Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Parenthood", the movie by Ron Howard, with Steve Martin, inspired the NBC series


The popular TV series “Parenthood” actually was derived from a 1989 comedy feature of that name, by Ron Howard, a Universal feature very much in the spirit of 80s family dramas (like “Ordinary People”, which had been one of my favorites).

Steve Martin plays the pseudo-patriarch, a sales executive who has just quit his job (he couldn’t stand being a huckster forever) married to Karen (Marry Steenburgen) who confronts him with the fact that she’s pregnant with their fourth child, by accident. “Women have choices, but men have responsibilities”, he protests. He even goes on a little rant about being expected to get clients laid if he goes back to work.

The extended family has a lot of complications, including kids in special education, and a brother Larry, who has tried to make it by gambling and is in debt to loan sharks.  The real patriarch is Frank (Jason Robards). Keanu Reeves (with chest scar) and Tom Hulce also appear. 
  
The overall theme of the movie is supposed to be what makes ideal parents, with an answer to the effect there really is no answer.  But it also shows the dynamics of the heterosexual family world that I skipped.

The film opens with a scene at a St. Louis Cardinals game, and has two baseball little league scenes, one with a dropped pop fly and later a great catch by the same kid after a collision in the outfield.  “A grown man’s happiness depends on whether a nine-year-old catches a pop-up.”

There's an early scene where Gil says to the family, "doesn't returning from Disney World make you want to throw up?" whereupon the daughter vomits all over his shoes.  Such is family life, "Sinfonia Domestica".



There’s another line about predicting whether a marriage will work: “I give it six months, four if she cooks.”

The film ends, of course, with a birth scene.  "It's a girl." The new babies make "a healthy bottom line."

The DVD has a long short "Art Imitates Life", where the cast and director talk about how many kids they have collectively and how their own experience as parents influenced the film.  The had to find and hire "writers".  Ron Howard says this is the most personal film he has ever made. Two other shorts are "Family Reunion" (with a depiction of the parlor game of "Wink", where you commit "murder" by merely glancing at someone with a stare)  and "Words and Music."

A great quote from the second short: "You can use comedy to sneak up on people, and say things that aren't funny in real life." And from the movie when Gil says, "When your kid is born he is perfect, hasn't made any mistakes yet, but grows up to be like -- me."

The film is set in the St, Louis area but was filmed at Universal Studios in Florida, well before the modern additions to the theme parks (which I visited in July). 
   
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of new Busch Stadium (taken by David K. Staub) under construction,  taken by David K. Staub, under Creative Commons Generic 2.5 License. The St. Louis Cardinals is one of the best-managed franchises in Major League Baseball, good every year. 

   

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Stonewall": a valuable history of the 1969 event that led to modern gay rights, with a real hero as a main character


Stonewall”, directed by Roland Emmerich, noted for big films, and written by Jon Robin Baitz, seems designed to educate the general public on the history of modern gay rights, centered on the Stonewall riots of 1969.
  
The film starts with some exaggerated facts.  It says federal law prohibited the government from hiring homosexuals (compare to the military ban later).  That’s not literally true, but an Eisenhower executive order in 1953 and various other administrative actions had that effect. It also says it was illegal for homosexuals to congregate in places that served alcohol.  Some states did have laws like that.  So the tendency was for organized crime to control the gay bars.  In New York City, the term “mafia bar” was common.

The film also seems like a remake of a 1995 film (Strand) by the same name, by Nigel Finch, where Frederick Weller played the “masculine gay” hero.

The new film is more ambiguous when it get so the actual people.  The hero is Jeremy Winters (played by British actor Jeremy Irvine), raised by a fundamentalist family in Kansas and having won a scholarship to Columbia.  But when he gets seen by other boys in a sexual encounter in a car with a chum, he is essentially kicked out of home and school and goes to New York anyway.

There is a line where one of the “gutter trash” in the village confronts Danny with “smart people think only of themselves”.  Indeed, Danny, while ambitious enough to work to win back his scholarship, is conservative in most of his own values, he already has street smarts and he quickly learns how to connect with people (including pseudo drag queens) much less intact than him, because they are much less fortunate.  A new moral universe evolves, parallel to the old one.

At times, Danny is shown as almost like a Christ figure.  He is stable, kind and takes care of people.  But he slowly gets drawn into the corruption as he survives as an unusually clean cut and attractive hustler (as well as working odd jobs).  He has a boyfriend (Jonny Beauchamp) and, uncharacteristically, almost leaves to go back to Kansas when jilted.  But then everything comes to a head that night in June.  It is Danny who throws the first rock at the Stonewall.  It’s almost like Jesus driving out the moneychangers.  At this point, it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Danny will turn out well, and not make a supreme sacrifice.  He is still human.

I could compare Danny’s narrative with my own (the William and Mary expulsion) and say that Danny is much mhttp://www.thestonewallmovie.com/ore obvious as a “hero”.  My own story is even more subtle, but the parallels are clear.

One important fact is that my “second coming” in the New York area came in 1973, when things had already gotten much better.  I never saw the worst of the scene in New York, like in the 1960s when many gay bars were closed to “clean up the City” for the World’s Fair.

Many historical figures are presented, including Frank Kameny (Arthur Holden),  policeman Seymour Pine (Matt Craven) and Ed Murphy (Ron Pearlman). The early history of Mattachine, and of Kameny's phrase "Gay is good" is shown. 

One can say, it’s easy to understand why white people resisted the Civil Rights movement in the South, but it’s far murkier why  people behave in such an irrational and circular manner with respect to homosexuality – even allowing for religion.  Part of the issue is that in earlier times (and in many parts of the world today) men are expected to bond to protect women and children, so sexual tensions get in the way (the whole issue for gays in the military as debated in the 1990s).  A more comprehensive view says that life is inherently unequal, but requiring everyone to have their own skin in the heterosexual family game makes marriage more appealing to many people.  Important, too, is the idea that having children is important to immortality, an idea not necessarily supported by science or even mainstream religion now.

It’s interesting that Danny’s farm boyfriend gets married and has kids, as Danny finds out when he goes back to Kansas for a reunion visit (reminding me of a comparable scene at the end of  “Splendor in the Grass” (1961)).


The official site is here  (Roadside Attractions, without Lionsgate). The DGC  film was largely shot in Montreal.

I saw the film this afternoon at Regal Ballston Common in a small auditorium.  Just three in the audience.  The sound was not particularly good.




Monday, September 28, 2015

"Black Mass": Crime drama about a psychopathic mafia informant could have used Scriabin's Sonata in the score


Black Mass”, directed by Scott Cooper, and based on the non-fiction book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neil, is a biographical drama about Whitey Bulger, one of South Boston’s violent gangsters, who turned undercover snitch for the FBI to get back at a rival crime family, from the 1970s until 1995. .
   
