Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"The Other Man": when does chess match life? And what about (heterosexual) marriage "in sickness and in health"?

Imagine a middle aged software developer (not an oxymoron) married to a prada shoe designer, who is dying of breast cancer and who refuses treatment and accepts her expiration date, maybe because she fears her husband will lose interest “in sickness” rather than in health. But then she finds a more mundane man who will love her.

She dies, and her husband sleuths through her emails, websites, tweets, images, whatever and then flies from London to Milan to find the man who cuckolded him.

Such is the premise of “The Other Man” from Richard Eyre, distributed by Image (2008), produced by Rainmark Films in the UK and Italy, based on a short story by Bernhard Schlink. It’s a slick-looking, moody film, more in the style of suspense than just moral drama. The heart of the film is a 5-minute chess match in a Milan café, although the script really doesn’t match the analogies of chess to real life (and no, the Queens Indian Defense has nothing to do with Queen sacrifices). Stephen Warbeck’s music score has some mild touches of Bernard Herrmann, with a little polytonality thrown in.

Laurey Linney is appropriately cast as the wife (who else), and Liam Neeson as Peter is grown up enough not to seem like a Facebook kid, and Antonio Banderas as Ralph, the “other”, is aged a bit beyond the fantasies of the past. This is another good example of very professional independent filmmaking with big stars.

The film poses not only the question as to whether a woman can really love two men, but also can a many love the same woman after seeing her in a previously unknown light?

Image provides a trailer on YouTube

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Out in the Silence": PBS airs documentary about a gay many returning to his small town during Pride Month

On Tuesday June 29 many PBS stations aired the Sundance Channel film “Out in the Silence” directed by Dean Hamer, shortened slightly to 56 minutes. (Note that the correct preoposition in the title is "in" and not "of".)

Joe Wilson grew up in Oil City, PA, in the rust belt in the less populated NW part of the state. Perceiving that he was gay, he kept quiet and conformed to social expectations until he left his Irish Catholic upbringing and lived as an adult in Washington DC. When an announcement of his wedding to a gay partner appeared in the local newspaper, a furor ensued, as out-of-state anti-gay groups stirred things up. Soon Joe gets a letter from Kathy Springer about the harassment of her gay teenage son in the local high school.

At first the school board is unwilling to do anything about anti-gay bullying which gets horrible. That did not happen in high school to me in Arlington VA even around 1960. Gradually it becomes apparent that opposition to gay marriage is total opposition to the presence of open homosexuals in the town at all (rather like the impression of the military). Religious groups (such as the “American Family Association”) make arguments about special rights and say that gays never had to sit in the back of the bus. But it is apparent that what people really fear is (secularized) "meritocratic" individualism, and the idea (or "logical consequence") that social familial fabric upon which many people depend will become weaker, leaving people in a poor community stranded. On the other hand, progressives in town question the reasons for the town’s “brain drain” and economic failure.

A lesbian who had been fired from a company (remember the case “DuMuth v. Miller” near Harrisburg in the 1990s?) teams with her partner to renovate a historic downtown theater.

Toward the end Wilson makes connections with a local pastor, who admits that it was wrong to harass people because of the way they live their lives, or for who they are.

Here is a website for the film.
YouTube trailer from QWaves.

See also on my "TV Reviews Blog" today (June 29, 2010) a review of the ITVS film "City of Borders" about the gay community in and around Jerusalem.

HBO airs "Kevorkian", second HBO film this year about Jack

On Monday June 28 HBO Documentary Films aired “Kevorkian”, directed by Matthew Galkin, about 80 minutes. This is HBO’s second film this year on Dr. Jack Kevorkian, and this one is a more traditional documentary, rather than a non-fiction dramatic recreation of a historical issue.

The documentary focuses on Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s release on parole and his run for Congress (from Michigan). It also presents him as a composer of harpsichord music that resembles Bach, and as a painter of somewhat dark subjects.

Kevorkian says that the main focus of his candidacy is the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution, which reads “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Law professor Alan Dershowitz appears in the film and says that this amendment is the only one which tells us how to interpret everything else in the Constitution.

Kevorikian says that the right to determine the end of one’s life if one is suffering is a natural right that he was born with. He takes the libertarian position that government has been corrupted to advance the religious and emotional needs of those in control.

The film admits that some people do not find him a pleasant person but that he tells the truth bluntly (like a Rosenfels “psychological feminine”).

Kevorkian never married or had children.

HBO has a link here.
Metrounit has a YouTube video of Kevorkian’s work on display

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Before and After": Justice drama with Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson from the 90s

The title of the 1996 film “Before and After” suggests a concept many of us know: where were you when something truamatic happened, and you found out, and life wouldn’t be the same. We could say that about 9/11. We could say that about the moment most of us in the 80s understood the nature of HIV.

In the film directed by Barbet Schroeder, a family (Liam Neeson is pop, and Meryl Streep, looking younger, plays a female doctor) is confronted with their teenage son’s being accused of killing his girlfriend when a policeman, out of uniform, rings the doorbell one evening.

In terms of screenwriting, the film presents a clear cut dilemma, and crisis, and the story follows (in “beginning-middle-end” format) in straightforward, “American Hollywood” fashion. The post-romantic music score by Howard Shore sprinkles us with dissonances just when the camera is going to raise the tension level.

There is a twist, of course. It was an accident. But she was pregnant. And because of the contrivances in the American justice system, no one, including the boy (Edward Furlong) can afford to tell the truth – otherwise there is no movie.

Like many genre dramas, the film seems to have an “anywhere” location (the fishing huts suggest Minnesota) but pretty soon we’re pretty well established as being in Massachusetts.

The film comes from Hollywood Pictures (with its Sphinx trade dress), which Disney uses off and on for quasi-independent genre films, similar to Sony’s Screen Gems.

I do recall seeing a teen Ed Furlong in Charles Matthau’s film of Truman Capote’s quaint story “The Glass Harp” from Fine Line in 1995, where Ed plays the character Collin Fenwick.

YouTube: Meryl Streep speaks at Barnard College, Columbia University, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Tom & Viv": recalls a college experience with T.S. Eliot (maybe critical for me)

“Poetry is not an expression of emotion, but an escape from emotion.”

T.S. Elliot, acted by Willem Dafoe, says that in the middle of Brian Gilbert’s “Tom & Viv” (1994), about the marriage of British poet T.S. Eliot (One 'l') and Vivian Haye-Wood (Miranda Richardson), based on the 1984 play by Michael Hastings. They have eloped, she has “physical problems” that may compromise the marriage, and her parents are suspicious that Tom doesn’t earn much from writing poetry. And that particular line (above) is spoken just after a critical scene where Vivian learns she is not named in a will and that a trust is not set up to allow her much independence – a warning that things can go wrong with trusts. Later, doctors say she is prone to “moral insanity” – the way people saw “mental illness” in those days. She is given a “test” (with trick math questions) in a cleverly staged scene, and then dragged away to a lunatic house out of a coffee shop at the order of the “trustees”. During WWII (the movie had started in 1915), an American Army officer questions why her husband never got her out of the mental hospital and abused his powers as a trustee. The couple had separated, but she had remained emotionally faithful, worshipping him for his works!

