Sunday, August 30, 2009

Clint Eastwood's earlier film "Blood Work" is a workmankike medical thriller

Clint Eastwood, besides being known for his libertarian leanings, has gradually evolved his contemplative directoral style with big but eclectic films like “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby”, even composing background music.

His earlier thriller “Blood Work” (2002, Warner Brothers) is more like your standard set-up of intractable problems for good storytelling and three-part screenwriting. The movie is based on the novel by Michael Connelly, adapted screenplay by Brian Helgeland.

Eastwood plays Terry McCaleb, a retired detective who has accepted a heart transplant. While still very feeble, he is approached by the sister of his heart donor to solve her demise. Terry is already upset that he owes his life to evil, your classic moral dilemma. He traces, through some lab work, connections between some cases he had worked on as a detective, and finds that the victims were marked because they had been organ donors. He eventually tracks down the killer on a boat, and the killer’s motive is bizarre (“Cane and Abel”), to say the least; maybe this sort of thing happens in Hitchcock. Sometimes people are manipulated by motives that seem almost supernatural.

The purely medical aspects of the movie are not played up too much. Eastwood is not as weak as he “should be”. The surgery sounds mutilating, disfiguring; but the prednisone causes him to have to shave three times a day. In real life, he would face the constant threat of organ rejection.

Much of the film was shot on location in Long Beach, CA.

Wikimedia attribution license for photo of Long Beach. My last visit there was Feb. 2002.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Alfred Hitchcock's silent film "The Lodger"

The Laserlight DVD containing “Sabotage” contains a bonus, the early Alfred Hitchcock silent film “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” (1927), originally from Vintage Films. The film, 90 minutes on the DVD (not matching any times given on IMDB) make it longer than the “main course”.

Like the other film, “The Lodger” seems timely now in the 21st Century. A young man (Ivor Novello) rents a room in a home in a small British village (or maybe London) and his behavior, while innocent, seems to match the stereotype of a "Jack the Ripper character" (“The Avenger”) stalking the town. He goes out into the fog; he keeps a picture of a blonde girl who may match the “profle” of the victims. The landlady and police become suspicious, create a confrontation and eventually arrest him; then with a plot twist with “the girl” he “escapes”.

The silent film paradigm requires, besides subtitles, the use of news headlines to convey the story, with lots of images of teletypes (1920s technology) and newspaper presses.

Imagine the concerns landlords can have today, that someone moving in to a building could be a criminal or terrorist, or could attract other dangerous elements. Once again, Hitchcock shows that problems that seem novel today have always been with “ordinary people”.

The music acore has a lot of Vienese schmaltz, and the little waltz sounds like Korngold to me. IMDB says that the original music score is by Ashley Irwin.

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Inglourious Basterds" (sic) is glorious Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino has given us a peculiar masterpiece with his “Inglourious Basterds” (sic). From The Weinstein Company, the movie continues the “spirit” of the “Grindhouse” of a couple years ago, and this film is a bit of a grindhouse or “Kill Bill 3” itself.

The narrative style is to divide the script into “Chapters”, even of which is almost like an independent play, each of which counterpoints the characters with the awful politics of Nazi-occupied France. But the film builds up to a symphonic and overwhelming climax, in a movie theater, that reminds us of several of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, plus added gratuitous violence. “Sabotage” (reviewed yesterday) comes to mind, as does “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

Most viewers know that the film is “about” a group of “Nazi-hunters” led by Aldo Raines, played by a leathered and Fort-Bragg-sounding Brad Pitt, completely with ugly ligature scar across his neck. Normally a director, Eli Roth, looking the manliest of men, plays sidekick Sgt. Donny Donowitz. Others call this film a “spaghetti western” in a WWII setting, a kind of satire based on the Dollars movies from the 1960s.

Of course, it takes liberty with history, and supposes what might have been: maybe the War would have ended sooner if a plot like this really had been pulled off.

The music is riveting. The film has lots of odd close-ups, of food (cream puffs) and eating with bad table manners, of faces and body image. In the opening sequence, an inkwell, with its Prussian blue, is made captivating to the eye. The story makes a lot of arcane points, such as how nitrate film is flammable, a key element of the plot. There is a place where a movie patron wants his money back because of "bad actors" (or was that in Hitchcock's "Sabotage" -- the idea works in both movies.) The concluding sequence has an embedded Nazi war film, “Nation’s Pride”, and makes a lot of meta comments about the German film industry at the time.
The film was made with Universal, although it fits very much the spirit of large scale indie film from companies like Summit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Sabotage": 1936 little-known Hitchcock classic is oddly prescient of the post 9/11 world

Alfred Hitchcock directed a relatively little known film in 1936, “Sabotage”, based on a novel by Joseph Conrad, that surprisingly anticipates our homeland security issues today, particularly as they have played out in Britain during the middle of this decade.

