Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Our Brand Is Crisis": Sandra Bullock keeps political brass knuckles in a dramatic remake of a documentary about South American corrupt politics


Again, Hollywood likes to remake known political-story sellers than invent new ones.  The drama film “Our Brand Is Crisis” from David Gordon Green remakes the 2005 documentary by Rachel Boynton.  My reaction to the title is, "what a use of trademark".
 
In 2002, Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is hired by James Carville’s political consulting firm (Greenville, Carville and Shrum) to help moderate political candidate Pedro Gallo (aka Gonzalo Sanchez de Lasoad, played by Joaquim de Almeida) against socialist Evo Morales (aka Victor Rivera, played by Louis Arcella). “Calamity Jane” will have to deal personally with Rivera’s henchman, Pay Candy (Billy Bob Thornton).

The opening sequence, where Carville’s goons (led by Nell, Anne Dowd) visit Jane in her mountain home (in Colorado?) to hire her is interesting;  Nell says that Jane is someone that CIA ops would have regarded as expendable – single and childless.

Once Jane lands in La Paz, she wears an oxygen mask in meetings and deals with the nausea and pubic vomiting of altitude sickness for a while.  La Paz is well shown in the film, with poorer neighborhoods built up on hills.

Quickly she assimilates, and mixes with the people, having to counsel one young activist Pepe (Octavio Gomez Berrios) that she really does this for a living, and that ideas on their own have little meaning. "That's how it is."  Political crisis creates a brand that you can sell on your personal resume.
 
There are some hair-raising demonstrations scenes with the cops, and a bus chase on a mountain highway that could have sent a bus over a cliff to drop a couple thousand feet.

The film is shot in normal 1.85:1 but could have used wider aspect ratio, or even Imax for the location scenes.  The indoor scenes were filmed in Puerto Rico and Louisiana.

Official site is here  from Warner Brothers.  The film was shot with Participant Media. WB no longer uses a separate brand (“Warner Independent Pictures”) for its “indie” style films, which would fit here.



Wikipedia attribution link for photo by Mark Goble, of La Paz, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.

The film did not venture to nearby Lake Titicaca, or the archeological relics at Tiahuanaco. I almost made a trip there in 1974, but canceled when I took a new job at NBC and satisfied myself with Mexico City instead.

I saw the film before a moderate Saturday afternoon audience at Angelika Mosaic.

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Suffragette" dramatizes the fight for women's suffrage in Britain a century ago


Movie investors are bankrolling period or historical dramas centered around specific social or political issues, with a politically correct account.  “Suffragette” (directed Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan) is the latest such effort, set largely in grimy London just before the Great War, with a Dickens look.

Carey Mulligan plays the fictional heroine Maud Watts, married to a handsome Sonny (Ben Whishaw) and toiling in a laundry with burn scars as badges of proletarian honor. We watch her get involved in the women’s rights (especially suffrage) movement, sacrificing all, with little to lose – well, she can lose the right to raise her children.  The movement commits acts that would be viewed as domestic terrorism today.  Eventually, she winds up being force-fed while on a hunger strike in jail.  She is that committed.  But she at one point actually gets to address Parliament (with a scene actually filmed there).

The story merges with truth at some point, with the death of Emily Wilding Davison (Natalie Press) at a race event, making her a dreaded martyr, and turning the corner on the movement.  Britain gave women some voting rights even before the US (19th Amendment in 1920).

Meryl Streep appears as the real Emmeline Pankhurst.

I’ve seen very determined activism, or at least rhetoric, in my own past, as with the People’s Party of New Jersey back in 1972.

I found myself wondering what drives this patriarchal attitude in so many heterosexual men, something I don’t share.  I can only see myself in that sort of situation of procreation had come to mean more to me personally than it did when I was younger, and that would only happen if I had been better at “manly things” than I was.



The official site is here  (Focus Features, Pathe, Film4).

I saw the film before a fair Friday afternoon crowd at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax Va.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Augustine: Killer Toy Robots": a cabin belonging the deceased has an "estate" that comes very much alive



David Ury (“@isThisDavidUry” on Twitter) has released a comedy horror short called “Augustine: Killer Toy Robots”.  That is, it seems that the 8-minute film has two titles!

The film features villainous little robots, gnawing at people, including a lesbian couple, one of whom is a competitor for the love of a handsome visitor played by Reid Ewing.  Tahmus Rounds and Ury himself also appear.  The robots were the estate of a deceased toy manufacturer, whose legacy is very much alive.  There’s a taste of “Cabin in the Woods” here.

Ury explains making the film (technically quite challenging), co-directed with David Neptune, here.



The film is on YouTube now, and I would say it’s a PG-13 (or very soft R).

The film reminds me a bit of a claymation short (I forget the name) that I saw in 2003 at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis at an IFPMSP micro-festival. The imagery also reminds me of Jack Andraka (the teen medical researcher now a freshman at Stanford) who has become a cartoon character of sorts, inside Matt Damon's Martian space suit as "Nano Man".  Jack wants to cure all cancer with nano-bots, or little nano-people (remember the UPN series "Jake 2.0" with Christopher Gorham).

Picture: From train show in Timonium, MD;  a toy train goes into a tunnel that gives it a wormhole into the world of the show “Wicked”.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Is Anybody There?": gentle British comedy about a magician going into assisted living and bringing a boy growing up there back to life



Is Anyone There?” (2008), directed by John Crowley and written by Peter Harness, is supposed to be a proper feel-good British comedy (set in the pre-tech 1980s) about people connections in an assisted living center.

Brought up by parents (David Morissey and Anne-Marie Duff) who run a seaside retirement home, Edward (Bill Milner) has become obsessed with “death”, or finding the afterlife and communicating with the departed.  (There’s a scene showing an interest in Arthur C. Clarke.)  A has-been magician Clarence (Michael Caine) arrives, still driving his truck, which he has a tendency to crash.  Clarence (who is "only" 66 years old) will gradually bring the boy, growing up in somewhat contrived circumstances, back to reality.  One of Clarence's best lines is "Who dies happy?"

There’s a scene where Clarence does the obligatory magic show for the residents as a “social activity”.  There is a small “prestige”, of sorts.

Clarence is supposed to be in the early stages of dementia, and it’s not quite clear how he was compelled to be “thrown together with strangers” in the first place.  The first night in a place like that is supposed to be the worst.



The official site is here  (Magnolia Pictures, BBC, Big Beach and Heyday films).

This film is a far cry from Caine’s famous roles in Cold War spy films from the 60s.  Near the end, there is a little kickball or soccer scene that reminds me of the coda to “A Canterbury Tale” (March 15, 2011).  Then the boy rides the stairway escalator chair himself. There is a brief reference to “Back to the Future”.

The DVD can be rented from Netflix, or watched on YouTube for $2.99.

Picture: peak fall colors in Maryland, mine (2015).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"In a Town this Size" covers a notorious, long-running and unprosecuted case of child abuse by a pediatrician in Bartlesville OK


In a Town this Size” (2011) is a straightforward interview-based documentary about child sexual abuse from a pedophilic pediatrician who practiced for years in Bartlesville OK.