In one early sequence, Bertrand Russell (Nickholas Grace) takes the couple in. I recall getting a copy of Russell's autobiography as a gift from a coworker in 1971.

In that forlorn fall semester at William and Mary in 1961, we read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in English class. We had to write a theme about it, I think, even before midterm grades. I do recall the young male instructor’s making a lot of sexual impotence in interpreting the poem – the bit about being “etherized on a table” sounds like being abducted, or perhaps a final transition out of pleasurable experience, perhaps a perview of the afterlife and whether it is for the journeyman.

I have to say that the “mental illness” sequences with Vivian jive with what I saw of female patients when I was a “psychiatric patient” at NIH myself in 1962. “Nothing to be ashamed of.” Sure.

The music score by Debbie Wiseman sounds rather Mahleresque, but transitions into a particularly schmaltzy passage from Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” as well as the Pergolesi Requeim.

The film was distributed by Miramax, well before the days that the Weinstein Company split off. Recently the New York Times carried an article about the need for TWC have investors get it out of debt, for the first time ever (link).

I could invent another epigram: "Ideology is a luxury for the dilletante".

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"The Kids Grow Up": a documentary filmmaker tells the story of his own emptying of the nest

On Thursday June 24, 2010 the AFI Silverdocs showed the family documentary “The Kids Group Up”, directed by Doug Block. (For some reason the director’s name and manor reminds me of Douglas Sirk!) The film will be distributed in theaters soon by Shadow but was produced in part by HBO Documentaries (and Copacetic Pictures) and should appear on HBO in early 2011.

Block documents his own only-child daughter’s rearing in New York City (with trips to family homes on Long Island) and her going away to college in California. At one point, the daughter expresses indignation about being “exploited” by her documentary filmmaker father, but then welcomes the idea with a Father’s Day cell phone call. This film is a second in a planned trilogy about Block’s family: the first was “51 Birch Street”. The film, which tends to focus on family emotional intimacies (as if a kind of “Sinfonia Domestic”, after the famous tone poem by Richard Strauss) also shows the mother, a law professor, dealing with clinical depression, and his father receiving care at a home in Florida.

I can imagine treating my own “do ask do tell” material this way, especially the period through my high school graduation to my going down to William and Mary in September 1961 with my parents, and my expulsion for homosexuality in Nov. 1961, and what would follow for the family. I discuss this on the BillBoushka blog on Nov. 28, 2006. That’s one indication of how books and movies about one’s family become a sensitive matter. Mine would certainly have a very different and more challenging emotional tone than this one. But the family dynamics of dealing with a teen’s homosexuality, especially in a more conservative family (or in the past when social attitudes were often much harsher) does seem like a good topic for PBS/POV or HBO documentary filmmaking.

In this film, the daughter goes to the high school prom alone. I did not go at all – my Mt. Washington NH trip with the Science Honor Society became the psychological equivalent of a prom; I do recall a “pre-prom” party two weeks before and not liking the jazzy music. I don’t remember my commencement ceremony well, or the valedictory speech; the film shows a bit of the daughter’s.

The website for the film is here.

The Kids Grow Up longer trailer from Copacetic Pictures on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

AFI Siverdocs short films: "Arsy-Versy" (mother-son relationship) and "A Moth in Spring" (no artistic freedom in China)

AFI Silverdocs offers a few free “shorts programs” (not the cargo shorts kind), and today I saw the “Creature Comforts” program, and a couple of the films are important.

The program led off with “Upside Down” or (in Czech) “Arsy-Versy”, 23 min, from director Miro Remo. Set in Slovakia, the film explores an inderdependent relationship between mother and son.

The son, Lubos, now around 50, lives with his mom (or mother), and pursues his solitary, "vicarious" hobbies, studying butterflies (OK, there’s Tiny Tim’s “OGAB”), and most of all, bats. In a number a scenes, he explores the caves in which the bats live, that seem to be old mines (perhaps coal mines), along a mountainside that is slowly being blasted away (is this a message on mountaintop removal?)

His aging mother, probably in her 80s, expresses concern over what will happen to him when she is gone. She wonders why he doesn't get a real career (like at a local cement factory or perhaps coal mine) -- say a "real job" (even manual labor) while biology is his hobby. You could have said that about my piano "pre-career".  She does not seem disabled or in need of any long term care, so the potential for a film like this to get into eldercare issues isn’t fully explored. But one wonders why the son remained “dependent” (perhaps even a “mooch”). There are some psychic clues. First, the music soundtrack takes off with MGM/2001’s rendition of the opening of Richard Strauss’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and later J. Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz”, whereas Lubos is going upsidedown, exploring life underground rather than in space. (You wonder if astronaut would be a good occupation for a loner!) But there are some quick shots of him physically, especially as a younger man (flashback), such as one in which a shirt is being pulled off, which suggest a certain modesty and lack of normal male confidence and competitiveness. We could go into the Freudian or even oedipal matters more. Yet, one has a certain empathy with Lubos; he is studying and documenting things not too many people want to pay attention to.

In fact, in earlier generations, “non marrying kind” people (usually women, like the "old maids" in "Gone with the Wind") were expected to hang around home and be prepared to play or provide family for their aging parents (you could imagine a short film called “Family Slave”). In today’s world, of fewer children, and longer life spans (often with considerable disability for some years at the end of life), we have issues that we didn’t have before. We should be discussing them openly. I am in a situation somewhat like Lubos, but more challenged (and I need more independence again), but the situation of unmarried adult children, even men, living with their mothers (without much social controversy) is more common in my experience than one would expect.

The soundtrack of the movie sounded monaural, and a bit tinny. Many of the flashback scenes were in black and white, and that made them more effective.

The other “big film”, at the end of the program, was just as “controversial”, maybe even more obviously so. The film is “A Moth in Spring”, directed by Yu Gu, from Canada and China, 26 min.

A young woman living in the inland metropolis of Chongqing endeavors to make a film about her father’s involvement with Student Democracy Movement of the 1980s, ending in the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. The film intersperses rehearsal or filming sessions with bits of text from her screenplay in FinalDraft format (as if this were a film about screenwriting). But then the Chinese authorities find out that she is making a political film about the democracy movement and raid her apartment and take her materials. Yet, she is able to leave the country with footage of the raid, which she can use to make this film when she gets to Vancouver. The filmmaker was present for the Q&A afterwards.

The other three films were smaller and more obviously “about” animals.