The film appears on a Laserlight DVD (a company known for low cost classical music anthology CD’s), and when inserted starts playing the film, which is of rather poor restorative quality, without a menu, which appears in the middle with the Introduction by Tony Curtis.

The plot is as intricate as many of Hitchcock’s later “international” Cold War thrillers. A movie theater owner Verloc (Oskar Homolka) is gradually being drawn into a plot to set up truck bombs in London in the mid 1930s. There is an early scene of a disturbance and power outage at his theater, and a question as to whether there is an obligation to pay back patrons. A Scotland Yard detective trails him, while his wife slowly has to come to grips with the reality that her husband is a monster. There is a scene late in the film where the audience watches the Disney cartoon “Who Killed Cock Robin?”, which foreshadows what the wife will do; and the final violence will cover up her act and her interest in another man.

The “enemy” is not specified, but presumably it could be Hitler; but in 1935 or so no one realized that Germany would become the enemy. Presumably the plot could also be “Red”, given the economic depression in Britain then. The film doesn’t really get into the nihilistic psychology of terrorism as it has evolved, but the concept of the story is curiously prescient.

The film opens with a dictionary definition of “sabotage” which mentions the desire to create public unrest and fear and distrust of the current system. The film should not be confused with the later Hitchcock “Saboteur”.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Cold Souls": a cute satire; could souls become the new black market currency?

Paul Giamatti joins John Malkovich as a “mature” actor who can have “fiction” movies made about himself. The context is so innocuous, the satire so obvious that there really can’t be an “implicit content” problem here.

The movie is “Cold Souls”, (website) written and directed by Sophie Barthes, distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Giamatti, as himself, is spooked that he has to live through the characters he plays as an actor, here Uncle Vanya. It’s as if Tom Welling found being Clark Kent too much, or Jared Padalecki found the same about his character Sam; but Paul is much older. In the New Yorker, he learns about the Soul Storage Company (the CEO played by David Strathairn, who imitates Bernie Madoff), tucked away behind the trams to Roosevelt Island in New York City.

He goes through the MRI/MRA like process and has his soul extracted, and it is a chickpea. Soon the plot turns to the Russian underground’s trafficking in souls, and he winds up in St. Petersburg trying to get it back. The icy sequences by the canals are quite well filmed.  (I'm reminded of "Being John Malkovich".)

I once knew of a novel manuscript in which souls were traded like stock shares. In my own harddrive book (no, not published yet), souls are combined by a bizarre virus, which carries the memories of other personalities which take over some people who “recover”, in a bizarre process of contraction of the population.

Even on a weekday night, the film was fairly well attended at Landmark E Street in Washington DC, and the audience (young adults and empty nesters both) found it funny, particulary when Giamatti is served a Russian dish of chickpeas.

Picture: Coney Island boardwalk, near Seaside Paddleball Courts; this appears in the film, but this is my own photo from Nov. 2004.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PSA "Texting While Driving" from UK -- a stern warning about texting and cell phone use while driving (while "distracted")

Today (Aug. 25) NBC Washington showed the PSA film “Texting While Driving” from the UK, where a girl’s texting behavior leads to a horrific crash, leading to four deaths. PSA’s in the UK are more graphic than in the US, and there is some thought that we have become desensitized to violence with television and movies.

Note the ironic sign: “Tredegar welcomes careful drivers”

The video was posted by Winston Snow. Here is another blogger commentary (“How’s It Going to End?”) by David Kusumoto.

Yes, they drive on the left in Britain (as they did in yesterday’s flick from South Africa).

The YouTube URL is this.

Technically, it’s outstanding filmmaking.

Update: Aug. 29, 2009

The New York Times has a Saturday front page story "Not Driving Drunk but Texting? Utah Law Sees Little Difference," story by Matt Richtel, link here. Utah can impose 15 years in prison for causing a death when driving while multi-tasking.

Update: Dec. 27, 2010

On the "Bill on Major Issues" blog I've posted an Embed of AT&T's similar documentary "The Last Text" (10 minutes) with several tragic situations.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"District 9": space aliens provide a lesson in past apartheid

Peter Jackson, so well known for his Ring cycle for New Line, has produced a quasi-indie sci-fi parody, “District 9”, on location around Johannesburg and Soweto in South Africa, with S.A. director and writer Neill Blomkamp.

