVD has a Merrie Meldies short “You Don’t Know What You’re Doin’” demonstrating racism of the times.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Avengers: Age of Ultron": This comic book franchise sequel translates into politics


Avengers: Age of Ultron” (directed by Joss Whedon) is based on the eleventh of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comics franchise, and a sequel to the 2012 film, based on the sixth. 

The basic plot has to do with an AI entity called Ultron (James Spader, from Blacklist) designed for peacekeeping, going rogue and trying to destroy “the world”.  The program has been designed by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, JR, who won’t work for a low budget, remember) and Bruce Banner (a middle-aged Mark Ruffalo). It has a curious instantiation as a couple of brain-like holograms that can float in space, rather comporting with the cosmological idea that the whole universe is a hologram. The usual heroes have to come forward, including the Hulk (also Bruce), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth).  Scarlet Johannson ithe Black Widow, Jereny Renner is Hawkeye, Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury and Don Cheadle is the War Machine.
  
A lot of the action concerns an Eastern European mountain city, and with the alphabet shown, it’s easy to wonder if this town is supposed to be in the Ukraine, and Ultron is a metaphor for Vladimir Putin.  The movie does seem like a convenient political metaphor.

The script, at one point, discusses cyber warfare rather seriously (with a reference to Wikileaks and Anonymous without mentioning them explicitly), and I believe even mentioned the Internet "Kill switch" concept.
                
Late in the movie, at the two-hour mark, a huge earthquake happens, anticipating “San Andreas”.  But in fact most of the city, with buildings collapsing and imploding, rises into the sky (an effect known from “Avatar”).
  
  
The official site is here (Marvel and Walt Disney Pictures). It's rather interesting that Disney did not show its Magc Kingdom trademark before the film started.
   
I saw the film before a light late weekday afternoon audience in 3-D at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA.
 
I wanted to mention here that there is an indie film called "Killswitch" (also mentioed on my "BillBoushka" blog March 12), directed by Ali Akbarzadeh, which I will see as soon as it is available. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop" airs on HBO; when may law enforcement step in when witnessing the trail of fantasies?


Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop” (2015, 82 minutes), directed by Erin Lee Carr, had played at Tribeca last month and aired Monday night on HBO Documentary, at 9 PM.  Unfortunately, it aired at the same time as another important film on CNN, also owned on Time Warner, by Fareed Zakaria, “Blindsided: How ISIS Shook the World”, about national security and also Internet speech, which I recorded an watched right after the HBO film finished.  I reviewed Zakaria’s film on my “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” (“cf”) blog last night (see Blogger profile). It seemed to me that Monday was a continuation of the Baltimore, Maryland Film Festival, even if I was at home. Either of these films would have fit.
  
The film chronicles the legal battle of Gilberto Valle, a former New York City policeman (at a time when police behavior has become politically controversial) who was convicted of “conspiracy” to kidnap and then cannibalize women (almost like “Hannibal” from “The Silence of the Lambs” from 1991, one of my favorite films of the past) based largely on a number of chat room threads, which are often shown in the film.  In 21 of 24 threads, he reportedly said this was all fantasy, but he left things open to more interpretation in at least three of them.  He also traveled to Maryland (the film shows shots of the Bay Bridge) near the residence of one of the supposed female contacts,  The government claimed this was a step in a conspiracy.
  
So the film presents this case as a real-life “Minority Report” (the famous sci-fi film with Tom Cruise, about “pre-crime”).
  
As a factual matter, a district court overturned the conviction, but the overturning was appealed to the Second Circuit, which may decide in June.  Apparently this is not double jeopardy.  The New York Times has a story on this part of the case here. Electronic Frontier Foundation has a copy of the district court opinion here.
  
Valle was indeed properly convicted of misusing a police department computer and formally sentenced to time served.

It seems that in terror-related cases, courts have been very willing to allow convictions based on conspiracies to commit violence.  The film does go into what the normal legal standard should be for "evidence" that a plot is really going to be carried out.  But it can be a very difficult line to draw. 
    
At the trial, Valle’s wife, Kathleen Mangan-Valle testified, although the admissibility of some testimony is limited by spousal privilege. Slate has an account of her testimony here.  After she found the chat logs, she installed spyware to watch her husband’s activity. The Daily Beast has another elaboration here
    
The film often shows Valle, acting laid-back, lounging around his Queens home under house arrest.  He’s an average-looking 30-year-old with Italian background.  He looks in some scenes as if he’s checking that the ankle bracelet doesn’t inadvertently shave his leg. Toward the end, he waits for time to pass, hoping the deadline for the prosecution’s appeal will pass, but unfortunately, it gets filed on time, but Valle has been looking at the wrong site.
 
