Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Hugh Hefner" biography from Canada in art houses

Film biography can be a good way to present certain social or political debates, and that is certainly the case with the lengthy (124 minutes) Canadian effort directed by Brigitte Berman, “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel” from Phase 4 and Metaphor Films, and apparently produced for Canadian cable television. Hefner is now 84, and plays himself, and the film jumps around with images of him at different ages, showing physical metamorphosis.

The history of how he set up the magazine in the late 50s is interesting. He raised money at a grass roots level from friends and relatives in Chicago, and had to endure a cease and desist about a different name before he settled upon “Playboy.”

But his publishing activity would be supplemented by running clubs, the first of which in Chicago simulated an “apartment”; he would break racial barriers by admitting everyone just out of libertarian beliefs. In the south, he had to deal with segregation laws. In New York, at one time he couldn’t get an entertainment license even though he had a liquor license (no problem).

He would get called before Congress during the McCarthy era, and then deal with Ed Meese during the Reagan era, with the result that Playboy no longer could be distributed through 7-11 and similar convenience stores for a while, before Meese retracted from his claim that the magazine is “pornography”. The government may well have been more concerned about the “intellectual” articles in the magazine about society and politics. (In the 1990s, I would have a letter about the military gay ban printed in the magazine.) The magazine would have many clones (Playgirl, Penthouse, and even “Oui” which once ran an article about the cattle mutilations and theories about UFO’s.)

The “brown wrapper” or “under the counter” approach to selling the magazine would foreshadow the legal debate over the COPA law from 1999 until the law was struck down in 2007.

The movie, however, barely tries to explain the “why” of the kind of “moral thinking” of the past, beyond our Puritanical origins: part of it seems to be importance of the family as a source of identity, more important to earlier generations, and some of it seems to relate to the idea that some commitments only make sense when everyone has to make them. I can remember some church sermons in the 1990s that decried the “Playboy philosophy” that saw “women as playthings.”

The official website for the film is here.

At Landmark E Street on Saturday afternoon, the small auditorium was about half full.

KinoSmith provides a YouTube trailer.

Visitors might also want to check out Milos Foreman’s “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996, Columbia).

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Charlie St. Cloud": reflecting on the awesome power parents have to create sibling relationships

When parents have kids (particularly in marriage) they have a lot of power to set up mandatory relationships between siblings, who care for each other despite the fact that they did not do anything to “choose” the relationships; their parents did. They will only earn the same pass-along power by procreating themselves.

So, we come to the new film “Charlie St. Cloud” from Universal and Relativity Media, and Burr Steers.

Now Zac Efron, saying he’s trying to become a “real actor”, seems like an awfully nice AP high school senior about to get a sailing scholarship to Stanford. He is wonderfully protective of his little brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), and his single (not by choice) mom (Kim Basinger) works double shifts raising them along the Oregon Coast; when she’s out at night, Charlie has to do “Sam nights” babysitting.

So one of these nights Charlie takes him in the car, and they get rear-ended by a drunk driver, and knocked into the path of an oncoming truck. Sam is killed instantly, and Charlie flatlines, but is brought back. I didn’t know that a defibrillator (recently demonstrated on ABC GMA) could leave such scars.

Charlie can’t get out of his grief, and doesn’t go to Stanford, and instead works in the cemetery. He plays catch in the Oregon piney woods with a ghost of Sam (rather recalling Patrick Swayze’s movie “Ghost”). There are a couple ways the story can go. This can all an Inception – a dream (of the “Jacob’s Ladder” kind), or Charlie can get a chance to redeem himself. He meets fellow classmate and now sailor Tess (Amanda Crew) and the story takes off. Augustus Prew plays a nice Brit sidekick.

The film was made around Vancouver, BC; but some of the coastal scenery looks a bit artificial, almost as if on another planet. Back in the early 1970s, I had a good friend who raced sailboats.  I do recall the Tall Ships in New York City om 1976.

The official site for the film is here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Obscure 1964 classic "Lilith" has an indie sequel

Back in 1964, during a time of my life that was not so good given my own problems, I saw a black-and-white film directed by Robert Rossen, “Lilith” (Columbia Pictures) with Jean Seberg as Lilith Arthur, the New England mental sanitarium patient, and a young and vulnerable Warren Beatty as Vincent Bruce, the attendant. I remember a climactic scene, for Vincent, along a wooded creek path outside the hospital (echoes of “Splendor in the Grass”). I saw it in the old Buckingham Theater in Arlington VA, which would become a historical landmark and is a post office today.

Now apparently there is some kind of tradition that Lilith was a kind of “other woman” for Adam in the Garden of Eden, and therefore satanic, with dangerous powers, making men the vulnerable and weaker parties.

In 2007, Screen Media released what amounts to a “Lilith II” , with quirky director Kim Bass. Imagine a college student, just 21 (able to go to bars), with a wealthy put patriarchal dad, with political connections, and access to his own private jet (yes, some kids get pilots licenses, to fly to Cancun. Now Adam (a buff Robert L. Mann) goes down to Cancun with a buddy, meets the (heterosexual) “trick” of a lifetime, Lilith (that is, Lilith II), played by Natalie Denise Sperl.  (The "fighter" jet scenes remind me of a 50's film "Sabre Jet".) When he jets himself back to LA to skirt around dear old Dad, she follows him and stalks. Soon he is accused of a drowning he didn’t commit, and then one of his buddies gets his neck broken in a disco. (This would be catastrophic for a real life business.) The cops close in, and a nasty female detective says he can get lethal injection because of “extenuating circumstance” – the script gets it wrong, in California, it’s “special circumstances”.

Adam's "goals" are interesting: he is in film schools, and he wants to make "kick-a..." movies.  He needs money from his dad now because he doesn't have enough "edit bays" at school for his questionable films.  Yes, money will be the root of all evil for him, until he meets Lilith, that is.

The plot also demonstrates another issue: if one picks up a "stranger" for "pleasure", there is always a risk that the person could try to set one up to take the hit for someone else's crimes.

The film is “Succubus: Hell-Bent”, and it’s not quite sure if it is parodying genre horror films and trying to be bad (like “The Room”). (The title relates to the word used to describe the kind of religion Lilith is.) There are funny script lines, about going “clubbing” and particularly “Are you a Democrat or something?” and the idea that Lilith is “more like a woman than a girl.” But the film probably won’t quite cut it as a midnight cult classic. It’s not quite outrageous enough.

"VampireLight" has an embeddable video explaining the "Bible story" of Lilith (Adam's "first wife"??)

Curiously, I don't see the DVD at Screen Media Films website.  I rented the DVD from Netflix, which offers it for instant play (paid subscription required).

YouTube has a video of the entire film from Screen Media, which (probably because of the distributor's request) YouTube requires you to sign in to prove you are 18. You may need a YouTube account to see it, but it appears to be "free" (with commercials). (Some YouTube full features now require rental, but not this.) The film as shown pretty much fits into standard "R" territory, nothing extraordinary by today's standards.  (The old "Lilith" would probably get PG-13.)

