Monday, September 27, 2010

"Wit": small film by Mike Nichols, as an English professor battles cancer

Mike Nichols has an HBO film “Wit” (2001), directed by Mike Nichols, where Emma Thompson plays an English poetry professor who develops advanced ovarian cancer. Her main physician (Jonathan M. Woodward) is a young man she once taught in her class and wouldn’t give an extended deadline to for a family matter.

The movie documents her chemotherapy, with all the side effects, and desperation. “I am learning to suffer” she says, at age 48. Sometimes she is allowed to go back to the classroom to teach, behind a glass wall to protect her from germs as her immune system has been destroyed.

The older doctor (Christopher Lloyd) who starts the movie with the diagnosis, shows no compassion.

Much of the film story is related in flashbacks.

But at the end her mother reads to her from the childhood books that inspired her interest in poetry.

Music by Shostalovich, Gorecki, and Charles Ives (“The Unanswered Question”). The film is based on a stage play by Margaret Edson.

Somehow I am reminded of the 1950s film “Good Morning Miss Dove”.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oliver Stone's "Wall Street II": Greed is not so good after all

Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is essentially “Wall Street II”, a "logical" sequel to the 1987 Fox film where Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko announced “Greed is good.” Now, 23 years later and after 8 years in prison for insider trading and obstructing justice, he has a book “Is Greed Good?” where he admits that Wall Street sucked up the wealth of the working middle class.

Enter, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), already a Wall Street whiz kid at 24 with a social conscience. He wants to invest in fusion energy and green projects because, well, he is just that age will live three quarters of a century in a dying civilization if it doesn’t reform its energy production. He dates Winnie Gekko, Gordon’s daughter (Carey Mulligan), and eventually gives her a child, the ultrasound of which fits into the story. Early on, Jake lets his views known in a meeting where New York’s notorious Lipstick Building (Madoff) is visible through the windows.

Jake’s boss (Eli Walach) gives him a bonus just before his company tanks. In the ensuing scuffle, Jake is hired by Madoff-like Bretton James (Josh Brolin). In a motorcycle retreat in the Westchester suburbs, Jake catches him, leading us to the meltdown sequence, which Stone depicts as falling dominoes, as the September 2008 crisis blows like a financial Katrina. Jakes cigarette-smoking mother (Susan Sarandon) is a bit of a parasite, too.

One of Jake's weapons was to submit the story of these rogues to a website called "The Frozen Truth". I don't know if that was supposed to be something like Huffington, or maybe AlterNet, or whether it is a paradoy of my own "doaskdotell."

So Jake is a bit of an Ayn Rand hero with an Al Gore social sensibility. He would fit well into the Democratic Party.

The website for the film is here.

Picture: Mine (from a NYC visit 4/2010), but the exact shot appears in the film. It looks across the Hudson River to West New York, NJ.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Catfish": An "attractive" (male) filmmaker's Facebook adventures make for good docudrama

There’s a lot of hype about the film “Catfish” as a practical example of the adventures that can occur because of Facebook, and it’s curious that it is distributed by Universal’s Rogue Pictures, normally associated with horror and genre movies. I would though it would come from the Focus unit. In fact, Universal takes us from its own fanfare to “I am Rogue” and Relativity Media as the film opens.

The film has the style of a video docudrama, reminding us of Blair Witch, Cloverfield and Paranormal, but it doesn’t really take us into horror territory. There is a sequence where the filmmakers go on a night drive to investigate their friends in upper Michigan, and the mood gets creepy, almost like in Bugcrush. But in the end, things turn sunny.

Ariel and Nev Schulman are filmmakers in NYC, with partner Henry Joost (Ariel and Henry direct the film). (The "Schulman" does have a 'c'.) When Nev gets friended on Facebook by an 8 year old girl who seems to be an accomplished painter (and who paints Nev's photos and even his own portrait), and then older sister Megan Faccio gets interested in Nev, Ariel films the journey.

The videocam (with qualify ranging from full HD to grainy) lingers on Nev a lot. Age 24, he is indeed a slender, fit, very handsome man in the film, with the world’s hairiest chest and whitest teeth. Both of these catch the notice of Megan (cats have teeth like his, almost fangs). He is sweet tempered, and a bit of a social negotiator (younger brothers often are). Now the idea of online contact of any kind with an 8 year old (the younger sister) sounds dangerous, as if to call in Dateline’s Chris Hansen, but Nev is always discrete himself online (an important point of personal conduct in matters like this). But his “friends” are not, and eventually the brothers travel to Michigan to unravel a mystery of multiple identities (against Facebook policy) linked to family tragedy involving an autistic kid and a woman in rehab.  Yet the style and pacing of the film is like that of a thriller.

The film uses Google Earth to tell us where we are geographically (in Colorado and Michigan), quite effectively.

The link for the film is here.

You’ll have to see the end of the movie to get the meaning of the title, but I recall an indie film “Okie Noodling” from Bradley Beesley in 2001.

Attribution link for Wikipedia UP Michigan picture. My own visits to the area occurred in 1992 and 1999. Three other pictures here are mine, Kipton, Ohio (near Oberlin) on an October night. The look and feel is that of Michigan and Catfish.  The Schulman brothers would love this town for filming a Catfish II.