It’s pretty transparent that the film is a “commentary” on the country’s history of apartheid, carrying it to mixed extents by using “prawns”, aliens with arthropod-like bodies and human intelligence as the subclass. The film was produced and distributed by Columbia-Sony’s TriStar unit, and has a look and mood reminding one of Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” (1997). It also looks a bit like Summit’s “Hurt Locker” and TriStar here is giving us genre “arthouse” entertainment that resembles recent offerings from companies like LionsGate, Summit and Overture. (It would seem that Sony could have used its “Classics” division to distribute this film. But it could have used “Screen Gems”, too.) The squalor of apartheid is apparent, but the film could have opened up more had it used the full widescreen anamorphic lens rather than sticking to 1.85:1.

It opens as a docudrama (almost like “The Cove”). A huge spaceship, resembling that of Independence Day, hovers over Johannesburg. The government finally enters and incorrectly (we learn later) concludes that the leadership has gone and that the prawns are like worker insects (Indie Day again). They’re housed in a Soweto-like suburb called District 9 and the government learns how human they are, able to help a Nigerian black market. So the government (in this monument to anti-government ideology) and “corporate state” (the company MNU, which is rather like a capitalist enterprise in an autocratic state like China) decides to evict the prawns.

Enter agent Wilkus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who gleefully helps the media document his arrests and deportations, and talks like its all innocuous, constitutional, and in the best interest of the prawns. But one day he gets sprayed with prawn blood and is infected. Soon his left arm is in bandages, and he suddenly vomits black blood (like yellow fever) but then wants to eat fast food (like a pregnant woman after morning sickness). Now visually we’re treated to his essence as a virile-looking family man, with a devoted wife. But soon he winds up in a government lab ready for vivisection. He forfeits his chest hair, and we have a sequence that seems like a logical sequel to Carter Smith’s “Bugcrush” (I wonder if Blomkamp is familiar with that classic gay horror flick; I suspect so). But Merwe escapes and gets into a complicated deal with Christopher, one of the prawns, for reversal. One advantage of transformation would be the use his body to connect to alien weapons (a concept from the Fox “Alien” franchise). The alien technology has some contraptions that remind one of “Transformers”. The closing sequences of the film are for the spoilers: will the space ship be able to leave, and will Merwe get his manly human body back or not? (Oh, sometimes it doesn’t grow back.) Actor Copley must have really let his bod get pummeled for this film.

Attribution link for Wikimedia map of South Africa.

For a comparison with "Skyline" see the "Films on Major Challenges to Freedom" blog Nov. 14, 2010.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"The Auteur Theory" is about someone like "The Auteur": an indie filmmaker makes fun of his own kind

The Auteur Theory” is a British comedy that lets the “auteur” make fun of its own “auteur mentality.” Made in 1999, directed by Evan Oppenheimer, distributed by Pathfinder (no relation to James Fenimore Cooper) the film sets up a conceited British filmmaker George Sand (note the name of the author), played by Alan Cox, who makes a documentary about a student film festival and its self-indulgent contestants.

The “Theory” is that “film creates reality which in turn creates film”. That notion got me into trouble when I was substitute teaching in 2005, with an original screenplay that I had posted online, “The Sub”, the ramifications of which I discuss on my main blog on July 27, 2007. Here, the directors of the bad films start turning up dead, as in a Hitchcock film (no march of the marionettes here), presumably because one of the contestants is killing off the competition.

In the beginning, Sand is getting his “last chance” (not penultimate) to apply for BBC funds, and yet he wants to make his pitch for his meta-film idea. It’s as if he could make a film about the 48-hour filmfest. Later, he makes some cute kudos, like “38% of soccer players are gay” (that’s one of the films, gays in pro sports aka “gays in the barracks in the military”); “films make us” and finally “films kill people”. The police seem pretty interested in what’s in an unseen film.

Picture: "White Party" at Central Station, Baltimore, Aug. 2009 (not in film)

Friday, August 21, 2009

"The Venus Wars": don't take terraforming too seriously, or you'll get a civil war

Terraforming other planets can make for good science fiction, as we had with "Red Planet" (Warner Brothers, 2000, Antony Hoffman) about Mars, and we can imagine schemes for Europa and Titan. Venus has been suggested as a remote candidate for terraforming, if you could put enough algae in the high atmosphere to gradually consume the carbon dioxide atmosphere.

