Friday, April 29, 2011

"Winter in Wartime": storytelling during Nazi occupation leads to a Hitchcock-like Dutch film

Winter in Wartime” (“Oorlogswinter”) is another great piece of storytelling in an alien environment to most of us, this one in the rural Netherlands near the end of WWII, in an area still occupied by Nazis, who will soon be evicted by the Allies (this was after the Battle of the Bulge).  And it is about coming of age. Martijn Lakemeier puts on a virtuoso performance as Michiel, the 14 year old son of a town mayor, who discovers a British soldier in hiding and helps him. For all the moral and ideological ambiguities, director Martin Koolhaven, the screenwriters, and novelist Jan Terlouw stick to dense plotting, with twists that would have attracted Alfred Hitchcock to direct.  The landscapes are photographed in sepia, almost in black and white in most forest or canal scenes.  Bridges and ferries fit into the plot (and the cinematography), as do horses.

The film opens with a (British) war plane crash, and a shooting from a pilot caught in the trees; and it will be a while before we see the connection to the plot. But the occupiers (however numbered are their days by early 1945) are determined to punish the town for the death of one of their own, and it seems that the political and ideological alliances in the mayor’s family and The Resistance  are not as simple as they might be. Against this background, Michiel, even if he first thinks he is finding adventure, really just wants to do the right things, for both the hidden British soldier (Jamie Campbell Bower) and for his family. His father rejoices in his advancing manhood, giving him his first shave in one tender scene.

Here is Sony’s site

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Water for Elephants": Pattinson's character is almost too nice to make it, but an intelligent pachyderm helps

Water for Elephants” starts with encapsulation, as did “Dr. Zhivago.”  An elderly Jacob (Hal Holbrook, the older “sentinel” from NBC’s “The Event”),  is “stranded” at a circus and is to be offered a ride to his “nursing home”  (compare to “Win Win” and “The Evening Sun”).  But he is determined that his life is not in a final endgame, and tells the story of his coming of age.

Young Jacob (Robert Pattinson) is taking his veterinary finals at Cornell in 1931 when he is called out of the exam because of the death of his parents in a car crash.  Left in debt, he is not  immediately able to finish his studies (that doesn't seem too convincing, but is needed to generate the story) and jumps on a train to join the circus as a veterinarian.

To survive, he has to accept the world where, as lead animal trainer August (Christopher Waltz) says, “we live by tricks.”  His honest and gentle nature must accept a world where social manipulation means everything.  Gradually, he makes himself invaluable (after initial resentment as a “college boy” and almost being thrown off the train for his “honesty”), and winds up protecting Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), August’s wife.  Eventually he meets Rosie the elephant, and his befriending her (and the animal’s superior intelligence) feeds the climax of the backstory, which is telescoped, but includes the animals being let loose.   This is toward the end of Prohibition, and “water” and moonshine can become interchangeable.

The film, from 20th Century Fox, is directed by Francis Lawrence and was shot in Tennessee (it's supposed to take place in New York State).  The period-piece CGI is effective, but not on the level of, say, the Harry Potter movies.  But I loved the steam train sequences.

The movie script tends to focus on "crisis" and cliffhanger situations, which is something screenwriting gurus (and symposiums) say is necessary, although I disagree. 

Pattinson is so much the “perfect male” that you don’t want anything to happen to him. Yet, in one scene, he does drag.

Here’s the official site

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"The Expendables": Stallone's big "B Movie"; history says he's on the wrong continent

OK, the CIA will hire a mercenary team to be sacrificed for a mission it doesn’t anything officially to do with.  The premise seems a bit B-movie-ish in this gaudy production from Lionsgate directed by Sylvester Stallone, “The Expendables.”  And they aren't "The Incredibles". 

Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an uncredited appearance as “Trench”, and Bruce Willis as the mysterious Mr. Church.   The rest of the cast is reasonably familiar: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Eric Roberts.

The premise of the film reminds me a bit of “Collateral Damage”, a 2001 action film whose release was delayed after 9/11.  Here, the bad guys run a drug kingdom on an island off South America (which could have set up a premise like “The Most Dangerous Game”, although here it's mostly brawn, not brains). Appearing late in 2010, the film scenario seems out of place given what has happened this year in the Middle East (largely because of social media), where one really can imagine a scenario like this being set up (even in Libya).  

The film was shot in Louisiana and Brazil.

Lionsgate UK has a summary site for the film here. It can be rented “legally” from YouTube for $3.99. More studios should do this.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"The Broken": British "After Dark" thriller with a touch of "Body Snatchers"

Movies that play with levels of reality, whether you’re still alive, the intersection of parallel universes, and the like can be fun – but they need to add up to something.  The British 2008 film “The Broken” from Sean Ellis, Gaumont, After Dark and Lionsgate saves itself with rather well-delineated characters, most of all the “heroine”, a late twenty-something radiologist Gina (Lean Headey), interesting in young men and in family – as her world starts to fracture, first at house party where a mirror suddenly breaks.

Soon she sees a double of herself while driving, and winds up in a near head-on collision. Then the story line is up for grabs: how much of her confusion is from neurological amnesia, and how much from the supernatural?  We have a film that combines elements of “Jacob’s Ladder” with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (any remake).  Oh yes, other people are up for grabs, too.

Now it is interesting for me, to wander into a disco, spot someone, be acknowledged, and wonder if I knew the person a few years before somehow, like he could have been in my class.  Identity, it seems, is what your mind makes of it.

There are many films on imdb called “Broken”; this one has the definite article in front.

Lionsgate markets this film as part of a series of films “to die for”; legal download link here

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bicycle racing movies: no, the men are not safe (But the 70s and 80s produced a couple classics)

There haven’t existed a lot of important movies about competitive cycling, but in 1985 in Dallas I saw a particularly moving epic, “American Flyers”, which sounds like it could be about model railroading. Directed by John Badham and from WB, it opens with sports doctor Marcus, played by a then younger Kevin Costner, arriving back in St. Louis to bring his kid brother (David Grant) back in line, putting him through every aerobics test known to man to get him to race. The film transports us to widescreen Colorado scenery, when it’s Marcus who has a medical catastrophe in the middle of a championship race (“The Hell of the West”), probably having crossed Independence Pass (which I have driven over). There’s a funny line where David tells Marcus he doesn’t want to be told to shave his legs, and that got taken out of the TV reruns.  It probably wouldn’t get taken out today.  Marcus winds up with no mustache.

