Monday, August 31, 2015

"Like You Mean It" presents a troubled young male couple; "Tom in America" shows how high the bar for traditional marriage really is


The film “Like You Mean It” (2015, 90 minutes), by Philipp Karner, screened around 9 PM Saturday evening at this past weekend’s Reel Affirmations.   (Somehow the title reminds me of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, but here, the “stage” is rather circumscribed.)
   
This film explores a male couple, in depth, which would seem to have been considering marriage given recent legal victories in marriage equality, yet marriage per se is never mentioned. But the other plot aspect that is largely less significant is the way the characters interact with the outside world, beyond typical familial and work concerns.
  
The film is framed by encounters between the two characters along the California coast. Markus (Philipp Karner himself) comes from Switzerland and is trying to get parts in Hollywood as an actor. Toward the end, there is a failed audition.  A few scenes in the move showing Markus trying to learn lines from an industry-formatted (like Final Draft) screenplay, overloaded with dialogue and not much action. (For a moment, I remembered the 2001 film “Adaptation”). Early, Markus gets a call from his somewhat estranged sister  (Claudia Graf)in Switzerland that his father has been found dead.  It sounds unlikely that Markus will jump across the pond to go to the funeral.
  
His handsome boyfriend Jonah (Denver Milford) is a well-established country musician.  They live well enough in a modern West Hollywood (I presume) apartment, which is well decorated.  Mark does like to cook – already, I can see from this review that Karner seems a little more interested in his own character – himself – rather than his lover, and that’s maybe what’s wrong with the relationship.
   
There’s a particularly testy scene in a little alcove near the kitchen where the men share Mark’s prepared dinner, whike Markus seems to be multitasking by trying to learn a screenplay (mine, perhaps?)   I remember a friend in St. Paul, MN area had an alcove just like this in his apartment one time when he made dinner for me in 1999.
   
The couple goes into therapy, with an African American female trained relationship psychologist (Hilary Ward). The couple can afford it even though Mark isn’t working.
  
I thought of Will and Sonny on the NBC soap “Days of our Lives”.  Mark seems too self-absorbed for a relationship right now, but his issues are no where nearly as silly as Will’s jealousy in the soap opera (and Will and Sonny have gotten married formally).
  
Jonah is supposed to be the male icon, maybe, but there is one scene where there are distracting lines and circles under his eyes – aging has started.  But that’s real life. Couples have to stay together over time.
  
   
Official site on Indiegogo is here. The only company listed is “Round One”.
 
The screening was preceded by the short “Tom in America” (which reminds me of “Tom at the Farm”), 17 minutes, directed by Flavio Alves.  Michael and Betty (Burt Young and Sally Kirkland) celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary near their Long Island beach home.  The couple plans a flea market sale, and Michael comes across a doll of Tom of Finland.  This event brings back his own memories of his own repressed homosexuality (including a couple dream sequences), and his wife becomes concerned, then suddenly resentful, that he never really was attracted to her, throwing their marriage into crisis after a golden wedding. (I remember attending my grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary in Ohio right after Christmas, 1956.) The film is a commentary on the incredibly high sexual standards we have to preserve traditional marriages for decades.  Had I married and had children in the early 1970s, the same sort of thing could have happened to me.

 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Naz and Maalik": FBI and NYPD mistakenly track two young gay Muslim men in Brooklyn as possible terrorists


On Sunday afternoon, Aug. 30, “Reel Affirmations” presented a quirky dramedy by Jay Dockendorf, “Naz and Maalik”.

The film presents two young African Muslim young men (played by Kerwin Johnson, Jr. and Curtis Cook, Jr.) who, trying to hide their interest in one another and in men, attract the mistaken attention of the FBI and perhaps NYPD as potential terrorists.  The men are fully observant, doing prayers and attending a mosque.

The men are street entrepreneurs, working Bed-Stuy (filmed on location there, in Brooklyn NY), selling lottery tickets, playing cards, and incense.  They are pretty self-confident about approaching people to sell them stuff. One day, an undercover male cop (Brian Bradley Custer) riding around with a female FBI agent (Annie Grier) approaches the men and tries to sell one of them an illegal handgun.  One of the boys actually tries to negotiate the price down, Trump style, before saying no.  Nevertheless, the FBI agent keeps pestering one of them (“it’s a crime to lie to an FBI agent” – and I don’t think it is).

The film (a crisp 86 minutes) tends to meander a bit until a climax, involving a bizarre ritual with a live chicken that goes wrong and causes an auto wreck. 

I found the female agent’s behavior following the kids rather preposterous, and her prodding unconvincing and manipulative. And the male cop is clearing trying to set up entrapment with the weapon sale.  I’m hardly convinced that the government is really doing this. The film certainly makes a point about government’s overstepping boundaries in the war on Terror, as well as about both racial and religious profiling by police, a huge controversy today (Ferguson,, Baltmore, Staten Island, Cincinnati, Utah, etc).

The on location photography is gritty, and I may have recognized at least one person I know from NYC’s music community acting as an extra in one scene.

  
The official site is here. The film played at SXSW and has been bought by Wolfe.

The title of the film is sometimes spelled as “Naz & Maalik”.


The showing was preceded by the eight-minute short “An Afternoon” (“En eftermiddag”, 8 minutes, Denmark, by Soren Green.  A teenager Mathias (Ulrik Wenfeldt-Schmidt) invites a middle-school-aged looking kid Frederik (Jacob Ottenstein) up to this room (or maybe the kid invites himself). They engage in chat with Skype on a computer with young women, who can see from the other side that Mathias’s motives might be questionable.  The “AOC” (the film in the previous review) in Denmark is 15 according to Wikipedia, so this might barely be legal, or it might not be. 

"Age of Consent": documentary about a British leather bar "The Hoist" tracks to history of gay rights in general


Age of Consent” (2014) is probably one of the most prominent and controversial films at the 2015 Reel Affirmations film festival. The documentary, directed by Charles Lum and Todd Verow, layers two narratives:  one is the story of the Hoist, a famous leather bar in London (a place that allegedly supports every possible fetish), and the other is how the history of the establishment maps to a history of rights for gay men (this film really is male-centered) in the United Kingdom as well as, to a subsidiary extent, around the world.
  
The film ends with a remarkable moral challenge, to the idea that gay men should assimilate well into the mainstream, an idea that now comports well with modern ideas of marriage equality. The film says people have basic rights because they are human beings, not because they perform some social function for the rest of society (breaking the surface, that sounds like marry and raise kids).

The title of the film may be a bit misleading.  In any country or state, it normally refers to the minimum age at which a minor can legally consent to sexual or intimate contact with an adult.  But the title here more about Britain’s misunderstood history of decriminalization of sodomy and consensual adult homosexual activity.  Britain, after all, has to answer for what it had done to Alan Turing in 1952.  In 1967, the sodomy law repeal was actually quite limited in its effectiveness.  The age of consent for gay sex stated at 21, while it was 16 for heterosexual intimacy (which, after all, can result in unwanted pregnancy).  The level was raised to 18 in 1996, and not down to 16 until 2003, when the sodomy law repeal was much more complete.