Yes, Johnny Depp protects the evil of a psychopath – in one early scene, he teaches his young son that something didn’t happen if nobody sees it. Benedict Cumberbatch has a bit of Turning in him as he plays the somewhat lawyer brother (Billy) and state senator (eventually forced to resign from a later university job for contacting Bugler as a fugitive).

There is an impressive cast, with Kevin Bacon (so smooth) as the FBI agent, Peter Sarsgaard as Brian Halloran,  Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”) as John Connoly, who goes down himself, and Adam Scott as FBI Agent FitzPatrick..

The film has plenty of scenes of gross violence, including close range executions and chokings (with rape in one instance).  Bulger did awful stuff, like pushing drugs in Newton high schools.  He also helped supply arms to the IRA, if I interpret the film right. There were some silly references to England-Ireland politics in the St. Patrick's Day Parade scene. There is also an interesting medical episode where Bulger's son dies of Reye's Syndrome.
     
Having grown used to “The Godfather” franchise, and then films like “Mystic River” and “The Town” a few years ago, the film has a lot to live up to.

The brooding music score by Torn Holkenborg fits the mood (in a manner that could resemble Clint Eastwood), but there was a missed opportunity, maybe in the closing credits, to play the nine-minute “Black Mass” Piano Sonata #9 by Alexander Scriabin, a dissonant work that would fit perfectly. (See my Drama and Music blog, August 1, 2015).
  

The official site from Warner Brothers for the film is here

I saw the film late Monday at Regal Ballston Common in a small auditorium.  I wish the theater would label the films on each auditorium.  Maybe this will happen with planned remodeling. 
  
Picture: West of downtown Boston, my tri[, August, 2015.  I’ve only been in Southie once recently, in 2002.

Bill 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Captive": true story of an addicted single mom taken hostage by an escaped prisoner, borrows on Rick Warren's bestseller


Captive”, directed by Jerry Jameson, purports to be a true story, based on the book “Unlikely Angel” by Ashley Smith (Kate Mara) of her being held hostage in her own apartment by escaped prisoner Brian Nichols (David Olewoyo), in March 2005 in Atlanta.   Nichols overpowered a female guard (after assistants called in sick), shot and killed a judge, an FBI agent, and two others in his escape.
  
Smith is presented as a meth addict, with barely enough incentive to recover, so she can get reunited with her daughter and eventually regain custody (as a single mom).  So this is a story scenario that indeed sounds like Screenwriting 101, with the most desperate people possible.  But it’s being based on truth turns the tables.  And a major plot feature us how a friend has given her an unwelcome “free copy” of Pastor Rick Warren’s best-selling book “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002), and how her reading to Nichols from the book calms him down and persuades him to let her go, leading to his recapture.
  
For example, a movie based on taking someone “cleancut” hostage might be more challenging or send a different message, perhaps presenting a protagonist not used to playing victim and “needing” God.

The passage from Warren that she reads has to do with “what has been given” to “you” by God.  Nichols says he hasn’t been given anything compared to other people (and he denies the original crimes.  But Kate points out that Brian has a son.  Maybe despite the expected life sentences, he really can see the boy some day.

I take with a “grain of salt” the idea that one best-selling book can change a life.  I don’t claim to be able to motivate people or “make them all right” in my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, despite being hounded about sales and popularity.
  
The official site is  here  from Paramount (Vantage) and has the culture of independent religious film.  Paramount announces the film with its 100th Anniversary logo.
    
The end credits show Oprah Winfrey talking to both Smith and Rick Warren, who writes "It's not about you."  But I have never seen Christianity in terms of a highly personalized God. I see it through quantum physics. 
      
I saw the film before a small Sunday night audience at AMC Hoffman in Alexandria. The film does show some aerial shots of Atlanta, but it was actually filmed mostly in Charlotte and Mexico City.
Picture: downtown Atlanta, my June 2004 trip.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"Destiny's People": the controversial history of the Palmetto State


Destiny’s People: Stories from South Carolina” by Don Koonce (30 min.) plays at the State Museum in Columbia, S.C., and presents a view of colonial history as itself part of a Civil War. The film does not diminish the fact that the demand for luxury clothing based on hand-spun cotton increased the demand for the crop even in the 1700s and helped promote slavery, even to brutal extremes.

The film then does cover the role of Fort Sumter, and the hardships of reconstruction (and the economic abuses of sharecropping), before S.C. turned itself into a manufacturing hub, especially for textiles, during and right after World War II.  Manufacturing would decline with the globalization in the 1980s.

The film is narrated by a bearded man (Koonce?) talking to children, as if teaching a history class.



The Museum also offers a 10 minute short “History of the Columbia Mill”, which is the story of the renovated building that the Museum is now in.  The Confederate Relic Room is now housed there, and the official Confederate flag (removed from the Capitol recently) is not yet displayed because of political issues.  The section also has some material from Fort Jackson regarding the Vietnam War, and that is welcome since civilian visitors are currently not allowed on the post to see the Post museums without military escort during the heightened alert status.  The SC Military Museum near the USC campus and stadium also has some Ft. Jachson material.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Unearthed" and "Change of Heart" (two engaging short films)


Here are three more "random" short films of some interest to me. '

Unearthed” by Lindsay Harris and Stuart Leach, from Dalang Films, presents two explorers in a cave on a planet with fossil fuels.  One of them is injured, but the other goes looking for what lies beneath.  There is a certain reference to the “Alien” movies, and a bizarre twist at the end when you look at the spacemen.  They really don’t want to go back home for good reason.

The photography, nearly black and white, uses stop-motion animation for the desert backgrounds.


Change of Heart” by Jonathan Abdillah with Sammy Alouba.  A young Muslim man, formerly a swinging single, now has to confront his expectations of his wife, as someone who was supposed to be perfect and someone to look up to.  This is a little drama about heterosexual “upward affiliation” as much as it is about Muslim ideas about marriage. Filmed in Toronto around the "Markaz Cafe". The film is part of a "Journey of Faith" series. There was nothing specifically Islamic about the film other than the burqa or shawl; this could almost have worked as a Christian or Jewish film. 
    
Summer ‘78”  (JC Reifenberg) is a little 3-minute short recalling the world of Star Wars in toys, in California. The Summer of 1978 was very eventful for me (a lot more so than the “Summer of 42”).
  
Picture: Jersey Pine Barrens, as in "The Last Broadcast" (1998), my visit. 


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"War Room": a story about right and wrong, which works even without all the religion


War Room” starts with an image of a real one, looking like it derived from the Vietnam Ear.  Soon, we learn that it was run by the late husband of Miss Clara (Karen Abercombie), a nice widow wanting to sell her century house in Charlotte and downsize.  But she will need to have room for her prayer space, which has provided an unusual use for a “closet”.  The film (by Alex Kendrick) doesn’t deal further with the opportunities to explore ideas like the past military draft, and moves right on to the main course.  But has the appropriate tagline, "Prayer is a powerful weapon". 
  