Back in 1979, 20th Century Fox had released “Breaking Away” (dir. Peter Yeats), where Dennis Christopher plays Indiana University student Dave Stoller, who overcomes economic class lines by becoming a champion bicycle racer.  I seem to recall that this film was shown free on PBS in Dallas shortly after it was released in theaters.  There’s a cute scene were Dave plays Tootsie in a bathtub with the cream and the razor while singing an aria from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”, as if to note the risks of heterosexuality.  That scene did not get cut out of the TV rerun.

Both of these films were written by Steve Tesich.

Daniel Stern from AFI talks about "Breaking Away".

No, you don't race with mountain bikes, even with the seat too high from the store. 

By the way, the cult classic of motorcycle movies isn't "Easy Rider"; it's "The Born Losers", 1967, dir. Tom Laughlin, from American International (of course!)

BW pictures: from my parents' albums, from the 1920s and 1930s, digitally captured.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Morgan Spurlock is back: "POM Wonderful Presents..."

Well, has Morgan Spurlock made the ultimate meta-movie, the “Inception” of documentary?  That’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”?  Or is the official title “POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold”? (which is how AMC Theaters sells it.)  The "O" in POM is a heart graphic (like "I Heart Huckabees"). 

Pom may be the most visible corporate sponsor Morgan gets in this exercise in getting corporate sponsors to sign on to a movie (a Candide-like “satire”) about “product placement”, showing the process of finding corporate sponsors to help fund a movie by advertising their products in it.

At first, nobody wants to do it. But Morgan is a pretty effective salesman, and son he has some clients like Jet Blue and Merrell shoes, Sheetz convenience stores (I didn't know they were headquartered in Pennsylvania, but I stop at them all the time on the road), and finally, POM Wonderful (link), the lead sponsor, with beverages based on pomegranate juice (and no competitor can match it for content based on this one "fruit").  Spurlock winds up with contracts requiring certain volumes in ticket and DVD sales, certain numbers of web impressions, etc.  Sound familiar?

Ralph Nader may be the most visible character in the film besides Morgan himself, who carries things with a degree of charisma.

Of course, in the world of public companies, brand is everything.  The board room scenes are a bit educational. The whole movie reminded me of episodes from Donald Trump's "The Apprentice".  Trump is not one of the sponsors, but I wonder how Spurlock would do on "Celebrity Apprentice" or if he has been on it.  Spurlock certainly gets results from his efforts.  He looks lean and marked (by all the "product placements", but fortunately no tattoos or body art), and recovered from "Super Size Me".  There's one bathtub intimacy scene, reminding one of the conclusion of "Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden"?

What’s scary, of course, is what this means for someone who would like to make a movie.  Some of the clients complain up front that Morgan Spurlock is already too “controversial”.  Do corporate coffers have much effect on the artistic content of movies that get bankrolled?

The sequence in Sao Paolo, Brazil is interesting (especially visually): the city has banned all commercial billboards from buildings and transportation.  Businesses develop customers by Internet or "word of mouth".

The music score takes after "Social Network" by using Grieg's Peer Gynt, "In the Hall of the Mountain King", and also uses a lot of music from Bizet's "Carmen", as well as the "scherzo" from Beethoven's Ninth.

Here’s the official site

The film was produced by Snoot Entertainment and Warrior Poets, and has theatrical distribution  by Sony Pictures Classics.

By the way, AMC Theaters gets its own ad, of an extraterrestrial outdoor movie theater, in just before the movie starts. It's the best commercial of the day. 

Pictures: No, none of these were sponsors of Spurlock’s film.  I would hate to be the actor posing for laser epilation services.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Making the Boys (in the Band)": another good "meta-film" documentary, with a lot of LGBT history

I saw “The Boys in the Band” in 1970, at an outdoor drive-in in Morrisville, PA, after "crossing the Delaware River" from Trenton, NJ (“Trenton Makes…”), when I was living near Princeton NJ on my “first job” with RCA.    (I sometimes wonder if the only outdoor movie theater left in the Milky Way is the one on “another planet” in AMC Theaters’s wonderful trademark  feeder.) But I had not yet experienced my own “second coming” (not until 1973).  I remember the reference to “Atlas Shrugged”, the "birthday party" (for Harold {Leonard Frey}) and the "birthday present" of a "midnight cowboy" (Robert La Tourneaux),  the curious telephone game, and the line about the immutability of sexual orientation.  I remember being pleasantly surprised by a couple of super hairy chests (Cliff Gorman {straight} and Keith Prentice),  The film, directed by William Friedkin, was originally distributed by National General. I seem to recall it was in Scope, despite what imdb says now.  (I believe the DVD is from Fox, but imdb doesn’t say.)

Tonight, I saw “Making the Boys”, directed by Crayton Robey (from Texas), who gave a Q&A at the end of a regular run Saturday evening showing (distributed by First Run Features) at the West End Cinema in Washington DC. I didn’t have my camera to snap a photo of the Q&A.  The project had started by in 2006. It has been shown at Tribeca and Berlin.

Recently, on March 8, I reviewed here a feature on the making of “Social Network” which was almost as interesting as the target film itself, as it told the story of the actors and of the issues surrounding the film. Such is the case with this 93-minute documentary.  It covers a lot of the history of the change in society’s attitude toward homosexuality, going back to the mid 60s when police had to be paid off not to raid gay bars (the so-called "Mafia bars" that I remember from my own second coming of age).

Mart Crowley, now in his 70s but quite youthful still when his risky play got first produced in early 1968, tells a lot of the story, not only of himself and of his process as a playwright, but of how that processes mapped into a longer view of gay history.  He was one of the first writers to take up the challenge to write about his own world as he saw it – even if it wasn’t all that positive in some ways at the time. (In a way, you could say that about Paul Rosenfels of the Ninth Street Center, not mentioned in the film, but it might well have been.)  Crowley did the screenplay adaptation, after some initial controversy about Hollywood’s “attitude.”

