Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Rebecca" and "The Gothic World of Daphe DuMaurier": does a plot change in the movie end affect the viewer's experience?

The classic “Rebecca” (1940) certainly delivers the payoff at the end. Maxim de Winter (a younger Laurence Olivier) approaches his estate Manderley in his snazzy car, driving left side, at 3 in the morning and notices a glow in the sky. For a moment there is talk of northern lights. Pretty soon sees that Manderley (itself a character in the film, almost like in the 1976 thriller "Burnt Offerings" -- with that line "I know what I do") has the same fate as Tara, with the evil housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) waiting to be immolated inside, even as his second “nameless” wife (Joan Fontaine) has gotten out. The camera shows the “R” on the bed pillow, and the music score (composed by Franz Waxman) crashes to a triumphant E Major close.

The MGM DVD contains extras (including the full short “The Gothic World of Daphne Du Maurier”) that explain the context in the work of director Alfred Hitchcock (and goes into the author’s bisexuality). The film was produced by Selznick International, and released in 1940 (one year after the same company’s “Gone with the Wind”), which was thought of as an “independent production company” in the parlance of those days. “Rebecca” was released by United Artists, which in earlier times was the vehicle for “independent films”, but the public perceived UA as if it were another but virtual “major studio” because its films were so large and prominent. Rebecca was the only film from this director to win “Best Picture”. As it was being made, the inevitability of the coming war to Britain and then the US was hanging over the lives of the privileged.

The film produces the nameless heroine in a challenging situation, a common theme for both Du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock. Selzick wanted the book to be filmed literally, whereas the famed British director preferred to craft everything into his own art. The film is fairly literal, except for the end, which we’ll come to in a moment.

Of course, most people “know” the story. The heroine comes to Manderley as Maxim’s second wife, and lives in the shadow of the “ghost” of Rebecca, the first wife. It’s Mrs. Danvers who taunts her, in such little ways at first, as when she goes into the “morning room” where she learns Rebecca used to do her correspondence after breakfast every day, and call for a servant to take it to “post” (there’s a suspicious pooch in the room, an early clue). The film communicates the mentality of being a “lady of the house” in that era of British upper class society (or in general). There was no “do it yourself” mentality as today with the Web. Social structures were oh so important!

The film takes on the atmosphere of horror and a thriller without ever becoming supernatural overtly. Within the confines of the 1939 production code, one gets the impression of a lesbian aspect to Mr. Danvers and her obsession with the new lady of the house. Given both the director and author, it’s not surprising to wonder if Rebecca had been murdered, and the evidence starts to mount, most notably when her corpse is found in a sunken boat – a scene with some 1939-era black-and-white fireworks that somehow recalled to my own mind a scene in “Mutiny on the Bounty”.

I can remember as a boy that I didn't like it if a movie changed to story of a novel; it seemed like a violation of the author's work. The production code of the day did not allow a murder of a spouse to go unpunished. I guess the loss of Manderley is not real punishment. The question comes up, is the changing of the cause of death to probable accident (or improbable suicide) following a diagnosis of cancer (and not a hidden “English literature” illicit pregnancy that would have stained Maxim’s old school and Victorian family honor) effective? It seems a little unconvincing, even if the dialogue scenes with the police near the end are pretty effective.

The issue of plot change is of no small importance to me. I have a GLBT-oriented script (“69 Minutes to Titan”) where the lead character has become involved with a precocious younger adult male who takes him, more or less through computer hacking, into the world of UFO’s and government cover-ups. The government wants to get him. One variation of the plot, most controversial in the minds of some, has the young man under the age of 18 during some of the story, even though very adult-acting and looking. That would give the government the opportunity to prosecute, convict, and even “treat” him under other charges, still covering up the UFO issue. A further plot variation can occur depending on whether the lead character “knew” the younger man’s age. The idea seems offensive to some people, but the younger character is in no sense “morally” a child who really can be exploited; the legal system, however, regards him as one, for part of the span of the film -- and the audience might see the protagonist as narcissistic. But a script like this would have to be manipulated, down to basic story elements, depending on the expected MPAA rating and sensitivities of investors. It’s possible to keep the story entirely within the UFO-coverup area and invent other charges, but then the film is not as sharp-edged. To make a great film, you have to be hold sometimes.

DuMaurier1989 presents a DuMaurier family member discussing the novel and film.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars": what happens when high school students have a blogging contest?

Well, the Disney Channel film (actually from Canada, “9 Story Entertainment”, directed by Ron Oliver), “Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars” seems like a cross between “High School Musical”, (even “Were the World Mine”) and “Gossip Girl”. Harriet is quite the Serena, ultimately spreading rumors. But wait a moment. This little comedy has a lot to say about the issues of promoting yourself online.

High school (senior?) Harriet Welsch (Jennifer Stone) says at the beginning that a writer’s job is to watch or spy on people to tell the truth. Actually, well, journalism is a little more complicated than that, but, yes, undercover journalism in the big networks is alive and well, thank you. So the newbies should do the same.

English teacher Miss Finch (Ann Turnbull) appoints two students to write blogs about the school, with a contest to determine who will become the “Class Blogger”. The opponent is to-be-prom-queen Marion (Vanessa Morgan). The blog will have full privacy settings and be reachable only by members of the class (or maybe the school). Well, we all know how easily information available to “friends” gets out on the whole Internet. Remember the subject of online reputation defense.

The plot complexity shows that life is more improbable than we thing. Harriet’s father (Doug Murray) is a film producer, and apparently the high school class stud Skander Hill (Wesley Morgan) is in it. Now in real life, most teens that make it into Hollywood behave very well in school, but Skander is no Zac Efron (or no Troy Bolton, thank you). Harriet digs up the dirt on him and draws readers to her blog with it. She eagerly watches her “Analytics” statistics on her blog.

The situation comedy builds, toward a frantic conclusion like “All’s Well that Ends Well”, but at one point Harriet is confronted with the possibility of being required not simply to stop writing about Skander but to give up the blog altogether, possibly even the idea of becoming a writer – for the existential reason that she could not be trusted.

Here’s Jennifer Stone’s interview for CleverTV on YouTube.

During the 2006-2007 school year, a Fairfax County (VA) English teacher Erica Jacobs (also an English professor at George Mason University) taught a blogging project to her high school seniors, one which led to some anxiety among school administrators despite the ground rules that blog post content definitely stayed in the G-rated category and did not give out personal information. She described the teaching experience in a few 2007 columns in the Washington Examiner. Some of the articles have disappeared, but this one remains, link. Her main blog is here.

There have been numerous news stories, of course, about issues in schools because of students, and even teacher blogs or other online activity. I wrote about this on my main “BillBoushka” blog (follow Blogger Profile) on July 27, 2007.

I’m glad to see a film about student blogging made. The next one won’t necessarily be a PG-rated comedy. The film does seem to fit the Walt Disney Pictures “Magic Kingdom” trademark after all.

As I recall, the name of the high school in the film is "Westview" (in Ontario somewhere).  I subsitute-taught at a school named "Westfield" in Fairfax County VA some time back.  I suspect some administrators in a lot of school systems cringed at this film if they saw it.

For a much more "serious" film about student writing, try "Freedom Writers" from Paramount/MTV, dir. Richard La Gravenese, early 2007.

Judging from some recent events (see my main blog March 31), some DGC filmmakers ought to do a film on P2P copyright infringement.  It's not just a U.S. problem!  (And consider both sides of the issue, please.)

Picture (mine): James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA (2010).