Update: Oct. 8

ABC 20/20 did a one hour report with Jay Schaedler retracing the film

Nev's line "they are complete psychopaths" gets repeated a lot. The 20/20 report characterizes Nev's experience as an online love affair with Megan (the "young adult", with one particularly explicit passage from "Megan"). He also says he was scared when doing the nighttime gumshoeing on the UP, and sent videos back home fearing they might not make it back.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Devil" starts Shyamalan's "Night Chronicles": another visit to Center City Philadelphia

Now, the career of M. Night Shyamalan seems to have moved to writing, specifically his “Night Chronicles”,  which seem to be like English-class-ready short stories. Canadian director John Erick Dowdle has given us his “Devil” (Universal and Media Rights Capital), and right from the beginning, we’re back in Shyamalan’s Center City Philadelphia, upside down (as if from “Inception”), maybe ready for a Sidney Sheldon epic. Quickly, Dowdle ushers us into a Market St. 45 story building, with five protagonists on an elevator. It gets stuck, and the mayhem starts.

The setup of the story reminds me of “Nine Dead” (reviewed here April 22, 2010). Although the media is billing the idea that one of them may be the Devil (or that the Devil or Diablo is somehow present), and a security guard (Ramirez, Jacob Vargas) thinks so, what really gets interesting is how the police, particularly a rather charismatic Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) get to the possibility of connections among the characters from almost no evidence. It would spoil things to say too much, but the Mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green), one of the five, starts out as a rather solid character and becomes severely tested.

The film, shot 2.35:1, remains surprisingly expansive, moving outside the stricken lift and shaft for most of its brief 80 minutes. The music score by Fernando Velázquez is effective (a bit resembling that of “Inception”) and the closing credits offer what sounds like an orchestral ballet suite (my ear picked up the key of F#-minor), much in the style of Stravinsky.

Next time let’s have a scene at the Phillies’s new ballpark (and get MLB involved, legally).

As a senior in high school, I had a chess-playing friend who called himself “Diabolitch”.

Universal’s official site is here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"The Black Balloon": a teenager "has to" take care of an autistic older brother

A recent film from Australia again dramatizes the idea of family socialization and the randomness of the way demands are made on people. This movie is “The Black Balloon”, from Australia (FFC) by way of NeoClassic Films, directed by Elissa Down.

Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield) is bright and athletic, and turning 16, and wants a normal teen experience as he has his first girl friend Jackie (Gemma Ward), a swimming star and lifesaving instructor. His father Simon (Erik Thomson) is an Army officer who expects Thomas to take over the family responsibility that was dealt to him through his parents’ “activity”. That is, Simon’s wife Maggie (Toni Collette) is pregnant again and supposedly on bed rest, so she is supposed to be watched (somehow Simon’s doctor had advised against the vasectomy), but the big problem is autistic older brother Charlie (Luke Ford), whom Thomas must watch and collar all the time. Charlie has his toy balloon, which titles the movie. (Nope, it has nothing to do with the black balloons that show up in employee cubicles when they turn 40!)

Charlie is in fact difficult to control, at one point running into a neighbor’s house to pee. Thomas is challenged to manage his brother physically. At one point, Thomas blows up, and tells his mother, “I want nothing to do with him. He’s not my responsibility,” when she retorts “He’s your brother”. Thomas stays with the program. In one scene, he teaches Charlie to say “Monkey”.

Get the message. Parents believe they have awesome power , to instill in their kids that they “are” the family their parents created (and must “join in” with it) before they become their own selves. Accepting the responsibility that comes from family membership seems as necessary as taking responsibility for the children one sires. In an individualistic culture it doesn’t sound healthful or fair, just necessary; otherwise parents couldn’t take the “risk” of having kids at all. Dr. Phil had a show about this one time, and had a lot of trouble with the issue.

At the end, Charlie gets into a musical revue, by autistic kids, and that almost ends the movie. But the real “end” is in the bathtub, where Thomas must accept the innocent play with soapsuds on his own body. The last line of the script is really funny.

The film is described as a “domestic epic” and was shot 2.35:1, but the DVD from NeoClassic reformatted it to 1.85:1; I prefer that DVD’s match the original film. There is a short “The Making of The Black Balloom” that shows a few of the scenes as originally intended.

The story is set in the early 1990s, when social dynamics were a little different than they are now with the Internet and cell phones.

The website for the film is here.

Buxton Agency provides this YouTube trailer:

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Last Train Home" makes China seem like another planet

The film “Last Train Home” (directed by Lixin Fan), a kind of companion to “Up the Yangtze”, is a stunning docudrama showing the mass migration of Chinese workers from the cities home to the “countryside” for the Chinese New Year, which occurs in the late winter. Shot in 1.85:1, it could have benefited from wider screen, or even Imax. It takes you to China, and makes you feel you’re on another planet, similar to our life in many ways, but so fundamentally different socially, and so hectic and cluttered.

Specifically, much of the film deals with Changhua and Sugin Zhang, who left their kids in the care of their mother (the kids’ grandmother) for city jobs. The daughter Qin has grown into a rebellious teen, leading to a family blowup at the end of the film, caught by the documentary filmmaker.
The film covers the mass crowds and overselling of tickets, and delay of trains in a February blizzard.
The life in the countryside appears to have some of the trappings of the old Maoist past, from the cultural revolution.