The film certainly suggests the case that the play influenced the “culture” quickly enough that it helped stimulate the Stonewall Rebellion in June 1969 and helped the modern gay movement take hold very quickly in the early 1970s. (Stonewall happened after the play appeared and was still running; the film appeared in 1970.  The play was not as well received on the West Coast at first as in New York, but eventually became an international hit, being translated into many languages) .  The documentary reports some interesting stagecraft: initially, photos of apartments were used in the background, and one of these apartments happened to be that of Barbara Walters.  She found out. 

The question of how it could affect careers to be in this movie comes up, and at least one straight actor was told to leave it off his resume.  But then would come AIDS; many actors in the film would indeed ide of the disease, but AIDS would also tell us that Hollywood was not as straight as it had pretended to be at one time (as a result of McCarthyism).  Remember Rock Hudson.

In fact, Robey says he is working on another project about the way the gay world (in New York) was just before AIDS was identified.  There is a film “We Were There” with a similar theme for San Francisco which I expect to see in May.

The documentary mentions other political fights, such as one about the employment of gays as firemen in the 1970s, which would anticipate the later big issue of gays in the military and the story of “don’t ask don’t tell”, which has been the topic of several small independent films (“Ask Not”, for example) and a few cable or TV films, but which needs a “real movie”.  That is surely coming.  This also reminds me that I actually saw “Midnight Cowboy” on an Army post (at Fort Eustin, VA) when I was “in”; nobody thought anything of the idea of the film showing on a military post in 1969.

Carson Kressley, of the Fab Five, makes a number of narrative appearances. So does Ed Koch, who was inaugurated as Mayor of New York on New Years Day 1978 and implored people to "come East."  Everyone noted that Koch had always been single (although he used to say that adult children should have to provide for aging parents).  The film notes that New York City fell on hard times in the 1970s (with the "drop dead" financial crisis of 1975), while gay citizens were becoming freer. 

The film also shows fuzzy clips from the notorious 1967 black-and-white documentary on CBS with Mike Wallace.  I recall a line in that CBS film where Secretary of State Dean Rusk (in the Johnson Administration -- Democratic and "liberal" for the time, but with the draft) said "if we find homosexuals in the State Department, we discharge them." 

The official site for the film is here

Pictures: "out and about" (me, not from film)  -- they would fit into "my" film. I recall another unrelated but disturbing film "The Boys from Brazil" with Gregory Peck from Fox in 1978. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

"African Cats": much like people, and lion prides are like countries

On Earth Day weekend, Disney Nature released “African Cats”, by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey. Filmed in Kenya in the Masai park. Samuel L. Jackson narrates. 

The film focuses most of all on two mothers: a lioness (Layla) raising one cub, and a single mom cheetah(Sita) raising several (but losing a couple to hyenas).

The lioness is already getting old and lives in a pride headed by an old lion king Fang, sheltered by a moat river moat. During the dry season, a rival pride (headed by a younger king “Kali” with more sons, rather like Saddam Hussein or Gadhafy’s sons, it seems)  from the north will invade and try to make “lebensraum” and take over the right to breed with the lionesses, ultimately threatening the old lioness and her daughter.

The film shows that lion politics is a bit like human, and individual animals have real personalities (just as all carnivores do, including pet dogs and cats).  Later the cheetahs play with a serval, which is a smaller wild cat similar to the domestic cat.  It’s particularly important that the male “protect” the pride from threats, both from alien animals (like one scene repelling a crocodile), and other prides. Actually, some of the scenes involving male lion behavior give us some insight into human bullying. Layla's plight is noted: a lion pride will not allow an older lioness who can not carry her weight with the hunting to remain in the group; this is a kind of authoritarian Maoist socialism that cuts both ways.  

There are points where the lions and cheetahs face off; and young cheetahs have to learn that lions live in prides. The freedom of standing alone has its drawbacks for Sita; she has to leave her cubs alone when she hunts, risking not Child Protective Services but real predators.

I still wonder how these cats learn to accept the presence of human filmmakers. Although wild animals, they have rich lives, and seem very self-aware, with so many distinct personalities. You feel like Sita could live in your home. Viewers might want to check out the 2005 South African film "Duma" (Carroll Ballard) about a cheetah raised in a human home. 

I saw it at Regal in Arlington with digital projection; regular aspect but stunning scenery, with is mostly arid, but with violent thunderstorms.

Here’s Disney’s site for the film

Some of the revenue for the film goes to Save the Savanna, link.

Remember Disney's "The Living Desert" and "Vanishing Prairie" with Winston Hibler back in the 1950s?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Pandemic: Facing AIDS" documents the worldwide epidemic as of 2003

The documentary “Pandemic: Facing AIDS” (2004), directed by Rory Kennedy and directed by Mike Bailey, traces the worldwide epidemic in five countries: Brazil, India, Thailand, Russia, and Uganda. 
For most of the film, it’s largely a heterosexual disease; and why this is so in the less developed world was a mystery in the early years; but surely it has a lot to do with the fact that women in the third world are more likely to have other STD’s that facilitate spread.

The Uganda section deals with heterosexual spread, and the need for fidelity; it isn’t apparent here that the anti-gay legislation before the Uganda parliament will come up.

There is a gay man in the Brazil section, who talks about the disapproval of others; his own family is not as disapproving as most others. 

The official website from Moxie Firecracker films is here.

Danny Glover and Elton John narrate.

The film was produced with HBO and the DVD carries the imprint DocuRama.

See the TV blog April 14 for some related films; also my "CF" blog April 16. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

HBO's "Saving Pelican 895" aired tonight

On Wednesday,  April 20, HBO Documentary aired the 30-minute short “Saving Pelican 895”, directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky.

The film traces the veterinary  care of the 895th surviving pelican, oiled by the BP Horizon blowout disaster in April 2010. He would not be rescued until November.

He turns out to be a “teenager”, assertive enough to proclaim he is ready to fly at the end. The brown pelican is the only domestic pelican than dives.

