Saturday, April 30, 2016

"Ukraine Is Not a Brothel": documentary about the perception of the country as a sex trade destination


Ukraine Is Not a Brothel: The Femen Story” (2013), by Kitty Green (with assistance from Jane Campion), examines the reputation of Ukraine, post-Soviet, as a place for (heterosexual) sex tourism.  The documentary was shot, however, before Putin’s incursions into Ukraine.

The women have formed an organization called Femen, but the crime syndicates, with underhand government help, try to suppress them by breaking up their nudist public protests in Kiev and other cities, so that the country can earn revenue from the “business”.   Women to jail or are put on probation on terms they not attend protests.

There is a saying, “a prostitute is a feminist”. There is a male pimp who claims he is trying to challenge a patriarchal system by behaving as a patriarch.

One of the women relates a harrowing tale of being kidnapped into Russia, having oil poured on her body and being threatened with fire before beings set free to find her way back to the border in the cold.



With Inna and Sasha Shevchenko and Anna Hutsol.

The official site is here (Cenephil, Red Band).

Remember, “real men don’t buy girls” (Ashton Kutcher).

Wikipedia attribution link for picture by Evgeny Feldman of pro-EU demonstration in Kiev  CCSA 3.0

Friday, April 29, 2016

"Team Foxcatcher" recreates the life and tragedy of John du Pont through interviews


Today, Netflix issued on instant play the Tribeca documentary “Team Foxcatcher” (2016), directed by John Greenhalgh, telling the true story of John Eleuthere du Pont, who created his “Foxcatcher farm” on his estate in SE Pennsylvania, and then shot and killed friend and wrestler Dave Schultz on Friday, January 26, 1996. The film can be compared to the drama film “Foxcatcher” reviewed here Nov. 24, 2014.

The narrative of the film is pretty well captured by an article in People Magazine by Nicole Weisensee Egan, here. Du Pont had been engaging in bizarre behavior before the crime (like driving a new Lincoln Continental into a pond), and would be convicted of third degree murder, found to be mentally ill but sane.  He would die in prison in 2010 at the age of 72.

The film notes that Du Pont had a very distant relationship with his own father had had no one to love him. He would make some things more personal, as in the scenes where he plays at wrestling himself.
 
The film has many interviews with wrestlers and other principals including Mike Gosligan, Ray Wilson, Dave Steane, Ed Giese, Dan Clune. Defense attorney To, Bergstrom and prosecutor Joe McGettigan, as well as police department members (who had sometimes been invited to the “farm” to practice) often speak.



The film has a couple of scenes of small children playing nude, which surprised me in a commercial film.

The music score has some Vivaldi string music, but an odd waltz that sounded like Satie toward the end when covering the final tragedy.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Altar": a self-mocking road horror film set in the "High Sierra" that challenges past classics in the genre


Last night, director Matthew Sconce premiered his new road horror film “Altar” at the Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA.  He used a post-production cut (marked “secure screener” in spots) and the film might be altered slightly before submitted to distribution or to other festivals.  A DVD could have more than one ending.  The Sierra Nevada forest scenery was impressive, but a few scenes looked a little overexposed.  The primary location seemed to be around Bass Lake , on the west side of the Sierra (closer to Freso;  I happen to know the US-395 side and Mammoth Lakes, as well as Tahoe and Reno areas better myself, but I think I was around Bass with Army and grad school friends in 1971.)

The style, suspense and effect of the 84-minute self-mocking (heterosexual) film are gritty.  I’m reminded not only of “The Blair Witch Project” (1998) and “The Last Broadcast” (Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, 1998, about the “Jersey Devil”), but also of a couple of gay suspense classics, especially “Bugcrush” and “The House of Adam”.  Don't forget Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 classic "High Sierra".

The setup is that a number of post-college students, mostly straight unmarried couples in their early or mid 20s, go on a camping trip into the woods and get lost, encounter a dangerous woodsman, and then a bizarre religious artefact. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that touching anything around the altar has consequences, maybe as bad as touching plutonium.  Also on the trip are a woman and a young autistic brother Bo (Jesse Parr).  Other cast includes Deep Rai, as Ravi, driver and owner of the car which overheats, Tim Parrish, Johnny Soto, Brittany Faiardeau and Stefanie Eestes.
 
The film starts with a prologue, which is almost its own short film (“Schumacker”).  Six months before, a bridal couple rents a suite for Christmas in the woods in a posh hotel, and goes out in the woods, never to be found.

The film gets a lot of mileage out of little things.  What’s more terrifying than losing your car keys in the woods?

The script is talky, with characters often talking into the camera in mockumentary style, and often the speaker seems to be Bo (whose part in the denouement may be controversial).  The action morphs from a kind of comedy into real horror in the last twenty minutes, especially at the end.  Is everyone really doomed?  Can anyone or anything save them from themselves after their “disobeying the rules” and committing original sin in a garden of Eden?



The official Facebook site is here .

The showing offered several trailers and two short films.


A Way Out” (by Jason Tostevin, 14 minutes) put a goon and a fibbie on a car driving around Columbus, Ohio (homage to John Kasich), each testing the limits of the other. Shades of John Grisham, maybe.

Screener” (by Adrian Ramos and Oriol Segarra, 8 min) is indeed an odd triple-layering. In Spain, a film fanatic shows a bizarre black-and-white Finnish film over a misbehaving audience.  Double titles needed.

First picture is Mammoth Lakes, my 2012 trip.  Third picture: Fredericktown Ohio, NE of Columbus.

Here's a bonus pic of me, appropriate for a horror movie.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"TRI": several women peak themselves for the Nation's Triathlon


TRI” (2016), directed by Jai Jamison, traces a few triathlon athletes during the weeks leading up to the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington DC , held around 9/11, as a benefit for leukemia and lymphoma research (a “cure”).

The principle characters are women, played by Jensen Jacobs and Shara Barton among others. They have supportive husbands or boyfriends, whose participation is somewhat secondary.  The events include swimming, cycling, and marathon-style running.  The training gets graphic, with the women vomiting sometimes, or collapsing on the track.

The culture of the event is psychologically intense.  Some of the men (but not all of them) seem to be into complete arm, leg and chest shaving to “peak” or eliminate hypothetical wind or water resistance.  I recall a People’s Magazine print issue in 1990, “Cycling’s best legs”, in the winter, oddly – the boys’ legs and the girls’ legs were the same.  So it is here.

The racing scenes are shot in Washington DC (on the Mall and around the Tidal Basin), in Luray Virginia, in Occoquan, and around Leesburg and the Route 9 back road through northern Loudoun County, VA that leads toward Harper’s Ferry.



There is a secondary subplot involving two patients getting advanced radiation treatment at Sibley Memorial Hospital, which is in NW Washington DC (on MacArthur Blvd).

The film appeared to be shot in HD video, but was projected on a very large, curved screen at Angelika Mosaic, at a screening Tuesday night (April 26) at the Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival .  The show sold out, in a very large auditorium.  There was an after party at the Brine, where raw oysters or shellfish are scraped and served, among other items.

The official Facebook is here.

Since the film benefits lymphoma and leukemia research, I’ll mention that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) is in complete remission from lymphoma, according to this story.

