Thursday, May 29, 2008

DC 48 Hour Film Project: "The Best"

Tonight (May 29) the 48 Hour Film Project DC presented its best, in two programs. I attended the first at AFI-Silver, in Silver Spring MD. See the posting May 6 on this blog for 48 Hour links.

The challenge was to make 7 minute (or so) film based on Character of Lori or Larry Gardener, designer; Sauce as a prop, and “I’ll be glad when he’s gone” as a mandatory dialogue line. The flavor of the contest reminds me a little bit of the Project Greenlight Directors’ Contest (the most recent was in 2004). Four of the films were shot in HD, with only one HD camera available.

Here is a rundown of the show, about 90 minutes.

"Fairy Bust" by 3mm Films: two gayish high school seniors taunt each other in preparing for a senior prom, where they will have opposite sex dates, ready or not.

"The Chair" by Actors with Strings: This claymation “historical fiction” film is set in the time of Henry VIII, who did much harm. A chair designer, with a fecund and pregnant wife who does all the manual labor, gets summoned by Henry. You get to see a puppet head roll from the guillotine (blood spurts) and a puppet Henry VIII actual vomits after eating a spoiled feast with “sauce”. I happened to sit next to members of the production team. (No relation to the indie feature "The Puffy Chair.")

"Commitment" by Butch’s All-Stars. In a bar, on a Veterans Day “holiday” an ungrateful nerd (resembling the Nick Fallon character from “Days of our Lives”) has a confrontation with some Marines.

"Get Closer" by Dead City Films: This was my favorite. A young spy stalks a woman (bump-keys into her condo to plant a wiretap in the heat duct) in a highrise near the Ballston Metro in Arlington. Reminds me of “Five Lines.” At the end, the buck is passed.

"The Hauntening, Part 3" by Double Deuce Productions: two lesbians have a fight over dinner, with hot sauce, and plenty of gags.

"Road to Greenwood" by Filk Productions: a “western” set on the C&O towpath near Great Falls.

"The End" by Flat Feet Films. A young woman finds the characters in her medieval Fantasy novel entering her world and helping her complete the book (a cure for writer’s block); there is a conversation about the relative value of fantasy and “real people.” Try also Fkat Feet’s “1+1+1 = 2” (not in my group theory) here.

"Recalculating" by Habitual Offenders: Anyone for OnStar?

"Spy, Gina, Spy!" by The Quest: an improvised spy movie where the actors have to be able to swim. And she pours sauce on the guy’s T-shirt because she wants his chest.

"Sales of a Deathman" by Roadside Productions (not to be confused with Roadside Attractions). A man actually sells a hot sauce door-to-door, and has some cannibalistic motives. Anyone for "Eating Raoul"?

"American Revolution" by Roanoke: Would you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby met in a diner before the JFK assassination in 1963?

"I Love You 2" by WIT Films: This one has a touch of M. Night Shyamalan, even though it is a musical. Nerds find their computers (rather than people) are the loves of their lives, and then comes “The Happening.”

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Errol Morris's "S.O.P." provides a sweeping look at Abu Ghraib in Iraq

Errol Morris directed “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” in 2003, and in "Standard Operating Procedure" (Sony Pictures Classics and Participant) he produces a big looking attempt to set the record straight with the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib in Iraq in 2003.

The film is indeed opulent, shot 2.35 : 1, with a hypnotic music score by Danny Elfman, in a style that resembles Philip Glass. The visual element seems a bit excessive, as much of the length of the film is taken with interviews of the individual soldiers, some of whom went to jail, and some of the rest tries to recreate micro details of the prison scenes with actors, sometimes with a grim look that reminds me of the “Saw” movies.

The soldiers tell the story from the viewpoint of the pressures on them, to get information that would lead to the capture of Saddam Hussein (whose capture did not depend on their “intelligence” at all), and also from the hits from insurgents. Nevertheless, mixed messages got send down the chain of command, to the point that soldiers began using questionable interrogation techniques, and started humiliating the prisoners. The film demonstrates the well publicized methods to insult the sense of manhood inherent in Arab culture (and to some extent in most cultures). The interrogators included CIA employees and at least one employee of a defense contractor, CACI. (Ironically from my perspective, CACI was right next door to where I worked in Arlington in the early 1990s as I worked for a company that specialized in selling life insurance to military officers.)