The film also maintains that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law of 2013 was actually based on Margaret Thatcher’s (“Iron Lady”) Section 28 (link) whose scope was limited to the activity of government bodies, not individuals (but many gay groups in schools had to close).  Russia’s law seems ultimately predicated on the idea that individuals or private groups could disincentivize other teens or young adults to procreate and have families.

The film documents the efforts of undercover cops to entrap men into public sex, but the film takes a turn when it covers AIDS.  It seems that the British government and police actually became more sympathetic to victims of HIV than corresponding entities in the US, and were willing to help with the distribution of condoms.  Joseph Sonnabend, a physician who treated many early cases, appears.
   
In the US, the effect of AIDS was to clamp down, with the closing of the baths in most major cities (starting with San Francisco in early 1984). In 1983, before HIV had been identified (as “HTLV-3”) there was a proposal for a very draconian extension of the sodomy law in Texas that would have banned gays from most occupations, but it fortunately was kept from getting out of committee by effective lobbying by the Dallas Gay Alliance.

The film also notes that gentrification of old neighborhoods may threaten some older gay bars or leather and dance clubs.  Two major places in Paris have closed and not been replaced. In Baltimore, MD, the Hippo will soon close and be replaced by a CVS store.

The political narrative occupies the middle section of the 85-minute film. The opening and ending sections show the interior of the bar, with the slings, hoists, and pillories.  There are a few very explicit scene of genital sex, including “golden showers”, so the film self-rates as (essentially) NC-17.  The boot-shine chair is the source of fundraisers;  but could it serve also as a barber chair?

  
The official site is here. The Reel Affirmations showing was to be one of the last before going to DVD and streaming.  The production company is Bangor, and the only listed distributor is Optimale.
Other films about leather bars here:  April 22, 2014, and June 5, 2011.  I have thought that the Saint would make a DVD release of is “White Party” events in the sprint in NYC (which have stopped). 

Another related film is Dirk Shafer’s “Circuit” (2001) from TLA, set in Palm Springs. 

The feature was accompanied by a short called “Dirty Boots”, a music video from Holopaw (5 minutes).

This film should not be confused with others titled the same.  In the heterosexual world, age of consent laws can lead people to be labeled as registered sex offenders, even when a underage girl lied.  See my report of an ABC Nightline broadcast on this problem on the TV blog Aug. 1, or what happened to prep school student Owen Labrie (like here , where merely using the Internet or any device to attempt a liaison is a felony that could get one on the register and banned from Internet access for years.).   On Russia's antigay law, see also reviews of the UK documentary “Dispatches” on the TV blog Feb, 9, 2014, and “Moscow Is Burning” Feb. 15, 2014. See this blog, also, Oct. 14, 2014 on Russian issue. 




Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reel Affirmations 2015 opens with "Those People" and "While You Weren't Looking"


The Reel Affirmations film festival for 2015 kicked off Friday evening, in the restored Tivoli Theater at the Columbia Road stop (a newly gentrified area) on the Green Line in Washington DC.  I recall the area bit from my childhood, and seeing movies at the old Trans Lux theater (which is actually a bit South) with my mother and cousin.  The Tivoli is a historic theater, built in the 20s, and it withstood the 1968 riots on 14th Street.  Nearby there used to exist the Knickerbocker, which collapse in a historic blizzard in 1928.
  
The most impressive (for me, at least) film of the evening was (as “Opening Night’s Men;s Film”) the “Those People” at 9 PM, by Joey Kuhn, set in the Upper East Side, with characters that could have come from “Gossip Girl”.  This is one of those scenarios where everybody is white, clean-cut, well dressed, muscular, soft-skinned but hairy at the same time, and in every way perfect according to old fantasies right out of “The Advocate”.  The whole universe is gay, and procreation is the responsibility of others connected from parallel worlds.  Actually, the protagonist Charlie (Jonathan Gordon) is adorable, just celebrating his 23rd birthday, and doing family honors at Jewish New Year in September. He paints, and is pursuing his MFA somewhere in the City.  His best friend is Sebastian (Jason Ralph), with whom he might want a relationship.  Sebastian (which is often a name for a cat) wonders if he can be a good person and take advantage of what is left of his father’s money.  The trouble is, his dad (Daniel Gerroll) is in fibbie prison for life for massive securities fraud, and the pattern reminds one of Bernie Madoff.  Sebastian visits dad in prison, and the relationship with “faggot” son is painful for dad, because Sebastian actually care about financial and personal ethics, and admits not saying anything when he first learned of dad’s illegal activity.  Dad still wants Sebastian to use secret offshore accounts to live off of, and Sebastian realizes he may have to start off with nothing in life and depend on friends, or lovers.

But Charlie also catches the eye of an “older” pianist, Tim (Haaz Sleiman). There’s a concert scene where Tim plays Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto.  “Older” means about age 40, as Tim is tall and lean and still physically compelling. The typical love triangle develops, maybe not as silly as in “Days of our Lives”. It gets heated toward the end as Charlie is tempted to move to San Francisco with Tim, when Sebastian’s greatest need surfaces. There's a wonderful scene where Charlie's mother asks him, "How did you become such a man?" as Charlie makes all of his own decisions. 

  
The official site is here  The film does not list a distributor yet, but this is a “larger” film and would presumably fit the portfolio of companies like IFC, Strand and Wolfe/TLA.  It carries NYC and NYState film association trademarks.

The film often uses the music of Gilbert and Sullivan in the background as a moniker for plot points.
  
The feature was announced by a 3-minute short “Best” (William Oldroyd) which was a kind of one-minute stand.

Earlier, the festival had opened (7 PM) with the Opening Night’s Women’s Film, “While You Weren’t Looking”, by Catherine Stewart.  The film, set in post-apartheid South Africa, around Capetown, unfolds in Robert Altman-like fashion as it conveys several (at least three) gay relationships where character from different strata of society come together. Cmillla Lilly Waldman, for all her social posturing, resents the fact that her black wife, a real estate agent, cheats on her.  A progressive professor who equates “queer” with freedom for everybody chases a boyfriend, but the most disturbing sequence involves a transgender (woman to man) from the “suburban” ghetto.  There is indirect commentary on South Africa’s tremendous crime problems.

The official site is here and is sponsored by “Out in Africa”.

The short was “The Other Woman” (Marie Ka), presents a middle-aged housewife developing a relationship with a woman while her husband is away.  The film was shot in Senegal and ends with a shot of the harbor in Dakar.

