Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The most interesting concept in the Fox Atomic film from Karyn Kusama, “Jennifer’s Body”, is the recasting of the West Warwick, RI Station Fire in a disco fire scene early in this film. The setting is Minnesota or Wisconsin (the film was shot in Vancouver, of course) but the references is so obvious. The scene, with the pyrotechnics, is well done; but the story around it is something else. Here, a walkin’ dude Nikolai (Adam Brody, who was “Seth” in “The O.C.”, a good teen who writes comic books there ) sets it to drive out Jennifer (Megan Fox) and turn her into a vampire. But this film is no “Twilight”. In fact, it has a plot trick a bit like that of “Darkroom” (a few reviews ago), inasmuch as another character Needy (Amanda Seyfried) winds up in an mental institution, and might have powers herself if she can escape. Well, Needy and Jennifer had been intimate once, but Needy also had a really great kid for a boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons) who was going to take her to the Prom. Jennifer goes after some of the other more aggressive guys (animals of the forest gather before each slaughter – that does remind one of “Twilight”), and the “suspense” is where Chip – a great kid – will prevail.
With less activity going on, the film could have been more focused and become another “Bugcrush” (where Chip is a character similar to Ben in that short). I suspect that in the hands of a director like Carter Smith, for example, this film could have had a lot more real suspense, rather than turning into a rondo. The film could also be compared to New World’s “Mustang Sally”, in which Mark Parrish stars, but that film has a little more suspense.
Chris Pratt (“Bright” in Everwood), whom I met at public cast party in King or Prussia, PA in 2005, appears as one of the teens. It’s not his best role.
The film is loaded with a lot of popular disco music, some of it 80s-style. The producers must have paid a lot to buy the music licenses.
Here's some YouTube footage from the real Rhode Island tragic incident, which was an accident (however negligently caused). Check the search engines for the status of litigation on the tragedy.
Picture above: tunnel on bike trail near Sparta, WI (near where the film is supposed to take place).
Picture below: King of Prussia mall "party" with Everwood cast (Gregory Smith and Chris Pratt), Aug. 2005 (I attended).
Monday, December 28, 2009
Although maybe not a paragon of virtue in the eyes of some now, former President George W. Bush had told a commencement ceremony in Ohio in early 2001, “A person without responsibility for others is a person who is truly alone.”
That quote came to mind just because of the title of The Weinstein Company’s new film by Tom Ford, “A Single Man.” The movie is about loss and about being alone again, but it also deals with the accumulation of meaning of one’s relationships over a lifetime. There’s a scene where the protagonist fiftyish English professor George (Colin Firth) is quizzed by “best female friend” Charley (Julianne Moore) about trying to have a “real relationship” with kids, and George retorts that Charley had split up with her hubby after only a few years, where as George had been with Jim (Matthew Goode) since the end of WWII, for sixteen years. It’s now 1962, and we’ll get into that in a moment. But George, living in smog-soaked LA, has gotten a phone call purporting to report Jim’s death in an auto accident in a fall snowstorm in Colorado. Only “family” is to come.
What’s interesting is the timing of all this, as well as the setting and meaning. Throughout the film we hear reports about the Cuban Missile Crisis, so we know it’s October 1962. But the opening scene of the film says that the auto accident really takes place on Friday November 30, 1962. (The perpetual calendar part is right.) There is a bit of “Donnie Darko” effect here.
In fact, there is a whimsical shot of a fallout shelter. It’s not clear that Soviet missiles could have reached LA (the range was about 1000 miles), but they could have destroyed the East Coast and ruined the economy and infrastructure of the country for decades. There may have been sites later with a range of 2000 miles later. It would been a world in which a lot of people could not survive or live meaningfully. The Wikipedia page has the Kennedy speech here.
Let’s get back to George. He befriends a Spaniard (in a scene with wonder sepia depiction of LA smog), but more importantly also befriends a wonder ful college student in his class Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who becomes very real as a person an potential partner late in the film. But by now, very negative thoughts have taken over George, represented by the pistol that he keeps. But in the end, it’s his will and thinking that can become his undoing, not the weapon.
George, in teaching Huxley, talks about minorities, and how when they become invisible they provoke “fear” in the majority. Of course, he is talking about the status of homosexuals in American society in 1962. The “fear” is nebulous, but it certainly has something to do with the idea that marriage and family deals with collective purposes, were as even then, quiet gay relationships were carried out to express the creative needs of the participants. This is pure Rosenfels. George is the perfect subjective feminine. There is wonderful “psychological” dialogue throughout, such as a passage about “living for the moment.” Education is supposed to keep you from that.
But what’s interesting to me is the way the movie plays on the same period of history as the first chapter of my first 1998 “Do Ask Do Tell” book. In October 1962, I was an “inpatient” at the National Institutes of Health in a program for students who had gotten thrown out of college (among other things), as I had in the late fall of 1961 for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean of Men at William and Mary. However, I was the only patient going to college at night, then at George Washington University, and I indeed heard President Kennedy’s speech in the Student Union while eating dinner on Oct. 22, 1962. I was the only “patient” on the “ward” who knew what was going on and how grave it might be. The movie looks back to 1946 to bring up the subject of gays in the military, when it shows a flashback of George’s meeting Jim, then wearing a Naval Ensign’s uniform. Instead, I look forward 35 years, bringing the expulsion incident into the 1993 debate on gays in the military when President Clinton would try to lift the ban.
There’s another curious parallel to what I experienced. At William and Mary in the fall of 1961, both me and my roommate, in separate classes, had a young man for English, and my impression is that he may have been gay, but he was more like the Kenny student in this film than the professor. In those days, it seemed unusual for professors to consort socially with students as happens in this film. But I remember what that instructor said about some things, as when we read T.S. Elliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and he talked about sexual impotence. I think we read some Huxley that fall. I remember that we read Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving” with all its discussion of “symbiotic” love.
Here is TWC's official site.
The Weinstein Company has given us a film with some most interesting connections. We could even regard it as a case for ending “don’t ask don’t tell.”
The Associated Press offers an embeddable video here.
On a Monday afternoon, first show, Dec. 28, the large auditorium in Landmark E Street in downtown Washington DC was almost half-full for this film!
Wikipedia attribution link for CIA Cuban Missile Crisis photo.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Every Christmas season ABC plays the 1965 20th Century Fox and Robert Wise production of the Rogers & Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music”, taking a full four hours with commercials (the theatrical release runs 174 minutes). Julie Andrews, of course, created a sensation as the nun postulant who takes “God’s call” and becomes a governess for Van Trapp’s (Christopher Plummer) seven children, teaches them to love and perform music, and then falls in love with Van Trapp and marries in a triumphant wedding scene three-fourths the way through the film. (I don’t know if that breaks her vows.)
I watches this film on Christmas Night, a Monday, in 1989 in a relative’s apartment near Cleveland, Ohio a couple weeks before taking a new job that would set up the course of the next 20 years and lead to my situation today. I wanted and needed the change then, as I was “winning a battle” then but had to make sure I didn’t “lose the war”. In 1989, remember, the world had changed so suddenly was the Berlin Wall fell.
In the last hour of the film, the outside world comes knocking, as it so often does. Van Trapp is conscripted into taking an officership in the Nazi military. After the Van Trapp kids perform, the family must escape, and Van Trapp has a confrontation with young Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte), who, almost like an Al Qaeda recruit today, is drawn to the dark side. “You’re only a boy. You really don’t belong to them!” The boy gives in to the wrong impulses. But the nuns sabotage the Nazis with a “sin” and the family escapes. The final “Climb Every Mountain” in the Swiss Alps is a real high.
Perhaps seeing much of it again twenty years later marks another new effort in my own life.
Wikipedia attribution link for NASA satellite image of Switzerland.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Well, "Sherlock Holmes" is back in modern cinema (he’s been in the movies many times). Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow Pictures and director Guy Ritchie pull out all the imaginary stops to create a period piece that is a combination political thriller (with some obvious parallels to today’s “war on terror”), subtle psychological love story, technological adventure (what could you really do with a high school chemistry set in the 19th Century?) and mystery.
