Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lifetime airs "The Inside Story" of "The Silence of the Lambs"

On Wednesday, March 30, Lifetime aired a biography channel “meta documentary”, “The Silence of the Lambs: The Inside Story”, about the 1991 film directed by Jonathan Demme, from Orion Pictures, based on the novel by Thomas Harris.

The film puts a young FBI cadet, Clarice Starling, played by Jody Foster, against a psychopathic ex-psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins, very carefully incarcerated (it doesn’t do enough good), to rescue a girl held in a dungeon by another psychopath, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).
Held by Orion for release on Valentine’s Day 1991 (to avoid competing with “Dances with Wolves” in 1990), it won Best Picture for 1991, one of the earliest releases ever to win BP.

The documentary explains settling on the locations (especially Pittsburgh), and the construction of the set of the prison housing Hannibal.

The gay community protested the stereotyped character Buffalo Bill, although in the movie the character was actually “straight” as I recall.

But the film was considered one of the greatest examples of movie storytelling for its own sake (since Vertigo, perhaps).

Orion Pictures would later go bankrupt, and the Hannibal “franchise” would be taken over by MGM and Universal.  Lecter returns to “public life” in the 2001 sequel Hannibal, with its horrific conclusion of a man’s brain be served as food while he is alive.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NatGeo: "Desert Flower": a desert nomad, victim of a horrific cultural practice, becomes a supermodel

National Geographic Films, along with Match Factory and director Sherry Horman, has brought one searing, epic film biography about a model from Somalia, Waris Dirie (Liya Kebede), titled “Desert Flower”. It is based on her autobiography, “The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad”.

She was circumcised by force at 3, in a harrowing sequence of horror (as told to a journalist who reminds one of Kitty Kelly) near the end of the film as presented, sold into marriage. (NatGeo says “in the deserts of Africa, many girls’ lives are arranged.”) She escaped to London, and followed a woman  Pushpa (Meera Syal) around the streets until she found a place to stay.  (I wondered how I would have reacted if put in Pushpa’s position.) Working at a fast-food pub, she was noticed by a photographer (Craig Parkinson) who would eventually bring her into the world of fashion (turning some sequences of the film into a likeness of “September Issue” or “Picture Me”)--surviving some very sensitive situations.  She marries (Timothy Spall) to get around immigration laws, enduring a harrowing sequence where British immigration officers visit their apartment and make sure that the marital bed is really used as such.

Eventually, she would go to New York and the UN and become a spokesperson against the brutal treatment of women in African culture, something not called for by the Koran (despite its supposed motivation in notions of "purity", and the satisfaction of men after marriage).  She says that the practice provides a major part of the explanation for the widespread poverty of most of the continent.

The film (1:85:1) has breathtaking sequences of nomadic life in East Africa, actually filmed in Djibouti.

The official site for the film is here

I saw this film at Landmark E-Street in Washington DC late on a Tuesday night before a sparse crowd.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fox's "conservative" comedy about eldercare, sports, and teen (and grownup redemption), "Win Win"

There have been a few other little films about eldercare (“The Savages”, “Away From Her”, and "That Evening Sun" [here, Feb 16]), but the new “dramedy” written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, Fox Searchlight and Everest Entertainment, “Win Win”, adds a most uplifting element, the idea that a perceptive youth can see though all the much and game-playing.

Paul Giamatti  (“the chick pea”) continues is comic roles as an eldercare lawyer Mike Flaherty in New Providence, NJ, struggling to make do with his failing practice in an old office that needs a boiler. When presented with an elderly client Leo (Burt Young) with mild dementia, he gets the State to make itself a guardian and uses his “authority” to take him out of his home and put him into assisted living, because he (the lawyer) can make commission money off of it, although we don’t get that at first.  All things move into the world of Shakespearian comedy as the Leo’s athletically gifted grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) and subsequently the neglectful daughter Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) show up.

Kyle, despite his own troubled past from parental neglect – he had once stolen a car, and had given up wrestling and was now smoking -- turns himself around when Flaherty starts showing some substitute fatherly interest in his potential. Quickly, he is enrolled in high school and goes on the wrestling team, where he wins every individual match, practically. He quits smoking, makes weight, develops discipline, and wants to help care for his grandfather.  And he quickly figures out all the scheming of both his mother and Flaherty himself, and comes out with great one liners.  This is a feature debut by teen actor Alex Shaffer, and it is overpowering.  Is Shaffer another future Ed Norton?  He could lose the upper back tattoos, but his physical appearance (with the artificially blond mop on top) and body language are commanding.  His YouTube video at Sundance (below) indicates that in real life he was or is a high school wrestling star in New Jersey.
The high school wrestling matches and drills – Flaherty is a coach, but he is backed up by Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor – are themselves comical and revelatory, a glimpse into a slightly macho world of the bygone past.

Much of the film was actually shot on Long Island.  New Providence is in northern NJ, on US 22. 
The eldercare theme is still an important topic that movies should do more.  Many states have filial responsibility laws that could be used to compel adult children to pay for or provide care for their parents.  Ohio (where the kid comes from) has such a law; I don’t know whether New Jersey does.

I suppose this film would meet the “conservative moviegoers list” with its redemptive values. Late Sunday afternoon, it played to an almost full house at Landmark E Street in downtown DC in a large auditorium.  It’s shot in regular 1:85:1 aspect, which emphasizes the closeups.