Pelicans still able to fly after the disaster probably did better if left alone. But many like the “kid” in this film were too incapacitated to fly, and had stomach and intestinal damage from the oil. It’s miraculous that they could be treated and be brought back to health.

The facility was at Fort Jackson, LA (not S.C.)

The film title reminds me of the John Grisham thriller “The Pelican Brief”.

HBO’s official site for the film is here


Picture: Gulf near Bay St. Louis, MS, my picture, Feb. 2006.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Website honors best ultra-low-budget films in history. I say, try "Primer"

Someone sent me a link to a webpage “The 10 Best Low Budget Films of All Time”, here

I’ve reviewed #1 (“Following”, Christopher Nolan, Sept. 8, 2010) and #4, the Dogme-shot “Paranormal Activity” here (Oct. 27, 2009). 

On “DoAskDoTell” I’ve reviewed  #2 “Primer", #3, “Eraserhead” (David Lynch), #6 “The Blair Witch Project”, #7, Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me", and #10, “Halloween” (the original).  There is an even more bizarre song-and-dance scene in Eraserhead later from “heaven” in a speakeasy.

Primer”  deserves extra mention. Made for about $7000 around Dallas in 2003 or 2004 by a virile-looking software engineer named David Carruth, it tells the story of how some amateur scientists stumble on time travel, with a resulting interesting experiment.  The film looks slick and got distributed by New Line on DVD.  It begins with well dressed Reagan-rich Dallas yuppies at a house party, and sucks you in to a story that becomes credible.  For one thing, everybody at the party understood object-oriented systems.  This one is well worth rental or purchase for those who haven't seen it. 

I saw “The Blair Witch Project” (Artisan) in 1999 at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis; I bought the ticket early and stood right behind Josh Hartnett in the line to get in.  That day, when I bought the ticket, the theater owner recognized me for my “Do Ask Do Tell” book, because my Hamline University lecture had aired on a Minneapolis cable program about libertarianism.  I’ve also visited the Catoctin Mountain area, not too far from Brunswick, MD, where it was filmed, many times.

Morgan Spurlock’s work is familiar now, but the changes to his bod on a MacDonald’s diet (he throws up on camera once and ages a few years in just thirty days) were truly alarming. I hope they were reversible, 

As for "Halloween", yes, they were doomed (they might as well have lived on Roanoke Island), and Betsy Palmer wields a powerful ax. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"No Greater Love": can a marriage abandoned 10 years ago be saved after all?

“Christian movies” seem like a genre of their own, because they do seem to stylize themselves around an agenda. That seems true of such films now distributed by major Hollywood companies. You can always identify them.

Such is the case with “No Greater Love”, from Lionsgate and Carmel Entertainment, and Brian Silverman. But the situations posed in the film are compelling enough for a more “neutral” style.

Jeff Baker (Anthony Tyler Quinn) writes and directs commercials for major corporate clients, but has to fight hard to get business. His creativity is driven by the market demands of others, to be sure. With a wife Heather (Danielle Bisutti) and baby Ethan (later, Aaron Sanders), the “disruptions” of the job are too much for their family. As the film opens, they have a fight. Heather leaves him (but never divorces), to raise Ethan as a single dad.

Years later, after he has dated another woman, he hears she is still around, and still has to wonder about mistaken identity. But indeed, they meet again, and deal with their relationship again.

Heather has been born again, and that could present a complication, unless Jeff follows suit.  Then the film is in the territory of acceptance of a larger purpose (assigned by a Diety) as the only way to achieve the stability of intense emotion that marriage seems to require.  For “social conservatives” who wonder why marriage is in decline, this film may be saying that it is because it demands so much.

The long-running syndicated series "Can this Marriage Be Saved" from Ladies Home Journal takes on real meaning here.

Toward the end, the film uses flashbacks of the earlier “fight” scenes, showing them in effective sepia to make the context clear. The film is shot in full 2.35:1.  

The official site is here. This was called “The New Faith and Marriage Move of 2010”.

The familiar song "Here I Am" plays during the credits. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"The Conspirator": the parallels with the post 9/11 world are all too clear, even to "conservatives"

Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions and The American Film Company have backed Robert Redford to produce “The Conspirator”, a thoughtful, if neo-conservative, look at our ideas of justice in the time of common peril.  Note that the film came out the same weekend as “Atlas Shrugged” (yesterday). Coincidence?  It's the biggest "indie" film about the Civil War since "Cold Mountain". 

Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn) was the only woman charged in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.  Former Union soldier Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is hired to “do his job” as a lawyer and defender her. His relationship with her seems adversarial for a “defense” trial lawyer, and only in time does he come around to ideals about American justice.

The film makes obvious parallels to our post-9/11 world. She is tried by a military tribunal, and Aiken is unable ultimately to prevail with habeas corpus.  The script talks about the danger to the nation from poisoned water and planted yellow fever – sound familiar?  Public sentiment runs very much against her.

She first says he was left with debt by a drunken husband when he died, and rented her rooms to make ends meet, and did not concern herself with their activities. That turns out not to be completely true. Her son (Johnny Simmons) seems to be unconcerned that his mother could go for his activities.

The movie has other interesting performances, by Kevin Kline, Danny Huston, and Jonathan Groff (from “12:30”).

Here is the official site.  

Much of the film was shot in the Savannah, GA area  (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”).

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Atlas Shrugged: Non-Contradiction" nearly sells out on Friday afternoon, draws applause from the "choir"; watch Wyatt's Torch

I read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand while in the Army, evenings at Fort Eustis, in 1969, sometimes on the bus for trips “home”.  Other guys in the barracks read it, too. What a tool for unit cohesion. 

Atlas Shrugged: Part I”, comprises the first third of the novel (“Non Contradiction”), is directed by Paul Johansson (who will appear as John Galt), and is now produced and distributed entirely by “The Strike Group”, after Lionsgate apparently backed out. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lionsgate returns and handles the DVD’s later.

“The Strike” (which even has a trade dress on the poster based on “Wyatt’s Torch”), is, of course, a pun: all of the men who produce things go on “strike”, leaving a collectivist world in shambles.  The plot has been advanced to 2016, when the disappearances start (John Galt knocks on your door), with a total Arab embargo again, gasoline rationed, and the nation’s infrastructure falling apart. The government has turned to collectivism, with “Equality of Opportunity” laws (no one can own more than one company), anti “Dog-eat-Dog rules”, and even a “Bureau of Redistribution”.

