Monday, January 31, 2011

"Biutiful" is the Spanish Inception; note also the use of variable aspect ratio (and issue for theaters in showing it)

I just saw Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful” (OK, “Beautiful”) at the AMC Shirlington on a full-sized curved wide screen, which is necessary. As the movie opens, we see two raised hands held together on a full Cinemascope screen, the male wrist not particularly hairy and in fact aged and decaying. A Man and a Woman talk, and then we’re in an endless forest, corn-snowcovered, where the aging man meets a younger Hispanic or Asian looking man who could be an angel. If the younger man is the Father, it is the perfect paradox. This movie is indeed the Spanish (and Mexican, Chinese and French) “Inception”.

Then we switch to standard aspect (actually it’s more like 2.0:1, still wide), and Uxbal (Javier Bardem, who really should win Best Actor for this) is getting a hard time from a nurse as to whether he fasted before his blood test. He insists on sticking the needle with vacutainer in himself. That tells us something. Pretty soon the doctor, paid by the government, is telling him he has two months.

My own father died New Years Day, 1986 of prostate cancer, at 82, and was ill only four weeks. He coughed up blood, with tuberculosis reactivated by the metastasis, and then developed seizures. But in the movie Uxbal, who looks about 40, seems all to vigorous for a man with less than two months.
The long middle part of the movie (which runs 2-1/2 hours) tells us his life in modern day Barcelona, which looks much shabbier than I could imagine. He is a bit of a mobster, arranging semi-slave labor from China, but concerned about how his family will fare when he’s gone.  You think of him as a good man, relative to his world.  Pretty soon, his cost cutting leads to a horrific tragedy, where most of the workers, crowded together in a “dorm”, die of carbon monoxide. And he’s being told by this woman that you have to settle your karma before you go.

That gives us a pretty good clue as to Innaritu’s premise. The afterlife – in Cinemascope – is a continuation of the current life, until we settle. There are these little distortions of reality that Innaritu teases us with. There’s a premonition (in regular aspect) in a disco scene with a visual concept (from the heterosexual world) that makes gay disco (like Cobalt, Town DC, and Saloon [both Minneapolis and KCMO) seem tame.  On the web, it would certainly generate traffic.  I guess Barcelona, at least from the sea, can serve as what Clive Barker would call “The City of the Unbeheld” or the “First Dominion”; Innaritu offers us a kind of Reconciliation. (Maybe this director is thinking about taking on “Imajica”.)  Once you settle up, you may find your planet in your parallel Universe a rather uniform, featureless place.  You may stand alone.

There’s another subplot (in the real world first) where Uxbal offers an immigrant Ige (Diaryatou Daff) his place to live “because she is homeless and has a baby” which she carts around like a papoose.  Is that expected of consumers of caregiving services? But then we get it; Ige is supposed to take care of him until he passes, as if he had to admit he will need to be babied himself. His actions don’t make that look likely.

The film uses the slow movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto, with its slow waltz rhythm, to great effect, especially in the end credits (which are massive).  I suppose it could have used Timo Andres’s “The Night Jaunt” to the same purpose. After the Ravel there follows a curious chamber piece by Gustavo Santaolalla (Argentina) in a curious style combining impressionism with polytonality, fully worthy of concert performance on its own.  But by comparison, Ravel sounds almost postromantic.

The film will make us ponder the moral dimensions of a society’s dependence on essentially slave labor underground, doing the dirty jobs we don’t want and can’t accept the regimentation (or exploitation) to do for ourselves. It’s enough to invoke Marxism, even Maoism.  Another curious side plot concerns the gay relationship between the two Chinese men running the shop.

This is a huge film, which makes us ponder what “independent film” means now.  It has to have cost around $50 million or so.  It seems even more ambitious than "Babel"  and "21 Grams" (which had been in English) or "Amores Perros".  The distributors are LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions, and Focus Features is listed as a producing company.  I don’t know who will handle the DVD.  

Many theaters show wide screen by vertical cropping, which could not work on this film. The two older AMC Theaters in Arlington VA (and the Landmark properties in DC and MD) do show wide screen films “properly” in all auditoriums and can present this film correctly.

The official site for the film is here

LoveFilm has a video of interviews with Bardem and Inarritu.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Human Resources Manager", from Israel and Romania, really isn't about "company men"

Today, The Avalon in Washington DC screened a “make up” of Reel Israel’s festival performance of Eran Riklis’s film “The Human Resources Manager”, based on a novel by A.B. Yehoshu.

The title of the film suggests that it about workers and layoffs, but what it turns out to be is a bizarre, epic satire. Mark Ivanir plays the “human resources manager” of a bakery (Berman Bakery was used for the film) in Jerusalem. Working there on the assembly line is grueling, and the shift supervisor fires a middle aged woman working there at night for not keeping up.  When the woman dies as a result of a suicide bombing after her firing, a newspaper threatens a defamatory article, and his own boss (Rosina Kambus) urges him to make the journey to the employee’s native Romania with the casket.

The Romanian part of the film becomes that of an epic road picture, with the grim look of a former Iron Curtain country still not recovered from Communism. Ivanir meets the grandmother and the son (a fascinating Noah Silver), and on the way back even stays in an underground Cold War bunker when the van breaks down, and gets driven back to Bucharest by an Army tank.