Fox’s site for the film is here


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tom Shadyac examines his and our old souls in "I Am"

A few years back, Hollywood director and producer Tom Shadyac  (“Evan Almighty” and “Bruce Almighty”) had a bike accident, leaving him with a concussion and prolonged depression during recovery. This led him to examine all of her personal values and start a dialogue with a number of leaders and writers like Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky.

I am” “what can be right with the world again.”  The film has a tagline, "The shift is about to hit the fan."

The thrust of the film ("I Am" or "Je suis" or Ich bin" or "Estoy"  or "我" or "Я" ) is to maintain that man is primarily a social animal, intended to live in groups (families and above), and, as an individual, to consume only what he or she needs.  In nature, wild animals in herds practice “democracy” expressed by the body language of the majority.

In an animation sequence, he points out that at one time “hunter gatherers” who were more productive started consuming more for themselves, leading to an individually competitive society. Of course, there’s moral ambiguity: the person who produces less may be lazy and “deserve” less, or he or she may be truly disabled. In real life, it’s often a combination of the two. All of this brought to mind the mantra "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs", often mocked in the Army barracks at Fort Eustis back in 1969 (and some people who were there will remember this). 

He points out that lion prides kill only what they will eat (what they need), though he doesn’t mention that alpha male lions kill the cubs of other males in order to monopolize the future gene pool (as was pointed out in NatGeo’s “The Last Lions”). 

The idea that everyone should be tied in to the “social network” (no pun) before expecting recognition for the self does have some potential traction. That could help rectify the underlying structures that lead to an “unfair economy” (that’s what I call the “pay your dues” mentality explored by Barbara Ehrenreich, Lisa Dodson, and others). Arguable, it could make longstanding marriages (which don’t have to be heterosexual always) stable enough to raise children.

Shadyac eventually moved from his Beverly Hills palaces to a mobile home park on Malibu Beach. I hope he escapes the natural wildfires – but there, neighbors take each other in, just as in the New Testament.

The film seems to be self-distributed, by Shady Acres Entertainment, with official site here

Hint: you can have fun with Google translate.  Every language has irregular verbs. Cogito ergo sum

Picture above: From the Washington DC Metro, "I Am" is the name of an exhibit "The African American Imprint" to be shown as a National Geographic event in downtown DC.  It's website is here or (NatGeo) here.

Second picture: Revelers return from Circus at the Verizon Center, Washington DC.

Related: "ALL Together Now: A Celebration of Service" from Points of Light on TV blog, March 28.

Shadyac's ideas correspond to those about euscociality and altruism in a book by Wilson, reviewed on my books blog, May 1, 2012.

Note: URL title has "Tim" rather than "Tom" in name because of a typo. "Tom" is correct.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Of Gods and Men": a sobering film about monastic life in the face of religious enemies

There is a point near the tragic end of “Of Gods and Men” (“Des  hommes et des deux”, French title reversed) where one of the Trappist monks (left behind) says something like, his life can indeed vanish in oblivion if it is merely taken away by others, but there is still Paradise.  To me, that’s always been a bit of a contradiction.

There is another line, midway through the film, when the monks eat a simple supper, to the effect that weakness is not a virtue but part of reality that we must accept in others and accept in ourselves.  The notion that everyone must bear his own cross is part of Vatican thinking.

I didn’t know that it snows in Algeria, even in the Atlas Mountains, and a blizzard provides a bleak climax to a film that has just treated us to a rerun of some of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” (aka “Black Swam”), without the pas de deux and hollow triumphant B-Major ending, which I still craved.

For most of this 2+ hour film by Xavier Beauvois, the eight  monks, living in a simple facility in the highlands, debate the growing threat that radical Islamists (in the context of the 1996 Algerian Civil War) will eventually kidnap them and demand the release of hostages.  Even the local French officials want them to go back to Europe, and the monks are left with just principal.

A church group (Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington VA) went earlier this week, but I missed the outing because of work. The AMC Shirlington tonight was about half full for the early show as the film starts a second week.

Sony’s site for the film is here.

The film, from “Why Not Productions”, won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Lambert Wilson and Michael Lansdale head the cast of the film which recalls “The Nun’s Story” and “The Sound of Music” but confronts us with a much harder reality.

Another film for comparison is “Into Great Silence”, reviewed here April 1, 2007.

Also ponder Rialto's rerelease of the 1967 film "The Battle of Algiers" ("La battalgia di Algeri", Gillo Pontecorvo, black and white, about the Algerian revolution in 1960; Landmark E Street showed this right after if opened in 2005.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Limitless": a writer finds that a pill is not the way to "powers"

“Writer’s block” provides fodder for a lot of movies.  So does the idea of having “powers” and not having to “pay your dues” or compete the way other people have to. Such is the case in Rogue/Relativity’s latest “B Movie”, “Limitless”, directed by Neil Burger, based on Alan Glynn’s novel.

A sapphire-eyed and summery Bradley Cooper plays the writer Eddie Morra, who’s about to get thrown out of his walkup in the East Village with no money. Oh, he has an advance, but his editor is none too impressed. The movie brushes off the writing issues, to get into its Faustian interest in a “superman” potion and in financial derivatives.  One day he runs into a “brother in law” who introduces him to a “legal” (almost) IQ-boosting pill with the additive powers of meth or crack. The “substance” does enable one to use all of the capacity in his brain, to learn motor skills and languages as well as just process intellectual information. But then if you run out, you know what happens.