Bill  

Friday, August 28, 2015

"Eat with Me": gentle gay ethnic comedy


Eat with Me” (2014) is a gentle little ethnic gay comedy from David Au. It starts with an upper middle-aged Chinese couple in Los Angeles, Emma (Sharon Omi) ad Ray (Ken Narasaki) in bed, not intimate. Ray suddenly gets up and cuts off his wedding ring because it gives him a “headache”.
Emma fleas and moves in with her younger gay (and biracial) son Elliot (Teddy Chen Culver), who runs the family restaurant and apparent had bought it but is having trouble making the business make it financially. 

But then the movie begins moving in parallel, as both Elliot and Emma expand their own social lives. Emma befriends a neighbor. Elliot meets a couple men, especially the Brit Ian (Adam Bristow), whom he starts seriously dating. There’s one scene where Ian asks how long Elliot has ever sustained a dating “relationship.”  I could lose the cigarette smoking, but Ian is made attractive, and dressed appropriately (with a buttoned shirt) for the inevitable gradual intimate encounter.
  
   
The official site is here. The film can be rented on Netflix instant play.

Picture: I-405 at night, from Angelino, my trip, 2012. 

 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"No Escape": a formulaic escape thriller for a trapped American family, but some serious lessons


No Escape”, directed by John Erick Dowdle, is a stereotyped “Screenwriting-101” action thriller where the hero, a family man Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson, in a somewhat atypical role) escapes with his family, saving all, from sudden, impossible circumstances imposed by an unexpected enemy overseas.
  
The country is not specified, but since he escapes to Vietnam (ironically), it has to be Laos or Cambodia, more likely the latter. The setup is like this:  Jack, a senior mechanical engineer, has (as an entrepreneur) invented a new valve system that will make water purification in third-world countries more reliable.  Pierce Brosnan plays Hammond, a British intelligence agent who helps in a critical sequence with the escape and explains how the US CIA and British government use businessmen as fodder. 

He finds a big engineering contractor employer to send him over there, with wife Annie (Lake Bell) and two young daughters.  But on the day of his rival, there is a left-wing, essentially communist coup (which is shown in the opening scenes) where a rebel government then goes after foreign civilians as part of the “capitalist pig” class keeping them indebted.  The crisis comes on first, although the night before, as he settles into a fancy hotel, Dwyer notices that the TV, Internet and phones don’t work, and when he goes out to buy a paper the next morning, nobody speaks English – and then he suddenly encounters the rebellion in the streets.
  
The story probably couldn’t happen right now.  But the film raises troubling ideas about the vulnerabilities of civilians when working overseas, or conceivably of controversial people even at home. The rebels regard the blind Dwyer (and his family members) as enemies as worthy of slaughter as any soldiers. One could draw parallels to many other situations: today, ISIS; in the past, the sacking of Saigon in 1975, or the hostages in Iran (and the America embassy gets overrun in this film, too).  Perhaps the best parallel would be the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.  I thought the appearance of the city and some of the plotting resembles what happens in the city of L'Himby in the "Third Dominion" of Clive Barker's "Imajica" (to become a TV miniseries). 

Some of the crisis scenes are indeed over the top, as when Dwyer throws his daughters to a roof on the next building, or a “Russian roulette” game near the end with a daughter (right out of “The Deer Hunter”) that as a bit offensive.  The violence for most of the film is relentless.  And there is plenty of display of patriarchal family values, as when Dwyer tells the older girl she has to watch and protect her little sister.

The film was shot in Thailand.  I’m not sure what foreign language is used, but it logically should be either Hmong or Khmer.


The official Facebook is here  (Weinstein company and Bold Films).

I saw the film in a small auditorium (which was OK as the film is shot 1.85: 1) at Regal Ballston, before a small Thursday night audience.

Wikipedia attribution link for "Cambodia ethnic map" by ArnoldPlaton, .svg based on this map (from UTexas under Public Domain "Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.") - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. 

 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Cinema from the Street", Part 2, in Washington DC ("Raise to Rise", "Whom Should I Be Grateful to?"): two homeless women chronicle their own lives



The group “Street Sense” in Washington DC presented two “reality” films shot by homeless women tonight at Landmark E Street Cinema, presented as Part 2 of “Cinema from the Street”, produced by Bryan Bello, with homeless person’s filmmaking cooperative project.

The first film was “Raise to Rise” (about 35 minutes) by Sasha Williams, produced by Angie Whitehurst.  Sasha creates and maintains an iPhone diary of her experience raising her daughter in a homeless shelter, which had been created from the old DC General Hospital near RFK Stadium and the Armory. She actually builds some family life in the little room, while the daughter ventures around, sometimes to play with automated toys outside. 

The second film was “Whom Should I Be Grateful to?” (again, about 35 minutes) by Cynthia Mewborn, who lives alone, but becomes very determined not to take abuse by others, especially men in the apartment.  “I am only a victim if I allow myself to be”, she says.  Eventually she throws away her street blankets as a way of letting go. Her tone is much more determined, much angrier than Sasha’s.

In the QA, both filmmakers were asked what should be done to reduce or end homelessness.  Cynthia suggested the quasi-Maoist idea that the president and members of Congress should experience living with the homeless for a few days.  But you could ask that of anyone.
Cynthia also explained how it felt to gradually become recognized publicly as an artist.  Her new book will be called “Nature Is God”.

Petula Dvorak has an article about the films in the Washington Post Tuesday, “How a life filled with wrong turns leads to a moving chronicle of homelessness”, link here.

The session was held in the largest auditorium (#4), sold out.  Tickets could be purchased from Street Sense directly on PayPal but not by credit card (as far as I could tell), and were not sold directly by the theater. 

Update: Aug. 31

Check Youtube for "Without a Roof" by Gordon Sun (Issues blog, Aug. 30). 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Virtuality", Peter Berg's pilot, anticipates similar, larger sci-fi films to come


Peter Berg’s 2009 film “Virtuality” also (like my own novel and screenplay, discussed on these blogs elsewhere) plays with the idea of layers of reality and plotting.  The overview anticipates “Interstellar” in that there is an inter-solar-system voyage, but this is a much smaller film, originally made for TV (NBC and Fox). And I can play word games with old Army buddies on the suffix “uality”.
  
Twelve astronauts ride the Phaeton as it approaches a point of no return, the orbit of Neptune. The idea is to go into hyperdrive and explore a possible new home for Earth at a planet around one of the Gliese stars 20 light years away.  (It would probably by tidally locked, which suggests the idea for a sequel, although this film gives no hint as to how this would be done;  look at “Evacuate Earth”, Aug. 30, 2013, on my “cf” blog.)  The film had  been intended to become a mini-series (Wiki .)  Two of the astronauts may be a male couple. 
     
The journey is shown back Earth (with a speed-of-light time delay) on Fox reality TV, and the crew is “entertained” with a virtual reality series (viewed by putting on “Strange Days” goggles) that seems to emphasize secondary plots strung together from the past, in a “Cloud Atlas” fashion, the most important of which is a Civil War-era western (a scene with which the film opens).