One of the senior NCOs was tasked to reproduce what happened from the incriminating photos, using both the photo content and also decoding the “meta data” from the camera settings available in each photo. That audit trail would be used to incriminate the lower ranking soldiers, especially Ms. England. Pregnancy and heterosexual affairs among the soldiers complicated the situation, and led to England’s pregnancy. The exploitation of homophobia in Arab culture with the humiliating stackings and forced contacts among the prisoners seems ironic, given the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. The NCO does say that the judgment against inexperienced young enlisted personnel is unfair and is based on hindsight. He also marks some of the photos as whether they were “criminal acts” or “S.O.P” – many, he says, are surprisingly legal, even in light of the Geneva Convention. In the end, it seems that the top brass was interesting in covering up for itself, but everybody knew that already.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 50s McCarthyism and UFOs

Shia La Beouf had told everyone that the plot of the “Indiana Jones 4” movie was a secret, and now that it is out, we know that there is a kitchen sink of themes, set in the 50s rather than the 30s as Harrison Ford is now two decades older. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (Paramount and LucasFilm, dir. Steven Spielberg) really does say a lot and presents a nice theory.

Harrison Ford, speaking last week on network morning news, said that the “I like Ike” years were a fascinating time, with the tornado of McCarthyism that would contribute to a traumatic happening in my own life in 1961 (Nov. 2006 in my main blog, see profile). The Russians (the Soviets, the Commies, call them what you want) here are presented as looking for some sort of final solution to the world itself, as if the space people could alleviate us of the responsibility for perfecting ourselves as individuals, or dealing with real life.

The movie opens at what amounts to the notorious Area 51 in Nevada (and we get a shot of “The Atomic Café”), and says the fibbies will shoot on sight. Pretty soon we see a crate with a corpse inside, acquire by the G-men in 1947, and you can guess where it came from. Yup. Roswell. Then Jones goes on a hike and finds a typical 50s replica of suburbia in the desert, looking vibrant until he finds it populated with mannequins. Inside one house, which is left unlocked, he finds Howdy Doody playing. Soon, he remembers he will have to “duck and cover.” Pretty soon, we get to see a mushroom cloud.

Indiana Jones then gets relieved of his duties as an archeology professor for having too much contact with the Commies – and these were the days of blacklists. The rest of the movie becomes your typical road chase as in the earlier films. 50s motorcycle boy Mutt (Shia La Beouf) seems like a contrivance, but his character becomes real quickly and eventually we find out who he “really” is. He is “a good kid.” They go to Nacza (I thought Spielberg could have done more with the Nacza lines, and even introduced Tiahuanoco). Then they get napped back to the western Amazon, for the final leg of their swashbuckling journey that will take them to a Mayan-type pyramid temple setup with lots of traps and secrets set to activate when this crystal skull from Peru is introduced. The climax of the film reminds me of Clive Cussler, perhaps, as well as a scene early in the movie “Alien.” The biology of the purported aliens is interesting, as to the theory as to what they did – seed most of our ancient civilizations, many of which failed, having not learned their lessons well enough.

The Atomic Café” was a nice little indie movie from Libra films (dir. Jayne Loader and Kevin Rafferty that I saw at the Inwood theater in Dallas in 1982. “Roswell” was a TV cable movie from Paramount in 1994, and covered the well known speculation of what might have happened in 1947, as well as the government cover-up. (I can imagine an Oliver Stone remake from LucasFilm.) .

La Beouf says that a lot of physical conditioning was required for this movie. (They say he smokes, and he admits it on SNL.) There is a scene where he imitates the behavior of monkeys in swinging through trees in the jungle, and I don’t know how the stunt men pulled that off. Actors have to loan their bodies for their fame. After the mushroom cloud scene, Jones has to go through being scrubbed in decontamination. And it appears this was done before Harrison Ford’s depilation on Access Hollywood to make a point about deforestation (of the Amazon, as in the movie) and global warming. (In fact, Ford showed off his sacrifice on ABC "Nightline" May 23.) There is a spectacular sequence involving falls that look like the Iguazu between Argentina and Paraquay.