I thought about “Social Network”, whose protagonist did not need a pill to be brilliant. I wondered how Jessie Eisenberg, Mark Zuckerberg himself (who doesn’t need to act beyond SNL, where he was pretty good), or perhaps Jason Ritter (who plays a similar character Sean in the NBC series “The Event”), or even Matt Damon (“Adjustment Bureau”) would have acted the role.

The movie becomes a bit of a sci-fi gimmick, with its own style of special effects of tunneling through New York City.

At one point, Eddie faces a certain paradox: despite his brilliance, his short term memory and grip on reality are not reliable, and he has to deal with the possibility he could have murdered a young woman in an apartment when a news story comes on the air during a business meeting.

Robert De Niro makes his comeback with a role as a business tycoon, a kind of Donald Trump who thinks that losing really hurts.

The website for the film is here

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Young Adam": Life through the eyes of a young drifter with a guilty secret

“When you look at yourself in this mirror, think of me.”  So the young barge worker and drifter Joe (Ewan McGregor) notes as he tosses it into the water. And he’s not too proud of himself. 

Actually, it’s an unpleasant topic, how someone responsible for serial misery of sorts lives with it, and letting the audience figure it out becomes the plot trick of the 2003 release "Young Adam".  It should be pointed out that were Joe psychopathic, the film would take on a different character, and become pointless. Joe is capable or remorse, if he would only really feel it.   

In the early 50s, the body of a young Cathy (Emily Mortimer) has been pulled out of the Clyde river near Glasgow.  Joe, in the meantime, gradually moves in on the married owner Ella (Tilda Swinton, with Peter Mullan as the husband) in scenes that are quite graphic.  But the film tells the complete story in layered fashion, jumping back and forth, as we learn of Joe’s past relationship with Cathy (again, energetic), when he was trying to become a writer.  (A typewriter that winds up in the river becomes an important symbol in the film, which doesn’t inspire admiration for writing the way “Barton Fink” did.)   One could believe the worst – that Joe is like a Hannibal – but he is more a coward, after Emily has gotten pregnant.

Then, there is courtroom drama, which in Britain becomes costume drama, with audience grunts. The cops nab the wrong man for Emily’s death, and Joe attends the trial, with some visible discomfort. And Britain still used the gallows then.

The film was made by Hanway in 2002, when McGregor was about 31, a few years older than in “Rogue Trader”.  He’s already grizzled by boat life, which has its own form of bodily insults and male intimacy.
The film is directed by David MacKenzie, and is based on a 1957 novel by Alexander Trocchi, curiously written in the first person (which may make the use of flashbacks and a non-time but topical sequence a way to tell the story in film) .  The title is obviously metaphorical.

Here is Sony’s official site with an NC-17 rating.  The graphic nature of the film seems of little consequence compared to the story concept, and the Scottish setting, which is quite realistically filmed (with all those images you remember from English literature) at 2.35:1, and looks sharp in BluRay even though it is a conventional DVD.

Attribution link for picture of Clyde Arch in Glasgow; I visited the city in November 1982. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ABC's "Best in Film" in all time focuses on Spielberg: E.T. and CE III

ABC decided to throw its own post-Oscar party tonight with its “Best In Film” two-hour special, with the main link here. The results wee based on audience votes. 

Gone with the Wind” won the “best of all time” audience award, and the penultimate line from Rhett Butler in the fog at the end won best line. When I was growing up, my parents vacillated between calling this and “From Here to Eternity” best picture. I once sat through the original “Moulin Rouge” with them.
But the most interesting part of the show was the focus on earlier Steven Spielberg. The show’s producers obviously love “The E.T.” (1982), which presents no adults for the first half. Spielberg had no children at the time but became a dad to all the child actors in the film. We all remember the lovable ET and his aerial bike – much nicer than “Paul”, about to come out.  The film, curiously, was shot in standard aspect ratio but had stunning stereo for the time.

But particularly interesting is the memory of Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (Columbia), which I saw twice while living in NYC, once in December, and then again the night of the infamous January 1978 blizzard when a “boyfriend” invited me to see it again. The film has a prequel where the missing Navy planes from the Bermuda triangle reappear, but the main story line derives from a rural power outage where a local engineer (Richard Dreyfuss) investigates. Pretty soon his “inception” and official investigations (and some abductions) lead him to Devils Tower, WY, where the space ship comes down. (He even makes a Devils Tower model with mashed potatoes in front of his kids).  In 1997, in fact, a female jogger “went up” near Landers, WY.  The power outage idea could be sinister: a real alien “invasion” could start with a high-altitude EMP blast, introducing immediate chaos all over the world (how about that for a film plot).

The show included a lot of footage of the original 1939 "The Wizard of Oz", remarkable (in technique) in the sudden shift from black-and-white to technicolor to prepare for the Emerald of the city. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"The Lincoln Lawyer": a defense attorney and his client set each other up

As “The Lincoln Lawyer”, conducting his law business for high-profile LA clients from the back seat of his chauffeured Lincoln Continental (license plate “NTGUILTY”), Mick Haller (a lean Matthew McConaughey) gets to show his ability to manipulate people, from all elements of society, everywhere in LA’s underbelly.  Pretty soon, he’s confronted with a high profile and seemingly appealing client rich boy Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe, who looks as smooth as he did in “Studio 54” and would still “get in”), whom he is duped into “getting off” while Louis has set up and committed other crimes, possibly framing him.