The doctor, according to the film, finally got married to  a woman in 2008 at age 81 and is active in “conservative” causes, and has never been prosecuted.  It doesn’t appear that he has been successfully sued in a civil case.  Therefore, out of search engine wisdom, this review won’t give the name (IMDB does not), although the movie definitely does.  The abuse apparently occurred against both genders, but perhaps more boys.

We know from the specifics that the greatest amount of abuse must have happened in the 1950s.  The film is directed by one of the victims, Patrick Viersen Brown, who sometimes appears as a younger man in video (he would be in his 60s now, I think, but looks rather youthful still) discusses his own psychological damage, a tendency to sabotage his own relationships with women in adult life.

The doctor apparently used several rooms in his house, where he lived alone, and set up a “cat figure” shown in black-and-white, as a phantom figure in the dark out of a horror movie.

Litigation and prosecution became very difficult for several reasons, including statute of limitations (which would surprise me).

The film does point out that sexual orientation is established early and would precede abuse.  Many victims were abused repeatedly for years, with parents unable to grasp that this could even occur because of the temper of the times.

The pediatrician (who had served in the Navy before going to medical school) eventually lost his license to practice, and vomited and fainted when confronted, but still was not prosecuted.

The film is shot in minimal 4:3 aspect ratio.  It does show a lot of Bartlesville over the years, some in black-and-white home movies.

I passed through the city a few times when living in Dallas in the 1980s.  I remember a bus stop there when traveling to Los Angeles by bus (along famous Route 66) from Lawrence Kansas when I was a graduate student in 1967, and meeting up with a graduate student already working for Phillips Petroleum.



The official site is here (from Cat on the Wall Productions and First Run Features).  The film can be viewed free on Amazon Instant Play by Prime members, and on Netflix video.
 
At age 12, there was an incident where a "friend of the family" doctor examined me briefly and I objected (in 1956, in Washington DC).  But there was no pattern of repetition.

Wikipedia attribution for picture (click on image to see "commons" ownership and CCSA3.0 credits) of Price Tower in Bartlesville, below.  Other image (above) is mine from Arbuckle Mountains (2011).
Price tower

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"The Tall Man": A nurse's social activism leads to plot twists and personal sacrifice in an unusual thriller, dressed as a horror film



The Tall Man” (2012), directed by Pascal Laugier, is  a combination horror film and police drama, and has one of the most bizarre series of plot twists ever imagined.  The film is set in a mining town of Cold Rock, Washington but was filmed in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, as a French-Canadian project. The concept may remind one of “Twin Peaks” from David Lynch, or even of the comic book “Slender Man” fantasy. The story is said to be inspired by a local urban legend.

Jessica Biel leads as the nurse, Julia Denning, supposedly widowed (that’s a clue), whose child has been abducted.  The film, in fact, opens with a statement about unsolved cases of disappeared children. Another important character quickly introduced is the somewhat disabled Jenny (Jodelle Ferland).  The townspeople all believe in a legend that a “Tall Man” has abducted the kids.

It may not be too much of a spoiler to suggest that Julia winds up making a tremendous personal sacrifice – imprisoned  -- to conduct an underground activist organization rehoming children from poor families, trying to break up the cycle of poverty from the closing of coal mines and of other economic deterioration of the area.  Jenny winds up with the nice life she wants, in the city (Seattle), with a chance to learn art.

The film shows spectacular Pacific Northwest scenery (in wide screen anamophic), and often composes shots with CGI (the DVD has a storyboard series of drawings).  In the final sequence, Jenny is in a nice mansion, but she seems suspended in the sky over a downtown city, and odd, almost sci-fi effect.

The film was quickly released to DVD and has generated controversy among screenwriters as an example of extreme surprises in plot twists. It’s possible that the film would even be taught in class as an example for new writers.



Official site is here (Image). The deleted scene with the "tall man" really seems to belong in the original.
 
Wikipedia attribution link for Duncan Dam on Kootenay River in B.C., public domain, by Doug Robinson. My most recent visit remotely near the area was in September 1983.  Second picture is mine, taken at a corn maze.

The film can be watched on Netflix DVD or rented on Amazon for $2.99.  ABC 20-20 also covered "rehoming" in a episode "The Forever Family" reviewed on the TV blog Oct. 27, 2015.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Truth": Mary Mapes takes the fall for using "unverified" documents for a CBS report on George W Bush's military service, during the 2004 election


Truth”, written and directed by James Vanderbilt (who had written “Zodiac”) plays as a compelling re-enactment of the end of the career of CBS reporter Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and Dan Rather (Robert Redford) over the “Killian Documents Controversy” concerning the service in the Texas Air National Guard by George W. Bush.  The movie is based on Mapes’s 2005 book “Truth and Duty: The Press, The President and the Privilege of Power.

As the film starts, Mapes’s prize winning reporting, often graphic, of the Abu Ghraib scandal (involving US treatment of prisoners in Iraq in 2003).  Soon, she is wheeling to use up to six documents to show that President Bush had cheated on his military service obligation at the end of the Vietnam period.  Her work was aired in a 60 Minutes Special first on September 8, 2004, about two months before the general election, running against Kerry.

The factual history of Bush’s service, described here  seems mixed as is best known.  The allegation is that he got preferential treatment in being allowed to enlist in the Texas Guard in 1968 to avoid exposure to service in Vietnam.  Then, in the 1972-1973 period (overlapping the period where Nixon had negotiated the end of hostilities and would actually end the draft) George W.. Bush allegedly failed to meet all the obligations for training and meetings, especially as he worked on other political campaigns in the south.  It does seem that he may well have cheated on some of this, as best we know now.

I can remember, during my own period of being drafted in February 1968 and undergoing Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, SC, that some recruits were indeed “NG” or “ER” and had gotten covered six-month slots.  That was considered “morally acceptable” at the time. I had technically “enlisted for two years” but with the full expectation that my advanced degrees in mathematics would keep me out of Vietnam.  The road was rocky at first, but it did.  And when I had worked as a graduate assistant instructor before, I had flunked underperforming students, probably increasing their risk of being drafted and going to Vietnam.  As I watched the movie, I wondered, if I ran for president now (and with the GOP field so weak and irresponsible, or reckless, like Trump, that almost sounds believable) could a journalist dig up a comparable story on me?  Well, yes, because it’s in my three self-published “Do Ask, Do Tell” books as well as numerous blog posts.  But without my “confession” my own history could be very hard to prove today.