The movie was actually made in New Mexico, Connecticut, and Hawaii. Since this is a Spielberg film, I don’t know why Dreamworks isn’t one of the production companies.

The movie does mention Mitchell Hedges at several points. Some visitors may have seen the Sci-Fi documentary (also partly based on Hedges's finds) “Mystery of the Crystal Skulls” (review) that purports the theory that the skulls could relate to the Mayan prophecy for what happens in December 2012.

Tips for Theater Chain Management:

In these challenging economic times, theater chains should exhibit their films as professionally as possible. I saw this in a Regal Cinema complex, in Arlington VA. It would be desirable if theater management would inform ticket sellers (employees) of which auditoriums have the largest screens, and if theater chain corporate websites would identify which performances are in the large auditoriums. Also, during the performance (Theater #1), the widescreen image was cropped to about 2.0 to 1 (it is supposed to be 2.35 : 1 Panavision) by failure of the curtain to open fully, to the point that the "G" at the end of Steven Spielberg's name got chopped in the credits.

In smaller auditoriums in this complex (and in many multiplexes) 2.35 : 1 films are shown by cropping the screen vertically, resulting in less surface area for the image and a geometrically smaller image than would be used for 1.85 : 1. (I have yet to see a film fill anamporphic widescreen film like this in IMAX; I'll try one soon.) The practice is not ideal for very visual films like this one. It's interesting because many stages are wide, simulating the viewing effect of widescreen 3-D when well produced.

The large auditorium as about 2/3 full at the 7:15 show on a Friday night. On Saturday night, at a large auditorium of the National Amusements complex in Merrifield, VA, at the 7 PM showing, Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" filled about 1/3 of the seats during the second week.

I'll also, while I'm at it, point out a "sin" of another film exhibitor, AMC (American Multi-Cinema). At both theaters in Arlington, some shows run a substandard reel of the company's trademark before the feature, with a lot of wow and flutter in the soundtrack that continues for a couple minutes when the feature starts. I would think a company would be careful about exhibiting its trademark. This seems to have to do with worn out feeder reels, and using them seems a bit careless and unprofessional.

(The picture shown took as a negative on a digital camera by accident.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

3D Sun; Black Holes, The Other Side of Infinity: two SI films

3D Sun (20 min, Morgae and K2 Communications) is an IMAX short subject showing magnetic storms and prominences, and solar storm outbursts, as they intersect with the magnetosphere around Earth. The animation was developed from two space stations a distance apart showing “stereo” photography. The film also shows aurora borealis in the arctic. A star is somewhat a limited subject for 3D photography. The Minnesota Film Board is mentioned in the credits. In Washington, this is shown in the Lockheed-Martin IMAX theater in the National Air and Space Museum.

Solar storms are important because they can disrupt satellite operation, GPS, and sometimes power grids. I don't know of a case where they have damaged personal computers or electronic equipment, the way an electromagnetic pulse would. We had some out-of-cycle (sunspots every 11 years) solar storms in October 2003. One episode in Season 2 of "Smallville" was predicated on a solar flare, ironically broadcast on the same day that the flare occurred in reality.

Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity (25 min. Spitz), is shown in the Einstein Planetarium in the same museum, but effectively it is like an Omnimax film, although it does cover the entire surface. The film discusses the occurrence of black holes within the Milky Way and similar galaxies, and then the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. It demonstrates, in animation, how two galaxies collide and how their central black holes unite. It explains Einstein’s idea of general relativity and space-time, and how the black hole represents a singularity. It demonstrates the “event horizon” with a conical waterfall analogy. Then it introduces the concept of “white hole” as a possible wormhole to another universe.