Since Jack Andraka (now at Stanford) has done work on pancreatic cancer similar in scope to the cancer benefit presented in this film, I’ll give the YouTube on his website as another short film here. See Book review of his "Breakthrough" March 18, 2015 -- would that make a documentary feature?  Another related item is Tom Foreman's "My Year of Running Dangerously" (Feb. 1, 2016), books.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Prescription Thugs" examines dependence of athletes, performers on legal stuff


Prescription Thugs” (2015), directed by Chris Bell, Josh Alexander and Greg Young, looks at the dependence of many athletes, entertainers, and mainstreamers on prescription drugs, the worst of which are usually derived in some way from opium.

He focuses especially at “professional wrestling”, especially a character named Mad Dog.



There’s an interchange where a performer says “I’d rather be dead than average”. But later there is another conversation where one of the directors, talking to his father, admit that being an “average Joe should be OK,” because an “average Joe steps up to the plate and gets it done” even when it means sacrifice of one’s personal agenda.  This sounds like something from the “non-fiction” Epilogue from my own “Do Ask Do Tell III” book.

There is mention of pharmaceutical companies selling blood products infected with HIV.

The film doesn't get into the subject of doping in many professional sports.

The film could also have gone into the controversy over the behavior of ex-Turing Pharma CEO Martin Shkreli over the immense price rise of a anti-HIV drug; maybe the film was shot before this controversy occurred.  But that could make for another documentary,

The official site is here (Samuel Goldwyn).

The film is on Netflix instant play, iTunes, and on YouTube for $1.99.

Monday, April 25, 2016

"The Babushkas of Chernobyl": elderly women return to live on farmland near the site of the 1986 nuclear power plant meltdown


Sunday, April 24, 2016, George Mason University sponsored a forum, "From Chernobyl to Crimea and Donbas: Resilient People of Ukraine", at Founders Hall Auditorium, the Law School, in Arlington VA.

The program offered the 70 minute feature film “The Babushkas of Chernobyl”, directed by Holly Morris and Anne Bogart. The word “babushka” (which sounds like my last name) means “Russian old woman or grandmother”.

The film depicts the simple life of some elderly women who return to the outer part of the Exclusion Zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, extending to a radius of 30 kilometers (around the abandoned city of Pripyat). No one is allowed within 10 kilometers except workers who wear badges.  In the outer areas, radiation is still 60 times acceptable levels, but older people would die of other causes first.

Their activities include truck gardening, wood cutting, a little hunting, living in cabins, off the grid. There is one sad scene of a woman in bed dying and being taken to a nursing home.

The film mentions how the government first tried to cover up the horror of the incident, but within a week everyone was evacuated and settled more than 60 kilometers away.  The communist
 government claims it built new free apartment housing for everyone.

The film also shows a permanent cover being built for the “sarcophagus”.

The official site is here. The film has played in some film festivals like Florida, Los Angeles, and Santa Fe.    The production companies include Chicken and Egg.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Exclusion Zone entry by Nick Rush-Cooper under CCSA 3.0

Morris was available by Skype briefly.  One other woman at the QA spoke about the need to actually raise money for the people (particularly now in Crimea, which Putin took over in 2014) rather than just watch films.



There were two short films.

One was “Pianino for Peace” (12 minutes), directed by Max Rykow, now of entering college freshman age. The film presented several young pianists playing in outdoor concerts in the Ukraine, why resistance to Russian rebels continues.  They played mostly Chopin and Debussy.  The pianists were Veygen Motorenko, Khrystyka Mykhailchenko, and Dmytro Sukhovienko.

Rykow and two other contemporaries were available for the QA.

Another short film was “One Story of Basketball: War and Peace” by "Teticano" about Ukrainian pro basketball player Alex Len, now with the Phoenix Suns.

Here's a short video "Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster" from the Engineering Channel.

Update: April 26

Here is a Washington Post story by Andrew Roth on Chernobyl today, with pictures.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"A Hologram for the King": Tom Tykwer creates another dream world with political sensitive material (this time Saudi Arabia)


German director (and writer and music composer – call him Renaissance man) Tom Tykwer likes to put disparate concepts together in his films, creating a viewer experience that is almost like a dream.  Indeed “A Hologram for the King”, based on the novel by Dave Eggers, is at one level a satire, but at another plane it gave me the disconcerting feeling that I was sleepwalking (yesterday’s review). As with “Cloud Atlas”, everything is connected, at least in string theory.

Tom Hanks, as Everyman Alan, plays an American businessman whose life portrays everything that is silly about sales culture, right out of “The 100 Mile Rule” (where you must "always be closing").  First, let’s get to what his teleconferencing software would do.  It creates holograms of people to be right there in the room. It’s not just a super Skype. The holograms seem real, rather like out of dreams you want to stay in.  The analogue is teenage Clark Kent, in “Smallville”, whose “speed” lets him move instantaneously from one place to another by changing space around himself (like a man whose body becomes an Albucierre drive). The hologram appears only once, played by Ben Whishaw (somehow I think they could have cast Jack Andraka for this – having powers like this is something “Nano-man” wants to do).

The rest of the film, though, is pure dream stuff.  You get a feel for what is to come from an opening scene on a Saudi airline where Alan watches the men sing religious chants and doesn’t want to join in.   When Alan (remember, the name of the alien in Dan Fry’s “To Men of Earth”) arrives in Saudi Arabia, he stays in a lah-te-dah hotel (in Jeddah) – where you can get away with things, and hires a non-Uber driver Yousef with a clunkler (Alexander Black), whose antics get annoying. He arrives at the proposed seaside business resort and finds his staff working in a black tent, and the King’s arrival uncertain.  Back in the hotel, he notices a lump on his back, tries to cut it out, nearly bleeds out (and vomits all over his bed like a kid), sees a female doctor (Sarita Choudhury) in Saudi Arabia, who generously removes the tumor for free – and then they start an affair.

Along the way, Alan gets to watch the hajj, as a gawker, not a participant.



All of this is hard to take when you know what kind of a country Saudi Arabia really is. (See “Saudi Arabia Uncovered”, PBS Frontline film, TV blog, March 30, 2016).

The film is shot on location largely in Morocco, and Egypt, but also with the hajj scene in Mecca, and it appears that there is a long distant shot of the real Jeddah.

The official site is here (Roadside Attractions).

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

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Jeddah, p.d., Meshal

Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Sleepwalkers Who Kill": can people be held responsible for crimes "committed" while they "sleep"?


Sleepwalkers Who Kill” is an older documentary (2001) from Canada directed by Andrew Webb, narrated by Richard Lumson, covering the neuroscience and medicine behind a number of cases where people have been prosecuted for violent acts, even murders, committed when they said they were sleepwalking. Wikipedia calls it “homicidal sleepwalking”.

The film describes the stages if sleep, oscillating between delta (light sleep) and rem.  Sometimes complications occur when someone tries to awaken from rem sleep. I’ve experienced that, thinking someone was in the house.



One of the most notorious cases was a stabbing in January 1997 by LDS (Mormon) member Scott Falater of his wife. He would be sentenced to life with parole, as the jury felt his post-crime movements suggested awareness and premeditation (CBS news story ).