Monday, March 29, 2010

"To Catch a Thief": the famed director's first VistaVision "masterpiece"

To Catch a Thief” is said to be the only film directed by Alfred Hitchcock still completely controlled by the silent “Paramount Mountain”. It was the first of five films that the director would make in Paramount’s VistaVision (“Motion Picture High Fidelity”) intended to be the company’s answer in the 1950s to Cinemascope. Hitchcock did not like Cinemascope as he said that it interfered with closups, and the DVD notes say that even in VistaVision some close-up shots resulted in blurring of the romantic Riviera background scenes.

The Technicolor is garish and a feast for the eye, most notably in the concluding masquerade party sequence. But there is a romantic scene between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly where the camera moves from the bed to an outdoor fireworks display, with a fascinating emphasis on blues and violets in the light streams.

The DVD, with several shorts about making the film (including a piece about Edit Head), explains how the script (written by John Michael, adapted from the 1952 romantic thriller novel by David Dodge), shown manually typewritten in the indented industry format, had to be submitted formally to a board for production code approval.

The DVD also explains how seriously the famous British director took his obligation to entertain us for the money we paid. Every film sets up a unique situation with plausible characters in puzzling situations, and in some cases we’re surprised that he can get us to identify with a character whose “character” (pun) is less than sterling. So it is here. Cary Grant plays James Robie as a “reformed” former cat burglar (the movie uses a real cat on a roof to make the visual analogy) who is suspected when there is a series of heists on the French Riviera. The criminal is quite determined to get into homes (foreshadowing a later thriller “The Anderson Tapes”). Robie does make a romantic connection to Frances (Kelly) who first believes him guilty (if not “notorious”) , but it’s the insurance agent (John Williams) who turns out to be the parody character (he calls insurance a kind of gambling) for a whole business paradigm.

The film does indeed anticipate the style of “Vertigo” (there is even a similar scene involving heights), but for me it seems a bit less compelling.

TCM (Turner Classic Movies) YouTube trailer:


Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Bag It" and "Bhutan" at DC Environmental Film Festival

On Sunday, the DC Environmental Film Festival, at the Elihu Room Auditorium at the Carnegie Institute for Science, showed the documentary “Bag It”, from REEL Thing Productions, in Telluride CO. As the title suggests, the film deals with the huge accumulative effect on the environment from plastics, non bio-degradable waste. The star is Jeb Berrier, who, while supporting his partner’s pregnancy, looks into the possible effects of all this waste on the upcoming baby, born at the end of the film. No, it’s a very different film from “Baghead”! The website is here.  Director Suzan Beraza was present for questions. The film is a “work in progress” with the final due in May (we saw about 65 minutes of footage). The opening scene in Colorado reminds me of the WB series “Everwood”.

The film makes some startling social observations, particularly that our particular brand of individualism, so focused on acquiring things and on personal efficiency and “convenience”, is not sustainable, and that we need to rediscover ourselves as social creatures. This is a theme that we hear a lot these days, from both the Left and Right in different venues (like “the natural family”). Later, the film gives us a big dot to connect by point out that plastics-based toxins (especially BPA) can cause loss of sexual differentiation in mammalian offspring, and lower sperm counts, including humans. You can put the pieces together and wonder what is next for transgender and gay rights issues.

The film covers the way plastic waste gets into the ocean food chain, particularly in some specific loop areas as east of Hawaii. Fish and sea mamamals are eating a diet laced with "artificial popcorn".  The stomachs of a few fish are shown, bringing up Clive Barker's imagery of "a fish within a fish within a fish" in his novel Imajica! The visual images of trash around beaches and waterways in the film is shocking. Compare to the PBS Frontline "Poisoned Waters" films reviewed on the TV blog Sept 23, 2009 (also in the festival).

Curiously, CNN’s Larry King Live held a relevant program today on the harm of preprocessed foods and on learning to cook for oneself from natural ingredients, even as a defense against recession!

Oprah Winfrey has urged consumers to buy bags for shopping and reuse them. Recently, the District of Columbia passed a 5-cent per bag charge.

Later, in the same auditorium, another “work in progress”, “Bhutan: A Kingdom of Happiness”, dir. Dara Padwo-Audick, 30 minutes, was shown. The young new king of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, started the process of turning Bhutan into a parliamentary democracy (and constitutional monarchy) in 2007. The country is the only one in the world that supports a policy of ‘gross national happiness” although that concept might be thought of as “contentment” or “harmony”.

Here is the trailer from Enlightened Media

Here's a picture I took in 2008 at the Smithsonian folklife festival from the Bhutan exhibit.


See TV Blog Oct. 31, 2011 for "CNN Presents" short film "Bag Wars".

Saturday, March 27, 2010

DC Environmental Film Festival: Four short films ( "Frederic Back"; "Cordao Verde"; "Clean?Coal"; "Polaris")

I finally made it to the DC Environmental Film Festival this evening at the Carnegie Institution for Science (link), to the Shorts program, link here.

For me, the two shortest films carried the more ominous messages.

"Clean?Coal" (2009, written and directed by Joan Murray, 4 min) was an animated satire of the idea that coal can be a clean fuel. It showed, among other things, mountaintop removal (strip mining) in animation. The end of the film is a “black out”.

"Polaris" (2009, prod, dir. By Chirs Linder, Bob Sacha and Maisie Crow, 10 min) traces a team of scientists (the “Polaris Project”, not to be confused with “Solaris”) exploring the ecosystem in a near abandoned former Soviet port city on the Arctic Ocean, to the far East. The permafrost is shown and analysed, and the point is made that there may be more carbon or greenhouse gasses locked in permarfrost than in all the Earth’s atmosphere now. As a result, runaway global warming, a “Venus Effect”, is possible. (Think of the planet Venus as a tragedy.) Other scientists report that methane is already being released from the Siberian coast, and methane is a much more effective greenhouse gas than even carbon dioxide. (That’s why the Saturn moon Titan is relatively warm given its distance from the Sun.)

"Cordao Verde" (“Green Belt”), (2009, dir. Hiroatsu Suzuki and Rossana Torres, 33 min, Portugal) is a quiet visual meditation on the rural lifestyle in northwestern Portgual, a kind of quiet Koyaanisqatsai.

"Frederic Back: Nature Above All" (2009, dir. Phil Comeau, Quebec, 25 min) is a biography of one of Canada’s prominent environmental-centered filmmakers (using animation often), who won Oscars for the short films ( “Crac!" and “The Plan Who Planted Trees”); clips from both Oscar ceremonies are shown, and that cost something to get the rights for. The director was present for questions. His website, for DVD’s, is here. (Note that the first name is spelled without the “k”; if you include it, you get a parked domain taking advantage of his name, maybe a trademark issue.) “Back” is rather uncommon as a last name; in my boyhood, that was the name of my “imaginary playmate”.

Here's a discussion of Back from YouTube by ErwanLegalll. 

There seem to be several copies of "The Man Who Planted Trees", in pieces, on YouTube.  I'll check this out later.

The shorts program was preceded by a brief ad from the UK's Digital Arkive (link) -- the "Noah's Ark" of film -- that showed a curious image of a hairy chimp's arm next to a less hirsute human's, as if to show that we and the apes are almost the same genetically (if not so physically), OK, buttressing evolution as scientific fact.

