Friday, December 31, 2010

Finnish horror film "Rare Exports" turns into Christmas Santa Claus story, without Disney's "Clause"

It’s a bit of hidden wisdom that the Nutcracker ballet story takes place on New Year’s Eve, and I saw the Finnish horror fable “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale: The Truth about Santa Claus”, on New Years’s beggar’s night, that is, “hier soir”. The wide-screened but brief sci-fi-like adventure directed by Jalmari Helander is set in a backdrop of mountains (said to be the Korvatunturi) taller than those anywhere in Finland (Suomi), so they are probably CGI creations.

The beginning of the movie reminds one of “The Day After Tomorrow” as scientists find in artifact in a mountain perhaps of sawdust. We may be headed for Clive Cussler territory. A little boy Pietari (Onni Tommila) pesters his single dad about the discovery, and even gets grounded; but pretty soon the secret gets out. A golem has been found, and then there are more. They may be older men whose lives have past expiration dates, and becoming Santas gives them some more time.

Now, I’ve never wanted to be a Santa; it would be problematic. But this movie predicts a possible fate even for me, particularly for the childless.

I visited Norway and Sweden (as far north as Kiruna) in 1972, but didn’t have time for Finland, whose tlanguage is a bit of a mystery. Some of the people in the Northern Lapland have a partially Asian appearance.

A Disney “Santa Clause” movie this is not!

The distributor is Oscilloscope and one of the production companies was Icon.

The site for the film is here.

An earlier Finnish film that I saw in Minneapolis in 2002 was Joki (“The River”), directed by Rooka Poulsen, which presented interlocking stories from Finnish life (including a gay couple) with a time circle.

Wikipedia attribution link (author "Trainthh", CCSA 3.0 uported GNU) for picture from Finland.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Ice Blues: A Donald Strachey Mystery" (4th in a series): an "ordinary" but gay private eye makes his partner a mark

Ice Blues: A Donald Strachey Mystery”, based on the novel by Richard Stevenson, manages to put a lot of elements together in a gay-themed story. Donald (Chad Allen) is a gay private investigator with a “partner” Tim (Sebastian Spence), a New York Senate aide, who has been trying to get funding for a pet social program motivated what had happened to his sister. A mysterious donation leads to a chain of mysterious murders, law firms and other incriminating “donations” with Donald being strung up and tasered by loan sharks in a “rendition” scene.

I’m not sure that it all works, as the situations seem put together, although they show how easily ordinary people (gay or straight) can become marks for bad guys. The film tries to make the couple’s home life as “ordinary” as possible. Donald is a bit more comic than Magnum PI, and more up-to-date, and no he doesn't root for the Detroit Tigers.

The setting of the film, curiously, is Albany NY (there is one shot of the New York State center), but most of the film was shot in Vancouver.

The film is also the fourth in the “Strachey” series although I don’t recall encountering the series at the Reel Affirmations circuit.

The 85 minute film is directed by Ron Oliver, was produced by Here! and Shavick Entertainment, and distributed by Regent.

Here is Chad Allen’s fan site, link

Wikipedia attribution link for Albany picture.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Dorian Gray": when people become perfect pictures and vice versa (Oscar Wilde on Youth and Beauty)

There are numerous film adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s gothic horror novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, published in Lippincott’s in 1890, but Alliance/Ealing Studio’s 2009 adaptation, titled just "Dorian Gray", directed by Oliver Parker, screenplay by Toby Finlay, is “typical” and a modern horror period piece.

The DVD (from Entertainment One, perhaps connected to Summit ) may be of current interest now because Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”, reviewed here Dec. 20) plays the indulging Lord Henry Wotton (“The only things worth living for are Youth and Beauty” – Wilde’s value system). Ben Chaplin is the painter Basil, and Ben Barnes is the perfect Dorian. And perfect means looking like a teenager, without pimples, but also with never a hint of a widow’s peak. The image in the painting, of course, goes bald by recession.

In this version, Dorian “swings both ways”, disappointing Sybil, who, in the book, loses her acting ability (after “Romeo and Juliet”) over Dorian. Now that itself is a bizarre concept, than an actor can lose it (maybe like Schwarzenegger, to become a politician). In the film, Henry turns Dorian against the idea of taking “responsibility” by having children (feeding the “demographic winter” arguments). Basil confronts Dorian after the gay trysts, when Dorian says “I’m a god” and dispatches Basil.

The concept of falling in love with a picture, or an image, fixed in time, though, is provocative. It’s about fantasy, a kind of hedonistic passivity that prevents “real life”. At the opposite, one marvels that couples can age together and find one another interesting even as they age.

If one is going to look perfect forever, one won’t indulge in cigarette smoking, which is bad for the circulation in the legs.

Of course, the “painting” expresses another concept, perhaps a time-lapse of how one will age, presenting the idea that over space-time we are all young and we are all old (if we live long enough). And we will look it. It strikes me that Dorian Gray is a kind of Benjamin Button in double reverse.

In the film, mirrors, little hand ones, look almost like iPhones. Toward the end, the time scale of the film accelerates, and cars (and the London Underground) are introduced. Dorian cannot play the piano without blood on his hands. (The soundtrack has him playing a jazzy "St. Louis Rag" in waltz slow waltz rtythm.) In a penultimate scene, Dorian notices a subtle change on his chest, not welcome by him; actually, the "sign" had appeared in the "bacchanale" scene [where Basil "approaches" him] at the film's midpoint.

“Pleasure is different from happiness. Some things are more precious because they don’t last”. Later, Dorian says to Lord Wotten, “I am what you made me. I tried to be a good person.”

It’s interesting how one can compare people to pictures, which happens a lot in this movie. The film also animates the painting (a concept that occurs in the Harry Potter movies). A featurette on the DVD shows how the director combined action, green screen, 3D CGI, and animation.

In one of my own manuscripts, I explore the idea that a “new angel” maintains youth permanently, and absorbs the experiences of other souls that consolidate into him and live (contracted) occasionally in him. The new angel does not have children, but must draw on the consciousness of other that did (so one of the “ordinary people” in the characters is challenged to father a child at last). The ordinary angel has had children but in time become vulnerable to temptation. The angels seek permanence, not a continuous future.