So, Mapes had gotten hold of six paper documents showing Bush’s apparent moral cowardice, getting out of taking risks that others would take for him.  (Well, so would I.)  The movie quickly gets into how bloggers attacked the report almost immediately. Proportional spacing (found in the documents) and a “th” superscript did not exist on early 1970s typewriters, the bloggers said.
Curiously, I don’t recall commenting about this in 2004 on my own legacy “do ask do tell” site.  I didn’t see the National Guard issue as serious as, say, “draft dodging” altogether (or getting flimsy medical or student deferments).  Clinton and Trump have been caught up in that debate recently.  I see that I published an “editorial” linking “don’t ask don’t tell” to the draft in 2004 here echoing an argument in Chapter 2 of my first DADT book (1997).  It is conceivable that “enemies” of Bush could have found my material online and somehow felt inspired to take this route.  I could pose the question another way:  should older men today be judged on their behavior with respect to moral challenges that today’s younger people aren’t forced to face? I actually think so.

I also remember “proportional spacing” when working at home on the manuscript of my first DADT book in Microsoft Word as it was in the 1990s.  Getting right-column alignment, often seen with formal typesetting of traditionally published books, was possible with self-publishing then because of this feature of Word.  But various desktop publishing “typesetting” packages could to the same thing (the editor whom I worked with in the 1990s was fluent with these packages).

The movie says that Mapes’s team found one “th” in a typewritten document, but I know that I had a typewriter with special math and chemistry symbols given to me at high school graduation in 1961.  So I think the special characters were possible.

In the end, Mapes faces a formal investigation board that seems politically motivated, even after Bush’s re-election, and terminates her.  In a penultimate scene, she challenges them as to political labels, and brags she is a liberal. If she had shut her mouth then, would she have kept her job?  I don’t think she wanted to.  Mapes does insist that she should not have been required to provide absolute proof of the authenticity of the documents;  journalism professors disagree on this point.  Mapes says that someone could fake all of this seems very improbable, but I would wonder.

Rather's departure was regarded as unfortunate collateral damage from partisan politics, as Rather had been the first news anchor to show that a network news division on its own could make money. Previously, news had been viewed as a "public service".  Imagine how such an idea could apply today to amateur blogging.
 
There are great supporting performances, fro, Topher Grace as the blue-jeans geek Mile Smith, Dennis Quaid as Colonel Charles and Bruce Greenwood as Heyward.



The official website is here. The film is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics because it was produced with Australian resources. But it could well have born the Columbia trademark.  (Fox was involved with producing it in Australia, so maybe in combination with 20th Century Fox).  This is an important film, and one of the most compelling yet in 2015. Maybe it will be up for Oscars.

I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA before a fair early Friday night audience.

First picture:  Typewritten or TTY orders for my own BCT in 1968; Second, Texas Hill Country (mine, 2011).

Friday, October 23, 2015

"Tell Spring not to Come this Year": the war in Afghanistan from the viewpoint of Afghan soldiers



The war in Afghanistan has become “Obama’s War”, and it will probably be the next president’s war, too, given recent actions.  “Tell Spring Not to Come This Year” (2015), directed by Sayeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy, tells the story on the ground in the southern part of the country (around Halmand) from the viewpoint of a few (particularly two) young men who join the Afghan army to fight the Taliban.

One of the young men points out that he has the equivalent of a ninth-grade education, and no prospects for employment.  So the Army is the best way to support himself.  That sounds like why a lot of people in the US join the military in the post-conscription (since 1973, when Nixon effectively ended the draft).  In the Iraq war especially, during the Bush years, “Stop-Loss”  (2008, Paramount, directed by Kimberly Peirce, with Ryan Phililppe)_ amounted to enforcing a backdoor draft. The young men point out that US troops, now leaving (but maybe returning, given more recent developments) tend to be arrogant and are not always welcome.
 
There are scenes of going on patrol, working with interpreters (between Farsi and Urdu), trying to root out local terrorist sympathizers.  A big battle at the end results in casualties for many of the recruits.  Many will never have their own families.

The film does bring back the mood of Sebastian Junger’s “Restrepo” (July 10, 2010) and "Korengal" (July 4, 2014), but in flatter country.  There are long shots of the foothills, rather looking like Arizona mountains.
 
There is a touching scene at the end where a soldier befriends and feeds a bird, who has no idea of what human religious conflicts mean.



 The official site is here  (Tourist with a Typewriter, Ponda, NHK Cosmomedia, and Saboteur Media).  The film is available on Netflix Instant Play. This UK-financed film showed in Milan ad DOXA film festivals.

Wikipedia attribution link for P.D. photo (USAF SSgt Timothy Chacon) of Afghan national security forces




Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Steve Jobs" seems almost like a stage play


Steve Jobs” is playing in every auditorium this week (and next) at Landmark Theaters’ new Atlantic Plumbing Cineplex in the U-street corridor of Washington DC (actually on V St), near the 930 Club and the Town DC.  Released under Universal’s brand (rather than Focus Features, which would have been expected for independent-style film, even if from Legendary Pictues) the film can be compared to other films about Steve Jobs, the iconic Apple founder, as well as Mark Zuckerberg;  it can be compared to previous work by director Danny Boyle, and by writer Aaron Sorkin (especially “The Social Network”).

This time, the film is rather in the style of a stage play, almost an opera (however filmed as 2.35:1). The music is by Daniel Pemberton but it sounds like Philip Glass.  The screenplay focuses on three major product announcements, stretched from 1984 to 1998.  The indoor sets are pastel and hypermodern, even in the 1984 part before smart phones.

Michael Fassbinder looks a little older in the face and more uncompromising in speech than the real Steve Jobs at 30 (whom I remember watching on PBS then). In the opening segment, he is fussing over a bug that causes the Apple to fail to display “Hello” right before an opening, and the proprietary hardware, that can’t be opened with ordinary tools, makes it harder to fix.  The middle part about the Next box is a bit confusing, but the material about his return and announcement in 1998 looks more familiar, when the Internet was advancing quickly.  In fact, it’s hard to remember what I really did on my own TRS-80, ATT 6300 and then AST before finally getting email on AOL in 1994, and viewing Internet by AOL and Prodigy on a PS-1.  (Well, I wrote book manuscripts).

Much of the script deals with his relationship with his apparent daughter, Lisa (Perla Hanna-Jardine at 19, Ripley Sobo at 9).  Jeff Daniels is sleazy enough as Scully, but Seth Rogen looks soft and over-the-hill s Wozniak. (Yes, this is indeed a Seth Rogen movie.)  Kate Winslet is appropriately masculine as executive who helped introduce the original Macintosh.

There's a great line where Wozniak says giftedness is not "binary".  You can be a genius and ethical at the same time if you really want to.  There is also a tribute to Alan Turing, when the "rainbow Apple" logo is mentioned.  Turing is credited for inventing the computer and saving western civilization.  If so, he paid with his own life just as Christ did.



The official site (which has a lot of videos) is here.

As for Sorkin’s work, I related more to the way he treated the lives of Zuckerberg and his friends in “Social Network”.  I thought the earlier film showed more what their lives were really like.  My own idea in biographical filmmaking is to show the environments the characters performed in as they really looked, although that gets very expensive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"The Seven Five" examines NYPD corruption in Brooklyn in the 1980s


The documentary “The Seven Five” (2014), by Tiller Russell, tells the story of the most corrupt policeman in NYPD history, Michael Dowd, who turned to drug dealing in the 1980s while patrolling Brooklyn. “In 1980s Brooklyn the most dangerous gangsters were New York City cops.”