First, Sherlock and Dr. Watson, as played by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, do make “the odd couple.” They have an obvious love and affection for one another that is compelling as Watson’s arrangement with Mary (Kelly Reilly) and Sherlock’s interest in Irene (Rachel McAdams). Perhaps in Rosenfels language Sherlock is the “masculine” as he is the manipulator; Watson is a little more of a homebody whose keeps his place neat and whose landlord is relieved that the packrat Holmes isn’t moving in.
But that gets us to the thrust of the story: a certain Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) had supposedly been hung and has escaped from the grave (that sort of thing happened a few years ago on “Days of our Lives”) and is plotting his revenge, with a plot to rule the 19th Century world, win back the American colonies weakened by the Civil War, and set up a Reich (the allusion to what would happen to Germany is obvious). He will use the Pentagram and black magic (almost setting up the tone of Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica”) and commits a series of bizarre murders as if to send a message, somewhat in the tone of the movie “Seven”. Holmes and Watson go through some real adventures in 19th Century London, resulting in the sinking of a ship still being built; they wind up in jail, and at this point, Watson is a bit ahead in the heterosexual romance department; Mary bails him out first. But soon they are in the thick of stopping Blackwood’s plan to attack Parliament with 19th Century chemical weapons (almost reminding one of Saddam Hussein). Near the end of the film there occurs a “battle” on the Tower Bridge, then still under construction (completed in 1894; it is often mistakenly called “London Bridge”), where (spoiler) Blackwood gets what he deserves, again, very visually.
Words cannot impart the world of 19th Century “super technology” that the film creates. The look is a little bit like that of Dreamworks/WB’s “Sweeney Todd” last year. Ritchie keeps the film 1.85:1, and emphasizes close-ups of the characters, producing an effect like that of a Hitchcock film.
The Regal Cinema in Arlington VA had a projector-related problem with the sound today (the Christmas Day crowd was about 2/3 full), where half way through one channel of sound dropped out, leaving a muffled effect. The theater gave out vouchers for a makeup film.
By the way, the MacIntosh calls its search tool “Sherlock”.
Here is a blogger link for the Sherlock Holmes trailer (link.)
Here’s the official site. WarnerBrosPictures has an embeddable trailer on YouTube.
The music score, by Hans Zimmer, was appropriately rhythmic, but there was some nice early music by Beethoven and Haydn (and I thought I caught a passage from the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante).
Wikipedia attribution link for 1892 picture of Tower Bridge (pd)
Thursday, December 24, 2009
On December 23, the Hallmark Channel aired one of its “Hall of Fame” films, “A Season for Miracles”, directed by Michael Pressman (from 1999). It’s hard to find on imdb; here’s the link.
Here’s another tale about somewhat involuntary blood loyalty and family responsibility. This time, a natural biological mother (Laura Dern) OD’s on drugs and doesn’t stay out of jail. So her sister Emilie Thompson (Carla Gugino) steps forward to take care of her two children (the sister’s niece and nephew, played by Mae Whitman and Evan Sabara). But the state of Rhode Island’s child services wants to put them in foster care because Emilie has no job or bank account.
Some more “serious” films on this issue (“Raising Helen” – albeit a comedy, and “Saving Sarah Cain”) delve into the effect on the new responsibility on the “involuntary” parent’s life (see Aug 24, 2007) as did the WB TV series “Summerland” (see TV blog March 31, 2006). But here, Emilie just takes the kids and wanders to this nice “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (is it Pennsylvania?) where she meets a nice policeman Nathan (David Conrad) and a guardian angel (Patty Duke), who can metamorphasize as in fairy tales. So pretty soon we have a predictable, lighthearted Christmas movie that trivializes a big social problem. One thing about Bethlehem: it misses all the East Coast Nor’easter blizzards, until the last scene.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Well, “Me and Orson Welles” (directed by Richard Linklater, from Freestyle Releasing and CinemaNX with the Isle of Man Film Commission) starts in 1937 with a studious Richard (Zac Efron) sitting in a high school literature class, studying Julius Ceasar. Now, Efron himself was in AP courses in high school, and he may have enjoyed a big advantage: being born in October he may have been almost a year older than some peers in school. Yes, boys who are a few months older (a big difference in biological maturity terms at grade school ages) sometimes do much better in school and then in everything.
The character Richard aspires to better things, and soon is in contact with Orson Welles, who will direct Broadway’s first Shakespeare production, Julius Caesar. Soon the film gets in to what it really takes to be a great stage actor. Yes, you have to know and deliver your lines, but you have to live in your character’s shoes, too. Richard counter-manipulates his way into a small role, Lucius, the ukulele player and singer. Pretty soon the movie becomes a battle of egos, between the upstart teen Richard and the tyrannical Welles (Christian McKay). Richard talks his way out of some firings, as when he pseudo-accidentally sets off the stage sprinkler system. Then he gets involved with Sonja (Claire Danes), infuriating Welles (who seems to be cheating on a pregnant wife himself) again, but Welles keeps him for opening night of Julius Caesar at his Mercury Theater. Then Welles sends a runner (a kind of George Clooney-like character from “yesterday’s movie”) to fire Richard for good. Sonja hopes to get introduced to Selznick for the upcoming “Gone with the Wind” but Richard will go back to becoming a writer (a more appropriate choice). What’s more, all of this happens in just one week (according to Richard’s own first person comments).
Actors, it seems, have to live with the mentality, “we give you the words” – unless (like Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting) they wrote their own words – the best of all possible worlds.
It helps to review Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” before seeing the movie. Or rent the 1953 MGM film directed by Joseph L. Menkiewicz (Marlon Brando as Antony). Here, Welles plays Brutus. Later in the movie, Richard recites the speech about Cassius to his English teacher, and the speech comes across as a criticism of the existential motives of the plotters – especially “lean and hungry” Cassius, who seems to live for upward affiliation. Antony’s own character gets to be the subject of a lot of essay exam questions in English classes (as it was in my own tenth grade English final; we had to know the eight parts of the Elizabethan theater, including the Proscenium doors).
The movie has a dark brown look, as 1937 New York is recreated in CGI, on a London stage for filming. Lars van Trier could have directed this movie.
There are a couple of directorial gaffes or “wardrobe malfunctions” toward the end. In two sequences, Richard is wearing an open collar shirt, and obviously has an undershirt in one shot and then obviously doesn’t in a continuously subsequent shot. I don’t know how this was allowed to happen.
The official site for the movie (US) is here.
No, Orson Welles's famous radio broadcast about a UFO landing doesn't appear, but the historical incident raises interesting questions about the way "fiction" is interpreted when people may believe it to be fact and feel enticed to act. Nor does "Rosebud" appear.
If you want to look at one of Orson Welles's greatest films, check out Universal's restoration of the 1958 black and white classic "Touch of Evil" was Landmark Theaters showed in 2001. Remember the opening border sequence?
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
"Up in the Air": George Clooney shows that compulsive traveling substitutes for "real life" (like it's fun to fire people)
On a Thursday morning in December 2001, I was working with an internal customer on a technical problem, when my computer screen at work flashed at exactly 9 AM, “Your account has been disabled. Please log off. “
At 9:10, my manager stood in my cubicle and said, “Bill, we have a meeting at 9:30.” Fortunately, I had already calculated by severance, retirement, and other benefits, and in the meeting I found I had predicted them to the penny. The only requirement was to sign a “release of all claims” – an agreement not to sue. Another coworker, aware of my provocative book and website (by 2001 standards) said, “Bill, now you can go after the $25 million prize for helping entrap Osama bin Laden.”
Back around 1985 or so, PBS ran a series on outplacement companies, showing how a “hatchet man” calls an executive at work the Tuesday morning after Labor Day, asks him to meet with his boss, and together they tell the executive that he no longer has a job. Oh yes, he has a year’s severance. And, guess what, it’s musical chairs: his next job offer turns out to be as a replacement for still another executive.