That narrative concerns the marriage of Tony and Elizabeth Jordan (T. C. Stallings and Priscilla C. Shirier), a prosperous African-American couple with a mansion in Charlotte, with one daughter. Tony is a successful pharmaceutical rep salesman, and Elizabeth sells real estate.
  
Tension starts when Liz takes out a little money from their joint account to give to her impoverished sister.  First, as for the moral tone, Liz (of course) didn’t “choose” to have a less responsible sibling. Liz says the sister’s husband has been out of work any Tony insists that the sister’s husband is a loser (Trump style) and a deadbeat. He also lords over her the fact that he makes four times as much as she.
  
When Liz visits Clara to help put Clara’s house on the market, Clara pulls “faith” on her – in response to hints Liz drops about tension with her husband.  The closet, the war room, is where she prays.  She quickly explains what Christian grace is all about. 
  
It isn’t too long before the husband (predictably) gets into real trouble. His fall is sudden, as the first 45 minutes of the move has presented what “sales culture” is all about (more tactfully than did “100 Mile Rule”).  He has misstated inventory, and then kept drug samples and sold them on the side (or possibly used them).  (The firing might well have been shown, but the movie already runs two hours.) It’s not too hard to anticipate that the rest of the movie is about his and then the whole family’s redemption through repentance and prayer. 
  
One obvious question:  why was he so hard on a poor person (the sister’s husband) when he stole and cheated to get rich?  I could go into ways we can mooch and not view ourselves as criminals – and that’s a tangential but important discussion. A bigger question is, why would he need “Christianity” and prayer to see how wrong his stealing had been?  Any mainstream faith (including Judaism and Islam) would teach us that stealing is wrong, as would modern individualistic western culture (and our whole legal system).  “Atheist” (or agnostic) little Ronnie Reagan would be as quick to point out how wrong he was as any preacher.
  
There is a telling scene where a man with a knife tries to rob Elizabeth and Clara on a Charlotte street, and Clara refuses; when she prays for the thief, he goes away. Does he then repent?
  
So this is a story that could work with much less “intrusion” by religion.  I have had people “proselytize” to me, particularly one person in Dallas back in 1979, on a camping trip that I vividly remember.  I don't experience God as intervening personally as do some other people;  I still have my own free will and must be responsible for it, completely. Grace and forgiveness come into play because the world is an unequal place for almost all of us. 
  
  
The official site is here. The film is distributed by Sony Tri-Star (the mid-range distributor) and by Affirm, Sony’s faith-oriented films unit, and the Kendrick brothers. 
  
I saw it at Regal Potomac Yards (which could use remodeling), before an appreciative audience early Monday evening. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Shane Acker's animated feature "9" is based on a 4-year-project short film at UCLA


The 2009 79-minute animated film “9” (or “Nine”) by Shane Acker actually started out as a 10-minute short, which took the director 4-1/2 years to make, mostly by himself, at the Animation Workshop at UCLA, as part of a graduate degree.

The post-apocalyptic film starts with the Scientist (Alan Oppenheimer, one of four live humans), his arms looking shaved, finishing the last of his rag dolls, called “9”, enhanced with a symbolic talisman. The Scientist dies.  We then learn how the world as we knew it came to an end.  The Dictator had seized the Scientist’s invented Brain to create a Fabrication system that send the world into runaway destruction (hint, catastrophic warming).  The remaining nine (total, named by their sequential numbers) dolls wander a wasteland and survival trial.  Eventually “9” (Elijah Wood as voice) more or less prevails, leading to thunderstorms and rain and rejuvenation of life. There is an intricate concept of sharing souls (mainly, the Scientists) as well as their release and transfer.  Perhaps the dolls learn to share an identity (the way we think orcas may)..  The Monroe Institute would probably like this.

The Universal-Focus DVD has three short films with it explaining the film, as well as Acker’s original 10-minute short with commentary (as a silent film).  The first documentary, “The Long and the Short of It”(16 minutes) explains the derivation of the feature from the student film. The second “Look of 9” (13 minutes) lets Elijah Wood (“Frodo”) talks a lot about the way Acker took an older vision of the future, derived from pre-War Europe (and the time of the 1939 World’s Fair, perhaps), with various technologies that didn’t go the way that had been expected.  (Think of “Metropolis”.)  The third short is “Acting Oct” (5 minutes), and explains the stop-motion animation technology.
The deleted scenes on the DVD are mostly black-and-white storyboards.  The feature color palette is dark, with lots or oranges and browns, rather like Titan.

  
The official site (Focus Features) is here.
  
It’s remarkable how much is demanded of student filmmakers.  Tim Burton is one of the producers of the feature.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Everest": a bit too much melodrama, but a moviegoer's best chance to see the roof of the Earth


For most people, “Everest”, directed by Baltasar Kormakur, if seen in Imax 3-D in a large theater, is the closest they will come to (vicariously) taking in views from (and round) the Earth’s highest point. Digital technology has made it practical to reshoot many views on location, although much of the film was set up and shot in Italy.
  
The film tells, loosely with some apparent fiction, the story of a 1996 expedition, in which eight people died after the party was caught by a ferocious storm on returning.  A much closer adaptation had been a TV movie based on John Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air”.  Vox explains all of this in an article by Todd Vam Der Werff, here
  
Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) has formed a company called Adventure Consulting, which arranges climbs of challenging peaks.  A client pays about $65000, and progresses through a series of base camps up to about 23000 feet, and does two practice climbs starting over an ice glacier before the final climb.  The people carry oxygen, and learn to use aluminum ladders that would scare me.

The day of the climb, everyone is awakened at 12:30 AM.  The idea is to be off the summit by 2 PM, before thunderstorms (with snow) come.  And the plans don’t quite work out, as the chance for severe thunderstorms seems to be more than just marginal.
  
Much of the drama concerns a particular client, Texas businessman Buck Weathers (Josh Bolin), who has an attentive family back in Dallas. He has more physical trouble than expected (including eye problems) but insists on making the climb, although he doesn’t get there until 3:30 PM, and then is a real liability for everyone getting back down. The film makes a lot of melodrama out of this, but to me his behavior was unacceptable. Krakauer is the journalist, played by Michael Kelly, and Jake Gyllenhaal (clothed in thi movie) plays a rival organizer.
  
The film offers shots of Katmandu, and of several villages and camps in Nepal that appear to be on location. Nepal seems to have inspired a lot of descriptions of communities in Clive Barker’s fantasy novel “Imajica”, which we hope will be a TV series soon. The area has the latitude of Florida, but at over 10000 feet snow is common, and the camps start at about 12000 feet.  

  
The official site is here  (Universal, Working Title and Walden Media).

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA photo of Everest from space. 
  