The film is often framed in 4:3 TV aspect-ratio Congressional hearings held in late 1993, an then re-enacts the story of how Dowd and others turned to crime, often starting out small, inviting others whom they stopped for payoffs.  There are interviews, and then some simulated police scenes on the streets. Dowd would finally get busted in Suffolk County.

New York City actually started booming in the Reagan years, to everyone’s surprise, despite the financial crises of the 1970s under Ford (the "drop dead" headlines).  But many neighborhoods stayed in tatters because of corruption, including Bed Stuy, which now is enjoying a renaissance.  In the 1990s, Mayor Giuliani’s “broken windows” policy would lead to reduction in crime, but would also exacerbate the problem of police racial profiling and inappropriate use of force against African Americans, as is now a national controversy. Yet police misbehavior in the 70s and 80s (going back to the time of Mafia payoffs, which actually had kept the gay bars going in the 60s) helped set all this up.


The official site is here. (Sundance Selects).

The DVD can be rented from Netflix.  Picture: Mine from Redhook area, early 2013. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Manglehorn": a reclusive grandad sinks into a world of lost loves and attachments, as the world comes knocking


Manglehorn”  (2014, David Gordon Green) gives us Al Pacino in another lonesome role, this time as a somewhat schizoid loner grandpa who runs a locksmith shop in Texas and lives alone with his cat.  He does relate reasonably well with emergency customers, as shown in an early scene with a car lockout and a child inside.

He hasn’t gotten over his obsession with a lost female love, and has a stack of “return to sender” letters.  Pathetic, perhaps. He meets a bank teller Dawn (Holly Hunter) who will be confused when he dines wirh her but talks about the old girl friend (a no-no).  But his son Jacob (Chris Messina) is a go-getter, who has mastered the “always be closing” salesmanship of pressuring and manipulating customers.  (Remember “The 100 Mile Rule”?)  

The plot develops as the cat gets sick (from swallowing one of the locksmith's keys) and needs surgery, forcing Manglehorn to spend most of his savings.  Jacob takes him to lunch, and Manglehorn acts put down.  But later Jacob gets in trouble with the fibbies, has his assets frozen, and needs to turn to dear old Dad, who has nothing. Despite his reticence, Manglehorn is challenged to act like a grandad. Yet it was the outgoing son who lacked moral compass.  The cat starts to become more of a character toward the end, too. 
  
  
The official site is here.  (IFC)

The film is available from Netflix or can be rented on YouTube for $3.99

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom" gives more narrative to the protests than did "Maidan"


Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom”, by Evgeny Afneevsky, is a compelling documentary tracing, with all on-location, reality footage, the “Euromaidan” student demonstrations in Kiev (or Kyiv) from November 2013 through February 2014, especially around Maidan, after the hard line of Viktor F. Yanulovich, and his determination to take the Ukraine out of Europe and back into Russia’s and Putin’s sphere.   The protests could be compared with the “Orange Revolution” a decade before. 
   
The documentary has considerable commentary in the way of brief bytes of the activists, so it is easier to follow than the longer take of “Maidan” reviewed here July 20.

Again, the brutality of the government troops (“Berkut”) is shocking, especially to see downtown in a major European capital. The film stresses that the protestors were largely born and grew up in an independent Ukraine.  One female makes a point that some people would rather watch than take the personal risk of participation.  At one point, a male demonstrator is ridiculed while completely nude. Later, a kid plays the Chopin "Revolutionary Etude" on an outdoor out-of-tune piano, shortly before the joy to come soon. 

 As with the Middle East, the government apparently tried to cut off the Internet and social media for a time.

At the end, there are tremendous collective celebrations, as Yanulovich will have to give up power.  The movie makes no bones about the idea that “revolution” can become necessary.

Like “Maidan”, the film has many shots of Kiev, stressing the drab, low-rise Soviet architecture broken up by a few monuments or cathedrals.


The official Facebook is here.  The film is distributed directly by Netflix.

The closing credits of the film summarize Putin’s recent aggression, including seizing Crimea.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA Landsat public domain photo of Kiev 




Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jafar Panahi's Taxi", satirical meta-documentary from Iran by banned filmmaker


Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” (or “Taxi Tehran”, 2015), got filmed despite the director’s formal ban by the Iranian government from shooting films and traveling, and his niece (Hana Saeidi) had to accept an award for him at the Berlin Film Festival. And, no, this film is not as menacing as Martin Scorsese's classic "Taxi Driver". 

Jafar drives around Tehran and picks up and converses with passengers, whom he seems to have some "background-story" connection with.  Gradually, the film progresses toward some gumshoeing (after turning down progressively narrower streets) at a major monument in Tehran at the end, when the screen will go blank.

The first  major pickup is a man struck by a car, going to a hospital, and his wailing wife.  Afterwards he picks up his own niece, who talks about what kind of filmmaking is actually permitted by her “teacher” as she shoots video.   Gradually we learn more about Jafar’s own identity as a filmmaker, and the idea that the government wants to control it for ideological purposes (the way the Soviets wanted to control classical music).  No wonder he makes a living as a cab driver.  Soon he picks up a female lawyer who has been disbarred. She sounds so jolly despite her own catastrophes.

The characters seem relatively unconcerned about the intrusive government, and in some ways city life looks amazingly normal.  Most of the film was shot necessarily in inconspicuous places, away from major landmarks.  Most of the buildings are unremarkable, with low-rise apartments common.   Small businesses flourished everywhere, just as in western cities.  But many townhomes seem to be gated separately.

Toronto Film Festival site is here (Kono Lorber is the theatrical distributor). 

I saw this at the Landmark E Street before a fair Sunday afternoon audience.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of a tax in Tehran by Orijentolog under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 License.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Beasts of No Nation": chilling tale of a child-soldier "drafted" by rebels in Africa creates controversy by its distribution


Beasts of No Nation” (2015), directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala, is creating controversy not only for its subject matter but also with its distribution.
  
This is an epic film (137 minutes, wide screen) about the absurdity of war, and how it pins ordinary people with the moral “blame”.

The thrust of the plot is the conscription of a boy Agu (Abraham Attah) after his African village is destroyed by fighting rebel and government troops.  The boy had lived in a Christian home with a father, grandparents, older brother and younger sister.  The boy is unable to escape on overcrowded trucks, and winds up being captured by rebel teens and eventually indoctrinated into the guerillas by the Commandant leader (Irdis Elba).

The scenes of “brainwashing” the boys into military obedience are quite striking, but remind me of some similar rhetoric when I was in Army Basic myself in 1968. 

Eventually government and UN troops will overrun the rebels, but not until the boy hears astonishing rhetoric from the Commandant like “all sons must protect their fathers”.  The boy will be repatriated and return to childhood, maybe not fully grasping what has happened.  (The final scene reminds me of the way Alban Berg’s opera “Wozzeck” ends.)