Another famous case was that of Kenneth Parks in Toronto in 1987, with details here.  He was able to drive a car while asleep, and deal with “space recognition” but not “face recognition”. He would eventually be acquitted, although his fact pattern is very complicated.

The film also shows a young couple in London currently (as of 2000) with the husband under treatment for violent acts while asleep.

YouTube link is here . The film is available for instant play on Netflix (as of April 2016).

A potentially related problem can be using dream content as evidence of crime (the Andrew Jenks film Jan. 22).

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"The Violin Teacher": after failing an audition, a Brazilian classical musician pays his dues teaching in city slums


The Violin Teacher” (“Tudo Que Aprendemos Juntos”), directed by Sergio Machado and based on a play by Antonio Ermirio de Moraes) begins painfully, as a young black man Laerte (Lazaro Ramos) stands with his violin on an audition stage in Sao Paolo, waits for the pianist to play an opening ritornel from the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and then freezes.

Immediately, I’m reminded of an equally painful conclusion to the WB series “Everwood” a few years back, when young Ephram (Gregory Smith) walks out on a piano audition at Julliard over a dispute with his father, and winds up teaching piano.

Same here. To make ends meet, Laerte takes a job teaching music in a low income neighborhood (called Heliopolis) in Sao Paolo. You can somewhat predict what will happen. After fighting the culture wars over poverty, he, having stepped right up to the emotional demands, will inspire some students.  He may even get another audition.

I had a bad experience with a “band class” in middle school as a substitute teacher in 2005, explained here on Wordpress.

The film has multiple subplots involving the kids, including a credit card skimmer ring, and a major police chase leading to a Sandtown-style riot.  There is a lot of material where Laerte has to learn the systmes of street justice among the gangs in the slums.

The film also has spectacular on-location shots of both the main business areas of Sao Paolo as well as the Heliopolis slums.



The music score has a lot: some Rachmaninoff (the Symphony 2), Tchaikovsky (Symphony 4 finale), and a rehearsal passage where the female conductor, doing the Barber adagio, says her players just aren’t into every note.  There is also some material on violin technique.

Indiewire site for the film is here  (Fox International).

There is no connection to the short film of the same title by Barbara Diril.

One can compare this film to “The Piano Teacher” (2002) by Michael Haeneke, Kino.

The film showed tonight at FilmfestDC at the AMC Mazza Galleria in Washington DC, before a half-full large auditorium.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Sao Paolo slum by Dornicke, public domain..

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"The Out List" interviews 15 gay celebrities; also, "The Click Effect", important VR short about dolphin language


The Out List” (2013), directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Interviews 15 prominent gay and lesbian people (including one transgender).

I’ll mention some.  Dustin Lance Black, a screenwriter, talks about growing up in the Mormon Church, when Spencer Kimball came in to berate homosexuality.  His own mother objected to “don’t ask don’ tell” because she though the military should actively ask.

R, Clarke Cooper says it is harder to be accepted as a conservative or Republican in the gay community than the other way around, as he talks about Log Cain Republicans (there is a film “Gay Republicans”). He also discusses Log Cabin’s challenge to “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Lupe Valdez was elected as sheriff in Dallas County, TX as a lesbian in 2004.

Larry Kramer was the author of “The Normal Heart” and a founder of “Act UP”.

The Lady Bunny explains how it was the street people and drag queens who made Stonewall happen in 1969.

Ellen De Generes described having a show in the 1980s and losing it.

Suze Orman described working as a woman in securities in 1980, when most male staffs had to hold back on their sex metaphors.  Orman discussed how the estate tax penalizes non-married same-sex couples compared to heterosexual couple.

Wazina Zondon described growing up in Muslim culture in Afghanistan. It’s apparent that their culture is designed to guarantee men access to as many possible child-bearing women as possible. She now works as a teacher.



Twiggy Pucci Garcon talks about the Roseland, site of the Black Party and the Saint in NYC until recently.

The official site is here (Perfect Day Films and HBO).
 
Here’s a short: “The 50 Hottest Gay Actors in Hollywoodlink  although not appearing right now
are Reid Ewing and Timo Descamps.

There’s another short film today, from the New York Times Virtual Reality (NYTVR), “The Click Effect”, 7 minutes, from Annapurna Pictures  by Sandy Smolan and James Nestornarrated by Fabrice Schnoller.  The film is intended to viewed with virtual reality googles on a smart phone.  The film shows dolphins using clicks and echo to build and transmit pictures of their environment.  In their “language”, echo properties and triangulation with other animals becomes an element in the “grammar” of their language, which no human language has (although Chinese uses pitch that way). These animals are non-human alien persons living on our planet with us.  The studio is known for high profiles pictures for Paramount and Columbia/Sony.  Dolphins probably do engage in homoerotic behaviors in their social groups.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Autism in Love": people who appear to have Asperger's Syndrome negotiate romance


Autism in Love” (2015) by Matt Fuller, in 75 minutes, traces the lives of several autistic young and middle aged adults, particularly as they try to negotiate relationships and romance (in this film, the relationships were heterosexual).  One of the subjects is a woman; but autism is more common in men.   This is not quite "Shakespeare in Love" (1998).

The film does not separate out Asperger’s Syndrome, which usually leads to a much better occupational functioning than possible for people with much more severe presentations.  But most of the people in the film seemed to have Asperger’s. The late Gode Davis, who passed away in 2010 while trying to complete “American Lynching” had shared a lot of his own perspective on being a filmmaker with Asperger’s.

The film describes its characters as not having the usual “antennae” (oddly, the name of the first piece in Timo Andres’s piano suite “Shy and Mighty”) for social signals that most people have.  There is a lack of spontaneity in their communications.  (One thing you notice with young actors who are successful in film, in all of their interviews and works – is the naturalness of how they communicate.  In “Judas Kiss” no one has any Asperger-like issues;  but in “The Dark Place”, the character Keegan might, but he still outwits everyone with his unusual gifts.)

Toward the end, one of the more successful characters actually proposes marriage (that’s Dav3 and Lindsey).  Earlier, Dave has articulated his checklist, “LTC”, or “looks, how I am treated, and character”.  There was a feeling that he could give every person a composite “grade” or “score” that could rank anyone, as if in a mathematical well-ordered set.  I remember a conversation like this in a car when I was doing heterosexual dating back in 1971 (who has “the looks”, who has “the personality”).



Another person is already in a marriage with a wife in chemotherapy, who says she is better off being married to someone with autism, because he would be ironically better to maintain a level of romance.

But still one of the other character was quite troubled. He said he would rather have been born normal, like other people, than have a lot of money.  He even said of others, that “they’re higher than me”.  He can’t have a job or a car.  He says he wouldn’t want to marry a woman who was higher than him, with a job (the antithesis of “upward affiliation”).

The film is available on Netflix Instant Play but was shown on PBS Independent Lens on Jan. 11  Much of the film appears to be shot in Minnesota, around the lakes and in St. Paul (I lived in Minneapolis 1997-2003).