The conditions in the Chinese factories are crowded and unpleasant, and the workers live in crowded dorms. Still, there is some shopping and entertainment, but their hours are much longer than those in the US.

The values of US consumerism are questioned. Only American men have 40-inch waistlines, it is said.
The film comes from Canadian production companies (including Eye Steel Film and cable TV) and has theatrical distribution by Zeitgeist.

The website for the film is here.

Here is a clip about the film from the Toronto Film Festival.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Other City" examines HIV in Washington DC

The indie video film from Cabin Films and director “Susan Koch”, “The Other City”, portrays the state of the HIV epidemic in Washington DC, where over 3% of people are infected. The film is written by Jose Antonio Vargas.

The film definitely portrays it as having inundated the African American community, with the sharing of needles in public places a major factor. In 2007, Congress was finally persuaded, despite “moral” concerns, to fund needle exchange without conditions.

The film shows an HIV shelter having long waiting lists and running short on funding.

The slow death of one gay Caucasian male, Jimmy, 35, is portrayed. Jimmy was infected by age 17, but over time the cocktail of protease inhibitors became ineffective. It’s obvious that at one time he was an attractive, active person. His mother is with him, and his former apartment is shown being cleaned out.

There is a young Americorps volunteer who is incredibly “attractive”, sort of resembling a couple of major celebrities accidentally.

There is a rehab support group called “Courage to Change”, populated mostly by African American men. The name is misleading; it has nothing to do with the ex-gay “movement”. I believe the website is this.

The website for the film is this

The film is being shown with digital projection in Landmark E-Street’s largest auditorium. But the late Saturday evening audience was small.

TribeCAFilm provides the YouTube trailer.

Picture: Random shot of crowd at dress rehearsal for NSO Labor Day Concert, Washington DC West Capitol lawn (no connection to film).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"The Town": Affleck's second effort as a director, looks big; Charlestown has no "godfather"

In May 2002 I visited with actor Mark Parrish (“Mustang Sally”) in a Legal Seafoods in Prudential Center in downtown Boston. I remember catching him on a cell phone as he drove around the Dig getting there. On the way back, I took a street-smart tour of Boston, and believe I drove down through Charlestown, some of the same alleys as in the new movie directed and partly written by Ben Affleck, “The Town”.

The film (from Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures), based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan, deals with the “Irish Catholic Mafia”, where bank robbery is the main source of income passed down crime families. Ben Affleck himself plays long time thief Doug MacRay, abandoned by his mother in childhood, now just starting to develop a moral sense and desire to leave the “profession”. He develops a relationship with a female bank manager whom he had kidnapped, Claire (Rebecca Hall), while FBI Agent Adam (Jon Hamm) is hot on the trail of both of them.

The film shows some incredible car chases and shootouts, in the streets and later at Fenway Park (the famous Lansdowne Street, landing spot for homers over the Green Monster, included). The various disguises of the robbers are effective.

It’s interesting that Affleck, whom we think of as a somewhat intellectual person as well as physical, wanted to work on this material and develop it into a film, which some people will see as “The Departed II”, and which others will compare to the Australian “Square” movies or even the Swedish “Dragon Girl” thrillers. Could the movie have made room for a character like Lizbeth?

The script does, at a couple of points, go into how individual citizens not part of the crime families can be targeted and silenced, a very disturbing point. Visitors may want to check out the Lifetime film “Family in Hiding” (2006, Lifetime / Insight, dir. Timothy Bond) with Brenda Strong who is put in witness protection with her kids after witnessing a parking garage hit on a Los Angeles district attorney. In an age of Facebook, some people get forced into keeping low profiles.

Warner Brothers site for the film is here. Even though it is a major studio release, it was in several film festivals.

AP has a YouTube video of an interview with Ben Affleck (“Benjamin Geza Affleck”, 38), where he talks about this as a character-driven story, and also a story about how we are shaped by our environment. This is his fourth film in Boston.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Clash of the Titans" makes Sam Worthington his own avatar, again

Well, Sam Worthington looked good in “Avatar” and he plays the super hero Perseus, son of Zeus, in Warner Brothers-Legendary’s UK production of “Clash of the Titans”, a remake of the 1981 MGM smaller flick, this time directed by Louis Leterrier. Media reports have the 3-D version as having been conceived as an afterthought, given its success in Avatar, and I wonder if 3-D is on its way to becoming standard. The 2-D on even the ordinary DVD is crisp and gets a lot of depth with motion.

One can “appreciate” the film as a bit like a Fox 50s spectacle, except that the color tone (the film was shot on Tenerife) stresses browns and grays. The Greek mythology, of individual gods battling the “Titans” (not a football team) seems a bit superfluous to western Christian audiences, and the Biblical spectacles seem more compelling to me. But Perseus plays the role of a Greek Moses, protecting the privileged Earth humans from the wars of the underworld. At the end, Perseus resists the temptation on the Mount (Greek equivalent), as he turns down a crown, and Zeus’s offer for him to become a god on Olympus. A god lives forever, Zeus says. Perseus winds up playing the role of a Clark Kent, with no red kryptonite around.

The special effects are based on a mythology that replaces today’s machine dreams.