The link for that video is here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"A Day in the Life of a Supply Officer" and "At Sea" at Washington Navy Memorial

On Memorial Day weekend in 1993, I got to board the submarine USS Sunfish in Norfolk, see the living quarters and talk to the crew, during the time that “privacy” in military life was being debated in view of Bill Clinton’s proposal to lift the ban on gays in the military (resulting in the notorious “don’t ask don’t tell”). I also visited a destroyer there, and later visited an aircraft carrier at Patriot’s Point in Charleston, SC. I got used to the insides of ships, the airlock doors, and the marked paths.

Today I saw the two short films offered at the U.S. Navy Memorial ((website url)  link) at the Archives Metro stop in Washington DC.

The first, 20 minutes, “A Day in the Life of a Supply Officer Aboard USS Harry S. Truman”, took us through a typical day in the life of LtCm (that’s O5, equivalent to a Major) Chris Parker, on the aircraft carrier USS Truman. He calls it the “best job in the world”. The film brought back memories of my own 1993 Naval ship visits (I also visited a WWII submarine in Baltimore in November 2009).

I was quite struck by how life on an aircraft carrier is like life on another planet. It seems to be a completely closed system, it’s own Dominion. Unless soldiers and airmen (when not deployed), sailors at sea don’t have the regular opportunity to rejoin the “real world”. The job is all operations and details, but there is not the sense of dealing with transactions and currency in the familiar civilian world. Just feeding everyone is a challenge, and the men need gyms to stay fit (including Parker himself). Apparently, Parker graduate from UVA (not the Naval Academy) but comes from a Navy family.

The second film is the 38-minute “At Sea”, excerpted from a series produced by the Discovery Channel. This film does show a little bit of submarine life, but gives a bigger picture, showing how strategic Naval forces are composed. The film discusses ballistic submarines (at least six, maybe more), capable of launching nuclear ICBM’s (the film says that nuclear submarines are the last line of defense to preserve civilization, although the 1959 film “On the Beach”, (Stanley Kramer, MGM/UA) based on Nevil Shute’s novel and “Waltzing Matilda”, would challenge that), and others that can fire cruise missiles with conventional warheads useful in Afghanistan, perhaps. A good part of the film deals with the steps the Navy has taken to stop the piracy off the East Coast of Africa NE of Somalia.

I do recall seeing the 1944 film “The Fighting Lady” (20th Century Fox, dir. Edward Steichen) at Patriot Point, dealing with USS Essex. There was some surprising tenderness among the men shown in that old film.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"The Girl Who Played With Fire", 2nd of the Millennium Trilogy from Sweden

The Swedish “Millennium Trilogy” based on novels by Stieg Larsson seems to create a genre of in-your-face thrillers, with a little more plotting than in a film like “Salt” which might seem to belong to a related genre. I thought Sweden was a kinder and gentler place than in these films.

Indeed, the second of the series “The Girl Who Played With Fire” (“Flickan som lekte med elden”) leads into a backstory about the Cold War, the KGB, spies, and even neo-Nazis. It continues the “heroism” of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Raplace), a lesbian with karate skills and some tattoos, and a male-like propensity for computer hacking.

Meanwhile, publishing magnate (“Millennium”) Mikael Blomkvist has been approached by a journalist to investigate the sex trade between Russia and Sweden. When the journalist is found murdered, Lisbeth is a suspect, and sets out to save herself. Her search leads to shocking family secrets and intra-family conflicts, one of which had led her to set someone on fire.

The critical elements of the denouement come about as back-story in conversations and particular flashbacks, which may make the film’s structure seem a bit artificial.

The film is directed by Daniel Alfredson, and was shot in regular 1.85:1 ration. I have not seen the predecessor “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (“Män som hatar kvinnor”) , directed by Niels Arden Oplev, which imdb says is filmed 2.35:1. The second film is slightly shorter than the first, but still runs over 2 hours.

The film is distributed by Music Box (produced by Yellowbird) and has this site.

Here is a YouTube review by Richard Crouse.

Music Box provides the following "R" trailer on YouTube, link.

There is talk that the trilogy will be remade in the US in 2012.  Because Lisbeth is so Bella-like, Kristen Stewart has been suggested as the actress. Will this project fall to Summit Entertainment?  It could have picked up the Swedish films if it had wanted to.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Salt" (Angelina Jolie) is more timely than had been expected

In recent weeks, a spy scandal developed in the US, where a few “ordinary Americans” were discovered to be Russian spy plants who had been living with fabricated identities for a decade or so. They didn’t find out much, but that makes an interesting backdrop for Columbia’s summer entry, directed by Phillip Noyce, “Salt”, where Angelina Jolie plays the CIA spy Evelyn Salt who may be a double agent.

The other recent development is the appearance of the indie flick “Countdown to Zero” (yesterday’s post), the second half of which paid a lot of heed to a continued latent US-Russia rivalry that could erupt into all out nuclear Armageddon at any moment.

In this film, it seems that the Russians do have a hair trigger plot to launch Cuban Missile Crisis II, for finish the job where Khruschev blinked. It’s pretty hard to believe the funeral scene where an obstructive Russian president is eliminated (those organ chords are particularly effective), but even harder to believe that the bunker below the White House would be left so easy to breach.

A real spy thriller needs to be a lot more subtle.

August Diehl appeals as Evelyn’s nice husband (even if he looks like he belongs in a gay bar), and Lev Schreiber is chilling enough as the crewcut co-conspirator Ted Winter.

The movie starts in North Korea with a spy exchange – again a coincidental tribute to the sabre rattling this weekend by that country, but most of it happens in Washington, with a lot of mistakes, including an apartment building that looks like it is in New York, and calling I-395 Route 1. Too bad, this is only a movie.

The movie was originally written for Tom Cruise, and rewritten for a female spy.

The final scenes show Washington and nearby Arlington in a light snow effectively; they may have been made just before the big February blizzards early this year.

Here is the website for the film.  Columbia did not use its climbing scale tradeamrk music with the Torch Lady (so effective with Castle Rock to open "Hamlet" in 1996), but you can play it here on YouTube.  Sony did give us an embeddable trailer of this film,

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tunisian film "Making Of" is a powerful, layered drama about Islam

Islamic film is certainly able to look at its own culture, and accept various was of interpreting its ideas and criticize its world. It an incorporate everything in the west: money, pleasure, power, sexuality in all forms.

At Tribeca in 2007, the Tunisian film “Making Of: Le dernier film” won awards for best screenplay (for director and writer Nouri Bouzid, and also a best acting award), and it takes the layered approach of self-examination: it is about making a film about radical Islam. The philosophical discussions go on inside the inner film, but the story outside drives us to tragedy.

A handsome, slender young (age 25) playboy Bahta (Lotfi Abdelli) dazzles everyone, including girl friends (any maybe boy friends) with his breakdancing, and aspires to go to Europe and have a career in showbiz. He gets into scuffles over jealousy, gets arrested, and led to the home of a fundamentalist iman. He is encouraged to act in the introspective film (shown in overexposed light), and goes through the examination of his individualism and selfishness. Despite all his logic, he gradually falls for the existential collective appeal of radical Islam and its demands for absolute (collective) “justice”. In time, be desires to become a suicide bomber and carry out a mission on his own terms.  He never quite gets around to questioning the idea of sacrifice (aka martyrdom) when demanded of him by someone else who is not going to make a similar personal sacrifice.  It is "proof of faith" perhaps?

The back-and-forth of all of this is not always clearcut: at one point, he is examining himself, has an epiphany, and then clips his own head. But the premise of the film, to use visual clues to map us through a psychological journey through right and wrong at the deepest levels, is fascinating.