The actually filming location was apparently Ghana.  The squalor of larger cities (Accra?) sometimes appears. 


The official site is here

The film was produced in part by Netflix and released on demand at the same time as the theatrical release by Bleecker Street.  As a result, several theater chains are angry (AMC, Regal, Cinemark, Carmike) and boycott the film, which benefits from large screen project (Regal’s “Go big or go home”).

The film is showing at two Landmark theaters in DC, but on weekends the Metro is slowed down by single-tracking and delays, so it takes too much time to go in and see it when I can watch it at home with my Netflix subscription.  If you want me to buy a ticket, make it easier to see.  Real world infrastructure matters.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Kakum Park in Ghana by “Minham0910”, under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 /


Friday, October 16, 2015

"Bridge of Spies": Spielberg is back with a compelling Cold War drama (and the Coen Brothers stepped up to the writing)


Bridge of Spies” brings back Steven Spielberg’s brand of historical filmmaking. This time, the accomplishment is to recreate the world of the Cold War, especially surrounding the erection of the Berlin Wall and the U-2 spy incident.
  
The story, with screenplay written largely by the Coen Brothers, tells the story of how an “insurance lawyer” James B. Donovan “stepped up” as an average person to negotiate extraordinary things for his country, even when meeting considerable immediate social disapproval and putting his family (in Brooklyn) at risk.  First, he is approached to defend a spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).  Not many peers, even the judge, accept his deference to Abel’s due process rights under the Constitution. He convinces the court to spare Abel’s life because he could be needed as a bargaining chip later with the Soviets.  His insurance background has taught him to think of that. Later, the CIA will approach him to help negotiate the exchange of Abel for downed U-2 pilot Gary Powers, ironically ratifying Donovan's argument to spare Abel's life.  

The film depicts the Red paranoia of the times, with the kids taking school "Duck and Cover" drills seriously.
  
The movie tells a parallel story of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) who doesn’t take the cyanide pill when shot down (in the spring of 1960) and gets captured.  The plane flew at the astounding altitude of 70000 feet. That sets up the swap that Donovan had anticipated.

But a big complication comes from the accidental imprisonment of economics graduate student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers).  When moving on foot in East Berlin (with the necessary papers), Donovan negotiates the 2 for 1 swap by making the Russians and East Germans play political chicken against one another. 

At the final swap at the end (at two locations) there is considerable suspense.  The movie shows the grimy conditions in East Berlin.

The prisoner swap occurred in February 1962, eight months before the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was shortly after my own William and Mary expulsion, not a good time in my own life. 

At times, the dialogue does show how Communist "moral" ideology captured bureaucratic thinking. The scene where Hanks negotiates the final deal with a "cute" teenage looking male aide (Max Mauff) of the East German DA is quite funny.

At one point, the sound track makes effective use of the wailing theme from the slow movement of the Shostakovich Piano Concerto #2, as if to oppose the Soviet leash on composers at the time. 


Here’s the official site from Dreamworls SKG  along with Disney (Touchstone) and 20th Century Fox, as well as Participant Media.
  
I saw the film at AMC Tysons before an ample late Friday afternoon audience, two-thirds sold out.  The film was projected with the wrong lens for the first ten minutes.

Picture: Redhook, Brooklyn, my visit, Feb. 2013 (in mild weather for time of year). 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"The Hacker Wars": the government goes after high profile geeks for political purposes; the troubling case of Barrett Brown


The Hacker Wars” (2014), by Vivien Lesnik Weisman, gives a detailed and lively account of the US government’s gratuitous prosecution of a few particular computer hackers (some in "Anonymous"), pursuit that indeed seems politically motivated. 

Perhaps the most disturbing of all the cases presented in the film is that in Texas of Barrett Brown, now in prison, officially for threatening a law enforcement official and accessory “after the fact” – his mother also did jail time. But what got him into trouble was a single hyperlink of “classified” material from an intelligence and defense contractor named Stratfor, after another hack by Jeremy Hammond.   The visitor can review the “Free Barrett Brown” site.  It’s rather frightening that the government would go after someone over a single hyperlink (and the legal theory is questionable).  Maybe that could happen to me. (Actually, that had been a provision of the original 1996 Communications Decency Act, a portion that would be struck down).  I had covered the Barrett Brown case on my own "BillBoushka" blog (follow the Profile) Jan. 23, 2015. 
  
Brown often looks young and attractive, and says he is such, despite the chain smoking. There are two shots of him in a bathroom mirror with a smooth chest.

Another big case was Andrew Auernheimer, “Weev”, known for founding the “trolling” organization called whimsically “Gay Nigger Association of America.” Weev had protested a reported classification by Amazon in 2009 of some gay and lesbian materials as “porn” (although I don’t recall hearing about that).  Weev’s conviction would be overturned, although he would spend prison time in the “Special Housing Unit” and do a hunger strike.

There is a lot of interesting material about a photographic surveillance tool called “Trapwire”. The film also gives a nod to an excerpt about Brown from the Netflix series “House of Cards”.
  
There's an interesting narrative of how the FBI joined the hackers as "Antisec" and even helped (allegdly) set up the Occupy movement. 
   
Other speakers in the film include Glenn Greenwald, Peter Drake, and Joe Fionda (“Subverzo”).


The official site is here   (E-one). The film can be viewed on Netflix or on Amazon, or YouTube (it’s unclear if it’s free).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"The Walk": formulaic "rooting interest" movie about the "artist" Phillippe Petit, who made the NYC World Trade Center even more famous the week that Nixon quit


The Walk” (2015) is “another” film by Robert Zemeckis about a hero with a very individualized goal.  This time, the subject is Phillippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who walked a cable between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City in the early morning of August 7, 1974, two days before Richard Nixon’s resignation (Watergate is mentioned only once). 
  
Petit stunned the world (and the Port Authority Police) by walking back and forth about eight times, doing tricks with his balancing pole.  It does seem so improbable that he could pull this off.
   
Petit insists, early in the film, that he is an artist, and his work is a bit like that of a magician.  There is a “prestige”. 

The earliest scenes are shot in black-and-white Cinemascope in 1973 Paris (with splashes of color).  Petit reads about the WTC as he does little shows for circuses and parks in France (Ben Kinglsey plays the mentor Papa Rudy).  The film says it wasn’t finished then, but I recall talking the elevator tour in the summer of 1970.

In fact, I started a new job at NBC on August 12, 1974 and was in the process of moving into the City from New Jersey, at the time.  I remember Petit came up in the news later.  Petit certainly fit the idea of the “masculine personality” or “man of action” in the polarity theory of Paul Rosenfels, articulated at the Ninth Street Center which I often visited at the time.

Much of the movie deals with Petit’s recruiting others into his rather secret “plot”, long before the days of tight security.

The very end of the movie tells us about Petit’s fame and reward (despite arrest), including a lifetime pass to the WTC, and sad prelude to the eventual 9-11 catastrophe.  Did Petit make the WTC an even more appealing target?