People say that I have Asperger’s, but I grew up in a 1950s culture were being “different” was seen through a moral lens, because I could be perceived as a drag on other people in the community, by not sharing their risks.  So I tended to see others through the same moral lens. Sometimes people with mild autism are more calculating and risk-aversive than “normal” people; this may keep them from getting into trouble.  Mild autism or Asperger’s could even be a desirable genetic modification for some environments.  Look at who found Facebook (Washington Post story ).  Some people see Asperger’s as a condition of cats when compared to dogs.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Wolfe's collection of short films "Boy Crush" shows what it was like in the mid 2000's; "Out Now" deals with bullying


The Wolfe collection “Boy Crush” (2007) comprises seven short films.  The largest, I discovered later, I had already seen in Logo (below), is saved for last.

The second biggest is “Out Now” (20 min), by Sven Metten, is set in a boys school in the Alps (apparently Austria, as the film is in German).  Tom (Dennis Prinz) deals with being bullied while carrying on chats online with other gay guys, just out of his mother’s sights .  The film really has  spectacular winter setting, and some interesting camera work in the disco scene.  But the theme of bullying is choppily covered, even if the boy throws up once when helped up off the field by a gym teacher. There’s one surprise scene at the end at a stag party (behind the disco) where a couple of his macho teammates aren’t as straight as they pretend to be.  One of these is Nikias (Veit Messerschmidt) who had been exposed in the chat room, and indeed looks like a perfect 10 on camera.

Then there is “Night Swimming” (18 min), by Daniel Falcon. A bisexual teen takes a gay friend out into the woods (in upstate New York) for an adventure, after breaking with a girl friend.  The car breaks down, and they become intimate.  There’s even a rogue hunter shooting randomly in the woods, bringing up the idea of pink pistols.  His main catch is some venison that he would gladly share with the boys when they hitch a ride back. But this film does not go into the dark area of some other road short films (as had “Bugcrush”, which could have fit this collection well, but belongs to Strand).

Running Without Sound” (12 min), by Judd King, presents a deaf California jogger, communicating in sign (a valuable skill for anyone) having a crush on a track team mate.   The film is shot in narrower 1.33:1 aspect.

The Bridge” (9 min, by Georg Barnakadze) presents a gay couple in Sydney, where one of the men is trying to emigrate into Australia, maybe as a political refugee.  His boyfriend has trouble breaking the bad news after learning it first.  A rewrite of the film might make sense now given the problem of the persecution of gays in Russia or some other countries like Nigeria.  I'm not sure that the famous bridge at Sydney harbor makes for a metaphor.



Summer” (9 min, by Hong Khaou), set in a forest in Britain, has a gay teen of Chinese ancestry falling for a straight native British boy, who denies he is gay but still accepts the friend as a shipmate. This is no time for sloughing.

The largest film is Eric Rognard’s “Oedipus N+1” which had appeared on Logo and is reviewed Oct. 29, 2008.  The film bears comparison with the Strand feature “Astral City” Nov. 7, 2011.

Another nice little film is the pseudo-ripoff of “Psycho”, called “Hitchcocked’, from Unicycle, by David M. Young, reviewed here Oct. 13, 2007.

The video also has a mini-short featurette advising gay men to stay away from crystal meth before having sex.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"People Are the Sky": a North Korean born naturalized US filmmaker tells the history of the hermit kingdom from the people's point of view


People Are the Sky” (2015), written and directed by Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, purports to be the first film made inside North Korea by a filmmaker with official permission to film there. The film is part autobiography of the now 75-year-old filmmaker and professor, born in North Korea just before WWII and a naturalized US citizen. It is also a history of partitioned Korea with much more deference than usual to the Communist viewpoint. So this is very different from establishment media news reports and films about the horrors of peasant life in the country.
 
Kim-Gibson’s village was overrun by allies in 1950, just as her families quarters in Seoul were overrun by the North Koreans. The film shows considerable war footage.  The film maintains also that The US and allies go into Korea to “protect” Japan from the Soviets and Chinese, under a domino theory. Dai then maintains that North Korea grew economically until the 1990s, when the period of the “The Arduous March”, which the country escalated its militarism putatively at the expense of feeding civilians, and began to emphasize a cult-like status for its leaders.

The film also maintains that Americans and allies killed proportionally more civilians than they later would during the Vietnam war.

Toward the middle and end of the film, Dai shows more of what she was allowed to film, around Pyingyang, where the government buildings (some colorful interiors are shown) look up to the people’s apartments, then her own countryside home village, her own family home gone, and with a museum honoring the civilian dead.  She also shows one Christian congregation, despite the many reports of persecution.  At then end of the film, she climbs an ancestral mountain near her home.

The QA was quite lively, with people from the audience questioning whether the guides would have let her see an honest portrayal of the country.  One person in the audience criticized a false analogy between American racism and the treatment of most civilians in the DPRK by its government.
In the end, the director insisted that it was talking to ordinary people that made the film. She admitted that South Korean youth are bigger and stronger than their peers int he DPRK.

The film is shot in digital video, not quite as high-def as one might want, and there is considerable use of still art.



The film played to a sold-out audience at Filmfest DC today at Landmark E Street (although a smaller auditorium) with a long QA of the director.

The showing of the film is now ironic given North Korea's latest "nuclear" threats.  But the film purports to show why North Korea "hates" the US so much.
 
The closest I could come to an official site was in the “Women Make Movies” catalog.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"Everybody Wants Some", but Blake Jenner's character as a freshman baseball pitching prospect keeps his head on straight


Everybody Wants Some” (2016) is Richard Linklater’s latest coming-of-age comedy, said to be more like “Dazed and Confused” than “Boyhood” (July 19, 2014).

Blake Jenner plays Jake, a baseball pitching recruit entering college in Texas, negotiating his first week on campus before class starts, getting along with his riotous teammates in a frat house. “Old School” (2003, Todd Phillips) comes to mind.

Jake seems to have the trimmest bod of all, and seems to keep his head on his shoulders while getting along with and outsmarting his buddies socially.   Of course, we all know what that “some” is (intercourse).

His main nemesis seems to be McReynolds (Tyler Hoecklin), whom he outsmarts, beating him at ping pong by merely keeping the ball on the table and letting the opponent beat himself with missed slams (I’ve done that).

The baseball practice doesn’t start until late in the movie.  McReynolds actually gets a double off him, but Jake’s clearly the most likely player to make the big leagues (and become as good as Max Scherzer or Jacob deGrom).  Jake becomes as likable and dominant a character as did Mason in "Boyhood".  Linklater wants young men to turn out well.



Hoecklin was the likeable baseball prospect in the WB series “Seventh Heaven” over a decade ago.  I remember all the breakdowns over his character’s father’s service in Iraq.

The official site is here (Paramount and Annapurna).

The film did remind me of my own issues in the dorm at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, when a "homosexual" would be such an obvious distraction to other horny freshmen who "want some".  Maybe Linklater can make a movie about that scenario. This film today is set at the end of August 1980, climaxing (pun) on the first day of class, the dwindling era of Jimmy Carter.

Blake Jenner is of no relation to Bruce/Caitlin Jenner.

I saw the film before a fairly robust audience Saturday afternoon at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.