The film shows clips of the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with political consequences that will affect Bahta.

I wasn't aware that North Africa had a passenger rail system.

Koch Lorber’s site for the film is here.

For review of “Countdown to Zero”, see the entry today at my “Films on major challenges to freedom” blog (via Profile).

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Tunisia.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The other "Enough!" movie is a small film about the civil war in Algeria, with a journalist in peril ("Barakat!"); the word means something here

The indie “Enough!” (“Barakat!”, directed by Djamila Sahraoui) is a curious little film from Algeria, from the First Run Features Global Lens Collection, about the Algerian civil war in the 1990s, about which American viewers probably know little now.

A female surgeon Amel (Rachida Brakni) fears her journalist husband has been kidnapped by rebels because of his controversial articles. Here the film probably recalls “A Mighty Heart” (see this blog June 24, 2007), but it becomes much more intimate and minimalist quickly. A neighbor Kahdidja (Fettouma Ousliha Bouamari) joins her on a low tech road hunt. The couple meets all the chauvinist attitudes toward women and veils associated with radical Islam. In the end, the film is more about the journey than finding the husband, although along the way they heard all the horrors of the civil war.

The title of the film (having nothing to do with another film just reviewed here by that name) refers to the practice of letting male children “inherit” weapons, that at in the end get thrown into the sea.

The FRF website for the film is here. The film is in French and Arabic with English subtitles.

Africa in Motion provides a trailer on YouTube.

The other film to compare this to is Rialto’s “The Battle of Algiers” (1966, inglorious black and white, showed at Landmark E Street in 2005 shortly after the theater opened, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo).

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Algeria.  Africa used to be an important player in the “oil weapon” battle of the 1970s. But at one time, Algeria was legally part of France.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Twisted", Paramount thriller with Ashley Judd as police detective, had gotten picked as a script that stood out

Twisted”  (2004) gets shown quite frequently on cable these days. Directed by Philip Kaufman and from Paramount, it tells the story of a recently promoted female San Francisco detective (Ashley Judd) who finds that murder victims showing up were men she had dated. The screenplay is by Sarah Thorp and is apparently original, and producer Arnold Kopelson indicates, on the DVD, that the script was selected from a group of 150 or so as standing out because of the plot-driven issues.

We’re kept wondering whether she really could have committed the crimes during blackouts (no “Flashforward” here), or whether there is some enemy who would set her up. (To have maybe committed a crime like one of these and not be able to remember -- to draw a blank on it -- would be truly terrifying; reality cannot be undone.) Could she be simply be lying? Does her father’s background have anything to do with her own propensities? Are the blackouts “real” or attempts to escape responsibility for behavior? Or are they more like the dreams of “Inception,” although the scope of this “film noir” is a lot narrower than in the newer film. The film is set in San Francisco, and although in color (with just standard aspect), the look paints the city in dark and beige tones, not with the artificial glitz of “Vertigo”.

Samuel L. Jackson and Andy Garcia also star.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice": Baruchel probably could have made it with The Donald

The tone poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas is not my favorite classical piece by any means; it’s a bit trite. Therefore the soundtrack of the Walt Disney movie (directed by Jon Turteltaub) of that name embellishes the experience with plenty of orchestral variations on the music by Trevor Rabin.

The film may start impressively enough, in the 8th Century, were the sorcerer’s golem gets stored in an urn, that shows up in an antique shop in New York City near where I used to live (the Cast Iron Building). A ten year old, Dave, learns that he may have special talents, and on his 20th birthday, played by French Canadian actor Jay Baruchel (from the series “Just Legal” on WB a few years ago where he plays a prodigy lawyer at age 18) he, having excelled in some science fairs with his Telsa device (rather like “The Prestige”), he gets picked by Balthazar Blake (Nicholas Cage) as the ideal physics nerd to become a sort of superman -- after serving as "The Apprentice".   I guess Baruchel's character (or Baruchel himself) would survive Donald Trump's boardroom.

Somehow most of this never connects. It’s fine to work in comic book style (after all, Superman, Smallville, Spider Man, and the like all work) , but one needs to create a world that the viewer can belong to. Jerry Bruckheimer used to do that (films like “Pearl Harbor”) a lot more than he has lately.

Baruchel is likeable enough, and forceful enough; he is the sort of guy a father wants his daughter to go with to the senior prom.

Here’s the site for the film.

Official trailer from “Trailers”.

The name “Sorcerer” recalls a great film from William Friedkin in 1977 (Universal) about oil workers transporting crates of explosives.

Picture: April 2010. That's me, not Jay Baruchel.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Enough" (2002) presented Jennifer Lopez in a stereotyped thriller about spousal abuse

In reviewing another film a while back (“Killers”), I mixed up “Enough” and “Entrapment” in making reference to other films, and found I had never seen Jennifer Lopez and her “heroics” in “Enough”, directed by Michael Apted.

The film starts in an LA diner where her character Slim Hiller, working as a waitress, is party to a bizarre confrontation by two male patrons, like which I have never seen. The apparently protective behavior of magnate Mitch (Bill Campbell) drives her into his arms with marriage and a baby. The film treats us to labels for each progression of the relationship, until she catches him accidentally with a cordless phone mishap. Suddenly, he becomes the abusive husband, and as she flees around the country like a femme in witness protection, he sends goons after her (pretending to be fibbies). Eventually, she catches up with him back in LA and, having learned karate, does what she has to do.

The film comes across as a stereotyped thriller (albeit about spousal abuse), rather formulaic screenwriting (by Nicholas Kazan), with “have-to” confrontations and escapes set up all the time. But no one is believable or likeable enough to draw us in, so the film misses the mark of what could have been a pseudo-Grisham-like thriller.

Regis Philbin interviews Jennifer Lopez about “Enough” in 2002.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky": see it for Stravinsky's music in Dolby Digital

The most interesting section of Jan Kounen's “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” is the opening half hour or so, where the “disastrous” 1913 premier of “Le Sacre du Printimps” (“The Rite of Spring”) is largely recreated.

The highly motif-driven music comes at you in Dolby Digital and makes perfect sense to a modern ear. Having seen “Inception” a couple days ago and been taken in by Hans Zimmer’s expressionistic score, I was taken in here by the different “kinds” of modernism. Stravinsky seems less emotional to me than anything in the post-Mahler Viennese world (including Schoenberg and Berg, whose music Zimmer’s often resembled). It is closer to impressionism (seasoned with polytonality) than post-romanticism, appropriate for music with a debut in Paris. But even that doesn’t characterize it. (Stravinsky would soon be regarded as a “neoclassicist” and eventually get into a kind of antiseptic serialism.) You simply experience the music on its own terms. And then you experience the dancers. It may be a bit like disco today.

The audience, of course, is highly offended, with catcalls and a near riot inviting the police.

Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen), with a wife (Yalena Morozova) fighting tuberculosis, and four kids, finds himself and family in the streets, when in 1920 Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) invites the family to live in her “modern” estate, where the rest of the movie takes place. There will occur love rectangles, some of them steamy enough for an R rating, but also interesting cultural developments, as the introduction of DIagilev (Gregory Manukov).

It’s interesting how Stravinsky’s music sounds on the piano, often forming the background for various ruminative scenes.

