Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Transformers: The Dark of the Moon": The rewrite of history seems lame, the action exciting

To a “serious” person, the previews of Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (Paramount, and I guess Dreamworks), where Apollo 11 makes a quickie jaunt to the “dark [side] of the Moon (always hidden from view, a likelihood explainable by Newtonian physics), to find a crashed spaceship filled with blown-up robo-creatures, is intriguing. But the “revisionist history” is less interesting here than it was in a comparable effort in “X-Men”.  Nevertheless, both Kennedy and Nixon get their cameos. 

As to the "premise" -- Sure, the astronauts would have been sworn to secrecy. But in the modern world of Sam Witwicky (aka Kale, aka Hiya Shia LaBeouf), the jig is up already. After all, Sam keeps small Autobots in his Washington apartment as “pets”, and even his girl friend is used to them. I prefer cats.

Sam, despite a presidential medal, has to look for a job, where he encounters someone “Being John Malkovich” saying “Impress me.”  Ask job coach Tory Johnson on ABC about an interview like this! He is practically drafted into the job, whereupon he meets security chief Mearing (Frances mcDormand, from “Fargo”), who threatens him with treason charges if he talks or blogs or tweets anything. (Maybe his employer has a “prepublication review” policy.)  None of it hangs together.

The battle between the Autobots and Decepticons (downloaded to Earth) has some political meaning: freedom v. authoritarianism, as if Bay wants to challenge the idea that most extraterrestrials are tyrannical.  And a Type III civilization could have advanced to the point of living machines, but the concept doesn’t seem as interesting to me as, say, the premise of NBC’s recent series “The Event”.

The movie shares another concept from “The Event”: the extraterrestrials will bring their planet to near Earth. Here, it’s a huge honeycombed sphere that can be blown up all too easily.

There’s another thing. Much of the movie is supposed to happen in Washington, but the photography shows tall buildings from Detroit and Chicago that don’t belong in DC.  Finally, the movie moves to Chicago. Now, this time, Hollywood destroys Chicago instead of New York (“Cloverfield”) or Los Angeles (“Skyline” and “Battle LA”, all of these reviewed on my “cf” disaster movies blog under the label “from outer space”).  At one point, Sam and his friends are caught in a highrise as it topples over, but it doesn’t implode in 9/11 style – still, the last hour of this long (154 minutes) film does give some idea what the bedlam of 9/11 might have felt like.

I saw this at AMC Tyson’s VA in Imax 3-D. There were a few spots where the 3-D did not work and the CGI was more obvious here than in most films of this type.

I think that AMC ought to make its “extraterrestrial theater” trademark video in Imax 3-D.  One thing: all the auditoriums (at the state-of-the-art AMC Tysons) have screens set up for 1:85:1, meaning the top and bottom are cropped slightly for 2.35:1, as is this movie (and most of this type). The use of Imax may make some directors rethink their use of aspect ratio.  But I prefer the wider screen.  Some day, I’ll have to see “The Robe” in the original CinemaScope again.

The website for the film is here. It may be known informally as “Transformers 3” or “Transformers III”.

Shia LaBeouf says he doesn’t want to do another sequel for Transformers; her feels that the “creativity” for this concept has been exhausted. I agree. There’s a rumor about his doing Indiana Jones.  But who needs remakes?  (Same question for the “Dragon Tattoo”.)

Bay says that Shia, now 25, sometimes needs some “fathering”.  His hand seems completely healed from the auto accident a couple years ago. This was obviously a very "physical" movie to act in. 

LaBeouf also says that this film had the benefit of a complete shooting script (by Ehren Kruger); the second film was made during or right after the writers' strike.  It's interesting how corporatized writing of big films has become.  What about originality?

I wrote a posting about the filming of this movie in DC on Oct. 11, 2010.  I found out then that Shia likes “Muscle Milk”.

I’m ready for a Christopher Nolan kind of sci-fi film again.  Something new.

Here is an interview with Shia on the movie.