It’s a fantastically circular plot, improbable and manipulate; but it starts out with an incident demonstrating the “dangers” of bars and the conscience of women who do certain things for a living, setting up their clients.  In the end, it becomes a kind of charade of “courtroom drama”, but even the prosecutor (Josh Lucas) is duped into a blunder that could get him disbarred.

There’s also the issue of “Mother” (Frances Fisher), who, in the memory of Psycho, provides the film a fitting climax.

Perhaps the most interesting character is the tech-savvy  gay private eye Frank (a long-haired William H. Macy), who becomes set up by the “plot” himself.

These days, to make an independent film, you hire a big director (Brad Furman)  and big stars, and make the theater print available for digital projection.  The late Friday night show at a large Regal auditorium in Arlington Va for this R-rated movie was rather lightly attended.

Here’s the official site.   

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Monster in a Box" is a book manuscript (like mine)

On Dec. 17, 1996, I carried a book manuscript into the HR office, in a box, and as I sat down, she asked “What’s in the box?”  Well, the line “What’s in the basket?” occurs in the 1982 comedy “Basket Case”, and the monster is the deformed Siamese brother of a young man carrying him around (I remember seeing that at the Inwood in Dallas). But the “Monster in a Box” is Spalding Gray’s 2000 page novel “Impossible Vacation” – and he has a “real” publisher, Knopf.  My own “monster” was a double-columned manuscript of “Do Ask Do Tell”.  

Gray, right off the bat, has some interesting perspectives on the mentality of “the writer”.  He has written the manuscript in cursive longhand, and had it typed; no computers or Microsoft Word (not the case for me).   He’s an aficionado of Thorton Wilder and “Our Town” (read in every high school), which gives him a key into acting and stage management, diverting him from writing.  He says he was accused of acting condescending to both the audience and the people in The Town.  He talks about the connection between Emily’s funeral in the last act of the play and the closure from his own Mother’s death.  “The dead don’t stay interested in us living for very long.”

It’s rather brash to call 87 minutes of a self-indulgent man talking (in a comedy club), seated at a table no less, a movie, especially from an innovative studio, New Line (and Image). But the 1992 film is directed and itself stage-managed by Nick Broomfield.  Gray  even gets up and stands from the table late in the film. He covers his legs with long johns. That’s when he’s talking about his visit to the Russian Ark (itself a film), the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Don’t forget other films in related titles, like Richard Kelly’s “The Box”, or the 1986 spoof, “Monster in the Closet”.

The film bears comparison to the dinner conversation film “My Dinner with Andre” and Gray’s earlier monologue “Swimming to Cambodia” (to be reviewed later).  His monologue here even reminds me of Kate Clinton.  Where’s Barton Fink?

Our Town” is discussed on the Drama Blog, June 13, 2007.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"A Canterbury Tale": a wonderful 1944 film about "serendipity", weaving Chaucer with WWII-era "pilgrims" solving a mystery

High school English teachers, especially for AP classes, might want to look at the 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale”, originally from The Archers and Eagle Lion, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  The film, on the surface, follows a “land girl”, American soldier and a British soldier on a “pilgrimage” to Canterbury during the early days of WWII.  A mysterious “glue-man” pours epoxy into the hair of girls dating GI’s, as if to punish guilt by association. But, to solve this "leitmotif mystery" the characters must draw closer to one another  and various levels in an experience that perhaps anticipates the style of the NBC series "Lost".  Many of the "clues" map back to some of the Chaucer Canterbury Tales.  There is a scene in the middle of the film, in a blacked-out classroom, with a discussion of coincidence and serendipity.  The opening of the film migrates from 12th Century England with a falcon transforming to a plane with soldiers marching to defend the country against Germany. 

 The American version of the film had a prologue, set in the US, to frame the movie; the British version had a credits epilogue of boys playing soccer, with triumphant music, by Allan Gray, to close the film. There’s a lot of material here for themes.

The ending with “Onward Christian Soldiers” (including the epilogue) sends the viewer to the heavens (look for it on YouTube with PeterAndres18). The triumphant orchestral music (in the closing credits, after the hymn) resembles the conclusion of Havergal Brian's Symphony #3 (in the coda finale) a bit. 

This is indeed a strange classic film.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Yesterday Was a Lie": a modest precedent for "Inception"?

The reality-challenge of “inception” has some precedence in small film, such as James Kerwin’s black-and-white film noir “Yesterday Was a Lie”, from Helicon Arts and E-1 (2009).

As the dusky film starts, Hoyle (Kipleigh Brown) lies on a shrink’s couch, saying she is pursued constantly by another woman who turns out to be her.  She has pursued a genius Dudas (John Newton)”,  in layered dreams (the “dream within a dream, as in “Inception”); and her foil leads her into challenges to her own sense of existence and reality.  A lab assistant does a shell game demonstration of how the past and future could be rearranged. Ultimately, the idea that actions have irrevocable consequences could become challenged, which seemed to be the issue with the way Arizona suspect Jared Loughner interpreted lucid dreaming.  The climax of the film comes about with a “Vertigo-style” cliff hanger with Dudas.