Warner Brother’s official site is here.

AP released an embeddable video where actor Sam Worthington talks about the movie.

Shame on Warner Brothers for not playing its trademark Casablanca music as part of its grand entrance (it never does with Legendary pictures), so watch it here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Turkish film "Bliss" examines "family honor" in spectacular settings

The Turkish film “Bliss” (“Mutluluk”), directed by Abdullah Oguz, based on the novel by Zülfü Livaneli, from First Run Features, explores the bitter topic of “honor killings” in third world or certain religious cultures. The concept is called “tore”.

As the film opens, Meryem (Ozgu Namal) lies near a lake bed, abandoned. It turns out she was raped, but her father thinks she has dishonored the family. He also accuses her of tempting the attacker, who remains unknown. The rest of the family turns against her. Her father sends her and her cousin Cemal (Murat Han) to Istanbul with the instructions that he should “eliminate” her. Cemal finds thathis own younger brothers are not aware of the concept or practice and is himself adrift. He makes the train journey anyway. Cemal, at a critical moment, will not do this and the pair go to a seaside village where they meet a retired professor Irfan (Talat Bulut) and wind up working with him his boat, and living in a kind of detached “bliss”. But eventually, jealousies intervene and the father tracks them down.

The film, while shot in ordinary 1.85:1, has spectacular scenery, of both flat and mountainous country as well as of Istanbul; it gives one the feel that (Asiatic) Turkey is on another planet, similar to Earth but different. The camera emphasizes browns and grays and subdued natural light, almost as if from a smaller Sun.

Politically and socially, the film is a bit of a surprise. Turkey is one of the most moderate of the Islamic countries, and I’m surprised that the practice would go on.

First Run Features has a site for the film, here.

Picture: Reception from DC Shorts, Friday.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

DC Shorts: "Gayby"; "Sunday Punch"; "Quartering Act"; "Just About Famous"; "Prayers for Peace"; :Somewhere Never Traveled"; Bonus: Mark Zuckerberg on display

On September 11, 2010, I watched Showcase 1 of the DC Shorts Film Festival, again at the Navy Memorial. One film stood out, but here they were, in order:

Banana Bread” (9 min, Barton Landsman) is a treat baked by Mom, wrapped in aluminum foil for her venturous adult son. It is not “crusty” and photogenic for Twitter or blog pictures, but it’s probably sweet, like Mom. But then the son goes out into the world, parks on an LA warehouse lot, and takes out a magnum from his trunk and assembles it. He proceeds to execute a major hit, blowing everyone away, while Mom keeps talking to him on his cell phone. Little does Mom know.

The Cortege” (“El Cortejo”, 14 min, Martin Seresesky, Spain) does not include Marcel Dupre’s “Cortege and Litany” organ piece. Instead, it shows life of people who dig graves for a living, and a widow who wants special favors, reserved only for blood family. Cinemascope

Gayby”, (9 min, Jonathan Lisecki). Matt and Jenn (Matthew Wilkas and Jenn Harris) had been college “sweethearts” of sort, but a decade later Matt, slightly ripened with a widow’s peak hairline and real hairy chest, has been living in the Village as openly gay. But Jenn (who may be a lesbian herself) has a problem. Her grandmother has left her a trust and she can only get her hands on the money when she has a child, the old fashioned (heterosexual) way, biologically. So they set up an event to “do it”. (She says she has even shaved her legs, although she thinks Matt won’t care. She also asks him not to "impale" her.) After the screenings, the filmmaker said that “gay people have kids for the same bad reasons straight people have kids” and noted that it is hard to shoot rooftop scenes in New York City (unless you’re making “Vanilla Sky”)– too many post-9/11 helicopters. But the idea that someone has to get (legally) married or have kids (that is, experience heterosexual sexual intercourse) to get an inheritance is a repeated theme in the movies (“The Bachelor”). Would gay marriage and surrogate parenthood, or just plain adoption, qualify?

Just About Famous” (14 min, Matt Matuma and Jason Kovacsev) explores entertainers who impersonate celebrities for a living. Among those targeted are Bill Clinton, “W.”, Sarah Palin, and Oprah Winfrey, and Elvis. And there is a drag queen who displays and talks about the results of “all that body shaving.” I wondered something here: tort law recognizes a “right of publicity”; does impersonation for profit infringe on “right of publicity”? Could somebody out there start mass litigation against impersonators?

The Quartering Act” (17 min, Stephen Theodore Bell) The title seems to refer to the Third Amendment of the US Constitution, about actually there was a law in occupied France about quartering Nazi soldiers. While waiting for D-Day liberation, a woman, living alone on a farm in Normandy, grieves the loss of her son in the French Air Force under De Gaulle (whose radio voice appears). She seems to have her own secrets. Three German deserters hoarding Nazi gold appear and she has to dispatch them. Made at Florida State, it sounds like a film that wanted to be a feature. With Alexandra Kamp-Groeneveld as the woman. The film reminds me of “The Retreat” (30 min) in 2002 by Minnesotan Darin Heinis, about Allied soldiers who find supernatural remnants of the Germans after the Battle of the Bulge; I tried out for a part in that film (maybe almost got it).

Hipster Job” (5 min, Thomas de Napoli and Jack Tomas). Some New Yorkers face peril at the wrath of Jehovah, including bedbugs.