So, in the widely praised Paramount Christmas film "Up in the Air", George Clooney (as Ryan Bingham) seems like a nice guy, involved in progressive causes like global warming, but his assertiveness is supposed to equip him to be the guy who tells sacked employees they’re to clear out, and deliver their severance and COBRA packages. In my case, the outplacement company did only that (outplacement advice) but in other situations the outplacement company helps break the news. He is a professional, compulsive traveler, on the road 300 days a year. He packs light, and tells people at motivational seminars how to pack their own backpacks light (I went to something like this on a whim in Helena, Montana in 1981 after hearing it advertised over the radio in my rental car – a “feeling good about yourself” seminar). It’s a good way to avoid “real life” – relationships. He has a sort of relationship with a woman (Vera Farmiga) his own age, eventually to be told that he is an “escape”, a “parenthesis”; her family is her real life. (Jennifer Roback Morse and Maggie Gallagher would love this “pro marriage” aspect of the movie.) He counsels his niece’s fiancée to go through a wedding that he will never experience (as if he were a priest, not quite). But then his boss brings in Natalie (Anna Kendrick) who will stop all the travel by putting the “termination specialist” (not “terminator”) on Skype for the employee to interact with. So Ryan takes her on the road to prove that the travel is needed.
A lot of the movie takes place in airports (like “Terminal”) and the TSA screeners look regimented with their starchy uniforms. It looks like a hard job to be a screener. One of the "saddest" scenes comes when Ryan passes his half million frequent flier mile award and gets a party from the pilot in flight.
The film shows aerial shots of many cities (Miami, Dallas, Wichita, Chicago, Las Vegas, Des Moines, St. Louis, Tulsa, even San Francisco). These shots would have benefitted from a 2.35:1 aspect ratio; but the closeup and airport scenes do well in the conventional 1.85:1 shots, as directed by Jason Reitman (for the Paramount Mountain and Montecito Pictures).
The official site for the movie is here.
The film is nominated for "Best Dramatic Picture" in the Golden Globes and is nominated for the most Golden Globe awards.
The YouTube trailer comes from "Regal Movie Trailers" (URL).
The film has a nice little disco party scene with real 80's music!
The film also reminded me of Robert Benton's "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979, Columbia), that has a "firing" scene (at lunch, no less, followed by a desparate hiring scene, just before Christmas).
And, by the way, the first movie that I would see after I was sacked in 2001, two days out, was Patrick Fettner's "The Business of Strangers" (IFC), which also bears some thematic similarity to today's review film. Bring on Suze Orman!
Picture: Lego exhibit of Dulles Airport at Tysons Corner lego fair, 207 (mine)
Monday, December 21, 2009
A curious little film from Starz (now Overture Films) and Mindfire Entertainment is Michael Hurst’s layered thriller “The Darkroom”. Note, to find it on imdb you have to spell the title as one word (there are many films with the title “Dark Room”).
The “darkroom” sits at the innermost layer of horror storytelling here: a “family man” keeps his inner sanctum locked from his wife and precocious teenage stepson Stanley (Shawn Pyfrom). Actually, the plot is rather an “inside out swing” at Mark Romanek’s 2002 thriller “One Hour Photo” (Focus) with Robin Wiilliams as the darkroom man who becomes obsessed with a particular family.
Well, in fact, when we meet the “family man” (Greg Grunberg) we see him manipulating his wife and stepson around the family dinner table the way we expect of “men”. He says why it is hard to keep his job as a tax preparer: he is caught between following the IRS rules and actually finding refund money for his clients. It makes me glad that I didn’t go to work for HR Block in 2008 (I might have).
Well, soon the teenager encounters his stepdad’s boss and finds out that he has been fired, to put it mildly.
In the meantime, the teenager has befriended, without a lot of motive other than kindness, a troubled man (Reed Diamond) who has escaped from a mental institution, so it seems. He puts the man up in a shed that he built for his mom --- improbable, and we begin to see the dreamlike, alternate universe nature of this embedded story. The Man teaches the kid to pick the lock to the darkroom with a bump key (a story that broke in the media in 2007, shortly after this film was made – that is, how easily defeated most ordinary home locks really are). Pretty soon the kid learns his stepdad’s perverted secret. Stepdad is way beyond the transgressions that Chris Hansen uncovers for Dateline.
The kid’s only “moral” indiscretion is to run when driving from the sheriff – a bit less convincing. It seems that he has been picked on as not manly enough, but he had a girl friend Kimberly (Erin Foster) who herself has become a victim of the goings on.
But the outer story, framed by two appearances of the same bloody scene, with the Man in an mental hospital with amnesia (but good short term memory) puts the very existence of the Kid in doubt. The Man is beset by visions of a golem that rips people to shreds, making all this a monster movie on another level.
The concept for this little film (written with Mark Altman) is indeed curious. I wonder if it has gotten talked about in screenwriting classes. It aired on TMC last night; I apparently missed it when it was “AMC Select” about two years ago.
Wikipedia attribution link for drawing of golem by Philippe Semeria.
This film is not the same as "The Darkroom" on blogger here, which I couldn't find on imdb. The film of this reveiw is imdb 466745.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Imagine a post World War II thriller that brings some of the dangers of the nuclear age right into the bedroom. Here are some of the plot elements. A young woman Alice Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) watches her father get sentenced to prison for espionage and feels she has family karma to make up. The woman is a mark and gets hired by a fibbie T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) to go down to Brazil to spy on the father’s Neo-Nazi connections. She gives the ultimate gift of intimacy by offering marriage to businessman Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains). But as she infiltrates she discovers that there maye be a horrific chemical secret in the wine cellar of his home. And add to that, Sebastian’s over dominating mother comes up with a plan to gradually eliminate her with the same poison.
The poison ("mcguffin") apparently is yellowcake, uranium, and in 1946 film director Alfred Hitchcock understood the existential future threat to civilization that it represented (yes, Hiroshima had happened). All of these elements make up the plot of the black-and-white thriller “Notorious”, made in 1946 by RKO Radio Pictures, but now distributed on DVD by both MGM and 20th Century Fox.
The film combines romance with moral ambiguity, as the heroine is asked to compromse her moral integrity to combat a greater, continuing evil; but she does it for her true love, Devlin. The long kiss scene, with the Rio beach in the background, is famous, and the director had to work around the 40s production code.
The film makes interesting use of the technology of the day, as intelligence is played back on a 78 rpm record.
The end of the film is the most chilling, as Sebastian, after Alice is rescued for medical attention, has to go back to what now are his own captors. “I’d like to have a word with you” is the last line of the film, and the door to the spyhouse closes as Sebastian walks in.
The film is based on the story "The Song of the Dragon" by John Taintor Foote, and the screenplay was adapted and written by Ben Hecht
Attribution link for Wikipedia picture of yellowcake.
The DVD contains a short "The Ultimate Spymaster", which says that when the script was being developed (in 1944) the atomic bomb had not been used or even tested it. J. Edgar Hoover is said to have objected to the idea of mentioning the FBI in the film, and the subject matter was considered positively dangerous in its day, perhaps even now.
But Alice was indeed "notorious."
Friday, December 18, 2009
Well, if you go to see James Cameron’s new epic, “Avatar”, in 3-D, that’s as close as the “average person” can get to a trip to another planet, for 3 hours and maybe about $12. (Think how much space tourists will pay soon.) Pandora, in fact, is a very reasonable facsimile of what a small planet close to an M Star 20-30 light years away (and in the goldilox zone) would really look like. The climate is moderate, the atmosphere thinner because the planet is smaller, and the plants have as much blue and violet as green. Actually, Cameron shows a gas giant in the horizon, so either Pandora is a moon of that giant (like Titan around our own Saturn) or very near it. Actually, astronomers say that it is highly likely that a planet like this would keep the same side toward its sun, leading to a permanent Hurricane Katrina right underneath the sun if that side were covered by ocean.