The spaceship’s doctor (Omar Metwally) tells the commander Pike (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) that he has early Parkinson’s, and that it could be necessary to scrub the mission to save him from eventual dementia.

Pike runs the ship like an autocracy, and wants to make the decision as to whether to go on his own, but eventually the crew will demand a vote.

But in the meantime, little resentments and jealousies among the characters show up in the parallel virtual reality experience (a kind of “Second Life”), including plots against the captain in the western.  Eventually, there is an “accident” that takes out te commander and jeopardizes the crew, and the crew suspects it is related to possible malware in the virtual reality program.


Now the idea of manipulating someone’s alternate-reality life (equivalent to lucid dreaming, even as in the movie “Inception”) with a computer virus or malware sounds almost facile.  But this is not the only movie to try this.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Meru": much "harder" to climb than "Everest"


While the movie world waits for “Everest” from Universal, there is a more personal true story “Meru”, about how three climbers finally conquer the “Shark Fin” (20,700), not quite the highest point on Mount Meru in northern India, in 2011, returning from an attempt in 2008 that didn’t quite make it.

The film is directed by Jimmy Chin (one of the climbers, and it’s unbelievable how he could do the cinematography live for both climbs) and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. The other two climbers are Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk.

The filmmakers point out that people can hire porters to go up Everest and share the risk, but not on Meru.

The biggest challenge comes when Renan suffers a serious skull fracture (along with upper vertebrate breaks) in an accident back home in Wyoming. Amazingly, he recovers and goes on the trip, but has a temporary stroke on the way up. Nevertheless, he recovers at 15000 feet elevation on his own and continues.  Chin also survives an avalanche back home while skiing.

The writing of the documentary maintains some suspense, if the three men can really overcome all these impossible physical and medical obstacles.

The climbers sleep literally in covered hammocks hung from mountain wall faces. 


The official site is here.  I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic before a small late Sunday afternoon audience.

The film is shot with standard aspect ratio. I don’t see the R rating.

Wikipedia attribution link for northern India scene near Meru, by Soumit Ban, under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 license. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"We Come as Friends": stunning doucmentary about post colonial South Sudan


We Come as Friends” is a new documentary by Hubert Sauper about the conflict for independence for South Sudan, which frees itself from Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

Sauper is known for “Darwin’s Nightmare” (2004), about exploitative fishing of Lake Tanzania.
   
In the new film, Sauper navigates a prop plane that shoots astonishing views of the desert landscape before he lands it to deal with the real people.

The title of the film connotes its substance:  Western countries (first Britain, then other Europeans, and now the Chinese) come to take the land’s natural resources and hire the people for slave wages, and then the advanced countries partition the continent into ineffective, dictatorial states. It’s called colonialism.

One of the most striking sequences occurs in the middle as missionaries from Texas mix with the native people, with a great degree of personal intimacy, and then brag it has stayed Christian.  The wife says (with some crassness) that the landscape reminds her of home in Texas. I am also reminded of a local church film “The Mission in Belize” about the openness of American visitors to live with the natives for a while (Drama blog, Nov. 4, 2012).


Often the film mentions Islam and mosques.  It constantly shows the squalor in which the people live, with their communities of conical huts. Darfur is often mentioned but not re-explained in detail.  The scenery rather resembles the way Clive Barker describes the desert along the Lenten Way in the Third Dominion of his "Imajica". 

The film showed at the AFI in Silver Spring MD and was followed by a QA. One of the audience members insisted this was about national liberation, not religion.
  
The official site is here

The high definition photography was awesome, giving the film an Imax look. There is a very small amount of incidental native nudity, including childhood. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"American Ultra": enigma-type situation for rural loner turns into action rather than mystery


The thriller film “American Ultra” (2015, by Nima Nourzadeh) opens with the protagonist-hero, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) having been dragged into interrogation, with apparently little idea of how he got there.
  
That kind of introduction seems appropriate for some kind of existential mystery (like in Craig Monahan’s  Aussie mystery “The Interview” (1998)) and invites a Hitchcock-like experience.  I’m doing that with my own screenplay “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany” (which used to be called “Conscripted”).  But then, the entire 97-minute action movie is a prequel or backstory to this scene (which will be followed by a nice epilogue in a ritzy Asian city and a little animated short film during the closing credits based on Mike’s notebook of comic book horror characters, right out of Clive Barker). 
  
In fact, as the main story line precedes, Mike works in a convenience store in a West Virginia mountain hamlet, probably beyond the reach of Verizon.  Mike has been drifting into the life of a stoner (John Leguizamo is the dealer), not ambitious enough to try to see his comic book talents, but his girl friend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) is supportive anyway. At first, the role seems out of character for geeky Eisenberg (playing characters like Mark Zuckerberg and David Lipsky), who in real life writes plays and loves cats; as the movie progresses, Eisenberg’s own personality starts to re-emerge.
  
 The town may have been conveniently forgotten because of nearby mountaintop removal associated with coal strip mining. The US government, especially the CIA, seems to think the whole town is expendable.  The film pays little heed to the idea that the CIA is not supposed to conduct domestic operations.  (The outdoor scenes were actually filmed in upstate New York and Louisiana.)
  
That’s one problem, as soon the film jumps to Langley (not well reproduced) where Topher Grace is unconvincing as Adrian Yates, in charge of neutralizing Ultra-agents who have gone bad.  Bill Pullman is hardly his old self (“Independence Day”, “Lost Highway”) when he plays Krueger.
  
Then one day an “angel” (Connie Britton) comes into the store and speaks some code words (they escape me now) that are supposed to activate Michael into overreaction (as if her were some kind of Manchurian Candidate). But then, Michael shortly dispatches two agents in the parking lot as if he were James Bond.
  
What follows is not mystery, but almost non-stop action. As I’ve noted, this could well have been a different kind of film.  But the action is clever enough.  At one point, Michael fires a round at a skillet in the air, and the ricochet tears through an attacker’s heart perfectly.
  
The deepest back-story suggests that the US government looks for mentally disturbed young adults, sequesters them and trains them to become ops, but has to eliminate them if they go bad. It reminds me of the “research project” at NIH in the fall of 1962 after my own William and Mary expulsion. I, as a “god damn MP”, was the only patient who knew about the Cuban Missile Crisis while it unfolded, since I was allowed off the hospital to go to GWU at night.
  
  
The official site is here  (Lionsgate). The film is shot in regular 1.85:1, when it would seem to call for the full anamorphic, but the director may be expecting most viewers to see the film through streaming.  I saw the film in a large auditorium (small afternoon audience) at Regal Ballston Common, set up so that only anamorphic uses the full curved screen.

Pictures: My trip to area near Kayford Mountain, W Va, late July 2012.