Somewhere Never Traveled” (6 min, Ben Garchar). Two lovers carry on a relationship from real life into a film they make, on a deserted factory lot near Dayton, Ohio, in winter. It looks like Ohio. Stars Alexander Michael Goodman, whom I met the night before. The film shifts from 1:85:1 to 2:35:1 to show the embedded fiction, but that is done by cropping (in a big theater the film would not widen out). This is a midwestern, rust belt film from “the heartland”.

Prayers for Peace” (7 min, Dustin Grella). With chalkboard animation, some of it in black and white with splotches of color, Grella remembers a younger brother killed in action in Iraq.

Shovel Ready” (5 min, Austin Bragg). In the woods near Fredericksburg, VA, two men, each with corpses to bury, encounter one another. Definitely black comedy, a kind of takeoff on “The Trouble With Harry”. From the 48 Hour Film Project.

Sunday Punch” (19 min, dir. Dennis Hauck, Cinemascope). In a neo-noir style combining Quentin Tarrantino and Clint Eastwood, Hauck examines the exploits of a ring girl (Dichen Lachman as Jill), who burns all bridges to get out from under a local gangster. She’s more like a creation from the world of “Kill Bill” than a Million Dollar Baby. This is the most ambitious film of the set and begs to become a “big indie” feature for the Landmark world.

After the show, we had a Q&A with the filmmakers.

Many of these films were SAG certified and some had significant funding.

As a bonus, you may enjoy this five minute “reel short” from YouTube”, titled simply “Mark Zuckerberg.” I hope the gams aren’t too ladylike. But the short shows that it’s much better to use the real thing than an actor (even a look-a-like like Jesse Eisenberg) when making a movie about Facebook (as “The Social Network” from Columbia approaches). I guess if Mark plays himself in a real (not reel) movie, he would have to join SAG.

Here’s another good one (3 min) where Zuckerberg gets “Hot under the Collar”, link. Consider these two films as "comedy".

By the way, here's a sobering piece in the New York Times Sept. 12 by A.O. Scott, "Are films bad, or is TV just better?", link. The major studios have left a lot of original filmmaking to the small newbies, and the suburban multiplexes seem to go for the lowest common denominator. (I thinkk that AMC's premier showcase Tysons Corner Cinema in northern VA could show more "AMC Independent" offerings.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

DC Shorts: "Kosher Pig", "Katrina's Son", "Your Lucky Day", "Lifeline", and others

The DC Shorts Film Festival from September 9-16, 2010 is being held at Landmark’s E Street Cinema and the US Navy Memorial Theater (with its curved screen) near the National Archives.

Last night, Program Showcase 4 included several films with as much substance as many features. The eleven films were shown in the sequence printed.

Kosher Pig “(20 min, dir Eric Patton) starts with a girl of mixed Chinese and Jewish heritage in a confrontation with a handsome boyfriend (Steve West) in what appears to be a southern California town home. Gradually, in comic fashion with plays on words, ethnic tensions appear as she learns she was adopted by the Jewish family to rescue her from China’s “one child” policy that disfavored baby girls.

The Moon Bird” (14 min, Myles McLeod, UK) is a curious avant-garde experiment with animation in black-and-white Cinemascope. A girl confronts a sorceress with the help of a bird from the Moon, with all kinds of weird bugs around.

In the Hills of Deleij” (7 min, Paul Sage) sets up a confrontation in Darfur where a female UN photographer faces issues of self-defense and saving others. The film demonstrates the ethnic struggle and family ties in that society.

Delmer Builds a Machine"(2 min, Landom Zakheim) A little boy ends the world with a Machine built from his toys.

The Poodle Trainer”, already showed at AFI Silverdocs, reviewed here June 23, 2010.

Lifeline” (16 min, Matt Hines, USA) aka “L1feline”. The film starts with Hines introducing the short. It is more like a play than a real film, mostly consisting of two men on telephones: one a young African American male working a suicide help line, the other a late middle aged man released from prison but confronting life as a registered sex offender. There is a connection between the two. Disturbing stuff.

Out of Zinc” (2 min, Mattio Martinez, Germany). Watch your medicine chest (for aphrodisiacs). A gay ending.

L.A. Bag Brothers” (5 min, Rick Glenn). A bit of dragnet, and some trench coat men who don’t like cats.

Katrina’s Son” (15 min, Ya’ke Smith). This is the film that attracted me to the program. A little boy loses his grandmother, in front of his eyes, as Hurricane Katrina departs New Orleans. Later, in a San Antonio housing project, he has to confront a mother who rejects him. From Exodus films (link) , and a good example of filmmaking in Texas.

Breathe, Focus, Octopus” (5 min, Pilot’s Crew). I guess that during zen meditation, telepathy works. One gay male character tends to dominate. No real octopus (or cuttlefish) shows up, but they have interesting body language.

Your Lucky Day” (17 min, Dan Brown). This is a short film parody of the Coen Brother’s “No Country for Old Men”. Here, an old man shows up for a winning lottery ticket in a convenience store, and a young man tries to rob him, and all mayhem breaks loose. There is a lot of plotting and amoral behavior, even among the police, when they finally show up. I don’t know where this was filmed, but I wondered if it was Texas. Maybe plain old LA. In Cinemascope, this film showed the most advanced and professional filmmaking of the set.