Friday, April 15, 2016

"Paths of the Soul": pilgrims go on an amazing strenuous journey to Lhasa, Tibet, kowtowing all the way


Paths of the Soul” (2015), by (Chinese film, editing and producing from Beijing, in Tibetan) director Yang Zhang, traces a pilgrimage of a few Tibetan families(inspired by Nyima) to Lhasa over 1200 kilometers, and then beyond into the Himalaya, over ten months. The journey may actually have begun in western China.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, I was used to thinking of Tibet as a separate country (as we were taught then in grade school). But actually, it was taken over by force in 1950 by Communist China and is regarded as an “autonomous region”, essentially a large province of China (more or less analogous to the Northwest Territories or Yukon in Canada, or Alaska and Hawaii before statehood).

 China has brutally suppressed Tibetan dissent and desire for independence, and tolerated its Buddhist religion, which is probably an economic asset.

The film is stunning.  It deserves to be presented in Imax 3-D.  It is well shot, with sharp detail and subtle natural earth tones, in standard aspect, but has the look of 70mm film.  It comes as close to giving the filmgoer an experience of visiting another planet on Earth and living with an alien, communitarian culture for two full hours, as is possible in movies.

The families make camp every night and sleep on top of one another, inside makeshift quarters that defy description. But the most amazing part of the experience is the kowtowing, where the pilgrims bow and prostate themselves, using boards under their wrists, and making forward movement that looks like a combination of skateboarding on your arms and military low-crawling. The procession is led by a richshaw driven by a tractor.  When the tractor gets struck by a speeding car maybe 50 miles from Lhasa, the celebrants simply roll it the rest of the way by hand. (Earlier, the tractor loses a screw and throws an oil pan leak, but the film doesn’t explain how it got fixed.  But the towns along the Tibetan road are more modern than one expects, and there is more car and truck traffic than one expects.)  Near one town, by a spectacular mountain lake, farmers plough an overnight spring snow into the ground.  There is a curious image of a ragged rainbow-like flag over the road as they enter a couple towns.  Their vocal prayer chants make for a strange, atonal music.

There is also an amazing sequence where a baby is delivered, on camera, by doctors in a Tibetan clinic.

At the end, an unmarried man, an uncle of many of the children who had raised them (there is a subtle hint he is gay) passes away overnight in the communal tent and is given a grand funeral.



The alien images in the film are too many to count.  In one scene, there are two separate cloud decks against the mountains.  In another, a road has four switchbacks in one camera shot.  A deep canyon is almost like a tunnel, pummeling he parade with a rock slide.

The official site is here (Icarus films, with many production companies from China).

The film showed to a sold out audience at Filmfest DC at Landmark E Street tonight, but in a smaller auditorium.  It probably got a full 5 out of 5 stars from one most tickets (I lost mine).  It was a major selection at TIFF (Toronto).

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Tibetan lake by Reurinkjan, under CCSA 2.0

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"The Krays: The Myth Behind the Legend" documents the grim history of the British crime twins


The documentary “The Krays: The Myth Behind the Legend” is a one hour documentary on Netflix Instant Play (April 2016), directed by Chris Matthews, written by Bernard O’Mahoney and narrated by Martin Kemp (see review of Universal's feature “Legend” March 31).

The documentary seems to be a condensation of the longer “The Krays: Kill Order” (as listed on imdb and Amazon) by the same people.



The documentary presents a grim picture of the brothers  with a history dating back to mandatory “national service” in the 50s.  Ronnie, eventually committed to an institution for the “criminally insane” (a popular term in Britain in the past) is depicted as an occasional “psychopathic homosexual”, which fit the stereotypes of the times.   The film describes law enforcement culture of the times, which the brothers could exploit by making bodies disappear, Their history makes one wonder about the appearance of brothers as terrorists today (even the Tsarnaev brothers).
 
There is some attention to the murder of Reggie’s wife Frances Shea (when she was pregnant), as to who did it, and to her bulimia.

The official site seems to be here.   (Revelation and Metrodome Films).

There was also 1990 docudrama film “The Krays” by Peter Medak with Gray and Martin Kemp as the brothers (J. Arthur Rank, which had been a major British film company back in the 50s).  There is also a new drama “The Fall of the Krays” (in the UK now) by Zack Adler. It’s amazing how popular the Krays have become as a film subject matter.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"The Seminarian": a closeted gay ministry student questions the foundations of conventional Christianity


The Seminarian” (2010), directed and written by Joshua Lim, is a quiet drama, often in monotones, that builds up, nevertheless, to a crisis in faith for the protagonist, a (California) master’s program closeted gay theology student Ryan Goodman (Mark Cirillo).  The lento pace of the film will be apparent in the opening scene: a cell phone ringing, next to car keys.

Ryan has to deal with an overprotective but supportive widowed mother (Linda J. Carter), who doesn’t quite get the fact that she may not have a lineage.

The film takes him through a few relationships and encounters, particularly with Bradley (Eric Parker Bingham), with whom he plays some annoying Snapchat tag (I just don’t get into this).  One day Bradley is in jail, having been picked up by the cops for DUI after leaving a disco. “Guys with DUI’s are just not that desirable,” Bradley says.  I thought about the way buddies used the word “desirable” – so judgmentally – back in my Army days in 1969.

A female character Kelli (Jessica Kemejuk) pesters him about the foundations of his faith (like accepting original sin), while the dean (who believes in “don’t ask don’t tell” for gay pastors) pesters him about getting his thesis done in time.  He finally does that, and his conclusion is shocking. “God Curses Us” is the title.  He writes, love implies relationships, which in turn implies the need for forgiveness, which means forgiving God.  Ryan calls conventional faith as comprising “senseless beliefs with elaborate pontifications”.

Ryan is quite likable and gentle, and the film builds up to one big encounter with another boy friend at the end, who doesn't trust that he is really "done" with Bradley. Jealousy is so silly.

I think the script had one veiled reference to "Love and Action", which was an AIDS "charity" a couple decades ago that seemed to be anti-gay.



The DVD has an interesting interview of Cirillo, where he explains the audition (which sounded like the way my 2002 script “Make the A-List’ starts) and the intensity of shooting the film as a lead. There is also an “Atlantis QA”.  Cirillo is critical of his character’s belief that he can’t feel love unless he is in a relationship;  that’s a “chicken and egg” problem.

The official site is here (Breaking Glass Pictures).  The DVD is available from Netflix.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Dream On": film directly based on Welsh play about gay teens


Dream On” (2013) is based directly on the play of the same name by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan.  At a summer camp in Wales, two ambitious teens, Paul (Bradley Cross) and George (Joe Gosling) meet and fall in love.  George has dreams to go to Australia and start a disco (despite the fact he is way to young).  Paul is a little steadier, with a retail job as well as school, and a dominating mom Denise (Janet Bamford).

The boys make an agreement to meet the next year.  When George doesn’t show, Paul tracks him down in London, and the relationship resumes and grows, to the horror of Mom, who now has heard about AIDS. George, however, will have a different fatal medical problem, leading to alcohol poisoning.
 
The dialogue is sometimes hard to understand, but the film picks up steam as the relationship grows.
 
 The camera is always a bit restrained (sometimes using sepia tones).  Sometimes scenes dissolve into drawn stills. There’s a whimsical scene early where George unbuttons Paul and asks, “Does Mommy dress you?”



IMDB says that the film is shot 1.33:1, but in fact the DVD gives us a film in 2.35:1.  The DVD has an excerpt of two scenes directly from the stage play, with the same cast.
 