Official Tumblr site is here   (Sony Tri-Star, but why not Columbia?)
I saw the film before a scant audience at Angelika Mosaic, mistakenly expecting a 3-D showing. In the pre-show, Angelika showed "Serenade" from DC Shorts. 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Closer to the Moon", a meta-satire of communism in Romania, 1959, based on true documentary filmmaking


Closer to the Moon”, the Romanian satire of Communism, in English, by Nae Caranfil, gets its title from a visual metaphor at the end.  The “criminals” could serve their death sentence by being shot out to space and being astronauts for the last few hours of their lives (don’t ask Matt Damon). 

The film has a complicated meta-plot, one of the most clever of all time.  As the film begins (in Bucharest in 1959), a “Zionist” group pulls off a bank heist by telling bystanders they are shooting a movie.  The group is known as the Ioanid Gang. Later, the government wants to make a documentary about the heist (layering two levels deep), and approaches a witness to the event, Virgil (Harry Lloyd). Vera Farmiga and Mark Strong lead in the film. 
  
The film, in the middle section, rehearses the history of anti-Semitism in Romania.  At one time, the Jews has seen Communism as a ticket to liberation from the Nazis.  Jews were often officials in the early communist governments of eastern Europe.  But as the 1950s progressed, anti-Semitism returned to the communist satellites.

So one of the points of the bank heist had been to fund resettlement of some more people to Israel. The film is said to be based on true events.

There are plenty of lines making fun of Marxism, such as the idea there is nothing to steal in a communist society because nobody has or owns anything. 

I recall the mid-term exam in US Government class my senior year of high school (January 1961, right before the Kennedy inauguration).  The exam had one essay question, compare “Communism and Democracy”.   After 9/11, all the conservative pundits wanted to compare religious theocracy with “democratic capitalism”.

Yet, I’ve met people (including women) who claimed to be communist, with some pride.  One resents the unification of Germany and fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


The official site is here  (IFC and Sundance Selects).

Although there is a lot of lightweight popular and jazz music in the score, there is an effective use of the opening of the Symphony #3 in F Major by Brahms at one point.
     
The film can be rented from Netflix or from Amazon Instant Play ($3.99).

Wikipedia attribution link to photo of Bucharest Arch of Triumph by Alexandra Belu, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 License. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

"Big Stone Gap": a real place deep in the Virginia coal country, and a bizarre indie comedy set in pre-tech 1978


Big Stone Gap” is a town in extreme southwestern Virginia, in Wise County, deep in coal country. And the 2014 dramedy film by Adriana Trigiana is filmed there and set there, set in pre-tech 1978. 
     
Ashley Judd plays Ave Maria Mulligan, a spinster living in an inherited house and running a family town pharmacy.  After her mother dies, she learns a family secret about her own birth that can threaten everything she has, and indeed an older couple goes after her in court.  So the film deals, in a way, with the “dead hand” issue that could crop up on anyone depending on inherited family wealth.
  
Patrick Wilson (looking a little more weathered than before) plays Jack MacChesney, the 40-something bachelor coal miner pestered about getting married, and in fact he has chased Sweet Sue (Jane Krakowski).  There’s an early scene with an underground coal mine explosion, where he is slightly hurt, but not a lot is made of the coal issues (since in 1978, coal was still king).  There's a quirky episode where Elizabeth Taylor visits and chokes on food. 
  
There’s also the outdoor drama “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”  (link), also the name of a major highway in the area.  And there is a BookMobile, an artefact of a time when public libraries ran them and when copies of books were more valued by consumers than they often are now in the digital age (an issue for me as an author myself).
   
The short story “Expedition”, appears as chapter 8 of my own “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book, and also is set in this area (although more toward Norton, Clinchwood, and Pikeville KY, and even Breaks Interstate Park).  In my story, three characters come into the area from elsewhere and all learn something from their interaction, and also from the stripmining issue in the area (now mountaintop removal). My story is set in 1972.


The author’s site for the movie is here

The film is distributed by Picturhouse, a New Line subsidiary which it is good to see back.
  
I saw the film at Regal Kingstowne in Alexandria, VA, before a small Sunday night audience. 
   
Picture, mine, on VA-KY state line (2005), near Black Mountain, I think on US 52.  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

"Freeheld": remake of a 2007 short film traces a major gay "domestic partner" case in New Jersey, with some political correctness


Freeheld”, directed by  Peter Sollett  , is an acted feature based on Cynthia Wade’s short (40 minutes) documentary reviewed here June 17, 2007.  The short film was viewed as a powerful statement in the fight for gay marriage equality.  The new film seems a bit politically correct and routine, by comparison. Wade is a producer for this film. 

Julianne Moore plays Laurel Hester, a lesbian police lieutenant on Ocean County, NJ.  The first third of the movie shows her working drug cases and meeting her younger partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), who works as a car mechanic.  When Stacie moves in to their new fixer-upper-home, they are a bit closeted but gradually become more open.  Dane Wells, played by Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”, Oct. 3) rapidly becomes more supportive.  The couple registers as domestic partners account to the state law then. That was viewed as progressive at the time.

Laurel’s 2005 diagnosis with advanced lung cancer is rather sudden, after experiencing some “muscle pains”.  She deteriorates quickly, and soon Laurel is in a fight to have her pension benefits go to her partner. 

New Jersey law at the time permitted county employees to get domestic partner benefits but did not require it (as it did for state employees).  This threw the “freeholders” of Ocean County into a political crisis.  One of them says, he could be encouraging “gay marriage”, and then how could he face his own wife and family?  The thinking of the time, so recent, seems shocking and even comical in its lack of logic.  But people often feel that for traditional “institutions” requiring some self-sacrifice to work, everyone has to sign on to the same rules.

Steve Carell (“The 40 Year Old Virgin”) plays Steve Goldstein, the “gay Jew” and Chairman of Garden State Equality.  Yes, the demonstrations, and a final nearly deathbed appeal from Laurel at a meeting changes the political equation.

I grew up in a culture that did not try to make heroes of people overcoming medical adversity.  I’ve even been half-approached by the idea that, if I am a true “writer”, why don’t I take on writing someone else’s story, like this? Indeed, in my own fictive manuscripts, the heroes are still such, rather like Clark Kent or, say, and Ephram Brown. Personally, I would find continuous intimacy with someone in Laurel’s straits untenable, something I never considered as necessary in the culture in which I was raised.  (The movie shows Laurel smoking, as if she had brought this on with “behavior”.) This would come up in the heterosexual world when a marital partner has, obviously, breast cancer or advanced prostate cancer.

Then I get the Christian pitch – nobody is “good enough”, we all must love each other faithfully because Christ sacrificed for us.  I hear that approach a lot.  Does ice-water run through my veins?
The official site is here.  (Summit).

I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax Virginia, before a crowd Saturday afternoon considerably smaller than I would have expected.

