Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Scott Free's" history lesson on "Robin Hood" Longstride

While “Robin Hood” has become the anti-thesis of libertarian values – the redistribution of wealth by force – the Ridley Scott movie is relatively apolitical, even if there are stirring scenes involving the ideals behind the Magna Carta. Rather, it tells the story (as screenwritten by Brian Helgeland) of the archer in Richard the Lionhearted’s crusades who eventually became the legendary leader of the Merry brood in the woods around Nottingham.

There’s really a lot of complex plotting, as when Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) pretends to be the husband of the widowed Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett) so she can get her land inheritance (she lost her husband after a week when he went to the Crusades). There’s also the idea, a King John’s coronation, that people owe the taxes of their parents (John recognizes that by asking Robin where he’s from, rather like people are asked in Army Basic). John is played by Oscar Isaac, who makes his artificial self-righteousness likeable enough, like someday he will listen. And, one early scene establishes him as “smooth”, as if that foreshadowed his behavior.

This film does come across as a European History 101 lesson. It’s intricate and detailed in a way that a history lecture might be.  1200 AD England was a grimey place, not fit for spoiled moviegoers to live in. But detail seems to be Ridley Scott’s forte as a director; we know that from his movies in modern settings, as well as television series like “Numb3rs”.

Universal’s (and Image Entertainment’s) website for the film is here. This time, as Universal’s trademark played, I wondered how the effect would come off if Earth were replaced by Jupiter while the Valkyries theme plays.

King John makes a bizarre statement about the idea that his kingship is a divine right from God, which could justify anything. Sure, the divine right of kings -- couldn't protect them from barons and nobles with enough knighthood power in feudal society.

Hollywood Streams trailer on YouTube

Wikipedia attribution link from Bayeux Tapestry.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"City Island": how to build a movie out of an audition

Sometime around 1975 while living in NYC, I took the IRT #6 train to Pelham Bay and bus to “City Island”, so I knew what it was when I saw the ads for the film by Raymand De Felitta.

Indeed, it’s a situation comedy, of sorts, about a dysfunctional family (like “Little Miss Sunshine”), but what really works is that the corrections officer Vince Rizzo (a grizzle and gray Andy Garcia, a sort of reduced Alec Baldwin with a touch of “Lost City”)) tries out as an actor (taking a class from a teacher played by Alan Arkin) in a Martin Scorsese film (apparently “I Heard You Paint Houses”; their last collaboration was “Casino” with its vice crush scene). The audition scene, with the behavior of the casting directors, is quite interesting.

That gets him in a league with a female casting director (Emily Mortimer) and a showdown with his wife (Julianna Margulies).

But the acting class (there was such a class at the Ninth Street Center in NYC back in the 1970s; and I attended one in Minneapolis in 2002, actually getting to try out for a horror flick named “Retreat” and almost getting the part of a ghost) generates another story line. Vince has to tell a partner a deep dark secret so that the partner can do a monlogue on it (we actually tried something like that in Minneapolis (try Mntalent). The result is that he reveals he had fathered a young man now in prison, so to earn good karma he gets the guy (Steven Strait) out on parole and invites him to become part of the family at his beachfront City Island home. There is also the chubby chasing (but himself slender and attractive) and pesky teen (Ezra Miller) enjoying his voyeurism on the computer, spreading to the family.

Now, it’s almost a tautology that a man played by Andy Garcia would get the part at an audition. One of my own scripts called “Make the A-List” (2003) actually starts with a hidden audition scene in which a past trauma that had affected the casting director is ad-libbed. It (the concept) went over fairly well in a screenwriting seminar in Minneapolis. It’s good to see it done in a “real film”.

The main production company for this “Made in NY” film is Cineson – but Warner Brothers is credited, and the music was edited in Poland. Why does Starz use its old video brand “Anchor Bay” to release this film instead of “Overture Films”?

The site for the film is here

The site for the civic association for the real place is here.

Starz Media provides this trailer on YouTube

Wikipedia attribution link for City Island picture by Terry Ballard,

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time": while based on video game, should be compared to Rollins novel "Sandstorm"

Disney’s new film “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (directed Mike Newell) strikes me as having a wordy, perhaps dippy hyphenated title more common with specialized and agenda-driven documentaries. What struck me was the placing of a sort of science-fiction precept in 6th Century Persia, a fantasy for its own sake, to be sure from a video game. Of course, you could say this is an alternate universe somewhere. There have been some remarks to the effect that somehow the movie is in insult to Iran, but actually the setting takes place just before Mohammed lived; furthermore, making a movie about Islam at its height (around 1000 AD, when it was the world’s most progressive culture) would be a good thing. Why not make a movie about the Crusades from the Islamic point of view?

Jake Gyllenhaal place the nice young man prince, after a brief prologue where the boy can jump roofs. He’s not quite Clark Kent; the real actor is 29 and has developed a slightly British-sounding accent to play the 21 year old hero.

The Dutch-ancestored actor looks at the top of his biology (25-28 is supposed to represent a biological summer solstice): his too-neat beard has yet to show a speck of gray, and he has gotten to keep his recent chest hair (this is not the 1950s with the Fox Cinemascope spectacles advertising Victor Mature as the epitome of manhood); he’s a bit matured since the days of Donnie Darko and Moonlight Mile. His relationship with Tamina (that sounds like “Tovina”, a character name I sometimes use) (Gemma Arterton) is a bit too casual, and scarred king Ben Kingsley is not all that menacing. What gets interesting, then, is the precept: that a stone sword can open up a sub-desert world that would unleash a sandstorm that would destroy all creation. The CGI predictions of the sandstorm are apocalyptic, reminding one of the solar destruction in Summit’s “Knowing”, as is the concept of time travel embedded in the weapon (as if it came from the Hadron collider, again through time travel, or maybe would fit into a sequel for ABC’s “FlashForward”).