As Stravinsky’s “relationship” with Coco matures, he realizes she is not an artist like him, but more like a business host.

Finally, after their falling out, Coco funds a second, and successful “premier” of “The Rite of Spring.”

The website for the film is here  (Sony Pictures Classics).  The film is in French (sometimes Russian) with subtitles.

Here’s a YouTube clip of the Joffrey Ballet

To my ear, “The Rite of Spring” does sound a lot less “emotional” than the earlier “Firebird”, the lush closing passage of which is sometimes performed in discos.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"The Kids Are All Right" but the lesbian parents aren't after the sperm donor appears

Well, “The Kids Are All Right”, but the adults aren’t any more, especially the two lesbian parents (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening), who each had a kid by artificial insemination by Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo. Trouble is, the older kid, now 18, Mia Wasikowska, ready to go to college (indeed, as “the kids grow up”) wants to meet her biological father, who gives consent, and, guess what, “moves in” on Julianne’s character as she does some “landscape architecture” of Southern California terrace lawns. Now Laser (Josh Hutcherson), is just 15 but seems the most mature of the group, a “benevolent jock” who will protect animals from bullying from his friends. The two women have raised their kids well, and what’s left to examine is whether their marriage has a future.

The insemination should not be confused with surrogate motherhood, a process used by gay male parents.

There’s an odd foreshadowing: the two women watch gay male porn, and one of them says the actors are “too shaved”. Pretty soon we get it, as the camera lingers a lot over Ruffalo’s grizzled hirsuteness.

There’s a brief embedded clip of a NatGeo program on Uganda, where there is a draconian anti-gay law proposed.

The film is directed by Lisa Chodolenko, and comes from Universal Focus Features and Gilbert Films. The large auditorium at Landmark E Street on mid Saturday afternoon nearly sold out, with an audience heavily female.

The Focus site for the movie is here.

Focus offers this YouTube trailer.

Compare to "The Kids Grow Up" reviewed here June 24.

"Stonewall Uprising" gets theatrical run from FirstRun Features; due for showing on PBS American Experience

The PBS American Experience series has an 80 minute film “Stonewall Uprising” , about the “riot” at the Stonewall Bar in the wee morning hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, that led to the founding of the modern gay rights movement. The film has a brief theatrical release from Firstrun Features but will sppear on PBS (in April 2011). The film is produced and directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner. On Saturday afternoon in a Landmark Theater in downtown Washington DC, a small auditorium was about half full.

The first two thirds of the film traces the condition of the gay community in the US, particularly New York, in the 1960s, and it is fair to say that it lagged way behind in the Civil Rights movement. There is a lot of footage from the notorious 1967 CBS news special with Mike Wallace, “The Homosexuals”. In New York City, the World Fair in Flushing, Queens in 1964-1965 led to political attempts to “clean up New York” leading to the closing of many gay bars. I remember a weekend trip to New York from Washington by train on a weekend in early August, 1964 (I stayed at the New Yorker for then at $9 a night), meeting friends, and going to the “Circle on the Square” in the Village to see Euripides, and hearing offhand comments about “too many homosexuals” in the area.

Police in many cities would raid bars, arrest everyone therein, and publish the names in newspapers. In New York, particularly after the World’s Fair, the Mafia provided “protection” for the seedier places from the police, including the “Trucks”, setting up the gay world as it quickly liberated in the early 1970s after Stonewall. (The New York GAA used the Firehouse on Wooster street for some number of years.)

Around the country, government agencies ran anti-gay propaganda films, and in Florida, vice squads addressed school assemblies about the “dangers” of homosexuality (“If we catch you…”). Mental institutions performed lobotomies and aversion therapy, one of the worst being in California. By the 1980s (even as the AIDS epidemic erupted), these viewpoints would tend to be limited to those of anti-gay extremists like Paul Cameron, or “pastor” Fred Phelps today.

I’ve detailed my own experience on these pages, the 1961 William and Mary Expulsion and succeeding psychiatric “treatment” at NIH in 1962. During all of this, one needs to “ask why”. Indeed, why was homosexuality criminalized? You ask an average gay man born since the mid 1980s and living in a major city today in the US and he would probably not be able to give a good answer, other than “religious morality”, including the influence of the Vatican and of “evangelical” Christianity. Well, look at Islam and ask the same question.

I think a lot of it has to do with social cohesion and nebulous ideas about the family, and a fear that if “non-competitive” men (like I was) are allowed to kibitz from a critical pedestal in the gay world, men in the straight world will no longer have enough incentive to make and particularly keep their families. But it is even deeper than that, having a lot to do need parents perceive to guarantee themselves a lineage, and to compel their children to be able to take over parenting as older siblings or for deceased or disabled family members. I’ve covered this on other blog postings.

The world of the 60s for homosexuals was a far cry from today; all people wanted was “privacy”; nobody even could conceive of “equality” or gay marriage. In fact, the conventional wisdom then was that gay people didn’t want to mimic straight institutions.

The PBS link for the film is here.

In 1970, one year after the Uprising, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day parade was held in New York City. People were petrified at appearing in a public gathering as homosexual, but the affair grew and became a joyous celebration .

That weekend in 1969, I was on a Church retreat, on pass while in the Army. (In those days, the Army fought off the use of homosexuality to avoid the draft.) In a softball game, I swung at a first pitch and hit the longest home run in my life.

The film should be compared to the PBS films "Before Stonewall" and "After Stonewall" in the 1990s, as well as Strand Releasing's "Stonewall" (1996). directed by Nigel French, with a virile Frederick Weller.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Inception": when dreams become "real life"

I sometimes wonder if, when we die, we are trapped in space-time in our last moment. If it was pleasurable, that could be a good thing; if we die during a nightmare from which we don’t wake up, maybe we stay within the nightmare and that dream state becomes a permanent experience.

I once had a dream of being led through a complex of low-rise complex buildings to a tunnel, and then being placed in a circular tunnel with no features, where presumably I could stay until the end of time.

In a sense, when we awaken for a dream, we have experienced something in another universe, and we may have experienced “pleasure” in an illegitimate way but we don’t have to face any consequences. We get to undo the reality of the dream and redo in real life.

That might not be so simple in a world where dreams can be hacked, or even implanted by “inceptors”. I’m reviewing the $160 million sci-fi splash from Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures, “Inception”, which started today (on Friday afternoon, an AMC Tysons Corner Imax auditorium was about a third full)/ Leonardo DiCaprio, playing dream scientist ("Extractor") Cobb ( a protégé of a kindly professor played by Michael Caine), gets hired by an industrialist (Ken Watanabe) to plant dreams into his heirs (particularly the young Fischer, below) so that the company will have the desired future. He hires a mental whizbang played by (Juno) Ellen Page, and takes us on a trip into various worlds where “reality”, dreams, and “dreams within dreams” merge together. (Cobb gives her an IQ test on the street, to draw a maze that he can't solve.)

His assistant ("Point Man") Arthur is played by a precise Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and an industrial heir Fischer is played by Cillian Murphy who, however baby-faced, looks more “man” in this movie than ever before. In fact, in British director (and here writer and story originator) Christopher Nolan’s newest “trip,” the three main young adult male characters are all likeable the way you want them to be in a Smallville episode. The earlier “death” of Cobb’s wife (Marion Cotillard) in the dreamcatching career provides a plot point (as with DiCaprio’s character in “Shutter Island”).