The film was shot in super 16, but has astonishing detail in its look. I would have liked to see this in 2.35:1 because of the amazing road scenery.  This film would make a “Roadside Attraction” but it seems that the distribution will be Film Movement and Pyramide.  Considerable resources from France and Germany were used in this very professional looking film.

Kambus, and someone from DCJCC, spoke at the well-attended Sunday screening.

I couldn’t find a specific site for the film, but IFC (itself potentially another distributor, I guess) has a discussion here.  I' d expect to see this film show up in arthouses later this year. 

First speaker today from WJCC at Avalon:


Check here for the 17th Annual SAG (Screen Actors Guild) awards Jan. 30.

"Undertow": A drama from coastal Peru challenges our ideas about monogamy (more than a "gay ghost story")

Back in 1994, the GLBT outdoors group Adventuring lost a member who, swimming alone, drowned in a rip tide off Rehoboth from a distant Atlantic hurricane.

The little film “Undertow” (“Contracorriente”) from Peru (with  a lot of international help) and director Javier Fuentes-Leon, is based on the dangers of that, off a barren (desert-like but cool) fishing village north of Lima, distant from the Andes.   A handsome, charismatic fisherman and painter (Santiago, Manolo Cardono, who looks 100% European) disappears and apparently drowned.  But that affects the life of Miguel (Christian Mercado) and Mariela (Tatania Astengo); the movie opens an outer view of her swollen womb. Miguel is very attentive and passionate about upcoming fatherhood, but he has a secret second love life, with Santiago, which seems to serve a different purpose, his own need for more polarity.

Pretty soon he sees (and embraces) Santiago, first alone, but then in town and eventually around Mariela, when no one else sees him. We have a gentle "Ghost Story" (not exactly Peter Straub's complex thriller of a book and weak 1981 film adaptation).  His behavior, getting distracted, strains the marriage, and there are rumors. But we have a film not so much about a double life of a gay man, as the story of a true bisexual, and one which questions the moral requirement of monogamy -- not just physically, but in terms of emotional attention. Creativity is at odds with adaptive social requirements. 

The official site for the film is here

The film comes from Wolfe Releasing, and Dynamo and Elcavo.

The moderate audience in the small Landmark E Street (Washington DC) auditorium really liked the movie Saturday night, and there was a lot of discussion of the plot in the long hall there afterwards.

There was another film called “Undertow” in 2004, from United Artists and director David Gordon Green, about a father and two sons living in rural Georgia, and a tragedy that follows the arrival of a lost uncle. I saw that at the old Dupont theater a few years ago. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

"The Company Men" succumb to a "free market cultural revolution" worthy of Mao (or at least driven by China)

I remember the moment on Dec. 13, 2001, when I lost access to my work account while helping a customer.  Twenty minutes later I was in a meeting in a corner office with HR, verifying what I had calculated: 35 weeks severance, and outplacement.

I had some cushion, but I would learn the ways of interim jobs, of more regimentation, and the “free market cultural revolution”, which was not as brutal as what Chairman Mao would have prescribed for me.
But in The Weinstein Company’s didactic docudrama "The Company Men" (directed by John Wells), Bobby Walker, played by a 37-ish Ben Affleck in his last days as relatively young man, has a big mortgage, a bright tween deserving college prep, and a prudent wife who can bring in some income as a nurse. He comes in to a board meeting cocky, talking golf, and is soon routed to his severance package which is only twelve weeks.  And the Outplacement Company is more overbearing than Right Management was for me. Why do you need to sit in an office all day and pretend? Also, nobody mentioned the importance of online reputation and Facebook in job hunting these days. Instead, the movie focused on a backdrop of the financial crisis of 2008. Others were to blame.

Affleck’s character was a regional sales director, people-person enough to manipulate others (with phony charisma) and compete. But he will take his turn becoming a prole, working construction for his brother in law. He’s a lousy carpenter. This is no “This Old House”. It’s grunt work. You pay your bills, you pay your dues, too. 

Two older executives at GTX, played by Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, have it even harder.  Tommy’s character really talks about the immorality of all this. Chris was more cocksure, but is shocked when the outplacement counselor tells him to dye his hair to hide his age (oh, my, he's almost 60! ..Oh, the companies follow the law. They get around age discrimination by dividing the workforce into cohorts of one person apiece.)  Turning on your car in a closed garage is not a very inviting way to make sure your family is taken care of.

Perhaps with my aspie nature I was better off, not having gotten in so deep. But in the film, the "company men" carry out the domestic intimacies expected of them; Ben's character assures his son that he is still "your Dad", and Tommy's avatar is receptive to attention "in the bedroom" from his wife despite his not having much now and looking away over the hill.  All conventional and expected for "sustainability".

The film plays like a PBS documentary (there was one in 1987, where a laid off executive takes a year to “replace” another victim, a drama produced at the College of William and Mary). There are always remnants of snow in the Boston scenery, but sometimes the film gets its seasons squirreled, keeping Christmas trees up into what would be spring (after the severance ran out). Oh well, Christ was born in April, anyway.