But in the end, Dorian Gray becomes a kind of Casino Jack.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Casino Jack": A biographical satire (like "Social Network") with no one to love; a body slam to super-lobbyists

I could compare “Casino Jack” to “Fair Game” and “The Social Network” as another example of “historical satire” with artistic license, but compared to the other two films, this latest one over the Christmas seasons is pure slam dunk, with no characters to like. You laugh at them, not with them. At one point, Jack Abramoff’s wife (Hannah Endicott-Douglas) tells Jack (an aging Kevin Spacey), “we have no friends, just people we do business with.”

The action in this movie is frantic, jumping from Washington to Miami to Michigan constantly, racing to make itself into docudrama. The opening scene shows Jack talking to himself, not filling up the anamorphic image, about not wanting to fail competitively and be brought low.

So super-lobbying, not just selling ideas from people on K Street who say “we give you the words”, but buying people off, becomes the way to self-concept. Call it social manipulation, to the extreme.

The characters in “Casino Jack” are deteriorating physically, going bald in the legs (despite Jack’s protestations that he works out every day), whereas in “The Social Network”, the characters are all at least young and virile, and for all their conniving, they created something, a model of human interactions that seems to remove one from responsibility for their results.

In fact, sidekick Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) is almost a caricature of the “cigarette smoking man” from X-files, while both Abramoff and DeLay become icons of hyprocrisy.

In the final scenes (Abramoff’s downfall starts with a simple phonecall to his Blackberrry when he is trying to pitch a Biblical movie script to Paramount to star Russell Crowe – he teaches screenwriting in prison, about the beginning, middle and end). But the funniest scene may be the real question from John McCain, given his performance in the final hearings over “don’t ask don’t tell” later.

Abramoff tries to play the Chopin G Minor Ballade in one scene, and the Chopin gets orchestrated later, along with some switched-on Bach.

It looks like I missed the Alex Gibney documentary “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” (Magnolia Pictures), but it’s now in my Netflix queue (it can be played instantly).

The new film is directed by George Hickenlooper (Canada, Ontario) and written by Norman Snider.

The film is distributed by “Art Takes Over” (ATO Pictures) with site here.

Clever Movies YouTube trailer (may require subscription and log in).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Made in Dagenham": a p.c. docudrama history of equal pay for women (first in the UK)

For me, the most arresting scene in Sony’s (and director Nigel Cole’s) “Made in Dagenham” is near the opening, where the shift whistle resounds through the theater’s Dolby Digital system, and on a Cinemascope scene the “machinist union” girls (in Britain, no less, back in 1968) start working like robots. It’s like a nightmare from “Metropolis”. “Real life” involves learning to work, and the bourgeoisie, or “intelligentsia” is, according to left wing (and sometimes Red state as well) logic, parasitic.

But the rest of this docudrama seems set up to make all the arguments for equal pay for women in the workplace in politically correct format and sequence. And most of the debate points seem to be group-oriented or partisan. For example, Britain couldn’t sustain a Labor Party if the unions got everything they wanted without a fight. Union leaders wouldn't have jobs with all their perks if workers really got from them what workers need. [In fact there is a line about whether Karl Marx himself was male chauvinist, or merely "Groucho".] And we see women in high places against equal rights for their own. We also see executives from Ford in Detroit (we get to see one scene from the Motor City as it looked in the 60s, when it was just starting to go downhill) making the argument that if they have to pay women equally in Britain, they can just pull all their factories. The threat of offshoring was known well as early as the 60s.

And, while watching this film, I kept thinking, Ford did not get the Bush-Paulson-Obama bailouts.

Seriously, when you want to make a film about a social justice issue, you have to decide how to spin it. In this case, there is a central incident, a 1968 strike by the machinists, which imputes all the other large scale political questions. (True, in a couple years, most major countries, including the US, were passing equal pay laws on the basis of gender – inviting an eventual blowback debate about the “family wage” from the right.) This film goes for the “greatest” common divisor. It makes all the points, but gingerly. But there are real characters, real working class families, real British flats, and real tragedies. Yet if you wanted to make a similarly-spirited movie about the in-progress repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”, the task would seem to be much harder.

The film also recalled to mind a much older union film, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. Also “Matewan” (reviewed here April 7, 2009).

Here is Nigel Cole’s own account of his film (through Landmark Theaters), link. I saw it early Sunday Evening at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington, with a fair crowd given the snow.

Here’s Sony’s official site, link

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"True Grit": great filmmaking, relentless Coen Brothers, but somewhat faithful as a remake

The Minnesota Coen Brothers turn from black comic irony to a more literal remake, of the 1969 Paramount western “True Grit”, based on Charles Portis’s novel.

It’s even the same studio (Paramount), but this time the brothers offer full wide screen, and countryside that looks closer to the Ozark country of Arkansas and Oklahoma. The film was shot in the Texas Hill Country, in the winter (but there’s one good shot with some dry light snow), and New Mexico (there’s one distant shot of the Sandia front range, that is out of place). The older film had geography off by about a thousand miles.

What the brothers offer here is witty dialogue and characters solving problems, in ways that relate to the frontier, the “Midwest” of the 1870s. In this kind of world you do what you have to do. You watch other people’s back, and you can say some funny things doing so.

Hailee Steinfeld plays 14-year-old Mattie, who is certainly a prodigy intellectually and in business matters, and she is very determined to honor and avenge her father’s slaying. Jeff Bridges, a bid of a codger, plays US Marhsall Rooster Cogburn, and Matt Damon plays itinerant Texas Ranger La Boeuf. (Where is Shia?) Mattie has to handle them both, as well as villain Josh Brolin (also in “No Country for Old Men”). The climax of the movie is a bit of happenstance, and recalls the dangers of spelunking, with Mattie in a situation not so unlike James Franco’s, but fortunately there is help. There is an epilogue, where we learn what happened later (Mattie never married – hint). That conclusion takes place in Memphis in 1903, hardly the Wild West.