As for the politics, it’s familiar. Yes, this is a left-wing movie, all $300 million of it in budget (that's what it costs for Hollywood to simulate interplanetary travel for moviegoers), from a supposedly conservative-linked studio, 20th Century Fox. (The Fox trademark looks great in 3-D). There’s mention of “shock and awe” (remember George W. in 2003), but there’s also a statement about advanced civilizations pillaging more primitive lands for natural resources. We see scenes that look like “mountaintop removal” in southern West Virginia, although the “spice” (to refer to Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and the 1984 film) here is a rare earth metal.
Most of the planet has a landscape roughly like the mountainous parts of southeast Asia or southern China. There are even some floating mountains (I’m not sure how that could really form). There are jungles and epiphytes, and enormous trees connect to make walkways in the sky. And we learn that the trees are connected underneath in a kind of organic Internet.
That brings us to the natives, the Na’vi, who are tall (12 feet) and thin (because of low gravity) and have hairless bodies covered with purplish stripes. Through some cosmological coincidence, their DNA is almost compatible with humans, which invites the concept of the “avatar” as the human “sky invaders” have bred clones of Na’vi who are “operating” by men “sleeping” in pods who experience the avatars as alternate bodies.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a disabled jarhead, is the central hero, who has been offered a chance by “the Company” for restoration of the use of his legs if he will go on a mission to pacify the Na’vi and get them to give up a sacred site overlaying a future rare earth mine. Jake, in assimilating as a native person, will learn that the people live in complete harmony with nature because it gives them everything, including the organic Internet (maybe even Facebook). And, it gets predictable; his alter-person falls in love (in Second Life, to be sure); and then he turns “traitor” of sorts against his “own”.
The other knick here is that although jarheads perform the avatar mission and a veteran mean jarhead (Stephen Lang) is in charge, they actually work as contractors for a Dick Cheney company. Sigourney Weaver comes into the script as a kind of Ripley: first the mean scientist, turning kinder as the movie progresses (eventually joining the mission). Joel Moore is especially appealing as one of Jake’s buddies, almost too nice to be a Marine (he looks like Cilian Murphy to me). The “racial” contrasts are striking: if the Na’vi are supersized native Americans (again, a bit of an analogy to Jamestown, perhaps), the sky invaders are the typical Europeans, here even pretty hairy. I wonder how they made Jake’s legs look shriveled.
There’s an early scene on the spaceship before landing, and the rendition of the massive bay of sleeping pods is striking. That’s probably what a spaceship housing a crew for a 30 light year journey a century from now would really look like. Too bad I won’t live long enough to actually see it. Gnerativity matters.
Here is 20th Century Fox's official site.
IMAX offers its own trailer Rotten Tomatoes version of trailer is no longer available (was posted here).
James Horner's score resembles that of "Titanic" with a four-note theme that is repeated, and forms the basis of a concert overture (A minor) for the closing credits, as well as the main song. The YouTube link for the song is here.
There is something about an "organic Internet" tied to the biosphere of a planet. That utility would facilitate telepahty, and allow people to read the intent of their fellow citizens to existential levels, and have a big effect in areas like family values.
Horner said that Pandora was about 4-1/2 light years away. That puts it near Alpha Centauri. Not likely; I'd say 40 light years is more reasonable, and as a full planet, not a moon, so its temperature is more stable.
The concept of the story could be compared to Warner Brothers's "Outland" (1981), and Sony's recent indie film "Moon".
Picture: Jamestown VA (mine), 2009
Update: Aug. 19, 2010
The History Channel Universe series "Time Travel" episode today did say that Pandora is supposed to be a moon near a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B. It's pretty unlikely. Actually, AMC Theater's feature intro shows an outdoor movie audience on an M-star planet with blue plants, and an extraterrestrial city in the distance. M-star planets could well have plants with photosynthesis that look like those in the AMC trailer.
Update: Aug. 11, 2014
The film can be rented on YouTube for $12.99.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I rented one of last year’s genre thrillers, “Hancock”, because it deals with two topics of importance to me: men (and women) with superpowers aka Smallville, and “public relations” or “image consulting” aka online reputation management (no cameo from Michael Fertik, but such an appearance would have said a lot in one quick image). Yes, one of Hancock’s (Will Smith) problems is unfavorable “tagging” by others of him on YouTube and perhaps Facebook after all the property carnage of his most recent heroics.
No, Hancock (a name he made up while in amnesia and singing papers – 80 years ago – he doesn’t age) didn’t arrive in a meteor shower over Kansas. Instead, the backstory is more something out of Anne Rice – a love story, no less: his soul mate for 3000 years Mary Embrey (“Monster” Charlize Theron) has the powers too; in fact, the couple is a pair of angels, as if there were such an institution as angelic marriage (maybe Mormons recognize it). You could ask other questions: what if they have kids (OK, what happens when Clark Kent fathers kids?) .
The plot is complicated by the “factoid” that Mary’s real-time husband Ray (Jason Bateman) is a public relations consultant who tries to fix Hancock’s “reputation” after Hancock saves him from a freight train (that scene, with the locomotive, is quite well done). The idea is for Hancock to go to jail (eg, he can’t follow the dictum “stay out of the penitentiary”) to pay for some of his damages. He gets to shoot hoops in the prison rec yard, and outdo Clark Kent.
There’s an early scene where Ray explains the job of a p.r. man and a p.r. company, coming up with little symbols that improve the images of other corporate executives (as when they give pre-tax income to charity, or have their companies donate products). Everything is about image, nothing is about truth. ‘
But, yes Sir, man can fly. Superman (and Warner Brothers) don’t have a monopoly on birdmen. “Hancock” is directed by Peter Berg and comes from Columbia Pictures (with Relativity Media and Overbook).
The official site is here.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of downtown LA. My most recent driveabout there: February 2002.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Paramount Pictures is developing and starting a service to index frames and clips from a number of its major motion pictures, for location and sales, in order to increase revenue. A typical customer might be a large advertiser that wants to use a clip from a motion picture for a product commercial.
This innovation represents an effort by the motion picture industry to capitalize on the trend toward digitalization all of its content and a belief that customers want to purchased licensed materials in small pieces, much like purchasing individual songs.
The New York Times story on Tuesday Dec. 15 is by Brooks Barnes, “Paramount to Start Online Service to Sell Movie Clips”, web URL link here.
Paramount will start will relatively few films first, including “The Godfather” series, which I saw in the 70s when living in NYC.
Paramount did not move to Cinemascope in the 1950s as did other studios, instead developing its own VistaVision process (“White Christmas”).
For Golden Globes nominations (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) go here.
Monday, December 14, 2009
First, before going to see Clint Eastwood’s new film “Invictus”, an American viewer does well to read up on rugby, as here on Wikipedia. Apparently, the rugby shown in the movie is “rugby union” where a “try” is roughly like an American touchdown and a drop is like a field goal. The World Cup site is here.
Sports movies are always of the “feel good” variety, and this is no exception, for a director who usually likes serious, slow-paced fare. Instead, the expansive filming style reminds one of 80s epics. The writing (Anthony Peckham, adapted from the book by John Carlin) is a bit like that of a docudrama; there are a lot of platitudes, not too much dramatic tension or any real suspense. But Eastwood’s usual style does come through in a few places, like when Francois visits Mandela’s former prison cell. (Eastwood sometimes wants us to feel good, sometimes not; compare this to "Million Dollar Baby" and "Mystic River") as well as last year's "Gran Torino").
It also helps to be familiar with the geography of South Africa (CIA map here) and know where Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Capetown are. The movie has stunning on-location views of the cities and much of the countryside, as well as the shantytowns still there today.
Of course, most people know that the film concerns with the release of “Invictus” Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) and his use of rugby and the 1995 World Cup to unite the country after the end of apartheid. Matt Damon plays key player Francois Pienaar and looks pretty much like a teenager, especially when shirtless, even though the real life actor is now Jack Benny’s 39 (isn’t that unbelievable?)