 

Friday, August 21, 2015

CNN airs "Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie": trash talk show host preceded modern reality TV


Thursday night, CNN aired (with Magnolia Pictures and IronBound Films) the documentary “Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie”, directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller (writer), and Jeremy Newberger.
  
I could play word games with the title:  “Le beau evocateur, la belle evocateuse,” just like, in the Reagan-esque late 80s, “le beau arbitrageur, la belle arbitrageuse”.
  
The film is a biography of the controversial, and probably sociopathic conservative talk show host Morton Downey Jr, (wiki particularly the run of his trash TV show “The Morton Downey, Jr. Show” from 1987-1989, eventually syndicated from a local New York-New Jersey show on WWOR-TV, broadcast from a studio in Secaucus, NJ. 

I was living in Dallas at the time, then moved back to Arlington VA in 1988, and don’t recall the show.  I didn’t have cable at the time. I often listed to talk radio in my car, where people would call in for “problems”.  Talk show hosts could be hard on personal responsibility, but not really crass.
  
But Downey’s show got a lot of attention in the days before modern reality TV.

Downey, born in 1932, would die of lung cancer in early 2001 (before 9/11) and is often shown smoking. Despite some natural good looks, his demeanor and appearance often got oafish.
  
Downey got sued a few times, for defamation, and was once accused of attacking a gay guest on the show.  He also claimed to be attacked by neo-Nazis at an airport, where the attackers tried to shave his head.


The official Facebook is here. CNN’s site is here  CNN’s caption says “He drove us into our national ditch”.  The film is enhanced by some animation work. 
 
Picture (mine, not from film): New Jersey turnpike near Secaucus, traffic stopped.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Straight Outta Compton": almost too much material for one film; rap musicians don't lead sheltered lives


Straight Outta Compton”, directed by F. Gary Gray, impresses upon me, at least, how sheltered my own life has been. Oh, so do a lot of other films.
  
A telling point occurs three-fourths through the movie, where Easy-E (Jason Mitchell) tells his manager Jerry (Paul Giamati, who gives an Oscar-level supporting performance with is odd charisma) that he is a journalist as much as a musician.

It opens in 1986, the heart of Reagan years and Nancy’s “Just Say No to drugs”, with LA police using automated battering rams to tear down a little house and bust a drug deal.  Inside is Easy-E uses his street smarts to deal with probable jail. 

In parallel, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) listens to rap records and argues with his mother (Lisa Renee Pitts) over his proper future.  And on a bus Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) is writing rhymes when he witnesses a major gang-related altercation.  Later Cube will smash the office of another manager, likeable and smooth Bryan (Tate Ellington) with no consequences.

I’ll jump ahead to the end with a spoiler and say that Easy-E dies of AIDS at 31, around 1993, protesting he was not a “faggot”.  The doctor tells him there are other ways to transmit the disease, including unprotected heterosexual sex.

One “problem” with this docudrama-style history of the rap group NWA is that it follows several young black men as lead characters and tends to present them as the same person.

But the movie is particularly timely now in its historical footage and coverage of the Rodney King beating, police acquittal and riots in LA, given today’s problems culminating in the “Black Lives Matter” movement.   The film was seen as having so much emotional impact that some theater chains in California hired extra police or sheriffs to provide security.

I saw the film before a small audience early Wednesday afternoon at the Angelica Mosaic.


The official site is here

The film is branded as a full Universal release with Legendary as a production company (Legendary usually works with Warner Brothers), and New Line Cinema as a co-producer.  Universal avoided its musical trademark and allowed the police noise to play as its trademark was shown, which I think is a mistake. The culture and presentation style of the film, however big the budget, are more like that of “major independent film” (like Focus Features).  It is long at 147 minutes but moves quickly, and many scenes seem truncated or abbreviated.  The DVD will surely contain a lot of supplementary material and extended scenes.  This material could have easily been viewed as a potential (NBC) television mini-series because of the sheer volume of content and of numerous characters.

I’ve seen people spell the first word of the title without the “gh”, that is, “Strait”.

Picture: downtown LA, my trip, 2012.
   
Update: Sept. 6, 2015

See the op-ed "Sugarcoated Outta Compton" by Lateefah Williams in the Washington Blade, Sept. 4, 2015, here

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"A Wolf at the Door", a dark thriller from Brazil following old Hollywood paradigms, with an even nastier ending


A Wolf at the Door” (“O Lobo atras da Proto”) is a “film noir” thriller from Brazil by Fernando Coimbra, based on a true story according to the director.  But the plot bears some resemblance to classics like “Double Indemnity”, “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, and even “Body Heat”. But the twist at the end is even more gruesome.
  
It starts as if it were going to be a kidnapping case (like “Ransom”).  Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) finds her child has been picked up by a mysterious woman at school.  Police summon the somewhat estranged husband Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz) which leads police then to question the mistress Rosa (Leandra Leal).  But quickly the film moves away from conventional kidnapping genre (no money demands) into the illicit affair between Bernardo and Rosa, which in turn falls into stress as Berbardo has second thoughts.  At first Rosa doesn’t even know he is married (which sounds hard to believe). Eventually, Rosa seeks her own revenge and its as horrific as it gets.  The closing credits say she made no apologies and didn’t even want a lawyer for trial.
  
The screenplay tends to emphasize long takes, often indoors, of intimate scenes or personal confrontations, moving away from the external mystery.
  
The film is shot around Rio de Janeiro, and the scenes with Rosa in the suburbs are grungy and appropriately unsettling, as the cinematography shows up the gap between rich and poor in a city that wants the Olympics.
  
I watched a screener on Vimeo from Strand, and it was not high-def or of the best quality.  The film is wide-screen anamorphic. The DVD is available Aug. 25. 


The official site is here. The film screened at the San Sebastian (Spain) film festival.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Leblon, by Chensiyuan, under Creative Commons 4.0 Share-Alike license

 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"Antarctic Edge: 70 Degrees South": melting of the ice sheet appears even more urgent, in this Rutgers documentary


Antarctic Edge: 70 degrees South” (2015), directed by Dena Seidel, is an urgent documentary produced by Rutgers University in New Jersey. A team of scientists and explorers from several countries visits the edge of the West Antarctic ice sheet, whose melting is going faster than expected and threatening the world with sea level rise faster than ever predicted.

The team members live in close quarters on a freighter, and then go on shore to camp out, especially among the penguins.  (There’s a little taste of the popular documentary “March of the Penguins” (2005).)

The scientists find that heavy snowfall is increasing toward the polar areas, as a result of higher humidity which results from, ironically, higher temperatures.

As with several other documentaries set in the Antarctic, this film gives visitors the only practical chance to “go there”.

  
The official site is here (First Run Features and Film Buff).

The film is also on Netflix Instant Play, Amazon, and YouTube for $3.99.