There is a sequence in the middle where the tag team approaches a shack on the open range at night, that recalls a bit the kind of work the Coen Brothers have done before. There’s no way to avoid a body count, and this time it’s not quite as funny.

I bet, however, that the film waits in line for Best Picture.

You can see Paramount’s original casting call website for the role of Mattie in the movie here.  The official site for the film is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Arkansas mountain scenery.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Santa Clause 2": A contract says Santa has to get married to keep his job! (another "Marty"?)

Well, “Santa Clause 2” certainly is a pun of a title. Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), as a “Santa”, faces “de-Santification” unless he gets married within 30 days. It’s written into his contract. I wonder how many jobs require you to be married. It happened in the 50s sitcom “My Little Margie” with the character Freddie, and “Motel 6” used to hire only married couples to run its properties. (The 1955 movie “Marty” is practically based on this premise. And the first page of John Grisham's "The Firm" mentions the idea for recruiting by a rogue law firm.)

There are bad things about de-Santafication. Your beard shortens and you lose your masculinity, or at least your hormones. This all sounds like Army barracks talk. (Don’t look at your legs.) You might lose your humanity, or you might regain it. It all gets rather Freudian.

You have to wonder how Santa got his son, who is on the “naughty list”. And then the movie plays with reality: there is a substitute Santa, who is about to become a puppetmeister and turn everyone into a toy. It gives this Walt Disney sequel (2002, directed by Michael Limbeck) a chance to spend about an hour in alternate universe reality.

The first “Santa Clause” (1994), had been based on the premise that a man who accidentally kills Santa must replace him.

Now there are some movies called ‘Santa Claus” without the legal contract, for example Robert Zemeckis’s 2004 Imax “The Polar Express” (based on Chris Van Allsburg’s fantasy) takes a kid on a fantastic Christmas Eve journey by train across winter wastelands to the North Pole, which turns out to have quite a community. That adventure really worked.

I see that I talked about "It's a Wonderful Life" on a posting Dec. 23, 2007; NBC aired it tonight (the "Santa Clause 2" aired on ABC). I think this year, there is some verification of the idea that the life of just one person really makes a difference. That's me.  I say that after watching almost a decade of growing nihilism. There is an idea, if "I'm not respected, why am I here?"  You see where that has led. But the 1946 classic film took us there, as Stewart's character (practically forced to jump in the river to save an angel and rediscover his own courage)  is shown by the angel what kind of a "Pleasantville" his home town could have become without him. I could say, I sought no one's permission to write my book and tell my story online for the past 15 years, regardless of "the privilege of being listened to."  Had I not drawn probably hundreds of thousands of visitors for a free story, I wonder if we would have "won" in Lawrence v Texas, overturned COPA, and now, just in the past two weeks, finally repealed "Don't Ask Don't Tell".  One person, working clandestinely but in plain sight can make all the difference.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Rosenstrasse": Back story of 1943 protest in Berlin told from a modern family's perspective

It’s pretty common that when people want to make movies, they want to tell the backstory of some traumatic event or sequence in the past, which over time has become a mystery to others.

To avoid making it either a history 101 lesson, or a possible exercise in self-indulgence, one has to set up some relationships in the present day, facing challenges that lead the characters to dig back into the past.

Such is the case with the 2003 German film “Rosenstrasse”, about the week-long protests by Gentile wives of Jewish husbands held in a building on Rosenstrasse in Berlin in 1943. The protest could not become a model of how to resist the Reich, but rather in the events that would unfold it would show the intensity of blood relations as many people experience them.  The protest, and cinematic depiction, could be taken as a warning: a group may believe it is favored by those in power, who give it a better life, only to fall into its own trap.

The film starts in New York in 2000 when Ruth Weinstein (Jutta Lampe) goes into formal Orthodox mourning at the passing of her husband. Hannah (Maria Schrader) is puzzled, particularly when a cousin shows up with a picture of a woman Lena (Doris Schade), now 90, who had helped Ruth escape as a little girl. Hannah goes to Berlin to interview Lena, while pretending to be a professional journalist investigation cross-faith marriage.

There is a scene at a Berlin train station from which I took a train to Dresden during a trip in May 1999.

The film, sharp looking in full wide screen, builds up emotional intensity, using some classical music, including the Franck violin sonata. The structure rather reminds one of “Sophie’s Choice.”

The film is directed by Margarethe von Trotta and was originally distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, but now the DVD comes from Sony.

The closest I could find for a site of the film is SG’s catalog here (look in 2004).

Wikipedia attribution link for Berlin picture.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"The Fighter": Paramount puts every indie company together for this quasi-Aronofsky flick

Well, I wasn’t thinking that we could use another boxing movie (after all of “Rocky” movies, “Raging Bull”, “Million Dollar Baby”, and “Cinderella Man”), but “The Fighter” popped up for the Christmas Oscar-entry season,

And it is weird.

The story concept sounds appealing. “Marky Mark Wahlberg” plays “Irish” Micky Ward, who saves his distended family (in blue collar Lowell, MA) by training his way up to a climactic welterweight match with Shea Neary (Anthon Molanari) in London – after his half brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale, aged with widows peaks from his role in “American Psycho” a decade ago) sinks into drug addiction after losing to Sugar Ray. But he has to accept Dicky back into the “family” to train him first.

Although carrying the brand of the Paramount Mountain (or is this “Paramount Vantage”?), AMC advertises this film is independent, with good reason. Including in the production credits are Rogue Pictures (Relativity), The Weinstein Company, and Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler” and of course the recent “Black Swan”, and presumably Protozoa Pictures). Why does the film belong to Paramount instead of Universal (normally connected to Rogue), or why didn’t TWC (The Weinstein Company) distribute it (going head on with “The King’s Speech”?) This is certainly big time art house fare for grownups.

The film is directed by David O. Russell (very much in Aronofsky style, as if Darren saw boxing and ballet as interchangeable).  I wonder if Clint Eastwood took a look at this one. But an Eastwood film would have been "quieter".

One important point; Dicky - it's even obvious in the early scenes -- has brain injury from all of the punches he has taken. Boxing is still the one sport where the object is to maim the opponent.