But the old animated Japanese flick “The Venus Wars” (Vinasu senki, 1989, directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko) supposes that early in the 21st Century, an ice asteroid lopped of the Venusian atmosphere to make it thinner, which is an unlikely story. In a few decades, the “colonists” started fighting a civil war (between Ishtar and Aphrodia) among themselves rather than fighting mother country (Earth), which apparently hadn’t expanded mercantilism the way the told us England had in early American colonial history.

In the less than impressive animation, the planet looks desert-like, and a bit abstract. The script says that the residents enjoy artificial vegetation (a closing sequence looks like touched photography from Iraq before the Gulf War). An interplanetary journalist Susam Sommers takes the usual risks that reporters in Iraq or the Middle East face today. The script talks about terrorists with some prescience to what has actually happened the past decade. There’s one globe shot, and the planet has a less interesting geography than our own (not enough for a Pepsi design on Trump’s “Apprentice”). There are some curious script lines (maybe because of translation), like men who like the smell of oil don’t get married. The closing music ("Keeping on Running") is spirited.

The film is slightly pre-Internet, so there are some curious concepts as to what computing would look like in late 21st Century.

The DVD is distributed by US Manga, and says the film is in VistaVision. The menu has the annoying request for a remote control, and takes some tinkering to navigate on a PC.

For some relevant art, go to Ricardo Nunes’s astronomy page. Attribution link for Wikimedia commons picture of Venus with image processing by R. Nunes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"500 Days of Summer" provides an experiment in non-sequential storytelling

The new comedy “(500) Days of Summer” demonstrates a nifty storytelling technique and keeps Joseph Gordon-Levitt as forlorn love-wanderer Tom Hansen in view – grown up from the days of “Mysterious Skin”. Here director Marc Webb and writers Michael Webber and Scott Neustadtler tell the story in its “natural presentation”, which is out of chronology. So, about 400 times, we get a road map to time with a little sign telling us which ordinal number day the scene occurs on. (This is not quite the same as "Benjamin Button".) Sometimes there is rotoscopic animation in black and white, but most of the time the kids are in and out of downtown LA, where Tom was an architecture student, but now he works designing greeting cards.

Zooey Desachanel is Summer Finn, the administrative assistant who doesn’t believe true love is possible – and eventually it is with someone else. But the relationship has its moments of passion – PG-13 style – but Levitt is dominating with those muscular hairy arms and slick face. Levitt’s character has a couple of appealing male buddies played by Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler, the latter of whom seems so familiar.

There is a great confrontation, in a meeting, where a woman presents her greeting concept card based on Pickles, her cat, and “Tom” tears the whole paradigm of greeting cards apart – social graces, pampering people with words that “we” feed them to let them off the hook. But “Tom” is always so good at thinking up the jingles.

The film is distributed by Fox Searchlight. Somehow the title recalls to me New Line's "13 Days", no relation in plot.

The last scene of the film, which would become a spoiler if I said too much, has some pointers on job interviewing, shall we say.

Attribution link for Wikimedia share-alike license for picture of downtown LA in smog. My last visit occurred in Feb. 2002.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"A Talk With Hitchcock": relives Hitchcock in BW

Fletcher Markle directs the two-episodes on Canadian Telescope of “A Talk with Hitchcock,” in which famed British director Alfred Hitchcock discusses his artistry of suspense on film. Netflix offers the DVD, dated 1994, but the black and white interview seems to have been done in the mid 1960s.

Hitchcock discusses his love of film as a boy even in the silent era, and he describes a succession of writing and editing jobs that led to his getting to direct. He then talks about how he uses images in a film to tell a story, “impressionistically.” The famous shower scene in “Psycho” has 78 shots in less than a minute to communicate the horror of the murder. The second murder, after the detective walks up the stairs in the house, keeps us wondering when it will happen, and uses overhead shots for effect.

The second interview discusses the movie “Marnie”, about a man taken in by a kleptomaniac, just made. Hitchcock says he prefers color (which he first used in “Rope”) now to black and white, but the interview shows the Marnie excerpts in BW even though the film was in color. Some shots from “The Birds”, actually in color, are shown in BW here too. He also talks about the understatement technique with the glass of milk at the climax of “Suspicion”. In other interviews Hitchcock has said that he does not like CinemaScope because it does not lend itself to close-ups.

Other commentator said that Hitchcock likes stories where ordinary people in ordinary situations are exposed to danger that creeps in with humor (I think of "Saboteur", with smoke at a factory).

Hitchcock made some movies with international political ramifications, such as “Torn Curtain” and especially “Topaz” and even “The Man Who Knew Too Much”.