The “alternate universe” effects generally are space-time experiments with the familiar Terra, as when Paris streets are folded into a three-dimensional box. The best effect occurs toward the end, where a Beirut-like cityscape is falling into the sea, but Cobb climbs into the remains of a city that is his alternate-universe home. The effect is not simply that of “The Matrix” trilogy or even the 1984 film “Dreamscape” (Joseph Ruben, 20th Century Fox), but rather predicts what “The First Dominion” in Clive Barker’s “Imajica” might look like before Man defeats God. (I hope Christopher Nolan has read that book and thought about filming it.)

The story gets into "dreams within dreams" (rather like Facebook "friends of friends" or maybe Clive Barker's "fish within a fish"), with the idea that you might never get out of it. You never remember how you got into a dream.

Nolan's story has a system of rules for the dreams:  there are several levels (at least three), and as you fall to deeper levels your sense of time expands.  You can live in Limbo forever and it may seem that a half-centry passes.  The action of the story passes through the dreams and levels of several characters, particularly Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Cobb's business partner, and the heir Robert Fischer (a pun on the chess player?), Cillian Murphy, and Eames (Tom Hardy), as well as Cobb's deceased wife Mal (Marion Coitilard) whose death she she didn't realize she was returned from Limbo has led to Cobb's criminal charges, a concept that drives his deal with the aging tycoon Saito, who wants to use Robert. The action in the various dreams and levels always matches up, with the appropriate "kicks" sending the characters from one character's dream and level to the next.  The Limbo world (the Beirut-like scene) is particularly effective visually, as is the mountain castle.  The whole system sounds programmable in a way that could generate a patented computer game (and maybe a LasVegas casino).

The orchestral music score by Hans Zimmer is reminiscent of Alban Berg (especially from the opera Lulu, giving this film the effect of opera) and uses a ground bass theme of repeated notes in snarling brass, with meandering chromaticism, to great effect. The music provides a concert overture during the closing credits, interrupted by a French song before returning for a crashing close.

The official site for the movie is here.

Picture: From a disco dance (not in the film).

Update: Last night, I dreamed that I went to a particular Church function, was told to go change into vetements and had to go into a staged nature park and change out of sight of others along a hidden hiking trail; then when I returned, I would be illuminated, and then given a prophecy (maybe several).  Some of it came true today.  Maybe "Inception" has started for me.

At the very end, the "thimble" has not fallen. Did Cobb ever make it all the way back to life?

Update: Nov. 18, 2012

I did purchase the BluRay DVD from WB 18 months ago. There is a backup copy of the movie for iPod load, and that is fortunate.  I damaged the first copy accidentally because the way the spindles in the box are designed, it's easy to insert the top one wrong; and apparent I scratched it.  It's lucky that there is a free backup.  If you get one of these from WB, pay close attention to how the discs are to be returned to the package or they can be easily damaged.

Would one of the above make me a totem?  The item on the left is an extracted broken tooth, all cleaned up. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married?"

Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?” may, however unintentionally, illustrate George Gilder’s ideas in his 1986 book “Men and Marriage” (as if you could make Gilder into a movie). Actually, it’s director Tyler Perry’s adaptation of his own play, about four (African American) couples who get together in a mountain resort, and then each couple faces a Ladies Home Journal “Can this marriage be saved” kind of crisis.

One of the women is late, and, the road blocked by a snowstorm, actually spends a night in a “protective custody” jail cell on the way up. She says she is going there to save her marriage. Later, after the reconnoiter, her husband says he could feel attracted to her if she would lose 50 pounds.  This reminds me of the social pressure that I felt as a boy, that I would never become a suitable "husband" if I didn't become physically more competitive.

Generally, the husbands demand that they keep a sense of superiority, demanding time and intimacy from their wives when they want it, on their terms. One of the wives says “I have the babies, you don’t. I have to miss work, you don’t.” The husbands tend to act like they want servants and remain tribal patriarchs.

There's a nice dinner at the end (almost Harry Potter style) and another breakdown. Cheating is addictive.

To an older gay man like me, the film made heterosexual marriage look like a depressing endeavor indeed. I think "socially conservative" advocates of "the natural family" could have fun picking apart this movie. Generally, most of the time, the men's behavior is pretty boorish.

Lionsgate’s site for the film is here.

The 2007 film was aired on TBS on July 15.

Hollywood Streams offers this trailer

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Edges of the Lord" explores irony in a young boy's circumstances (compare to "Pajamas")

Edges of the Lord” (“Boze Skrawki”, from Miramax and Millennium Films in 2001, directed by Yurek Bogayevicz , is another film from that “studio” giving us an inside look at life in Nazi territory during WWII (like “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”). This time, the setting is Krakow, Poland, near the site of Auschwitz, which I would visit in May 1999.

A Jewish family hides its son Romek (Haley Joel Osment) and then turns him over to a local priest (Willem Dafoe), who gradually converts him with catechism. Eventually Romek falls into suspicion, is beaten and thrown into a lake, but manages to swim out, and then is impressed into confiscating stuff from his own people as they get sent off to the trains.

The film demonstrates the mindset of Nazism and the subjects. In one scene, a boy is shot so he cannot have sons because of what his father did. There is a fake crucifixion, and another scene involving the wearing of thorns.

There's a clever scene with the kids igniting the methane emissions of a pig.  It works!

The Miramax site for the film is here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Summer Hours": a grandmother wants her kids and grandkids to let go of their past -- pretty progressive

Summer Hours” (“L’heure d’ete”) from MK2 and IFC films, directed by Olivier Assayas, would be a good film for an AP French class, maybe in 12th grade before the kids go away to college, without the English subtitles, and without reference to imdb or this blog (for that matter), with the assignment to write a review. Is this film an example ofr "French" impressionism?

Indeed, the subject matter of the film – subtle innuendos about family – is well for young adults to ponder. The film begins with kids running through woods in the countryside south of Paris, and it looks hot and humid, all right. It ends with a couple of the kids as emerging teens, looking at their grandmother’s house that is to be sold, after all.

In the meanwhile, matriarch Helene (Edith Scob) calls together her two grown sons and daughter and all the grandkids, from around the world (including China and New York). The oldest son, Frederic (Charles Berling) has stayed in France, become a professor, and written controversial (probably conservative) books on economics leading to plenty of book-signing parties. She meets with him, and explains that she wants the kids to part with the house and most of the art collection, and get on with the lives they have built for themselves.

About one-third the way through the film, she has somewhat unexpectedly passed away (maybe she sensed it), and the siblings then deal with their relationships with one another as adults, no longer with access to childhood symbols. It’s probably less of a deal to the grandkids (one of them gets busted for pot). Yet in some families, it’s the opposite that happens; some parents want to keep adult kids bound to the values of the past.

IFC site for the film is here.

IFC First Take trailer on YouTube:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Predator III" dumps its characters on an M-star planet

I don’t know of any other film where the major characters are airdropped onto a landscape to survive and don’t know that they are on another planet.