The official site for the movie is here. I can mention worthy predecessors, like "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (indeed a Company Man) and even "Babbitt". Maybe even "The Grapes of Wrath".  Another possible comparison is Mark Rydell's 1984 film "The River" with Mel Gibson, from Universal, or perhaps even Paul Schrader's 1978 film "Blue Collar" for Universal (with Richard Pryor). 
Pretty good crowd at the Regal Verizon Center in Washington early Friday night.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Another Year": Marriage, documented in Altman style, but from London

It’s interesting that you can make a movie about a ripening marriage by threading all the little stories of people who know the couple, in Robert Altman style. “Another Year” is a “four seasons”, starting with Spring, about Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent [“Longford”] and Ruth Sheen) in north London.  But the film starts with another older woman (Lesley Manville) being prodded by the British National Health Service to see a counselor, that is, Gerri. So many other characters, including Gerri’s son, a somewhat foppish lawyer, are worked into their lives, which comprises constant conversation, like a stage play. In the “autumn” segment there is a funeral that produces a family confrontation, with another possibly gay member Carl (Martin Savage).   The funeral service was built around the music of Bach and Elgar; my own mother’s was based on Schumann and Andres, and there were certain eerie parallels to my own circumstances, which I won’t detail here. But the lives of the characters are much more intertwined adaptively than I would be comfortable with.

The film is long, and in full 2.35:1, diluting the closeups, but effective in the wide outdoor shots of a busy England.  You feel conscious of driving on the left side of the road, wondering if you could rent a car in Britain. 

I strikes me that the film is about "marriage" in a way that oddly complements "Blue Valentine". 

The film, from Sony Pictures Classics, Focus, and Film 4, is directed by Mike Leigh.

Sony’s site is here

AFP has a Cannes Excerpt on Youtube

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"September Tapes" is another good film about a journalist's dedication Post 9/11

When I got “bought out” (as well as laid off) from my “final job” in December 2001, a coworker told me I should use my large severance and time off to go out and try to earn the $25 million reward for finding Osama bin Laden. Remember Morgan Spurlock’s film?  Actually, I have gotten a few tips over the years, through the Internet, and shared them properly.

In “Septem8er Tapes” (aka “September Tapes”), directed by Christian Johnston, from Complex Pictures and First Look Media (2004), a Nordic-looking American journalist and documentary filmmaker Don Larson (George Calil) plans, from London, his journey to Afghanistan for just that purpose.  He meets up with an interpreter Wali Zarif (Wali Razaqi) and cameraman Sonny (Sunil Sadarangari). He has bought the western interpretation of 9/11, but soon is confronted with the opinion of the “average Joe” in the Muslim world. It’s not so much about western modernism and hedonism as it (as Peter Bergen says) about getting every non-Muslim off Muslim soil. There is an existential conversation about whether innocent Americans are responsible for the “policies” of their government, or what “policies” really mean.

In time, Wali’s intentions become ambiguous, as Don digs deeper into the border areas and winds up, after arrests and beatings by the locals, in firefights, a soldier himself.  Eventually he fights for his life alongside Muslim bounty hunter Babak Ali, playing himself.

The story is told through a sequence of videotapes of Larson found in an Al Qaeda cave in the border areas, after Larson is reported missing. There is some foreshadowing, as we wonder why he is away from a beloved wife that he mentions, until at the end of the movie, in cell phone sounds, the film recreates the inside of the plane of Flight 93 (I think).

First Look Studios offers the entire film on YouTube to registered members here (warning for minors). 

The DVD contains a featurette "Septem8er Tapes: Behind the Scenes" which shows how the story in the movie somewhat parallels the story of its making, as characters in the film have names and histories in real life (especially Wali) tracking the film. The film was shot in India and Afghanistan, with little time for on-location shots in Afghanistan. It took two years to make. A lot of payoffs and bribery were involved in getting past local authorities.  The "deleted scenes" include a confrontation between Don and Wali where Wali says he is not indebted to Don despite Don's giving him money, and another existential discussion between Don and Wali about freedom and accepting some moral uncertainty. 

Here is some footage from Ed Lingao reporting in Afghanistan.  I didn’t find much else video on this film.

Wikipedia attribution link for etnic map of Afghanistan, from Army

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Final Sale": Lifetime airs a stereotyped thriller on organ transplant problems

On January 24, Lifetime aired the film “Final Sale”, by Andrew C. Erin and the Johnson Group.  The title reminds me of “first sale” doctrine in copyright law, but the actual meaning is grim. A young woman (Kaitlin Doubleday)  is told she has two months to live unless she gets a kidney transplant. (People can live a long time on dialysis, even though the prognosis isn’t good in the long run.) She finds out that her kidney came from a teenage girl who sold her organ for money and died in the operation, in a “business” controlled by the mafia. She takes on the moral challenge – and then the movie becomes a stereotyped thriller, without quite the credibility of “Erin Brokovich”.

The film could have gone into a different direction, emphasizing the real medicine. The woman probably had juvenile diabetes (I know someone whose wife died at 36 from complications of juvenile diabetes, despite amputations and two transplants.)  The gravity of the disease deserves film, now that it has a celebrity like Nick Jonas to fight it.  Dialysis, whether peritoneal or regular hemodialysis with shunts and fistulas, is definitely not cosmetically appealing and is disruptive, and never as effective as a transplant.

