Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Incendiary": UK film makes statement about post 9/11, post 7/7 world

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

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

Jim Carrey is Everyman in "A Christmas Carol": an "existential" moral lesson from Charles Dickens?

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.)

Here’s some Box Office data from Jim Carrey Online, link.

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

Twilight II: "New Moon": wooed by both a vampire and a werewolf

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" is a Mississippi character drama, with an LGBT angle

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

"A Wrinkle in Time": a kids' view of other planets

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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe": POV biography of a daring civil rights lawyer by his daughters

William Kunstler was a famour, perhaps notorious civil rights lawyer. Two of his daughters Emily and Sarah (born when he was 57) have made a documentary film about him, “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe”, from ArtHouse Films. It is also sponsored by PBS point-of-view so it should air eventually on PBS. I saw it at Landmark E Street in Washington, website here. Kunstler (1919-1995) was an “accidental war hero” in the Pacific, and came home to Westchester County NY to start a conventional law practice. He gradually developed a passion for civil rights. He defended the “Chicago 7” (or Chicago 10) in 1969 and was actually sentenced to four years for contempt of court, which he never served. He would say that he was "paying his dues" and earning "the privilege of being listened to" (as I call the concept elsewhere), by taking the same risks and punishment as his defendants. Later he defended native Americans at Wounded Knee, SD (as covered in a book by Russell Means, well known in libertarian circles, as he spoked at a Libertarian Party of Minnesota convention in 2001). He would also defend prisoners at Attica during the 1971 uprising, which is covered quite graphically in the film with a lot of real footage. Later he would defend perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, preceding 9/11.

Kunstler believed that tyrants maintain power by making despotic practices “legal”.

Note: In 2007, HBO aired its popular (and long) docudrama "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" 2007, HBO / Picturehouse, dir. Yves Simoneau, 123 min, PG-13, book by Dee Alexander Brown.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The Men Who Stare at Goats" and the New Earth Army: Remote viewing (not just from Area 51)

If you stare at certain animals (including people) you can freak them out. Hence the title of “The Men Who Stare at Goats”, directed by Grant Heslov for BBC and Overture Films. A journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), seeking for adventure to run from a sinking marriage, meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a special forces agent who aims to end war as we know it with psychic operations. The film is supposed to take place in Kuwait and Iraq, but most of it was filmed in White Sands, New Mexico (although it is UK-funded). There really are some goats, and they are not George W.’s “my pet goat” (“W.” makes a cameo in the film).

Wilton and Cassady are kind of like a tag-team of “brothers”, almost Supernatural-style, for a lot of the movie, getting each other out of jams. But there are a lot of flashbacks that track the Army’s supposed psychic operations back to Vietnam , with Jeff Bridges as the lead exponent, and Kevin Spacey as the balding, aging Cheney-like defense contractor. As with many indie films today, this one has a lot of A-list stars. In the end, the reporter will learn how to go through walls himself.

Attribution link for Wikipedia picture of White Sands. I visited the area of 1979, and it figures in to Dan Fry's "To Men od Earth".
The film talks about “remote viewing”, which is supposedly a way that the CIA learns about alien civilizations that could have outposts on Mars, Europa, or Titan. There was a book on the topic by Courtney Brown in the 1990s called “Cosmic Voyage” which claims that there is a remote viewing training center in the Charlottesville, VA area. Here it’s another technique of the New Earth Army. In the movie, there’s one scene that takes place at “Area 51.”

You do wonder what dabbling in telepathy and the paranormal would do to “don’t ask don’t tell”. A lot more that what Facebook does.

The film is based on a book by Jon Ronson and claims to be based on true events. The names have been changed to protect the innocent (and to protect "online reputation").

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Revisiting "A Separate Peace" (1972), based on the coming of age novel by John Knowles

I see very few films (in theaters) twice, but Paramount’s version (directed by Larry Peerce, adapted by Fred Seagl) of John Knowles “bildungsroman” or “coming of age” novel “A Separate Peace” is one of the very few. I saw it the first time in 1972 while living in northern VA and working for the government and being near my home of origin, and a second time six months later after moving to New Jersey on a new job, when I was on the verge of “coming out.”