Big Birding Day”, directed by David Wilson (13 minutes), depicts competitive birding in Oklahoma and then Mexico. I knew a birder in the LGBT outdoor group “Adventuring”, and I’ve seen practically everything once: bluebird, goldfinch, bunting, red header woodpecker, oriole, ovenbird and various other warblers (and red wing blackbirds near water).

The Poodle Trainer” (8 minutes), directed by Valance Malone, has a favorite show dog in a colorful Russian trepak.

The Herd” (4 minutes), by Ken Waldrop, set in Ireland, has a fawn making her way into a herd of cattle, not necessarily wise. She is not “Babe”, but the Herd is no “nerd herd”.

SXSW trailer on YouTube for “Arsy-Versy”.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"A Film Unfinished" embedded in a documentary about the Warsaw ghetto

AFI Silverdocs presented the encapsulated documentary “A Film Unfinished”, directed by Yael Hersonski (87 min) today (June 22) at a well-attended weekday show in the large auditorium. The film seems to have commercial distribution from Oscilloscope.

The enigmatic title may suggest Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony – and in fact there is a poignant quote from Brahms’s First Piano Concerto in the score. The moody chamber music score sounds like a mixture of Britten and late Shostakovich – I don’t have the composer.

The “embedded” film was a propaganda documentary which Nazi filmmaker Willy Wist was making of life in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw around May 1942. The film was going to make it appear that the Jews were well-fed and morally responsible for their own disparities between rich and poor. Wist would eventually give up filmmaking and become a steelworker (a “prole”) in order to distance himself from Nazi activities for the post war trials.

The inner footage, which is always grim, is in black and white and usually small aspect; the outer documentary is in muted colors and regular full screen. Gradually the life in Warsaw gets more desperate, while the Germans tried harder to make them film their intimate life even more, such as a circumcision which they order done in an apartment rather than a hospital.

Silverdocs has a blog entry on the film here.

I couldn’t find a trailer for the film, but here is a YouTube video by RelatioNet on the Warsaw Ghetto wall.

The book “War and Remembrance” by Herman Wouk and ABC television film series presented the “Paradise Ghetto” Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.

The film was preceded by an 8-minute hand animated short, “An Overnight Stay.” An 83 year old woman recalls a cold night in 1941 Warsaw when strangers took her in. Multiple families were placed in single rooms. But when she went out for a moment, she saw Germans who might report her, and, to protect her mother and sister, she could not come back. She got taken in again. The film is directed by Kamil Turowski and is based on a short story by Slawomir Mrozek.

Silverdocs is presenting a 1996 French film, “Microcosmos”, by Claude Nurisdany and Marie Perennou about insect life, which I believe I saw in the Nemo museum in Amsterdam in May 2001. It had an impressionistic music score.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Documentary "8: The Mormon Proposition" goes beyond California gay marriage case to look at Mormon anti-gay bias; recalls 2003 film "Latter Days"

The AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring, MD is showing the documentary “8: The Mormon Proposition”, directed by Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet, from Red Flag Releasing, for three days this weekend as a prelude to its Silverdocs festival starting this week. It’s not part of that festival officially (since it already has commercial release), but in a practical sense it is.

The film does create the impression that the intense lobbying effort in California by the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to pass Proposition 8 in the November 2008 election. This measure was a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman and overturn a state supreme court ruling earlier in 2008 declaring a law saying the same to be unconstitutional.

It’s clear that in the eyes of the Church and the filmmakers both, the battle over gay marriage is a proxy for gay rights in general, for the rights of gay people to live their own lives without infringement or even expropriation from others. And to make this point, the filmmakers settle in on the pressure that the Mormon Church put on ordinary members from all over the country to give money to their Proposition 8 campaign. “Checks should be from individuals” one letterhead reads.

The Church is an authoritarian organization, much more so than even the Vatican. According to the film, members who didn’t give were threatened with excommunication.

Authoritarian structures do provide stability sometimes, while creating a world that has no use for some kinds of people. Freedom, and in general democratic capitalism as we know it, has to accept some risks to allow for more individual diversity. As a result, social structures like the family do remain important anyway.

But the Mormon Church, according to the film, seems to have a particular problem with homosexuality because same-sex eroticism threatens its theology based on everlasting marriage and the permanent natural family. (Paul Mero, one of the co-authors (with Allan Carlson) of “The Natural Family: A Manifesto” (my Books blog, Sept. 18, 2009) in one scene publicly scowls at gays for thinking its their right to do anything they want with their own lives!) According to the film, Mormons believe that in the next life, polygamy (which at one time was practiced by Mormons in the US) will be followed and that men who had faithfully raised families (and practiced marital monogamy) would own their own planets in other solar systems or universes. Men would become gods, and gays threatened their future as gods! I wondered if there would exist a spiritual “subprime mortgage” and for other solar systems as real estate, or maybe even for black holes (which some physicists say can generate whole new universes in countably infinite fashion). The animation depicting Mormon ufology was rather entertaining.

It’s obvious that the Mormon campaign raises legal questions about the separation of church and state, which the film explores by probing the Church’s statements on its “campaign contributions”. It could invoke the controversy over campaign finance reform that erupted after McCain-Feingold in 2002. But a deeper question arises as to an undue influence on the political process in our country. It can come from a church, or from employers. I wouldn’t have much to offer in a world in which all policy decisions were made by orchestrated and coercive lobbying. But there’s a flip side: if one has a disproportionate influence on externals through Internet self-promotion without being connected to the needs of others through community or something like the “natural family”, then there occur a different set of “Moral” issues.

The film focuses on gay Mormon youth, depicting some particular gay couples in California (interspersed with interviews with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome who was so supportive of gay marriage, while a straight Irish Catholic himself). Gradually, it moves into the disturbing topic of suicides of gay youth in the LDS. It also depicts Mormon aversion therapy, and depicts old footage of lobotomies, calling to mind scenes from Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”.

The 2003 film “Latter Days”, directed by C. Jay Cox (FunnyBoy Pictures and TLA Releasing) had depicted the life of a gay young Mormon missionary, and with the consequences of his outing (including aversion therapy), and a brilliantly written confrontation scene with his mother (back at home in Idaho), who so badly needs her son’s compliance with the heterosexual Church model for life for her own marriage and motherhood to mean anything. (At one point, she challenges him with something like, “What about me then? Where do I fit into your world?”

However the 2000 film “God’s Army” from Richard Dutcher and Zion Films had presented the LDS version of mandatory male missions. And the film “September Dawn” (2007, Slowhand, directed Christopher Cain) had depicted a 19th Century massacre by fundamentalist Mormons or ordinary pioneers.

The website for the film is here.

See my GLBT blog Feb. 11, 2010 for an earlier preview of this film.