Composer Bernard Herrmann appears in the interview. He composed the scores to "Psycho" and "Vertigo." Hitchcock says that music actually makes its absence (or silence) effective in some scenes; Hitchcock wanted the second murder in "Psycho" to go without music, but changed his mind when he heard Herrmann's sketch for the music. Herrmann's scores have been used for ballet and on their own in orchestra concerts.

Hitchcock was asked about a criminal who said he had committed his third murder after seeing “Psycho”. Hitchcock’s answer was to wonder what he had seen before each of the first two. I remember that when I was a boy movies about murder were “no-no’s”.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"The End of the Line": NatGeo explores global overfishing

National Geographic has teamed up Molinaire Studios and UK Film 4 and director Rupert Murray to make the 82 minute documentary “The End of the Line.” The movies somewhat complements “The Cove” in that it is about over fishing. The film website is here.

While international bodies negotiate treaties to allow replenishment of the blue fin tuna and other fish, countries and fishing companies still grossly overfish. The appearance of an unusual sting ray in the Chesapeake Bay is related to the hunting of shark.

Slowly, retailers around the world are starting to label fish as “green” and even one restauranteur agrees to do so, saying that it like labeling tobacco.

The issue of fish farming, which consumers 40% of the world’s fish, is also examined.

The film played to a small audience at Landmark E-Street in Washington Sunday night at the early show. Will NatGeo show the film on its own channel soon?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"The Man for Planet X" is "finally" on DVD (from 1951)

MGM (branded with United Artists, and originally made by “Mid Century Productions”) very recently “finally” released the DVD of the famous campy b&w 1951 sci-fi flick “The Man from Planet X”, all of 71 minutes, directed by Edgar Ulmer. Mostly set in Scotland, a mysterious planet approaches and threatens collision with Earth, and a spaceship with a small robotlike doe-faced humanoid lands. Perhaps its rays can turn the curious into zombies, and perhaps the planet is looking for a new home for its beings.

Of course, a rogue asteroid really might threaten Earth, but an earth-like planet making it here from another solar system with beings on it is pretty unlikely.

In the early 50s, a Saturday morning kids’ science fiction series “Space Patrol” hypothesized an Oort Cloud Planet X ten times the mass of Jupiter. Such an object would be a brown dwarf (as in ABC’s film “Impact”).

Attribution link for p.d. NASA diagram of a neutron star.

Update: Aug. 17

Look at this NatGeo video on rogue planets, or "planemos", here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"The Auteur": witty docudrama about Arturo Domingo (Portland, OR)

James Westby writes and directs a curious, comic docudrama “The Auteur” (2008, the Tigard Film Society; website) about porn filmmaker Arturo Domingo (Melik Malkasian) as he experiences a weekend leading to his “awards” at a film festival in Portland, OR.

Most of his films have titles that are permutations of “legitimate” movies, like “Five Easy Nieces” and “Full Metal Jackoff”. The films are sometimes shown cropped as if on a theater screen, but the “Metal” movie is shown cropped at 2.35:1, as it is a parody of a Vietnam War movie (although filmed near Fort Lewis, WA). The subject matter of the film starts with the heterosexist innuendo of drill sergeants, leading, on bivouac (nicely filmed near a lake) to activities that escape “don’t ask don’t tell” only because of the “queen for a day” rule. Yup, these men really aren’t gay, are they.

There is a lesbian flick, but most of the other embedded films are hetero, of the kind that you used to see on 42nd Street in New York in the 1970s, in the days that civil libertarians warned audiences that they might not always be able to see what they want as consenting adults (those were the days that Abe Beame was mayor).

A lot of the films are shown at the Clinton Street Theater, which was in a bizarre trademark dispute back in the 1990s over the name “Epix” that is described here.

The night before the awards, Domingo goes on a curious “nighthike” and camp out that leads to a wild party indeed, if not as challenging as it could be. No disembodied spirit follows them through the woods.

Curiously, the Youtube clip offered for embed on the film's website (above) does not work (gives address errors in Internet Explorer), but another clip looked up through YouTube supplied by the filmmaker does work.

The film is available for instant play on Netflix.

Attribution link for Wikimedia aerial view of Portland OR (my last visit 1996).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Independent filmmakers turn to self-distribution

Independent filmmakers are distributing films on their own more often, going for infield singles rather than home runs with the major movie distributors, according to Michael Cieply of the New York Times on Thursday August 13. The print story title is “For independent filmmakers, final cut is now one just step one”. “Final Cut” (link; there is also an "Express") is Apple’s nifty video editing program for the Mac; the PC World uses Adobe Premiere (link). The online version of the story is “Independent Filmmakers distribute on their own”, and the link is here.