Attribution link for Wikipedia picture of Fatima Chapel. I visited Fatima, Portugal in April 2001.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Valentine's Day": a big payoff, but mostly a round-robin of ten people on Cupid's day

Well, for an LGBT audience, the “payoff” in New Line’s offering “Valentine’s Day” comes in one piece, and it is a bit of a spoiler – for a movie out six weeks now, perhaps delayed for some people by the blizzards. That is, when renaissance pro football quarterback Sean Jackson (Eric Dane) outs himself (in 90s talk, “announces his homosexuality”) at a press conference, as he plans to return to pro football. Then near the very end, Holden (SNL host Bradley Cooper) gives him a first screen kiss – so we cover “don’t ask don’t tell” (previously pretty much the case in pro football and pro sports in general, Dave Kopay notwithstanding) and gay marriage in one swoop.

But the rest of the movie, while a “romantic comedy”, progresses the way a Robert Altman movie would: various couples in interlocking stories, as the script walks the track with them. Much of the film centers around florist Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher – the first bedroom shot seems to diminish his 74-inch frame), having enough trouble in his own romantic life as those of his customers on this busiest day. The big thing is that too many people have more than one lover to send flowers to (hence Kutcher's character has to follow a "florist's code")– and yet believe they’re “committed”. One of my own screenplay scripts, a sci-fi exercise called “Titanium” starts with this premise, when the fiancée of a technology reporter “goes up” and the police are suspicious. My exercise is far from gentle, of course. But director Garry Marshall (a judge in many episodes of Fox’s “On the Lot” contest in 2007) keeps his hand one of kindness. There is a line where Edgar, I think (Hector Elizondo) says, someone knows you love her (or him) when you do something for her in public.

Julia Roberts (“Erin Brokovich” in 2000) plays the sympathetic “straight” (by law) Army Captain Hazeltine on the flight, humoring Bradley Cooper’s character, not able to say too much. Then, she makes a uniform change in the lavatory. There’s a lot of behavior on the planes and in airports in this movie (some of it by Kutcher’s character) that would get you arrested in real life.

Why was the film made in conventional 1.85:1?

Time Warner seems to make limited use of its New Line brand, mostly for “romantic comedy” now. Gone are the days of pie charts (and of hobbits, too).

“The kids” show up here: Track star Willy is played by Taylor Lautner (the other “Taylor” – Swift, appears, and both have hosted SNL!), and an almost gaunt if muscled Carter Jenkins is the peripatetic Alex, wielding his guitar in a scene where he displays the world’s shaggiest legs. Jenkins, now 18, was a star in the NBC sci-fi series “Surface” a few years ago as a restless but innovative middle school kid, who befriends a wild “nimh” dragon that makes the story of that series; there is a scene with a little dog here that shows Jenkins’s natural affinity for animals again (you expect “Nimh” to skirt across the screen again!) Yet, here the kids’ parts are like some of the others in the movie, wandering through the day without a lot of closure.

There is a classroom scene, showing the "helpful student" concept that I remember as a sub; also giving us the history of Valentine's Day; certain Roman emporers did want soldiers to meet women or get married (remember, in the light of the DADT debate, that in 1993 the Marine Corps didn't want married men to join?  They didn't want gays, and they didn't want straights.)

The official site for the film is here.  New Line offered its own embed code, which would not connect to their server when tested. So I'll use the Hollywood streams video, which I think is the same thing.

Picture: from SLDN benefit to lift DADT (not from film, but distantly related to film; my picture)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Bickford Shmeckler's Cool Ideas": an e-book, a comedy, a fantasy, and therapy

From Bill's Movie News and Reviews

Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas“(2006, Screen Media/Vulcan Pictures, dir. Scott Lew), a 79-minute “feature” comedy has a likeable young college student played by Patrick Fugit becoming an accidental author, with a journal-scrapbook that falls into the “wrong hands” in a frat house. Eventually it will attract the attention of “real” publishers in new York. He said he never intended anyone to read it, and reveals he was forced to write it as part of therapy after a “knock on the door” when they came and got him. (That sounded like my own experience at NIH in 1962. Then, he hauls out the words “cease and desist” and copyright infringement (but not the DMCA, since this is a handwritten hardcopy).

But he deals with some really big ideas in his scrapbook, about the cosmos, dark matter, entropy, unused dimensions. He comes across as someone with mild Asperger’s maybe; the scrapbook has that aspect of "do ask do tell". In the middle of the movie, there is an amusing encounter where an attractive frat brother (Reid Scott) outs himself as gay.

The official website is here and it has an e-book of the scrapbook. Maybe good for The Tablet.

Screen Media Pictures offers this Youtube trailer

Fugit was reasonably seductive in the bizarre film “Wristcutters: A Love Story” (Goran Dukic) about a soft young man’s journey through a dimension of dead-end purgatory after an attempted suicide.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"The Yellow Handkerchief": interesting metaphor, disturbing backstory in post-Katrina road trip

The Yellow Handkerchief”, as a movie title, is a clever metaphor, parallel to “The White Ribbon”,, maybe. But the setting here is really a small social experiment. Three strangers come together for a road trip through post-Katrina Louisiana. William Hurt (“Body Heat”) here plays an ex-con Brett, just out of jail, who meets up with an appealing young drifter Gordy (British actor Eddie Redmayne), and Martine (Kristen Stewart, who plays the role just as if she were Bella in the Twilight movies).

Gordy, somewhat a handyman, says he fixes computers that nobody else can fix for a living, and claims to be a Native American (from his physical appearance, that’s impossible). But gradually the movie moves into telling the backstory of Brett and his somewhat trouble marriage (the metaphor here) with May (Maria Bello), which led him into involuntary manslaughter defending her, and his putting himself into prison to punish himself and others. It’s a disturbing precept.

The film is directed by Udayan Prasad and distributed by Samuel Goldwyn films, and shot 2.35:1 anamorphic. The official site for the film is here.

Hollywood News Network offers an interview with Eddie Redmayne and Kristen Stewart

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"McLibel": interesting now as Britain considers its libel tourism problem; corporations can no longer bully out criticism

The Biblical story of David and Goliath translates into the epic legal battles of the indie film “McLibel”, from Cinema Libre (2005), directed by Franny Armstrong and Ken Loach. The “David’s” were Helen Steel and Dave Morris, who took on McDonalds, which had been filing the British version of “SLAPP” libel suits against anyone (mostly publishers and television stations) who criticized them in Britain. The company would act like a bully because it could get away with it. It had "paid its dues". it thought.

The film ties in to the more modern debate on the British problem of “libel tourism”, often covered on these blogs. For example, see my Book Reviews Blog Oct. 14, 2007 for the suit against author Rachel Ehrenfeld in Britain by Saudi businessman Khalid bin Mahfouz. I recall back in 1997 that Kitty Kelly had said, discussing her book "The Royals", that in Britain, truth is not an absolute defense to libel as it is in the United States.

The film recreates the trials in British court with actors (with scenes resembling those of some Colonial Williamsburg DVD plays), where Franny and Ken demonstrate the validity of their claims that McDonald’s is bad for health, disturbs the environment, and has abusive employment practices. Others have said that the fast food business tests whether “you can work” -- as if everyone should have to do it some time (a kind of “free market cultural revolution”; there is mention of "hamburger university"). The court eventually found that some of their claims were valid, but not all. But eventually their case wound up before the European Court of Human Rights, which would wind up with a fine against the British government. McDonalds was never able to collect on its judgments.

The film sometimes goes into the “left wing” area and describes most of the world’s problems in terms of poor people fighting over the scraps left by the rich, when the rich had never deserved to be there.

Imagine “McLibel” suits against bloggers in the age of the Internet – fortunately most of the frivolous litigation started in the 90s against more conventional forms of published speech.

Production company Spanner Films places the first ten minutes on YouTube.

This film also lives as a 52 minute television documentary from 1997 (before the European Court part took place).