The film’s characters and objects are set up as allegories to notions in physics; Hoyle’s affectionate cat is Schroedinger’s cat; and there is a line, “the mind is a surge protector”.

The film, rated PG, is rather low key, not as weird as it would have been with, say, David Lynch, but “Eraserhead” comes to mind.

The official site is here

Note: I reviewed "Battle LA" on my disaster movies blog today.

Post-It notes:  In retrospect, I think that the best film for 2010, in a filmmaking sense, was "Black Swan".  Of course, the film works because the dance boss was straight, and because the film matches the Tchaikovsky ballet, and becomes ballet itself. Running behind, it's very hard to rank "Inception", "Biutiful" (similar to it), and "Social Network".  All of these draw you into their worlds and keep you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious": important documentary about lucid dreaming offered on "Inception" DVD

The BLU Ray DVD for “Inception” includes two important short subjects that are important films in their own right.

Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious” is a 44 minute documentary about dreams, with some discussion of lucid dreams, where the person is aware of the dream process and can wake himself and control the dream.  In lucid dreams, there is a tendency to have relations, possibly intimate, with other people of interest to you, but what you experience is your own impression of the other person, not the person himself or herself (although we could wonder about the possibility of telepathy – a biological potential that might be explored as in the movie “Avatar”).  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with a buzz cut (and pronounced widows’ peaks, like he is ready for Minoxodil) appears frequently and leads the discussion.

Roko Belic directs. Also appearing are Deidre Barrett and Stephen LaBerge.

I wonder if, at the moment of death, one could become stuck in a dream.  Or perhaps one would be challenged as to the conditions for going back. In a dream, you don’t know how you got there, and you don’t care.  So dreams are asynchronous.  I’ve dreamed about being in a circular tunnel (sort of like in “The Matrix”), in empty barracks with mattresses, books and various reminders of life, and then another room where there is a “window” or fenestration with a view of non-terrestrial plants, conveying that I am on another planet (like in AMC Theaters’ trailer).  In my screenplay “Prescience”, I’ve supposed that children appear in the room, and suddenly an angel tells “me” that I must be responsible for at least child, and that I did “procreate” it, on a spaceship, with a character (“Tovina”) whom I thought had been only fictitious, in my novels.  Am I giving away too much for my movie?  “Inception” and “Biutiful” certainly provide some inspiration.

We know that unfortunately Arizona suspect Jared Loughner tried to use lucid dreaming as an excuse for his acts. 

The other short is a 14 minute animated film in “graphic novel” or “comic book” format with dialogue displayed, as if extracted by a programmable script from a FinalDraft or Mac Screenwriter screenplay script. It’s called “Inception: The COBOL Job”, directed by James Kirby, dramatizing the events that led to the “sting” that constitutes the plot of the main film. The cartoonish figure for Leonardo Di Caprio is pretty effective. Now COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) was the most popular mainframe applications computer programming language for many years.

My original review on "Inception" appears July 16, 2010. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

"Collapse": Michael Ruppert's interview on unsustainability of growth on a finite planet

There is a point, at about one hour into this eighty minute film, where former CIA employee and LAPD police office and now journalist named Michael Ruppert  says, “The rugged individualist will not survive. You need to be part of a tribe or family.”  Then he starts to cry.

This is a film named “Collapse,” 80 minutes (2009), directed by Chris Smith, from BlueMark Productions and Vitagraph, based on Michael’s book “A Presidential Energy Policy”. The film consists entirely of Michael’s being interviewed – he chain smokes – along with copious illustrations and animations.

Ruppert’s basic premise is that capitalism and our form of individualism is unsustainable because it presumes infinite resources.  The early part of the film starts with the discussion of Peak Oil, and run through the hype on alternate energy with some degree of hopelessness – because all of these methods require consumption of energy. (He talks about strip mining in conjunction with tar sands.)  The he talks about the “paradigm” (what someone thinks a system is “before he thinks about it”) and the fallacy of fiat money, an invention which can hide the limitations of real resources.  He gives discussions of practices like fractional reserve banking, and explains how he predicted the Collapse of 2008. 

He says that people need to learn to live locally, tied to family and community, and grow and produce their own food organically and locally.

He also says "politics is an extension of economics" and "war is an extension of politics." 

He makes the interesting comment that cellular and wireless services will fail, and says a land line is a necessary redundancy.

The website is here.  

Here is a grim message from December 2010 from “Collapse Net”.

A film from National Geographic called "Collapse: Based on a Book by Jared Diamond" is reviewed on my "disaster movies" blog, on March 20, 2011.

"A Taste of Honey" airs on TCM; gay character in 1960 Britain presented with great discretion

On March 10, 2011, Turner Classic Movies aired the 1961 comedy-drama “A Taste of Honey”, set in northern England (Manchester), directed by Tony Richardson.   Dora Bryan plays Helen, a working class girl who one day wanders onto a merchant ship, has a minor injury, and meets a black sailor Jimmy (Paul Danquah).  He gives her first aid for her injury, and they become intimate. In time, through comic sequences, we learn she is pregnant. But then Geoffrey (Murray Melvin) comes into her shoe store one day, and starts befriending her, learning about the baby.  Suddenly, it’s Geoffrey who wants to play family and daddy for the baby. We learn through some indirect dialogue that Geoffrey, who is shy but quite natty and appealing, would have been incapable of creating the baby, which in the context of the world of 1960 implied that he is gay. That’s a rather questionable way to reason. But Geoffrey still thinks he needs his own family to make himself legitimate. It's a pre-twist on a concept that Hollywood would take up later with films like "Raising Helen".