Movie Maniacs DE provides this trailer on YouTube.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Frailty", a not-so-pleasant film about brothers (and father-and-sons)

Bill Paxton’s 2001 film “Frailty” from Lionsgate is both a father-sons film and a brothers film, and it offers the somewhat gratuitous storytelling technique of being told most in backstory, about the middle 80% of the film. (Well, “Dr. Zhivago” was all backstory. )

And some say this film will give dads nightmares. Bill Paxton plays a widower dad of two boys, Fenton and Adam. Fenton is protective of his younger brother Adam, because the mother died in childbirth of Adam. The dad, however, is a religious fanatic (and thinks he is a religious fanatic) who sets his boys our on a horrific mission (in west Texas) to rid the world of “demons”, but not real people.

Well, body parts roll, but not on camera (that may anticipate Lionsgates later “Saw” series, or the notorious “Pieces”). But what is most interesting to some people is the plot twist in the other story, when Fenton (or is it Adam?), played by a young-looking Matthew McConaughey, walks into an FBI office around Abilene, TX to talk to an agent played by Powers Booth with information about the “God’s Hands Killer”.

There is plenty of dialogue about family integrity and fatherly authority (“because I’m your father) that
would please, or perhaps taunt, social conservatives.

CBS: Matt Damon impersonates Matthew McConaughey on David Letterman’s “Worldwide Pants”.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Winter's Bone": A teenage girl practices both "assertiveness" and "family values" in the wake of her father's behavior

One of the social perks (and responsibilitie) of marriage and parenthood is the creation and maintenance of a social unit that defines the interpersonal obligations of other people (starting out as the kids) until they become adult enough to repeat the process.

In the new film “Winter’s Bone”, directed by Debra Granik, from Roadside Attractions, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) at 17 already has the social assertiveness to protect not just her ailing mother but her younger brother and sister when her dad goes AWOL as a result of meth dealing in the post-Thanksgiving southern Missouri Ozarks. The sheriff comes to tell her that dear old Dad put up the house and land as bail money, and Ree already concludes that Dad is gone.

The moral point, of course, concerns the idea that the responsibility for raising kids (as well as eldercare) falls on the oldest sibling, still a minor herself, because of her parents’ sexual intercourse, not because of her own. That’s one thing you get out of being a married parent: the right to pass on family responsibility outside of the parameters of personal choice.

(Dr, Phil once had a famly where the parents expected the oldest son to take care of his nine siblings, and the son said, "they're not my children; Dr. Phil got rather tongue-tied on this one.  It's not always about a simple choice to bring a baby into the world.)

Or, OK, life is unfair, and this is just something that happens. No, it’s falls on Ree’s shoulders because her Dad did bad things. In a free society, you have to function, with inherited responsibility, in a social unit because you have to allow bad things to happen, to allow “sin”. Otherwise we would be like the Taliban.

Ree becomes tough indeed, and acts like a younger Sandra Bullock. The film itself has an appropriately dreary look, with barren forest, drizzle, a depression-world of browns and grays. Inside the home, furnished with oldie stuff, there is plenty of sibling intimacy in a world that does not allow teens to put their own dreams first.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

The official site for the film is here. It’s based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell.

Would Lifetime play this film some time, or is it too edgy (and not "Canadian" enough)?

At the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA there was a fair crowd on a Friday afternoon opening.

The company (“RoadsideFix”) provides this trailer on YouTube.

I have visited the area three times: in the late fall of 1979, 1983, and 1992. (I’ve peeked in the Springfield MO AOG once.)

Wikipedia attribution link for Ozarl Mountains topographical map.

Below, attribution link for St. Francois mountains in Missouri Ozarks. The highest elevation is less than 1800 feet; it looks more rugged than it is. The land relief in the movie was similar, slightly less rugged.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Regret to Inform": widows share their sacrifices in the Vietnam war

Barbara Sonneborn spent over ten years in travel through the Vietnamese countryside where she lost her own young husband during the Vietnam war. She interviewed Vietnamese women victimized by the South Vietnamese as well as the Viet Cong and Hanoi, and talked to soldiers still living affected by Agent Orange. She puts her work together in the film “Regret to Inform” (72 min), from New Yorker Films and New Video, and Docurama.

There aren’t any scenes of military officers approaching homes, but a lot of the heartbreak comes in the form of letters. In one case, an older brother had been drafted so his younger brother wouldn’t be; the older brother thought he would survive, and he didn’t.

The film has a lot of footage of the napalm burning of villages.

The Vietnamese war hung over like a cloud during my own Army Basic in 1968. The Hanoi peace talks started the first day I was on the rifle range (at Fort Jackson).

The IASNetwork has a similar film about widows from Afghanistan and Iraq, “The American Widows Project” from “In their Boots” and the “Brave New Foundation”. There are several interviews on YouTube, such as Tara’s:

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Vietnam

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Open Secret": an example of old indie film noir

Open Secret”, directed by John Reinhardt, is a good example of “independent film” and very simple film noir from the 1940s, distributed originally by Eagle-Lion and produced by Marathon Pictures.

The title refers to anti-Semitism in an unnamed city in the 1940s. A couple of newyleds, the Lesters (John Ireland and Jane Randolph) come back to a friend’s apartment, and find it just burglarized (through an open window) and the friend missing, and quickly track down a ring of anti-Semites who don’t hide their hatred.  There is a curious scriot line about the police now allowing a "precinct Hitler" to operate. I suppose the title of the film would remind us of the concept “don’t ask don’t tell” in today’s world.

The simplicity of the sets, and the reliance on brute force sound effects and quick confrontations (particularly the use of screams, almost anticipating “Psycho”) almost brings to mind David Lynch today, as well as, more obviously. Alfred Hitchcock.

The DVD does have a lot of film noise.

I wonder if the film could become a midnight cult classic in arthouses.

Plaxin Productions “Film Noir” demonstration short on YouTube (Andrew Rowe, Jake Dunbar)

It looks like you can watch the entire public domain feature “D.O.A.” on YouTube free.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Amish Grace" on Lifetime: a tragedy tests the idea of forgiveness and explores its paradoxes

On Monday June 14 Lifetime aired the film “Amish Grace”, directed by Gregg Champion, based on the book “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy” by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher.  It had premiered in March 2010.

The film is based on the shooting of ten people, killing five, in an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, PA by Charles Carl Roberts IV on October 2. The facts about his motives are in some doubt according to Wikipedia, but the film script says “he wanted to offend God.”

The characters spend most of the film wrestling with the idea of forgiveness, and its paradoxes. Before the shooting, and Amish elder tells his congregation that modern living keeps people away from God and their path to eternal life. Later he has to talk about a just God who will still judge Roberts (who took his own life) even if the people must forgive him. Some of the characters do not want to forgive certain things, and would rather let their lives become a statement that some things are unforgivable.

The actual scene of the tragedy is handled with subtlety; nothing is shown and no shots are actually heard.