Film could also go into the “moral issues” around donations of kidneys to family members, and to organ donation at life end (which would exclude HIV+, but not HIV- gay men in the US, (website url link.)  However in Canada HIV- active gay men could be excluded (website url link).

I question whether the film got the law on donations right.

The official site for the film on Lifetime is here.   It re-airs Feb. 6 and 7.

Oscar Nominations Announced this morning

I think January is too early for the announcements, and Feb. 27 is too soon for the ceremony. In Minnesota, the Minnesota AIDS Project always a breakfast the Tuesday morning of the nominations, with the benefit at the State or Orpheum a month later.

 There are ten announcements for Best Picture. James Franco, while hosting, could get presented his own awards. I think it’s funny that Eisenberg gets a nod for playing Mark Zuckerberg (really, he was way off the mark).

ABC seems to own the Oscar site this year, here

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Left Behind" movies: how well does evangelical apocalyptic fiction translate to film?

The “Left Behind” “apocalyptic fiction” novels (Tim La Haye)  have become best sellers within the evangelical community. The movies are a bit stereotyped, but reviewing them brings up some issues.
I rented “Left Behind II: Tribulation Force”, directed by Bill Corcoran (DGC), from Cloud Ten pictures (2002). The DVD was full-screen, an annoyance (it ought to be 1.85). 

The film starts one week after The Rapture, with super journalist Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron) describing the worldwide “mayhem like me” on GNN (obviously CNN). One aspect of the film that does work is that Buck is a very likeable person, clean-cut, virile, almost perfect.  (Is he a young Anderson Cooper?)  But he didn’t get raptured, so he must not have been a Believer. But he has become one now.

This gets into the religious debate on pre-tribulationism and post-tribulationism, and I recall a pastor on the radio making the “post” case while driving a rental car around Houston back in the 1980s. The obvious point is that in the “post” scenario, more people get a chance to be “saved”.

But the film seems a bit wooden. You don’t really experience the world as it would really be a week after a Rapture. Maybe you need Imax 3-D for that, a kind of Inception.  There doesn’t seem to be that much hardship.

Buck goes undercover to tail the anti-Christ Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie), who seems like a thinly disguised neo-Nazi.  Okay, you make the point that world government is a “humanist” sham.  I don’t think it comes through here; if you’re going to make a right-wing movie, do it with some realism. The film does make a point that a journalist can gain a lot of “power” himself, but so did “Green Hornet”, reviewed here last week.

In the end, there are some “miracles” based on faith, near the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (the “Making Of Left Behind II: Tribulation Force” featurette on the DVD explains how it was all set up in Toronto sound stages). The wise men have “heat vision”, and at one point Nicolae’s inner nature is revealed visually as if he were a covert “reptilian” from the show “V” (where’s Anna?)   I guess you can’t be “openly extraterrestrial” or “openly angelic”. There’s also a kind of “Red Sea” scene where soldiers are paralyzed.

I had seen the earlier film ("Left Behind") (2000, directed by Vic Sarin) in Minneapolis, and see from my notes that in that film Buck reports the Rapture as if it were a super 9-11. 150 million people disappear, leaving clothes (“Sartor Resartus”) intact with no bodies, starting on a plane. (Yup, planes fall out of the sky and freeways are cluttered with crashes.)   That film has climaxed with a shoot-up in a board room resembling a similar scene in Lionsgate’s “Dogma” (1999, dir. Kevin Smith), where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play two angels living as a male couple in Wisconsin, and where Matt shoots up a board room in the film’s middle (and Ben wears wings).

The best film of this sort is probably New Line’s “The Rapture” (1991, dir. Michael Tolkin), with Mimi Rogers as the swinging single who stumbles on a religious “conspiracy”, and X-file’s David Duchovny. At the end, trumpets sound and jail walls really crumble. (Why not title a film "The Rapture of the Believers"?  I remember a Sunday night sermon in early 1983, at the old MCC Dallas on Reagan St, where Rev. Elder Don Eastman introduced the idea of The Rapture.)

There’s another franchise, from New Providence, “The Omega Code” (1999, dir. Robert Marcarelli), and “The Omega Code II:  Megeddio” (Brian Trenchard-Smith), where the “fake peace” and anti-Christ ideas are developed.  I saw both films in Minneapolis.  Michael Biehn appears. It’s hard to find the Anti-Christ just in the European Union.

One warning I noticed on the Cloud Ten DVD of LBII: you need an exhibition license from the distributor to show the DVD, even at a no-charge non-profit event like at a church or Sunday School. I’ve not noticed this before on other DVD’s or CD’s.  (For example, MLB and NFL warn that you can’t charge others to see their broadcasts; I guess sports bars would need licenses to have cover charges for the Super Bowl.) 

Cloud Ten has an announcement of a "Left Behind" remake here.

Cloud Ten offers the following embeddable trailer for the first film on YouTube.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"No Strings Attached": "A-plus-k" is unmasked, and his chest is back; but the audience gets punked

Ashton Kutcher is back: that is, his bod is back, in full measure and exposure, in Paramount’s “No Strings Attached”, directed by Ivan Reitman. As “Adam”, practically everything shows, and he has his chest back (not first class) from his own being punked to match a stunt double for Liongate’s “Killers”. As far as legs, he’s still in good condition, not a downhill racer.