It was a bit daring in 1960 to take up the subject of homosexuality, so it was always handled “by implication”.
The black and white photography shows working class Britain as pretty grimy, almost in Dickens fashion. There are some interesting dance scenes showing "The Twist", popular at the time (and it would throw people's backs out). 

The film was an “indie” treasure from early years, produced by Woodfall Film, distributed by Continental to theaters in 1961.  Netflix has the film under the “Save” category. Would Strand pick this one up for a DVD release?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Rogue Trader" (1999) anticipates the Madoff Scandal, is made in the same style as "Social Network"

The 1999 Miramax film “Rogue Trader”, directed by James Dearden, makes for interesting viewing today in light of the 2008 financial collapse, as well as the Bernie Madoff scandal.  The film chronicles, with some humor, the story of Nick Leeson (Ewan McGregor), whose activities brought down Barings Bank in 1995.  The bank sent him to Jakarta to work on an operations problem. He meets and marries Lisa (Anna Friel) and sells the bank on a job in Singapore setting up futures trading.  He even tells people he isn’t selling products or services, but just “numbers”, relative to time.  The movie makes the trading floors garish and colorful, both with the sartorial tastes of the workers, and even the mid 1990s computer screens (probably mainframe CICS).

Leeson starts to get anxious as his scheme unravels; in one scene, he throws up, and in another, he imagines his business partners vomiting simultaneously at a corporate dinner when he unleashes bad news.  It reminds you of what happened to George Bush Sr. in 1992 on a trip to Japan.

In the end, he goes to prison in Singapore, and says he never traded illegally, by his own frame of reference. He would be let out early for colon cancer, from which he would recover.

The style of the film anticipates that of “The Social Network” as it makes a lot of subtle social interactions and the use of computers and numbers and other abstractions.

The film uses locations in Singapore, Jakarta, and even Kuala Lumpur quite effectively.

Nick Leeson has his own official website here.

The DVD is labeled Dimension, as the film was released while Miramax was associated with the Weinstein Company.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"The Taqwacores": The birth of "Punk Islam"

Can one be Muslim and liberal, participate in the punk scene, drink a little, play around, maybe even be gay? 

That’s a premise of a new film by Eyad Zahra, “The Taqwacores”, available from Strand Releasing April 5 (I have a review copy); production company is Rumani films. It was an official election from the Sundance Film Festival (2010). 

The film was shot in Cleveland,  but the book (by Michael Muhmmad Knight) is set in Buffalo, and was originally self-published and handed out free from Kinkos copies.

Yusef, a first generation Pakastani-American and an engineering student, moves into the “house” with some punk rockers who practice both forms (Shiite and Sunni) of Islam from several countries.  Yusef (Bobby Haderi), good looking and wholesome in a more “conservative” sense and not as obviously “Muslim” publicly,  is serious about his life, and wants to reconcile Islam with democratic and liberal values that he otherwise believes.  He has to keep his head above the clouds as others in the house “tempt” him, but in time he has to loosen up, especially about sexuality.   The other characters oscillate between prayers, rock punk sessions and other experiments, leading to a tragedy. Yusef must go on. 

The film is shot (1.85:1) in sepia colors, and looks sharp on an HD TV with a BluRay player even though the DVD is standard.  Some of the climactic scenes are shot effectively in black and white.

The official website (for “The birth of Punk Islam) is here

Picture: (mine), in Oberlin, Ohio, 35 miles W of Cleveland.

This review is based on a complimentary copy sent by the distributor. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

"How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?"

Sony Video and Columbia Pictures offers a 92 minute documentary on the DVD (BluRay) for (the recent David Fincher film) “The Social Network”, namely, “How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook”?

The film is in “four parts”, the names of which I didn’t note (the last was “The Lot”). But the entire film focused on how the director, script supervisor, and other staff worked closely with the entire young adult (mostly male) cast.  The documentary is shot 1.85:1 and vertically cropped for the 2.35:1 “Social Network” excerpts.

The “featurette” comes across as being a film about Jesse Eisenberg, Armie Hammer, Josh Pence, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake (Max Minghella is also in the film), as characters in the real world.. In high definition, you see them up close.

Curiously, this film isn’t about Mark Zuckerberg.  Although Jesse’s acting reproduces Zuckerberg’s tendency to avoid eye contact and look beyond the person he talks to, his own speech style is much faster and less calculating. The personality differences came through on the SNL appearance in January where Jesse, Mark, and Andy Samberg appeared together.

Eisenberg does comment that Zuckerberg is a personification of Facebook, and notes the irony of someone who resists intimacy wanting to map the relations of others, and bring human relations to a lower common denominator that can be measured and tracked.

The sequence where Josh Pence fills in as one of the Winklevoss brothers (in most of the film, Armie Hammer doubles for both) for dress rehearsals is interesting, as are the rowing scenes.  There is a sequence in the Second Part where it appears that Josh and some other actors are subjected to what looks like the “Body Analysis” of “The Andromeda Strain”.