Picture:  Seaside Heights, NJ (opening scene of film), my picture from 2013, after Hurricane Sandy. The credits say, however, that the film was shot in New York State.

Friday, October 09, 2015

"He Named Me Malala": biography of one of the world's most accomplished teens, shows life as it is in the Muslim world


He Named Me Malala” (2015), by Davis Guggenheim, is a very visual biography of Malala Yousafzai, now 18, the young woman who survived a targeted Taliban member’s bullet to the forehead on October 9, 2012, near her family in the Swat Valley of northwestern Pakistan (“The Land of the Pure”).  It’s remarkable how thoroughly she recovered medically from all the surgeries in Britain, with hearing loss on one side, but without any visible impairment or obvious scars. The movie is based on her book “I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban”, published by Little Brown in the US, written with Chris Lamb.

The narrative of the movie switches between her present-day life in Britain, and return trips to Pakistan, as well as to Nigeria, Kenya, and the Syria-Jordan border, and an animated narrative of the events that led to her assassination attempt. She had blogged about education, especially for young women, for the BBC since about age 12, with the help of her activist father.

The scenes in present day Swat Valley are quite realistic, showing everyday life in an area most westerners could never safely visit.  The buildings look ramshackle, with a mixture of brick, plaster and clapboard.  The film is shot 1.85:1, but looks fine on a large-format screen.  

Before the assassination, the Taliban had become gradually more aggressive, with book burnings reminiscent of the Nazis and even entering people’s homes to take TV’s and burn them. We can say this is about ideology, as that in turn equates to meaning for relatively poor people. But it was also mainly about power and control. It seems that in the world of radical Islam, women should not be educated because learning could reduce their sexual availability to men to give them more children.  Psychologically, this all seems quite crude.  Why would someone who was weak and powerless be sexually attractive?  To me, that doesn’t make any sense, but I am so dependent on “upward affiliation”.

But the film is effective in large part because it doesn't over-dwell on "feminism" or "equality" in a politically correct fashion for the West, but presents life as it is in Pakistan and several other difficult places. 
   
Malala visits Nigeria to meet with families affected by Boko Haram, and also meets refugees leaving Syria for Jordan.  It would seem that Mr. Guggenheim would be likely to take up the refugee crisis for another documentary movie.

Malala also wins the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.  She is perhaps the planet’s most accomplished teenager (although she could be compared in drive and accomplishment to Jack Andraka, Sept. 7, 2014.


The official site is here (Fox Searchlight).

I saw the film in the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA Friday afternoon.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Swat Valley  by Syed Najib Ullah, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 4.0 license.


Thursday, October 08, 2015

"The Nightmare": Paralysis of sleep leads to alternate realities, encounters with ephemeral aliens


The Nightmare” (2015), directed by Rodney Ascher, looks at the medical problem of “paralysis of sleep”, though the narratives of eight people, some of them with actors (as in a docudrama), such as Siegfried Peters playing “Chris”, who describes (from boyhood) what sounds like aliens, rather like the Grays, tickling him, shown in funky overlaid animation.  He experiences even inspired a Halloween costume.  (I may mix him up with Stephen Michael Joseph.)  He also talks about trying to drive away his captors by setting up TV’s in his bedroom, which worked “for a while”.  Later, he describes a female partner’s sharing the experience.

One woman in New Jersey describes “Shadow Man” as a visitor, and I thought about “Slender Man”.

The experience happens to me once in a while.  It may happen once with falling asleep.  There may be a brief sense of nausea. There may be the sensation of colored lights near the ceiling. It’s possible to wonder if I am still alive, or are already in some different place. Presuming there is an afterlife, and short of the trauma of an NDE, how would you know that it had stated? Another variation could be that you are awake, and driving or walking somewhere, and get caught in some sort of loop, and wonder if you’re no longer on Earth.

On a few occasions, I have dreamed that I had caused a car accident, or that the car had been stolen, and wanted to wake myself up, and finally succeeding after repeated attempts.  

Medically, sleep paralysis is a kind of disrupted REM sleep.  ABC 20-20 has documented rare crimes committed by sleepwalkers.  There is a good question as to whether masturbation before sleep makes it (deep rem sleep and possible paralysis) more or less likely.

At the end, one of the young men anticipates that his life could end this way, and that he might not wake up even for his girl friend, as the new reality is finally rewarding. 
  

The official Facebok is here (Gravitas Venturas, Zipper Brothers, and Campfire.  The film is set up in two parts, with credits at the end of each part.

It's ironic that right after I had finished watched this, composer Timo Andres tweeted that his piano piece "Heavy Sleep" (among others) had been published.
The film is available on Netflix or Amazon (3.99) instant play.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

"Nightingale": returned and disturbed Iraq War veteran recreates "Psycho" over a lost homoerotic episode from the military


Nightingale” (2014), directed by Elliot Lester, is nearly a monologue, and more like a stage play than even a TV movie (for HBO).

David Oyelowo is riveting as Peter Snowden (a coincidental name now), a returned veteran from Iraq, with an obsession with this phantom buddy Edward from the Army.

He wants to be Edward’s “friend” again, supposedly after running into him or a glance in the library.  He rehearses the planned phone call to invite him to dinner.

For about 83 minutes we watch his breakdown, and imagine him to be a new Norman Bates, as he approaches his own end, and as we deal with what may have happened to Edward.  But that’s also to suggest something indeed grisely happened to Peter’s mother, who apparently would never have any of his life in her house, and who believe that what she wanted for her son simply followed the Bible.  (Yup, I remember the mannequin in “Psycho”.)  The title of the movie is a contraction of something like "not in my house."

There are insinuations that the past “friendship” was homoerotic, and that Peter never dated and married as expected but wound up playing what conservative writer George Gilder calls “upward affiliation”.  The film never gets into anything like the now repealed “don’t ask don’t tell” policy because the film needs to remain minimalist.

But even before my own “second coming”, these sorts of friendships (and rehearsals of prospective encounters) sometimes became important to me, especially back in the 1970s.  There was a bit of déjà vu in all of this for me.

  
The official site is here.  The film seems to be set in Alabama.

Picture: north of downtown Selma, AL, my trip, May, 2015.

 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

"The Flowers of St. Francis": 1950 classic, nine little tales about humility


Following the visit of Pope Francis to Washington, New York and Philadelphia, there is some interest online in the 1950 film “The Flowers of St. Francis” (“Francesco, giullare di Dio”, or “Francis, God’s Jester”), directed by Roberto Rossellini, written with Federico Fellini, distributed by Joseph Burstyn. Inc.

The film is based on two loose “novels” from the 14th Century, “Fioretti Di San Francesco” (“Little Flowers of St. Francis”) and “La Vita di Frate Ginerpo” (“The Life of Brother Juniper”), with 78 little chapters total.  The film (87 minutes) has a prologue and nine of the chapters, which come across as Biblical parables.  Each chapter is introduced by a long title, translated.

There is an overwhelming emphasis, starting with the rain-soaked prologue, in communitarianism and personal humility. The title of the film comes from a hunt for flowers in the forest in the third parable.