The protagonist is Gene, played by Parker Stevenson, a likeable young man, good student and just a fair athlete. It’s 1943 in prep school in New Hampshire, and boys know they will be drafted at their 18th birthdays, so they have to live fully now. Gene feels drawn to Finny (John Heyl) who is more athletic and, importantly, more extroverted and socially charismatic.

Perhaps Gene resents his attachment, which can become a little clingy. One day they are in the woods and Finny climbs a tree and Gene follows. Perhaps out of a subconscious compulsion, Gene jousts the limb (as he says in the novel). Finny falls and breaks a leg.

Eventually, although Finny maintains the friendship and seems oblivious to suspicion, Finny suddenly dies of a secondary embolism. That would not be very likely today, although anytime someone is in bed nursing care includes watching for clots and using blood thinners if necessary. Gene finds out when he makes a visit to the hospital.

I had a friendship that was a bit like this while working at that government job, and the movie did relate to what was going on in my life before I “came out.”

The book would be recommended fiction in high school English classes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Life Is a Banquet": Biography of actress Rosalind Russell

On Monday, WETA Channel 26 presented the one hour film by Jonathan Gruber, “Life Is a Banquet: The Rosalind Russell Story”, produced by the Total Media Group. The film is narrated by Kathleen Turner. Tom Brokaw and Hayle Mills appear.

Rosalind Russell became a stage and movie star in both New York and Hollywood when movie starts were aloof and remote from the public. She performed in Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town”, lesser known than some of his other works, and with a more limited range.

One of her most important films would be “Auntie Mame” (1958) which has Mame (Rosalind) having to raise a nephew after a family tragedy, a theme discussed here before.

Russell would develop breast cancer and have double radical mastectomy, and then severe rheumatoid arthritis. She would die at the age of 63 in 1976, and a hospital in San Francisco would be named after her.
There is an apparently unrelated song “Life Is a Banquet” by Scribbie Tunes on YouTube, here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Can a movie be ("Untitlted")? Maybe so, if it pokes fun at artistic "arrogance"?

Once, when lined up to go through a maze in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, a guy behind me, from Brazil, said, the whole point of this modern art is to make you feel like s___.

So we have a satire of modern art and modern music, or at least the apparent attitude of the artists, without a title, that is “(Untitled)”, from Jonathan Parker and Samuel Goldwyn Films. Adam Goldberg plays Adrian Jacobs, the avant-garde composer who works with ordinary objects (like pails) as percussion instruments. His brother Josh (Eion Bailey) sells correspondingly avant garde paintings, but his stuff works only for people who collect for the sake of collecting. Madeleine Gray (any inspiration from the Madeleine of “Vertigo”?) befriends Josh while running her gallery, and then tests him, shall we say. Monroe (Ptolemy Slocum) carries all this even further, with one piece consisting of a red dot, which he calls “Untitled”, and with other pieces like “light going on and off”.

Adrian catches plenty of flak for his attitude, especially after a “concert” performance of a piece early in the film. He says he will work three more years and then do away with himself. He earns a living as a piano player in hotel lobbies, sometimes playing Chopin or Grieg, but then bangs on the piano the way we used to as kids (we called it imitating the Army once) before I started taking my piano lessons more seriously. At one point Adrian says "noise is simply unwanted sound", as if he could afford the irony; he can't.

On of brother Josh's art exhibits is based on dead mammals (including a cat) and is a bit offensive, even in the satirical context of this film!

Both brothers, however fortyish, are lithe, lean, virile, hairy, and mammalian. (The canera likes to focus on Adrian's gams.) One wonders why they find so much satisfaction in nihilism!

The movie has an excerpt of a performance from Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”, to show what “legitimate” atonal music should sound like.

So is this movie a satire of artistic arrogance? Does it make fun of self-expression for its own sake, or of just plain attention-getting?