Kimberley-Williams Paisley and Tammy Blanchard star.

One of the girls recovering in the conventional hospital makes a revelation about what Roberts said at the end.

Lifetime’s website and video for online viewing is here.
Lifetime provided a brief trailer for YouTube.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Chisholm 72: Unbought & Unbossed" recalls the political and social climate just before Watergate

Shola Lynch has a documentary about 1972 presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm that got DVD distribution from Fox, “Chisholm 72: Unbought & Unbossed”, ironically running just a little more than 72 minutes. It was produced by Realside and Lantern Lane for PBS POV.

Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress, in 1968; in 1972 she became the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination and the first African American to run for presidential nomination of either major party.

Much of the film’s value lies in recreating the cultural and political climate of 1972, just before Watergate would become well known. There is a lot of attention to George Wallace and his segregationist candidacy (I had an Army buddy in 1969 who liked Governor Wallace because he was not an (expletive that names something sweet)). The film covers the assassination attempt and paralysis of Wallace. There is also a lot of quoting of both Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The Vietnam War was still a thorn in the side of the Democrats.

I remember hearing a radio discussion of McGovern in the summer of 1972, when he said that the drive to “legalize marijuana and legalize marriage between homosexuals would drive the Democrats to defeat” even though he personally supported both. I even recall the Eagleton affair then. But the film moves on to Democratic Party rules and how Chisholm may have disrupted McGovern’s nomination. Of course, McGovern would lose in a landslide, in the last days before the Watergate scandal would erupt.

The film characterizes the early 1970s as a time when women were making gains in the workplace. Until then, married women didn’t have their own credit cards, and single women were considered a higher auto insurance risk because insurance companies feared that boyfriends would drive their cars!

The PBS site for the film is here.

NYC Department of Records YouTube video of Chisholm’s announcement of her candidacy for president in 1972;

Friday, June 11, 2010

"The City of Your Final Destination": when do you need "permission" to write a book (about someone)?

The City of Your Final Destination”, directed by James Ivory (perhaps the last Merchant Ivory film, released by Screen Media) raises the interesting question of needing “permission” to write a book about other people. I wondered how the question applies if the book is primarily autobiographical (like my own “Do Ask Do Tell”) but involves other people’s history, at least family, and maybe others who, even if unnamed or pseudonymed, could be identified. Ironically, the film is based on a novel (fiction) by Peter Cameron, adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

In the film, Omar Razaghi (played by Omar Metwally) is the swarthy, slender and likeable 28-year-old graduate student at the University of Colorado (imdb says the University of Kansas, where I got my own MA in Mathematics in 1968, another parallel to me). His dissertation (or post-doc assignment for his teaching job) is to be a biography of unconventional novelist Julius Gund, who had committed suicide while working on just his second book. He has written to the family in Uruguay for “permission” and is refused, so he goes down there – a move that seems hard to believe but whose credibility drives the screenplay. (The South American scenes are actually filmed on the pampas of Argentina, and they look a bit like the King Ranch in Texas.)

He shows up unannounced, and the family takes him in despite the adversarial situation. Pretty soon he is probing a web of family secrets, some of which involve Julius’s gay brother Adam (a pot-bellied Anthony Hopkins) who lives on the estate with a native lover – one is struck that Omar, straight and effectively drawn into a heterosexual love triangle himself – is much more attractive than either one of them – and he is challenged when stung by a bee and winding up in a coma. Which secret is the most critical: is it Adam’s plan for jewelry smuggling, or the personal problems in the marriage (the widow is played by a domineering Laura Linney) that might have contributed to the writer’s block that led to the suicide.

The website for the film is here.

News X Video has a trailer on YouTube:

Picture: Campanile tower at the University of Kansas
Below, NASA satellite image of Uruguay (wikipedia attribution link).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Baby Boom" (MGM/UA comedy from 1987) is no "baby boon"; rather a "morality play" and sitcom

On Thursday June 10 MyTV/UPN aired the 1987 situation comedy “Baby Boom”, from MGM/UA, directed by Charles Shyer.

J.C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton) is moving up the corporate ladder in a NYC food company, living in an open relationship with Steven (Harold Ramis) in a Manhattan penthouse. One night she gets a call learning of an “inheritance” from a distant relative.

Well, the “bequest” is a little girl. Sure, this puts out great opportunity for moral sitcom, and the movie plays up the kiddie jokes and household mess, with Keaton’s acting that sometimes anticipating the style of the 2003 spoof “The Room”. But you can’t “inherit” a child. You can have a will stipulate that you have to raise a relative’s child to get a monetary inheritance (a premise of some films, including “Raising Helen” and the TV series “Summerland”). But the idea does harken back to older days when children really were necessary economic “assets”. Phillip Longman would love this movie.

Of course, the script can play this up, as when she loses her job, and her boss says, “you really can’t have it all.” I could say that having responsibility (for someone else’s “intercourse”) dumped in your lap isn’t funny. (She adds that she never had siblings and never had to be responsible for a dependent before.) But the movie is funny.

She moves to Vermont with the kid and plays survivalist, before falling in love with a veterinarian (Sam Shepard) who certainly could become a dad and role model for the girl. And she starts a business of baby food that will sweep the nation, to the point that her bosses want her back. But now she doesn’t need them. Morality lesson number 2.

One can play with spoonerisms, and mention consider what happens when “m” in “boom” is replaced by ‘n’. In 2000, Elinor Burkett authored a book “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless” (March 28, 2006 on my Book Review blog).

This network's films get interrupted by more strident and annoying 1-800 commercials than do most real cable channels.

HollywoodTV: Diane Keaton and Jerry Bruckheimer in 2009

"Blue Vinyl: The Worlds First Toxic Comedy" fits into recent CNN series about "Toxic America"

Last week CNN aired “Toxic Towns USA” (part of the series "Toxic America"), about industrial pollution and the small unincorporated town of Mossville, LA, near Lake Charles, with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which I reviewed on June 3 on my disaster movies blog “Films on major threats to freedom” (check my Profile). I found out (from Wikipedia) that there had existed an older comic documentary made back in 2002 by Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand, “Blue Vinyl: The World’s First Toxic Comedy” from New Video and Docurama (“everything else is fiction”). Yes, the title does echo David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (1986).

The film chronicles the health hazards of the byproducts of plastics (particularly PVC or polyvinvylchloride) manufacture, to residents and workers, especially in the Lake Charles, LA area, of which a lot of footage is shown. One important issue is not just the potential hazard of a product to consumers, but to the people who produce it along the way. A worker describes how powder got on his hands and skin and how it remained white after it was washed off. The filmmakers go to Italy to cover a manslaughter case involving a PVC manufacturer.