There is an ostrich race scene, with a script reference that reminds me of Army days.  Maybe people in Tinseltown now remember me. (Sorry, friends, there was no mention of "the Lizard").

There's an interesting line in the script about the Persian King's "lack of curiosity". That's a phrase I've heard before in my own life (with the word "astonishing"). (The line would have worked in "Robin Hood", reviewed ahead, May 30.)

A more successful idea of this sort of thing occurs in a novel (2004) housed in a modern setting, called “Sandstorm” by James Rollins (aka Jim Czajkowski), where the desert hides an underground lake with unusual water containing buckeyball molecules – a concept that comports with speculations in modern physics about an alternate “weakless” universe (where heavy water would predominate). The Rollins novel would make a more tantalizing treatment of this sort of idea than does this video game. Maybe Disney studios (and Jerry Bruckheimer Films) will look at it, or someone else (like Summit) will.

Official Prince of Persia game site is here.
Official Walt Disney site for film

Starving Dogs YouTube clip of Jake Gyllenhaal interview.

Wikipedia attribution link for Red Sea sandstorm, NASA pd picture.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hollywood salutes Matt Damon, esp. for "Good Will Hunting"

Thursday May 27 ABC presented “Hollywood salutes Matt Damon: An American cinematheque tribute”, link here.
The funniest moment may have occurred when Ben Affleck’s wife Jennifer Garner referred to Matt as her husband’s husband. Morgan Freeman made some oblique references, and Matt himself said that Casey Affleck (in the tragic desert hike in “Gerry”) was “almost” like a brother to Ben.

Okay, they wrote “Good Will Hunting” together, and Matt insists that the original screenplay (probably in Screenwriter from Project Greenlight later) is on his home computer today (probably a Mac), apparently a townhouse in the East Village. Seriously, Matt Damon once told Barbara Walters that he moved into his New York City home late the night before 9/11, which provided the first image when he logged on to his computer the next morning.

Good Will Hunting” (1996), from Miramax and openly gay director Gus Van Sant, told the story of a hidden genius (played by Matt), working as a janitor, struggling to keep his gifts from being misused. There is a brilliantly written scene where he confronts the fibbies trying to hire him. Affleck plays Will’s best friend, and hairy Robin Williams plays the therapist.

Damon is 39 now, but he definitely looks older than he did in his first movies. He looks appropriately gaunt in “Courage under Fire” and asks “why me” in reverse in “Saving Private Ryan”.

The show presented excerpts from all the “Oceans” movies, where Matt’s best line was “smash and grab job”. Oceans 11 simulated an EMP attack, although incorrectly, in Las Vegas, throwing all the lights out for a moment (in reality they wouldn’t come back on).

Joel Leydon interviews Matt about "Good Will Hunting"

Matt and Ben were very instrumental in sponsoring Project Greenlight (3 contests).

There is also a play "Matt & Ben" by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, performed in Adams Morgan at the DC Arts Center a few yars ago (at the Accokeekcreek Theaterco).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"The Gray Man" is a "Dateline-style" period piece about a 1920s crime spree

The Gray Man”, originally made “locally” in Oklahoma in 2007, is the fifth (in my coverage using Netflix rentals) of the films involved in the litigation against P2P downloaders by the U.S. Copyright Group. It is directed by Scott L. Flynn and the DVD comes from Monarch video. The film is not about “The Grays”!

The film is an effective-looking period piece from the 1920s, as New York City detective Will King (Jack Conley) tells the story, with Dateline-style narration, of how he caught Albert Fish (Patrick Bachau) after the disappearance of a small girl. The film gradually describes the psychopathology of a man we could compare to Jeff Dahmer or Hannibal Lecter, which reaches back to abuse at a 19th Century Catholic orphanage, and even ritualized self-flogging.

The pace of the film (96 minutes) is a little rushed, especially during the courtroom testimony scenes toward the end; the last scene is the electrocution of Fish. So the movie tends to have a bit of a sensational effect. The CGI work recreates 1920s New York, but the film seems less ambitious than other recent films of this sort, including “Capote” and “Zodiac”.  (There is a touch of "Silece of the Lambs" also.)

The Monarch video site and purchase link is here.

Monarch offers this YouTube trailer.

None of the five films in the litigation enjoyed widespread theatrical release, to my knowledge. (However “The Hurt Locker” has recently been added to the cases.)

Picture: 2005, from rural Oklahoma, mine.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Daybreakers": a neat idea for a genre; don't take it seriously

When “Daybreakers” starts to roll, we quickly see that it is “another” Aussie FFC film, and it’s going to have an edge, being filmed in Queensland (some of it in Sydney), looking like “the other California.”

The plot is sheer manipulation. In 2019, a virus for vampirism has instantiated itself in humans; as a result, in some time there are few true humans left as a source of blood. You can imagine the turnabout: a scientist (Ethan Hawke) will discover a “cure” that can turn vampires back to real humans.

Now imagine all the allegories. First of all, the HIV blood donation issue for gay men (which could be defused politically by synthetic blood, an idea that really started to float in the 1980s). Or, the idea that the world stops reproducing (“Children of Men”). And the “cure”; I don’t want to mention the obvious.

But, of course, this is all just genre film stuff (particularly from Australia; Village Roadshow gets mentioned in the long credits). It will probably inspire some sequels as a movie franchise for Lionsgate.

There are some clever allegories. The news media talk about rationing and government crackdowns, and give warnings of daybreak (because the sun makes the vamps shrivel up). UV ratings are broadcast all the time. The Aussie cities tend to look like constructions around model railroads.

The orchestral music score by Christopher Gordon has a lot of Mahler-like horn effects, and a compelling concert overture (with heaving string writing) for the closing credits, imparting a mood that sounds curiously like Sibelius.

In college, a friend actually wrote a term paper on vampires for his “official term paper” in a freshman course designed to teach the writing of research papers. (In those days, professors kept the papers so they didn’t wind up in fraternity files, in the days before “turn it in”).