Ii saw the film before a moderate crowd at AMC Tysons Corner in an Imax auditorium with 3-D (which sometimes got a little out of focus).  The aspect ratio was always 2.35:1; it did not expand to use the full “Imax” screen vertically.

 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Natural Selection": what happens to a woman who takes sexual fundamentalism seriously


Robbie Pickering’s dramedy “Natural Selection” seems to play up a moral belief in some fundamentalist circles: that it is wrong to experience sexuality for any purpose other than procreation in marriage.

Abe (John Diehl) has donated sperm to a bank for years (secretly) because his wife Linda (Rachel Harris) seems unable to give him children. One day he has a stroke during a donation session and it may be fatal. His wife Linda (Rachel Harris) finds out about the 23-year-old son he had this way and travels (from East Texas) to Florida to meet the son Raymond (Matt O’Leary) and bring him back to Texas before Abe dies.

Raymond is hardly a model citizen, as he has broken out of jail and is on the lam. A wild road trip follows, and Linda goes over the top in her own behavior, at last. I could say it's predictable. But she acts a bit like Joyce Mitchell.  


The official blog for the film is here  (Cinema Guild).
  
The DVD includes cast interviews.
    

 

Friday, September 18, 2015

"Pawn Sacrifice": Bio of chess prodigy Bobby Fischer maps his boorish behavior onto Cold War politics


Pawn Sacrifice” (2015, directed by Edward Zwick) is a biography of chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, with a certain emphasis on the events leading up to the 1972 World Championship chess match in Iceland (link), including the way the US government (according to the film) politicized the match as a proxy for the Cold War, as if that explained all of Bobby’s eccentric, boorish behavior.

Tobey Maguire, now 40, seems a little soft physically compared to the real-life Fischer at the time, and his performance makes Fischer’s antics seem even more problematical. But even Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) pulled some antics of his own.

The movie does not generate real suspense, and the effect is to provoke a sense of hysteria, rather than real rooting interest, or real intrigue into the game itself.  But it is hard to present chess as a sport to a “mainstream” audience.

The chess in the actual match is remarkable. Fischer pitched a piece in a drawn ending in the first game with a beginner’s mistake, although he thought he saw a phantom way to extract the Bishop.  

The second game Bobby (making ridiculous complaints about playing conditions) forfeited, and then Spassky gave in to Fischer’s demands for political reasons and allowed the match to continue, after which Fischer relentlessly outplayed him, winning four times with the Black pieces, not always choosing the soundest openings.

In fact, Fischer had been known for a rather transparent view of the openings, preferring King’s Pawn for White, almost as a political statement against emerging Soviet theory favoring Queen pawn opening for White (especially in the 1960s, when I was entering the world of tournament chess myself) – predicated on the idea that many Queenside openings allow White to keep the tension in the center longer.  Game 6 was famous because Fischer pulled a surprise, playing a White side of a Queen’s Gambit, for which Spassky was not well prepared, and whereupon Spassky made a serious  error at the start of the middle game, leading to his being crushed positionally. This has been called one of the greatest games ever played, compared to a Yankee victory over the Red Sox to end the 1978 baseball season and secure a Yankee pennant as the greatest baseball game ever.

I’ve often written on social media that baseball and football managers, and especially pitchers and quarterbacks, should learn to play chess.  A few of the Washington Nationals players have read my comments.

Peter Sarsgaard is gentle as Father William Lombardy, Fischer’s coach and a popular grandmaster at the time, often analyzing games in the United States Chess Federation’s magazine.

I was particularly active myself in chess while in grad school and in the Army, and later in the early 1980s when living in Dallas.  The highest rating I ever got was short of 2000, as I was erratic, sometimes beating 2300 players but losing to 1400 players.  Upsets were common in my games, and Black won as often as White. Blunders happen, just as they do in major pro sports.

The film concludes with a quick synopsis of Fischer’s deterioration in his later years, including needing to seek asylum from the US and live in Iceland until his 2008 death after traveling illegally to play in a sanctioned country.


The official site is here

I saw the movie Friday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic theater before a fair weekday audience.
  
A comparison film could be “Searching for Bobby Fischer” (1993) by Steven Zaillian (Paramount).

Bill 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Irreversible", a violent French crime thriller, follows on "Memento"


The bare plot of the French thriller “Irreversible” (2002, by Gaspar Noe) sound like a typical revenge bloodbath.  A young woman Alex (Monica Bellucci) is brutally raped in an underpass by a pimp Le Tenia (Jo Prestia). Her boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassell) and even ex-boyfriend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) get over any rivalry and extract a brutal revenge.
  
But what makes the film remarkable is the backwards-layered structure.  The film comprises thirteen “long take” scenes, played in reverse chronological order. The artistic effect is to make the gratuitous violence of the film (which would seem to warrant an NC-17) watchable and even meaningful.  How often we learn a lot about a traumatic life event by walking it back into time. Think like Benjamin Button.

The rape scene lasts several minutes and is one of the most graphic ever filmed.  But so is an “earlier” (later in time) beating in a leather bar called “The Rectum”, a place far more menacing than “The Hoist” in “Age of Consent” (Aug. 30).  The sexual practices shown in the place are also truly graphic and destructive.

The film will, of course, be compared to “Memento” (2001, Christopher Nolan, a film that seems small now given the director’s huge films since), where Guy Pearce plays a man with short-term memory problems looking for his wife’s killer, and playing back his life in reverse (remember the note “Shave thigh”).

As the film begins (at the end), a motive from the Adagio if the Mahler Ninth plays. As the film ends, the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh plays. During the violent scenes, there is plenty of electronic music by Thomas Bangalter.
   
The opening credits play games by reversing letters, which proves a bit annoying and pointless. But this is really the end credits, played backwards, as if the end of a palindrome. They could have tried using the last movement of Paul Hindemith's Horn Concerto to make a point. 


The film is available on Netflix DVD and instant play.
  
In my own screenplay “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany”, I have a more complex concept, of reverse layering.  In the early part of the film, I would present a fictitious story (screenplay) that I had authored as a proposed short film, which would cause a ruckus where I worked when found online.  Then, in future backstory flashback, I present an earlier episode which shows why I posted the script.
  
Picture: Mine, from a ferry boat, but it seems to apply.

  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

More films from DC Shorts ("Work Mate")


Three more films from the 2015 DC Shorts, which I watched online ($15 on site, $30 at home):

Work Mate” (2014, Genevieve Clay-Smith, USA, 19 min, Showcase 4), presents an introverted “individual contributor” (Brendan Donoghue) in the workplace suddenly sharing his workspace with a somewhat ungamely-looking man (Benjamin Phillips) with a vision impairment.  Amazingly, the new cubicle-mate draws him out of himself and gets him to go cycling, even on a bicycle built for two. At least, there’s no racing, no peaking or shaving.