Judith’s parents had put blue vinyl siding on their home, which toward the end of the film they replace with wood siding. Judith had experienced a hysterectomy at 25 because of cancer she had gotten apparently because of a drug her mother had taken, so she had won a settlement and could afford to involve her parents in her activism, including the changes to the parents’ home.

The websites for the film are “Your Is Your House”, here  and the actual film an animation site here.

If PVC-free building becomes the norm, what happens to the value of houses built with a lot of PVC products?

The DVD has an Epilogue: “Ek Velt: At the End of the World” (17 min), where Judith’s parents sadly sell and move from their organic house to a retirement community on Long Island, one “contaminated” with vinyl. ,

There is a 10 minute short “Animating Blue Vinvyl: An Interview with Emily Hubley and Jeremiah Dickey”, where the animation demonstrates the “externalization of costs”.

There are four other shorts:

Habitat for Humanity” (13 min), builds a PVC-free house in New Orleans (with Greenpeace) for Shylia Lewis and her family. Healthy homes shouldn’t be a privilege for the wealthiest people.

Venice Vinyl Verdict” (6 min), giving the results of the trial in Italy, apparently not guilty of manslaughter, resulting in indignation and outrage from the crowd.

Carnivale” (6 min) shows Venice with pre-trial debate. The filmmakers had to find tourist shots of Venice with industry in the background.

Let the Consumer Revolution Begin” (10 min)

Wikipedia attribution link for Lake Charles collage.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"Splice" is a social as well as biological experiment (from the good old DGC).

Well, the plot of “Splice” (directed Vincenzo Natali) might make more sense if Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) were married and unable to have children. For all intents and purposes, they simply make one on the genetics lab, as not only a biological but perhaps social experiment.

I even recall President Bush, in 2001, about a month before 9/11, announcing his opposition to stem cell research. Maybe the film shows why.

They’ve created a couple of blobs that can actually conjugate, but then Elsa takes things further, adding human DNA to the experiment. What they get looks amorphous, a bit like a fetus (correction, normally unborn child), and who gradually grows more human in appearance and behavior, if still hairless. (They call her Dren, and her “human” realization is played by Delphine Chaneac.) She picks up language skills from Scrabble, but then starts turning into Superwoman with the ability to grow wings. Maybe man can’t fly, but woman can. (Clark Kent is a much nicer hero, after all.)

The intimacy toward the end may be predictable but shocking. Clive, who is pretty likeable (as is his brother [Brandon McGibbon]), “gets it” in bed and then comes to a tragic end, but Elsa must move on.

There's a great "magic" scene in the film's middle and, well, there is a prestige, shattering the fleeing audience.

The DGC film was made with Telefilm Canada and seems to be intended for quick cable release, shot in 1.85:1 (around Toronto, and mixed and edited in France) instead of the expected widescreen. Dark Castle is the major production company, and this appears to be a film that would have been released under “Warner Independent Pictures” had WB kept the label (it should have).

The official site for the film is here.
Hollywood Streams trailer on YouTube (requires watching ad first)

Does anyone remember Roger Donaldson's "Species" (1995, MGM) where an alien message tells how to manipulate human DNA.  Warning: it had two franchise sequels.  This film may well have sequels. (And don't forget American International's "Squirm" (1976).)

Picture: a pickled alien fetus from Roswell, NM.

Monday, June 07, 2010

"City of Ember": an artificial community anticipates the lights going out

The notion that a confined, artificial space, like an oversized model railroad, for people to experience a whole civilization in, has always interested me.

So the children’s sci-fi fantasy “City of Ember”, directed by Gil Kenan, from Playtone, Walden Media and 20th Century Fox (2008) attracted me because of the “political idea” and the idea of controlling a whole civilization’s space. In this case, the planet has encountered a civilization stopping catastrophe (apparently involving nuclear radiation), and the wise men have built an underground city for the survivors, called Ember. It’s a place with niches and its own character, rather like an Imajica dominion. The “mayors” have hidden away the instructions for returning to the ground for 200 years, and in time the box gets lost (and this is not something out of a Richard Kelly movie). The very opening scene of the film, with people in blue uniforms assembling in a white hall (in 2.35:1) gives you a sense of what civilization confinement can mean.

The city is beleaguered by monsters, like overgrown moths and caterpillars, apparently enlarged by radiation, so there is a slight element of monster horror in this PG-13 film. And it’s up to two super teenagers (Lina (Saorise Ronan) and Doon(Harry Treadaway) to find the way out, after Lina finds evidence of the box in her grandmother’s “house”. These are the kind of kids that populate Smallville, that every parent would want, but would hard to be conceive of in a civilization with no future – despite the collective singalongs.

The way out has elements of “Goonies” and even “Indiana Jones” – it’s by a complicated set of underground waterways (almost Jules Verne-like) – as the kids emerge onto a British (or northern Ireland, actually) landscape of “life after people”.

The main thrust of the story is kicked off by cascading power failures of increasing length. The City’s centuries-old generators are starting to fail, and the knowledge of how to fix them is gone. Imagine a weeks long power failure in the winter if hackers destroyed our power grid, an idea that security experts like Richard Clarke worry about. The next time Dominion Power has a power failure at all, I’ll think of this movie.

There are other films based on the “confined community” concept, such as “Dark City” (1998), Tribeca’s “Metropia”, and even the recent “Synecdoche New York” (Ember seems like a kind of synecdoche) and even “We Live in Public”. Ironically, a civilization contemplating space travel will have to grapple with the social issues thereby presented.

I’ve contemplated the idea in a couple of my own screenplays, including “Baltimore Is Missing” (where people find they are living inside a model railroad) and “Prescience” (where on an M-star planet a synecdoche has been set up for abducted earthlings to adjust in).

The grownups in the cast include Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, B.J. Hogg, Ian McIlhinney and Toby Jones.

The official site for the film is here.

YouTube trailer form Birmingham Mail News.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ashton Kutcher "gets it" when he gets recruited by the CIA (in pretend mode), in Lionsgate's "Killers"; whom does the CIA really want to hire?

Intelligence services, the CIA specifically, have a quandary in hiring agents. They think that people who are excessively aloof and independent from “normal” interpersonal intimacy – the lone wolfs – can be dangerous, but sometimes the schizoids are the only kinds of people who can “connect the dots” and do their work.

Spencer, played by the very likeable nice guy and Twitter champ Ashton Kutcher, explains that to his bride Jen (Catherine Heigl) in the middle of the "comedy" movie “Killers”, directed by Robert Luketic. He was chosen as a freshman in college because he had no family and had been forced to be independent. But Jen only “finds out” three years into a marriage with the perfect man she had met in Nice, France, living now in a new subdivision near Atlanta. Now assassins are chasing Spencer in a comedy of mayhem.