This film is no "Interview with a Vampire": there is no 300-year love story.

HollywoodStreams trailer on YouTube:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Leave Her to Heaven": a 40s early Technicolor masterpiece; the femme fatale has no point in the end

Some PBS stations aired the 20th Century Fox classic mystery-melodrama “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945), directed by John M. Stahl, based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams. (Stahl sometimes worked with Douglas Sirk.)

The story might seem contrived when summarized, but like many 40s thrillers, hits you hard with its script driving points home about character.

The story is framed as writer Richard Harland’s (Cornel Wilde) lawyer tells the backstory as Richard rows back (James Fenimore Cooper style) to his “Back of the Moon” lodge in Maine (returning home from two years in prison), setting the tone for a film that moves from New Mexico to Georgia to Maine, often with the look of a western and oil lamps, even though there are trains (a great scene in an observation car where Richard first meets Ellen) and planes. The film is known for its garish Technicolor.

One trick is that Harland’s own novels may have set him up for prosecution, and that point is set up early when narcissistic lover Ellen (Gene Tierney) looks over his shoulder as he types a draft (this is the 40s, no computers!) and says “will you marry me?” Indeed, Ellen points out that men don’t propose, women do.

That leads us into the central thrust of the story, not just Ellen’s jealousy, eliminating all “enemies” and her coldness (she calls Richard’s handsome polio-stricken brother a “cripple”), but her conceit: that there was some point (in Heaven perhaps) to her doing away with her unborn child and then apparently herself. But there seems to be no possible “lesson” she could be teaching everyone. She just couldn’t tolerate any competition.

The drowning scene, where Danny (Daryl Hickman) runs out of steam in deep water, is one of the most chilling in any mystery from this period. It reminds one of some passages from Sebastian Junger’s book “The Perfect Storm” where he describes how awful an experience drowning is.

The half-sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) may not be so innocent herself.

It still is amazing, however, just how effective the storytelling is in mystery films of this period, and how original some of the concepts. (Yes, they did have to use twin beds.)

The orchestral score by Alfred Newman has a great downbeat, and sometimes reminds me of the Fox trademark.

Here is some discussion of the film by Martin Scorcese on YouTube.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"The Swimsuit Issue": a gender-bending comedy from Sweden at Tribeca

The Swimsuit Issue” (“Allt Flyter”), from Sweden, is a slick comedy offered for rent at the Tribeca film festival on Youtube. The rental link ($6) is here.

The film, directed by Mans Herngren, tracks the adventures of nine men who want to represent Sweden in the World Cup in figure swimming (and “floorball”), normally a “women’s sport”. The idea is born at a rich dame’s party, and much of the comedy has to do with the reaction of wives and girl friends. Their journeys take these straight men through a gay pride parade (the credits say its Stockholm Pride) on the way to the final “competition.”

The men, largely in their 30s and 40s, are varied enough in appearance. Except for one comic moment, they don’t shave (even in Sweden, that could have become necessary).

The cast includes Jimmy Lindstrom, Peter Gardiner, Benny Haag, Erik Bolin.

The film looks big, shot in full 2.35:1. You see a lot of Stockholm and Swedish countryside. (But remember that 1962 film “The Prize”?)

On my XPS laptop, it looked good (almost like BluRay) in 700 HD (the highest setting did not work).

The English title of the film does bring to mind "The September Issue", which was a totally different concept.

Fladen Film and Nordisk were among the production companies, and Tribeca is listed as the theatrical distributor. I would expect to see Sony Pictures Classics want to look at this one. In very clear Swedish with subtitles.

Tribeca offers this trailer on Youtube

Wikipedia attribution link for Stockholm picture here. I visited the city in August 1972 (on the way back from Kiruna).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Call of the Wild 3D", indie film encapsulates Jack London story

Call of the Wild 3D”, directed by Richard Gabai, screenwritten by Leland Douglas and adapted from the novella by Jack London, is one of the five films involved in the copyright infringement suit discusses earlier here. The DVD, from Vivendi (connected to NBC Universal – why didn’t Focus Features pick this one up?) offers a “21st Century 3D” version which did not work with the 3D glasses (Disney I think) that I had a home. You can play either 3D or 2D. The film is in regular aspect ratio. (I wonder if the 3D copied through P2P would have been viewable as such.  I rented the film "legally" from Netflix.)

The story is like that of a miniature “Everwood”. A Montana widower played by Christopher Lloyd takes in granddaughter Ryann (Ariel Gade) for a stay, and at first she’s disappointed that there is no TV or internet. Soon she befriends a stray crossbreed wolf ("Buck"), who is all too tame. With other local boys, she arranges to have him in a race, but there are various obstacles, which tend to blow over too quickly to maintain any suspense. The local sheriff (Veronica Cartright) is about to put the animal down before a mysterious stranger (Wes Studi) intervenes as another of the animal’s “friends” (he doesn’t need Facebook); Timothy Bottoms (now aged) plays the scrooge.

It shouldn't be a surprise to see a wild carnivore befriend man. After all, a Toronto zoologist from Animal Planet "talked" his way into a lion pride by learning lion body language. Carnivores view human beings as a species worthy of respect and sometimes alliance. We don't always return the respect.

The grandfather reads the Jack London “Call of the Wild” story Ryann every night, as a curious way of encapsulating the source material, which generates the movie. That’s an interesting screenwriting gimmick.

Here is a link to London’s story in the Saturday Evening Post (1903). and the story to a reading quiz in high school English classes. (I’ve subbed in classes that did “Hotel Rwanda” and “Lord of the Flies”).

Wikipedia attribution link for Quake Lake in Montana , created by a landslide from a Yellowstone earthquake in 1959, a warning of what could happen in Yellowstone.