The official site is here.  The DVD is available from Netflix.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA picture of Wales from Space Station. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

"Killing Them Safely" explores the use of the taser by law enforcement


Killing Them Safely” (originally titled “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle” (2015), directed by Nick Berardini, tells the story of the electric taser gun and its use in law enforcement as safer than conventional weapons.  The electroshock weapon is sold by Taser International, in Scottsdale, AZ, a company built by brothers Tom and Rick Smith, who developed the weapon after a friend was shot in a road rage incident in the early 90s.  There was early controversy over whether the device was a true firearm and had to be registered.

The weapon is supposed to deliver a shock that is not more strenuous on the body than a run up a flight of stairs. But the film documents a few cases of deaths from use of taser, including of a disruptive and disoriented passenger from Poland at Vancouver airport, and of a man in a Food Lion.

The company says that the media is focusing on rare events, rather on the idea that the availability of the taser probably reduces the number of shootings by police.



There is some technical discussion of how ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest may sometimes occur.  Yet, the shock is not supposed to affect even a pacemaker.

The official site is here (IFC and Sundance Selects).  The film is available on Amazon and Netflix Instant Play.

Wikipedia attribution link for Scottsdale Arts District, by Bobak Ha’Eri, under CCSA 3.0

Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper" on HBO


Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper” (2016), directed by Liz Garbus, appeared on HBO Saturday April 9, 2016.  The source material is “The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss”, as well as an earlier memoir “Once Upon a Time”.

Anderson interviews his 91-year-old mother, and famous fashion designer, dressed in green, purple and red, in her Manhattan home, where she goes downstairs every day to work on her painting and art. She looks younger than her age.

The film covers the early history of her life, and the scheming to get her out of Paris to New York, and her first marriage.  She was the “poor little rich girl”, at one point getting tabloid attention over the custody battles (her mother was accused of lesbianism).  It covers her first wedding, and then somewhat ploughs through the second  marriage, which led to children ( to conductor Leopold Stokowski),  and then a third marriage to Sidney Lumet, but spends the last half of the film on her marriage to screenwriter Wyatt, and her two sons by the marriage, Carter and Anderson Hays.

The film slows down and gives a detailed history of Anderson’s family. Wyatt would die of heart disease (literally in the middle of bypass surgery) at age 50 when Anderson was 10.  Carter would develop various problems, some related to asthma, leading to his suicide by jumping in his mother’s presence.



The film does show some early shots of Anderson in his 20s working as a combat journalist.  This would be quite interesting if expanded.  He seems to have regarded in part as a way of paying his dues.   Anderson says he became quieter after his father’s death, and that he learned moral compass from his father, relative to a privileged upbringing.  Anderson barely mentions his own being openly gay.  It would be interesting to know how this played out when he worked overseas in unstable countries.  Anderson says he has considered becoming a father (by adoption?) but doesn't think he could continue the career he has and function as a father as well as his own dad did.

The film shows how interview-based documentary (this running 108 minutes) can work.  There are many still photos of old New York and old Paris, and many cute drawings, based on the style of Gloria’s own art. It’s possible to make documentary interesting with mostly interviews and still shots of locations.

The official site is here.

Picture: NYC, Nov. 2015, my trip

For today's short film, view "A High School Student Takes on Pancreatic Cancer", an animated look at Jack Andraka's early detection test for the deadly tumor (from Upworthy), with some emphasis on how the idea came to Jack in an AP biology class, connecting the dots.  .



Saturday, April 09, 2016

"Demolition": Jake Gyllenhaal looks silly with his OCD self-deprecation as he grieves the loss of his wife


Demolition” (2015), directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and written by Bryan Sipe, pretty much drew me into a nihilistic rabbit hole today.  To me, the film seemed like politically correct “crybaby” comedy for its own sake, the stuff that meets conventional Hollywood ideas of screenwriting. The tagline is "Life: some disassembly required".

Jake Gyllenhaal once again plays anti-hero (a long way from the nice guy of “Moonlight Mile” or the teen hero of “Donnie Darlo” (remember the rabbits).  He plays investment banker Davis, married to Julia (Heather Lind), working for his father-in-law (Chris Cooper).  In the opening sequence, as the couple crosses one of Manhattan’s many bridges, Julia is pestering him about fixing things around the house, especially the fridge, working with his hands. There is a sudden crash (the other driver’s fault) and he survives without a scratch, but Julia is killed instantly. The rest of the movie is about his grieving process, and he definitely doesn’t want to move on.  One problem is that Julia was pregnant, with a child he later finds out wasn’t his.

In the ICU, he has trouble with a coin-operated vending machine, and starts writing weird letters complaining about their customer service.  In the course of time, he meets and dates a rep Karen (Naomi Watts), and builds a bizarre bond with her son Chris (Judah Lewis), whom I thought was a girl. Chris actually asks Davis if Davis thinks he (Chris) is gay.

But the most disorienting part of the movie is Davis’s compulsive behavior, first taking things apart (proving he can become a handyman), but then looking for opportunities to smash things, including his own glass home.  That reminds me of my visits as a boy to a psychologist, where we smashed toys (I was about 8).

There’s another thing: Jake’s intermittent depilation seems to become more permanent.  In an early scene, he lathers and shaves his stubbly chest on camera, as if his body hair were a superficial and expendable extension of his beard.  Some scenes show the past shaving of his arms and legs for other movie (like “Nightcrawler”). Oh, yes, one of the other minor characters is a competitive swimmer, but the connection is never made. And, remember, maybe this got started when Jake appeared in drag on SNL a few years ago.



I saw the film before a small audience in a small auditorium in the recently renovated Ballston Common Regal cinemas.  But the sound track in the left channel was extremely noisy and distorted by breakup, resembling inner-groove distortion on a bad LP vinyl record. The sound was affected during the preshow, the previews, and the entire feature.  I went downstairs and told management during the previews, but it wasn’t fixed during the showing, even though an employee seemed to be checking the auditorium a couple times.

The music score includes a Chopin nocturne or two, and some Puccini transcribed to piano,

The official site is here (Fox Searchlight). For me, this dramedy wasn’t funny. One star out of five.

Picture: Near White Plains, NY, from the Grand Central commuter line north, my picture,  random scenery along the railroad, Oct. 2014.



Friday, April 08, 2016

"That's Not Us": Another couples' vacation movie, with all possible combos


That’s Not Us” (2015), directed by William Sullivan, written by Derek Dodge, is another variation of a combined couples movie, a format for romantic comedies popular since the 1980s.
   
This time, the variable is sexual orientation, and the writer wants to prove it doesn’t matter. A young gay male couple, a lesbian couple, and a straight couple spend the weekend together on a beach island. Like a Robert Altman movie, the script moves back and forth between them, weaving the stories.

The gay couple has a one partner having told he got into a chemistry program at grad school, and his lover prodding him to say he wants to go, and then to deal with the lover’s being left alone.  Childish, too much emotion for me.

With the straight couple, the girl teaches the guy how to ride a bike. It’s late September and nobody will see how physically awkward he is, like a “chickenman”. The guy falls and breaks his arm.  I’ve done that.  The lesbians go sailing (and present the most explicit scene in the film).