Natalie Portman plays Emma (not Eve), and she plays someone a lot more together than the character in Black Swan. In fact, everybody seems to be a doctor or nurse but Adam himself, the playboy.
In fact, Adam has a screenplay, which his dad (an aging Kevin Kline) will review, and he winds up with a “job” in a studio (maybe script supervisor or something like that).

The story follows the model of George Gilder in “Men and Marriage”.  Activity without commitment ("string theory") leads nowhere, so Adam in the end looks for a better way to live. Predictable, but at least funny.

I found this moviefone article (from AOL) of why everyone “hates” Ashton, or is it just jealousy. He does post jobs in his company on Twitter. (That's Katalyst Media, here).

The music score had some current Sirius XM hipster stuff, like "Rhythm of Love" (I didn't notice any Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, or Pink, but they all could have fit). The scene where Adam "performs" in less than 45 seconds could have used Timo Andres's "Flirtation Avenue", that is, the climactic (pun) passages of violent piano arpeggios crashing to a conclusion. Such music would have made the scene funny. 

What have I done in the past 15 years (to answer the article)?  Well, written my “do ask do tell” books, set up the sites, try to make the movie. Is Asthon ready to direct a movie?  I would think he would want to by now.  But mine isn’t about being punked.

Here's Paramount's site for the film. Production companies included Spyglass, Montecito, and Katalyst. 

Here's Moviefone's video of Ashton's interview on the movie. 

On Twitter, Ashton is “aplusk”, or “A+K”.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Somewhere": An actor is reunited with his daughter before walking out of life (maybe he will anyway)

Somewhere” is actually the name of a song in Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story”, with a meandering tone row used to end the entire opera.

I don’t know if Sofia Coppola thought about that in titling her new film “Somewhere” and with any movie from American Zeotrope and the Francis Ford Coppola clan, you never know (remember “One from the Heart” and its small frame?)

The interesting thing about this film is the style. The story of the “identity crisis” for late-thirties-something Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is presented in a series of near-stills. The film opens with his driving his black sports car circularly around a desert race track. Later he gets made up to look like a monster, he sits still for at least two minutes with plaster covering his face (a kind of Michael Carbonaro shaving cream stunt) while the makeup team looks for the other props. Then he’s in a massage, only to discover that the male masseur is gay. Actors go through a lot becoming other people just for us.

His ex-life sends his eleven year old daughter to visit him. Played by Elle Fanning, she seems mature beyond her years, and is a very good cook. When Dad takes her to Italy for a promo tour, the camera dawdles on her making Eggs Benedict in the hotel suite.

But he must come back to California and leave her at a summer camp near Vegas. Then what does he do with his life. Coppola toys with the idea of giving up everything and walking away. Is that typical of her films?

The film makes very effective use of southern California locations, including a famous Beverly Hills hotel.

The low key music is by Phoenix.

The website for the film is here (Focus Features).

Wikipedia attribution link for Rodeo drive picture.

(Note: this post was deleted and replaced because of a technical issue; url suffix may change.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"The Green Hornet": journalism, and troll shakedowns, radio-comic-book style

Seth Rogen actually helped write Michel  Gondry’s new 3D “comic book” genre piece from Columbia, “The Green Hornet”.  OK, it was actually a radio show, but it’s the same.  Big time issues packed into stereotyped action entertainment for the kids.

Tom Wilkinson plays newspaper patriarch  (The “LA Sentinel”) James Reid.  Wilkinson (“In the Bedroom”) playing a caricature of me?  Reid thinks he owns the news, and I could say that this is sort of my paradigm with the book and websites “do ask do tell”.  He thinks he values his integrity, but an ambitious District Attorney Scanlon (David Harbour) has managed to buy or him off (or shake him down), getting him not to cover unfavorable news.  Even his own son Britt can’t get dad to that. (“You’re the news, too.”)   The other villain is Russian mafia chief Chudnofsky (Christopher Waltz) who has shaken down the club owner (and “dealer”) Tupper (Edward Furlong) in a way that invokes the Righthaven copyright trolling. (Imagine that the LA Sentinel is based on the Las Vegas Journal Review!)  It also reminds me of the way the mafia controlled NYC gay bars back in the 1960s. 

James dies of a bee sting (which may have been plotted -- the "Green Bee" mutates to "The Green Hornet"), and son Britt (Seth Rogen) takes over, and grows up quickly, needing his superman sidekick Kato (Jay Chou), whose talents for invention run from coffee machines to I.T.  They make a tag team (with Britt's playboy hobby of reverse vigilantism).  At first, Britt cares nothing about the news, but eventually changes his mind and wants his “integrity” too.  But I guess the film says, no one should own or encircle the news.

Don't mix up "The Green Hornet" with "The Green Lantern".

Here is Columbia’s site.  Also this film is connected to NOW Comics. 

The 3D is effective, not overdone; and I like the "solid geometry" exercise during the credits.  Beethoven's Eroica Symphony figures into the soundtrack, but there's no use of the "golden dissonance" played so effectively in "The Soloist". 