Here’s a YouTube clip (by McKrackerman1) about summer reading assignments of London’s work for high school.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Metropia": an oil-starved world in 2024, with the government driving people underground (It's "Metropolis II")

Another interesting film at Tribeca was the animated sci-fi politico thriller “Metropia”, directed by Tarik Saleh, from Sweden (but in English). The YouTube rental link ($6) is this:

Okay, the title reminds one of “Metropolis” and the look is comparable. In 2024, the world is past peak oil, and people have to use trains. In Europe, the Trexx Corporation has connected all the major cities (for Eurailpass indeed) with underground (“Chunnel”) trains that look like the LL Carnarsie line in New York. (It also reminds one of the looping Toronto subway car in the "Matrix" movies; imagine being sentenced for all eternity to live inside a subway tube in the afterlife.) But why? Roger (voice of Vincent Gallo) thinks he has it figured out. He hears voices, which the government claims is mental illness, but he (with the help of girl friend Nina (Juliette Lewis) discovers that the government has issued a shampoo (“it isn’t good for you”) that invades hair follicles with nanobots. So Roger keeps his head shaved, and his body is rather barren too (the animation is pretty effective with the rapidly attenuating hair on his legs – after all, he smokes). One could do something with this concept – what if, to the government’s dismay (or delight), the nanobots caused gradual epilation? (The nanobot idea occurred in the defunct “Jake 2.0” television series, remember.)

The government has spied on citizens in other ways, too. Since 1999, it has implanted hidden webcams in TV’s and PC’s, so it knows everything any has watched or done online since then. Does that remind one of the current debate over Facebook and privacy controls? But this is a world government, not a company controlled by a twenty-something (who would never use the shampoo as long as he still plans to rule the world).

He comes up with a plan that would scare security for major city metro systems, and he can even frame someone else. Nina has a great line when she shoots a “pig” – “He has lost his function.”

The characters are all conceived as coneheads, but still look “almost real”. There is real intimacy in the “animation”. The film is mostly in black and white, very effective, with some splotches of color (a device in “Schindler’s List”, remember). The underground works below Paris running the trains remind one of Metropolis, and even of the machine-dream gears in Lionsgate’s corporate trademark. (I wonder if Lionsgate would pick this film up – it probably would appeal to Summit Entertainment even more. Or how about Roadside Attractions (pun)?  There will be a bidding war over this little gem.  Right now imdb lists Tribeca as the theatrical distributor of record.)

Stellan and Alexander Skarsgaard appear in the film (as "voices").

I guess this film would be a hit at a "Libertarian Party" film festival, if there were one. Actually, The Washington Times should have fun reviewing this one.

The idea of a common Metro could inspire a common “Smart Card” for all transit systems in the world.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Whiteout", despite despite homage to other films, is just a genre thriller

“Whiteout”, from Warner Brothers and Dark Castle, directed by Dominic Sena, combines the culture of graphic novels (Greg Recks and Steve Lieber) with “ice State Zebra” and “30 Days of Night” and even some of the plot elements of Alfred Hitchcock’s spy thrillers of the 50s and 60s, but the result is fast paced genre film that doesn’t deliver the suspense promised in the first ten minutes, where Russians are flying over (and crashing into) Antarctica back in 1957, the International Geophysical Year, when I was in middle school.

Kate Beckinsale plays the lone US Marshall at an international Antarctic research station (a rather elaborate indoor city) and, in February, when the Sun will soon be going down and the last flights will leave, a storm approaches and a body is found in the snow, murdered. Soon, there are more bodies and a real menace from the past is on the loose.

There is a mad doctor John Fury (Tom Skerritt, who made his reputation in “Alien” back in 1979) with an old grudge, and there is even a bit of “Blood Diamond”, as well as some possibly radioactive Soviet jellybeans (our famous British director again, remember “Notorious”). Most of all, there is breathtaking Antarctic scenery, but a lot of the outdoor blizzard work was done in northern Manitoba, around Churchill. The credits say that this is a DGC film, with both Canada and Quebec involved in funding. The film depends on sepia flashbacks to tell a lot of backstory, not always convincing.

You can imagine a similar sci-fi setup, where there is a murder on Mars just before the transport is about to leave to return to Earth.

Let us say that the film does not generate the suspense of Clive Cussler's novel "Atlantis Found" (underneath the Antarctic), which would make a great movie (especially from WB).

One particular annoyance: WB expects the visitor to spend 15 minutes watching seven previews before starting the feature, and does not permit opting out!

The WB site for the film is here.
Youtube trailer from BlockbusterUK.

Wikipedia attribution link for satellite image of Antarctica

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Please Give" examines "self-righteousness" compared to actual "charity"

The comedy film “Please Give” – an ambiguous title that sounds like a beg (or maybe it reminds me of Oprah Winfrey's "The Big Give" reality show a couple years ago on ABC) – was a hit at Sundance and, even though it is domestic, is being touted as directly from Sony Pictures Classics (why not Screen Gems instead?) Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, it really does probe (and sometimes satirize) our experiences with trying to “be good” for the sake of claiming moral virtue. That is, we can give to others or volunteer on our terms, but not be willing to “join” with others in some kind of fellowship in their reality. We wind up not helping them, maybe humiliating them further. If you talk about “giving” it’s really hard to actually do it.

The story concerns a middle-aged Manhattan couple (Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt) who sell items previously owned by people who have deceased. They have a rebellious daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) who wonders why mom won’t buy her jeans and feels that mom’s gestures to help the homeless on the street are empty. The vacuum of mom’s “outreach” becomes a major theme in the film.