Picture: I missed the eclipse, but the Moon looks good under high clouds. This summer we’ll find aliens on the Dark Side, and another "Skyline" (aka Cloverfield) invasion of LA.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"The King's Speech": King George VI overcame stuttering but "they gave him the words"

“We give you the words.” That was the pitch made to me at an “interview” in the spring of 2002 for a “job” pitching life insurance conversions, after my career-changing layoff-retirement at the end of 2001. And King George VI of Britain, perhaps a quasi-accidental monarch at the outset of World War II, was given the same task, to speak not for himself but for the British peoples.

The other history here is that George VI (Colin Firth) was more “worthy” of the throne than his brother, who had misbehaved (with women), although few people knew about his stammering.

All this is the subject of the funny period piece from Tom Hooper and The Weinstein Company, “The King’s Speech”, which played to an almost sold-out audience at Landmark’s E Street on a Monday night. The script was written by David Seidler.

Now I gave a speech on my own book in Feb. 1998, while still on crutches, at Hamline University, in an event arranged by a college senior and televised on cable afterward. And I got to speak for myself.

The climactic ten minute speech, with pauses matching the rhythm of the famous A minor Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, comes to a climax when the speech (not his words) summarizes Hitler’s philosophy as “Might makes right.” Already, sandbags and bunkers are appearing in The City of London, in mid 1940. The Battle of Britain would soon follow.

Of course, George wouldn’t make it without the speech therapy for years (Geoffrey Rush as Lionel, not exactly a Luthor). And his lessons were nothing like those of Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” (1965, which I remember seeing the day before a friend’s wedding). George really couldn’t have said the lines about The Rain in Spain. The idea that cigarette smoking could help relax the speaker is a bit off-putting if very much in period.

The technology of the time is lovingly displayed, to the point of directly recording speeches onto phonograph records (78s).

The film remains in standard aspect ratio, which allows the close-ups to work.

The audience did find the British humor funny and bonded well with Firth's character.  I don't think that Prince William will ever have such a challenge (if Charles becomes King, William will start making the movies about the environment ("Harmony II", etc) and Landmark will show them).

It's interesting to me that the libertarian-oriented news anchor John Stossel overcame stuttering, as documented here. I met Stossel at a lunch for The American Experience in Minneapolis back in 2003.

Two of the pictures: I speak in 1998 at Hamline, and get a grand introduction.

Picture below, a post 9/11 speech (Feb 2002) I gave at a Unitarian Church near Minneapolis.

Note: The word "Edward" appears in the URL name of this posting (as cataloged) instead of "George" because of a typing error.  "George" is intended. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Bhutto": As much a history of Pakistan as a biography

Bhutto”, from First Run Features and Yellow Tag Films, and directed by Duane Baughman and Johnny O’Hara, opened this week at Landmark E-Street in Washington. The website for the film is (website url) here.  A Sunday Evening performance was almost full. Baughman and Mark Siegel were present Saturday night and Sunday afternoon for Q&A in Washington.

The film is a biography of Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister of Pakistan, and assassinated in a complex and disputed event at the end of 2007 when she tried to return to the country after a supposed agreement with Musharraf to drop corruption charges. There was another attempt before which she escaped. It seems as though there was no way she could escape her fundamentalist enemies.

But the film is also a history of Pakistan, “The Land of the Pure”, formed when Britain let go of the Indian subcontinent, to separate the Muslim population from the Hindu. Much of the history concerns Pakistan’s desire to match India in having nuclear weapons, which it finally got. But Bhutto, a rare female head of state in a Muslim country, modernized the country for ordinary people, particularly with high tech as well as health care. Nevertheless, much of Pakistan (the world’s seventh most populous country) lives in poverty. The film shows a lot of the country on location.

Bhutto was not a feminist, the film says, even though she was very much an individualistic intellectual. She often spoke of the glory days of Islam, in the middle ages, when it led the world in culture while Europe was in the Dark Ages.

The film has a still shot of RFK in the 60s that is not that flattering.

AlJazeera English provides this YouTube video on the end of her life:

Wikipedia attribution link for Bhutto plaque.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Tron: Legacy": Now, users are what our "java methods" are for

There was a great line in the 1982 film “Tron”, namely, “users are what our programs are for”. Given the use of systems development methodology at the time (whether Pride-Logik or SDM70) in the old mainframe world, it hit home then. I saw that Disney movie at the Inwood Theater in Dallas, which usually showed independent fare.

In the 2010 Disney “Tron: Legacy” (aka “Tron 2”) , the line is something like “we fight for our users”. In fact, end users (who are supposed to control computing in modern business) are a dying breed earlier in the film, particularly in an alternate virtual reality universe. And shouldn’t “programs” be called “methods”? And, by the way, in business, a "legacy system" is usually an older mainframe system feeding an end-user through a data access layer interface. 

Now the founder of the ENCOM system (Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges) has disappeared, presumably through a wormhole into a weakless alternate universe. It turns out he is indeed living in the cyber world he had created, not exactly Second Life. The universe seems to have no geography; it is a barren plateau of gray silicone cliffs, and plenty or autobahns and tunnels, except for a “Tower of Ned” at one point near the portal. It is a kind of inverted Matrix. Much of the time the film seems to be almost in black and white, with splashes of orange.

Kevin’s son Sam, played by Minnesotan Garrett Hedlund, may in fact be another caricature of Mark Zuckerburg, although his demeanor is nothing at all like the Facebook founder.  (No aspiness, no virtual social network that lets you keep your old sense of self.) The Master Control Program is nothing like Facebook (or my “Do Ask Do Tell”), although the way Sam finds it, in a run down Vancouver bar called Flynn’s, in a back room. Like many kids, Sam is real good at typing Unix commands fast.

Once in the alternate reality, Sam is stripped on camera (not much to see) and pasted into a form-fitted virtual reality suit, like the kind they used to depict in Omni. Quorra (Olivia Wilde) is not exactly “most gorgeous gal”.

Again, the 3D is moderate, and does tend to give us a “real” experience in an alternate universe.

Disney’s official site is here.