It’s logical enough that high-speed rail could come back (look at the trains in China, France and Spain today), with leadership from someone like Dagney Taggart (Taylor Schilling), and that something like Rearden Metal (Grant Bowler) could make it possible. But the film, however spectacular the western, Gunnison-area scenery (as if the Cinemascope film needed Imax) rail scenery and however dire the urban scenes look, seems to miss the communications revolution altogether.  Would the heads of Google and Facebook join the “strike”? The film takes on the character and look of a Christian film (or at least a typical right-wing movie), and sometimes the characters seem comic-book like.  Yes, Wesley Mouch (Michael Lerner) sums it up (with this “Bureau of Economic Readujustment”).  He is a mooch.

There’s no question that the film is timely given the recent debate on the budget, shutting down the government, raising the debt ceiling, Paul Ryan’s proposal to gut Medicare, and Obama’s “King’s Speech” at GWU this week. And the film opened on “IRS Day”.

As to philosophy – do the “men of ability” (and women) owe something to “ordinary people” upon whose labor they depend?  Christian “morality” sometimes tries to take this into family values, claiming that marriage is the social bridge between individualism and the necessary social interdependence and complementarity expected of everyone.

The railroad "Cassandra Crossing" scene over the Gunnison certainly can stimulate debate. True, Ayn Rand insisted that "second handers" mooch off of those who take risks to produce. But the "risk" needs to be understood in various contexts.  In a real world, a train like that wouldn't be run over a new bridge without extensive testing by engineers, some of whom would have to be introverted to do their jobs right. (That's like IT work.)  And the new rails had to be laid still by a lot of manual labor (that fascinated my own father's moral sense). Dagney says her workers "volunteered" for the train ride; she had never "harmed" anyone. That's a loaded proposition. 

There is a scene where Dagney is told she has no feeling or empathy. But later, she puts the make on fellow entrepreneur Francisco D’Anconia (a very handsome Jsu Garcia, who is always shown in shadows in Part I), with the conversation between them rather brief and pleonastic.

Here, I can’t resist quoting an email sent to me in 2005 from someone in Australia, a bit of a tongue-lashing (or email-lashing), that seems to take my own “objectivism” to task. Here it goes:

I was surfing today on subjects that I could read on the matter of feeling listened to. I happened on your site and was very interested in your comments. I will go back and re-read..and re-read as I tend to do, but I felt that in some of what you were 'doing' what you were commenting on. You complained that people/groups would not listen because you were not of the 'specific' group. A question of empathy and a willingness to be open I believe is the problem here. You were a bit offensive in relating to that the fact you write at a certain level and many would not understand what you were saying. That is complete snobbery and a very bigoted point of view. You are not more creative, wise and truly all-knowing. What gives you the right to the idea that you are intellectually above the' cretins 'of the world? Education is a tool not a weapon to threaten anyone with. If the majority of people are not able to understand your train of thought, as you say you have observed, then it is you who is not communicating effectively. You may be your own worst enemy.”

I saw the movie in a smaller auditorium at the Landmark E-Street in Washington on early Friday afternoon, and it nearly sold out. The evening shows today (April 15) are sold out. The audience applauded at the end.  But maybe the audience was “the choir”.  There were some long lunches today to see this film. How many walked down from the nearby Cato Institute? Or perhaps the law firm Latham and Watkins, next door. Or even the FBI in the area.

There is a site called “Atlas Shrugged Movie” here but it is not the official site. That is here. And yes, I paid a legal admission ($8 daytime) to see it.

The film provided am embeddable trailer on YouTube:

I had read "The Fountainhead" while in graduate school at the University of Kansas, and I have seen the 1949 United Artists film, directed by King Vidor, in black and white, based on Rand's own screenplay. It's not that convincing. Howard Roark destroys his own work in response to government misappropriation, just like Wyatt does in Atlas Shrugged (hence Wyatt's Torch). 

I've also seen Strand Releasing's 1997 biography "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life", directed by Michael Paxton.

Update: April 30

Richard Sincere has an interesting take on the film in the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Noise", an Aussie thriller, takes a different approach to train disasters from "Source Code"

When I rented the Australian thriller “Noise”, directed by Matthew Saville,  I wondered if this would make a good comparison to “Source Code” (see April 1 on the “Disaster Movies” blog).  What I found was “typical” Aussie film: indirect, subtle, venturing into side elements, but in one respect more like an Alfred Hitchcock film than the recent opus from Quebec.

The film opens with a horrific scene: the aftermath of a massacre on a suburban commuter (or subway) train in Melbourne, Victoria. The lighting and camera angles make the train look like it’s on another planet (like in John Carpenter’s “Ghosts of Mars”).  A young woman Lavinia (Maia Thomas) has witnessed it’s aftermath when boarding the train, is in panic, and is handcuffed.  In the aftermath, however, she will meet up with a young policeman Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell), who has been reassigned because of distractions of idiopathic tinnitus (which could have been explained maybe by sensitivity to gunfire).  The noise here becomes like vertigo in that famous director’s 1958 film.  When it overtakes him, all other sound is muffled out. The film recreates it frighteningly.

There’s been another slaying in McGahan’s district (shown in a newscast). When Lavinia finds threats on a van McGahan is supposed to be guarding, the clues link up (even diabetes figures into the story). But the movie then proceeds toward a horrific climax (except for the beginning and end, this is a “quiet” film); afterward, the closing credits will start with no music, making us wonder about the end of all experience.  The climax of the film skillfully uses the “summertime” Christmas season in Australia.

I developed some right ear tinnitus myself in the Army right after “coaching” on the rifle range in Basic. The blast deflector on the M-14 protects the marksman but not his neighbor.

Film Movement’s site for the movie

The DVD includes a short film “Motorcycle”, from Thailand, by Aditya Assarat. In this wired age, a village in rual Thailand has only one pay phone. An old man gets a call that his son has died in a motorcycle accident, and the man wants him brought back. The film is full-screen and grainy, with credits in Thai script, which may not look familiar. 