The couple buys an adjacent apartment for a later add-on, but only after the 91-year-old woman living there passes. That certainly seems grating and a morally controversial position to put oneself in, but this introduces the subplot of the two granddaughters: Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) who joyfully cares for her while working a day job doing mammograms (the movie opens with a sequence showing them explicitly and a song making fun of physical missing parts) and Mary (Amanda Peet) who works as a cosmetologist. One thing is that it is not really clear how much help grandmother (Ann Guilbert) really needs (that could really have made this a movie about eldercare, but it doesn’t go as far as it could in that direction), but Rebecca seems to have given up her own life, whereas Mary sees such a “sacrifice” as subservient and irrational. Rebecca, however, meets a nice young man Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas, who looks and talks so much like David Krumholtz from CBS’s “Numb3s” that it fooled me – would Charlie Epps from that show be the perfect catch for Rebecca?); later the movie makes something of Eugene’s being shorter than Rebecca. (As for Nicholas’s acting, he might well consider the idea that it does so closely match that of another popular actor and character; maybe his agent would want a more distinct personality.) Mary, on the other hand, gets taken down, and called a “stalker” and “loser” when her voyeurism goes too far in one random scene.

Holofcener’s writing is witty, even brilliant, and her view of charity (as in I Corinthians 13) is subtle and refreshing. Charity is a concept in all major religions (at least Christianity, Judaism, as here in the film, and Islam). But it should not replace the concept of self.

The website for the film is here.  Read the director’s statement on the website.  (Sony Classics opens the specific film websites in new windows.)

Sony Pictures Classics provides this trailer on YouTube.

This film is indeed a "screen gem".  It almost looks too big at 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The late Saturday screening at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington was about half full (large auditorium) and the audience liked it. "AMC Select" has been replaced with the new "AMC Independent" trademark.
One other thing: I love AMC's own "introduction" showing an outdoor movie theater on another planet (the blue vegetation suggests an M-Star planet). There's even a distant city. There's a pretty good chance that something like that exists within 50 light years or so of Earth.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tribeca: "Climate of Change" covers mountaintop removal, logging, plastic waste

Tribeca Film Festival featured the Participant Media environmental film “Climate of Change”, directed by Brian Hill, with poetry by Simon Armitage, narrated by Tilda Swinton. Tribeca Films is actually the official distributor of record.

The site for the film is here. The YouTube link for 24-hour online rental ($5.99) for YouTube account holders is here. Netflix shows the film in the Save queue.  You can check the film schedule from Tribeca against YouTube and locate those available for online rent (at least ten of them it seems).

The film is a montage, jumping back and forth between several scenarios: Mumbai, India; a West African Country; Papua , New Guinea, and most of all Kayford Mountain area of West Virginia where the film documents the most impressive footage ever of the blasting that goes on with mountaintop removal. There a demonstrations in Washington DC where “hillbillies” from Appalachia say that they will no longer live as “collateral damage” for American cheap energy. Over 470 mountaintops have been removed in West Virginia, with the cuts of over 1000 feet in a few places. The poetry talks about guillotines that behead hills, as if the countryside were being depilated (we could say that about logging, below).  They valley streams are covered up and polluted with toxins like selenium.  The film also has a brief history of underground coal mining.

In Africa and Papua, the main issue is logging (the Amazon would have made a good site). In Papua in some areas large commercial logging companies are never allowed. In Africa there is a demonstration of solar stoves; but why are the developing world countries being expect to take up the slack on renewable energy.

In Mumbai schoolboys talk about controlling plastic waste, as does a public affairs spokesperson in London, who wonders about the plastic containers on her beauty items. In some areas of Mumbai there is one toilet for a thousand people.

Picture (mine): Barton, MD, near a strip mine.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

YouTube expert discusses the acquisition of music rights by filmmakers

Glenn Brown from YouTube discusses music rights and how filmmakers should deal with them in this talk at the Los Angeles Film Festival, on a fortyminite video.  He first talks about the law as experiential as well as theoretical or merely logical. The most important concept for music rights (as it affects script clearance) is that there are two sets of rights: the “sheet music” or the original composition, and the “sound recording”, or performance. The sheet music for older classical music may be in the public domain (and a filmmaker may be able to arrange performance economically on his own). He covers the history of copyright, and the attempts of some piano roll companies around 1900 to monopolize the market for some music, until copyright law evolved.

He discusses how ASCAP started, and then discusses how some composers write music for filmmakers to use in their own videos.

He talks about “red” and “yellow” requirements. A copyright holder might expect more for use that is written into a script and indispensable.

A good question with classical music could come up with a “slightly” derivative work. Would there be a separate copyright on a new cadenza for a Mozart piano concerto (especially #26) if used in the background of a film? (Or what about any work left in sketch and completed again, like a “completed” Schubert Unfimished.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Some short films from NFB (Canada) at Cannes on YouTube

YouTube offers, for members, a look at the Cannes Film Festival, at least (as far as I got), some of the short films from the NFB, the film board of Canada.

Here is a rundown on four of them:

The Forbidden Tree” (7:14) is abstract animation of what seems to be the story of the Garden of Eden in the end, directed by Benafesh Modaressi (Iran, I believe). The apple is forbidden.

The Story of My Life” (“Toute ma vie”), directed by Pierre Ferriere, has a young man and woman meeting on a bridge across the Seine. There is a play on recognizing people from the past, and then delving into family secrets (about lost siblings). Then there is sudden tragedy. The film is shot at 2.35:1.

The Technician” (“Le Technicien”), Quebec, directed by Simon Olivier Fecteau, has an old man calling a cable TV technician to his home to change the bad news over the media networks. That happens, and when the technician returns to check, the gospel turns bad, with news of a horrible tsunami. The film is a parable about the bliss of old age, perhaps.

The Report Card” (“La pagella”), Italy, directed by Allessandro Celli, has a father visiting his son, but is the father in prison, or is the son in reform school, or is it both. The father teaches other adults, in jail themselves.

YouTube has a contest allowing subscribers to vote for best short.

These videos do not appear to offer embed code.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Far Cry" is a stereotyped takeoff on the video game

Far Cry” is the first film that I have come across from the list under litigation by the “US Copyright Group” over P2P sharing to have been released by what is regarded as a major studio, Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, in 2008. The DVD comes from Vivendi (which implies some ownership by Universal), and it strikes me as comical that a potboiler like this (directed by Uwe Boll (DGC)) gets to be the subject of so much legal attention. The production company is Brightlight, reasonably well known.