For the official trailer, to to WB’s own official site here (no embed code offered there).
The AP has an authorized embedded interview with Morgan Freeman (catch: you owe 15 seconds of your time)
Pictures: Guantanamo cell replica, on the DC Mall, 2007.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Recently airline emergency performance has been in the headlines for both good (the Hudson River forced landing in January 2009) and bad (the Northwest Airlines overflight beyond Minneapolis recently, due to pilot inattention).
So the 2008 mystery “Passenger” from Tri-Star and Starz/Overture, directed by Rodrigo Garcia (DGC) and written by Ronnie Christensen caught my attention when it popped up on Netflix. A plane crashes on a beach near Vancouver, and a pretty therapist Claire (Anne Hathaway) shows up at the hospital to provide counseling to a few survivors, including businessman/artist Eric (Patrick Wilson). Yes, the predictable romance develops. But slowly, the other participants in the group start disappearing, and there seems to be real contradiction in the evidence about how the crash happened. The pilot seems not to have been at his duty station, leaving the duties to the co-pilot.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The theme of musicians adapting to the “practical work” world appears in TV and movies, and such is the case with Ted Demme’s “Beautiful Girls” (1996, Miramax), written by Scott Rosenberg. Timothy Hutton plays Willie Conway, the improvisatory jazz pianist, who with three buddies returns to a Minnesota town (the credits identify it as Stillwater, on the St. Croix River) for a high school reunion.
Not the attractive preppies that we expect men in their late 20’s to be in the gay world, these guys are already grizzled. And Willie is already considering taking on a job as an office equipment salesman, to make real money.
I’ve known of musicians who play for tips, who sell long term care insurance, and who run offices selling symphony orchestra subscriptions. Peddling doesn’t sound like a career choice for an artist.
Rosie O’Donnell has some great lines in a supermarket, about what rapturous men want from women, with explicit language that would violate this service’s TOS. But the title of the film, as well as some conversations among the other guys (Noah Emmerich, Max Perlich, and “Rumblefish” Matt Dillon) convey an impression more like that of George Gilder in his 1986 conservative book “Men and Marriage.” The straight men need women to anchor them into anything stable in life.
Natalie Portman debuts as the 13 year old Marty, who strikes up a friendship with Willie, and it stays within Platonic, non-physical bounds – which get mildly tested in a couple of scenes, such as with a mention of Roman Polanski, or particularly when Marty asks Willie why it as all right for Juliet (in Shakespeare’s world) to be only 14 years old. English teachers have to explain this to ninth graders.
Monday, December 07, 2009
The hit film “The Blind Side” starts with a retrospect of the gruesome injury to Washington Redksins quarterback Joe Theismann during a sack by New York Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson in 1985 on Monday night football, leading to a demonstration of a quarterback’s “blind spot.” The film, directed by John Lee Hancock, is based on a book by Michael Lewis that starts out by using this incident in discussing offensive football strategy.
But the film moves to the main event, the story of how Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her husband (Tim McCraw) take in a homeless African American teen, become his guardian, get him tutored through school in Memphis as he gets a football scholarship at Ole Miss and eventually plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
Tuohy gets him tutored by Miss Sue (Kathy Bates) and battles incredibly poor academic aptitude as usually measured, but strong team sense (he scores high on “protective instinct”, which Anne transfers to his team sense as he learns to play linebacker. He is taught that his teammates are his family. But the idea that it is the duty of some family members to play "protector" of others (besides their own kids) that is morally controversial.
When he picks Ole Miss, the NCAA actually investigates the Tuohys for “conflict of interest”, claiming that alumni families will take in athletic kids, raise them to get them football scholarships. It sounds preposterous.
Update: Dec. 29, 2009
ABC 20/20 ran a special report "'The Blind Side': How Michael Oher Made It: Subject of Hit Movie Talks About Hard Early Life, His Loving New Family and How Dreams Come True", story by Rob Wallace and Steve Schnee, link here. One of the Tuohy girls gave up AP classes to take English in his class.
Update: March 16, 2014
Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA has a poster honoring alumus graduate Sandra Bullock for the film.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Q. Allan Brocka has created a quirky franchise of gay comic films, now up to three in number, distributed by Ariztical. It’s name is a metaphor of what used to be a Sunday afternoon social custom back in the 50s, “Eating Out.” The first film, directed by Brocka himself, is the best. It features a likeable young classical pianist played by Ryan Carnes, an early patriotic hymn sing-a-long, and then a middle section scene where the pianist does some chest work on another hapless character at the direction of a phone queen. The second film, “Sloppy Seconds” is rather forgettable, but now Netflix offers online the third, directed by Glenn Gaylord, “All You Can Eat”, and an interesting premise. Daniel Skelton plays Casey, an appealing young man who volunteers for a Matthew Shepard fundraiser (that really isn’t funny) not sure what he will get into. Pretty soon, a “girl friend” (of one of the straight men) has him creating a fake profile to find a boyfriend. The trouble is he “impersonates” the straight man on a social networking site called “Gay Spacebook.” No, it doesn’t look like Facebook, but I wonder how many Facebook employees have seen this film! Actually, the new privacy controls proposed for Facebook might make this kind of stunt a bit more difficult – but this only a movie, right? It’s all in garish colors in an unspecified warm climate locale.
The movie gets into poking fun at the typical gay disco scene, including a simulated “dirty dancing” session (some people actually call this “break dancing”, and yes, “third parties” do often “interfere”—the worst thing is that people stop to text or take cell phone calls – and they do more after last call, when they no longer have drinks in their hands) . The Casey has to do some public speaking for the benefit, but, just as in a drag show at the Town DC, he is required to lose his shirt first.
The movie also refers to the "fist in the wall" scene in Dalton Trumbo's "Roman Holiday".
Actually, there is a lot more that directors could get out of this kind of material.
If you want a classic with a similar title, check out Paul Bartel’s comedy about cannibalism, “Eating Raoul” (1982, Fox Searchlight).
The producers call this E.O. "The First Gay Trilogy if you don't count 'Lord of the Rings' (Frodo and Sam).
Picture: The Cobalt in DC last night had a Rumba theme.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
"Brothers": Lionsgate remake of a Danish war family drama puts Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal to the test
Jim Sheridan’s new film “Brothers” (official site here) is actually based on a Danish film from 2004 “Brodre” by Susanne Bier. The new film, from Lionsgate, is expansive and gives Tobey Maguire (“Plesantville” and “The Cider House Rules” as well as Peter Parker as “Spiderman”) and Jake Gyllenhaal (the nice guy from “Rendition” who likes pie charts) to play uncharacteristic roles.
In an early scene, USMC Capt. Sam Cahill, played by Maguire, shows some family tenderness with his kids that not all of us have in us. Natalie Portman plays his wife Grace. Soon he is deployed to Afghanistan, just after welcoming his renegade brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) on parole. Gyllenhaal looks corrupted by the tattoos; he’s no longer the teenager of “Donnie Darko”. Tommy’s recklessness continues, as Grace has to drag him home from a bar.
Tommy gets shot down in Afghanistan and is reported dead. The movie reportedly is about Tommy’s moving in on Grace, although that’s relatively subtle (as in the kitchen painting scene). But the film very skillfully weaves in the counter story of Sam’s captivity. The Taliban’s ruthlessness becomes more than just that: it comes out of the heart of an ideology driven by the notion of a dictated righteousness for its own sake, a world in which everyone supposedly get just what he deserves (as dictated by Allah) and so supposedly is sustainable (by 14th Century values).
Sam tells the private shot down with him to say nothing. That makes an interesting question: what if they had been visible on the Internet and publicly searchable; the enemy could have found out a lot about them. (Yet the military often allows blogging from combat zones.) The “extreme rendition” ensues, and it is horrible (not to be described here) and comes to a tragic end that will haunt Sam, who is suddenly rescued by Special Forces (again, the ability of military intelligence to find and rescue POW’s could be compromised by the Web). So far the film structurally reminds one of Tom Cruise’s “Lions for Lambs” for MGM/UA in 2007.