So it is, in Fox’s “Predators”, as we first see Royce (Adrien Brody) approaching the jungle below, and then the others, who, as in many “set-up” horror films (of the “Saw” variety) don’t know who everyone is and are faced with a puzzle. But soon Royce notice that the Sun never moves (pretty good observation; maybe mercenary soldiers or special forces would see that) – up to that point, it has been a bit like a “Restrepo” sort of movie where maybe Sebastian Junger could have been cast. But it’s getting scary, with enormous booby traps and bizarre monsters hunting them. Then they notice four big moons in the sky (they look too much like gas giants). So they know they are marooned.

Now astronomers say that M-stars are likely to have smaller planets always facing the same side, which would mean that at any point it is always the same time of day and same sun angle (unless there is some wobble). So the climate is mild around the fringe, too hot in the middle, and freezing on the other far side. Scientists also say that photosynthetic plants are likely to be blue, violet or even black near such stars. That’s not true here (the movie was shot in Hawaii). (AMC Theaters has an ad showing an audience in an outdoor theater on an M-star planet with blue plants, probably pretty realistic to what one would really find.) Later the film allows some nightfall, which contradicts the premise that the sun never moves.

As for the story – it brings to mind “Pitch Black” (2000) – but the characters find they have been put on a planet where their earthly behavior would make them normal. The planet is a game preserve, with larger aliens that can don metal suits and materialize from invisibility, and use laser beams.

Now one of my screenplays is called “Prescience”, and it would be a sequel to “Titanium”. Now there is some overlap, as I repeat the UFO landing at the beginning of the sequel, and take them to an M-Star planet with an annular same-side civilization. But what I propose is a train that runs a 10000 mile circle through all the “lands” as if the planet were a Disney theme park (not a game preserve), with each “kingdom” a closed society fixed at a particular point in history and technological development, so that the social structures vary, as well as does art and culture. Abductees are tested in a central synecdoche, and then shipped to the appropriate kingdom. But through telepathy they learn what has happened back to Earth, which has been knocked out by EMP. But the alien planet is approaching its expiration in the form of a nearby brown dwarf.

The sound track is stunning in DTS, and the closing credit offer a real concert overture by John Debney (after “Long Tall Sally”), which has some cohesion rather than being episodic. The movie sound track quotes Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” once. The film is directed by Nimrod Antal with distribution by Twentieth Century Fox (now in its proud 75th year – when does it become 21st Century?)

The film is regarded as third in the “Predator” franchise, which started with a Schwarzenegger movie in 1987, where the alien is in the Central American jungle.

Here is the official site.


Wikipedia attribution link for an extrasolar planet photo.

"The Oath" gives a telling look of two men tied to 9/11

The new POV film “The Oath”, directed by Laura Poitras, gives us an inside look at the world that led to 9/11 and the world that it created.

The documentary tells the story of two brothers-in-law. Abu Jandal is now a taxi driver in Sana’a, Yemen, a city which, with its brown palette and odd street bazaars seems in the movie like a town on another planet (or perhaps one of Clive Barker’s “dominions”). He is facing diabetes and poverty, as part of the consequences a time in the 1990s when he became Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, and then was arrested by Yemeni authorities in conjunction with the USS Cole incident in October 2000.

But the other man, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, was also bin Laden’s bodyguard and chauffeur (both) and was apprehended in the early days of the war in Afghanistan, before the Taliban was driven out. Hamdan is taken to Guantanamo, and tried in a military tribunal. The film shows us peaceful shots of Guantanamo Bay and interviews with Navy lawyers, including defense attorneys appointed, and in the end Hamdan is acquitted of some charges and given a relatively light sentence, in a 2008 trial of new charges.

Both men took an Oath to Allah, in which they specifically say they will always put Allah and tribal interests over their contents of their own minds. The Oath specifically forbids individual decision making.

The film covers the Supreme Court opinion Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, June 29, 2006 (supreme court link), as well as the Military Commissions Act of 2006, (text) passed after the Court opinion and viewed by some people as ex post facto law. The legal history is quite complex, and Hamdan still wound up being tried and convicted of some charges. Wkipedia gives the details in numerous articles, but the legal and procedural intricacies are hard to follow in the film.

Another interesting segment concerns the testimony of Jandal before Congress; apparently the FBI used a lot of his information before President Bush announced the Oct 2001 in Afghanistan, and the film covers a lot of intelligence memos that seem to have come very close to actually finding Osama bin Laden.

There are scenes where Jandal bonds with his young son, and where the son “learns” the “ideology” of jihad and embraces it without any cognitive grasp of what it means.

The theatrical distribution of the 90-minute film is handled by Zeitgeist, and on Saturday afternoon a small auditorium at Landmark’s E-Street theater was about half full.  Zeitgeist's site for the film is here. The film is Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary.  A co-production of ITVS in association with American Documentary/POV, and will air later on PBS as part of the POV series. The film was also produces in conjunction with ITVS (see television reviews blog June 29, 2010 for review of ITVS film “City of Borders”).  Also, see TV Reviews blog April 5 , 2009 for review of NatGeo film "Inside Guantanamo".

Olbermann YouTube video “Bush became an absolute ruler today” on the Military Commissions Act, posted by vdoevidence911.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Restrepo": Natgeo, Junger and Hetherington give us reality film of Adghanistan combat

Restrepo” takes combat docudrama up a notch beyond “The Hurt Locker” (which used actors), being a 15 month video log of an actual Army Airborne (Ranger I believe) in a secluded area of Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, called the Korangal Valley. It is filmed by Sebastian Junger (author of “The Perfect Storm”) and Tim Hetherington, who must have lived with the unit for much of that time, exposed to combat dangers themselves.

The name of the film comes from a soldier who dies in action early (the soldiers use the term “bled out” talking about a neck wound); then the unit names an outpost after him. Captain Dan Kearney (again, the real person, not an actor), a rather visible paragon of male virility, runs the unit. The film contains some real combat firefights (a little more credible than those in “Hurt Locker”, viewed in retrospect), mostly soldiers firing defensively from their high, Masada-like outpost, and a lot of interviews with individual soldiers. The unit cohesion and forced intimacy of military life becomes apparent in the confined, ramshackle outpost. At one point near the end, the directors and soldiers stage a makeshift disco and a dirty dancing scene among presumably (but not always certainly) heterosexual male soldiers, almost a parody of a gay bar. The social aspect of the film make hit hard (perhaps deliberately) while the end of “don’t ask don’t tell” is now being brokered by the Pentagon and Congress.

The film also presented some of the soldiers as feeling psychologically driven toward extreme risk taking, a personality trait that may not fit well in later re-adaptation to civilian life.

The look of the film is interesting; the vegetation in the mountains is rather sparse, the climate arid, with just some winter snow, rather like some of interior California.  Back in late 2001, the press had called Afghanistan a place "at the ends of the Earth". The movie aspect ratio is standard (1.85:1) but the movie could have benefited from full anamorphic wide screen. The combat sounds in Dolby Digital are stunning.

The distributor is National Geographic Entertainment (a non-profit); I’m surprised that one of the established commercial outfits like Lionsgate or, of course, Summit, didn’t pick this up at Sundance. But “reality” filmmaking (even as in a couple of family-related films reporter here recently) seems to be a coming thing and should attract mainstream movie companies in time.

The site for the film is here.

Both the 7 and 10 shows at Landmark in downtown Washington last night sold out (small auditorium), with audiences mostly male and young.

Here is the Sundance YouTube video of an interview with Hetherington and Junger.