And relax. the two men only work together.  I've heard that one before in my own workplace. 

  
Barrio Boy” (2014, Dennis Diners, 8 minutes, USA, Showcase 14) gives us a barber shop in Brooklyn (don’t know if it’s Bed-Stuy), and a Latino barber, who falls “into infatuation” with a blond hunk who gets a haircut. The barber’s fantasies are told in mockumentary style, but never realized. When you consider that leather bars frequently have barber chairs, the film falls a bit short.
  
Election Night” (2015, Tessa Blake,  12 minutes, based on a story by Ian Williams, Showcase 6) gives us the wake of a politician’s family on election night.  He’s not exactly intending a “Yes We Can” speech, and is rattled to learn that his daughter is gay, and quite flat-footed on justifying his views of marriage.

Two more films from earlier festivals: 

A Land Called Paradise” (2008, Lena Kahn, 4 min) presents a song with the replied of over 2000 Muslims as answers to the question, “What do you wish you could say to the rest of the world?”  Justin Timberlake gets mentioned. Charity for the less fortunate is hit very hard. So are their own losses of family in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, and even losses for American Muslims on 9/11. Islam has a very specific theology of Paradise, which opens at the end of time.  
    

Food Porn” (2012, Charles Grantham, 3 min) presents a straight couple and a banana. Use your imagination. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"The Golden Dream": drama of teen migration from Central America hits hard as immigration debate hits presidential campaigns, and as Syrian refugee crisis demands more of us



The Golden Dream” (or “The Cage of Gold”, or “La jaula de oro”, 2015, directed by Diego Quemada-Diez), hits arthouse or indie theaters at a time when the political and moral debate over refugees hits high gear.  Although the news media is preoccupied with Syria, this film reminds us of the plight of teens and kids in Central America, along with the whole question of illegals and child migration, recently hit hard by Donald Trump.
  
The movie starts in the clapboard slums in Guatemala, near the Mexican border.  The “alpha male” teen, 16-year-old Juan  (Brandon Lopez), himself largely white, brings along two other teens, Samuel (Carlos Chajon), and Sara (Karen Martinez) as they cross the river and walk the tracks and eventually jump onto trains.  Sara has taped up her breasts in order to appear to be a man, and may be a transgender character. At this point, it’s well to note that generally, countries farther away (El Salvador) are considered even more violent. However, within the family, one relative worked as an engineer in Guatemala for a faith-based project.  Local churches that I go to have sent youth groups in the summer to Belize and Nicaragua.

The kids meet a Maya indian Chauk (Rodolfo Dominquez), who speaks only Tzotzil and struggles to pick up Spanish from the teens.  At first, they resent him, and Chauk takes to Sara, whom he may realize is actually female.

But the kids encounter the police several times in sweeps of the trains.  Various episodes show the corruption of the cops.  At one point, the kids make some money working in a cane field, and Juan, the best (and strongest) manual laborer, pockets a bit of cash.  At a subsequent bust, the cops ask every person they’ve capture the phone number of someone in the United States.  That suggests a dangerous idea:  “hackers” could supply the phone numbers, and draw unsuspecting Americans into the immigration crisis.

Eventually, Juan and Chauk wind up escaping the last trap together, and they have bonded.  They sneak into southern California together through a tunnel.  Juan will be tested when Chauk is sniped down in the desert by a rancher (and activity which does go on and which some ranchers try to defend legally, especially in Arizona).

Throughout the film, Chauk recalls a sight of a model railroad with snow.  He longs to get far enough north to encounter snow.  Eventually, his eventual friend winds up working in a meat packing plant and walking out into a blizzard.
  
The official Facebook site is here, from Kinemascope, Peccadillo Pictures and Double Exposure films.  The movie is shot in full wide-screen, and the landscapes are often breathtaking, as is the squalor in Guatemala and Mexico. The film even juxtaposes model railroad scenery with real trains effectively in a couple sequences. 
  

I saw the film at Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market in Washington DC.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Guatemala-Mexico border by Joachim Pietsch, under Creative Commons share alike 2.0 license. 



There were two short 4-minute films before the feature. I wonder if they’re in DC Shorts, too.  One was “Free Custom Poetry”, about poets to hand-type poems for visitors on Royal Typewriters on the National Mall in Washington. 
     
The other was “Creators of Superman”, in silent style, about the legal battle in the 1940s over the ownership of the comic book character invented by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

"90 Minutes in Heaven": a young pastor, gravely injured, becomes apathetic to help from others after his own near-death experience


There have been a number of films about near-death experiences, with visits to the afterlife or Christian Heaven. “90 Minutes in Heaven” (2015, directed by Michael Polish) is an autobiography of the life narrative of East Texas pastor Don Piper, who was thought to have passed away for up to 90 minutes when his Ford Escort collided head-on with a rig that crossed the center lane on a 2-lane river bridge near Huntsville, TX, in late January 1989. The story is told in the best-selling Christian book (6 million copies) by Piper with Cecil Murphy. That certain gives an indication of what books "sell".
   
Hayden Christensen (now 34) plays the 38-year-old pastor, who looks youthful throughout the film however banged up.  Actors have to let things happen to their bodies for some films, like this one.
     
He plays Piper as a gentle, dedicated family man (wife Kate Bosworth), planning to open a new rural congregation.  The film starts with the crash, and then backtracks two days. 

At the accident scene, another pastor prays for him when police think he is dead, and the pastor detects a pulse.  At the local hospital, they find a crushed thigh and arm, and send him to Houston.  Medically, the leg is saved by a device that stretches it and causes missing bone to regenerate.  Piper develops pneumonia, which he could die of, and becomes indifferent and depressed, ashamed to accept help from others.  There is an alarming sequence where he refuses to try to breathe (and is nearly put on a ventilator).  Accepting interdependence with others as a part of the practice of faith is a main theme of the film.  His wife has to deal with the inadequate health insurance and the unwillingness of the State of Texas to cover the entire cost of the accident considering the fact that the rig had been driven by a prison inmate on a work detail.

I had some personal experience with this, after an acetabular hip fracture in 1998 while I lived in Minneapolis and fell in a convenience store. I developed a little pneumonia, and was forced to do breathing exercises with equipment.

Inevitably, he heals, and the 121-minute film keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what his vision of Heaven will look like.  There are a few early scenes of colorful storm clouds.  Finally, about 20-minutes before the end, the screen expands vertically (from 2.35:1) in Imax fashion to show what Heaven “looks like”.  There seems to be a stage platform in the clouds, in front of a gate with dazzling light.  Piper doesn’t report going through a tunnel.  Various people in his extended family for several decades and other friends appear, people who did not always meet in terrestrial life.  The people are of varying ages, and it isn’t clear if this was the age at which they died, or if they could somehow use “space-time” and vary their age presentations. 