The film itself is a meeting of “Dr. Moreau” with “Universal Soldier” and perhaps “The Most Dangerous Game”. But that’s saying too much, as the film is a takeoff on a popular escapist video game.

Udo Kier plays the mad scientist (Krieger) hired by the government to develop the perfect soldier on an isolated Pacific island (for our CIA, it seems). OK, it has a hairless body, and pretty much behaves like a golem. Krieger enjoys listening to Wagner’s Parsifal (on an LP record, nonetheless).

Two reporters (Tom and Valerie (Emanuelle Vaugier)) take a boat to the island to “keep them honest” and test how dangerous journalism really is.  Valerie claims that the government denies that is has anything going on there, despite the bald Sasquatch rumors.  Til Schweiger plays the game character Jack Carver, who is supposed to act as “escort”. The movie, which started with a demo of the clone soldiers on a maneuver and “spoils” things immediately by introducing Krieger’s project, pretty soon erupts into endless chases and special effects.

The DVD has a featurette that explains how the CGI shows the bullets bouncing off the mutants as if their skin were bulletproof.  There is an early scene where Krieger shoots one of the mutants to make the point.

The official site for the game is here.

YouTube trailer for the game from RushSnakesand Arrows

Lifetime film "To Be Fat Like Me" examines what filmmakers go through, as much as it examines social prejudice

An ambitious teenage girl Alyson (Kaley Cuoco) is the star of a high school fast-pitch women’s softball team (that says the high school is well off, doesn’t it) and then hurts her knee sliding into second base to break up a double play. She has been trying to go for an athletic college scholarship, a real plus for women’s sports; her family has no money to send her because her mother spent the family’s savings being treated for bulimia. She blames her Mother (Caroline Rhea) for lack of “personal responsibility” and says she speaks “the truth”. Her dad (Carlo Marks?) has the job of maintain family cohesion against the demands of individualism. Her nerdy kid brother is already the target of bullies because he is overweight and physically behind.

So, she comes up with another gig. An English teacher comes up with the idea of making a documentary film for a term paper (high schools can do that now; that happened when I subbed). She decides to put on the heavy makeup and a foam fat suit, go to summer school and take AP biochemistry, wear a hidden camera and make a documentary of the kids’ reactions. She thinks that her engaging personality will win her over, but she is in for a lesson in “real life”.

Such is the premise of the (Canadian) Lifetime Channel and Ardmore Productions film “To Be Fat Like Me”, directed by Doulgas Barr.

Even the AP kids are nasty (one calls “Moo” to her); in real life, when I subbed, I found that they would never be; they were wonderful. But gradually, she makes friends. One particular guy (I think it was Kyle, played by Richard Harmon) is particularly spectacular (rather resembling Tom Welling), and says he still likes her as a friend but would be turned off romantically if she really was overweight.

Toward the end, her Mother finds out about her “secret” film project and resents the idea that her daughter is really making a film about her!

Is this movie really a film about filmmaking and what actors go through (makeup) to become other characters? It is; the makeup and fat suit are amazing. It’s more about expression than it is about social attitudes concerning obesity.

The script mentions the book "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin, which was another experiment at a masquerade; that book also got mentioned in Joe Steffan's "Honor Bound."

The entire 2007 film is available in pieces on YouTube from OldSchollGuy2619.

Here is the YouTube trailer from SnackBoard.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

"Babies": Reproduction rules

Out of the mashup of arguments over “marriage” these days comes one “true thing” that people don’t appreciate as much as they used to, at least according to conservative writers like Maggie Gallagher: Babies.

So, in this gentle new documentary (“Babies”, or “Bebes”) from Studio Canal France (distributed by Universal Focus) and new father Thomas Balmes, we follow four babies (Ponijao, Bayarjargal, Mari and Hatti) in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyp Japan, and San Francisco, from shortly after childbirth until they can walk upright.  The film has almost no narration or dialogue (except incidental in parenting scenes in the native language). There is a lot of crying,

Several parallelisms stand out. One is the comparison of physical infrastructure in each place, giving the film the look of “Babel”. But it seems that the fraternal twins (who show a bit of sibling rivalry in the very first scene) have more fun in a natural environment, than do the babies in advanced Japanese or American societies.

In fact, the naturalness of the physical intimacy, between mother and child (only in the California case with father), and between siblings, is striking. It is explicit (with “cultural and maternal nudity” resulting only in a PG rating) but appropriate in context (and therefore funny). The relationships between the babies and animals is striking. There are a couple of house cats who take a lot of “abuse” but seem to enjoy the attention. (One particular cat is almost a star of the movie herself.) Other animals, such as goats and cattle, mingle with the babies and always respect them, the goat careful not to let the horns touch the baby when it comes and drinks from a trough. It seems that all major mammals understand that babies are the young of people and will grow up. In fact, cats and dogs that live through a child’s growth from infancy to the teen years have particular bonds with young people.

The website for the film is this.

The “Babies Featurette” from the Focus site, which allowed embedding.

Yet, I remember that when I was growing up in the 50s, "what a babe" was a verbal playground slap.

The Mothers Day mid afternoon show at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA was about half full, and had its own sound effects in full stereo with real crying babies in the audience, responding to the babies in the movie.

Check the New York Times Magazine (May 9, p 44) article by Paul Bloom, "The Moral Life of Babies: Can infants and toddlers really tell right from wrong?" link here.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Namibia.

"Acolytes": Aussie horror film challenges three clever teens

The Aussie film “Acolytes” (2008), directed by Jon Hewitt (from several companies including Steward & Wall, Palace, and and the Australian Fim Finance Corp>), distributed by Starz/Anchor Bay (Overture?) has its best moment in the beginning, as the camera swings around 360 degrees to show you a interesting look at Queensland countryside, with some sawtooth mountains and lots of California-looking scrub.