Sam returns, and begins to question what has gone on. He says he would forgive his brother – but then the little girl Isabelle spills the beans. This leads to a PTS blowup (unusual role for Maguire), where he must ultimately tell Grace what he had to do to survive.
I saw this with a large crowd in a large auditorium in a Regal in Arlington. The projectionist had trouble with the lenses, and chopped off the wonderful Lionsgate musical trademark (starting with Saw machinery and opening up on the real Lions Gate in Greece – the best musical trademark in the business). The LionsGate trademark opening is viewable on Youtube here. LionsGate does not allow embedding of this one orchestral ritornel, so just play the link, and turn up your speakers. It needs to be played loudly. What a grand entrance for a politically volatile movie. To my quasi perfect pitch, it sounds like A Major. (Lionsgate does not use the triumphant music on its horrow films, like the "Saw" series, but it uses the same images.)
I have an unpublished novel manuscript which I have called “Brothers” but may rename. (It’s OK as long as the name doesn’t become a franchise.) But I have a male married CIA agent (posing as a history teacher) with three kids falling in love with a gay male ROTC student during the time that “don’t ask don’t tell” being lifted, and they become a “tag team” (like the brothers in “Supernatural”) chasing a mysterious new virus that is causing people living at high altitudes to become possessed. Does that make sense for a movie? I probably shouldn’t give the logline away so easily, but it’s a good exercise to try to state it as an elevator speech. (Again, that “Saw” machinery really works.)
Wikipedia link for LionsGate clouds
The film was made on location in New Mexico in winter.
Wikipedia attribution link for Chaco Canyon picture, not too far from site of film.
The film should not be confused with a 2001 film "The Brothers".
Friday, December 04, 2009
Rosalind Russell’s most famous film probably is “Auntie Mame”, a lavish “romantic comedy” (2:23 in length), filmed in Technirama (like Cinemascope) and directed by Morton DaCosta, and one of Warner Brothers’s proudest offerings in the early Cinemascope era. The indoor sets fill the eyes, and the wonderful shades and hues of Technicolor make the film an exercise in experiencing color for its own sake.
But the social message of the film (not just “life is a banquet”) is important today. Indeed, the film shows how people dealt with tough social problems in those days and “creatively” stayed within production codes. The film opens with a shot of a typewritten will (rather odd for wide screen), written by the elder Dennis the day (in 1928) before he drops dead in a Chicago steam bath. He must leave custody of his son to his only relative, his sister Mame Dennis. Does he really have to do this, and does Mame really have to raise him? Well, Mr. Dennis leaves the authority for decision making to a trustee, Mr. Babcock (Fred Clark) because he doesn’t approve of Mame’s roaring life style (in New York).
The kid is around 12 (played by Jan Handzlik) and is so smart that he would be easy to raise. At this point, I recall other movies that have taken up variants of this situation: “Raising Helen”, “Saving Sarah Cain”, and the Spelling TV series “Summerland”. It happens, that childless siblings wind up with the kids after a tragedy. But then the movie presents Mame as not really seeing this as a real responsibility. Instead, she does bond with the kid, who likes her freewheeling values a lot more than the stuffy conservative guidance of Mr. Babcock. He does not need to be raised in a “Gossip Girl” environment.
The Mame loses everything in the 1929 crash, and has to go out and get a real job. Acting (actresses can “imagine”). But that goes bust and she can’t just to regimentation and gets fired from all her lower class jobs. She can’t handle being a switchboard operator (that scene uses wide screen effectively), and doesn’t know how to make a cash sale at Macy’s. That’s where she meets white knight Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Forest Tucker) who sweeps her away, even taking her down to his plantation in oil country. Finally, she writes a book (with a homely secretary as an assistant to take dictation in shorthand in those pre-computer days), and exposes everyone.
The film does cover some familiar territory.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Landmark Theaters and Mark Cuban’s organization seem to be reaching out and bringing otherwise domestically undistributed films to the US, including an important epic drama about apartheid (following up on all of Ted Koppel’s reports from the 1970s and 1980s) in South Africa, directed by Anthony Fabian and produced by Elysian Films, called “Skin”. (In Britain it was distributed by BBC and was funded by the UK Film Council; in the US, the distributor is technically Jour de Fete, which seems to have only this film). It has epic sweep and a stunning look (in full 2.35:1), in shades of brown and gray nonetheless, and shows how the political climate in South Africa changed until 1994. It reminds me of Richard Attenborough’s “Cry Freedom” for Universal in 1987, and anticipates Clint Eastwood’s "Invictus" for Warner Brothers. The official site is here. I don’t know who will distribute the DVD: Magnolia Pictures, maybe?
As so often, it is a personal drama that brings out all the moral paradoxes in politics. San Neill and Alice Krige play a “white” couple who have a “black” looking daughter, at least somewhat. In the first part of the film, around 1974, they go through legal contortions to have the daughter Sandra (Sophie Okonedo) declared “white”. The court hearing has mention of “throwback” (as if there were a moral connotation) with a nicer term like “polygenetic inheritance”. Yes, many Afrikaaners may have such genes, but so do all homo sapiens (biologically, lighter skin developed about 20000 years ago as people migrated away from the equator and needed to be able to make vitamin D). But then Sandra falls in love with a native man from the “camps” and wants to be declared “black” so that she can cohabit and marry. Eventually she has children, becomes rejected and estranged from her parents (making an existential point for those who care to think about it) and lives in poverty, as the government expropriates their camps and destroys their homes (the political issues, again). When her parents fall into ill health about the time apartheid ends, she seeks them out, and finds her mother now in a nursing home. The circle of tragedt becomes complete.
The movie certainly makes a point about family and blood loyalty, when compared to evolving ideas of fairness for society as a whole, which needs to develop within individuals on their own. For Sandra it does, but not for her parents, in time.
Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. satellite photo of the Republic of South Africa.
Update: Feb. 9, 2011
E-One handles the DVD. It includes a short "Sessions for Scriptwriters" where average people come in, do spiritual exercises, and then read scenes of the script for the writers.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
The movie “Precious”, from Lionsgate, is indeed difficult to watch. The full formal title is “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, with the screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher, directed by Lee Daniels.
Yes, Gabourey Sidibe can make us uncomfortable in the early scenes, even more so than her mother (Mo’Nique), who lets her have it in a BedStye staircase conversation, “you know what motherhood entails? Sacrifice.” It’s filled with expletives, n-words, anger, nihilism, and hopelessness.
That’s after Precious gets persuaded by her middle school principal, after suspension, to go to an alternative school. Her mother has no use for her daughter or for herself. Yes, it comes out that she has no use for booksmarts, but it slides quickly into despair.
Precious got suspended because she was already pregnant with a second child at 16; and she was seemingly illiterate, yet her math teacher had already discovered she had some real buried talent, some real hope.
Here, a lot of my own baggage comes into play. The math class scene opens the film, and the male teacher is obviously struggling with “classroom management”. I had that problem as a sub, particularly with underprivileged students: and it got to the point that I felt I had no right to be an authority figure over them; I had not “paid my dues” according to the values of their world, so I was unwittingly dependent on them. This goes far astray, but one time I was asked if I could “help out in the locker room and man the deep end of the pool” with special ed students. At 61, I felt humiliated by the request, but that would be the stuff of another screenplay. (Well, it was, and that leads to something else; see my main blog, July 27, 2007.)
Precious does have problems with English; there are scenes were her attempts at phonetic spelling are shown, and we sometimes wonder just how arbitrary “correct” spelling in the English language got. I recall getting the lowest grade in the class in third grade on a “My Weekly Reader” test, but somehow overcoming and becoming a good student, getting A’s in high school English anway. It’s very hard to explain.
The denouement of the movie is logical. We learn that her past is as horrible as we suspect. And her mother deserves to be walked away from.