Some have said that the film will prompt the average user to empty his search history and browser cache regularly!
      
Violet Blue, Alan M. Dershowitz and forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner appear and are interviewed. 
    

HBO’s site for the film is here.  It can be watched online through cable subscription. The name of the film is sometimes spelled as one word,  “Thoughtcrimes”, or possibly in the singular, “Thoughtcrime”.
  
On March 21, 2015 I had written about this case on my main “BillBoushka” blog and linked to an Electronic Frontier Foundation story about its own amicus brief to the Second Circuit.  I had also discussed an uncanny similarity to the fact pattern of a situation that occurred in 2005 when I was substitute teaching in Fairfax County, VA.  I had posted a fictitious screenplay treatment and script where an aging male substitute teacher arguably based on me is “tempted” and tricked into an inappropriate (although not explicit) encounter with a precious male student who was underage.  There were a lot of happenstance coincidences in this matter, which I discuss there and link to earlier, much more detailed accounts (including one on Wordpress).  Here the legal question is one of “implicit content”:  if a free web posting doesn’t seem to have a “purpose” (generating revenue), could it be construed as luring someone (eventually) into an illegal act?  Probably not, but it may be close to the line. I have a meta-screenplay (called “Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted”) still under wraps) that embeds the story of this 2005 case.  Maybe it will get made.
Bill


Monday, May 11, 2015

"The Shock Doctrine": documentary feature seems to wander from Naomi Klein's book


The Shock Doctrine” (2009), based on the book by that name by Naomi Klein, and directed by Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom, explores the idea that capitalism feeds on natural disasters, war and other instability.
  
The film draws a curious analogy to medicine, particularly shock treatment for mental illness in the past, along with sensory deprivation treatment, tried in the early 60s, depicted in Montreal in this film. (The idea of being “dulled” actually came up in my personal therapy at NIH in 1962.)
The film then moves on to major historical examples, starting with the right-wing coup that kicked out a Marxist government in Chile.  Economist Milton Friedman, from the University of Chicago, was called on to help implement economic “reforms”.
  
It then covers the confluence of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (“The Iron Lady”), leading to the conservative revolutions of the 1980s, where privatization of many government functions occurred and unions were attacked (as with the airline traffic controllers strike in 1982).  In time, the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay rose from 40 to 1 to over 400 to 1, and hostile takeovers became common.  The film covers Thatcher’s Falklands War.
  
The film goes on to cover the fall of the Soviet Union, and the consolidation of Boris Yeltsin’s power in the 1990s, with footage of the attack on the Moscow “White House”.  The film covers the end of the Cold War in a negative light, claiming that it knocked many or most Russians into poverty, while allowing a few oligarchs to become billionaires and flash their wealth.  The was all “pre-Putin”.  But does it set up the aggression of Russia today, as well as the anti-gay climate (with the law passed in 2013)?
  
The film covers 9/11, but noting that on Sept. 10, 2001 Rumsfeld had announced “bureaucracy” as the new enemy.  But then, 9/11 created a “Before and After” (as had AIDS 15 years before) and a “clash of civilizations”.  We had totally misunderstood our world (as it seems we do now, given ISIS).  We spoke of a “clash of civilizations”. The documentary moves on to the war in Iraq, and notes that most Iraqi people are worse off today than they were under Saddam Hussein. 
  
That may be true because of the weak government and power vacuum, allowing ISIS to rampage, but remember that much of the ISIS military comes from Saddam Hussein’s former secular generals.
The film concludes with coverage of the 2008 financial crisis, following on to the Russian and Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s (subject of a big Esquire issue in 1999 about young men without girl friends).
  
  
Naomi Klein also has a short film “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, on a page here. Klein is reported to have serious differences with the filmmakers as to content, link here.
   
The feature can be rented from Netflix. 

 

I need to mention “Deep Web” by Alex Winter, distribution by “Bond Influence” (or Bond/360) which I missed at the Maryland Film Festival.  There seems to be an issue with availability on cable, which I discuss on my Network Neutrality blog yesterday.  I will review it as soon as I can get a DVD or legal link. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Frame by Frame": photojournalism returns to Afghanistan after the Taliban falls, but is threatened again


When the Taliban took over much of Afghanistan in 1996 (in a delayed aftermath of the Soviet invasion of 1979), it prohibited all photography, and enforced the religious ban aggressively and brutally.  After the Taliban was expelled by the Northern Alliance and US forces in 2001 after 9/11, and a more moderate government (Hamid Karzai) took over, photojournalism could return.  Now, as Afghanistan’s stability is compromised by pressure on the US to leave, the work and even the lives of journalists there is severely threatened.