The film played late Saturday night to a fair crowd at Landmark E Street in downtown Washington DC. The audience did find it funny. The film is shot in Panavision Digital, in full 2.35:1, to focus more on the setting and "art" than just the characters, who "look" likeable enough. There are not that many closeups.

The website for the film is here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

John Cusack's lighter role was "Must Love Dogs"

While John Cusack gets a lot of visibility this weekend as an Everyman author who taps in to the end of the world ("2012, previous entry"), I checked out an earlier romantic comedy from Warner Brothers and director Gary David Goldberg, “Must Love Dogs”, based on a novel by Claire Cook.

Cusack is the good guy here, but the interest in this film partly comes from the fact that it came out just as social networking sites were becoming popular, and perhaps before people realized that their reputations could suffer from too much digital dirt. Here, a pre-school teacher Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane) goes along with her family’s intention that she find a boyfriend before she becomes an outright cougar (pun). Both Bob (Dermot Mulroney) and Jake (Cusack) are just barely not too young for her, but she plays a gimmick, you have to be a dog lover. Now I suppose you could try the same plot idea with “equal time for cats” (or cougars, particularly). We see some athletic talents here, like crew team, and maybe dogs can row as well as swim.

The DVD has a couple of "testimonials" from characters, left out of the film, and a gag reel called "Pass the Beef" (not pass the barf") where Cusack gets to be funny.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Fourth Kind" is more fact-or-faction docudrama than a gee-whiz UFO abduction movie

The film “The Fourth Kind”, from Olatunde Osunsamni, could be a typical sci-fi abduction thriller, showing the grays doing medical examinations of hapless humans. But it never shows anything. Ratherm it explores a series of disappearances, centering around psychologist Abbey Tyler, from Nome Alaska (almost as far west as one can go, and near the Arctic circle, much more in the boonies than Sarah Palin) as a docudrama, much of it conducted in interviews by Osunsamni himself, many with embedded video clips of Tyler herself, looking quite haggard. The actress who plays her, Milla Jovovich, looks much more vital, even as her own encounter approaches. But in format, this film is rather like Frost-Nixon, perhaps with a little of the fact-or-fiction style of the 1998 cult thriller “The Last Broadcast” about the supposed Jersey Devil.

The story is a bit complicated, as Tyler is investigating why a Nome man killed his family, as she gets drawn in herself. Eventually her daughter disappears, through the roof of her palatial home, and then she may have an encounter herself. (In the vernacular: Third Kind is sighting of aliens; Fourth Kind is actual abduction by aliens. ) The abductions are simulated by broken and vacillating (to the point of abstraction) embedded tape sequences that almost call to mind “Blair Witch Project” as well as “The Exorcist”. The bit about the presumed shadowy aliens speaking in Sumerian (as deciphered from the casette tapes) is quite interesting.

The film provides a lot of documentation (white on black, colors reversed) in the closing credits, as to what happened to Tyler and the other characters, and the idea that there could have been a G-man coverup.

Personally, I think a real abduction scene, with the medical examinations, could make for some interesting stuff. I did see Philippe Mora's film of Wesley Strieber's book "Communion" back in 1989 (New Line)and as I recall the film built up to recreating the dreamed or remembered encounter with the aliens.

The film was shot in Bulgaria and north of Vancouver. It looks a little more lush than Nome would really look in October (2000). The film is distributed by Universal and the production company is Gold Crest.

(For review of "This Is It" see the "drama blog"; for "2012" see the "disaster movies blog".)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Taking Chance": HBO film on Veterans Day about a Marine funeral escort

On Veterans Day, HBO aired an original film “Taking Chance”, directed by Ross Katz, about Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (Kevin Bacon, very much cleaned up) who volunteers for a detail to escort the remains of PFC Chance Phelps back to Wyoming. The screenplay is supposed to be based on actual true events in 2004. HBO’s webpage for the film is this.