Wednesday, April 13, I also saw the short “Society in Motion” at the B&O Museum in Baltimore, a video with contest-winning model trains, at least one of which would house the “Ghosts of Mars”.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Documentary "Autistic-Like" compares autism to sensory-processing disorder

Howard University television aired the one-hour film “Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story”, directed by Erik Linthorst, on April 12.

The documentary presented a family with a boy, Graham, who turns out to have “sensory processing disorder” without true autism. This affects the kind of therapy that is appropriate, and even the ability to use public or state funds without a true autism diagnosis.

The family did start with ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, and then discovered a program called son-Rise, which treats the whole family, and then moved into “floor therapy”, which is not covered by state programs.

The site for the film is this

Another resource is the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, here

Here is the director’s trailer on YouTube:

Does this explain some of the “athletic” difficulties I had as a boy?

WHUT preceded the film with a half-hour short “Children and Autism: Time Is Brain”, with more information about ABA and the value of early diagnosis.  A mother answered the question “Why me?” with “Why not you? We all have our crosses to bear.”  Sounds Vatican. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"In a Better World": Danish film shows how tribal conflicts live in liberal, upper-class European democracy as well as Africa (like "Beyond Borders")

Danish film, it seems from my sampling, can get into dark territory. (Go back to “Hamlet”.)  “In a Better World” (“Haevnen”; also “The Revenge”)) won best foreign language film at both the Oscars and Golden Globes.  Some of it is in English, but in the Danish scenes (and Danish does not sound as close to English to my ear as German), I was struck by the tribal, collective behavior even in an upper middle class, “liberal democratic” European community.

The film is directed by Susanne Bier and comes to the US from Sony Pictures Classics, link, also from Rialto.

As the film starts, Anton (Mikhael Persbrandt) works as a surgeon in the field in Africa, in a zone fueled by tribal conflicts and honor codes resembling those of “Desert Flower” (March 30). “I am not your friend, but I am trying to help you”, he tells one warrior, facing amputation for leg gangrene. Here, the film echoes Paramount's "Beyond Borders" (2003, dir. Martin Campbell, with Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie, about Doctors Without Borders). 

Back home, however, his kid Elias (Markus Rygaard) faces social competition of his own: he is bullied because of his orthodontic braces, and feels he has to carry a knife so that no one will bother him. The police and school authorities in a liberal European state are not real effective, if well-meaning.  His father makes a visit back, and finds class conflicts among the kids with parents who work in “labor” occupations on the docks or in auto repair shops.  In the meantime, another kid Christian (William Johnk Nielsen, who gives a virtuoso acting performance) has arrived from London with a widowed dad, and resents what he thinks is his father’s inattention when his mother died of cancer. Christian befriends Elias and helps defend him, and together they plot a dangerous act of revenge that nearly has tragic consequences.

The title of the film in Danish is intriguing, but the content leaves one wondering why even in an upper class community young men think they have to behave this way.

The film is shot in Cinemascope, has a big scale look of epic drama, with sweeping views of both South Africa and of the Danish coast.

Rialto’s YouTube trailer:

I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington Monday night and had a big auditorium for a "private showing" just for me!

Monday, April 11, 2011

FilmfestDC film about Scientology is a big draw

On Sunday, April 10, FilmfestDC sold out both performances at Landmark E Street in Washington of Charles “Scientology: the Truth About a Lie”, directed by Jean-Charles Deniau.  I attended the 7:30 PM performance, and the director was present. He had a translator for his answers. Filmfest’s link for the American premier is (website url) here.  I could not find it on imdb. There is no DVD yet. 

There are some scary stories about scientology and litigation in the past.  A group called the “Cult Awareness Network”  went under after losing a suit, and when people called their number, they were answered by a scientology answer, as in this CNN story from 1996.  I remember that story appearing in the Washington Post then.

The film is in both French and English, with subtitles always in the opposite language.

The film presents the stories of several people who went into scientology in France and Denmark.  According to the people, they continually invested money into scientology until they became broke.  The details in the film are quite graphic.

The film also gives a brief biography of founder L. Ronald Hubbard; why he went from “just” authorship to founding an “organization” with his Dianetics is a bit of a mystery.

The movie mentions the “billion year contracts” over numerous reincarnations, and the inner sanctums like “Sea Org”.

There is a certain paradox: one is told one can master all knowledge, but them one has to belong to a movement and be loyal to it. My own experience is that mastering “knowledge” is a largely solitary journey that requires freedom from the constraints (and disruptions) imposed by others.

NewsonABC has this YouTube story

Here’s another blogger story

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Mozart's Sister" shown by FilmFestDC at Embassy of France; a sad tale of thwarted personal goals

FilmfestDC presented a film by Rene Feret, “Mozart’s Sister” (“Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart”), now distributed by Music Box Films, Sunday, April 10, at the Embassy of France near Georgetown University Hospital in NW Washington.

Leopold (Marc Barbe) takes his family, with Nannerl (Marie Feret)  five years older than Wolfgang (David Moreau), around various courts in France. As the film begins, an axle on a stagecoach breaks, and the family stays in a convent, bringing in other female characters who will enrich the story.  Nannerl has apparently composed some of the works attributed to Wolfgang, or at least written them down with quill and ink well.  Eventually, Leopold confronts Nannerl with the idea that her contributions are a public distraction, even after Wolfgang has recovered from scarlet fever.

It’s pretty sad at the end when Nannerl actually tosses her own manuscripts into the fireplace.  (I've only destroyed one such project in my life, a fantasy baseball register in 1955; I have lost some of my early composition manuscripts however and am entering them on a digital piano; more about that later.)  There were no Xerox copies or flash drives or Internet cloud in those days.  She would outlive Mozart to 78, and die poor, having tried to promote her celebrity brother's work. 

The film credits didn’t list the compositions (Music Box should fix that), and some of them may have been music believed to have been composed by Nannerl.  Also interesting are the original instruments, like the clavier, which sounded very different in those days.

The French official site is worth visiting, here

The film was also shown at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

My favorite among "well known" female composers is Amy Beach; more about her some time on my music blog. 