Disney provided “The Sirens Dress Sam” clip on YouTube.

Picture: No, not "Tron": La Poisson Rouge in NYC

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Picture Me: A Model's Diary", shows the underside of the world of fashion modeling (not as glossy as "Septemeber Issue")

Strand Releasing has a DVD of the film by Ole Schell and Sara Ziff, “Picture Me: A Model’s Diary” (from 2th Frame and Digital Bazooka), a documentary about the lives of new female fashion models.

The models explain how they are in constant debt, especially to their agents, as they start out in the business.

Many of the models come from Eastern Europe (as from Belarus), as well as South America (Brazil). Some start modeling as early as 14. Some are exposed to controlled substances and risky behavior, at ages that would seem to be illegal. On the other hand, one father regrets his daughter’s desire to enter modeling, even if she eventually makes a lot more money because of “lookism”, rather than continue her education. Finally, the young woman, at 27, gets into higher education (Columbia), after learning how to write an “application essay”. She has to face the idea that her life will have new phases.

The models also describe the process of casting fashion shows (just a touch of “September Issue”, maybe, and maybe a bit of “Married at the Mall”); one of the models had just graduated from film school.

One model says she feels she is becoming a “living doll” and that the “powdered shell of herself takes over”. Then she says that others in the industry don’t see models “as people.” That reminds me of my own father’s concern 50 years ago, “You don’t see people as people.”

There is a lot of ageism, and women lying about their ages to get work. A woman said that when she signed in as 24, she was the oldest on the intro sheet. Eventually people say, “She’s over.” The models then feel “disposable.”

Then a model says “I almost yawned on the runway today.”

The film occasionally uses a “clownish” style of animation.

The film is shot in New York and Milan.

The official site is on Myspace, here.

Viso has an official YouTube trailer.

The DVD has a brief extra on the Gen Art

The DVD was made available to me as a sample from Strand. Some of the color looks a bit overexposed. It will be available for sale Jan. 11, 2011.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader": a painting provides the portal to the alternate universe

Well, the Narnia movies confirm the high regard we have for “The Cat” as one of the wisest of animals. In “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treasder”, directed by Mihael Apted (from 20th Century Fox instead of Disney, with Walden Media) Aslan is back, with the voice of Liam Neeson. The lion reminds me of the alpha male on an Animal Planet episode where a Canadian zoologist gets (with body language) the lion to accept him as a member of the pride so he can film it in feasting mode. I’m not up on the theology of C.S. Lewis, so I can just interpret this on the plane of what I see.

Once again, the kids (Georgie Henley and Shandar Keynes) go through a physics “wormhole” to get to Narnia in an alternate (perhaps weakless) universe, of fantasy. The portal is provided by an ocean and ship painting, which animates (in the Harry Potter movies, pictures and newspapers animate too, without the need for computers or iPads, without actually becoming portals as here). The kids wind up needing to prove they can not only swim but surface and survive in deep and open water, so I guess that proves everyone needs to learn to swim,

Narnia looks like an interesting, if ancient and somewhat limited world (the edge of the world is a great abyss), with mysterious mists, an island of evil, and a White Witch (Tilda Swinton). But Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is pretty much the ideal or perfect older teen, ready to be King (no grandmother Queen that can live to 100). Caspian has the bravery of Prince Harry but the stability and generosity of William; but there’s no Kate Middleton on the scene yet.

The opening of the film, in this world, refers to the (WWII) military draft, as men are expected to sign up to protect Mother Country. It’s as if a draft could come back some day.

The 3-D in this film was unobtrusive and subtle, and serve to keep the alternate world in visual focus. To me, a wave-wall in the final scene with Aslan puts a boundary on the film, literally. But what a wonderful cat. I will expect that much of the next stray who invites himself in.

The Narnia site now points to this film.

Chronicles Of Narnia 3 Trailer 2

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Michael Moriarty and Wyatt Page meet in a black and white wasteland, two of history's most opposite characters

In a drab, black and white world in a communal city that might be on another planet, a bedraggled man who believes he is Hitler (Michael Moriarty) meets a another man (Wyatt Page), better kept, who believes he is Christ. That’s the setup of the film “Hitler Meets Christ”, based on the same play by Moriarty. The film comes from Pathfinder Pictures and Third Tribe Productions, and is directed by Brendan Keown.

Moriarty’s character struggles with whether he wants to slip into oblivion and not exist, or whether he feels pride in his unique notoriety (he had pretended he could be a god). Page confronts him with the idea that he is mostly about hate and nihilism (and holding those how had made him a “loser” responsible), whereas Page also says that he has to deal with the problems of being a prodigy and looked up to by everyone. Page says he has forgotten how to sleep.

There is an interesting passage about the attitude toward homosexuals (after calling Page a “prude”), and how Goering fit into the issue.

There is a line, “have you ever heard God laugh?”

The two men wander in a sanitized urban wasteland, alone most of the time, with occasionally some blank nameless faces around, sometimes some light snow. Is this what the hereafter is like, and endless purgatory, sort of a stage for observation by a puppetmesiter? The BW photography gives the film the look of Christopher Nolan’s “Following”.

At the very end, they have a final confrontation that starts with Moriarty saying he was the world’s biggest loser and had put a curse on his people, who would have to be silent forever. Page decides he does not have to forgive this one man, and issues a lightning bolt. Moriarty’s character snakes off “the stage”, coming to nothing.

The official site is overlaid with a Chinese site; I don’t know why. Mozilla Web of Trust says the site is OK.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"The Tourist": Johnny Depp is two-faced as a Mr. Everyman, and Angelina Jolie is a kind of Valerie

Johnny Depp is another Hollywood “Everyman” (literally, as I read it in high school, maybe), a little quirkier than Tom Hanks, a little more astringent than Leo, and in “The Tourist”, from Columbia (GK Films and Spyglass), directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, his is indeed two-faced, like the Janus lock in a couple of hotel rooms in the movie (rather like a similar lock in “The Most Dangerous Game”).