Wikipedia attribution link for topographical map illustration of Antarctica without ice sheet by Robert A. Rohde, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 License 


Monday, August 17, 2015

"Tom at the Farm": Dolan directs, stars in another quirky French (Canadian) head-games thriller


Tom at the Farm” (“Tom a la ferme”, 2013) is (now) 26-year-old Xavier Dolan’s latest trip in the work of quirky psychological thrillers and character studies involving some gay or bisexual characters, momism and family loyalty.  Most of the film seems to be shot in the St. Lawrence valley (because generally Quebec is not flat, but rocky with low mointains), but Dolan’s style seems to be evolving toward more mainstream French art cinema, whatever that means.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Dolan make a thriller film in Paris or in France itself.  (The preposition is "at", not "on" -- like Tom is playing a sport on a road trip.) 

Tom (played by Dolan himself, made up to look blond) lets himself into the farm house belonging to the mother (Lisa Roy) of his boyfriend, Guillaume, after Guillaume had died in a not-detailed car accident. (I once did this in the quarters behind a motel in Colorado when no one was at the desk, and was rebuffed, but got a room.)  Mom has no idea that her deceased son had been gay, or of Tom’s relationship.  Soon, Guuillaume’s aggressive brother Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal) appears and collars Tom, insisting that he give a prepared speech at the funeral to make the family feel good.  Francis continues the bullying, trying to get Tom to make people believe he had been with a local “whore”, Sarah (Evelyne Brochu).  The pressure continues, as Tom (who works in Montreal in advertising) is goaded into working on the farm, which the family might lose.  Tom gets roughed up not only by Francis but by the work itself, banging him up and threatening his body image.

Francis, for all the talk of family honor (and its reproductive future) starts acting a bit like a closet case himself, faking forceful intimacy with Tom.  There are startling scenes in a bathroom stall, and later in a corn field (recalling a corn field sequence in the show “Smallville”).  In time, Tom, seduced by the family’s need and in a kind of “Stockholm” relationship, investigates, as a local owner tells Tom a story about how Francis got banned from the bar for a violent incident years ago, with ramifications today.
  
I’m not sure I buy the concluding sequence, with Tom driving back into Montreal at night during the closing credits.


The official site is here (Mk2 and Canal, with Amplify as the distributor, although this strikes me as an “A24” style film). Dolan now lists with DGC.  I wonder how he handles filming himself as a director. 

The music score includes a lot of passages from Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht”, string orchestra version, as well as original music by Gabriel Yared, in schmaltzy Viennese style suggestive of Richard Strauss.

The film plays in Washington at the Angelika Pop-Up, which in a bit inconvenient for me.  I watched it on Amazon instant play ($6.99) in HD, and the film looks sharp, with great lighting and technique (standard aspect). Dolan sometimes crops close-ups with odd margins (like most of the film "Mommy"), like a scene from inside a family "letters" box looking at the people opening up the secrets. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Gaspe taiga photo (by province of Quebec), shared under Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0 license.  My visits to area, 1993 and 1977.  Second photo, family farm near Kipton, Ohio. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"The Diary of a Teenage Girl": what about "age of consent"? I'll pour cold water over her fun


The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, by Marielle Heller, is getting a lot of hype from the previews, based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s novel, set in San Francisco in the 1970s. 
  
The world it presented wasn’t that interesting.  The film stock was chosen to make the world look fuzzy with colors muted.  The environment in a City with Harvey Milk at the time is totally ignored.
    
Minnie (Bel Powley) is a 15 year old teenage “artist” living with divorced mom (Kristen Wiig),  The real actress for Minnie is 22, and that’s a good thing. Minnie starts coming on to his mother’s 35-year-old boy friend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). He gives in to temptation, repeatedly, even with some misgivings.  When she visits his boat, he starts behaving more responsibly.  But, what he has done could be prosecuted under California law, where the age of consent is 18. But I guess you aren’t supposed to think of that.  In the 1970s, law enforcement was much less interested in this issue than it is today.

Minnie is quite explicit at times in describing her attraction to Monroe, more in terms of what he “has” than what he “is”.  The film turns into a soft-core porn, almost a toned down but enlongated Linda Lovelace trip from the early 70s.  At times, her dad Pascal (Christopher Meloni) tries to intervene, mildly.

Finally, mom starts talking about Monroe’s marrying her because he’s “porked” her.

The best character may be Willie, played by Domino the Cat.

My own screenplay short, “The Sub”, had shown a gay teacher taken in by an adult-looking mature teen.  It created controversy in its day.

  
The official site is here (Sony Pictures Classics).  

I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington, before a small Saturday night audience which did laugh with the film.
  
Picture: Palm Springs, my trip, 2012.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"The Gift": thriller about a ghost from a man's past does show some parallels to my own life and writing


The Gift” is lower keyed and more subtle than a lot of “family secret” thrillers, and delves into some stuff closer to my own life and writing. Australian actor Joel Edgerton directs, and plays the now middle aged Gordo, a troubled man, tending to cling to others and with a history of victimization in the past.
  
Gordo looks a lot like Simon (Jason Bateman), the aggressive security software marketing executive who is buying a big house in the “Valley” (LA) with his still childless and geeky wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Gordo speaks up when running into Simon at a grocery checkout line, as Simon at first says he doesn’t recognize or remember him from middle school days a quarter century earlier.
  
Gordo starts making unannounced visits with little gifts, including times when Robyn is home alone (watched by a loving dog, who almost looks ready to talk).  In a confrontation in the middle of the film, Simon has to “ask” him to stop trying to see them. 
  
Simon is pleasantly assertive at first, and seems to be able to handle the overtures.  Behind the scenes, he uses words like “delusional” and “weirdo” to characterize him. But Robyn begins to suspect something is seriously wrong from the past, and that Simon isn’t telling all he knows.
  
Simon is also in line for a big promotion at work.  He seems cool about it, but gradually we learn his rise to power in the corporate world could have involved some unethical shenanigans.
  
It may be a bit of a spoiler, but the “answer” is important.  Simon had been a bit of a bully, and Gordo, in middle school, had been the sissy, accused of being gay.  Now, Gordo wants some kind of payback.  Apparently a story of sexual abuse had been fabricated, and Gordo’s life had gone down a wrong track, with mental illness and some petty crime, as a result.   There are some incidents in my own life (the William and Mary expulsion, and a middle school incident about a speculative medical rumor) that make a rough parallel. 
  
Simon accuses Gordo of not wanting to let go, of remaining weak.  In one line, he almost sounds like Donald Trump talking about Bernie Sanders.  Well, I never let go of my own past.  I wrote three books and blog about it.  I don’t just erase if and go playing huckster, or run for office, or play ball in somebody else’s social power structure.
  
The last act of the film, involving one final three-part “gift”, is a little over the top.  In fact, it would take too long to evolve for the time span of the film – it has to do with Robyn’s finally having a first child. Maybe it creates a “point proved”. 
  
  
The official site is here  (Blumbous;  STX and Lionsgate). The film, although independent in style, is showing in major theater chains. 
    