Sony UK provides this featurette on YouTube.

I saw this at a 10 PM showing in a Regal in Arlington, large auditorium, the only person there. It seemed like a private showing just for me.

Picture: The Kansas City Star, KCMO, 2006.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Zombieland" is an odd prequel to "Social Network" for Jesse Eisenberg; in a Facebook-less world, you need real people, not zombies

I could wonder if “Zombieland”, from Columbia (Ruben Fleischer, late 2009) gives us fair warning the way “28 Days Later” (and its sequel) does. Maybe a “mad cow” virus (prions) really could be casually contagious and turn our brains into strangelets by geometric reflection.

But probably what’s more interesting about this horror-comedy is its status as an “anti-Facebook” prequel to “The Social Network”.  In Zombieland, there are not enough people left for Facebook to continue. And Jessie Eisenberg, as Columbus, plays a blithe college student with mild Asperger’s, enough to have his 32 rules (displayed on the screen in big print as they are encountered) that allow him to survive with a sense of gentle superiority to average people. His character is much more likeable here than in “Social Network”, but Mark Zuckerberg is much more likeable than the character Eisenberg played.

Woody Harrelson plays another survivor (of the “Natural Born Killers” ilk), who accompanies Eieneberg across the wasteland. And here the movie is just a rondo; it has none of the gravity of “The Road” or “The Book of Eli” or the Mad Max movies from the 80s.

The movie opens with Eisenberg making a comment that a world would make no sense if it no longer had people to matter to.  Even that speaks to the “culture wars”
There’s a funny scene where Harrelson’s character finds a truck filled with twinkies, which Eisenberg says will outsurvive the roaches. So will plastics.

I recall a film in the early 1960s "chiller" series called "Zombies of Mora Tau".  This film is hardly a "chiller."

Here’s Sony’s official site 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"The Heart Specialist": the unifocal (or overextended) lives of medical interns

A film by Dennis Cooper originally titled “Ways of the Flesh” in 2006 is now in theaters as “The Heart Specialist”, from Freestyle Releasing in Jan. 2011. (I suspect Lionsgate will handle the DVD; the production company is One-Twenty.)

The title of this comedy is not as much pun as it sounds. It really does make fun of the tribulations of hospital medical interns or students, some of whom are constantly threatened by Dr. Graves (Scott Paulin).

Wood Harris plays the charismatic Dr. Sidney Zachary, with the artificial looking hairline.  But Ray Howard (Brian White) is interesting in varying from medicine into showbiz, as a standup comic (your "Stay out of the penitentiary" kind). It may be a bit of a spoiler, but Ray will undergo a medical challenge that is not funny, perhaps ashen. But, seriously, most medical interns lead a unifocal existence. The film missed an opportunity to explore the problem of the outrageous hours interns put in when paying their dues. But the need for precision in medical examination and procedures does get covered (particularly for Dr. Kwan (Kenneth Choi). 

While tongue in cheek and irreverent, the film shows patients in horrible situations, such as one undergoing intercranial chemotherapy, and another with an allergic reaction that caused him to shed his mucous membranes and bleed out.

This is a curious comedy indeed, somewhat centric to the African American community, filmed in south Florida.

In Arlington VA, the AMC Courthouse showed this as AMC Independent.  The Courthouse theater has experimented with ethnic independent films, compared to Shirlington which is more mainstream indie. Both theaters need renovation. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Rabbit Hole": Quiet film about a family tragedy, and Eckhart had to do some prep

The latest minimalist film of the Oscar season, “Rabbit Hole”, comes from a now substantial studio (Lionsgate), and the title has little to do with Alice in Wonderland, and certainly no 3-D.  Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, it’s based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire. The slow paced movie seems to want to remain a stage play, too.

I don’t know how well I buy the premise.  A couple’s young son has been killed when struck by an inexperienced but not really reckless teenage driver Jason (Miles Teller), and the mother Becca (Nicole Kidman) starts socializing (maybe inappropriately) with the kid, meeting him in a library and getting interested in his most impressive comic book about “rabbit holes” or “worm holes”.  The topic, given recent tragic events, may seem to belong to the world of schizophrenia; but in theoretical physics, the idea is compelling. Maybe a soul can move among parallel universes between incarnations.  In any case, the comic book was so well done that I wondered if I could order it on Amazon.

Howie (Aaron Eckhart) really grieves, and this movie makes the case that support groups don’t help too much.  Eckhart looks diminished by his previous role in Fox’s “Thank You for Smoking”. He’s gaunt, and his chest is waxed.  Actors go through a lot becoming (at least in looks) what you might not want to be (remember what Ashton Kutcher said about his prep for “Killers”  (reviewed here June 6).   I once heard, from a New Age group in the Mojave Desert some time around 1978, that the ancient Egyptians engaged in body shaving when having family or even animal (especially dog or cat) losses.  Perhaps there’ s a message here.

But Howie “socializes” with Gaby, and Sandra Oh, playing this part, seems as steady as in all her roles (remember her in Lionsgate’s “Hard Candy”).

The film is set in Yonkers, NY, and the family home is shown around the Hudson River. The film earned a New York State badge but not the “Made in NY” trademark for the credits.

The official site for the film is here.