Kutcher seems out of his usual character in the ease with which he handles normally banned assault weapons. There’s something else: when Jen meets him in Nice, the camera makes it all too obvious that his chest has been erased. Yes, Kutcher had “grown up” a bit by the time he made “The Butterfly Effect” a few years ago. No more. Jen’s father is played by Tom Selleck, who looks pudgy and awful – and who no longer looks like the flashing dandy of Magnum PI. He’s really gone downhill fast.

The last scene in the crib, where the couple protects its "young", may have been inspired by Jon Amiel's "Entrapment" (1999); laser beams would provide pretty good security for a baby from abduction.

Lionsgate skipped its musical ritornel when it played its “machine dreams” trademark; it seems that a lot of directors find musical trademarks distracting as their films open. But Lionsgate’s bombast is a match for 20th Century Fox, and it seems needed to announce the film. From a legal perspective, studios should probably always use them.

Lionsgate also refused to allow this film to screen for critics, as Patrick Goldstein wrote for the Los Angeles Times in his blog “The Big Picture”, here. Lionsgate, previously known for independent films and horror, has been moving more into other “genres” in the past few years, and the urban legend is that critics don’t like genre movies. This film seems to mix genres too much: European style and crime caper. Somehow, Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” from the 1950s works; this one, not so much.

The official site from the film is here Note that Lionsgate’s site opens its film-specific sites in separate windows and may fool the visitor.

Maple Pictures has a YouTube video where Ashton Kutcher explains why his chest had to be waxed (as in “40 Year Old Virgin”), and he didn’t remain a “man-o-lantern”. He says that for insurance reasons the studio won’t let him do a particular underwater stunt, and the stunt man apparently is smooth (that is, "thmooth"). So for consistency (or out of homage to the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau) he has to get waxed for the whole film. He sounds angry and invaded.  (When I was a teen, I would have seen this as being made to "feel feminine"; but in Donald Trump's "Apprentice" candidate Troy McClain let his legs get waxed for the good of the "team"; so it is here.) Ashton says that chest hair is coming back. There was a curious short story about this issue in the gay magazine “The Advocate” back in 1984 (called “The Body Shave”) that starts out by describing the way Hollywood glossed everyone for the movies back in the 1950s, especially those Cinemascope spectacles. I’ll have to go through Twitter and Facebook to see what Ashton says about it there. If you use popular laser treatments (let alone electrolysis), it never grows back.

That interview disappeared from YouTube but now (Jan 2011) NewsMediaFeed had a better one with Lester Holt interviewing him, talking about the "establishing shot" with the stunt man (they won't let Asthon jump through glass), and his torso had to match.  But that one also disappeared. Here's a "news story" on the matter (link).

Here's a CBS video on the film, interview with Kutcher.

Holt mentions that Time considers Kutcher one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and that was before Mark Zuckerberg was named person of the year for 2010.

So: Ashton ("aplusk" or "A+K"): you have to do what the director tells you to do. Why not direct a film yourself, and then deal with the comsetics from the position of the man above?

First still picture above: unrelated, but it would fit.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

"The Room": A spoof of Warhol (or even David Lynch), perhaps, and a cult classic

Landmark E Street in Washington has been playing the cult classic “The Room” (2003) as “the worst movie in the world” as a midnight treat. Let’s say it’s something of a satire of bad movies, and a takeoff on Andy Warhol. But Wahhol’s films (like “Trash”) keep me interested; this one sort of rolled down the hill. The unidiomatic dialogue among simpletons gets a bit tiresome. (I knew a guy in the Army who talked just like these characters, though.) Maybe in a midnight showing with the social experience, it’s different. Another filmmaker that the movie may be having fun with is David Lynch (like "Eraserhead" or maybe "The Grandmother").

It seems to be the brainstorm of one Tommy Wiseau, and comes from his own distribution company, with its bombastic trademark, using a globe resembling Universal’

The “room” is something comparable to the apartment in “I Love Lucy”: it’s the stage for a sitcom, with a little soft core added in.

Longhair Tommy plays everyman Johnny . He’s engaged to Lisa (Juliette Danielle), whose dedication is wearing thin. Her mother (Carolyn Minnott) wants her to marry him because he will provide for her and buy her a house, etc. (It sounds like the inverse of the 50’s classic “Marty”). But Lisa has the “hots” for Mark, played by Greg Sestero, who looks sumptuous. Mark seems like a nice guy but during the film develops a temper problem and goes downhill.

There’s another subplot with a teen protégé Denny (Philip Haldiman) of Johnny, who gets in trouble with a drug-running loan shark, setting up a root-top scene that may have been intended as a satirical reference to “Vertigo.” The “deleted scenes” on the DVD show that it had been envisioned in a warehouse, also. The film takes place in San Francisco, and the opening shows a lot of the City. The story rather sinks toward Johnny’s own tragic end, which teaches no lesson and does no one any good.

The site for the movie is here. The original music score by Mladen Milicevic adds to some pseudo-seriousness.

The film also reminds me a little of the Jay Duplass film “The Puffy Chair”.

Operation Dump the Duge offers the following YouTube trailer.

Wikipedia attribution link for Sam Francisco fog picture  My last visit there was in 2002.

"Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders", premiers in Washington DC

On June 4, Landmark E Street in Washington DC premiered “Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders”, directed by Mark N. Hopkins, from Truly Indie and Red Floor. The film was shot HD video in 2008, and (as a technical note) the film does not display the subtitle when shown.

The documentary traces several young doctors in two areas: Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Liberia experienced a civil war that ended in 2003. Congo is well known for human rights abuses.

“Doctors without Borders” (or Medicin sans frontiers), headquartered in Paris, actually accepts only a small percentage of applicant physicians, who are given room and board and paid only a small stipend.

The main “real people characters” are Chiara Lepora, Chris Brahser, Tom Krueger, and Davinder Gill. Kreuger comes from a farm in Tennessee, which is shown in its green splendor; Chris Brasher becomes the “cigarette smoking man” (that’s depressing), but the most interesting of all is the wiry young man from Australia, Dr. Gill. Much of the film acts out his personal crisis in relating to other members of the team dealing with certain issues in providing care. Gill is physically attractive and charismatic in an eye-popping way, and one is amazed that this is not an acted performance; it is “reality movie making”. Gill has become a pediatrician in Australia since leaving MSF.

The film shows spectacular footage of both urban and rural Africa, and takes on real depth in scenes with motion. The squalor in the shantytowns is almost unprecendented.

The film also shows the surgeries, including amputations, up close in graphic detail. Doctors have to improvise medical equipment, and don’t seem to follow the strict infection control rules for full scrubbing before surgery as expected in the West.

The website for the film is here.  It has shown at the Venice Film Festival, won a prize at the Cinequest Film Festival, and become an official seltection of Hot Dogs, the Doc Soup Series.

A member of MSF, on a fellowship at NIH, answered questions Friday night at Landmark E Street, which was about 2/3 full in a small auditorium.