It’s hard to do a lot visually in film with cosmology. The Moon ("Magnificent Desolation") has been shown in Imax 3-D, and "Roving Mars" in Imax. Now I think a good idea would be an animated rendition of Europa, Io, Titan, and Triton in Imax 3-D. It would be fascinating to look at. It takes a little over an hour for light to reach Titan from the earth (including any email sent to any “colonist” there). .

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Redbelt: David Mamet uses martial arts to map "real world LA" to the movies

David Mamet is known for movies about treachery and schemes of deceit, perhaps most of all his 1998 black comedy “The Spanish Prisoner” about a variation of the corporate “Nigerian scam” setup with Steve Martin and Ben Gazarra.

His recent hit is a curious effort “Redbelt” that is both big and little at the same time. Shot in full 2.35 : 1 and on the surface about jiu-jitsu and martial arts, with a climactic fight (of sorts) so you might expect this movie to come from Sony’s Screen Gems (or maybe Tri-Star) rather than the boutique division (Sony Pictures Classics) mostly used with foreign films. Sony Pictures Classics even seems to have functioned as a "production company" (unusual for this kind of distributor). (The other “obvious” studio for this movie, given its “style”, could have been Lionsgate, or maybe even Roadside Attractions, if Sony aka Columbia hadn’t wanted it first.) Actually, the movie integrates almost every conceivable style and idea in its 99 minutes, bring in complex ideas about police integrity, sports fixing, copyright law, the movie business, and personal integrity, in a sequence of plot developments that sound like they would be contrived and half-baked but actually work as you watch the movie. This is a movie with more than a beginning, middle and end.

I had a friend in graduate school (who called himself “The Cave”) who was very proud of his black belt. We think of martial arts as cleaner than wrestling and generally involving less actual physical contact. Perhaps so, but this movie takes martial arts into darker corners.

Michael Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor, of Nigerian descent but raised in the UK and performing here with totally neutral voice accent) and his wife ((Alice Braga, from Brazil) run a struggling martial arts studio in south LA. Pretty soon there are some bizarre and somewhat coincidental calamties. These really do happen in life, I guess (they did to me with substitute teaching). Here, a cop almost gets shot by Mrs. Terry and he agrees to change history if the couple will get involved in a crazy scheme involving a pawned watch. Okay, the cop is in trouble. Soon this leads to the possibility of Terry becoming an assistant producer to an indie film about martial arts, involving a Brazilian tournament that is rigged with a certain scheme involving drawing colored gemstones. It’s hard to follow the connections, that seem dream-like – but I can say that I’ve concocted screenplays with plot chain reaction crashes like this and somewhat comparable levels of deception (maybe Mamet could direct my movie). What’s really interesting is when the lawyers get involved – although Mamet truncates the dialogue before we can completely understand the goings-on. (Perhaps there will be some deleted scenes on the DVD that will explain some of this more.) There is a suggestion that the purported movie would involve copyright infringement because the “three gems” have been used before in Brazil – but ideas can’t be copyrighted, right? I lost this, here; it didn’t quite track to my own understanding of copyright law (odd in the movies, since the whole industry is so sensitive and investor-paranoid about copyright infringement – in fact, the scene had me wondering even about the industry’s notorious “third party rule” for new scripts and even loglines). For a moment, I wondered if Mamet wanted to recreate the notorious "tortious interference" boardroom scene in "The Insider" (about the tobacco litigation). Then it gets more complicated. The movie-to-be becomes a real-life fight to be, and a climax for the film, and a test of Terry’s moral character. The challenge is to keep his integrity, not just keep his jiu-jitsu studio.

There is almost a touch of Altman -- of "The Player" -- in this movie.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Speed Racer: creating a model alternate world with green screens and primary colors

Imagine that when you dream, you pass into a different universe, where you can try experiments and behaviors and then undo them, so as not to have the consequences. Or imagine that the world that you live in is fake, and manipulated by others at a parallel or underground level. Okay, that gave us the Matrix movies of Andy and Larry Wachowski, with the lean and ascetic hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) and some wonderful and ironic excerpts or clips of our civilization presented at the pleasure of the storyteller (I remember especially the endless circular sequences in the “Toronto subway.”) In fact, the visual and animated reconstruction of the destroyed “real world” above ground at the end of the last movie was quite compelling.