Strobl has a desk job in the Pentagon, analyzing force levels overseas in Iraq and elsewhere, and finds he is not taken seriously by his peers who have served on actual combat deployments. In the course of his escort, he meets and talks to many people in all kinds of situations. At one point, a Northwest Airlines pilot asks the passengers to endure some inconvenience as his detail is removed from the plane. Then he must learn the story of Phelps’s death in combat, and, moreover, his unique personality, which survived basic training intact to an unusual degree. If more young men in the world we like Phelps, we wouldn’t need a Marine Corps; we would be at peace.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

National Aquarium presents some of "Planet Earth" in 4-D "Immersion Theater"

The National Aquarium in Baltimore offers a 4-D Immersion Theater with a short film “Shallow Seas” from the BBC “Planet Earth”, reviewed on the TV blog July 11, 2008.

The 4-D experience is similar to what is offered at the Newseum in Washington, but is even more startling, sometimes poking the visitor in the back or spraying the visitor. Most of this short was filmed near Argentina and some near Northern Australia.

The film was preceded by a “preview” of the Northern Australia exhibit, itself in 4-D with a crocodile, with a 4-D chair pegs simulating a bite. The film depicted the two extreme seasons (wet and dry) with extreme brush fires started by lightning just before the wet season.

Remember “Sensurround” for the 1974 movie “Earthquake”?

Related: today, see also “Drama review blog” today (see Profile) for dolphin show.

Monday, November 09, 2009

PBS stations air "The Soviet Story" by Edvins Snore

On Monday November 9, Maryland Public Television aired for free viewing the 2008 documentary film “The Soviet Story" (website link url) by Latvian director Edvins Snore (distributor Perry Street Films).

The film starts out by comparing the ideologies of Communism (Marxism, Leninism, etc) with early Nazism or early National Socialism, and shows that they were both “Utopian” in one sense but willing to murder and purge enemies to set up “cleansed”, “perfect” societies. Communism readily accepted that it had to eliminate “backward” or “pre-capitalist” populations. Even after WWII, even today perhaps, Communism does not view the elimination of “backward” peoples to make way for a perfect society to be a “crime.” And in Europe today, especially Britain, there are political battles over extraditing former Soviet war criminals.

History documents the early agreements between Hitler and Stalin, which would help Hitler start his invasions in 1939. The film does skip over what made the Soviet Union “join” the Allies, leading to the huge battles in 1942, with the eventual partition of Germany and Berlin in 1945 (it’s interesting that this film is aired during the week of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall).

But Soviet atrocities would continue throughout and after the war, as Stalin would murder more than 20 million people, three times as many as Hitler. Stalin would pursue his enemies relentlessly, having Trotsky brutally murdered in Mexico City by a hit man.

The music score contains excerpts from the Requiem by Gabriel Faure.

Viewers might want to review the Washington Times column from Nov. 8 by Jeffrey T. Kuhner, Rebirth of an old scourge: Call it Cold War 2.0, in fascist black instead of red”, link here.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Auschwitz ruins. I made a personal visit on May 25, 1999.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lionsgate has DVD of John Huston's "The Dead" (famous James Joyce story)

Hats off to Lionsgate for releasing a DVD of John Huston’s last film, the little 1987 mini-classic “The Dead”, an Irish film originally distributed by Vetron, running all of 73 minutes. The first 45 minutes or so dramatize a Christmas dinner party in a “1900 House” in Dublin, supposedly in 1904, on a snowy early winter night. That part of the film plays like an episode of PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater”, with the little performances (a piano march, not identified, but I believe it is by John Field), then a “recitation” of a poem called “Broken Vows” (rather like “Transfigured Night”), and then a wonderful Christmas dinner, complete with flaming pudding, family style, in the days before high tech and media when people really appreciated social occasions. It’s relevant that the house belongs to two unmarried sisters, both musicians.