One the one hand, he Frank Tupelo, is an ordinary 40 year old, on vacation in Europe after losing his wife to an accident, and teaching math in Wisconsin (of course), and an avid fan of spy novels. Maybe he’s a computer hacker. But there’s another side. People’s appearances can change and they can be the same person, across a time arrow, or maybe after surgical intervention. (Remember ‘Face Off”?) I’ve never heard of someone’s losing four inches of height to plastic surgery, though.

Enter Elise (Angelina Jolie), a kind of Valerie Plame, working inside, and part of her job is to fall in love with men she meets as an operative. Here, we think she’s supposed to befriend a man on a speed train from Paris to Lyon who looks like a man running from Mafia loan sharks, so that the invasive police sitting nearby will think they have their man. Really, how probable is that?

I love train movies (like “Murder on the Orient Express”), but here we suddenly are in Venice, with your typical spy movie using the geographical anomalies of the setting to score plot points.

Yes, a movie like this is all about plot, story, and manipulation. But it’s a little bit less of an adventure than the classic films like this in the 60s (“Charade”, etc).

The official site is this.

Artisan offers this trailer about the stars’ work in the film:

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA photo of Venice

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"WikiRebels: The Documentary": Swedish Telefilm with up-to-date history of Wikileaks, Assange, and interpretations

WikiRebels: The Documentary” (“med l├Ąckan som vapen “) is a documentary film for Swedish television, available on YouTube from “Zerwas2ky”. A link from the Swedish telefilm network describing the film is here.

There is a scene at the “Chaos Communications Congress”.

Wikileaks was founded in 2006, and located much of its major infrastructure in Stockholm because of Sweden’s unusually favorable “freedom of speech laws”.

One of the early leaks concerned the use of interrogations to break down detainees by the US Marines at Guantanamo. Another leak concerned waste release in the Ivory Coast in Africa.

Sarah Palin bypasses US “transparency” laws by using a private email account for official business. In the beginning, only Julian Assange and Daniel Schmidt know how the operation works.

In 2008, Wikileaks exposes the over-extension of Iceland’s banking system, as already documented by the opening of Sony’s “Inside Job”. Wikileaks expands much of its infrastructure in Iceland.

Army PFC intelligence specialist Bradley Manning leaks sensitive materials from Iraq involving carelessness with civilians resulting in friendly fire casualties, and is turned in by a “co-conspirator, but Wikileaks winds up with a YouTube video of “Collateral Murder” (April 7, 2010 on my “disaster movies” blog; music from Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” plays. Assange says that the military treated the incident as a “video game” and bragged. The Pentagon accused Wikileaks of putting military and civilian targets overseas at risk.

Wikileaks would start editing, redacting and some fact-checking of the huge volumes of documents it would release. But WikiLeaks would become a Wiki-like encyclopedia of the Iraq war.

Assange lives on the lam, with a backpack and laptop, hosted by "friends" everywhere.

The editor of the film is Michael Halberg, and the reporters are Jesper Huor and Bosse Lindquist.

“Democracy without transparency is not democracy; it’s just a word.”

Note: On Dec 13, media reported that a secret grand jury is meeting in Alexandria, VA to consider charges against Assange in the US.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (and "A People's History of the United States")

Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” is another straightforward documentary (78 minutes) of a major American “progressive” activist (b. 1922), directed by Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller, narrated in large part by Matt Damon. The film, from 2004, was distributed by First Run Features.

The title of the film sounds almost like it comes from relativity theory. Let's say you can't be indifferent, to how you can depend on the unseen sacrifices of others.

Some of the most interesting part of the documentary involves his teaching at “black” colleges in the South, while keeping a relatively low profile at these colleges. Later the film deals with the effect of the Vietnam War American bombings on civilians.

His famous book is “A People’s History of the United States,” and he is shown talking to college students about his book (like in “my lecture” at Hamline University on my own book in 1998). Damon’s narration points out that the book necessarily must be one-sided, to show life from the viewpoint of stepping into other people’s shoes.

Zinn does talk in general terms, of “class conflict”, “the power of the establishment”. “People who have no power … once they organize … have a power no government can suppress.”

Zinn said he was “looking for a people’s history and it didn’t exist.” Damon says “there is no such thing as impartial history.”

“To be radical is to grasp the root of a problem, and the root is us.”

“Don’t ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it.”

Speakers include Noam Chomsny (of course), Marian Wright Edelman, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden, and Alice Walker.

On the DVD, Mr. Zinn talks about the past history of the military male-only draft as an example of the idea that men do not naturally want to go to war and fight for its own sake, and he also discusses the past penalties for draft evasion. He also discounts the conservative idea that the poor are responsible for their own plight as individuals (but so does the New Testament!)

The DVD includes Zinn's speech at "Veterans for Peace" in Boston in 2004.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"For All Mankind", an early film showing Apollo Moon landing, directly

Al Reinert’s 1989 documentary “For All Mankind”, from Janus Films and the Criterion Collection, may contain the most definitive footage of the initial Apollo 11 moon landing and walk, with Aldrin’s famous “one step” quote. The film is simple, just in 4:3 aspect, but vividly shows the Moon as a black-and-white place, rather like the setting of a 50s sci-fi B movie.

The early part of the film shows the men in propinquity on the spacecraft, finding unit cohesion in weightlessness. The first “walk” (on a hose) in orbit is scary enough still. A lot happens to your body when you’re hooked up to all this monitoring within the spacesuits.

It’s interesting to ponder how far computers were advanced in 1969. The collective effort to produce this kind of engineering is stunning, and yet since 1969 (the moonwalk occurred just three weeks after Stonewall), society has gone in a different direction, resulting in global communications and the Internet today.

The film has some interesting original music by Brian Elo, like “Sirens”.

The film starts with President Kennedy's speech about "...because they are hard."

The movie could be compared to a similar 2007 documentary produced by Ron Howard (dir. David Sington) “In the Shadow of the Moon“ from ThinkFilm.

Of course, we remember the big films: “The Right Stuff”, and “Apollo 13” (1995) from Universal and Ron Howard (which I saw a second time on a flight back to Washington from San Francisco in late 1995). When I was substitute teaching, the eighth grade science class students had to watch the film, and one of the students wrote an interesting paragraph on how the Apollo 13 accident could have been prevented.