The film makes the point that now “the public” is the Goliath, and the “corporation” is the little guy. That is the final irony.

A major website dealing with the McLibel trial is “McSpotlight” here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Netflix seems to be outgunning Blockbuster

There’s a lot of talk that Blockbuster is rapidly losing the movie rental business to Netflix, and that Blockbuster could have to file a Chapter 11 soon. The story in the San Jose Mercury News by Frank Michael Russell is here. Another major competitor is Redbox.

But industry observers are saying that, just as Beta and then VHS went down, DVD rentals will eventually disappear and be replaced by instreaming, as Netflix has pushed its instant play facility and added many more movies. Eventually movies may be sold this way: with a license key giving access to the film and a PDF document for notes (just like music CD’s).

Yet, I found a posting online that prefers Blockbuster movie rental to Netflix, here.

In addition, Netflix owns Red Envelope Entertainment, and is active as a distributor of small independent films, including offering theatrical release to Landmark Theaters.

Hollywood Video also weakened. In the spring of 2004, I applied for a job at Hollywood before I became a substitute teacher. The store I applied at has long since closed.

Also, Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton wants movie theaters to ditch buttered popcorn (so rancid!) for healthy snacks, as in a popeater story today here. The story refers to an industry study. Many theater chains have policies not allwoing outside refreshments to be brought in, and irritate moviegoers by not having adequate concessions (not having coffee and not having a better food selection; AMC has created a flap about this). They have a "captive audience", you crossword puzzle fans. Concessions are very important to theater business models.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Sleuth" : Caine v. Law this time

Kenneth Branagh’s remake of the minimalist “Sleuth” (2007, for Sony Pictures Classics and Castle Rock) , with a somewhat repetitious score by Patrick Doyle, based on a play by Anthony Shaffer, does seem like a glitzy exercise in abstraction from all the traditions of cat-and-mouse “thrillers”.

This time Michael Caine plays the aging mystery writer Andrew Wyke, and Jude Law is the younger, virile unemployed actor Milo Tindle. The country estate inside is modern and cubist, with lots of use of icy blue, and surveillance cameras everywhere.

Most people know the setup. Milo has been “seeing” Wyke’s wife, and they have to work out a deal. In the early rounds, it seems like Milo will have to pull off a caper to “defraud the insurance company”. The skylight sequence reminds me of a Sunday school fire escape exercise back in the early 1950s where I was afraid to climb down.

The men match wits (in the movie's middle section a supposedly expired or esacaped Milo dresses up as police inspector Black), trading who has the upper hand, almost passing into homoerotic territory. Caine’s greatest line is “the shortest way to a man’s heart is humiliation”. Later “I like intellectual stimulation … you’re my kind of person.” Jude says “a lot of people like my body, I don’t know if anybody likes my mind.” Then "you're not a girl."

The Cinemascope seems gratuitous, except for a few scenes where the actors appear horizontally. The “isolated house” situation anticipates “Ghost Writer.”

The official site for the film is here.

Sony Pictures Classics offers this trailer on YouTube.

The DVD has a short "A Game of Cat and Mouse." Screenwriter Harold Pinter talks about how he wrote and adapted the screenplay without seeing the very different 1972 film, only by reading the original play, and made it "his" movie. Another short on makeup shows how Jude Law was made up into Inspector Black, given nicotine marks, with a notation that he is real "hairy."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Park's "Oldboy" and "Looking for Mr. Vengeance"

Park chan-wook (S. Korea) made a trilogy of films called “Vengance”. In 2003, I saw “Oldboy” at a Landmark theater, based on the bizarre concept of keeping a kidnapped man locked in a hotel room for fifteen years.

The first of the films is “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” (2002) (“Boksuneun naui geot”). The film explores several moral concepts before the plot becomes complicated and violent. Ryu (Shin Ha-Kyun) is a deaf mute, fond of an older sister (the “mandatory loyalty to blood” theme) who needs a kidney transplant. He’s not a suitable RH match, but a crooked businessman offers him money and a suitable kidney if he will donate his anyway. The crook reneges, and a complicated, almost Shakespearian, plot of revenge follows after Ryu is fired from his job. He has a left-wing “revolutionary anarchist” girl friend Cha Young-mi, with whom he plots to kidnap a member of his former boss’s family (again, family vulnerability). There follows a series of violent traps and developments.

Park makes his films anamorphic and fills the eye with lots of scenes drawn into abstraction (like the medical scenes or the oceanfront scenes), almost as if the story took place on another planet. Occasionally he mentions other ideas, like the idea that Ryu’s sister had to be able to pay for her transplant, or else stay in hemodialysis, tracking to the health care debate today.

I do wonder about the "left-wing" ideas in a South Korean film (with Seoul on great display), with North Korea menacing the country.

The trilogy is distributed by Tartan films.

Park also directed “Thirst” (2009), from Focus, on my “disaster movies” blog March 16.

On April 20, 2007, movie critic Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post wrote a column "Cinematic Clues To Understand The Slaughter: Did Asian Thrillers Like 'Oldboy' Influence the Va. Tech Shooter?" For link, see file "mfest" on my "doaskdotell/movies" site.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Remember Me": cycle of family tragedies, leading to a tragic day; a "moral" lesson?

If something happened to you, if you got taken out, because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because of the wrongful actions of others, how would you be remembered? I’ll set aside the religious questions about salvation (the Bible makes warning about the unpredictability of earthly life), and focus on termination of experience that others see.

The film “Remember Me”, directed by Allen Coulter, written by Will Fetters, from Summit Entertainment, poses that question, with three tragedies, two of the type described above, bringing two families in NYC together through a romance between Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson, who is listed as an executive producer) and Ally Craig (Emilie de Ravin). Let me add, before going into the story, that in retrospect this film strikes me as a “conservative” movie; it wants to impart to the viewer a moral lesson. Ten years ago, in 1991, Ally had witnessed the shooting of her mother on a subway platform, and Tyler recently found his brother had hung himself. His father, played by Pierce Brosnan, is a high-flying lawyer on an upper floor of the World Trade Center – hint. Roommate Aidan (Tate Ellington) acts almost like another brother to Tyler, whose outbursts come out of his rage. He has gotten arrested for disorderly conduct by a copy (Chris Cooper) who turns out to be the pop of Emilie. (Yup, Tyler can’t stay out of jail.)

Pattinson looks haggard enough the first time we see him, smoking (how depressing!) He (that is, his character Tyler) smokes like a chimney throughout the film. Heavy smoking makes men go bald in the legs, eventually, but nobody noticed back in the heydays of tobacco use before this generation. Pattinson looks a little beefier here than in the second Twilight movie (where he’s pretty pale), maybe because Taylor Lautner isn’t around for comparison. (When appearing together, they invole the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau!)

The background noise (like George W. Bush talking about stem cell research on television) tells us it’s the summer of 2001, and we can figure out what’s coming for the end.

I’m reminded of another film about the period right before 9/11, “August”, with Josh Hartnett, reviewed here Nov. 1, 2008. I remember that period well myself. On Aug. 11, 2001, home from Minneapolis, I went to Rehoboth for the day, saw a tornado, and came back to DC to learn of a water main fire. The ten days or so right before 9/11 would get really interesting, and oddly prescient.

One of my screenplays, “American Epic”, has a (fictitious) situation where a (DADT) closeted lesbian at the Pentagon gets a phone call from her partner in the WTC North Tower on the morning of 9/11. The partner, a lawyer, gets out in time.