There are stories of people taking second mortgages (harder now in recession with so many homes upside down); but we’ve always heard stories of little filmmakers maxing out on credit cards – also harder now (Suze Orman would gasp).

And Hollywood has dumped some of its boutique distributors, like Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse Entertainment; however, trademark law being what it is, it seems like Time Warner has every incentive to bring them back (same with Paramount and its Vantage division). Hopefully these labels will come back when executives get their common (and legal) sense back.

Nevertheless, some daring low-budget films find ambitious distribution. Lions Gate and Roadside Attractions are both distributing the hardhitting film “The Cove,” a guerilla documentary about abuse of dolphins (see this blog Aug. 7).

But filmmakers are turning more to self-distribution, using YouTube, Twitter, social networking sites and various broadcast facilities, sometimes making arrangements with theaters in their own communities. Bloggers like me can give them some global press. The free content model is controversial, as I have sometimes explained on my main blog. It may not be self-sustainable forever.

I have noticed that some films that I rent from Netflix or play instantly don't seem to have distribution outside of Netflix (or Red Envelope Entertainment). It appears that the company will distribute independent films itself that meet certain requirements.

The public says it wants better movies, but the summer weekend statistics often don’t bear it out (where “dumb” films sometimes do the best at the suburban malls – and a PG-13 or better helps).

I think that filmmakers can look to other entities that would benefit from film. Why hasn’t Colonial Williamsburg made a film from its “Revolutionary City”? Sure, it would take a major creative, artistic and technical (and legal licensing) ffort, but the potential audience and economic payoff would obviously be there for investors. That’s the sort of project that indie film could try to prod. Okay, Colonial Williamsburg is more than a “roadside attraction.”

Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Adam": a romantic comedy makes a young man with Asperger's the best person in its world

When Adam Raki (Hugh Dancy) talks about Mozart and Einstein and NYC neighbor Beth (Rose Byrne) asks if they had Asperger’s Syndrome, too, Adam says “probably” and the audience laughs.

So electric engineer Adam really does come across as gentle, honest, sometimes simple, but brutally literate in this little romantic comedy “Adam”, directed by Max Mayer and distributed by Fox Searchlight. Sometimes he seems like a better person than all the other characters, most of all Beth’s dad (Peter Gallagher from “The O.C.”) who has tried to sweet-talk his way out of an embezzlement indictment. At “The Cherry Street Theater” Adam gets brutal with the truth in social conversation, “could you go to jail?” Nobody says things like that in a social setting. Or do they?

I’ve made my gaffes a few times, and I regret them. But nobody mentioned Asperger’s to me until a dinner at a Friday’s in January 2003 with another filmmaker who told me, “you must has Asperger’s too – body language.”

Adam throws just one tantrum when Beth “lies”, and his maneuvers can get him into trouble, as when the police mistake his mannerisms for those of a possible playground offender. But he really would never hurt anyone. If he were gay, I would see him as trustworthy as a lover.

In the end, we will see him lean toward having a family and children. Will he be able to attend to the endearments of fathering the way “neural normals” as he calls them do? That’s a good question. But plenty of people with Aspergers do have families.

Here’s a related review of a book by John Elder Robinson (link)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"She's the Man" aka Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"

I guess it would be a corporate screenwriting assignment (here Ewan Leslie and Karen McCullah Lutz) to take a Shakespeare comedy and make it into a contemporary romantic comedy, and such is the case in the heterosexual gender-bending comedy “She’s the Man” adapted from "Twelfth Night". Shakespeare gives the writer very human characters and real plot points, real storytelling to fit the necessary movie template.

In past reviews, much is made of the parallel love triangles – rather brectangle here (or perhaps trapezoid). Here Viola (Amanda Byrnes) acts as her brother “Sebastian” (James Kirk, although the it sounds like a name of a cat) at a boarding school, and falls in love with his roomie (Channing Tatum) who loves a girl (Laura Ramsey) who loves the male version of Viola.

Viola’s voice is so high-pitched and her skin so “thmooth” that she can hardly pull it off, and yet everyone in the dorms believes it’s all hetero – an argument for the “polarities”. Suffice it to say Viola is pretty masculine psychologically herself. The boys, however buff and strong from the coach’s workouts, are too young for chest hair, anyway; biological differences in gender mean less and less, until the soccer game climax, where Viola proves female power on the field. The sexist losing goalie says with all his immaturity, “that’s not fair” when she wins the game. The soccer scene comes across as a climax of a Disney sports movie, with its aspirations for greatness (the film is from Dreamworks and Lakeshore, and is directed by Andy Fickman).