Wikipedia attribution link for pd Aldrin picture 

Update: Dec. 16

It doesn't "deserve" a separate movie review, so here is a link to a Discovery Video about an ice-water volcano on Titan, possibly increasing the chance for finding life there some day, link.

Monday, December 06, 2010

"The Boys Are Back": an Aussie-Brit film about fatherhood (as a single parent)

I’ve heard women say that men don’t do anything, just sow their genes and take charge. In “The Boys Are Back”, Clive Owen plays a sportwriter (Joe Warr) who leaves his wife and son in Britain, and seeks drier (not greener) pastures for a new career in South Australia, has married again and had a second younger son (Nicholas McAnulty). But by now he has become a real father, and husband: in the early scenes we see him tending to his wife’s needs as she dies of widely metastasized cancer. Then he is a single dad, in a big ranch house, and with his career covering tennis and swimming. He reminds me of Jerry Maguire.

His older son Harry (George MacKay) comes to stay with him on the ranch, which looks now like a kind of Drohega. Joe says he doesn’t like many rules, and has some issues with disciplining his sons. Pretty soon, he has to travel for work, and winds up leaving the boys alone. For some reason, the neighborhood kids come over and throw a wild house party, even as Harry is trying to be a good half-brother.

I’m reminded that there is a film called “Slices of Life: The House Party” that written and shot by high school students at the Arlington VA Career Center back in 2003.  (The sequel is "Slices of Life 2: The 50-50 Club", and I acutally saw the students edit it when I worked a sub). The Party has consequences there with the police, but less obviously so in this Aussie film, until Harry wants to go back to Britain. When Joe follows him, he has to deal with the fact that Harry doesn’t want to see him at all, and that Harry thought he didn’t even care about him when Joe left Harry’s mother for a new life.

We wind up with a male household, with no women; and men don’t do much until they know they have to.

The film, from Kino and Miramax (and with British and Australian financing) is directed by Scott Hicks. As always, Australia is an expansive place, dry and California-looking, especially in Cinemascope.

MSN had a piece on fatherhood today (Dec. 6, 2010) that I thought I would pass along, here. But the tone of the piece ("7 moves that will make you a better dad") was a bit off-putting and suggested that kids or teens need to have their dads teach them, as part of socially necessary assertiveness, to stand up to people, even bullies or at least those who tease or haze, as part of growing up. That doesn't fit the current buzz on these topics.

For the first time that I’ve noticed, Miramax has a musical signature for its trademark.

The official site for the film is here. The film is adapted from the "non-fiction novel" by Simon Carr, "The Boys Are Back In Town".

Hollywood Streams offers this trailer:

Sunday, December 05, 2010

"Waste Land": the work of Vik Muniz: from Brazil landfill to London art museums and auctions

The little film “Waste Land” (dir. Lucy Walker, Karen Hurley, Joao Jardim, from Arthouse Films and Almega) has nothing to do with TS Elliot. No, it takes us from the world’s largest sanitary landfill (“Jardim Gramacho”) outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to art shows and auctions in London, through the biographical journey of Vik Muniz, from Brooklyn, who creates art out of the recyclable materials.

There is a lot here about how poor people survive, and there’s an existential confrontation toward the end of the film on the moral consequences of one person’s lifting himself up (no Josh Groban song) and making art out of adversity, both his own and other people’s.

Muniz also shows his old neighborhood of Sao Paolo, which has become safer and middle class, but is still struggling economically.

The website for the film is here.

I had a bit of a misadventure getting into the film. Landmark printed the wrong ticket and wrong auditorium, and I was actually fooled for a moment as “Inside Job” (Oct. 24) started. Yes, Sony Pictures Classics could have released this film, too, and yes, the 2008 financial crisis could have added to poverty in Brazil (and everywhere).

Saturday, December 04, 2010

NBC's "A Walk in My Shoes": a teacher learns an "alternate reality" lesson in the burdens on "real" families

On December 3, NBC aired a little new film by John Kent Harrison, “A Walk in My Shoes” (called just “In My Shoes” on imdb).

Here’s another one of those “alternate reality” scenarios, intended to score more points. A female English teacher Trish Fahey (Nancy Travis) in a Portland, OR high school refuses to give a student (Cameron Deane Stewart) more time for a term paper. The teacher says that “self-reflection is a good thing” but the kid says it is too hard. Because of the incomplete, the kid gets suspended from the basketball team.

Suddenly, after some mayhem in her auto, the teacher meets a mysterious angelic woman and becomes the mother of the boy, and walks into the family like an amnesiac, having to learn with the challenges of many people who marry and have kids and have to play the everyday economy without the privilege of “the knowledge of good and evil.” She will have to deal with the family’s eviction by a kindly sheriff, and an ex-Marine next door who explains the ties of family for men overseas.

What's clear from this movie is that many kids don't have as much opportunity to focus on themselves at school because of family pressures caused by difficulties of parents. Remember "October Sky" where Homer Hickum's brother has to offer to drop out of school and work in the coal mines when his dad is sick from black lung?

I’m reminded of other films where a “real life” situation is “dumped in someone’s lap”, usually people having to take over raising siblings’ kids (such as “Raising Helen” and the WB series “Summerland”).  This film was sponsored by Walmart as "family night", but actually Rogue's "Catfish" turns out to be a gentle family tale.

I’m not sure that the sci-fi approach here is as effective as the more mundane treatments such as those above. How about a sibling’s kids situation where the would-be take-over parent is gay and has never considered having a conventional family? That would make an obvious scenario for an indie movie.

Site for the film is here.

Last week, at the last minute, Hallmark TV pulled a film with a somewhat similar premise, “A Family Thanksgiving” (see my TV blog Nov. 27).  There a career lawyer goes into alternate reality to become a wife and mother.

Moms4FamilyTv has the following YouTube trailer.