IMDB lists a similar TV movie (“Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders Live”) directed by David Stern hosted by Elizabeth Vargas (from ABC 20-20) and NYC author Sebastian Junger, who has written about the civil wars in nearby Sierra Leone (see Vanity Fair reference here.)

I did see the film “Beyond Borders” in 2003 (( Paramount and Mandalay, directed by Martin Campbell, written by Caspian Tedewll-Owen) presents a rather traditional love triangle in the overriding context of relief work in the Third World. Angelina Jolie plays Sarah Jordan, the UN employee who becomes drawn into jetsetting the poor areas of the world, such as Namibia, Cambodia and then Chechnya because of her attraction to doctor Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) who seems to be dedicating his life to medical relief for the poor. Or is he, as he gets drawn into local political intrigues? In the meantime, her rather plain husband Henry Bauford (Linus Roache) tolerates her jaunts in insipid fashion.

Youtube interview by Steven Pond of “Living in Emergency” producer Naisola Grimwood.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Monrovia, Liberia, originally from

Thursday, June 03, 2010

TCM presents 1934 talkie "Babbitt": a satire on the American Dream; recalling a high school book report

I remember reading Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 novel "Babbitt" in high school for a book report, so I was curious to note that Turner Classic Movies was carrying it tonight, the 1934 “talkie” from Warner Brothers and First National Pictures, in “very” black and white, directed by William Keighley.

Guy Kibbee plays the somewhat egotistical old man George F. Babbitt, and Aline MacMahon, his wife. Pretty soon he is running around in circles with real estate deals and affairs, and conflict of interest, the kind of stuff that didn’t bother businessmen before the Crash of 2008. He lives in “Zenith” which a number of cities claimed as their own, especially Minneapolis. He brushes against other people without really understanding them, including a business partner who goes to jail. The film passes briefly, running all of 74 minutes.

I seem to remember a passage in the book where he is in a bathtub and shaves his leg. In the book, he seemed to be poking fun at himself.

The book, written well before the Depression and even before the Roaring 20s got going too much, seemed rather a satire of capitalism, as to what would come of it.

Here’s a YouTube video by “Shelly” of The Midnight People , from the Musical "Babbitt," Written by, Marty Durlin; Adapted from "Babbitt" by, Sinclair Lewis

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

48 Hour Film Contest: Highly rated films from the South

I didn’t make it to a 48 Hour Film Festival showings at the AFI Silver near Washington this year, but I looked at some of the most highly rated in various cities at the repository site

Two of these films were from the Keen Group in Greensboro, NC.

JoBeth”, directed by Matt McNeil, dramatizes a teenage girl “divorcing” her father, taking the car keys, with some regret. Heather Meeks plays the lead.

Hatuchma: Silent but Deadly” is in “two parts”: “Pressure Mounts” and “The Release”. A young man, thinking about Peter Parker (with great power comes great responsibility) covets an amulet, gets a tattoo, and is captured. To escape, he needs an intestinal release of methane, and to have it lit. This was in the comedy category.

From Nashville, there was a horror film called “Yard Sale” where a young widow draws men shoppers and, well, plays like the nurse from Stephen King's Misery. She exacts Saudi justice and chops things off.

From Louisville, there was a retrospective drama “A World Lost” where a little boy views his young father (John Gearries) going back to the country where he must face he did a terrible thing to his family, for a reason.

The video was a bit grainy compared to YouTube and Netflix, and the 2.35:1 film (the Louisville film) was cropped twice. At the end of the film, the website would hesitate going from full screen on escape.

“48 Hours” is in Cannes this year.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Lionsgate's "After Dark" series: "Dread" is not Clive Barker's best; when will "they" make "Imajica" into a "LOTR" film?

Lionsgate distributes the After Dark Films series, and I rented the film “Dread”, directed by Anthony Di Blasi, when I noticed that it was based on a short story by Clive Barker.

The film portrays some college students (in the UK) making a documentary film about what people dread most, and actually getting a class term paper grade for it. One of the students, Quaid (Shaun Evans) is sociopathic and actually carries out the dreaded acts, because he wants to experience “death” vicariously by documenting it in others. (Quaid is a philosophy major, but in my own experience philosophy majors have been anything but sociopathic; in humanities, you have to watch how you prove things, though.) And he can be cruel, deafening one student (Jonathan Readwin) who dreads becoming deaf a second time after an accident. (I remember how the rifle range in Army basic resulted in a permanent ring in my right ear.) Stephen Grace (Singapore-born Jackson Rathborn), the guy who starts the project but who seems at a distance from "real life", is a nice enough guy, but Abby (Laura Donnelly) has a birthmark that gives the screenwriter (and Quaid) the chance to explore physical shame.

The film has some horrifying flashbacks, as to what happened to Quaid's parents when he was a child.

Clive Barker and Di Blasi do an interview on the DVD. Barker makes the comment about philosophy students (and I again my experience with philosophy students in Minnesota was most positive) and then goes on to talk about how people who move to LA (especially writers) "get lazy".  He then discusses Quaid as a psychological feminine (Barker seems to know the Rosenfels material) but says that "truth seekers" rarely stay with just truth; they tend to muck it up with self-indulgence (Rosenfels talked about the "psychological defense" or sadistic behavior, as in this film, or of just wanting to be right -- "it's true because I said so.")  Barker considers Quaid to be "pan-sexual" and says that in the beginning he is more interesting homo-erotocism (not the same as "creative process" homosexuality) but migrates to heterosexuality, not exactly Masters and Johnson style.  Barker says that "Dread" is one of his few films (maybe only) with no supernatural element; it is, her says, about what people will do to other people.

The DVD has a featurette "Facing the Fear" about the making of "Dread", in which Barker also appears, as DiBlasi explains what it was like to adapt the story in screenwriting.

I remember some of Barker’s other films, not so much "HellRaiser", but "Nightbreed" (1992) and “The Plague” (2006). But what I really would like to see is his biggest novels filmed, particularly “Sacrament” (1997) and the massive Dominion-spanning fantasy “Imajica” (1991). Would companies like Lionsgate or Summit Entertainment be up to the challenges of “Imajica”?  (Who plays Gentle? Who plays Pie 'oh' Pah?"  Maybe John Makovich!  Not Taylor Lautner or Robert Pattinson!) Why doesn’t Barker promote his bigger works in the film world? He has the clout too.  Barker is not just a master of horror but also of the relation between religion and cosmology.  A children's book that would make a great Pixar or rotoscopic animation 3-D film (Disney, Dreamworks, etc) is "The Thief of Always"; if you don't have fun, you die.  Barker says that some of "Thief of Always" came out of anger.

After Dark’s site is here.  One of the company’s more notable films is Goran Dukic’s “Wristcutters: A Love Story” (2006) about a young man (Patrick Fugit) in kind of other worldly purgatory after a suicide attempt.