The Embassy offered a wine and cheese reception afterwards.  French wine is very good for a cough, and stops it cold. 

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Modern film setting ("Juan") of Mozart opera shows us how a psychopath unravels

FilmFestDC is airing Kasper Holten’s modern, Internet-wired setting of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” in a Danish-Hungarian production of “Juan”, filmed in Budapest,  music performed by the Concerto Copenhagen, conducted by Lars Ulrik Mottensen.

Juan (Christopher Maltman) has hired a friend Leprello (Mikhail Petrenko) to make a DVD film and database of all the women he has serially conquered (a rather crude analogy to a “Facebook”).  In the course of his escapades (stretching over 24 hours) he kills one of the women’s father, a policeman, and the chase ensues and desperation follows .   (In the opera, the ghost of the father becomes a character in the plot leading to the climax.) Juan sinks into complete psychopathy, and Mozart’s music most effectively reinforced his fugue-like mental state, and the opera paces itself to his final doom in flames, just is in the “original”.  The music becomes increasingly brutal during the showdown with the Devil, even as it ends in a major key finally, in a kind of hollow triumph. In that way, the film uses a classical music masterpiece to tell its story in a manner analogous to “Black Swan”, turning it into pure horror.  I suppose Aronofsky could have made this film.  The film, with the musical setting, probably is useful in studying the disintegration of the narcissistic or psychopathic personality.

The film is produced by B&S and Zentropa, major names in Europe. It would seem inevitable to get US distribution. Music Box, maybe?

Here is the official site

My drama and music blog has a review of the DG DVD of the opera Feb. 14, 2009.

Here’s a YouTube video from the 1979 film of the opera by Joseph Losey.

The film was presented at AMC’s Mazza Galleria, which has full-sized screens, although this film is shot 1.85:1.  The film is offered in English (I would have expected Danish or German). 

Friday, April 08, 2011

"Hanna": Joe Wright ("Atonement") gets carried away with his own technique

British director Joe Wright loves to portray moral dilemmas with a bit of surrealism, but his new thriller “Hanna” takes us out of rumination into frank fantasy and sci-fi, with a bit of Terry Gilliam and maybe even David Lynch (and perhaps a plot resembling the work of novelist Clive Cussler), in a film make largely with German and Finnish resources and distributed by Universal Focus.  See it in digital projection on a big screen if possible.

The film opens in Finland, were 16 year old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) lives isolated on the tundra, having been taught survival skills by her dad (Eric Bana), himself ex-CIA. It isn’t long before she demonstrates them when CIA operatives attack, sending her on a road trip (Oh, yes, she has to escape from an underground compound in Morocco; once in a "hotel", she is bemused by modern "gadgets", a big clue).

The film turns into a study of style, with catchy music from the Chemical Brothers (particularly the whistled leitmotif “D-ddD-ddBAG”, as well Grieg’s “Mountain King” as in “Social Network”.  Pretty soon, it’s obvious that the “payoff” has something to do with Aldous Huxley, in a manner that conservative writer George Gilder had warned us about. 

The film is populated by comical characters, not limited to the pursuer Melissa (Cate Blanchett).  There are bikers, and there are gay men (after all, the concept of the film is not reassuring to the heterosexual world and the “natural family”;  who needs to have babies the old-fashioned way if you can make superman or superwoman).

There’s some nice scenery in Spain, and particularly later in Berlin, Germany, around the central station, which I remember from my 1999 visit (they could have tried the Connection Disco).

The official site for the film is here. It’s big in the indie market, costing at least $30 million to make.

The film offers plenty of languages: Finnish, Arabic, German, French. 

I saw it in a large auditorium at Regal in Arlington VA, but not a large Friday evening (early) crowd.

Here’s Richard Roeper’s review from Reelz:

When I see a film or TV show about young people with extraordinary "powers", I'm reminded that there are some young people who seem to have extraordinary ability without anything supernatural, extraterrestrial, or from a "Brave New World".  I see it all the time. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

"The Limits of Control": Spain looks like another planet

Independent filmmakers like “enigmas”, and sometimes they like “treasure hunts”, Howdy Doody style. So it is with the Spanish (and American) thriller “The Limits of Control,” from Jim Jarmusch and Focus Features (2009).  ("No Limits, No Control".)

Isaach De Bankole plays a “Lone Man” (maybe what Stephen King meant by “The Walking Dude”) with north African appearance traveling through various airports and trains in a most modern and cubist-looking (and infrared and Quioxote-windmill-powered) modern Spain, picking up little clues from people, who repeat little phrases like “you don’t speak Spanish, do you” (maybe he doesn’t), and “everything is subjective,”  and “He who thinks he is bigger than the rest must go to the cemetery” (which is sung in a curious habanera).  There are other ritualistic repetitions, such as his always ordering two espresso’s in separate cups.  All of these fit the paradigm of a treasure hunt.

To his credit, the Lone Man foregoes “recreation” with a recurring female (Paz de la Huerta) while “at work”.

The slow movement from the Schubert Quintet is quoted frequently, and a guitar case is one of the cues.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays "The Mexican."

Finally, the Lone Man meets his mark, has a conversation about opera, and can track him down for the hit.

The climactic scene inside the Hideaway in the Spanish desert, where Bill Murray’s character (“The American”) as some sort of mind-control oligarch meets his demise is, well, satisfying, if sparse.  

One could compare this film with “Vertigo” but it is even more abstract.  Another comparison could be “The American” (Sept. 4, 2010, here). Maybe even "High Noon". Or, how about "The Spanish Prisoner"?

The Director’s site for the film is here

The Focus site is here

The DVD has a two-part short "Behind Jim Jarmusch" (50 minutes of self-indulgence).  He says "They things I don't know are more exciting than the things I do know... I know a lot of music..."   Then "there are a limited number of stories you can tell, but an unlimited number of ways to tell the same story."    He says that his film is like a musical theme and variations.  He also says he doesn't know what happens to the gift of consciousness at death. Also :"Untitled Landscapes" shows a lot of the Spanish countryside with moog music. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

"Seraphine" : a biography of a French painter, and period piece with some social twists

The French-Belgian film  "Seraphine", directed by Michael Provost, from Music Box Films (2008), is a lengthy biography of painter Seraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau) but it is much more, epic while quiet, and bringing up many issues.