Summit’s official site for the film is here. Summit should develop a musical trademark to accompany it’s “pyramids” logo. (Lionsgate’s is still the best in the industry to my ear.) The official corporate site is here. I recommend reading the company info.

HollywoodStreams trailer from YouTube:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sam Rami's horror flick "Drag Me ": what if your job is to say "no" to customers?

Have you ever felt you were “right”, but uncompromising, and then attracted the indignation of someone, who promises that, because of your hard-heartedness, “they” will make your life a living H___?

I know that territory in the domain of psychological, perhaps even supernatural horror, but not carried out with the explicit special effects of director Sam Rami (for Universal Pictures). I would think he could have come up with a more upscale title than “Drag Me to Hell”, which, at the end, is literally what happens to heroine Christine Brown (Allison Lohman), who has the wonderful boyfriend, psychologist Clay Dalton (Justin Long, one of whose first lines in the script is that he looks too boyish). When he mistakenly shows her a trinket from earlier in the story, she slips onto an LA Union Station track below an oncoming train, with the flames from Hades below the tracks.

Her spiritual mistake was turning down a second mortgage loan to a gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) in a foreclosure situation, in order to get a promotion from her boss. This is one of those jobs were the boss tells you to be tough. She even tells the family of the woman that she is just an employee during her job! I was in that position one time working in collections, and a debtor, owing only $65, asked if I would pay his debt for him. I got plenty of indignation over the phone on that job. She didn’t have a family yet, and she didn’t get that people needed second chances for taking more risks in life for the benefit of others. She is to be brought low for not showing or even feeling compassion.

What starts out as a morality play quickly turns into schlock, rather like a Supernatural episode. At one point, the issue of “blood exposure” (for HIV) with “casual” accidents in the office comes up. Later, the Ouija scene is total nonsense (compare to “Paranormal Activity”). So is all the fortune telling with Dileep Rao.

The best thing in this movie is the closing credits concert piece for violin and orchestra (A minor) by Christopher Young, with some Mahlerian devilishness (violin effects like those in Mahler’s Fourth). It’s worthy of concert performance.

The official site for the movie is here and it offers an embeddable trailer.

The DVD includes a featurette short, "Production Diaries", hosted by Justin Long, in shirt and tie and rolled up sleeves. He opens with a curious monologue on what a production diary is not: it is not like Twitter. It doesn't say "today I waxed my entire body." Don't worry, Justin didn't, he didn't have to. The short does show how the special effects were created, especially the nosebleed scene. In my movie, I won't have to deal with that.

Rami says that Long has a certain upbeat Persona that works for the film.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Green Zone": as a CWO, Matt Damon gets to question "Bush's Brain"

I recall Colin Powell’s presentation at the United Nations in Feb. 2003 on the evidence of Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction (or the ingredients of them), and believing it. I was at an IFP function at the Byrant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis the night that the “shock and awe” in Baghdad started, and we watched CNN on a video feed after our indie films.

I even believed that we would eventually find something (some people say we did), and I had bought the line that Saddam Hussein had been “the most dangerous man in the world” in the 1990s.

Then tonight (March 13) Wolf Blitzer interviewed Karl Rove (“Bush’s Brain”) on CNN Situation Room, and insisted that indeed George W. Bush did not lie, that we merely had faulty intelligence.

The film “Green Zone”, directed by Paul Greengrass (“United 93”, in 2006 from Universal), based on the book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, starts off with Matt Damon (now a Jack Benny 39, with a 20 year old body) as Chief Warrant Officer Miller, conducting sweeps for WMD sites shortly after the “shock and awe” start. But it’s “three times in a row” that they find nothing. You wonder how a CWO is in a position to gumshoe the authorities on his own, but he does. In time, he is talking to CIA operatives and civilian authorities (Jason Isaacs and Greg Kinnear) and a female journalist, and, in a surprisingly palatial hotel room in the Green Zone (with combat just outside), Googling for info on the WMD’s (“I’m feeling lucky”). I wondered if the movie was going to a show a page from my own “do ask do tell” site because it could pop up. He also has to manipulate a few Iraqi operatives and deal with the political fallout from Bush’s decision to derank all members of the old Iraqi military, which competent Army people realize the US will still need to install stability.

He does uncover a "plot" to invent the stories of WMD's, from operations in Jordan, and then questions how the U.S. can ever be trusted after the administration says "we won." I remember when I was in Minneapolis that the American Experience, a conservative group, did a presentation on the supposed evidence of Saddam's WMD's.

I saw it in a smaller auditorium at a Regal in auditorium, and the stereo in the back did not work; this is not a film that works well in theaters that crop their smaller screens from the top. Try to see this on as big a screen as possible. It was filmed in Morocco (although Baghdad is well recreated with CGI), Spain and the UK.

For official site, go to Universal (here) let the Wagnerian fanfare play,and then look for Green Zone on the left side. I love the “lights on” behavior or method on their trailer page (check your java programming manuals).

I did wonder what would happen if the Miller character were openly gay in a future situation like this (after repeal of DADT) and still tried to work covertly gathering intelligence as he does in the film. Such a scenario could be tried in another film, a challenge for screenwriters. There is a scene where a military intelligence unit displays the sign "Honor Bound" and I wondered if that was a covert reference to gay midshhipman Joseph Steffan's book by that name.

The film is more in the style of a TV series thriller; it is not quite as "in your face" as is Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker".

HollywoodStreams (from trailer on YouTube

Picture: from the USArmy Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen MD, an explanation of proximity technology in air force operations during WWII, but the film has the same idea with choppers, brought up to date (the ability to identify targets with GPS from choppers is stunning).

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Prodigal Sons": a layered, reality family drama with a certain irony in presentation

On Friday March 12, Landmark E Street in Washington premiered “Prodigal Sons” with director Kimberly Reed present.

Since much of the film takes place in Montana (and uses the scenery well), I’ll mention an incident: In May, 1981, I was driving a rental car and heard on the car radio an announcement of a motel seminar in Helena on “Feeling good about yourself.” I turned on the highway and went – encountering 4 inches of snow when I got there at the Comfort Inn. I wouldn’t see the Treasure State again until 1998.

The film starts with trangendered Reed, having changed her name from McKerrow, going to a 20-year high school reunion in Helena, coming from her editing job in New York. We learn the story of her family: she was the first naturally born child as a boy, and even a high school football star, and much better student than her adopted older brother Marc. She also has a gay younger brother Todd. But the movie gradually turns into a story more about Marc then the other two. He was a grandchild of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. He was hyperactive as a “normal” heterosexual kid, but was seriously injured in a car accident at 21. The head injuries had a delayed effect, as he gradually developed a kind of dementia. We know that post-traumatic dementia is a serious problem for pro football players and boxers.

At midpoint in the film, when overseas, Marc does a “show and tell” about the family, and Kimberly resents his inclusion of pictures of her in the past as a boy. She thinks it is insensitive for him to include her past in telling his story. But as a filmmaker, Kimberly must turn the tables herself, although Marc wants his story told. The film goes into intense reality mode, filming a critical family confrontation eventually requiring the authorities. This is real life family drama as it unfolds and is caught by the camera; it is not acted. (You wonder how the camera is kept from being intrusive.) Some of the language (in the confrontation) does deal with what it means in some people's minds to be "normal" or "moral" according to the Bible as some people read it. The "reality" of the drama gives this film the feel of a Kathryn Bigelow movie (like "Hurt Locker" or "Strange Days", where the effects are acted).

Marc has an unusual gift for music in the film, sometimes improvising on the piano; the music has some substance and is mentioned in the credits.