So the Wachowski’s are at it again with Speed Racer (somehow I almost typed "Blade Runner") again from Warner Brothers and Australian production company Village Roadshow, which often partners witn WB. Actually, most of the filming was done in Germany. The film showings are available in two versions, regular 35 mm but 2.35:1 but looking quite crisp, like regular high definition (try to see it in a digital auditorium), and 70 mm Imax. I was annoyed at a local Regal multiplex, which doesn’t tell you which performances are in the 4 out of the 12 auditoriums are large. I don’t like to see theaters show 2.35 : 1 by cropping off the top and bottom of a screen in an auditorium that is just not wide enough. Remember the remodeling that neighborhood theaters had to do in the 1950s to show Cinemascope (starting with The Robe from Fox in 1953)?

The Wachowski’s have created an alternate world in animation, patching together geographic features for the “cross country’ race in the story from various countries around the world (for example, the movie pretends tunneling the Matterhorn with caves). The creative effort reminds one of a huge model railroad layout. It looks a bit clownish (more than comic-book-like), reminding me of Prodigy in the early 1990s. There is a huge city, a kind of Metropolis (Smallville) with elements of LA, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and most of all, probably, Dubai. (The cross country race starts on Arabian desert sand dunes. I think they could have shown the artificial “Palms” in the Arabian sea with effect.) The film dazzles us with primary colors, in patterns constantly fascinating for the eye. I recall a Kodak film demonstration at the Heights theater north of Minneapolis during an IFPMSP film festival, showing hue and saturation; this film develops digital colors to their most intense saturation.

The story is touching if artificial. The actors are “real” and mostly perform against green screens. Speed Racer is played by a noble Emile Hirsch, and it’s nice to see the actor earn a happy ending after the agonizing end his character comes to in “Into the Wild” (see this blog, Sept. 30, 2007, follow the archive links on the left). The opening scene is funny for teachers: young Speed is struggling with the SOL’s under NCLB, filling out a multiple choice reading test, and all he can think about is cars. His brother’s mysterious death inspires him, and then he finds that corporate interests want to fix races. (Any surprise?) The script makes a lot of Speed’s obligations to his family: parents, and brothers (one of whom is a chimpanzee, who is presented as a human).

No doubt "Speed Racer" will become a franchise, with films II and III. But, unlike the case with The Matrix, there is no real suspense and it's hard to imagine a compelling followup.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

SAG could strike; some disruption already; issues seem complicated and obscure to most; "WGA Act II?"

Here we go again! Having gotten through the Writers Guild spectacle, now the Screen Actors Guild threatens a walkout at the end of June if the contract is not renewed.

Once again, there are the rich, and there are the “poor” and its hard to wonder where the sympathies are. If you stop and think about your favorite soap opera (if you have one), many of the actors appear only occasionally and probably don’t make that much a year.

Wired has a blog entry reading “SAG Strike affecting movies ahead of schedule”, by John Scott Lewinski, here.

The Variety story by Dave McNary “Prepping for a SAG Strike: Insurance coverage offered for wok coverage, is here.
A related concept is the completion bond for a film. The article notes that two thirds of SAG’s 120000 members earn less than $1000 a year from acting in films.

I don’t know whether the negotiations or a new contract would affect the Sag Indie contracts. The link for the Indie agreements as they are now is here: (there are a lot of different agreements and links to follow). This is of great interest to me because of what I have in mind, maybe for later this year.

Later I may have more on what the underlying issues are.

The SAG page for the TV/theatrical contract negotiations is here.
SAG’s latest press release is “AMPTP Suspends Negoations …. “ here.

Age discrimination complaint from a screenwriter:

The May 2008 AARP Bulletin, on p 35, in a column "The Law" by Emily Sachar, discusses the case of screenwriter Larry Mintz (Mork & Mandy, The Nanny), 58, now working as a substitute teacher, who has filed an age bias suit against International Creative Management and Viacom. Writers have to earn over $31174 to qualify for guild (WGA?) benefits. The story has not yet appeared online (keep checking).