I saw this late Friday afternoon at Regal Ballston. 

Picture: The 405 in LA at night, my 2012 trip. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Happy Valley", a straightforward and painful documentary of the child abuse scandal connected to Penn State football


Happy Valley” (2014), directed by Amir Barl-Lev, is a rather straightforward, if sobering, documentary of the child abuse sex scandal perpetrated by assistant football coach, for the Penn State Nittany Lions, Jerry Sandusky, sentenced in October 2012 to 30-60 years in prison, starting at age 68, ensuring pretty much that he will die in prison.  Wikipedia has a factual history here.  The bluntness if Wikipedia’s biography of Sandusky is striking to read.
  
Much of the film focuses on the sudden fall of former head coach Joe Paterno, who would be fired (before being allowed to resign) and stripped of all honors, and then die two months later of lung cacer at 85, an unnecessarily gratuitously ugly end to a career and life. Three other school officials were charged with perjury and obstruction of justice as part of the “coverup”, and Penn State’s athletic department would wind up with severe sanctions.  There was a kind of mob justice mentality.  Yet some ( a vocal minority of) people would object to McQueary’s reporting of what he saw, out of a curious “loyalty” to the school and football.

Paterno had been told by graduate student assistant coach by Mile McQueary in 2002 that the latter had witnessed a direct assault.  Paterno always maintained that he reported the incident, but was accused of failing to follow up.  There were reasons to believe Paterno already knew or suspected of Sandusky’s misconduct with boys back into the 1990s.  Sandusky had misused his charity “The Second Mile” as a cover for his activity.

The film is surprisingly “real time”.  At one point, the director tries to interview Sandusky (well before trial) at his home, who has been ordered by his lawyer to remain mum.

At the time of the incident, the media made a lot of Sandusky’s equivocation when asked if he was “sexually attracted” to his minor victims (who apparently were usually or always too young for puberty). Why couldn’t he “just say no”, Toobin would ask on CNN, calling this a “horrible case”.
The film, especially toward the end, does provide a moral indictment of the world of college athletics and especially football, which provide so much income for schools and put so much pressure on head coaches to win.  This would fit in with Malcolm Gladwell’s “moral objections” to football (issues blog, July 21, 2013).

The other noteworthy observation seems to be the difficulty of “reaching out” to “kids” without creating suspicion, because “examples” set in the past by Sandusky.

The trailer starts, “We all want to think we live in a better world than we do.”


The official site is here (Music Box). The film may be watched on Netflix instant play.
   
I visited Penn State in September 2010, after the scandal was known but before the trial.  I was actually curious about the law school, because a Penn State professor had written a controversial paper about filial responsibility laws, and we corresponded by email a bit then (Retirement blog, July 12, 2007). 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor"


Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor” (2014, “Hippocrate”, directed by Thomas Lilti) may seem like a conservative’s indictment of European, state-funded health care.  The drama presents doctors in a crowded Paris hospital, in a poorer section of town, unable to do their jobs completely because of budget limits, and then watching each other’s backs to cover up the inevitable mistakes.  The young intern, Benjamin Barois (Vincent Lacoste) is initiated into this practice, and, whatever his gentle assertiveness, undermined by it.

Benjamin’s dad (Jacques Gamblin) practices there and can somewhat protect his son.  And Ben is assigned to work for a “third year intern”, Abdel (Reda Kateb), from Algeria (although white), and somewhat sympathetic to hardships because of his own back home.

Ben says he is 23, which sounds too young.  In the United States, someone wouldn’t finish medical school normally until age 26, although he or she would start hospital work in the third year, as a medical student.

Ben also looks too young, baby-faced and smooth (as if that could make infection control easier).  Physically, he bears an unfortunate coincidental resemblance to "Jahar".

The movie opens with Ben pacing through hospital catacombs, barely missing getting struck by laundry mopeds.  He walks into supply and gets fitted for a simple white smock and goes to work.

He lives in a little hospital bedroom defaced with sexual graffiti, constantly on call.  The whole staff has a very cohesive social life that sometimes includes rowdy parties, lots of esprit de corps, almost like the military.

The first incident comes when he treats a homeless man with apparent liver cancer and pancreatitis. He is told the ECG machine is broken so he skips it.  He prescribes pain killers but the next day the man dies of a heart attack.  He is told by the female supervisor to tell everyone he did the ECG.  His own father reinforces the idea, but he is troubled about lying to Abdel.  Later, there is a second incident, where an elderly living has left a DNR order which an intensive care team overlooks.  Abdel and Ben intervene with the family, which says to turn off the machine.  The woman dies.  But later both are disciplined because they interfered with the intensive care team.  It seems hard to believe. 

Things go downhill, with a crisis, and finally a good old labor protest by the hospital staff which says it can do its job. Finally, there is an unlikely by welcome redemption, for Ben especially.
 
One important point, only hinted in the film, is the grueling hours that interns and some residents put in to "pay their dues" because everyone before had to do it, leading to increased risks of medical mistakes that could affect patients.  


The official site is here  (Distrib films).

The film, while in widescreen (2.35:1) rarely goes outside and has a claustrophobic feel, with many scenes in tunnels and corridors and small rooms. 

I saw the film at Landmark E Street before a small weeknight audience. Another woman seeing it said. “That was a cute little movie.”

Wikipedia attribution link for Paris catacombs picture by Albany Tim, under Creative Commons Generic 2.0 license. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"The End of the Tour": a journalist's road trip with an author hits close to my own life and work


The End of the Tour” (2015), directed by James Ponsoldt and based on the non-fiction book “Although of Course You Become Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace” by David Lipsky, screenplay adaptation by Donald Marguiles, is very important to me personally in the top-down view it gives of the world of journalists, writers and authors since I have become a public “amateur” at that activity during the second half of my own life.  The dialogue brings up many issues for that world, and this film will surely be on the year-end Oscar and Golden Globes lists.  It’s kind of interesting for it to come out in late summer; it’s more of a late autumn season film.
  
Jesse Eisenberg plays the 30-year-old Lipsky in the winter 1996 road trip, to Illinois and the Minneapolis.  The downtown Minneapolis scenes reminded me of my own six years there (Nicollet Mall showed, but not my own residence at the nearby Churchill Apartments).  Some of the Illinois parts seemed to be filmed in Grand Rapids MI.   The film is framed by Lipsky’s writing about the experience in 2010, when he is middle-aged.  The transformation of Eisenberg (now 31 and looking “younger” than that) into someone around 45 (for a book-signing) is subtle.  He plays the roles as someone very aware of his own values and own course in life.  He has a girl friend (I thought the film implied he was married by 2010, but I’m not positive).  There is a scene where he chides Wallace for Wallace’s being too much into his own intellectual superiority over other “ordinary” people and tending to like to associate with people who won’t challenge him. 
  