The official site is here.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Brazilian short "Cowboy Forever" recalls mood of Brokeback, with more emphasis on "unit cohesion"; LOGO removes some short films
There is a “long short” (25 minutes) from Brazil, written and directed by Jean Baptiste Erreca, that is said to pay homage to Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” (2005, Focus). It’s “Cowboy Forever” (from Frameline), which is a docudrama, in first person (by twentyish Govinda Machado de Figueiredo), of a cowboy’s growing awareness as he works in the (the Mato Grosso do Sul) of southern Brazil. The green ranchland is pancake flat (the sugar cane country for growing biofuels is not far away), but the Highlands (technically related to the North American Appalachians) rise in the distance. The men work and roam together, and camp at night using bedrolls and hammocks (and communal showers), in an environment with some of the intimacy one expects in the military.
Govinda befriends a man with a tattoo “Cowboy Forever” on his back. In time, they journey to town, and feign some interest in disco girls, just like Army recruits on pass from Basic. Their friendship grows gradually, and the other men engage in playful rituals to celebrate them, more homosocial (like what one would see on a Navy ship) rather than sexual. The film provides an interesting look at what same-sex “cohesion” is all about.
I played it on Logo and had some trouble connecting, maybe because of other activity running on my machine. The video quality was a bit grainy and the subtitles (for Porguese conversation -- the narration is in English) are hard to read.
I’ve noticed that Logo Online has removed a lot of favorite shorts, including Carter Smith’s “Bugcrush” as well as “Hitchcocked” (David Young, Unicycle). The search engines find them, but then one finds the videos removed. Does anyone know why? (Bugcrush is on “Boys Life 6” which comes from Strand and is easily ordered “legally” on Amazon.)
Some time back I also watched "Silver Road" (2008, Broken Frames, dir. Bill Taylor, Canada, 8 min) In Manitoba, probably near the province’s own “Great Lakes”, a Canadian farm boy experiences the loss of his best friend going away to college. I recall the emotions from my own time in 1961. This film is still on Logo’s list.
Wikipedia attribution link for map of Brazil
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Director Sharon Maguire says this about her philosophy about our freedoms in a post 9/11 word: “All liberal thinkers have had to reassess that attitude since 9/11 because the results of free association, free movement and free expression have put us all in danger in many ways, so everybody’s had to rethink their position” (from Wikipedia article on her film). This applies to her 2008 film “Incendiary”, from ThinkFilm, Optimum, and FilmFour.
A young mother (Michelle Williams) carries out an adulterous affair with a reporter Jasper (Ewan McGregor) while they watch a soccer match on widescreen TV in her London flat. Suddenly, there is an explosion, in the section where her husband, ordnance expert Lenny (Nicholas Gleaves) and young son attend.
The next scene places her in the wreckage of the stadium, looking for her family. The scene is quite graphic, and reminds one of a similar on in New Line’s “Final Destination”. Then Lenny’s boss Terrance (Matthew MacFayden) shows an interest in her as he tries to help, whereas Jasper helps finger the killer. Then the mother meets the teenage son of the supposed shooter and almost gets herself and him killed by British sharpshooters at Euston Station. It all comes full circle as she has another child (by Jasper) and composes a letter to Osama bin Laden about the rebuilding since the “May Day attack”.
The film makes a reasonable try at using storytelling to make a political argument (although it is based on a novel by Chris Cleave). Imagine a “fictitious” film where a female military officer in the Pentagon tries to contact her partner in the WTC before the Pentagon is itself attacked shortly. This film showed what the police activity around the stadium really looks like; no one has really done that yet with the Pentagon in Arlington on 9/11.
The film’s website is here.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of the Underground
Saturday, November 28, 2009
“Max Payne” is no Max Planck. No, he’s the lead protagonist of a 2008 genre police thriller from John Moore for Fox, played by Marky Mark Wahlberg, who back in the 1990s provided the icon for how to build a personal website.
It’s like a Screen Gems or Dimension movie. It pays homage to every screenwriting technique (Beau Thorne) by stitching together a plot with as many hyperboles as possible. Max Payne (funny, “Payne” was a punching bag in my Army basic) is a former cop whose wife and unborn child were slain. Playing around in the cold case unit, be becomes a suspect himself in the murder of another escort, as the characters pile up (including an assassin good enough to be Pie ‘O’ Pah) leading to a black ops plot with a pharmaceutical company, making a super steroid drug to make soldiers into “universal soldiers” – the ultimate fighting machine. The potion is said to be essential to George W.'s war on terror. (The films idea of manly men is the hairless, tattooed look.) The drug is related to Norse mythology, and the administration of a bizarre tattoo (not the rose tattoo, either). The drug works only on 1% of the soldiers, and the rest have wild hallucinations, which are quite well done in the film, with images like those in the “Crow” movies and later something like an alien attack on NYC (not quite Cloverfield, but maybe with a little bit of the solar flares of "Knowing").
Key line: "All that snow, and watch it end up being a beautiful day."
Website is here.
Picture: What's "wrong" with the clock? (Restaurant in Winchester VA).
Friday, November 27, 2009
As for the movie making of Robert Zemeckis (director and screenwriter) with Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” in Disney 3-D, I could say only, wow! The film shows how a writer’s imagination is challenged by rendering of this children’s tale, blowing it up with visual concepts (in live animation, based on 19th Century English life) as well as teaching the moral fable.
Of course, there is the “performance” of Jim Carrey, as the gnarled Ebenezer Scrooge, and all sorts of Christmas ghost characters. Remember Carrey in Parmount’s “The Truman Show” (Peter Weir, 1998), which might have inspired Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”. In “Truman”, Carrey was this affable salesman guy, with a real marketing profile, and a proclivity for sticking his rear end into the moviegoer’s face. Pretty soon he showed up on Larry King Live, in shorts, and said “the hair ain’t bad”. Well in “Christmas Carol”, the Ghost of Christmas Present (if I have it right) is like God in a Clive Barker novel (Hepaxamendios), complete with hairy chest, which can turn gray. But Scrooge’s own body, especially his gams as well as his visage, has withered away into naked baldness. He is so pathetic. (Actually, Zemeckis would be a natural choice to make Clive Barker’s “Imajica”, but probably not for Disney; maybe a company like Summit or Lionsgate instead).
Scrooge was a moneylender, and maybe more that, a loan shark, probably capable of making enemies who could do him in. His business partner Marley (Zemeckis communicates this with the signage) has deceased and become a ghost to warn him of his own fate if he doesn’t change his heart. (Somehow, the movie made me think of Thomas B. Costain’s “Moneyman”, which I read for a book report in Ninth Grade; funny how things come back to you – and Zemeckis could make an interesting movie of that, too.)
Most of us remember the story, and the other characters like office employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman), who has a wife and kids, and Tiny Tim. As the movie develops, it quickly becomes a slam against hyperindividualism (a philosophy that drives Hollywood itself) and even objectivism; Scrooge goes on an early rant to the effect that the poor “deserve it” – something like Herbert Spencer’s philosophy – and then Scrooge is forced to see by the Ghosts the “logical consequences” of his own mindset – to the point that he his confronted with his own coffin, lowering down into Hades. (Maybe he’d wake up in it, like Marlena in “Days of our Lives” in 2004). It all becomes quite existential. He also sees the joys of family life, when shown the Cratchit Christmas dinner, complete with Cornish game hen (what SLDN serves at its fundraisers to end DADT) – Zemeckis really does a great job with food (like the English porridge, green with chick peas, in an early scene – compare to Brad Bird’s “Ratatouille” for Disney in 2007). The dinner scenes somehow reminded me of the movie “The Dead” based on the James Joyce story, with the Christmas dinner scene. In today’s social climate, the story and movie could be viewed as a plea for a more socialized, sustainable set of values.
The official trailer is here. (Disney did not authorize embedding). (2017: embed is OK now.)