The film was adapted by screenwriter Tony Huston from the short story of the same name by James Joyce, from a collection called “The Dubliners”. Husband and wife guests Gabriel and Greta Conroy are played by Donal McCann and Anjelica Huston. The other guests leave, and the Conroys ride home in a coach, and face an issue vexing their marriage. Greta reveals an affection that she once had for a 17 year old boy who died, perhaps of consumption, but she feels because of her. Gabriel then soliloquizes that he is living in a state of shutdown; perhaps he is already dead (as if he had Cotard's Syndrome). During the dinner, there had been clues, such as the idea that theology was getting redesigned to “get us off the hook.”

English teachers will like this DVD and should show it in high school.

The story has gotten mentioned in connection with a couple of more recent films, which seem far afield in style from this one. For example, in 2007 the Yari Film Group distributed a film by Mark Fergus, “First Snow,” about a jute box salesman (Guy Pearce) who learns that his life will stop with the first autumn Rocky Mountain snow, and his experience suggests his life is already running out of him. Or try Goran Dukic’s “Wristcutters: A Love Story” (2007), from Halycon, in which a young man (Patrick Fugit) has apparently tried suicide upon losing a girl friend, and finds himself in a colorless purgatory where the laws of physics don’t quite work right.

(Related: on main blog, post n April 18, 2007).

Friday, November 06, 2009

What's in "The Box"? Maybe nothing, but a bizarre chain letter and moral challenge

Back in the early 1980s there was a black comedy called “Basket Case” that had the great script line “What’s in the basket?” (A millstone.) And I recall an HR meeting back in the middle 1990s when I carried some papers in a cardboard box, closed, and the HR woman asked, “what’s in the box?”

For a young couple, with a nice middle school son, in Richmond VA (played by James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) that was a good question. It starts off innocently enough on a cold rainy morning after Thanksgiving when they find a package on the doorstep in their suburban Richmond home. Okay, Mom is a prep school English literature teacher , and Dad is an engineer at Langley which, in Hampton VA (beyond Williamsburg and Ft. Eustis) is a 60 mile commute. And no matter that Richmond usually wouldn’t have much snow by early December.

This sets up, as moviegoers say, a good story, for Richard Kelly’s latest excursion into existential thrillers, “The Box.” He opens his movie with some CIA teletypes about a guy that has gotten out of a burn unit and is delivering bizarre presents to private home, apparently with the intention of creating bizarre chain letter. The man is Arlington Steward, played by a creepy but assertive Frank Langella, with part of his face burned away. “I am not a monster” he reassures Norma. No, a freak accident with lightning may have made him an extraterrestrial deity.

This is all back in late 1976, when Arthur is an engineer on the Viking Mars landing, which you think will fit into the bizarre plot. Probably most readers now have heard about the moral puzzle: press the button, you get one million dollars, and someone you don’t know will die. You can see how that can set up the illegal chain letter – but only when frivolous wives take the challenge. Husband and wife here will be confronted with their own moral challenges, with a new kind of Catholic complementarity.

In form, the movie becomes a bizarre treasure hunt (rather like "Vertigo"), with lots of foreshadowing and clues, with an imagination for how technology would go viewed from 1976. It’s interesting to see all this without the Internet or social media figuring into the story.

The Richmond location looks good (we see Broad Street in snow), and imdb shows that Kelly himself is a young man (about 34) from the Old Dominion -- previously known for “Donnie Darko” (naming his production company -- the longer director's cut is what you should see now) and “Southland Tales” (which epilated Justin Timberlake). Kelly wrote the screenplay based on a short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson (there is a red button on the Box). This time, the movie has big studio distribution (Warner Brothers). The moral tone of the movie is indeed conservative, and fits the results of the latest GOP sweep in the 2009 election in Virginia.

Pictures: mine (from 2004)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"Cold Showers": French film looks at teens in the world of judo

“Cold Showers” (“Douches froides”) is a curious little French film, directed by Antony Cordier, about a teen (hopefully 18+ but this is Europe) triangle, with two young men on the judo team. Vanessa (Salome Stevenin) is probably more of a catalyst then a heroine.