The official site is here (Samuel Goldwyn, and Giving Films). The film was actually shot in Georgia, even though the setting is East Texas and Houston (which is shown).

There is a lot of familiar gospel music, like "Praise the Lord", which was popular at MCC Dallas in the 1980s (but rendition of "He's Alive").
   
I saw the film on a mini-day-trip Sunday night at the new Cobb theaters in the Village at Leesburg, VA, before a moderate audience. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"The Visit": When visiting old people, stay in your room at night


M. Night Shyamalan is simply entertaining us again with “The Visit”, which comes across as a mix of “Modern Family” (mockumentary) with “Paranormal”, with a touch of “The Blair Witch Project” in the climax (and maybe a touch of "Body Snatchers").
   
A single mom (Kathryn Hahn) tells of her past illicit love with a substitute teacher (maybe she was seductive), but resulting in a marriage that last ten years and produced two smart kids, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). When prodded, she sends the kids on a winter break visit to grandma’s farm in Masonville, PA (the real town is Masontown).

Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan) are just a little creepy, and they want the kids to stay in bed after 9:30 because “we’re old people”.  But that’s after the kids saw Nana vomiting the first night, and then running wild. 

Some comical scary scenes (including Nana’s asking Becca, “Will you climb inside the oven to clean it?” carry the movie for a while, until the kids decide to secretly videotape the couple.  Maybe that’s inspired by “Paranormal”, maybe even by the Rutgers tragedy. When they talk to Mom by Skype, things start to unravel.

There’s other stuff here.  Mom, in an earlier video call, shows the kids a reality TV “hairy chest” contest on a cruise ship.  A curious interest indeed. 

I’m not sure that I get the epilogue, but the end credits had a wonderful art song with piano.


The official site is here (named “Stay in your Room”), from Universal. Despite the branding, the movie has the style of arthouse stuff.  Like Alfred Hitchcock, Shyamalan prefers to use standard aspect ratio. 

The indoor scenes were filmed largely at Universal in Orlando.  The movie was heavily promoted in the theme park when I was there in July.

I saw this film Saturday night before a large audience in a large auditorium at Regal Ballston Common. 
 
Picture: Waynesboro, PA, I think (mine, April 2015). 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

DC Shorts Showcase 5: "We Can't Live Without Cosmos", "On Dark Paths", "Billy the Kid", "The Bridge Partner"


I attended DC Shorts Showcase 5 last night at Landmark E Street Theater in Washington.  There was a little mixup, as I got the times mixed up and had intended Showcase 4.  But Showcase 5 turned out to be quite interesting.

On Dark Paths” (“Pimealla polulla”,  20 minutes, Finland, directed by Paul Helin), suggests, from the title, another setting of “Taming of the Shrew (as with “The Dark Place”, Dec. 2, 2014), but this is a childhood thriller suggestive of M. Night Shyamalan or Clive Barker.  8-year-old Risto, given a teddy bear to deal with night terrors, finds a mythical monster stalking him and nearby neighbors.  But the monster could be his own abusive father.

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” (“Mi ne mozhem zhit bez kosmosa”, 16 minutes, Russia, by Konstantin Bronzit) presents a curious story, in rather abstract animation with limited color, of two friends who train together to be chosen to ride into space on Russia’s cosmonaut program. This seems to be a “Mother May I” situation, as the facility seems to have chosen them.  They all kinds of brutal tests (anti-gravity spins, and swimming races, maybe shaved down). Their bunk cell has a chess game set up with a curious rook-and-knight ending, maybe from known theory.  When the guys go into space, something weird happens, and well, maybe this is our way to know that aliens are real.   I think the film could have been interesting with live actors and CGI.  The concept is a little close to my own “Epiphany” screenplay. The Vimeo trailer is here.  This film is one of the 2016 Oscar list for Best Short Films, Animated.
  
Billy the Kid” (16 minutes, UK, directed by Sam Johnson), presents a high school teen (John Bell) who attracts attention – and bullying – from his peers by wearing a Billy the Kid cowboy outfit for “show and tell”.  He refuses to defend himself against frivolous taunts.  But when some escaped prisoners invade the school and hold kids hostages, Bill saves everyone with his lasso and becomes the super-hero.


The Bridge Partner” (14 minutes, USA, Gabriel Olson, based on a short story by Peter S. Beagle) starts with a ladies’ bridge tournament (sorry, no chess).  When an elderly woman (Beth grant) plays a bad hand, her glamorous partner (Sharon Lawrence) whispers a death threat, or so she imagines.  Then the partner seems to stalk her around suburban Atlanta. When the two sit down for tea, murder is inevitable.  This was also at HollyShorts.  This film was a hit with the audience.

The Unstoppable Billy Greenwood” (12 min, USA, Augustus Bernstein) has Army officers informing a father that his son was killed in Afghanistan. But the father’s tale causes one of the Army officers to recall how his own son, against all odds, won a football game for his team.

John’s Follies” (8 minutes, USA) examines a stone artist who builds megaliths around Flint Hill, VA, actually familiar to the mother’s side of my own family.
  
Christylez Bacon” (4 min, USA) presents an unusual take on hip-hop, through a local dancer in Washington DC.

Boot” (4 min, USA)  presents a trunk kidnapping in a garage gone bad.



Friday, September 11, 2015

"Birth": a low-key "sci-fi" drama presenting a claim of reincarnation and some troubling sexuality


Reincarnation has sometimes triggered interest sci-fi “real world” dramas, and a low-key but controversial example is the 2004 film “Birth,” by Jonathan Glazer (written with Milo Addica).

Nicole Kidman plays Anna, a crew-cut heterosexual NYC socialite who has lost her husband, Sean, ten years ago after he jogged in the winter in Central Park and then dropped dead from a heart attack.  The film shows us a quick concomitant underwater birth.  

A 10-year-old boy, “Young Sean” (Cameron Bright) repeatedly contacts her, telling her that he is the reincarnation of Sean.  It’s never explained how he could “know” this.  But, having said “yes” finally to another marriage proposal, she gets drawn into believing it, to the consternation of her fiancĂ©e, leading to an explosive scene at a salon piano recital.

There is also a controversial bathtub scene, which Wikipedia assures us was filmed legally without the actress and minor child being present at the same time. There’s a conversation where Anna asks Young Sean if he meet her “needs”. 

Finally, toward the end, Young Sean seems to outgrow his “obsession”.  Was this a “joke”? 

The movie, with the music score by Andre Desplat, has a feel that recalls “Rosemary’s Baby” but also anticipates “The Tree of Life”.   There is one chamber orchestra passage early, that anticipates Timo Andres’s “Antennae” (from the duo piano suite “Shy and Mighty”).  Lauren Bacall gives the film some schmaltz as the mother-in-law.

There were reports of people walking out on the film, but Roger Ebert liked it.