Even so, there is a story in The Washington Post, Style, May 15, by William Booth, "Still Kicking: In His 10th Decade, Millard Kaufman Has a Few Stories Left to Tell" about 91-year-old screenwriter Millard Kaufman for his new novel "Bowl of Cherries,: link here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg offer outstanding short history films

In Virginia and the colonial areas of America in general, museums can be a source of good short films. I’ve already reviewed some Newseum (Washington DC) short films.

Yesterday I visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, on the Potomac River 10 miles south of Alexandria, and the visitor is first shown an introductory film in the luxurious auditorium of the Ford Orientation Center.

There is a seven minute video tour of the property (which is privately owned by a non-profit historical foundation, similar to Colonial Williamsburg) followed by an 18-minute film “We Fight to Be Free,” directed by Kees von Oostrum, from Greystone Films and financed by Ford. The 18-minute film sets up the crossing of the Deleware River on Christmas Eve, Day and Night of 1776, and looks back to the time when George Washington (played by Sebastian Roche) met Martha Custis in 1758, and then when he took battlefield command in the French and Indian Wars from Gen. Braddock when the latter was killed in a skirmish (a major road in Fairfax County is named after him). The film implies that had he not gotten command then, the outcome of the Revolutionary War would have been different. He looks to old to be 26 in the 1758 flashback.

The film is shot in full 2.35 : 1 and with such precision that it looks like a 70 mm print. The theater turns off the credits before the technical information is shown. The film is made in the visual style of the Cinemascope or Cinerama historical spectacles from Fox and MGM in the late 50s and throughout the 60s, but with modern dolby digital pinpoint sound and a postromantic full orchestra score by South African (and British) composer Trevor Jones, that would yield an effective concert suite.

Another good museum film is “Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot” (1957) at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, directed by George Seaton, a 34-minute film from Paramount in the original VistaVision process. A delegate and his son struggle with questions of conscience and the prospect that war could destroy their plantation. I saw this film on a high school field trip in the spring of 1961.

The Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville Battlefield memorials in Virginia show 20 minute films about their respective Civil War battles, with the Fredericksburg film narrated by James Earl Jones and showing the sacrifices of their citizens, some of whom left pianos in the street.

Update: July 2

The Education Center at Mt. Vernon offers some other short film experiences, sometimes with other media.

George Washington: Commander in Chief (Moore Productions, 14 min) is shown in a stadium style auditorium with sensurround and even Kleenex snow. The screen comprises a regular 2.35:1 surface, with an ovoid form below. The film covers the battles of Boston, Trenton (the Deleware River 1776 crossing at Christmas) and Yorktown. The film consists of animation and drawings, with embedded live-action shots from the battles, and various figures on the oval form, like the stripes of colonial flags. The final battle of Yorktown is depicted as a long siege, with Washington laying out a jigsaw line and slowly encroaching. The Americans won "with home field advantage" despite enormous British military power in the beginning. No wonder the concept of the "Yankees" was born.

Eulogy (6 min) is a tribute to George Washington at his passing, with a children's choir singing patriotic hymns. The images are shown on a Cinerama-like screen.

A Most Private Romance (10 min), narrated by Glenn Close, is a retrospect of his forty year marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis, who was already widowed when he married her in 1759. They raised John and Daniel, two children of her previous marriage, but never had their own children. There is one scene where they are playing a chess game and he resigns his position! (She has White.) He stopped at Mt. Vernon only once during the Revolutionary War, to plan the final battle of Yorktown.

Although a total coincidence, I visited Mt. Vernon today on the same day that the news media released a story about the archeology of the ruins of George Washington's boyhood home in Stafford County, VA, near the Rappahanock River. Eventually these will be visible to the public.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

48 Hour Film Project DC airs this week at AFI Silver; many films viewable online

This week, the 48 Hour Film Festival Project will have showings at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD.

With this project, teams are given 48 hours to make films in various genres.