The screenplay maps places and characters and names – Cornwall and Illyria (not Elyria, Ohio, which is what my ear picked up at first). It uses the phrase "What You Will" to identify an embedded high school play.

Picture: Town DC drag show

Friday, August 07, 2009

"The Cove": a troubling documentary exposing abuse of dolphins

To me, it’s unthinkable that human beings would eat animals of almost human intelligence, but human civilization has long whaled, eaten whale meat and used whale oil. And sometimes dolphins are substituted for whales, ridden with mercury poison.

And then we capture and breed them for entertainment. Remember Flipper from the 1950s? Remember all the shows in Florida?

All this is the subject matter for the new documentary from LionsGate and Roadside Attractions, and Participant Media, “The Cove”, about a secret cove, hidden away by nets and accessible through tunnels, near Taijii, Japan, where the police and the dolphin industry conspire to arrest and drive away journalists trying to expose a shameful tragedy. The film contains some graphic footage of dolphins bleeding to death, and explains that the animals, taken from their social environment, commit suicide by deciding not to breathe.

Besides the chimpanzee, the dolphin and particularly the orca or killer whale is probably the most intelligent mammal. Dolphins recognize themselves in the mirror and save humans from sharks.

The film is shot on location in a seedy town in Japan, and contains a lot of raw video footage. It is directed by Louie Psihoyos and written by Mark Monroe.

Youtube: Director Louie Psihoyos on "The Cove"

Link to rent the film on Youtube is here.

The film showed to an almost sold out audience at Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC tonight, and had a Q&A afterward, in the large auditorium.

Attribution link for Wikimedia diagram of a dolphin.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"The Water Horse": not just the Loch Ness Monster, but also "Surface"

The gentle Christmas 2007 season film “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep” from director Jay Russell (Columbia Pictures; Beacon and Revolution Studios) is a kind of variation in the theme of the NBC show “Surface”. In that series (which started in the fall of 2005) a tween Miles (Carter Jenkins) and his friend found some unusual eggs and nurtured “nimh” as a pet, which gradually wreaked havoc as part of a sinister government experiment. But “Water Horse” is a setting of the Scottish Loch Ness monster. A lonely boy Angus (Alex Etel) finds the new life, and pretty soon is hiding from everybody, particularly the British military in the early days of WWII. The family is required to take in sailors and soldiers (that’s why the US Constitution has a provision against forced quartering, the Third Amendment). Eventually the Navy is building elaborate defenses to defend the Loch against German U-boats—and guess what, the Water Horse could get confused with the enemy.

Some of the best scenes in the film occur in the middle, when the kid water horse (sleek in its CGI hairlessness) confronts the family dog, as well as images of dogs and other animals.

I visited Inverness myself in November 1982, and remember that it was dark by 4 PM, when tea was served in the hotel. I didn’t see any sign of the monster, whose famous photo gets taken with WWII flash cameras in the movie.

Attribution link for Wikimedia commons picture of River Ness

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Universities start their course numbers with 101: so do some movies (just look)

Imagine a young walking dude (maybe not quite as adequate as to secondary characteristics as fantasy demands) who learns he is the mark for the ultimate identity invasion: an office mate gets an email listing the first twenty women he has “made it” with. Okay, he will satisfy George Gilder’s theory as to Why Men Marry. But unfortunately, the list names names – eighty more women he will have as a sure thing. Then at number 101, he will meet his demise.

That’s the premise of the comedy from Daniel Waters in an Anchor Bay release (including theatrical) in 2007, “Sex and Death 101”.

There’s some nightmarish stuff that echoes Kubrick and “Eyes Wide Shut.” He gets called into this empty room that is like a purgatory in a dream and told of the trap he is in, of his own making. And there is the body count, young men trapped by a femme fatale called Death Nell (and pitchforked to death). Does he await a more benign outcome as like the American in Bertolucci’s “Dreamers”? He finally has his date with Death. "You live by the sword; you die by the sword," especially away from Sunday school. Death Nell will say, "I never had a volunteer before." Later she refers to the "whole ability to put a man down, like a dog."

Simon Baker plays Robert Blank (an appropriate last name), and Winona Ryder (who obtained notoriety with the 2001 Shoplifting Incident as in Wikipedia) plays Death Nell, an acting challenge.

There's even a reference to a character called "The Walrus", the animal name we gave to one of the guys in the barracks when I was in the Army (we all had animal names; I was the "chicken man", already for a film like this).

There's also a reference to Carlotta Valdes, a backstory portrait character in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo".