I met Mr. Junger at a booksigning party for “The Perfect Storm” in 1998 in Miineapolis. Wikipedia says he lives with his wife in New York City and part-owns the Half-King, which I visited in 2000 (in Chelsea). I seem to remember his apartment or condo on Larry King Live as (like mine) filled with books and computers, and a cat jumping into the picture. Junger, given his biography, has certainly “paid his dues” with hazardous work to trigger his journalistic career. (Will he try a novel? It’s time for that.) In the summer of 2000 (I was still in Minneapolis), I posted a “review” of the Columbia film “The Perfect Storm” (Wolfgang Peterson) on an AOL discussion board, in which I commented on the economic forces compelling the fisherman to make delivery on their catch and risk sailing through the storm. Someone got offended by this (as if I thought the pressure on the almost Biblical fishermen were morally a good thing and as if they belonged in a political underclass), and sent me nasty emails and flamed me on AOL’s boards. It was most bizarre online incident, fourteen months before 9/11.

Friday, July 09, 2010

"Living Dangerously" on Logo

LogoOnline seems to have reorganized its website, and today I started watching James Scagliotti’s 2003 film “Living Dangerously: Coming Out in the Developing World” from After Stonewall (website ) which had made a franchise of films by that name in the 1990s.

I could only watch the first 20 minutes (out of 56) on Logo, as the server would not load the film after the second commercial break. I know that commercials “pay” for our viewing the film, but I would almost say, offer a $3 rental (like YouTube) instead. “Fortunately” I found the rest of the film in parts on YouTube, with Portuguese subtitles in English (and no commercials, which means the filmmaker loses revenue).

The Logo link for the film is here.

The film summarizes the public gay rights movement in the United States and other western countries as starting mid 20th Century (Stonewall in 1969 marks the real beginning), and notes that it got going much later, more or less in the 90s, in third world countries. It focuses early on Egypt, where Cairo had become a gay mecca by around 1995, but then authorities cracked down with the notorious “Love Boat” arrest on the Nile. Likewise, homosexuality would flourish underground in other Islamic countries as long as nobody talked about it, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (it doesn’t talk about Saudi Arabia, but firsthand accounts to me confirm a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude in upper class Saudi society, out of sight of the religious police). Homosexuality did not originate in the West, but the idea of a publicly conspicuous gay culture did.

Some African countries have been particularly repressive, most notably Uganda recently, with its very draconian bill in Parliament.

Last night the Logo site greeted me with a “Short Film: Emmy-Nominated Jane Lynch Cops A Feel” which disappeared today. The 12-minute missive presented an overweight man wanting an insurance company to pay for “cosmetic” male breast reduction surgery. The “patient’s” appearance was comical, hairy but with the relevant parts bald, rather like that of a chimpanzee. At the end, the insurance adjuster wants the operation himself.

Logo seems to have removed a lot of favorite short films, such as "Bugcrush" and "Hitchcocked".
I have to say that Peter Weir’s “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982, MGM), with Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, and Linda Hunt, is one of the great ones, and it is not as unrelated (to the films above) as one would think.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"In the Loop": a closed British satire, obviously about how Bush went into Iraq

“Who are you working for?” That sort of line occurs in soap operas and mafia movies, but it seems to characterize international lobbying, as in the IFC/BBC comedy “In the Loop”, (2009) directed by Armando Iannucci.

The shenanigans start after the British and US heads of state (unnamed) decide to invade a middle east country (unnamed), and a political operative Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) misspeaks on BBC TV. Pretty soon, everybody is trying to undermine (or support) the war by sleeping around in Washington, eventually leading up to scenes where they change the grammatical structure of speeches to be made at the UN.

All of this refers, of course, to the way the Bush Administration set up the case to invade Iraq in 2003 and topple Saddam Hussein, with Colin Powell’s manipulations at the UN. I remember the night that the shock and awe started, watching it in a closed circuit TV at a private party in the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis.

The movie has lots of satirical plays on words, in a “Dr. Strangelove” style, as when Gen. Miller (James Gandolfini) says he doesn’t give up his “soldier’s license” by serving years in the Pentagon and never firing a weapon.

Sometimes the comedy is physical, as in the hotel bedroom scenes where the men are in shirt and tie and skivvies, and they already look past peak.

Technically, the film looks like a play, but it cues you in jumping back and forth across the Pond (showing a freeway with cars on the left).

The DVD has a long connected deleted scenes segment, that mentions “There Will Be Blood”.

Here is the official site for the film.
YouTube trailer from Optimum Releasing

One is reminded of “The Mouse that Roared” (Columbia, 1959, Jack Arnold).

Filmmakers may want to look at Ridley Scott’s “Life in a Day” project, based on July 24, 2010, link here.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

"An American Dream": a forgotten classic based on a funky Norman Mailer novel; Netflix and Relativity make deal

My first semester as a graduate student in Lawrence, Kansas in 1966, I missed a film called “An American Dream” that seemed to disappear into the woodwork. It still does not appear to have a DVD, but on July 6 TCM aired it.

The film (from Warner Brothers, directed by Robert Gist) is based on a curious novel by Norman Mailer which had been serialized in Esquire Magazine. (Back in those days, they said, “Why won’t Norman Mailer admit that he is the woman he is?”) A TV talk show host Stephen Richard Rojack (Stuart Whitman) has become an embodiment of “an American Dream”. Living in a Manhattan highrise, he gets into a ferocious argument with his wife (Eleanor Parker) and throws her off the balcony (a scene that is detailed and well done) and then tries to convince the police it was a suicide. There is an interesting physics lesson at one point where the cops use a formula from high school physics to figure out how long it would take her to hit the pavement (free 9/11).

Janet Leigh is the “other woman” who becomes a weak link, making Rojack a target for the mob.

The police then feint closing the books on the incident as an accident, bringing on guilt.

There is a conversation about the war between God and the devil, and a statement that “an American dream is that everything will be all right in the end”.

In the end, Rojack gets what he wants and deserves, and Leigh says “what do you expect of a whore.”

The last night of that 1966 semester, I walked down to the Varsity Theater in downtown Lawrence, KS from the KU dorm to see my only film that semester, Arthur Penn/ Sam Speigel’s “The Chase” (play by Horton Foote), about the pandemonium in a southern town when Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) escapes from prison and heads home, with Marlon Brando as the sheriff. It’s a pretty big, if underrated classic drama from Columbia. (The other theater in downtown Lawrence at the time was the Granada).

Today, Ashton Kutcher (“aplusk”) sent a tweet telling us about the deal between Relativity Media and Netflix, Reuters link here.

Relativity has often worked with Lionsgate, Columbia and Universal.

Here is a YouTube of Norman Mailer at the NY Writers Institute in 2001, talking about religion.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Oliver Stone's little documentary "South of the Border"

Oliver Stone is known for big controversial historical dramas like ‘JFK” and “Born on the Fourth of July” but here, in the minimalist documentary “South of the Border” (Cinema Libre and Muse), he goes on the road (where they play soccer, not baseball) and interviews previously elected presidents of six South American countries as well as Cuba. The list comprises Presidents Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Lula da Silva (Brazil), Cristina Kirchner (Argentina), as well as her spouse and ex-President Nestor Kirchner, Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), and Raul Castro (Cuba).