Then we see a young woman being chased and coming to an end, and then we are introduced to three somewhat likeable teens about whom the story is built. They are Mark (Sebastian Gregory), James (Joshua Payne) and Chasley (Hanna Mangen Lawrence). Both Mark and James have survived a history of being horribly bullied by Gary (Michael Dorman).

Mark comes across the crime scene with which the movie opens, with the killer leaving. Cleverly he investigates and gets his friends involved in a plot to blackmail the killer (Joel Edgerton) after they track him down to a suburban home where he has a “normal” family life, into killing the bully Gary. But Mark has another dark secret of his own, and the trio is drawn into a world far darker than they had imagine.

There is always a question in making films about teens, as to how “human” to make them, and whether the need to be “redeemed”. The film is choppy, moving back and forth with jumps that don’t always track to the somewhat contrived plot.

Anchor Bay’s official site is here.
YouTube trailer by HighFilersPLC.

The deleted scenes and rather objectionable alternate ending are presented on the DVD in 2.35:1 aspect, and imdb lists the aspect ratio as 2.35.  But the main movie was presented on the DVD as 1.85:1; it should have been presented in the original aspect ratio.  A few older DVD's take wide screen movies and present them full screen only (like TV), rather disappointing practice (Warner Brothers presents Scott Turow's "Presumed Innocent", filmed in 1990, on full screen only in DVD).

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA photo of Australia

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Dangerous Liaisons" is 80's period filmmaking at the top of its game

The film “Dangerous Liaisons” (“Les liaisons dangereuses”), directed (for Warner Brothers and Lorimar) by Stephen Frears, adapted from the novel by Choderlos de Laclos and the play by Christopher Hampton, gets aired on PBS frequently. Set in 1760 Rococo France, it is set up when the Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil (Glenn Close) wants a favor from ex-lover Vicomte de Valmot (a very active an conspicuous John Malkovich, who gets to “be John Malkovich), a liaison to make another lover jealous. Maybe the plot comes out of self-indulgence and boredom, but there are so many delicious platitudes along the way.

There are lines about the relationship between love and desire, and that women worthy of love can never enjoy it. There is a line that intellectuals are stupid. There is a line about keeping quiet and observing what people have to hide. There is a line that “vanity and happiness” are incompatible. Women taken to be less skillful than men must arrange lines of escape no one has ever thought of.

There is some delicious music, including Handel’s famous “Largo.” There is also music by Gluck (from Iphegenie), Vivaldi, and Bach, largely music that would have been played in salons in that period. A link listing the music is available on Fast-Rewinds, here. George Fenton wrote the original orchestral music, which sometimes has a brooding, film noir quality. This is 80s filmmaking at the top of its game, not exactly Merchant Ivory, however.

The DVD notes the historical context, of the drama in the upper classes a couple decades before the French Revolution.

YouTube video of John Malkovich’s advice for young artists (by “Chicago606”)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Bottom of the Ninth": documentary about "another" professional baseball league

Chuck Braverman’s 2002 50-minute documentary “Bottom of the Ninth” (Facet) doesn’t focus on the Minor Leagues as we usually speak of them. Rather, it focuses largely on former Yankee (and Red Sox) pitcher Sparky Lyle managing the Somerset Patriots as part of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (link) which is not affiliated with Major League Baseball or the minor league farm system (link) . Players make something like $1750 a month.

Nevertheless, scouts watch performance in the League, and sometimes players are offered new tryouts at spring training next year in MLB.

The film focuses on a playoff between the Somerset (Bridgewater NJ) Patriots and Newark (NJ) Bears. The movie shows Riverfront stadium with downtown Newark (with Prudential and Public Service) in the background.

The DVD says it has two versions, one with the language softened for younger audiences, but only the softer version would play.

I recall that the old Washington Senators had minor league farm clubs like the Richmond Virginians and Charlotte Hornets, and actually lost to them when returning to Washington for Opening Day at the end of the Grapefruit season.

The Washington Nationals now eagerly await the opportunity to bring up Stephen Strasburg in early June.

The website for the film is this.

Imdb shows two other unrelated films by the same name.

We all know that the home team bats last, and has the chance for a walkoff win; on the road, a team has to defend a lead in the bottom of the ninth. Back in the 1950s, there was a board game called "Home Team Baseball Game" and as kids (particularly in Ohio summers near Cleveland, in days when the Indians were good with their "fearsome foursome" pitching staff) we made cardboard stadiums (shown above) and board game rules, with an aluminum foil wad as the "ball".

I did spend an evening at the Metrodome in November 1997 in the stands as an extra for WB/Morgan Creek’s “Major League 3”, directed by John Warren. They (the studio) gave us dinner. Ironically, the subtitle for the film is "Back to the Minors".  I would have to see it later at the Mall of America General Cinema.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

2003 Lifetime/Lionsgate film ("Student Seduction") anticipates big danger for teachers: false accusations

Having reviewed a few films about public schools lately, I thought I would mention a 2003 film from LionsGate, later shown on Lifetime Television; in fact, I saw it the weekend after I started substitute teaching in April 2004 and it scared me.

The film is “Student Seduction”, directed by Peter Svatek. A late-20-ish attractive married woman chemistry teacher Christine Dawson, played by Elizabeth Berkley, gets set up by a make student Josh Gaines (Corey Sevier). He helps get her car started and socializes in a local hamburger joint. Later, he makes an advance against her, but then, to defend himself, accuses her of making the advance. She gets prosecuted, and the boy’s rich parents come to his defense; the injustice threatens to ruin her life. This is a real risk for teachers sometimes.