The script has some cute lines, like “most people leave their phones in their rooms when on vacation”. Sure, like “most people walk in the direction they’re headed” (“Judas Kiss”).
Toward the end there is a plot complication about the validity of their rental.  Was this “Airbnb”? Were the ladies squatters?



I’m not much for staying in one place on vacation, even P-town.  And back in NYC in 1973, the West Side Discussion Group hosted “are gay resorts really gay?”

With Mark Berger, Elizabeth Gray, Tommy Nelms, Nicole Purcell, David Rysdahl, Sarah Wharton. The music is by Xander Singh.

The official site is here. (Strand). The film has shown at Frameline and Outfest. I watched a complimentary review screener on Vimeo.  The DVD will be available April 19, 2016.  The film does not say where it was filmed.  Is it Fire Island?
Picture: Provincetown, MA, mine, Aug 2015

Thursday, April 07, 2016

"Batman v. Superman": a satire of this year's presidential political campaigns, maybe?


I finally gave in and went to a 3-D showing of the bloated (156-minute) “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, by Zach Snyder.  Notice, it’s “v.”, as in a court case.

As the movie opens, the world is reeling from alien attacks, that cause a 9/11-like collapse of some office towers in Gotham, with alien spaceships always in the sky. All of this is leads to a battle as to what kind of comic book or even manga superhero the world really needs.

Ben Affleck will play Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, as somewhat mature, beginning to age  out of his playboy image.  His ability to fit into his costume seems to have cost him his chest hair.  Henry Cavil keeps everything on as Superman, and the script does make some references to Smallville.  There’s a touching scene with his adoptive dad (Kevin Costner).  But the funniest character is Lex Luthor, played by a long-haired, fast-talking Jesse Eisenberg.  (Jesse always talks fast, loves cats, and may turn out to be more important as a writer than an actor.)  At one point, he says that knowledge without power doesn’t work out too well.

About three quarters into the film, the long-awaited battle between Batman and Superman happens, and, surprisingly, Batman seems to get the upper hand.  I thought that Superman was supposed to be undestructible  But the ending leaves us expecting a Christ-like resurrection (like yesterday’s movie) before there can be a sequel.



Gotham and Metropolis look like the same city, and the movie gives us no sense of geography, or where anything is. (Really, it's a battle between the Mets and Royals, with plenty of "small ball".)

The official site is here   (DC Comics, Ratpac, and Warner Brothers)

The music by Hans Zimmer sometimes rises to the occasion, and the soundtrack includes the witty (almost Bizet-like) Waltz II from Shostakovich Jazz Suite #2.

Just imagine this fall's election, if it turns out to be "Donald v. Bernie".  Which one is Batman?

I saw it in the large, #1 downstairs auditorium at Regal Ballston Common Wednesday night, with only five people in the audience including me.  I give it two out of five stars.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

"Redwoods": a male couple, raising an autistic boy, needs a secret stranger (and his "resurrection") to carry on


Redwoods” (2009), directed by David Lewis, is a gentle gay “love triangle” story with a couple of surprising twists (maybe borderline sci-fi), and some relevance to other films and artists.

As the film opens, we see a preview: the main character, aspiring novelist Chase (Matthew Montgomery) visits an outdoor park in a natural redwoods amphitheater in northern California (Humboldt County). Then the film switches to Everett (Brendan Bradley) and slightly older lover Miles (Tad Coughenour). The male couple (the film was shot a little before marriage would have been legal) has been raising Miles’s biological autistic son Billy (Caleb Dorfman), who is emotionally bonded to Everett, almost to the point that he might break out of autism with a second dad. But the couple has lost sexual interest, staying together for the kid.

Bur Miles and Billy go on vacation to San Francisco, and Miles, a bit bossy, expects Everett to fix some problems around the house while still running his business at home as a tax accountant. Soon, Chase shows up, looking for directions to the bed and breakfast in town.  Predictably, they start seeing each other and fall in love.  And, also predictably, Miles sometimes calls and then comes back early.

Chase has journeyed from Minnesota to write his novel, “Lost in Faith”, based on a small fictitious town in North Dakota where Chase grew up (see yesterday’s post).  Everett says he took creative writing at Stanford and reads the manuscripts.  Sometimes Everett finds the writing forced and sentimental. It seems odd to talk about “becoming a writer”, because writing is something you do.
 
When Everett learns Miles will return, he plans to leave town early, but makes a pact with Everett for them to see each other in five years.

There's a great quote, where Everett mistakenly chides Chase about his writing, "Most of us don't have the luxury of wandering around trying to find ourselves."  Sure, Everett is helping raise another man's disabled child.

What will happen then is a bit tragic, but then there is the idea of resurrection, maybe as in Jorge Ameer’s “The House of Adam” (March 12, 2012 review), which loops back to how the film begins, creating the possibility of a supernatural interpretation. Everett himself is reborn, and one hopes that somehow benefits the kid.


The deleted scenes, however, left a confusing picture of what exactly happens when Miles returns. I do think that DVD’s could be made playable as “director’s cuts” with all the deleted scenes included in the right sequence (the movie would go from 90 minutes to 105, still about average).

The interview featurette indicates that Bradley is straight, but in gay film it is common for straight and gay actors to bond emotionally to the point that they get into making the picture work.  The intimate scenes are well done, and Everett looks very physically fit, even if he dawdles on getting the house repairs finished.


The official site is here  (TLA Releasing and Funny Boy Pictures – “Latter Days”).  The music score by Jack Dubowsky is a but impressionistic, and I think there was a quote of Satie.

A related film would be “Regarding Billy” (2005), by Jeff London. Billy returns home to take care of an intellectually challenged brother, when he falls in love with a soldier returning from Iraq, and they form a family.

Picture: Mammoth Lakes, mine, 2012; also, my parents in Yosemite, around 1940

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

"Welcome to Leith": a white supremacist tries to take over a town in North Dakota


Welcome to Leith” (2015), by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, presents the attempted hostile takeover of the town of Leith, ND (in the southwestern part of the state), by white supremacist Craig Cobb, first by buying up all the property.

He did attract several followers, including a young, tattooed man who tries to rationalize the idea that Aryan white people need to have their own separate communities.  Meetings displayed the Nazi flag.  He was able to put together an “electoral majority” in the town.

When he (at least allegedly) started to threaten people with weapons, he was arrested, and spent six months in prison.
 
Cobb says he was considered gifted intellectually, at one time had a promising military career and possibly to be followed by the NSA.

The film (with the help of Kickstarter and influence of Erol Morris) was shot over several time intervals and covers late fall and winter months, often showing the flatness and bleakness of the landscape.



The PBS Independent Lens site for the film is here.   It aired on April 4 on Independent Lens.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Leith by Andrew Filer, under CCSA 2.0  My closest visit to the area happened in May 1998, entering from the west on I-94.

Monday, April 04, 2016

"Poverty, Inc." presents a view of overseas charity: let the people help themselves first, with the right systems in place


Today, the Cato Institute hosted a free showing of the 2014 documentary “Poverty, Inc.”, directed by Michael Matheson Miller, with QA from producer Mark Weber.

The premise of the film is that the “generosity” of the charity establishment undermines the ability of people in poor countries to produce for themselves.  What makes people remain poor is in large part lack of access to the systems that normally raise standards of living, starting with law and order, along with financial systems and other processes we take for granted in the west, including physical infrastructure.