The film is brief, just 78 minutes, and not too visual, showing a lot of news clips, especially from Fox. The biggest emphasis is over Hugo Chavez, who tried to use the oil weapon during the Bush years, and who survived a recall attempt in 2004.

It’s interesting to wonder why South America developed as so many separate countries, compared to North America, but geography, with the impenetrable Andes, is one reason. In general, the heads of state tended to stress the return of property to the original owners – the indigenous and the poor. There is also a remark that US anti-drug policy seems disingenuous.

Oliver Stone appears often, a bit grizzled, as he conducts the interviews.

There have been many fine dramatic films about South American politics, such as the recent “Secret of their Eyes” from Argentina, as well as “Apartment Zero” and “Death and the Maiden”, or even “Missing.”

Website, with other films at distributor Cinema Libre’s webpage.

Picture below: From Mexico pavilion at Smithsonian Folklife 2010.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

"Twilight III" aka "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse"

Okay, Bella was not beautiful – Margaret Mitchell would have said that about her – but nevertheless she managed to have to suitors: a vampire and a werewolf. It’s not clear between Edward and Jacob who is Rhett and who is Ashley.

I’m talking about “Twilight III”, of course: that is, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” , directed by David Slade, based again on a series novel by Stephanie Meyer. The distributor, Summit Entertainment, has gone from being a little indie company to a major player in the movie world, but usually, outside of this series, it focuses on content-rich and provocative material, as one expects from independent film companies.

The movie really does focus on the “love triangle”. Let’s say that Bella (Kristen Stewart) is the third player on stage in the competition between vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). That’s referring to a theory of fiction writing that gay author Clive Barker espouses as he opens his 1991 novel Imajica, which I hope Summit is thinking about filming.

You could regard the story as a parody of the “culture wars” on marriage. Maybe two members have to be of the opposite sex – no problem here – but they both have to be homo sapiens. Edward has the edge here, if you assume that a vampire is human. Jacob arguably is a carnivore. You have to accept the idea that the smartest carnivores (of the dog or wolf and cat families) are as capable of psychologically rewarding commitments as people.

Edward, in fact, tries to be a good vampire. There is a tender scene where Bella opens him, literally, but he doesn’t want to go all the way and put her at risk until they are indeed marriage. Jacob will be a problem. But Jacob somehow seems to be the more charismatic suitor, even if not human all the time.

I saw this in an AMC Imax auditorium in Tysons Corner, only about half full on a Saturday afternoon. It seemed that there were two projectors, but the Imax print was still cropped to be shown at a full 2:35:1. The effect was, as with the movie I reviewed yesterday, just a little more clarity, rather like Todd AO or Cinerama. In some of the scenes the skin details of the characters really show up. Jacob and Edward become Jacob and Esau. (Jacob has a great line and pun in the winter pup tent: “I’m hotter than you.” Yup, Edward still looks too pale. ) The scenery of the British Columbia coast ranges is breathtaking.

The rest of the plot is a but incidental, although the movie takes an interesting turn in using CNN’s name in showing a CNN report of attacks on civilians from warring vampire and werewolf tribes. That doesn’t make the movie qualify for my “disaster movies” blog. However, sometimes body parts roll, as in a real horror film. Otherwise gentle Edward bites off a rival female vampire’s head in one battle scene.

Here’s the website for the movie.

Official Twilight Film has a YouTube featurette “New Vampire Amry” (the CNN stuff). There’s also a “Team Edward” and I guess a “Team Jacob”.

Remember that actor Taylor Lautner hosted NBC’s Saturday Night Live last winter before his 18th birthday, and incredible accomplishment. How many teens are mature enough at 17 to pull that off?

Wikipedia attribution link for Strait of Georgia, near Vancouver, BC.  I visited Vancouver just once, in December 1966 as a grad student on a winter vacation.

Friday, July 02, 2010

"The Last Airbender": A planet with the Four Kingdoms proabbly exists in some universe

I suppose that in a parallel universe, perhaps a weakless one (without the weak force), there is a solar system and an Earth-like planet with four empires represented by Earth, Air, Fire and Water, with cities and villages that look more or less like a cross between feudal northern Europe and China a couple thousand years ago, and where technology is replaced by magic practices by successively reincarnating avatars. That’s the world of M. Night Shyamalan’s “children’s” (PG) fantasy, “The Last Airbender”. The young boy is Aang, played by Noah Ringer. He is discovered by Sokka and Katara of the Water kingdom, in polar reaches (shot in Greenland, as if this were “Smilla’s Sense of Snow”) , played by Jackson Rathborne and Nicola Peltz. They are late teen brother and sister, and the brother feels obligated to protect his sister (the script makes a lot of old fashioned cultural family values). The kingdom of Fire, signaled by huge smoke-belching ships that are fascinating to look at, threatens to conquer (and pollute) the rest of the planet, unless an avatar (not the Cameron kind) gets them under control. Fire has a young Prince Zuko, played by “Slumdog’s” Dev Patel, whose basic niceness (from the other film) comes through too much for him to be a credible villain, which he isn’t; it’s his father (Aasif Mandvi) who is determined to play Hitler.

The look of the film recalls “The Lord of the Rings” but is less delineated. The LOTR trilogy drew us in and made us believe in its world; other films like Eragon and this one are less convincing. Still, the 3-D is used with subtlety, not too much into pointing things at the audience, but rather giving a (Paramount) VistaVision like clarity (in combination with Cinemascope aspect ratio) to the scenery. (There is one scene in the Fire king’s court where the background remains fuzzy, apparently a technical error).  The separation of the four kingdoms somewhat recalls the four different planets in Frank Herbert's book and movie "Dune".

Nickelodeon Films, which emphasizes children's content, is one of the production companies (along with Paramount). Back in August 2006, a Sunset Script conference for screenwriters in Washington DC presented a program from Nickelodeon Films for apprentice writers.
The site for the film is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Sobel North American Map in article on many worlds interpretation (from his novel "For Want of a Nail").

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"The Devil's Arithmetic" (Showtime, 1999): a girl recalls a past life in the Holocaust

In 1999, Showtime presented a film “The Devil’s Arithmetic”, based on the novel by Jane Yolen, directed by Donna Deitch. A suburban Westchester County girl Hannah Stern (Kristen Dunst) is not particularly interested in her family’s religious heritage and not too interesting in the Seder, but suddenly finds herself transported into 1941 Warsaw (the same environment as “A Film Unfinished” (here, June 22) as Chaya and transported with her family to the concentration camps. After an inner story leading to the trading of lives and leading up to the gas chambers, she wakes up at the Seder, as if it had been a dream, or out-of-body experience.

The inner story quite effectively shows the group mindset of 1940s Europe, which had help make Nazi expansion and the Holocaust possible. Hannah, seeing herself as a reincarnation of Chaya, has to deal with the idea that living for the survival of the family can be more important than her own purposes. The film, however, also talks about how the Jewish people as a whole became more important in world history after the collective adversities that Jehoval bestowed on them.

Of course, I’m not sure that the dreamscape plot device is all that convincing; a science fiction writer might try to mix this up with UFO abduction. But the surprisingly gentle film has an introduction by Dustin Hoffman. The DVD is full screen, as if for television only.

See the June 20 review on the TV blog of “God on Trial” also.

Here’s a YouTube book report on the novel

Wikipedia attribution link for WWII picture of Warsaw.