The auditorium is very effective, but it did crop the screen for Cinemascope.

Afterwards there was a big reception inside the Memorial, and outside there was a jazz band.

I got to meet a filmmaker, Andre Dahlman, who has a film “Corner Plot” in Showcase 5, which I will not see. We talked about all the legal risks of the Internet and the problems documentary filmmakers face (both copyright issues and libel). Many projects don’t get done because of these problems. I suggested that the problem of “mass litigation” against computer users and now bloggers for copyright infringement would be a good subject for a documentary. (See “BillBoushka” blog, Sept. 8 and 10; see review here on Sept. 9 of “Going the Distance”.)

I believe the films in this festival are limited to 20 minutes. (That makes Carter Smith’s “Bugcrush” too long. I’d love to see it in a theater on a big screen.) DC Shorts’s motto is “Keep it short, keep it reel”, link.

DCFIlmAlliance interviews Jon Gann:

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Justin Long at his peak as he "Goes the Distance"; does film say that bloggers are destroying conventional newspapers?

There’s a cardinal rule in Hollywood in making romantic comedies: thou shalt not harm Justin Long. The “boyish” Justin is one of Hollywood’s most likeable actors, usually at home as a geek preventing the next 9/11 or EMP attack. (He did get hurt in “Jeeper’s Creepers.) Actually, his position is like that of Michael Cera (at least as Jason Schwartzman once put it).

But Long is actually 32, and, like Ashton Kutcher, is definitely in the July of his career. Physically, in “Going the Distance”, directed by Nanette Burstein, he looks almost as powerful and buff-sm ooth-chested as Tom Welling. And he (Garrett) is the nice guy except for one scene where he balks that his long distanced girl friend Erin (Drew Barrymore) hasn’t told him about her job offer as a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, 3000 miles away from his career as a boy band promoter in New York. What is it? Is she supposed to be the stay-at-home and become his servant? Is that what men want from marriage? I thought Garrett was above that. And "going the distance" also means pitching a complete game in baseball (especially if you're C.C. Sabathia).

Now, my most recent memory of Drew Barrymore was the $1000 video comedy “My Date with Drew” from a few years ago, where a man (Brian Herzlinger) much hairier than Justin anticipates compulsory “man lantern” treatment (he winds up losing one hair). Drew also appeared with Justin in “He’s Just No That Into You”.

Seriously, the setup is important. Though Garrett has a “people person” job, he has trouble with playing the right cues in relationships. But he meets Erin when she is interning for the summer at a newspaper, “The New York Sentinel”. She gets one piece published at the end, about a charity event, and badgers her boss Hugh (Matt Servitto) about a job. But the Sentinel falls to the problems of many newspapers and has layoffs. Hugh even says over the phone, “Why don’t you try blogging?” It’s as if bloggers (like me) were responsible (by lowballing competition) for regular reporters losing their jobs. Later Garrett says (trying to get Erin back to NYC), “newspapers are coming back.” Oh yeah? I wondered if the next line was going to be about the Righthaven mass litigation controversy. That could make another movie.

New Line’s site for the film is here. Oddly, it’s on Warner Brothers’s domain. Time Warner seems to be using the New Line brand very little, except for romantic comedies (“Sex in the City” films and “Valentine’s Day”). However New Line is going to make “The Hobbit”.

Here’s Jimmy Kimmel’s interview with Justin.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"Following" is Christopher Nolan's early neo-noir piece; it can be a bad habit

The attention to “Inception” must draw attention to an early “neo-noir” film from Christopher Nolan, “Following”, originally distributed in 1999 by Zeitgeist (production company is New Wave). This grain black and white film looks like it was shot in Super 8, and the camera really does follow the characters. Sony now distributes the DVD.

A young man and aspiring “writer” Bill (Jeremy Theobald) has a habit of following people on London streets, just out of existential curiosity, or so he is telling a police psychiatrist. He's not a stalker.  He says he is getting ideas for characters for his writing.  The film then tells his backstory. One day another young bloke Cobb (Alex Haw) first rebukes Bill at eye contact [and after Bill "follows" him into a cafe -- obvlious to the fact it is already lunchtime], and then takes Bill under his wing, breaking into apartments, rationalizing his crimes by the idea that people don’t know what they have until it is taken away from them. The sequence where Bill "gets caught" is extremely well handled, with body language and manipulative behavior by Cobb as well as defensive, submissive ("feminine") behavior of Bill.

In this short (70 minute) feature, things go downhill, as Jeremy eventually finds he will be double crossed and wind up with the police (after the inevitable murder), but not before the intervention of a blonde femme fatale (Lucy Russell).

I have fallen into this trap. Once on jury duty in Dallas in 1986, I found myself staring at a hippy-looking jury prospect who suddenly approached me in a hall outside and said “quit staring at me and following me around.”

Nolan’s early work (including “Memento”) reminds one a little of David Lynch, but in some ways it is even more personal, body-oriented, with camera attention to little personal details.