Justin Timberlake looks different, in some aspects, from how he did at around age 21 as an ‘Nsync member, if one wants to notice.   Actors have a lot of things done to their bodies.

But visually, it’s Andrew Garfield who steals attention, as in his “Details” appearance. Were the actors subjected to Zuckerberg’s original hacked “hottest” contest (in a male version), Garfield would win hands down.

CNBC aried a one hour documentary ("The Facebook Obsession") on Facebook on Jan. 6 (in which Chris Hughes appears a lot), reviewed that day on the TV blog, but so far there hasn’t been a really thorough factual documentary on the history of Facebook itself, something that would run on HBO or show in a Landmark or art house theater (say with Sony Pictures Classics as the distributor rather than Columbia).

The DVD documentary was directed by David Prior with “DreamLogic” (no connection to Dreamworks or to “Inception”) as the production company.

The DVD second disk also offers other extras on the Visuals, Post, Score, and the music score by Trent Renzor. Some of them are interactive. You have to scroll down to find the featurette, which is separate. 

This blog reviewed "The Social Network" on Oct. 3.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

"The Last Lions", from NatGeo and the Joubert family, follows on "Eye of the Leopard"

I was “adopted” by an unaltered black tomcat in Dallas while living in a garden apartment in 1979, and had the experience of having birds offered as present, car keys picked up and carried around, and plenty of affection.  The housecat is almost the only animal that is both wild and domestic at the same time, and decides when to come in.  Cats, more than dogs, have always seemed to have individual personalities.

So it is with big cats. National Geographic has a documentary film “The Last Lions”, directed by husband-and-wife naturalists Dereck and Beverly Joubert.  The film starts in the style of “2001”, with a spaceshot of Earth and Moon, and a quick global geographical map showing how man’s lights are crowding out wildlife. In 50 years, the world’s lion population has gone down from 450,000 to maybe less than 20,000 (because of human hunting and destruction of habitat).

But this film is indeed a tragic story in terms of individual characters. A lioness and her “husband” are driven out of a pride, and the old man dies. She is left as a single mother with three cubs. The two males are weaker.  She seeks shelter on a swamp island, during which one of the “boys” dies. The film documents her special intelligence in figuring out strategies to hunt from a herd of water buffalo. Like most single parents, she faces grave risks in having to leave her children hidden away alone, which brings her to great tragedy, and seems to leave her alone, without lineage.  (It's tough to see a mother leave her paralyzed daughter to die, but there is nothing she can do.) But then there is a plot twist. She winds up the leader of a new pride, with another female partner (a former “enemy”) raising her remaining male cub, in the natural world’s version of gay marriage (and finally “the kid is all right”).

In fact, the film is almost a moral parable, showing how the animal world seems to impose “natural law” (centering around the survival of the group, and “the natural family”, with procreation ruling everything), and yet provides the final ironic moral twist. Individualism is necessary to survive and be reborn even in the natural world of social carnivores.

And the lionesses really are almost “human”.  A Canadian zoologist on TLC showed how he entered a pride and got accepted as an equal and a member. 

Lions do some things that don't fully make sense from longer term species self interest. Male lions will kill the offspring of rival males, to make sure only their lineage goes on. 

National Geographic’s site “Cause an Uproar”  is here The film offered moviegoers a chance for donation by text message.  (Also, the Facebook site is here).

A similar film from National Geographic was "Eye of the Leopard", also by the Joubert's, reviewed on my TV blog July 7, 2008, about Legadema, the Leopard. It's amazing how filmmakers get so close to the animals living their natural lives out of free will. 

The movie brings to mind Disney’s “adventureland” films in the 50s, especially “The Vanishing Prairie” with Winston Hibler (also “The Living Desert” and “Secrets of Life”).

The film (regular aspect 1.85:1) is in limited theatrical release (PG rating), but had a moderate twilight crowd on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA.  It will soon air on NatGeo and be available on DVD. 

The film seems to be distributed solely by National Geographic (without a partnering Hollywood company).

Saturday, March 05, 2011

"The Adjustment Bureau": do immortal angels guide our lives and prevent us from carrying out our own 'free will'?

The idea that there exist “angels” or “covert agents” that have “powers”, to take short-cuts through space-time, and live indefinitely without aging (or perhaps become fixed as “angels” when wise older men) certainly is interesting, and if so, they probably could mediate the choices of the rest of us.

Such is a partial premise of George Nolfi’s new film for Universal,  “The Adjustment Bureau”, based on Philip K. Dyck’s story “Adjustment Team”.  

Mankind, the angels say, were allowed free will for a few hundred years after the Roman Empire fell (bad timing), and the Dark Ages resulted. Same experiment around 1909 or so (who knows, with the Mahler Ninth), and the result was the two world wars, fascism, the Holocaust, and finally the Cuban Missile Crisis (which I appreciate the film’s mentioning).

So, the angels “channel” people toward certain results, which may mean conventional success for some people, and denial of artistic ambition for others. In fact, the angels interfere with those delicate balances of career and family, sometimes actually aiming for career. The angels want David Norris ( perfect Matt Damon, himself just 40), despite his impulsiveness, to become a GOP president some day, and they want Elise (Emily Blunt) to become a ballet star without the dangers of “Black Swan”.  If they have each other, they won’t do their “work”, because they won’t need to, becoming too human and too conjugal (aiming for “the natural family”).