Mickael (Johan Libereau) struggles in school and his parents have problems that remind one of the 2008 crisis (the film was made in 2005 but socialistic France is not always a bed of roses for the underprivileged by any means). He befriends Clement (Pierre Perrier), from a well-to-do family with a disabled father. But, unlike the case of so many films, Clement is a charismatic, totally likeable character who helps other people and is not spoiled in any sense. The home scene that introduces him has the Mozart Requiem playing.

The technical scenes involving judo or karate are interesting, and eventually there is a ménage of sorts mixed in with the sport. Mickael and Clement never really become interested in one another, although the film seems to set up that expectation for LGBT audiences. There is a subplot about Mickael having to make weight, and in one scene is made to puke so that he just gets under; the whole episode shows how far men have to go for competitive sports.

The director views his film as a set of metaphors: sports is a sublimation for sexuaity, and the threesome is a metaphor for class struggle. In the end, the rich win. His remarks do suggest sexual tension between the young men as just below the surface, coming out in the physical contact of sport. He also views adolescence as a metaphor for political renaissance. Perhaps some will see the film as a "left wing" political statement. Michael Moore belongs in this crowd.

The DVD is distributed by Picture This! which often distributes LGBT movies. The theatrical distributor was Bac films. (Do not confuse the film with "Cold Souls".)

Wikimedia attribution link for Paris picture here.

I was in Paris in 1999 and 2001.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"By the People: The Election of Barack Obama" on HBO Election Day 2009

On Election Day in 2009 (Tuesday, November 3), HBO premiered its original documentary by Amy Rice and Alicia Sams, “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama”. One year ago this same Tuesday, around 11 PM EDT, Obama gave his acceptance speech “Yes We Can” at Grant Park in Chicago. The HBO website for the film is here.

The film traces the history of the primaries, and his surprising domination, staying in the lead from the beginning. Some moments in the campaign where Hillary Clinton speaks are recapitulated (“you can’t choose your parents, but you can choose your pastor!”) But people, even kids, are shown being recruited to work for the Obama candidacy.

Obama gives a speech praising “quiet heroes” who don’t seek personal limelight or getting into the newspapers (what about blogs?) but instead look after their families: their children and grandchildren.

Michelle has to consider how much of her work (how much time) to support what seemed like an improbable run for the presidency at first.

The president gets to be a movie star in this one.

HBO provides the deleted scenes at YouTube.

If the film has a theatrical release in the US, it will probably be handled by Sony Pictures Classics (too bad we don’t have New Line’s Picturehouse, HBO’s theatrical partner until last year, any more; Time Warner should bring it back and use it).

This film reminds me of the 1993 release "The War Room" directed by Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker, from October Films, about the Clinton 1992 presidental win, with George Stephanopolous a major player (looking much younger).

Sunday, November 01, 2009

"An Education": music, reading English at Oxford, and teenage temptations

The memoir of Lynn Barner and adapted screenplay by Nick Hornby provides a British 60s “period” comedy, touching many areas, in a film by Lone Scherfig, “An Education”, a big looking, full widescreen film from Sony Pictures Classics.

Jenny (Carey Mulligan), 16, attends a stuffy prep school for girls as her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) push her toward an Oxford education. She is talented with the cello, playing Elgar (the Third Symphony is excerpted – popular in the 50s but rarely heard today), along with Ravel’s Fantasy. She has a very nice teen boyfriend her own age (Matthew Beard) from the school orchestra whose company her parents encourage. They imagine that she could marry a famous author like CS Lewis (I chuckled at this one) as the book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (a Disney movie a few years ago) figures into the script.

But she meets the Jewish, fortyish real estate man David (Peter Sarsgaard) who sweeps her away, meeting her on the street by offering a ride for her cello! We learn he is a bit seedy: he makes a living by busting neighborhoods and going in and buying up abandoned flats for low prices. He sweeps her away, offering her a whirlwind life in Paris and other continental places, aiming to “have fun”. He picks up a banana as a metaphor for ending her innocence.

Will she be able to “read English” at Oxford after throwing it away? We’ll see. The movie stays within PG-13 territory, but just barely.