  
The film was produced by New Line Cinema, but distributed by subsidiary Fine Line Features as “indie”. Too bad, Fine Line isn’t around now. Neither is Picturehouse.

   

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Learning to Drive": gentle story about a mundane skill brings together narratives of two marriages


When I saw that a movie titled “Learning to Drive” (2015, directed by Isabel Coixet), I first wondered of it could be about Saudi women finally getting some independence. In fact, my own maternal grandmother in Ohio didn’t drive, as in the 1930s and 40s, many “moms” didn’t have to.

In fact, the heroine is an established writer and book critic, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson). Some of the lines in the screenplay make a pitch for books being sold as such. As the movie opens, she is riding home (a brownstone in upper Manhattan) in a cab with her husband Ted (Jake Weber), who suddenly announces he’s leaving her.  Shocked, she leaves a book manuscript in the cab.

When the driver (Ben Kingsley) returns the manuscript to her home, he gently talks her into getting some independence by taking his driving lessons.  This gives the movie a chance to explore the life of a Sikh man here on political asylum, and going through an arranged marriage (he says relatives know you and your spouse better than you do) and sheltering an appealing illegal Sikh young man (Avi Nash) from ICE.  So the movie slides into today’s debate on immigration.

Some of the script deals with Ted’s motive for leaving her. He says she ignores him, and is too lost in her own world of words.  But he also going with a younger woman.  But she seems to have been the financial support for the family (including a now college-age daughter), and he seems to have a motive to want to take some of her assets. Marriage is turning out to be a bad deal after 21 years old.  So she soon explores “men” herself.

Some of the climax of the film deals with something as mundane as passing a driving test (after a minor accident). 

I didn’t actually learn to drive until 18 (took it in summer school right after graduation), but today kids mature much faster.


The official site is here. The film comes from Broad Green Pictures, which seems to be arranging big older stars to make small-ball dramas.

I saw the film late Wednesday at Angelia Mosaic before a small audience. Later on Thursday, I had to take the Sikh's advice, that "the road is all there is when you drive" to heart.  Pulling out of a parking lot, I saw a cyclist (going the wrong way) strike a pedestrian, no injuries  Later a woman walked against the light, because the crosswalk was far enough away form the light on the other side of the intersection to fool a pedestrian into believing she has the right of away on a busy street. And then a big van to the right could not stay in its lane. 

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

"Assault on Wall Street": Predictable thriller does carry a big message on inequality, "class warfare"


The B-film “Assault on Wall Street” (2013), directed by Uwe Boll, is as formulaic (in the sense of Screenwriting 101) in piling difficulties onto the protagonist – here, I guess, anti-hero, a Wall Street security guard Jim (Dominic Purcell) – as “it gets”.  Sure, the film is “predictable” (a favorite word of the late Roger Ebert). But it delivers a real political and moral punch at the end.

Jim’s troubles start when his financial planner tells him that most of his portfolio has evaporated into a scam, rather like Bernie Madoff.  Still, Jim is on the hook for the principal.  His lawyer won’t help him because he doesn’t have the upfront cash (or credit score) to sue, even though he would win in court.

His wife has aggressive cancer, and the employer health insurance seems to have high deductibles and caps, so she is refused treatment. In the movie’s “middle”, he finds his wedding ring with a note, before he finds her dead in bed.

Then he loses his home (apparently in Queens, near the Mets stadium) to foreclosure, moves to a rooming house and is on the verge of homelessness.

But he has a lot of skills with weapons.  If he is completely broke, I don’t know how he pays for the arsenal he acquires to mount his accelerating rampage.

The last twenty minutes of the film clearly did not happen in 2008 or any other time, because his rampage is more catastrophic than any that have occurred in the US.  And it is progressive, with executives gunned down by his sniping on Manhattan streets and through windows in midtown skyscrapers across the street.  Finally, he confronts a hedge fund president, and conducts a Machiavelli-like ideological debate with the man, holding him at gunpoint, just before the cops finally arrive. The bank president justifies his stature as the result of “survival of the fittest” and the strong ruling the weak (fascism, rather than what he calls “capitalism”), despite the indirect  dependence of today’s rich on the class and racial abuses of the past (like slavery). At the end, there is a death penalty from the cops, even if by accident.


The official Facebook is here  (Phase 4 films).  The indoor (and some neighborhood) scenes were filmed in Canada (around Toronto).

 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

"Reasonable Doubt" wavers from standard courtroom drama to chase-thriller, but makes its own point


Unreasonable or non-credible coincidence might derail a movie plot, but sometimes very improbable coincidences happen in life.  They call it “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Sometimes moral lessons stem.
  
That’s the best I can say for the brief thriller “Reasonable Doubt” (2014) from director Peter Howitt (as Peter P. Croudins), which ought to be a courtroom drama, but is so only minimally.
  
Dominic Cooper plays Mitch, a young assistant DA in Chicago, with a wife (Erin Karpluk) and new baby.  One night, after celebrating with the boys over a courtroom win, he notices possible thieves messing with his car on the street. He was going to take a cab, but decides to “risk it” (a career-ending DUI) driving home.  A police car appears to be following him, but as he turns onto a dark side street, the police cruiser and its blue lights flash, but suddenly he feels the thump of hitting a pedestrian. He tries to call 911 on his cell phone, which doesn’t work, so does so on a nearby payphone.  Then he leaves the scene.
  
Through a very unlikely coincidence, the police soon arrest Clinton Davis (Samuel L. Jackson) who had tried to take the victim (who dies) to the hospital.  Cooper has to manipulate the trial, assigned to him, to get the “innocent” Davis off, since Cooper knows he had hit the victim.  But Clinton seems to have unusual knowledge of the circumstances, and soon Cooper learns that Davis is on a vigilante mission, to go after parolees, after someone on parole had killed his family in a home invasion.
   
The movie turns into a typical chase thriller. At the end, there is a confrontation where Clinton Davis challenges Cooper to prove he is a real man who can protect his family.  That’s useful, but I wondered, what if one’s family wasn’t one that one created with procreation, but “inherited” as an obligation – to care for parents or siblings?  Would the same moral apply?

The action in the film runs only 80 minutes, and the slow-moving end trailer is fully 10 minutes.

  
The official purchase site (Lionsgate) is here
  
The interiors in the film (and rural snow scenes) were filmed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and the DGC film was financed with Canadian and German sources. The film is available on DVD from Netflix. The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for aerial photo of Chicago by Payton Chung, under Create Commons 4.0 (and all levels) license (international and unported). 



Monday, September 07, 2015

"Grandma": an aging female poet offers much more than a bookish life


Grandma” (2015, Paul Weitz) is a comedy about people-skills and personal assertiveness, traits I don’t share myself much.
  