  
Frame by Frame”, directed by Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, builds on this problem, tracking the lives of four photojournalists.  The film shows spectacular shots not only of the mountains and deserts but also of the rural poverty and ramshackle shelters.


But the most disturbing episode in the 85-minute film occurs near the end, at a hospital in Herat in western Afghanistan.  The city supposedly has among the highest rates of self-immolation by women in the country.  The reporter talks to the surgeon, who will not let her film.  The doctor says that a local mullah will send men to retaliate if she reports on the mutilation issue, or at least reports that some of these incidents are committed by men. Then, she shows one of the women, severely burned with scars, by a male family member .

The film was screened Sunday afternoon at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, as part of the Maryland Film Festival. Mo Scapelli hosted the QA.  Mo gave a lengthy answer to my own question about the possible security implications of the film, given the conditions in Afghanistan but also the global situation now, aggravated by ISIS and the FBI's comments.  She indicated that the production team was trying to arrange screenings in Afghanistan, but that it would be a while before the film would be available in any online instant play format because of safety concerns in that country. 


The official site for the film is here.  I thought I saw Submarine listed as a possible distributor in the credits, but Mo said more negotiations for regular distribution continue. 



Saturday, May 09, 2015

"A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile" turns out to be another Catfish


A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile” (directed by Sofie Deraspe) turns out to be another wild tale of fake journalism (with shades of “Catfish”), more than the obvious idea of anti-gay repression in a totalitarian Islamist country.
  
The “woman in the film”, who actually does hosts the QA at the Maryland Film Festival today in Baltimore,  Sandra Bagaria, lives in Montreal. She strikes an online friendship with a supposed Amina Arraf in Damascus, Syria, in 2011.  This was during all the rebellion against Assad, before ISIL started taking over nearby.  In fact, AR-Raqqah, the supposed “capital” of ISIL, is well to the East, but Damascus could be at risk, as in this story by Heather Saul  . 
  
Amina runs a blog, which attracts a lot of followers and comments (reminds me of "Gossip Girl"_.  She seems to follow the technical advice of “Blogtyrant” on Twitter.  One day, her followers learn she has been kidnapped by agents of Assad’s regime.
  
But in time, it turns out this is all a hoax, set up by an America, named Tom MacMaster (details ).  Here is a straight man pretending to be a lesbian.  Imagine the motives.  This part of the story got most of the attention in the QA.  
  
The film does show some live footage of life in Syria, and it isn’t pretty. But it isn’t hard to imagine a film that really does show life under ISIL in the occupied area (which CNN’s “Blindsided”, by Fareed Zakaria, not yet aired except for a featurette from a German filmmaker but due May 11, will do). 
  
  
The official site is here .(The film is known only as “The Amina Profile” in imdb).  The distributor right now is Sundance Selects.




Friday, May 08, 2015

"The Devil's Violinist": biography of Paganini


The Devil’s Violinist”, directed by Bernard Rose, is a sharp-looking period piece (early 19th century in Italy and England) and biography of flashy violinist-composer Niccollo Paganini, played by a rather handsome David Garrett. 

Apparently in the 19th century, sensationalism could sell just as it does in the Internet age.  Manager Urbani (Jared Harris). British lords John Watson and his mistress (Christian McKay and Veronica Ferres) bankroll the tour with all their wealth, and riots break out.  Old time religion comes back. 
  
Toward the end, Paganini gets sick, and the film says that the Vatican would not tolerate a proper burial. History says that he may have had Marfan syndrome, as well as syphilis or various other ailments. 
  
The lead actor was born David Bongartz and is a skilled violinist.  His virtuoso playing in the film is sensational.  It’s unusual for lead actors to play solo instruments in movies.  The DVD has two extras, and an interview with Garrett, where he explains how Paganini built on composers before him (Scarlatti) and inspired Liszt, Brahms and Rachmaninoff.  The DVD also offer Garrett and soprano Nicole Scherzinger performing a love song Paganini wrote for a mistress, based on the second movement of the Violin Concerto #4. 
  
To my ear, Paganini’s music has always sounded a little superficial.  The first violin concerto is often condensed to just one movement.
  
  
The official site is here (Screen Media, produced by German company Summer Storm).
  
The DVD came out rather quickly after the theatrical run this winter of a 2013 film, in English.
  
Somehow, the title of this movie reminds me of “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”.