Lionsgate did not play any trademark music for itself or any production companies in the opening of this very quiet film; a link to the musical ritornel is on the Dec. 6, 2009 posting here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

PBS re-airs Silverdocs documentary about adoption from China, "Wo Ai Ni Mommy"

Silverdocs has presented the documentary “Wo Ai Ni Mommy” (“I Love You Mommy”, 78 min, directed by Stephanie Wang Breal.

A family on Long Island, Jeff and Donna Sadowsky, with two teen boys and a younger girl, decide to adopt a foster child from Guangzhu, China. Donna travels with her father and meets the child, who has difficulty adapting to so much, including how to learn English. But back in New York, she adapts quickly and “becomes” a Sadowsky. Donna says she wanted to adopt another child to meet her own mothering needs, it was not all out of charity; in some ways, it was “selfish.” But it’s clear in the film that she has taught all the siblings in the family to show affection for one another, and that isn’t easy.

The foster parents in China accept that they will not keep the child (or get the subsidy from the state), and believe that the child really will have a better life in America. 

Toward the end of the film, the question as to why the family would “love” someone who looks so different from then is explored.

You get the feeling from the scenes in China that it is a bit like another planet, almost like us, but not quite. Her hotel is very modern.

Howard University Television, WHUT in Washington, aired the film on January 13, 2011.

The website for the film is this.   

Here is the YouTube interview (from PBS) with Donna Sadowsky.

The program was followed by a couple of animated shorts, including one from the UK about a boy with Asperger's, and one from Germany about a soldier in the Battle of the Bulge contemplating having killed the enemy. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More Donald Strachey, "On the Other Hand"

Here’s another Donald Strachey franchise film, “On the Other Hand, Death: A Donald Strachey Mystery”, also directed from Ron Oliver and from Regent.

This time, the story manages to put together many troubling problems, while presenting a gay private eye (Strachey, played by Chad Allen) who lives in a male relationship as a normative social construct. Strachey doesn’t believe in chance or coincidence, but this time he is on two cases that come together. The heart of the matter is an aging lesbian couple (Margot Kidder and Gabrielle Rose) being targeted by vandalism, graffiti, and burglary. One is a guidance counselor at school who draws protests from townspeople for referring a gay teen to a suicide prevention service without the permission or blessing of parents. But the second subplot involves real estate developers who want to force the couple to sell for McMansion development. There’s a third subplot, a backstory; one of the pair also has a skeleton in her closet, participation in a Vietnam War protest in the past with a tragic result.

The film does point out the dangers of gay life, just from targeting and ostracism; yet, having seen two of these films now, I’m more struck by the way they seem to be like a television series. They are a bit overstylized. There are some interesting camera techniques, as in the first shot of the film with an oily, ambiguous reflection; later, a spinning fan frames an outdoor scene.

GayCinema601 provides the trailer on YouTube.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

"Blue Valentine": a interesting concept of layered storytelling; a commentary on permenance of intimacy across time

One technique in “layered” or “non-linear” storytelling is to present a dramatic confrontation or situation, and then present the characters in flashbacks, taking them through the physical and emotional changes that took them to this point.

So it is with “Blue Valentine: A Love Story,” directed by Derek Cianfrance, from The Weinstein Company and Hunting Lane Pictures. Dean (Ryan Gossling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) play a married couple, who leave their daughter with an ailing, oxygen-dependent grandfather so they can work on restoring their own relationship. The story of how their relationship came to be is indeed more complicated than we would expect, and involves such elements as eldercare, the hard work of residential moving, and a pregnancy of uncertain origin with a termination attempt that itself is stopped.

Visually, one of the most striking elements of the film is the “aging” of Ryan Gosling of about 10 years, past 40 (the actor is 30), with a pronounced widow’s peak in his hairline that is not particularly becoming. I wonder how this was done with makeup. You could consider Dean as being of all ages at some point in "space-time", a relativistic concept. No one is perfect forever.

In many of the flashbacks, he appears as he actually looks now, however. That reminds us physical perfection is not forever for any of us.

In terms of writing, the challenge is to connect the flashbacks to the “current events” so that the film is not arbitrary (which was a bit of a problem with “Rosenstrasse”, reviewed here Dec. 22. The connecting element seems to be the intense, organic, earthy intimacy of the relationship. That has been a subject of controversy, as for a while it looked as though the film would get an NC-17, which I see nothing wrong with, because here the intimacy carries the story (back and forth in time). In fact, conservatives often call for the “Song of Solomon” and the celebration of marital intimacies in media, where the partners cannot remain “perfect” forever. It points out to some of us that we really prefer to live in fantasy worlds rather than face the long-term process of committed intimacy. I think it helps us understand why we expect so much social support for marriage, including the idea that most adult kids will carry forward the lineage of their parents with the same kind of passion. Yet some of us will not.

The film was shot in Super 16, to give it a low-budget look. The credits did not mention Dolby, but there was robust stereo in most scenes, but strangely not in the guitar scene, which looked deliberately amateurish (it was shown in the previews).

The official site for the film is here.

Here is Backstage Casting’s preview of the film.

The Weinstein Company distributed or helped make three films in this year’s Oscar stakes: this one, “The King’s Speech”, and “Fighter” (which it did jointly with Paramount and Warner Brothers).