Lily Tomlin plays Elle, a poet and former English professor living in a modest house in the “Valley”, with a young lesbian partner (July Greer). After a fight in the opening scene, her evicted lover leaves her alone, which is what she seems to want to be.  But suddenly her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) knocks and comes in, in trouble and needing cash, $630 to be exact.

It isn’t long before Elle gets the purpose out of her – pregnancy termination. And odyssey through the Valley (west of the 405) follows, where Grandma tries to get the cash, gets turned down and acts like a lovable bully.

There’s the tattoo parlor, where we see a man’s chest being desecrated, for a moment.  Then there’s the boyfriend who knocked her up, played by Nat Wolff, who proves his acting capabilities with a complete change of character from “Paper Towns” (July 26), being a jerk here. The adventures continue as she meets an old love Karl (Sam Elliott) who won’t give her cash to destroy his own lineage. And then there is her daughter (Marcia Gay Harden), who finally will come up with the dough in a scene at an ATM that is effective.  And then, at the end, there are the protestors to deal with at the clinic.


What’s interesting is how such a supposedly “intellectual” woman winds up being so assertive.  Maybe it’s because she has to be.  Without a lot money, she has to be able to manipulate people to get herself or them out of continual trouble.

The official site (Sony Pictures Classics) is here.
   
I saw the film late Sunday night at an Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax Virginia, before a small audience. Picture: near the theater.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

"Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine": documentary by Alex Gibney tells a more complicated story of the Apple founder, with real footage


Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” is a detailed portrait of the founder of Apple by documentarian Alex Gibney, and is valuable when compared to the docudrama with Ashton Kutcher. 
   
The film, released by both Magnolia and CNN Films, presumably will run on CNN soon but is long (at 128 minutes) for CNN documentaries (which usually are under 90 minutes).

We see Jobs (and some friends, like Wozniak) in footage taken at many different times. We see Jobs as a young man – and I recall his being on PBS in the mid 1980s talking about being an entrepreneur. And we see him near the end of his life in 2011, frighteningly gaunt from an unusual form of pancreatic cancer. This tumor was a “PanNET” or neuroendocrine tumor which is typically less aggressive than the common types. Jobs tried to live in denial and do alternative therapies, but eventually had a liver transplant.  He survived eight years. This type of cancer would not be detected by Jack Andraka’s new simple test (here ) but Jobs’s own ability to innovate is echoed by Jack.


The film presents Jobs as a “poet” or “artist”, where his output was his technical innovation, with its emphasis on simplicity, color, and visual appeal.  The “iPod” was presented as exemplary, but introducing each trademarked product name with the small letter “I” became symbolic.  This would seem to contrast with the talents of Mark Zuckerberg, for example, simply a prodigy at coding, or even with musical performance gifts.  His character, from a moral perspective, is presented as complex and filled with paradox.  He would empathize with people, but only within the confines of his own world as he saw it.  (A lot of us are like that, probably me.)  As for “responsibility”, he was erratic, as in how he dealt with his first daughter. The film largely glosses over his personal and marital life (Laurene), as if an afterthought.
  
The last part of the film deals with Apple’s dependence on low-cost labor in China, and with the serious ethical problems in the way Apple depended on this “People’s Republic of Capitalism”, which had serious safety incidents at its factories and installed suicide nets.  The film gives a few impressive shots imparting what it might be like to live as a factory worker in China.  There is attention to Foxconn (Cnet story with illustrations ; see also Zhengzhou).   
  
There were also issues with Apple’s offshore financial operations to avoid taxes.
  
But, back in the 1990s, after Jobs rejoined Apple (having been “fired” ten years before, after which he started Next and Pixar) the company made an incredible turnaround from near bankruptcy to one of the world’s most financially valuable companies.
  
The film presents current CEO Tim Cook.  It doesn’t mention that Cook offered a portion of his liver to Jobs (rare blood type), or mention Cook’s eventual coming out as gay (Wikipedia). 
  
  
The official site is here. I saw the film before a nearly sold-out auditorium (small) at Landmark E Street Saturday night, although I was able to get a ticket as a walk-in. 
  
Composer-pianist Timo Andres wrote a blog post “Uncle Steve” in Oct. 2011 explaining how the inventions of Steve Jobs made everything he does possible. We depend on the innovation (and associated risk-taking) of others, without thinking about it.

First pictures: 2002 iMac, 2011 iPad, 2011 iPod.  Last picture, from National Book Festival, Washington, Sept. 5, 2015 (see Books blog).

Update: Jan 3, 2016

CNN Films aired this film on its own network this evening (9 PM EST).

Saturday, September 05, 2015

"A Walk in the Woods": A vicarious hike along the Appalachian Trail (unfortunately, not all of it)


I went to see “A Walk in the Woods” (Ken Kwapis) in order to have the vicarious experience of seeing the entire Appalachian Trail.  The movie didn’t provide this, as most of the on-location scenes were in the Georgia portions, around Amicalola Falls.  Apparently this was true of the cliff and ledge scenes (best link).  The dam scene was shot around Lake Fontana in North Carolina (link).  One of the scenes really did appear to be filmed around Big Meadows on Skyline Drive in Virginia (not mentioned in the credits).
  
I was disappointed that travel writer Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) and pal Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) didn’t go all the way to Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine.  They end their trip back at Bryce’s hometown of Hanover, NH, where the trail crosses (Dartmouth College is there). In fact, Katherine Q. Sayle had written on Aug. 29 that officials want to remove the summit from the Trail because of misbehavior by hikers and crowds.  There is a stunning slide show here.   I visited the area in 1975, but got only as far a lake on the trail to the summit.  I did see a bear.

I actually started hiking in 1961, my senior high school year.  My first hike was along the Piney Ridge trail in the northern section of Shenandoah, with an Amherst-bound friend who said "A hike in the mountains is worth any grade."  Later I would do Greylock in the Berkshires with him (in January).  The Science Honor Society did a trip to Mount Washington NH on Memorial Day weekend of my senior year.   In the 1990s, I was active with the GLBT outdoor group Adventuring, but that's been harder lately because of a bad hip. 

The movie itself is a series of comedy skits along the way, and plays out as a series of short films.  Bryson did write a book about this experience (having returned from England).  He leaves his dedicated wife (Emma Thompson) behind. Katz is not as levelheaded or serious in purpose as Bryson and tends to mess up. 

There is a pair of young men (Andrew Vogel and Eric Krantz) whom they encounter twice, who bail them out of trouble twice.  The script suggests they could be a male couple. 
  
I saw the film at Regal Ballston Common, before a fair Friday night audience, but unfortunately on one of the smaller screens.
  
  
The official site is here from a new distributor Broad Green Pictures. Note that Redford appeared solo in "All Is Lost" (Oct. 3. 2013).
         
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of view from Amicalola Falls, Georgia, by Thomsonmg2000, under Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.  I visited the area for one day in December 1985.  Second picture is mine, from Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, 2013.