I could not find a site for this film at Sony, but here is a DVD link

Youtube trailer by DanFury.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

"Get Low": an old codger wants to attend his own funeral and raffle his assets

Maybe it’s logical that a person would want to attend his own funeral, and even reception, and then check out, if we could set it up this. In “Get Low”, set in southern Appalachia (filmed in north Georgia) in the late 1930s, an old bearded codger Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) approaches an undertaker Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) to do just that. In this regard, to "get low" is not to "be brought low". (The concept of the movie reminds me of a mystery novel from the 1950s, "It's Her Own Funeral".)

The final speech will indeed be a “do ask do tell” event, and it seems as though Bush has a deep confession to get off his chest. The very opening of the film, a burning cabin, foreshadows that. Later we learn that Bush lived 40 years “in the wilderness”, that is, as a Thoreau hermit in a mountain cabin. No wife, no kids, no lineage.

I have moments in my life that I wince at when recalling them, but nothing like what Felix has to divulge. There is some subplot over whether he really can speak effectively or whether a pastor (Bill Cobbs) can speak for him. At one point, Cobbs says “Forgiveness is free, but you have to ask for it.”

Bush, with no lineage, has an interesting approach to disposing of his assets (cabin and land): he will sell raffle tickets at the funeral, and the winner of the drawing takes all. So much for probate or "the reading of the will" (the John Knowles story).

The film, directed by Aarom Schneider and adapted from the “true” story by Chris Provenzano, was produced by Zanuck Independent (descended from Daryl F. Zanuck) and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, despite being made with Warner Brothers facilities. Sony’s site for the film is here.

There is some country-western music in the soundtrack in 5/4 time.

Sony Pictures Classics provided a YouTube trailer:

Monday, September 06, 2010

"The Last Exorcism": Fake documentary is fun!

Meta-movies make for an interesting concept, particularly when you want to offer a lot of commentary or “ideology.” So it is with Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a not so extreme evangelical preacher in Louisiana who does exorcisms. He says if you believe in Jesus and Heaven you have to believe in Satan and demons. So he half-welcomes the chance to make a Dateline-style docudrama of “The Last Exorcism”, his last. The low-budget HD video film, directed by Daniel Stamm, comes from Studio Canal (France) and Strike and is distributed by Lionsgate as part of its horror series. The style of presentation reminds one of “Paranormal” and even “Cloverfield.”

That is supposed to happen in the bayou, at the home of Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), whose teenage daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) has been behaving wildly, like an M.P., or perhaps like Regan in "The Exorcist".

Marcus has a partially deaf son and nice family himself (which the film lets dangle), and heads for the boonies. The car trips into the wilderness evoke a mood similar to like-minded sequence in Carter Smith’s horror flick “Bugcrush”, which I wonder if Stamm was familiar with. The teenage son Caleb (played by Texas youth Caleb Jones, who also composed a song for the score; I suspect we’ll see this young actor a lot; he reminds you a bit of Paul Dano) tries to chase them away and behaves rather assertively and independently. (Caleb says “I will hurt you”.) But eventually the exorcisms and docudrama start, and get pretty complicated. I’m not sure that the motel sequence works. But eventually we get to a conclusion and find out that Nell is going to deliver Rosemary’s Baby.

That of course asks who’s “guilty”. Louis tries to blame the boy at a nearby Cajun café, not knowing the boy Logan is gay (why the forearm shot?)

The official site from LionsGate is here .

Here’s a YouTube review that makes a point:

Are “fake documentaries” more fun? (As I remember, “Blair Witch Project” used this technique, as did “The Last Broadcast”, the later about the Jersey Pine Barrens Devil). Let me add that the script here has a problem: sometimes Cotton is asked to turn off the camera, but the movie story goes on, with muted speech for a few seconds.

I suppose the docudrama approach could be an effective way to deliver a “political memoir quasi manifesto.” The protagonist writes a fictitious screenplay, in which a character like him relates many relevant episodes. Then the protagonist is fired and then sued over the screenplay, and in the course of the litigation tells the rest of the story, with acted backstory flashbacks. In this setting, the embedded screenplay introduces the “fake documentary” approach.

By the way, LionsGate will deliver “Saw 7” – that is “Saw 3D” this fall. This was inevitable.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

"The American" (aka "A Very Private Man") probably doesn't know who he is working for

If you work abroad in the shadows, you have to cite a credible day job. Jack/Edward (George Clooney) tells local Italian villagers he is a photographer. In my novel manuscript (“Brothers, Too”) my character Randy is a history teacher most of the time. CIA agents and spies generally would make good high school social studies teachers. And the absences, in many states, can be covered easily by subs.

And in my manuscript, my protagonist’s employers want him to stay alive and health. There are signs be may be developing the bizarre disease they are tracking. I think that you would want to hold on to your agents if you expect an “Event” or “Another Blackout.”

Not so with Clooney. In fact, the movie “The American” (based on the novel “A Very Private Man” by Martin Booth) does not tell us who Clooney works for. He may not know himself. He just does hits. I suppose that the Russian Mafia is as good a guess as any for the friendly sponsor. The film opens with a particularly brutal hit in Sweden, and a plot context that might cross over to the “Dragon Girl” movies (Lizbeth, where are you? Oh, this film is too cleancut for tattoos and lesbians.)