The basic link is this.

For the Washington DC area the link is this.

Their blog is this.

The AFI Silver Theater link (with schedules and links to buy tickets) for the event is here.

There is a convenient website from which to view many 48-Hour films from many cities.

Here is a sampling of a few of the many films (most of them around 7 minutes) out there. Most of these films appear to be from Baltimore.

Sophie, in black and white, dir. Angie Ennis. An African American man looks for a missing sister in a park and encounters an apparently retarded man, and then finds his writings about a portal to another universe.

Three Point Turn, dir. Dave Flanagan, from “One Frame Closer,” 7 min., has a couple driving on a city street, a bit carelessly, maybe with booze, and recalling past losses (a cat, for example). Only after a wreck does the woman find out about her third passenger.

Turf War (2005), dir. B.J. Ruddell, 7 min., starts with a shakedown and interrogation of a woman, who winds up running through Baltimore Ravens stadium.

Hatuchama (2007), dir. Matt McNeil, 7 min., is in two “chapters” and shows an average Joe becoming a “superman,” leading to some end-of-film fireworks. “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The Tipparinos (3 min) is a little short from Minneapolis in which an artist makes an animated gangster cartoon, based on Samuel Adams lager. “I can’t feel my legs.”

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The War on Democracy: a real critique of US Latin American policy, or left-wing bias?

The War on Democracy (2007, dir. by Christopher Martin and John Pilger, wr. John Pilger) produced by Youngheart, is a documentary that explores how the United States government has allegedly undermined democratic reforms in some Latin American countries. The administrations (especially the current Bush one) will say that their intention is to prevent Communist or extreme socialist takeover of the countries, especially of corporate assets in these countries. The film was shown this week in FilmfestDC. The film is to be distributed by Lions Gate in the UK, and Coach14 in the US. It is reasonable to believe that Lions Gate would eventually distribute it in North America.

About half of the film deals with Venezuela and the socialist government of Hugo Chavez. The film shows the extreme differences between rich and poor in Venezuela, and there are many compelling shots of the barrios packing the hillsides in Caracas. The film covers the bizarre coup attempt in 2002, and claims that the US was behind it.

The film backtracks to Cuba, the rise of Castro, and the clumsy failed attempt (the Bay of Pigs early in the Kennedy Administration) which it glosses over. It does not mention the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The film covers problems in Guatemala and with the drug wars in Nicaragua. The film also covers US intervention in Chile and Bolivia. There is a historical shot of September 11, 1973, when Pinochet took over Chile with a fascist government, and dissenters from the old Allende government were herded into a stadium. (This was the basis for the film Missing in 1982 with Jack Lemmon, dir. Costa-Gavras, Universal). In the 1990s the US supposedly had a “kinder, gentler” policy toward Latin America. That has not been too convincing with Bolivia. The film shows on-location shots of El Alto, near La Paz, and the highest inhabited city in the world, and one of the poorest

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio (film review)

The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio ("L’orchestra di Piazza Vittorio"”), directed by Agostino Ferrente (dis. Lucky Red films from Rome) is a gentle documentary about the growth of a pickup neighborhood orchestra in Rome starting in 2001. The old Apollo Theater was going to be desecrated and turned into a bingo parlor. So some entrepreneurs decided to raise money from the neighborhood to make it into a neighborhood theater with cinema and stage performances, particularly with an “orchestra” of immigrants. The theater would become something like the Lincoln Theater in Washington (although the film was shown at Landmark’s E Street in FilmfestDC). I recall that the movie house in Oberlin Ohio, near the famous college and music school is called the Apollo.

Much of the movie concerns trying to “recruit” the musicians, who then have to learn to work together and perform together, rather like kids. A few don’t fit in. The end product is a concert of pop and folk music from various countries, especially India and North Africa. There are a lot of unusual keyboard and percussion instruments.

The film is shot in digital video, and is sometimes grainy. But it does impart an intimate look of the streets of Rome, including some of the area around the Coliseum.

The website for the Orchestra is here. Here is a website on their US Your from World Music Central.