Wallace, who died in 2008 at 46 (according to Wikipedia, of self-hanging), is played by Jason Segel, who, in the part, looks older than the 34 he is supposed to be.  His Illinois house is somewhat cluttered, and his manner is a bit unkempt, and he seems to be a loner, sometimes waffling on Lipsky’s right to cover more personal aspects of his life.
  
The “tour” is the promotion of his novel “Infinite Jest”, over 1000 pages, which has been characterized as an “encyclopedic novel”   I glanced at it on Amazon, and it seems that the use of detail, the numerous footnotes, the complex sentence and paragraph structure and broad development, resemble these items in my own books, especially the first of my three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, which is non-fiction but has a kind of autobiographical “plot” that would happen in fiction. (At this point, I’m not sure how many chapters it has, or whether it has a TOC or index, will have to look later.)  I’ll digress here and say that in my third “Do Ask Do Tell” book, I present both non-fiction and fiction sections, as if they were interchangeable, and I have a feeling Wallace may have done something similar.  Note that the Wallace novel has a character (a U.S. president) named “Gentle”; is that an intentional reference to Clive Barker’s hero in “Imajica”?   The plot, involving world political reorganization and specific entertainment censorship, and “samizdat”, isn’t specifically covered in the move.

So, Wallace is a bit like me (in a heterosexual incarnation), but in another sense, so is Lipsky.  Eisenberg plays the young Lipsky in a manner that makes me think he really could play a younger version of me if my DADT stuff gets made.  My goodness, he has already played Mark Zuckerberg.  That would put me in good company.

Both men were a little bit eccentric, in different ways.  Both men showed some signs of Asperger syndrome, but Wallace (with his awkward body language) a bit more.  But they’re almost like a tag team for these five days, even though Wallace gets jealous at one point in Minneapolis that Lipsky is paying too much attention to a potential girl friend. 

One question is, what made a challenging, thick, self-indulgent book like “Jest” a best seller? Wikipedia says it was heavily marketed.  I get calls from my “self-publisher” pushing me to “market” mine as a commodity much more (even go on tours now).  I am beginning to see (from watching this movie) why they think this way.

Now, Lipsky actually works for “Rolling Stone” (now in trouble over the UVa lawsuits) and even has an office cubicle where he can write.  He is a professional, and “writes what other people want”, not his own story (as does Wallace, in a sense).  He has to convince his boss to send him on the tour with an expense account. It’s Lipsky’s responsibility as a journalist to get Wallace to cooperate well enough to give the RS readers a good article.  I didn’t realize magazines would spend so much on a story like this. It’s part of the economy.

Lipsky fumbles around a little bit on the logistics of the trip, not having yet gotten a hotel room, and Wallace offers to let him stay in a guest room, which he does.  Wallace’s dogs come in and insist on keeping Lipsky company (dogs actually love to sense the magnetic field of a sleeping man’s heart beat). The real-life Jesse Eisenberg is reported as fond of cats (adopting them) and of vegan diets (in Wikipedia), which seems to correspond to Reid Ewing and dogs.  But in the movie, both Lipsky and Wallace chain-smoke, even in restaurants, which was probably still permissible in 1996. (That’s different from me;  I don’t smoke, although most of Ayn Rand’s characters do so!  I have been “adopted” by a stray cat before, however.)

The “guest room” idea reflects a similar episode in my own life.  On New Year’s Day, 2003, while staying at mother’s home in Arlington VA for Christmas, I drove up to West Warwick, RI to meet with the now late filmmaker Gode Davis about his work “American Lynching”, which I have mentioned elsewhere in my blogs.  I actually stayed in his guest room that night, and drove back the next day.  I remember meeting up with Gode in a Friday’s restaurant when almost the first thing he said was that my own body language showed him that I have Asperger’s, which he said he has.  All of this is part of an evolving effort about which I think there will be more to report soon.

There's another point of comonality. Lipsky challenges Wallace as to whether the considerable presentation of drug use in "Jest" could be viewed by readers as suggesting that Wallace has "drug problems".  This parallels the situation with my own screenplay "The Sub" on sexual issues, which I explained on my main blog July 27, 2007.  I've talked about this issue there as "implicit content". 

There is an incidental scene where the "team" sees the film "Broken Arrow" (directed by John Woo), with John Travolta, supposedly in the Mall of America (which had General Cinema when I lived there -- now I think it's AMC).  I saw that film in Virginia in 1996 about a year before my own move to Minneapolis.  It deals with a lost nuclear weapon, a point not mentioned in the new movie. 


The official site for the film (A24) is here.   Production companies include Kilburn and Anonymous Content.

I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA, before a small late weeknight audience. 

Pictures:  Newport, RI, last weekend's trip (mine), and downtown Minneapolis in early 2003 from my pad in the Churchill apartments, about a half mile from the Nicollet Mall. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Psycho Beach Party": spoof of Gidget, of slasher films, and of body shaving in a BluRay re-release from Strand of the 2000 film (1987 play)


Psycho Beach Party” (directed by Robert Lee King, 2000) is obviously first a spoof of the 60s Gidget-movies, spiced with old horror film conventions that don’t quite add up.  It also has a little of the “in your check” style of a few (subsequent) “horror” films by David DeCoteau on Phase-4 (check label).  Th film is based on a 1987 play by Charles Busch.
  
Actually set in Malibu in the 1960s, the story concerns Florence Forrest (Lauren Ambrose), the first female surfer (which I doubt), who becomes “Chicklet”.  She seems to have a personality disorder (maybe fitting into the environment at NIH in 1962 that I’ve written about as my own experience).  In time, a few gruesome murder victims (that is, some amputated body parts) show up “On the Beach”, or near it, and she is the prime suspect.  There is no Hitchockian subtlety.

There are plenty of male boyfriends, who practice “all that body shaving”, supposedly because competitive swimmers have to reduce water resistance (similar to what competitive cyclists have to do).  The total number of chest hairs in this movie is absolute zero (there is one character with inverted dirty triangle simulating what he misses the most).

The film opens at a drive-in, where a female villain, in a black-and-white film, acts as “The Giant Behemoth” totaling a play city.  I guess a drive-in movie sequence is a convenient way to link in a bck story. The color of the film itself is over-saturated and garish (like in “The Gang’s All Here” from the 1940s). 

The “men” include Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendan, and Matt Keeslar.  There is minimal “gay” intimacy toward the end. 

The film was actually shot in Australia.

The film was originally released in 2000 but only now is coming out on DVD BluRay from Strand Releasing, Aug. 18, 2015. I watched a private Vimeo screener. There had been a 2005 conventional DVD.


The official site for the DVD from Strand is here.  Strand says it is a "cult classic" and has been remastered, in its screener email.

The Richmond Triangle Players (VA) are performing the stage play this summer, link.
     
Picture: Provincetown, MA, last Saturday, and a Cape Cod beach scene, my trip, Aug. 2015. 

 :