Kimberly presents her change, while living in San Francisco, as complete. The old person ceased to exist and was replaced by the new, with the same "body" (and conciousness of experience) having custody. It's a curious concept about identity, that a body can host more than one during a life.

The official website from First Run Features is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Central Montana picture.

One could compare this film to Lionsgate's "Brothers".

Picture below: piano internals at Freddie's in Arlington VA.

See my "drama blog" Aug. 9, 2009 for a Church presentation of the Prodigal Son story.

Update: July 15

Here is a link to the iPhones store source for this film.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Amelia" from Fox Searchlight, is rather tame period spectacle about early aviation

The film “Amelia”, about the pilot Amelia Earhart, from Fox Searchlight and directed by Mira Nair (DGC), was given a lot of hype in previews last fall in arthouse theaters, and it actually comes across as a rather scenic spectacle, particular with the flight scenes over Africa. The schmaltzy music score by Gabriel Yared contains a horn motive that reminds one of Mahler’s Wunderhorn music.

Hilary Swank plays Amelia, who as a young woman took up flying over Kansas (in 1928) and who said “who wants to go through life playing it safe.”

She marries businessman George P. Putnam (Richard Gere) who will recruit her into transatlantic flying, leading to tickertape celebrations. There is also a romance with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), eventually father of gay author and prolific satirist Gore Vidal.

The last sequence, where she gets lost over the Pacific while trying to fly around the planet, is low-key.

The film seems like a cross between a PBS docudrama and a Lifetime film.

The official site for the film is here.

Fox Searchlight offers an embeddable trailer on YouTube:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum film parallels American social history

The Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum, in Claude Moore park, SE of Leesburg VA (link) shows a ten-minute wide screen film directed by Staples, (with the same title as the name of the museum, dated 2000) about agricultural history in northern Virginia back to colonial times. In the course of doing so, it hits on many social issues that punctuate American history.

Although the county was between the Iriquois and Powhatan tribes, making it easier to settle for a while, it supplied men to the Continental Army during the Revolution. During the first part of the 19th century, most farmers owned only a small number of slaves, but the film depicts newspaper ads for slaves sold as whole families, to us a shocking perversion of the concept of family. The county suffered heavy damage in 1864 but farm production bounced back very quickly, before 1870, after emancipation. Later in the 19th century there was a major depression in farm prices.

During both World Wars, farms suffered severe labor shortages because of the military draft, especially during WWI. Lifestyles continued to be very family oriented as electrification only gradually reduced the importance of cooperative manual labor on the farm (the museum has a model of a kitchen before electrification). But starting in the 1980s and 1990s the County transformed into a high-tech region (the former headquarters of AOL are shown).

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

"We Live in Public": an early cult that showed how technology can make anyone "famous"

We Live In Public” sounds like a film designed to explain the way the Internet has broken up our old sense of prudery and made us all public creatures.

The film, directed by Ondi Timoner, from Indiepix, documents the life of Josh Harris, whose system called “Jupiter” (company Jupiter research) in 1980 was a precursor to today’s Internet. In the early 90s he developed as a bold experiment in video webcasting.

In 1999 he designed an underground totalitarian community, physically a kind of synecdoche, where everything was free but where everything anyone did was videotaped. Eventually the community was closed down by law enforcement. He even had a gun cache, but only under his “movie permit”. People slept in pods like those in a Tokyo hotel.

Josh’s ideas worked in the days of dialup but he didn’t keep up properly, and his ideas after social networking came along failed. The Internet world that he pioneered outgrew and “rejected” him. Other very well known companies became good at collecting data from people, especially their surfing and online purchase habits, but Harris never quite caught on. Harris believed that everyone needed to be “famous.”

Josh spent his down time running an apple farm, and then in Ethiopia, where there was no communications technology.

The film was previewed at Sundance in 2009 and Josh refused to watch it there.

The official site for the movie is here.

An interesting comparison could be made with the film "Synecdoche, New York", New York (2008, dir. Charlie Kaufman, Sony Pictures Classics / Sidney Kimmel, 128 min, R), with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Monday, March 08, 2010

"Julie & Julia": a movie about cooking, and blogging (as if the twain meet)

Julie & Julia” is said to be the first major motion picture (from Columbia Pictures) based on a blog, although there is more to it than that; there is a book based on the blog, too. I guess the order of names in the title matters, too. Start with recent history first.

The movie, directed by Nora Ephron and based on the book/memoir by Julie Powell and “My Life in France” by Julia Child, tells the story of two women, separated by decades, who cook and write about their cooking, and whose lives gradually come together.

Julia Child (Meryl Streep) had started cooking in 1949 (visually the movie opening reminds me of “In Praise of Love”) while married to a diplomat, played by Stanley Tucci. In 1961, she had a book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” published. At one point in the flashbacks, the husband is questioned about his loyalty under McCartyistic proceedings, and even asked if he is a homosexual.

Julie Powell (Amy Adams) has a job in a call center helping victims of the 9/11 attacks. She decides to cook every recipe in Julia’s older book, and then decides to write a blog about it. There is an interesting conversation with her husband (Chris Messina) where she explains what a blog is (the movie even shows her learning to use Blogger) and why someone would write something, for no pay at first, for strangers to find through search engines and read. Is it just vanity? But she will blog only about her cooking, and meet her goal of trying every recipe, one a day, for a year, and reporting on it. Even Julie’s mother objects to her exposing herself to the public this way for no obvious personal gain (as other family members understand it). Later her husband feels that the blog is taking over her life and affecting their marriage. Julia's boss warns Julia not to talk about work in her blog, and her husband warns her not to talk about their marital fight on her blog. The potential that she could, with no one stopping, exists in theory however. Julie does mention at one point that no one needs to approve of or review what she does.

The issue of book publication is covered, with both books, decades apart. When Julia gets published, she first talks to another writer who used a “subsidy publisher” with another cookbook, which did sell, but then this other author would get swindled by a second publisher. Julie’s publication gets interesting, as publishers consider breaking the long book up into many volumes.

Cookbook and recipe publishing poses its own issues, including those of copyright (what makes a recipe new?) There have been some self-publishing events with cookbooks, however, as with “The Dove’s Nest”, from a restaurant in Texas.

There are some other interesting visual concepts, such as a black-and-white flashback of Julia that reminds me of the old 1950s program “Homemaker’s Exchange”.

Sony's official site for the film is here.

The DVD contains a 30-minute featurette "Secret Ingredients: Creating Julie and Julia".

The film bares no obvious relation to Fred Zinnemann’s 1977 film “Julia” about Lillian Hellman, a film which got an ovation from the audience when I saw it in NYC on the Upper East Side when it came out.

And there’s no real connection to Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits” (1965) from my own coming of age days.

Blockbuster UK’s YouTube trailer follows:

Picture: from a Smithsonian Mall exhibit on Texas cooking, part of Folklife Festival, 2007.

Second picture: Cookbooks from the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum, VA.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

"The Hurt Locker" wins best picture, director; but what a night for a lot of comments; I give away some of my own "plans" here!

Well, Barbara Walters started her pre-game Academy Awards preview tonight by saying this was her last year of doing it because “she was sick of it.” What a whiner! She interviewed Mo’Nique (from “Precious”) who talked about not shaving her legs because people lose it and go bald on the legs as they get older anyway. What a conversation!

As for the Kodak theater ceremony, I have a lot of ad hoc remarks. Here is the best link for the videos.

Steve Martin (“The Spanish Prisoner”) and Alec Baldwin (who could have played “The 40 year old virgin”; brother Stephen is tamer) hosted this year, and both joked that Zac Efron and Taylor Lautner (who had to buy a suit, poor thing!) would look like them in five years. I doubt it. There was discussion that making a short film can be the best way to get good attention as a filmmaker.