Try this video for most of the major studios’ trademarks. NBC Universal is near the end. (Is this TV film from Universal, or from Rogue, the indie sci-fi label for Universal?) Would this introduce “Do Ask Do Tell?”  (Note: The WB music is for DVD, not nearly as effective as the Casablanca theme; and Lionsgate is missing; and Summit needs to write a musical trademark.)

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Portland, OR.  The picture certainly looks like Cineramascope, doesn’t it.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" merges a ballerina's career with the plot of "Swan Lake", and then even "Tosca"

Darren Aronofsky (“Pi”, “The Fountain”) is famous for making art film out of merging reality layers, and “Black Swan” [no "the"] is surely his most ambitious experiment (with his own Protozoa Pictures, Cross Creek, and Fox Searchligh). Natalie Portman, on camera almost all the time, is an experienced ballerina (Nina) competing for both “Swan” roles in a NYC performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” (an early work). Her rival is Mila Kunis, playing Lily. Now Nina is supposed to have the career her mom (Barbara Hershey) gave up for having a family, and Vincent Cassel plays the dictatorial director Thomas, who, unfortunately for the female competition, is heterosexual and aggressively so. (He commits what in legal terms would constitute workplace sexual harassment.)

Aronofsky plays up the physical brutality of the life of a ballerina – the anorexia, the self mutilation, and turns it into horror, as the plot of the move gradually turns into the plot of the ballet Swan Lake itself. Nina, after a disco visit (well filmed) uses some controlled substances, which take her into the world of Inception. We are treated to her lesbianism, and later to some perverse violence, to the point that the ending of the ballet (where the rival swans have fought to the death for the prince) replicates the ending of Puccini’s Tosca.

Most of the music score for the film comes from the ballet, and I had the pleasure to see the film in Digital presentation at a sold out show at the AMC Loews Georgetown in Washington. Tchaikovsky’s music just carries you to the end, where the B Major chords give a sense of ironic triumph.

As I recall, Tchaikovsky has sometimes been used in earlier Smallville episodes, to great effect; Clark Kent in that show is essentially a ballet artist himself, but hardly anorexic. In “Black Swan”, the gay male ballet dancers more or less keep a low profile, which is too bad for the outcome of the story.

Fox official website is here.

Fox also provided the trailer to YouTube.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Math and philosophy drive the plot of a spoofy horror thriller, "The Oxford Murders"; indie movie from all of corporate Tinseltown

First: the “intellectual” premise of the film below harks back to my own graduate school days at the University of Kansas, where I earned an MA in Math in 1968. I remember Dugundji’s Topology text and the Axiom of Choice.

Shortly after moving to Minneapolis about the time I published and started promoting my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book (in 1997), and through the Libertarian Party there, I met a college student, with roots in Britain, who would help me get a televised speaking engagement but through whom I learned something about “humanities” in college these days, especially, Philosophy. Yes, people major in Philosophy (more than one that I met at Hamline; I met another through Pride Alive later).  And philosophy graduates students become law students often, but not until bartending for "low pay" in Brighton, England.

So it tickled me to find a movie about a “psychologically feminine” math and philosophy professor (actually, “Logic” with all its symbolic derivations) at Oxford (Arthur Seldon, played by John Hurt) who befriends a becoming graduate student (Martin, played by Elijah Wood, who “less or more” looks and behaves like the college student I met. The film is “The Oxford Murders”, released by Magnolia Pictures and ThinkFilm, but with big international corporate backing from Warner Brothers, Universal, Eurimages (France), and particularly Telecinco (Spain), directed by Alex de la Iglesia Mendoza, from Bilbao (I city I visited in 2001 and which may look to film, as well as other high tech things, to replace its aging steel and manufacturing industries). Now that I ponder the title, I suppose this could be John Grisham’s Oxford, MS; but no, the film looks very British (the indoors may have been done in Spain). This movie shows that the corporate giants like to brand big films as independent to attract "grown ups" to art houses. The film is based on a novel by Guillermo Martinez, which the director says is not very visual.  

The opening of the film shows the two lead characters separately, before they meet; they’re both into the world of math and epistemology. As a grad student, Martin has to ponder how you prove things in humanities, maybe if writing papers about Hegel. He attends a seminar given by Sheldon (“Can we know the Truth?”  -- "Philosophy is dead") and volunteers that he sees truth in the number Pi (welcome to the world of Aronofsky). Hurt has been speculating abou the nature of absolute Truth, whether it’s drawn from experience or just derived by logic from axioms.

An old woman is found passed away in Martin’s rooming house near campus, just when Seldon is meeting him there. Pretty soon we have a mystery with the structure of the movie “Se7en”. It seems like people who have little time to live anyway are showing up, with someone pointing out evidence of foul play; and pretty soon both “Sherlock Holmes” partners are figuring out the mathematical pattern. There’s a hint of the CBS series “Numbers” (or “Numb3rs”). There’s even a Clue Board (as an allegory to the plot) with the red token of Miss Scarlet (in the Dining Room). I think Mr. Ree, a forgotten board game from the 1950s, might make a better analogy.

Martin has some passionate scenes with his girl friend (he lets his tummy out in one scene, a bit sloppy), and that might even provide even more indirect clues. There’s a wonderful climactic scene at a concert performance of a modern choral work, apparently by Roque Banos (although it sounds a lot like Britten), where an orchestra member collapses, dead (I’ve never heard of that really happening) – homage to a climax of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” with Arthur Benjamin’s rousing “Storm Cloud Cantata”. The other movie that comes to mind would be New Line’s “The Number 23”, or maybe even Summit’s “Knowing”.

The film is set in 1993, just before the Internet become significant, so there is plenty of real world evidence around, even a scene where a victim talks about Turing and code breaking manually with 1940s computers.

The extras on the DVD are numerous and long, and are in Spanish with subtitles. Even Elijah Wood is speaking fluent and idiomatic Spanish. The entire cantata by Banos is offered on the DVD.

The opening of the film, on a WWI battlefield with a "professor" stopping to write in his notebook with bullets flying aorund, reminds me of my own Army Basic in 1968. 

The mood of this film and it's intellectual questiosn reminded me of Michael Frayn's "Copenhagen"; the film does mention the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at least once.

Official Magnolia site is here.