In 1914, Wilhelm Udhe (Ulrich Tukur), an art aficionado (sort of the way I was a classical records collector), lives in an apartment in the rural exurbs of Paris, supposedly a sub-spy for Germany. Oddly, he prefers a suburban lifestyle because he is gay and wants to stay out of sight.  Seraphine works as the cleaning maid, and she is provided with the room. She scavenges the countryside for objects and raw materials and paints in her own rented room. In time, Wilhelm learns about her talent.  But as World War I approaches, he must leave, and she remains at her own devices.

Years, later, in 1927, as the stock market crash and depression approach, he is trying to recover his art collection. He is living with a younger lover who is dying (there is a bare-chested shot that suggests Kaposi’s, as if AIDS may have been around before and we didn’t know). But then he discovers her art at a show and finds she is still living in poverty.  He tries to support her again before the Depression ruins him, and she follows with a mental breakdown, and winds up in an asylum, where she dies in 1942.

There is a curious interchange where she asks him if he thinks he is “better” than her because of the work she has to do to make a living.  The movie certainly invokes a lot of awareness of class and social justice issues.

Most of the film is in French, but the WWI passages, where he is back in Austria, are in German.  There’s one scene of flight in a car with the Western Front bombardments in the background.

The official site for the film is here

I believe I heard a clip from Robert Schumann’s “Carnaval” in the score twice, but I didn’t see it credited. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

"The Asian and Abrahamic Religions: A Divine Encounter in America"

On April 5, Howard University television aired the PBS film “The Asian & Abrahamic Religions: A Divine Encounter in America”, directed by Gerald Krell and Meyer Odze, from Auteur Productions.
The two hour film comprised mostly interviews with many proponents of Eastern religion, including Dianna Eck of the Harvard Pluralism Project. (Officially, the film title seems to use the "&". I couldn't find it on imdb, unusual.)

The film stressed that all accepted religious faith must connect with the intrinsic value of human life and respect for the individual. At the same time, religious faith transcends the experience of the individual for his own sake and must connect him or her to others for purposes larger than the self.

There is a comparison to Judaism, where it is said that God points to the way but is not the Way, as in Christianity.

There is also a bit of an existential discussion as to what is morally wrong with idol worship – the way we used to learn about it in Sunday school.

There is an interesting sequence involving learning self-defense and jijutsu, with an unusual spiritual interpretation, and a degree of intimacy. 

There is also some discussion of different views of what the Afterlife means -- is it a continuation of, or a new kind of Experience, like an "Inception"? 

The main website for the film is here.

The Times of India gave it a major review here.

Monday, April 04, 2011

"Metamorphosis": 50 minute "featurette" with Aronofsy and "Black Swan"

The Blu-Ray DVD for “Black Swan” has a 49-minute short “Metamorphosis: A Behind the Scenes Documentary with Darren Aronofsy”.  

With is mustache and T-shirt sporting the words “Antwerp” and “Puerto Rico”, he looks younger than his 41 years.  A lot of the early part of the documentary shows New York City buried in the early 2010 Snowmageddons, which seems to be when the staff was doing the heart of its filming. Aronofsky talks about his $13 million budget as limited, but also says that a technically adept filmmaker can make a socially relevant film worthy of commercial release for a few thousand these days, and notes how kids are learning 3-D CGI graphics and advanced film editing with Final Cut Pro.  (I once saw a high school AP chemistry class edit a short film when subbing.) 

The documentary shows how CGI was used to transmute the “black swan” – with the skin rashes, the barbs, and body hair and body feathers, which grow in the final scene of “Swan Lake” as Natalie Portman’s character crashes in her own ambition to large B-Major Tchaikowsky chords.  There is one scene with insects that echoes “Bugcrush”, a famous gay horror short by Carter Smith (Jan. 29, 2008 here) which Aronofsky probably knows.  In fact, “Black Swan” seems in retrospect like a grand heterosexual version of that concept.

For my money, “Black Swan”, “Inception”, and “The Social Network” were still the three best films of 2010.  All three drew me into their worlds and had me living in them, and all had tightly drawn characters.
Fox has a YouTube video where Danny Boyle (“127 Hours” and “Slumdog”) compare the direction styles.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

"Walking on Water": Christian film about a surfer who pays it forward

In the Christian film “Walking on Water”, based on a faith-based surfing group by that name.  Founder Bryan Jennings remembers how he was introduced to surfing by a mentor, so he “pays it forward” to two preteens (Tyler Hallen, 14, and Luke Davis, younger) by taking them surfing around the world. The locations include Hawaii, Peru (the most interesting visually, with the deserts up to the ocean and the poverty), Australia, France, and South Africa.

The DVD, distributed by Sony, was produced by WOW Entertainment, Affirm Films and director Nic McLean.  It seems to represent Sony's venture into Faith-based small films (rather like Fox Faith). 

The DVD includes two featurettes, “The Hamilton Family: A Soul Surfer Journey”, a preview of the film “Soul Surfer” about a female surfer who lost her arm to a shark attack, and “Bethany Hamilton and Friends in Indonesia.”  Soul Surfer” will be another feature available spring 2011.

The featurettes particularly express the Christian theme, that all earthly heroes can have clay feet, and that some circumstances of our lives are not for us to try to control.

The adult men in the film already look a bit sun and weather worn.  

The film calls to mind the WB/Spelling series "Summerland" (2004), where a single woman living near San Bernadino takes over raising a sister's three kids after a tragedy, including a teen played by Jesse McCartney who takes up surfing and spends most of the series in bodysuits. 

The main site for the group and film is here.

There was a somewhat similar super 16 film from Bruce Brown called “The Endless Summer” in 1966.  If Shaun White were a surfer as well as snowboarder and skateboarder, I wonder if he would appear in the film (“First Descent”).

This film should not be confused with “Walk on Water” from director Eytan Fox (2004, Samuel Goldwyn) where an Israeli intelligence agent befriends the grandson of a war criminal.