KTLA offers an embeddable YouTube video of Zac Efron on the Red Carpet, “I’m presenting.”

The Kodak Theater has a UFO hanging from the ceiling, if anyone wasn’t too preoccupied to notice.

I was a bit pleased to see “The New Tenants” (the gay couple) win best live action short. And Logorama looks like a fascinating model world to explore. There was a bizarre incident when Elinor Burkett (author of "The Baby Boon") interrupted the acceptabce speech by Roger Ross Williams as winner of the Oscar for best documentary short "Music By Prudence" for which Burkett had also been a producer. The "Kanye Moment" is explained by David Itzkoff in the New York Times arts blogs here.

The best dance number seemed to be that throbbing number from “The Hurt Locker”.

There was discussion of “costume” was what takes an actor out of himself and into his character.

Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions, probably the next owner of MGM!) gave an accolade for Gabourey Sidibe form Lionsgate’s “Precious”. (Oprah was one of the film's executive producers.)

Ben Stiller dressed in blue and spoke in Na'vi, a real language.

Michael Cieply has an interesting piece in the New York Times, front page, March 4, “For movie stars, the big money is now deferred,” link here. The HTML title says that Hollywood is getting “tightfisted” in deals with stars.

I know that “Avatar” is politically important (as if Iraq = Pandora) and cost $300 million; but the emerging situation today is you want to make a politically important film about a major problem (my favorite is “don’t ask don’t tell” -- expanded beyond the reach of the military into even “online reputation”), you want an “arthouse” label release (you’re talking about companies like Summit, Lionsgate, Roadside, Overture, TWC, Magnolia, etc), but you want a big director and big stars. (Okay, my fantasy is Robert De Niro plays the Dean of Men, Meryl Streep is the high school principal (who else?), Leonardo Di Caprio is the Army drill sergeant or rather first sergeant, and well, there is Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, John Malkovich, etc to cast – not to mention all the younger actors under 30). Okay, somebody with a CSA does the casting. Somebody is the script supervisor. Somebody does the legal clearances (and music copyright releases) and completion bond. Okay, it’s believable to me that overturning DADT could raise a few tens of millions (and plenty of people in Hollywood will support overturning both “don’t ask don’t tell” and Proposition 8) but even with $40 million or so (a reasonable cost for a larger indie film for the festivals and chains like Landmark and AMC Select) you just can’t pay big stars advances. So, Big Star (or “A-lister”), if you believe in a cause, social justice, you’ll sign on for a deferral. These kinds of films do work.

Who are my favorite directors? Clint Eastwood, Pedro Almodovar (for his ability to tell layered stories about sexual intrigue, like "Bad Education"), Joe Wright (again, the layering really works in "Atonement"), Brian de Palma ("Scarface": he wants audiences to know what is going on), and, yes, Kathryn Bigelow (“Strange Days” held me riveted; at the time, I thought it was revolutionary – by the way, husband Cameron wrote the story!), and Paul Thomas Anderson (epic storytelling in “There Will Be Blood”, and layering and mixing in “Magnolia”). Actually, for James Cameron, what strikes me is the “sweep” of "Titanic", but the daring concept of “The Abyss”. I really like the intent of Tom Ford’s “A Single Man”.

Okay, maybe it’s giving too much away, but, yes, I’d like to “make” “Do Ask Do Tell”. The title is too obvious not to attract attention. But I have a couple of other titles developed into scripts – “Make the A-List”, and “69 Minutes to Titan” (that is the moon of Saturn, and it’s weird). The most controversial is “The Sub” (but there have been a variety of movies about substitute teachers, some called that; this is not "K-19"; no pun here).

Bigelow told USA Network ("Characters wanted") that "The Hurt Locker" should make the moviegoer experience being in a combat unit in Iraq, and come out of the theater feeling virtual sand in his clothes. In "Strange Days" we experienced the world of Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) through the imprint of a CD viewer and "squid recordings" on his mind, literally.

Winner: Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow: The Hurt Locker
Winner: Best Picture: The HURT LOCKER. Summit Entertainment carries the night.
Martin: “The show is so long that Avatar takes place in the past!” (I had typed it in as best picture, but didn't post!!)

I’ll close these rambling remarks with this: I like pie charts, too.

(Picture: Mine, Biblical sheaves, along the Shenandoah River, Virginia).

Saturday, March 06, 2010

"No Reservations": a dramedy about food and family responsibility

Hollywood really gets the practical occurrence of involuntary family responsibility, and another example is the film “No Reservations”, aired on Lifetime March 6. But this original came from Warner Brothers (with the Casablanca trademark), Castle Rock and Village Roadshow, and is a big, if intimate, production, directed by Scott Hicks.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Kate, the lead chef (in whites) at a chic New York restaurant. Her employer is already concerned enough about her to send her to a very intrusive shrink. Maybe that’s common in the Manhattan upper crust. One day her sister and niece are on the way to visit. The sis calls from a cell phone in the car, an Oprah no-no, and soon we learn about a tragic accident. The sister’s handwritten will suggests that Kate should raise the niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Kate even tries to hire a nanny for her; she doesn’t work out because she talks too much about her master’s thesis on Ebola virus. Then Kate gets in trouble for letting Zoe “work” at her restaurant, and she learns of things like Child Protective Services, provoking a fight with Zoe, who then thinks Kate really doesn’t want her.

But the other main thing is that Kate’s boss hires another chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart), who loves Puccini, and seems to be vying for a job. (“Cooking is for girls.”) But then there is man meets woman. You get a family drama reminiscent of “Everwood”. Yet, Kate insists “this kitchen is who I am”. Nick says, her work is only a little part of who she is.

The “for-grantedness” of blood relations, with all their soap opera emotions and intimacy, seems very vital to many people. I recall an episode of “Jake 2.0” based on “loyalty to blood.”

"Marley & Me": as much about journalism as about pets & family

Well, David Frankel’s extended 2008 comedy “Marley & Me” for 20th Century Fox certainly gives equal time for dogs (when ABC 20-20 did so for cats). And the huge pooch, Marley, is indeed a “human dog”, not like others, and he holds the budding family of John Grogan (Own Wilson) and Jennifer (Anniston) together. This is supposed to be about "life and love with the world's worst dog."

Owen movies his bride after a wedding spring blizzard in Michigan to Florida, where the story will launch. But the curious twist comes in Owne’s career. His boss in Florida, Alan Arkin, encourages him to become a columnist – essentially a paid blogger – except that Owen writes on pencil and pad. His own life with Marley makes for a great daddy blog, the opposite of Heather Armstrong.

When he moves back to Michigan and snow, the tables turn, as up there the boss wants him to go back to objective journalism, without putting so much of himself into it.

You see the DVD for this film available and displayed prominently in practically every 7-11 and every Rite-Aid these days. It brings to mind the indie film “The Dogwalker” (reviewed here Sept. 2006).

EAsylum interviews Owen and Jennifer.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland", in 3-D, is pretty far into the fantasy world

Tim Burton is best known for his gentle weirdness, bridging reality to fantasy (remember “Big Fish”), and his latest film, the modern 3-D realization of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” (from Walt Disney Studios) tends toward the fantasy.

Visually, the character who made the most impression on me was probably the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter -- from her throne she puts her feet on a pig to keep them from falling asleep); but the concept of a teenage girl’s (Mia Waiskowska) falling through a rabbit hole in the ground “Jules Verne style” into an alternate reality is a bit old (“Pan’s Labyrinth” is so much more original).