The film purports to examine the “hidden side of doing good.”  When free food subsidies are given to people in poor countries, then their own farmers lose markets and then, when the erratic subsidies stop, there is no food produced at all.  It would be better to set up systems for people to produce their own goods.

The film concentrates on Haiti, Kenya, Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Peru.  It also gives some history of the many international relief organizations, dating back to the end of WWII.  It gives examples of some specific company drives that went wrong, such as Toms shoes.  Former president Bill Clinton admits he was wrong in supporting massive gifts of crops overseas, even if good for American farmers.  The imagery of the slums in Kenya were as graphic as I have ever seen.

Of particular interest was the development of orphanages in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.  The parents of most of the kids were still alive but unable to support them.  While adoption is being pushed and encouraged, it would be more morally appropriate to return the kids to their parents with the parents having jobs or small businesses.  Is the need for adoptive parents as great as purported if this were handled locally with better policies for the people?  That could even bear on the question of gay parent adoption in the US.

Weber, in the QA, emphasized that the proper focus should be on the people themselves, not on the narrative of our charity bureaucracy.  We shouldn’t be pimping the idea that they aren’t “good” enough to help themselves.

Of course, the lack of infrastructure and poor governance is largely the result of European colonialism.

I did bring up the idea, in conversations at the reception with Weber, that some faith-based charities try to sell the idea of sponsoring individual children overseas (which is not the same as adoption, but which could lead a child to think she has a parent).  Sometimes charities have pushed this idea aggressively on Facebook, even tagging people who have not consented to become sponsors.  Weber seemed to think that "sponsorship" was not itself an ethical practice.

Vox has an interesting article by Zach Beauchamp on why the far Left (Bernie Sanders) gets it wrong on what really helps poor people overseas,
 
The official site is here. The film is available on Amazon instant and on iTunes.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

"Take Me to the River": a gay teen is confronted by unimaginable challenges at a family farm reunion


The drama setup of a teen coming of age while living on or just visiting a farm can generate a lot of strange mysteries.  Indeed, the drama film “Take Me to the River”, by Matt Sobel, reminds me of another film set in Nebraska about a family secret, “The Truth About Tully” (2000, Hilary Birmingham), a hit at a festival in Minneapolis then. It also reminds me of the last story my own “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book, “The Ocelot the Way He Is”, where gay characters interact in a bizarre road trip to an intentional community while the regular world is about to fall apart.
 
The set-up is that a California family with a mature gay teen Ryder (Logan Miller, who may look even a bit too young), a Jewish dad (Richard Schiff) and over-protective mom (Robin Weigert) visits their extended family on a huge Nebraska spread. Ryder wants to come out and be honest, but dad says, this whole event isn’t about “you”, it’s about family, as if quoting Rich Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life”.  But Ryder shows off with scarlet short shorts and a deep v-neck (no hair, of course). The story will be told largely through his eyes (which seem to require snazzy sunglasses for clear vision).

Problems ensue when his 9-year old cousin Molly (Ursula Parker) starts teasing him.  She insists that he play babysitter as they visit the barn, and she asks that he lift her up on his shoulders to reach an old bird’s nest.  Now, this sort of thing happens even at church youth camps, where kids are learning some level of intimacy appropriate for a caring community. But Molly, climbs all the way up, and is just old enough for her first period, and a resulting accident showing as a bloodstain.

The film then focuses suspicion on Ryder for abuse, which is a bit ironic, and confounding to him and his mom.  You wonder if police could be called.  But the film doesn’t go that way. There is an odd reconciliation of sorts, which even more ironically lets us explore the rural family’s gun culture, among other things. But even that is a false lead, avoiding tragedy and keeping suspense.

It seems that Molly will tempt him again, into a swim in the river, after a horseback ride. (In my own story, the character move around the ashram by bicycle.) Molly can try her dangerous experiment again. Then there is even some chest pasting.

Still, there needs to be a payoff in the film, deep in the family (e.g., “Tully” above).



The cinemascope and outdoor scenery is effective, although sometimes there is some choppy editing continuity within scenes.  And there is a tendency for scenes to end abruptly just as something becomes critical.

The official site is here (Film Movement, Sundance, Cinesetic).

The idea that adults can be "set up" by minors occurs in my writing, which led to an incident when I was substitute teaching in 2005.  (And subs can find themselves in situations with special ed kids with surprising needs for forced intimacy.)  I've explained that in my DADT III book, and the subtext is a back story in my screenplay "Epiphany".
 
I saw the film before a fair audience Sunday night at Landmark E Street in Washington.

First picture: Flint Hills, KS, 2006, my trip

Saturday, April 02, 2016

"Midnight Special": an "evangelical" man's son may be an alien, and so dad might be also: quite a road trip across the South


Midnight Special”, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, aims to become a high profile science fiction film, and there are some big ideas, like finding out that your son may be an “alien” and that even you might be one, too.

The story starts as a father Roy (Michael Shannon), with the help of a cop Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are fleeing a Texas religious cult and an amber alert with Roy’s gifted son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher).  Alton seems to have special powers, which became manifest when his eyes and body light up.
 Satellites fall down, fracking earthquakes happen, and even domes appear around an area (borrowed from Stephen King).  But the NSA is all too interested, apparently believing it is on the trail of the first confirmed contact with alien civilization in modern times (Van Daniken notwithstanding).  In the meantime, Roy seeks, unwisely, the help of former cult member Elden (David Jensen).

Adam Driver plays the young analyst Paul Sevier, in one of his best performances.  He’s rather charismatic himself as he establishes a rapport with the boy and others in the movie.  (He seems like someone who could have fit into “Judas Kiss” or “The Dark Place”.)

The evidence of alien or divine intervention mounts, as the movie moves east, eventually winding up in the pine barrens and swamps of the Florida panhandle.

It may be too much of a spoiler to describe everything, but we do get a temporary idea of a what a city in an alien civilization (maybe in a parallel universe, or maybe in a “hollow heaven”) really looks like.  It’s rather interesting, something that belongs in an Orlando theme park.

The film has big studio backing from ("Casablanca") Warner Brothers (and Ratpac), but is in the festival circuit (SXSW( and is being marketed to arthouses as if a “big” art sci-fi film, to deal with issues like religion, heaven, alien civilizations, and relations thereof.  Nichols says he felt inspired to do the film when he became a father, like any parent can be privileged enough to bring up a kid who changes the world.  But parenting always carries “risks”.



The official site is here.  Ars Technica (Annalee Newitz) has a take on the meaning of the film here.

I have witnessed at least one incident in my life where I wonder if the person has “powers”, practices magic, or is an extraterrestrial.  Seriously, I wonder what the law says. Would someone with human DNA or normally indistinguishable from a human but from another planet have full legal rights?  “Smallviile” could raise that question.  We already have a taste of this – dealing with “non-human persons” – orcas, who may deserve full legal rights of personhood.  Just don’t bring this up with Donald Trump (not to mention such a person would probably win his “apprentice” show undetected)
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I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, before a half-full late Saturday afternoon audience.
 
Picture: Crude model of “The City” on a space station (on Titan) in my screenplay “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany”.  Don't confuse the title of this film with the notorious "Midnight Express".