I love the Walt Disney trademark in 3-D, where the little trail crossing a river bridge approaching the Magic Kingdom creates an "on another planet" look.
I saw this at a Regal in Arlington, 2/3 full during the day on Black Friday – and the same technical glitch (in auditorium 6, with a big flat screen, 2.35:1) that I mentioned in the previous review (“Twilight”, in auditorium 7, big curved screen) caused the sound to cut off during the closing credits. This film comes from a different distributor (Disney v. Summit) but there seems to be a software issue with the way the high-def digital DVD’s communicate with the projection equipment (Regal uses a Sony system) when reaching the end credits. Landmark E Street has not had this problem.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Some PBS stations air "Six Days in June", about the 6 Day War, setting up today's tension in the Middle East
On Wednesday, November 25 public television station MPT in Maryland aired the 110-minute historical documentary “Six Days in June” (also called just “Six Days”) directed by Ilan Ziv, written with Stephen Phizicky, about the Six Day War in 1967.
Egyptian president Gamal Adbel Nasser imagined a socialist, pan-Arabic empire, and made aggressive moves, including closing the Straits of Tiran. There was a lot of gamesmanship with Levi Eshkol, prime minister of Israel. President Johnson and his staff had to deal with a lot of political gamesmanship with the Soviet Union, and the Johnson administration quickly concluded that Israel would win quickly, like a rout in a chess game (Nasser called himself a “chess player”). But on June 5, Israel launched a pre-emptive war, which would result in Israel’s control of Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
During the War, Israeli citizens got very little detailed information from the media, and Israel did not yet have television. Government officials rounded up young men, even with families, for a quick conscriptive draft.
The legacy of the war lasts until today, leading what former president Jimmy Carter calls Palestinian “apartheid”. It certainly contribute to the Arab oil embargo of 1973.
The film shows a lot of live footage in crisp black-and-white.
The original theatrical distributor in 2007 was Seventh Art Releasing.
The MPT link is here. ht
Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. CIA memo.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” is the official title of “Twilight II”, the new franchise from little Summit Entertainment that is quickly making into a major Hollywood player (more or less like Lionsgate and Overture -- either of which could have done this series). Summit, don’t forget, has given us “The Hurt Locker” and “The Baader Meinhoff Complex, and of course “Knowing” (eg, the “Little 2012”). Summit has quickly developed the reputation of a company that brings innovative independent film (including foreign) as well as large scale horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. And, people considering domain names, book titles, movie titles, and the like: “Twilight”, like “Harry Potter”, has become what trademark lawyers call a “franchise”, again based on the books of Stephanie Meyer.
We all know that the precept of this sequel is a bit silly: the homely heroine Bella (Kristen Stewart) is chased by an altruistic vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). The vampires and werewolves have a treaty (dating back to the early 60s when on Saturday nights a movie series called “Chiller” was aired).
At the very end, Cullen makes a proposal to Bella, which sounds funny (and maybe pokes fun at the political debate as to what kinds of people can be allowed to “marry”). Imagine what their kids would be like (imagine the same thing if Clark Kent gets married). Would they have powers? Be immortal? Be able to reproduce again?
Imagine what it would be like for Bella to be married to a man who (saying he is 109), will always look 23, never have “tissue death” (as Dr. Phil calls it) and never go bald on the pate, or the legs for that matter. Bella could become a QEII in the meantime.
The physical contrast between the Vampire and the Werewolf is striking. Pattinson looks pale here, not like the heartthrob of GQ or Vanity Fair. Here his virility is subdued; he almost looks weak. By comparison, Lautner, only 17, bulked up 30 pounds for the role (that’s biologically much easier to do in one’s mid twenties than in the teen years), and looks partly Native American. And his personality, partly from his acting style, is more dominating.
Most of the movie takes place around the Columbia River, but there is an interesting sequence in Brazil, in the highlands (where the coven of vampires have their steering committee meeting and fight near the end).
The huge werewolves were well designed and animated in CGI. They looked as big as lions.
There's a great coastline conversation where Jacob says he cannot help the genes he was born with (to become a werewolf). Is it "what we do" or "what we are"?
I saw this the day before Thanksgiving, afternoon, digital projection, at a Regal in Arlington. The crowd was sparse. During the closing credits the theater prematurely drew the curtains to standard aspect and turned off the movie sound track and started playing the theater’s music. It’s important in many films to hear the music of the closing credits for the full experience intended by the director.
The film is directed by Chris Weitz (a star in “Chuck & Buck” in 2000).
The official site for the movie from Summit Entertainment is here.
YouTube trailer from “Official Twilight Film”.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
“Red Dirt”, written and directed by Tag Purvis, released in 2000 (from Genius Films and Sweet Tea Productions), is a curious drama with a “polygon” of relationships, set in rural Mississippi (near Meridian), developing toward a climax with an LGBT element, but that’s only part of the concept. Griffith Joseph Burns (Dan Montgomery) lives in the shadow of a helicopter aunt (Karen Black) who has dumped some family responsibility on him after an obscure tragedy. But then a couple more characters come to town: the cousin (Aleska Palladino) and a drifter Lee Todd (Walton Goggins) who responds prematurely to a cottage for rent sign. Lee says he is an oil rig worker from Morgan City, Louisiana (maybe not quite Ben Affleck’s character from Armageddon), and a handyman who could fix up the place if he could live rent free. The threads of story start to weave themselves, with bizarre scenes like the building (and eventual burning) of a wicker (no person inside), and the wrist cutting and blood sharing of Griffith and Lee. In time, Lee confronts Griffith with his love, and Griffith is angered by the unwelcome approach. But then Griffith has to come to terms with who he is, too.
The film has a spiffy website.
The music is by Nathan Barr, and the vocal music during the closing credits is quite moving.
The DVD contains an 8 minute short "Peas 'N' Corn" (1994) by Purvis, in black and white, an odd mix of swamp scenes and deserted small town life. Tag Purvis also made a notorious three minute short "America the Beautiful" in 1997.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
On a weekend where “everybody” is flocking to Twilight II, I looked at an overlooked TV film from 2004, Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, directed by John Kent Harrison, based on the children’s novel by Madeleine L’Engle.
A physicist Jack Murry (Chris Potter) dematerializes while experimenting with extra dimensions, along with an assistant Hank. The son and daughter, along with a neighborly teen Calvin O’Keefe (played by a wholesome Gregory Smith, then 20) go through some time warps, visiting two planets: the first green with sharp-top mountains like those in China and huge birds (probably a thick atmosphere), and then a polluted world Camazotz. Maybe the planets were inspired by the solar system in Frank Herbert’s "Dune" (a film in 1984). The kids are accompanied by three female “angels” (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which).
The second planet is really pretty interesting conceptually. The sky is cloudy with soot and orange, hazy pollution. There are townhouses on a concrete street without yards, leading to a central headquarters surrounded by a circle of offices in a pinwheel. Inside the headquarters there are endless concrete passageways, and the aliens can put the kids (especially Calvin) out with their own kind of anesthesia. It’s a kind of hell, or perhaps southern California in the future, after a century of global warming. Kids can shoot hoops or ride skateboards when a cop tells them that the scheduled "hour" for them to do so has come (sounds like school).
There are other interesting concepts. The daughter gets detention for correcting her male science teacher in an early scene. Later, there is a script line “being equal doesn’t mean being the same.” A lot of the writing sounds metaphorical.
Gregory Smith's character Calvin has a basketball hoops flashback where he acts a bit like a superman (maybe an expansion of "Everwood"). In the DVD interview Smith mentions that Calvin, already an intern at the lab, gets involved in the search and rescue of the neighbor's dad out of a "compulsion." As far as I remember, Smith's characters in TV and movies are always wholesome.
The DVD is full screen (unfortunately), and comes from Dimension Films, which at the time was part of Disney (and the Weinstein Company).
Here is Walt Disney Studio UK’s official trailer for the upcoming (2010) “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” with a very muscular Jake Gyllenhaal.
Check also a blog on this film trailer here.