One of the interesting analogies comes from the caterpillar Absalom, who provides a bit of a metaphor to the Old Testament story about David’s rebellious son (see my “Drama Reviews” blog for Aug. 9, 2009). Absalom eventually “hangs” upside down, as if to become a pupa, a natural event in biology.

Stephen Fry provides the voice for the Mephistophelean Cheshire Cat, with the overwide bite. We give cats a lot of credit in our fairy tales.

Johnny Depp supposedly drew his own character, the Mad Hatter, which at one time was the name of a disco in Fort Worth, TX. Christopher Lee plays Jabberwocky.

The film is shot in “mere” 1.85:1; I was a little disappointed, expected full Cinemascope for Burton’s vision.

Disney’s official trailer is here on YouTube (for USA), but why disable the embed and make you go to YouTube? But Walt Disney studios in New Zealand provided an embeddable trailer.

The official film site from Disney (here) offers many more videos.

I saw the film at an early Friday afternoon show at a Regal in Arlington VA on opening day, before a small crowd.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Blood Oath" aka "Prisoners of the Sun" becomes timely now

Since the recent hit “The Ghost Writer” brings up (at least as a plot device) the issue of war crimes trials, I checked out the 1990 Australian film “Blood Oath”, which tells the story of an obscure war crimes trial in the Pacific Theater against the “Japs” after WWII, in December 1945, for atrocities committed on Ambon, an Indonesian island north of Australia. The film is directed by Stephen Wallace, written by Dennis Whitburn and Brian A. Williams, and introduces Russell Crowe as Lt. Corbett. Other main characters include Captain Cooper (Bryan Brown) and Vice-Admiral Baron Takahashi (George Takei). The film was one of the first produced by Village Roadshow Pictures, now a major business partner of Warner Brothers. The film did use Warner facilities in Australia (most was shot in northern Queensland) but was distributed in the US by Skouras under the title “Prisoners of the Sun”. The DVD from Allumination (2004) is full screen (unfortunately) but contains an extra interview (“Ray Martin Live”) with Russle Crow and Bryan Brown and then a Music video authored by the actors, “30 Odd Foot of Grunts –‘Memorial Day’”.

The film takes place in December 1945, and depicts a war crimes trial against Japanese subordinates who ordered the executive of hundreds of Allied POW’s (by beheading, shown once). The subordinates try to claim that there was a court-martial and that they were ordered to do the atrocities by superiors. The movie has the character of a stage-play, with courtroom drama in the jungle, discussing moral and political problems. The Americans and Aussies believe that a lot is at stake as the future of the world is being negotiated – yet we all know that it will take turns no one can imagine at the time anyway. There is a great line in the script, “This isn’t justice, this is politics.”

The title of the Australian edition of the movie seems to refer to the values of pre WWII Japanese society. It is said (as in the World Book Encyclopedia) that the Japanese were like the Nazis in wanting a “master race” but it seems much more subtle than that.

Another film about war crimes is a classic, sometimes shown on PBS, “Judgment at Nuremberg"(1961, MGM/United Artists, dir. Stanley Kramer, 186 min), in gorgeous black and white.

This DVD might seem timely in view of the political debate of Guantanomo, and the proper way to try some of the 9/11 defendants. It also recall’s Gavin Hood’s film “Rendition” (2007), from New Line (with Jake Gyllenhaal as the naïve Douglas Freeman and his pie charts).

Picture: from US Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen MD.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Oscar Nominated Shorts for 2010: Live Action

Landmark E-Street in downtown Washington is showing the Oscar nominated films, both Live Action and Animated. This review is for the Live Action. The shorts are distributed by Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures. The official website is here.

"Kavi" (17 min, directed by Gregg Helvey as part of a degree program), from India and USA, 17 min, shows modern day slavery in India, where debtors are forced to offer their kids’ labor to pay debts. Kavi (Sagar Salunke) wonders why he can’t go to school (“some boys go to school, others work) or play cricket, why life is so unfair. The physical imagery of the brick kiln itself is striking.

"The New Tenants" (20 min, dir. Joachim Back, story by Anders Thomas Jensen, Denmark/USA, 2.35:1) presents a cantankerous male couple (Vincent D’Onofrio, Jamie Harrold) in a seedy apartment, visited by rather prying and then dangerous neighbors and visitors, with a cache of powder (remember the feature “Brick”?) The gay partnership angle comes into play at the very end.

In “Miracle Fish” (17 min, dir. Luke Doolan, Australia, 2:35:1), a little boy, on his 8th birthday, slips to sick bay to get away from bullies. Pretty soon, in his fantasies, he faces a real danger from a real school shooter, with an explosive climax to follow. The film gets attention, of course, because of some tragic occurrences at schools in recent years.

The most interesting film for me was “The Door” (18 min, dir. Juanita Wilson, Ireland/Ukraine). A father (Igor Sigov), facing the loss of his daughter to cancer, recalls the day his family had to evacuate its apartment in the Ukraine right after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. The family is not allowed to take any belongings with it. Imagine if you were a writer and couldn’t even take your manuscripts, let alone laptops or flash drives, with you.

Instead of Abracadabra” was reviewed here April 25, 2009, as part of Filmfest DC.
My choice for the Oscar goes to “The Door”.

Monday, March 01, 2010

"Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think" from Unity Productions Foundation, presentation at an Arlington VA church

On Sunday, February 28, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA hosted a (free) presentation of the film “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think”, directed by Robert Gardner, from Unity Productions Foundation, (link for this film is here), “Working for Peace through Media”. The 58 minute film will be shown on PBS soon.

The film presents the result of a Gallup poll taken of Muslims around the world in the months after 9/11. In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, only female pollsters could interview women.

In general, Muslims said that they disapproved of violence, but had an unfavorable impression of the United States but a favorable impression of Canada. The explanation is not American secular culture, but aggressive foreign policy and militarism, which they believe is directed a securing natural resources, especially oil. America is seen as supporting authoritarian Muslim governments such as the royal family of Saudi Arabia.

The film presented shariah law as a sort of protections from secular government, and it presented the issue of women wearing the hijab, which they say reduces the importance of what they look like and encourages the emphasis on the inner person.

The film presented the experience of 9/11 from the perspective of a Muslim family from Ohio, preparing to travel that day by car.

The film presented “militant Islam” which comprised about 7% of those polled, most of whom were “spectators” or “cheerleader” supporting a very small violent minority. Religious belief was seen as an excuse for violence; however terrorists from other religions have not been viewed as suggestive of basic religious ideology as has been the case publicly in the major media with Islam.

Speakers include Kenneth Pollack and Dalia Mogaheel, the latter at Goucher College north of Baltimore.

The DVD will include a brief discussion with Madeleine Albright.

After the film, the audience was separated into discussion groups. In one group, the point was made that well-to-do young men who become terrorists (like some of the 9/11 perpetrators) do so because, without their resources, they are kept from being politically effective in propagating their beliefs. The media presents their beliefs is predicated on an inflexible moral code that would require others to follow the same religious rules that they follow -- except that we know that they did not always follow them!
Unity Productions has a YouTube trailer her.

The group was giving complimentary sets of an annotated Koran to reviewers (I signed for one, which I will cover later in the book reviews column).

The tone of this film is the opposite of "Islam: What the West Needs to Know" (from Quixotic Media, directed by Gregory M. Davis and Bryan Daly, subtitle: “An Examination of Islam, violence, and the fate on the non-Islam world”, which was shown at Landmark theaters in 206)