The film is set in Carbondale, PA (near Scranton). But I thought I saw the skyline of Pittsburgh in the river scene.

The late Saturday afternoon show at the Arlington VA AMC Shirlington was about three-fourths full (in a large auditorium).

Monday, January 03, 2011

Lifetime airs tragic docudrama of Philip Markoff (from "Craigslist")

On Monday, Jan. 3, Lifetime Television aired the controversial docudrama about med student Philip Markoff, “The//Craigslist. Killer” (the title of the film was coded as if it were from an IBM mainframe JCL DD statement, a curiosity indeed), with the “Mr. Hyde” character played by Dallas-born Jake McDorman. The film, broadcast in widescreen anamorphic, is directed by Stephen Kay.

It’s a pretty shocking idea that a likeable, “perfect” male medical student (Markoff) would have such an uncontrollable dark side. There is a scene at a med school lecture where Markoff is quietly browsing Craigslist when the professor calls on his with a question about genetics, which he answers correctly.

The movie asks as much about the reliability of a human’s character as about the instrumentalities on the Web that make it so easy for people to hide for a while as they “do bad”. In fact, Craigslist has attracted attention not only for the way “adult” services at one time had contributed to its profits (resulting in the constitutionally inappropriate “activism” by a number of states’ attorneys general). It has also attracted reverse controversy because of its reliance on "old" "Web 1.0" technology.

Early, he proposes marriage(Megan McAllister, played by Agnes Bruckner , “Blue Car”), going through the hoops of getting her father’s blessing; he’s played all the competitive games of the heterosexual world “correctly”, and then look at what happens.

His girlfriend has to deal with the gradual process of discovery from the media, and then the cops stop her when he is riding in her front seat, in a chilling catch. She insists the police have the wrong guy, and say the Boston police are the worst in the country (remember “The Town” and “Mystic River”?) William Baldwin plays the lead cop.

Even the medical school professor disbelieves the cops, saying that medical school places such demands on someone that it would have been physically impossible. But he, “The Perfect Guy”, throws it all away. It’s harder on the girl friend who loved him than it is on him. The ending brings grief beyond belief, as he smears messages to her on the jail cell wall as he dies at his own hand. He is not Shakespearian.

In a way, Markoff’s demise seems like an extension of the collapse of the fictitious character Nick Fallon (Blake Berris), the likeable geek on the soap opera “Days of our Lives”.

After the film, Lifetime aired the verbally graphic documentary featurette “Beyond the Headlines: Catching the Craigslist Killer”. The film even discussed security procedures, like not advertising a room number, followed by “the oldest profession”. Women in this line of “work “ sometimes did not complain to police because of their “illegality.”  There is an interesting sidelight in that the police had to deal with the idea in their forensics that a wardriver could have intercepted wireless signals from the women's rooms in an impersonation scheme.

The feature film, while both unpleasant and necessary, seems suitable for theatrical release, too.

Wikipedia attribution link of Providence, RI picture . One of Markoff’s crimes apparently took place in Warwick, RI. The tragic 2003 Station disco Fire took place near there, also

Saturday, January 01, 2011

"Casino Jack and the United States of Money": Is "documentary" for sissies?

I did pick up a rental of Participant’s “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”, directed by Alex Gibney, from Magnolia.

It’s rather long for a non-Michael-Moore documentary (118 minutes), and starts off with a snarky pass at documentary film. That’s because Jack Abramoff was a film producer for a while (in the late 80s, with “Red Scorpion” is main film, obscure now, produced under the rubric of the International Freedom Foundation). “Scorpion” is in the Save area of Netflix (the “Red” means something). This got involved with South Africa’s politics in the time, which subsidized the Foundation (an expression of a paranoid, Cold War “Manchurian Candidate” way of looking at the world).

Abramoff also made mincemeat of ideological conservatism, starting out as a political bedfellow of a younger Karl Rove, saying the “college Republicans” weren’t pure enough. He went into Orthodox Judaism to buttress his ideology.

In time, his super-lobbying, with its earmarks and payoffs, became a ridiculous parody of the “free market”, as if public policy were a good or service to be sold like groceries (or maybe even health care). I’m reminded that in chess, in some opening variations, “material means nothing.”

The film is quite detailed and relentless in its chronicle of Abramoff. The lobbying industry becomes the way “money gives its orders to the State”. The individual in this system means nothing, and the Goliaths control everything.

The DVD has a New York screening Q@A with Gibney, and the Justice Department actually leaned on Abramoff to talk to Gibney.

In a radio interview on the DVD, Gibney says about the second film, "Kevin Spacey is a great actor but he's no Jack Abramoff." Remember Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle?

Participant has a site for the film on its “Take Part” website here.
The subtext about tribal democracy is important, but probably hard to follow.  I became familiar with indian owned tribal casinos when living in Minneapolis. The Libertarian Party often held its conventions at Mystic Lake.

Magnolia Pictures offers this parody on how a bill becomes law.

Update: Jan. 8, 2011

Maria Glod has a Washington Post story today "Former lobbyist gets 27 months for campaign finance violations" about Paul J. Magliocchetti, 65, founder and owner of the now-closed PMA Group, link here.