I drove to Rave’s Fairfax Corner to see it in DLP digital, almost like Imax. The movie is shot in flat 1.85:1, and the physical look of the film is understated given its fantastic premise. Yes, there are “doors”, where the authorized can jump from lower Manhattan to the new Yankee Stadium outfield fence, back to the Statue of Liberty (actually in New Jersey, and the scene there does not resemble the climax of “Saboteur”).   There more previews today than ever, and a very large stadium auditorium was almost sold out for the twilight show Saturday.   The screen here was very large, and properly configured for all aspect ratios.  Rave bough this complex from National Amusements, and, sorry to say, the lobby piano is gone, although the rest of the place is nice, with a couple of separate eateries to share concession revenues, a much more progressive arrangement and offering consumers much more choice.  

And it’s choice that this movie is about. In fact, it at least poses the anti-libertarian question, is choice a basic human right? The outcome of the story is certainly “libertarianesque”.  But, the reality is, most people have their lives determined by the needs and limitations of people around them as well as by their own.  

One of the funniest lines is when Matt's character tells Emily's, "they will reset me."

There is a speech early on where Matt Damon’s character, before losing a Senate election, makes a remark about clip-on ties with colors chosen for him by consultants (actually by – guess what – the Adjustment Team), and even the question of whether he should polish his shoes is worthy of mention. A little scruff is like a little gray hair; it might make him look more human. A friend today sent a tweet about shining shoes (with “yfrog” picture), which now seems like a steganographic way to send a message that he had just seen this film, and found the "free will" challenge important.
Here’s the Facebook site.  I got a warning from Webroot on Universal’s official site (named after the movie) about lyricsdownload, which might be a “false positive”.

Note: the still pictures here are all taken by me (not from film).

And don't forget: Matt Damon told Piers Morgan that he wants to direct movies now. He loves playing politicians, but not being one. 

Thursday, March 03, 2011

"Two Young Men UT" explores "double lives" in Mormon country, and then takes us into the Unknown

Logo has some new short films, and a particularly enigmatic one is “TwoYoungMen, UT”, directed and story by Sam McConnell (just 18 minutes, but rich with ideas and concepts).   Will Oberlain (George Loomis), an appealing but normally cautious teen in a Mormon private school with a double life (he's taking AP biology but not AP physics), walks into a Salt Lake gay bar. He’s picked up a fake ID when traveling. That can actually be a serious legal problem for bars (up to age 21), but the “straight” bartender Eli (Art Gager, and definitely not from “The Book of Eli”) lives a double life too of bizarre “connections”.  Pretty soon a “road movie” ensues (more low key than the male equivalent of "Thelma and Louise"), out onto the Salt Flats, which are quite spectacular. The movie moves into ambiguity, with references to the “cattle mutilations” and a suggestion that a private party may be more about watching a UFO landing. And of course Eli will discover his true self, but the movie leaves that dangling for bigger questions. The line “out here, nobody can hear you scream” occurs twice, an overdone reference to “Alien”.  The movie is in full Panavision, but the quality of definition on the Logo video was low. If there’s a DVD of the best Logo shorts, I presume it would be good again.

The link for the film (“Gigantic Pictures”) is here.

Here's the Wikipedia attribution link for Bonneville Flats picture  I’ve been in the area twice, 1966 and 1981.  And yes, in many Utah restaurants, they don’t even serve coffee, but they do serve sweets and fattening desserts.

The center for “cattle mutilations” is actually supposed to be Sterling, CO, NE of Denver (as covered in Oui Magazine in 1974).  It was at a family diner there in 1994 that I suddenly decided to write my DADT book. Little short films like this bring back memories.  (The film of note is “Endangered Species”, 1982, MGM, dir. Alan Rudolph)  I’ll mention also that in December 1975 I visited the area in northern Arizona where supposedly Travis Walton “went up” (“Fire in the Sky”, 1993, Paramount, dir. Robert Lieberman).  

By the way, on the "fake ID problem", when I was substitute teaching, I could see birthdates of students on class rosters, and I later actually saw no fewer than two students in bars illegally. I did mention the problem under the table and discretely later to club managements. It can get a place in trouble. Fake-id rings are as common in real life as in the movies (it was a plot threat in the show "Everwood"). 

Here's another concept that I like (hinted in the short): in both "Smallville" and "The Event", a  young male character (and "hero") is an extraterrestrial without knowing it for a while.  And Mormon theology does not lack an interest in other "afterworlds."  

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

"The Duchess": what family values used to mean for British nobility

The 2008 (and 18th Century Britain) period piece “The Duchess” from director Saul Dibb, Pathe, and  “Paramount Vantage”, based on the book “Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire” by Amanda Foreman,  certainly plays the “old fashioned family values card”.  When the Duchess (Keira Kinghtley) objects to her boring marriage with the Duke (Ralph Fiennes) and plays around (gambling, for example) and then wants to pursue politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). The Duke, who has illegitimate sons who don’t count, wants a male heir by the Duchess, and giving him one and raising him is to become the point of her whole life.  I know the feeling.

Here’s Pathe’s costumes featurette, with some Mozart (from a Piano Concerto) in the background:

There are two official sites, one after the name of the movie here  and another one from Paramount, here.