In fact, I would write a screenplay called “The Sub” and place it on my own website, with a similar story in a “gay” setting. It would lead to a serious incident, described on the “BillBoushka” blog for July 27, 2007. But in my screenplay, the chain of incidents gets set off when an older substitute teacher has a cardiac arrest while subbing for PE, and an “attractive” high school student saves his life with a defibrillator (which was only getting attention as a necessity for schools when I wrote the screenplay), and then the student “befriends” the teacher and plays some head games. The teacher winds up dying in jail of his heart condition, while the student publicizes his music.

But such films (or scripts) do point out a growing vulnerability for teachers.

Youtube trailer from “Elizabeth Fans”

Curiously, this timely film is not available on Netflix and does not appear to be available on DVD. I’ve gotten questions about this film before by email. Maybe someone knows if Lionsgate plans a DVD.

Monday, May 03, 2010

"What Would You Do with Streams of Livingg Water": local church youth make environmental film for mission endowment contest

What Would You Do with Streams of Living Water?” is a short film (3 min) made by the youth at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA. Members of the affiliated Presbyterian churches can vote on the best video in order to win a $25000 endowment fund for a mission trip. The direct link for the video is here.

The short film highlights the importance of drinkable water in many parts of the developing world, with simple visual analogies.

There are several major water projects around the world, such as “H2O Africa” which has the sponsorship of Matt Damon, with a film by James Moll, “Running the Sahara” (for sale on the site (below) but no DVD from Netflix yet). The site with all the major information is here. A related organization is “

“What You Can Do 365” presents on YouTube “Help a Child Get Clean Water” with water filter distribution trips.

The Unculture Project presents “The Gift of Clean Water” from “the YouTube community”, supported by Save the Children.

Wikipedia attribution link for a water filter design .jpg

PBS Frontline World will air a special on overseas water projects in May 2010.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

"The Cartel": it's not about oil, but about public schools!

Well, I had plenty of experience myself with the public school system a few years ago as a substitute teacher in northern Virginia (documented elsewhere on my blogs), but I never saw anything like the patronage in the New Jersey schools documented in Bob Bowden’s film “The Cartel”, from his own company and Truly Indie, showing in Landmark Theaters.

New Jersey spends more per pupil than probably any other state, but it achieves some of the worst scores in reading and math proficiency, even among high school graduates. One problem is the huge number of school districts (over 600) which requires a huge volume of support employees, all propped up by patronage-driven unions, rifed with nepotism and blackballing of people who speak against the system. (Bowdon provides a comparison to a count of school districts in Maryland.)

The film spends a lot of attention on charter schools, which have to be selected by parents to stay in business. Some charter schools even expect the parents to volunteer. Some of them do well, since the discipline (with uniforms) is much more formal and the gangs and drugs have been separated out. But then the unions make the “commie” arguments that charter schools hurt the kids that are left in the districts, leading to existential pronouncements on what is “moral.”  There are a few scenes that do show a disturbing portion of the low-income students to be obese.

The film (90 minutes) is shot in digital video, with variation between 1.33:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There are a few editing gaffes, as a scene where a house cat suddenly dematerializes from an interview subject’s home window sill. Bowdon appears often, loudly in shorts in one interview scene.

The script mentions the film "Lean on Me", about prinicpal Joe Clark in Patterson NJ, reviewed here Aptil 26.

The website for the film is here

Bowdon Media provides a YouTube trailer for the film.

Also, check the front page story in the New York Times on Sunday May 2 (today), "Despite Push, Success at Charter Schools Is Mixed", by Trip Gabriel, link here. The film agrees with this article.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

"Enchanted": a "once upon a time" film, mixed animation and real -- pays homage to a lifetime genre of musicals

Once upon a time I was substitute teaching a tenth-grade English class, and the kids had to write a fairy tale as a classwork. One of the more clever kids started his with, “Once upon a time, there lived a banana.” From how the story preceded, it wasn’t hard to find a double entendre. And, of course, they live happily ever after. Even kids no better than that now.

But not so with Walt Disney Pictures’s “Enchanted” (2007), directed by Kevin Lima. The film has some soaring musical numbers, especially “That’s how you know” (he loves you), music by Alan Menken. In fact, visually and musically, the film pays tribute to various classics, including most of all “The Sound of Music”, since Julie Andrews narrates, and it has a grand entrance with the same body language for Amy Adams (as Giselle).  (The music seems to sum a whole lifetime's experience with musicals, all the way back to the Cinemascope Rogers and Hammerstein films of the 50s.) And there’s another overhead shot of Adams in a gown, this time white, with the same effect as a famous scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz. And there is a glass slipper, from Cinderella, applied by Prince Edward (James Marsden, whose hairy body is covered up well by knightly armor).

Now we all know the story. The wicked queen (Susan Sarandon) who sends the princess away from never-never land to the bad big Apple to protect her throne (The Queen in real life would never do anything like that). Who teachers her the facts of love? Well, a divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) who has to explain why it’s so hard in “real life” for a man and a woman to stay together and remain interested for a lifetime. (Would it be even harder for gays?)

The film does something definitive technically. The opening prologue in animation (not up to the level of a Pixar) is shot in conventional 1.85:1. But when Giselle (perhaps the same as in Adolph Adam’s ballet) lands in New York City (or Gotham, albeit in a manhole), the screen opens up to 2.35:1. Would this technique work for showing flashbacks in a dramatic film, or perhaps interloping “fiction” with “real life” in a film about writers?

The official site for the film is here.

Disney provides this YouTube trailer of the operatic Happy Working Song

The “Know” theme is a—“A-G#-A-G#-E--A-F#--E”.  The "Know" song and ensemble (largely set up in Central Park) was shown in JR's bar in Washington the last time I passed through there on a Sunday afternoon.

The DVD, while containing the usual featurettes about making the film and delete scenes (with an explanation as to why the scenes were deleted) also contains an animated short "Pip's Predicament: A Pop-Up Adventure". "Pip" was a character in Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations" and in a famous Twilight Zone episode.