The film, in black and white, has an other-world feel, with the very simple 15th century rural backdrops.  A few of the parables do have some interesting or bizarre concepts.

In the first parable, Brother Ginepro (Severino Pisacane) gives away his shirt to a man in need, yet the brothers don’t approve.  In the fourth, Ginepro cuts off a pig’s foot (to the consternation of villagers) to feed a starving brother.  In the seventh, the longest, Ginepro is apprehended and nearly hung, but his humility wins a reprieve from Nicalaio (Aldo Fabrizi).  The sequences (playing skip rope with his body alive) are rather startling. 


The film is currently available free on YouTube .   I did not find it on Netflix, which is surprising.

 

Monday, October 05, 2015

"The Drop Box": a pastor in South Korea takes in abandoned babies and provides a way for mothers to leave them, no questions asked


The Drop Box” (2014), directed by Brian Ivie, chronicles the life calling of pastor Lee Jong-rak, who, with his wife, has adopted up to 350 abandoned babies in South Korea over the decades, as part of his church’s ministry, the Jusarang Community.
  
When a particular baby in nearly vegetative state, called Eun-man, is left, the couple set up a “baby box” or “drop box” in Seoul, where parents could leave babies, no questions asked.  About one baby a day would get left, and cause a ding-dong bell ring in his home.

The film tells some of its story through simple animation, including his courtship with his bride, which was non-critical in nature;  and later the story of one particular kid who was rejected in dodge ball by other kids because of club fingers, but then was rewarded by being elected student president of his class.

The film says that desperate parents would sometimes leave babies in front of strangers’ homes in Korea.  That wouldn’t happen in the US (although at least one state, Nebraska, has allowed parents to leave babies at a hospital with no questions).   However, if it could happen, it could pose a moral dilemma for the homeowner.  What if it was a never-parent, maybe someone who had inherited the property?  In some worlds, this could be considered his moral obligation.

The film was sponsored by Focus on the Family, in part.  The film also mentioned abandoning children who would otherwise become late term abortions.  From the conflicting worlds of personal responsibility and compassion, the idea of the drop box is morally controversial in South Korea.


The official site is here (“drap baks/n”)  and apparently now there are multiple boxes in South Korea.
       
The film (77 minutes) can be rented on Netflix.  It would have fit into Nicholas Kristof’s “A Path Appears” (TV Blog, Sept.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Seoul by Kimmo Raisanen  under Creative Commons 2.0 Shared Alike License.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

"The Martian": Matt Damon gives us a guided tour of the Red Planet, and overcomes all obstacles in screenwriting-101 fashion


Going to see Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” (written by Drew Goddard from the book by Andy Weir), in 3-D on a large format screen is almost certainly the best chance any one of us has to experience “visiting” Mars, even vicariously. So here we have another big exotic travel experience movie.

There’s a scene 40 minutes before the end (141 minutes) where Mark Watney drives his “Avis” rover (stopping every few hours for tedious recharging of the array of solar batteries) through stunning canyons, for miles under a pink sky.  That’s what most of Mars looks like, even much of this sequence was filmed in Jordan (Wadi Run).

And the final sequences, where Mark is brought back on to the main crew’s returning ship, even outdoes comparable sequences in “Gravity” (Oct. 4, 2013) with the space lasso sequence.
And there are some stunning shots of the entire Mars surfce from space vehicles.

And we get to see a little of Beijing (smog-filled) when China joins the effort to save Mark.
The film’s obvious rooting interest follows the most common screenwriting clichés, but here they work, keeping you glued to the final rescue. This film works better than, say, “Castaway” (2000), because the loneliness is punctuated all the time.

The international and internal NASA politics gets a little silly and obvious at times.  But the crew really had good reason to believe Mark dead, and really have to sacrifice nineteen more months to go back to get him after other failures.

I loved the little potato garden, although it seemed to provide a diet a bit to starchy (maybe vegan). Yes, he has colonized the planet, and, yes, he has walked valleys on the planet alone where no one had ever been (although we don’t know for sure about that).  Really, is any one human good enough to figure all this out and survive it?

Damon looks unbelievably robust in the beginning after the stranding and self-surgery (even having lived at Mars gravity), but loses weight, grows his beard and gets grizzled as the ordeal continues.


The official site is here  (20th Century Fox).

I saw this film before a very full audience at AMC Tyson’s ETX.

No question, the obvious other comparison for this film is Ron Howard's "Apollo 13" (1995). 

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA Viking 1 picture of Mars surface showing atmosphere (p.d.) 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

"99 Homes": formulaic parable based on Florida's real estate crisis (as per Jeb Bush?)


99 Homes”, directed by Ramin Bahrani, may be intended to make a political statement, especially about how Jeb Bush ruined a lot of Florida homeowners in the middle 2000’s, driving them underwater, and then looking the other way as greedy lawyers and real estate “brokers” fed.  In fact, the film is fairly balanced.  Homeowners were reckless, taking out mortgages they couldn’t afford and borrowing for swimming pools and luxuries on OPM (other people’s money). You can’t get something for nothing.
  
The film also makes the whole Orlando FL area look seedy (“Body Heat” comes to mind), filled with square miles of tract homes on flat land, dotted with lakes but otherwise rather unremarkable.
I was just there in July, to go to the theme parks.  I got real familiar with the area around Semoran north of the airport, and some of the locations looked familiar. I felt like I was still on that trip.

The writing, based on a story by Bahareh Azimi, is formulaic, piling on the crises and ironies. As the film opens, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a home construction worker with his own tools, won’t get paid for the last two weeks of his work because the developer went under, in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis.  Soon his home is foreclosed, with greedy “realtor” Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) accompanied by a sheriff who seems to be in on the take.  The judge seems to be part of the conspiracy, too, as supposed 30-day notices and appeals are simply ignored.

Carver’s middle-aged aggression is obvious, as we see him strapping a pistol on his balding leg. Pretty soon, he’s hiring Dennis to be his understudy and “hit man”, to go after many other flat-country homeowners and give them the same treatment.  (We don’t see homes fall into sinkholes.)
   
Garfield seems too nice for the part, and isn’t totally convincing that he can pull other waifs out of their homes.  When Carver wants him to participate in some courtroom paperwork fraud, Dennis has his crisis of conscience, leading to the final confrontation of the film.  We see the Garfield of Spiderman and “The Social Network”.  Dennis mother (Laura Dern) figures into his change of heart. (That Nash is a single dad is rather glossed over.) Yes, at the very end, we’re left with the idea that Carver will himself go to jail.

Carver gives a speech, about the world having only winners and losers, sounding like Donald Trump.  He sees what he does as perfectly virtuous, something that promotes reproductive advantage for the fittest. There is something seedy about the idea that the only way to make it in a competitive world is to pimp and manipulate other people, just to provide for one's own/ 


The official site is here (Broad Green).

I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic before a substantial Saturday afternoon audience.

Picture: Street fair in Orlando, July 2015, my trip.