"Life is a lot like death: it happens to everybody." He does satisfy George Gilder's sexual constitutional and accepts female sexual superiority. But the very last word in the script of this movie is the same as the last word in "Eyes Wide Shut", and it has four letters and starts with F.

Monday, August 03, 2009

"Historic Jamestowne": NPS documentary is tame on "The New World"

The National Park Service, at Jamestown Visitor’s Center (next to Jamestown Settlement, about 10 miles SE of Williamsburg VA on the wide James River) shows an 18 minute “Cinerama” short, “Historic Jamestowne” and it consists largely of scenic shots of the settlement, glass factory, church ruin, and particularly the surrounding swamp. The film is projected onto identical curved screens on each side of the arena auditorium.

The marshy river basin in the park extends to Fort Eustis ("Fort Useless") where I was stationed for over a year from 1968-1970 after my drafting. On half-days off (they called it "PT") I hiked some of the marsh trails near Jamestown. Everything in the film looked familiar.

But in 2005 Terrence Malick and New Line Cinema had given us “The New World” with Colin Farrell as Captain John Smith and Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas. Looking very big in wide screen, it was rather like a sci-fi movie, a kind of colonial “Day the Earth Stood Still”. The local native Americans, the Nansemonds and later the Powhatans (who were much more aggressive) must have experienced something like an alien landing, altjough the Nansemonds traded and then the Powhatans toyed with Smith and others, leading in the film to a scene in a huge common tent residence hall where Smith is examined, as if the locals were the “aliens.” Of course, Disney had taken up the tender story of "Pocahontas" in the 1995 animated feature (nobody mentions the “miscegenation” that would one day be legally controversial in Virginia).

Sunday, August 02, 2009

"Obsessed with Vertigo" recalls one of the greatest films ever made (as a dream)

Landmark theaters was selling a “special” collectors edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I thought that the display case said 2-DVD set, but when I got home it seemed that the real copy had it all on one DVD (except for a TV episode of Hitchcock).

The most important extra is “Obsessed with Vertigo”, directed by Harrison Engle, narrated by Roddy McDowall. I had never realized that Paramount’s VistaVision original could have fallen into such disrepair for the restoration, which I saw in northern VA in 1997.

The movie, remember, is like a dream – and it uses dreams and premonitions as part of the plot. Back in the 1970s, I had a “mystery” a little bit like this one that was quite preoccupying at the time, leading me on my own treasure hunt into some secret spaces in New York. And the moral of the story, if there is one, has something to do how someone can set you up because of your eccentricities – how easy it is to attract the wrong energies, or maybe the right ones – it’s all supernatural.

And the San Francisco of today is so unlike the fairy tale place in the film, with all its reds and greens that make it a bit like Harry Potter. Even by 1978, the time of “Milk” and Donald Sutherland’s “Body Snatchers” as well as my NYC treasure hunt, it was essentially changed.

Ebert used to say that, more than any other film ever made, “Vertigo” is a dream. The opening conversation (after the rooftop cop chase) always seemed a bit long, like a slow introduction to a sonata allegro, which the film becomes. The story is adapted from the French novel Sueurs froides: d'entre les morts ("Cold Sweat: From Among the Dead") by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Of course, the music score by Bernard Herrmann is legendary, and there is a ballet suite from it.

Thw resotoration was done by Universal studios and is distributed by Universal (the DVD has both musical trademarks). The original film came from Paramount.

I had a bit of real Vertigo as I got up Saturday morning, which Internet searches said was a benign inner ear inflammation in older people.

Attribution link for public domain Vertigo museum picture of Kim Novak. Brian de Palma had a similar scene in “Dressed to Kill” (1980) and “Obsession” (1976) is loosely based on the Vertigo story.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

"Confessions of a Shopaholic": deserves a Suze Orman smackdown!

Journalism can be a good topic for film, particularly journalists in harms way (“State of Play”, “Bordertown”). But it can be the topic of romantic comedy, too, as in “The Proposal” (recently) or now “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Recent grad Rebecca Brownwood (Ilsa Fisher) accidentally gets a job as a financial journalist, and plays a scribe version of Suze Orman, writing about all the bad habits she has herself in getting into debt. In the meantime, she develops the inevitable attachment to the handsome young boss Luke (Hugh Dancy), as she heads toward an original goal of writing for a fashion magazine.

The satisfaction of buying something like a green scarf is a kind of fix, something that I used to feel when collecting classical music records, or maybe even by making blog entries.

The Touchstone film is directed by P.J. Hogan and was released in early 2009.