So the film is what we say film should be: storytelling for its own sake.  Political agendas cloud the story. Yet, some of us can't resist them. Remember all those 70s thrillers, like "Chinatown" and "Parallax View"?  There was plenty of politics in the old thrillers.

Clooney insists that “this” (instance) is his last assignment. An old man and then Belgian woman (Thekla Reuten) gives him instructions as to what kind of weapon to build. (I didn't know you could build a precision rifle with free spare parts from an auto shop.) But the other characters are catching on. A cute young man (probably gay, and played by Finnish actor Samuli Vauramo – but not exactly a male “Lizbeth”) chases him but Clooney dispatches him in most opportunistic fashion. A kindly priest (Paolo Bonacelli), certainly above scandal himself, talks to George with both love and suspicion (like how good Clooney is with his hands.) And George isn’t supposed to make friends (and certainly isn’t supposed to go on Facebook), but Violante Placido plays the mistress who becomes his best confidante. She would have made a wonderful wife.  But she may just be too late, as Clooney figures out who the next target is (not hard to guess).  Clooney is no "Pie 'o' Pah", the interdominion assassin from Clive Barker's "Imajica".

The film is spectacular, intimate at times (in the Village), but with aerial shots of the highways that give the viewer a sense of an outsider (a technique not used in the comparable “Dragon” and “Square” thriller movies in theaters this year). (The film is 2.35: 1 and the aerial shots really would have benefited from Imax.) Focus Features is the distributor, as Universal treats this Quebec-Swedish-Italian production as foreign (about a third of the script is in Italian with subtitles). Dutch director Anton Corbijn directs (no DGC seal this time).

The small auditorium at Regal in Arlington at the 8:20 show Saturday night almost sold out. But the auditorium has to crop to show "2.35:1" aspect and the picture image is just too small. Wish this had been shown in a large auditorium.

Focus Features site for the film is here.

Hollywood Streams YouTube trailer.

Friday, September 03, 2010

"The Tillman Story": a former pro-football player's "fratricidal" death in Afghanistan and the coverup

Amir Bar-Lev’s film “The Tillman Story” (don’t confuse with “Truman Show”) , from the Weinstein Company, has a lot of visual impact similar to “Restrepo”: a lot of live footage of the war in Afghanistan, this a little earlier in 2004, and even a little of Iraq. In fact, it’s incredible that some of this footage exists.

But, of course, it is a moral and political movie. A pro football player, Pat Tillman, decided the day after 9/11 that he would serve his country, leaving a multi-million contract with the Arizona Cardinals, along with his younger brother Kevin, who might have become a major league baseball star. They enlisted in June 2002 (he was 26), and they moved into Ranger training. He would only rise to the E4 rank, but he would be involved in the Jessica Lynch rescue before going to Afghanistan. One day in April 2004, his platoon was divided into two “serials”, and he would get shot by friendly fire when emerging from a canyon.

The Army at once tried to cover up the incident, with one soldier told not to tell his brother anything on a cargo plane flight. After a few weeks, the family learned about the coverup from a reporter, and then battle for get the facts began. In time, the lawyer father Patrick Sr. secured a 3000-page briefing document, with many details “redacted”. Eventually, the Army IG investigated and blamed one retired general for the coverup. Patrick Sr. and Mary Tillman persisted, and eventually secured congressional hearings. All the evidence suggests that the coverup went to the very top, to McChrystal, and then to George W.   The administration really had thought for the first few days that it could turn Tillman's "heroism" into a political tool to support the war.

The film does show the unit cohesion among the Rangers, the close physical contact and the gung-ho attitude. Tillman is depicted as politically ambivalent, having read Noam Chomsky, and actually had been an academic star in college. An Army officer makes a snide remark about his supposed agnosticism or non-belief, as if he would go nowhere as a result, and was somehow more pliable, if special.

The Weinstein Company’s site . The company bought the film at Sundance. The company has protested the “R” rating.

Here’s a Q&A by Michael Moore on the film.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

in 1968, I saw "Valley of the Dolls" in downtown Richmond on my last night of freedom

Mark Robson’s ambitious 1967 film “Valley of the Dolls”, based on the novel by Jacqueline Suzanne, depicting pill-popping adventures of three ladies (Sharon Tate, Patty Duke and Barbara Parkins), has a particular claim to notoriety in my own life. It was the last flick I would see before my formal induction as a draftee into the Army in February 1968.

On Wednesday, February 7, I took a Greyhound bus from Washington down to Richmond, and got to the AFEES too late to be inducted that day. So they put me up in the Jefferson Hotel (since remodeled), and that one last evening as a civilian, I wandered down Broad Street in a mild foggy drizzle to find a movie. It’s the lilting song that I still remember; it still plays in my dreams sometimes. (I didn’t venture as far as Carytown.)

The widescreen film from 20th Century Fox was pretty ambitious, running over two hours. I needed time to dilate that night, as if the movie closed a whole chapter in my life (when the next one might lead to involuntary risk). Later I would have a roommate show up at the Jefferson, who would relate to me how he had been scarred by a chemistry accident.  That would be a bizarre way to start my Army period, given the political issue that would erupt 25 years later.  (Something like this happens in the 2012 movie 'The Candidates"; see Aug. 11, 2012.).
The first flick we would get to see on post privileges at Fort Jackson SC some weeks later was “Planet of the Apes”.