Note: technically, the direct article "the" doesn't appear in the official movie title on IMDB (before "Dark").  But I guess one can speak of "The Dark" of the Moon , as if to identify a deliberate government coverup. Anyway, the title could have made sense either way.

(Film viewed, 2011/06/30) 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and 'To Kill a Mockingbird'": a meta-documentary

When I substitute taught in high school English classes, I found that Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” was common reading.  Once or twice, the students watched the 1962 Universal black-and-white film with Gregory Peck as Atticus.  I was just a little too early for this;  the novel was published in 1960, and I graduated from high school in 1961.  We read “Silas Marner” and later “The Scarlet Letter”.

Mary Murphy has a new documentary about the writing of the novel and the influence it had, titled “Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’”, which I saw today at the West End Cinema in Washington.

Boo Radley was played by a mute Robert Duvall in his first role, and was the somewhat autistic and shadowy neighbor who saves Scout (Mary Badham) and Atticus’s family after Atticus has unsuccessfully defended a black Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) against a phony rape charge, who winds up being lynched.  The line “Hey, Boo” is a famous greeting from Scout near the end of the film.

And earlier there was a famous scene where Atticus explains to Scout that he couldn’t expect his kids to “mind him” if he didn’t take up unpopular cases as a lawyer to do what is right.

The documentary traces the life of Harper Lee, who was a little girl in Monroeville, AL in the depression-era 30s, the time of the book and movie.  She worked as an airline reservations agent but got a gift of one year’s pay so she could stay home and write.  Getting published in those days by a major house was a big deal, and she had to work on the book for about a year after the contract. This was long before computers, just a typewriter.

Scout is more or less like her, a neighborhood boy is based more or less on Truman Capote,  A lot is made of Scout’s “tomboy” independence, although the movie never characterizes her as gay; Truman Capote was of course well known for his lifestyle.  (One Alabama writer comments on the non-gender compliance of both.)   Capote would eventually confer with her when he wrote “In Cold Blood” (there is a scene from the 2006 Warner film “Infamous” their meeting).

Harper’s older sister Alice Finch Lee appears, and still practices law at the age of 99.  Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, Andrew Young, Scott Turow, James Patterson, and James McBride all appear and comment.
The documentary gives the novel credit for playing a major role in catalyzing the Civil Rights movement.
Lee says she enjoys writing, and her letters are said to be literary masterpieces, but she does not have a followup novel yet.

The theatrical release comes from First Run Features and has this website

“Documentary Edge” provides this trailer on YouTube:

By the way, I don't think it's any more all right to kill a blue jay than a mockingbird.  A blue jay escorted me from my car to someone's door a couple weeks ago. 

Picture: not from film, a family home in Iowa, picture dates from about 1910.

(Film viewed 2011/06/29; original feature viewed in 1963, 2005; book read quickly, 2005). 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Green Lantern": another extraterrestrial civilization puts its battles on us, and a moral paradox

Green Lantern” (not to be confused with “Green Hornet” or even “The Green Mile”), to the viewpoint of a non-comics person, seems to conflate a lot of other movie and television genres, ranging from Spider Man (the fitted body suit), Smallville (the super hero), Thor (the other planets and intergalactic wars), Star Wars,  The Lord of the Rings, and even the Japanese “Giant Behemoth” of the 50s.  The last analogy comes from a scene where the “Parallax”, a disorganized huge mass of protoplasm sprouting angry faces with mouths agape, inundates downtown New Orleans, which has seen enough.

Ryan Reynolds plays a test pilot and solid family man Hal Jordan, who, after a hot-shot mishap, get abducted by a blog of green ball lightning, and taken to a wreck of a spacecraft. He tries to save the humanoid alien’s life, but soon gets abducted again, taken through a wormhole portal and to another planet some hundreds of light years away, and recruited to be the force for good, protecting Earth from intergalactic evil with a font of miraculous energy, the green lantern, which powers a ring that gives him powers (indeed “The ring is mine” – Frodo). Or he become as Green Lantern himself.  There is some body analysis (he gets to “keep it”), and one pec gets a tattoo, but otherwise he gets protected by the suit.

The humanoid alien is examined by professor Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), and eventually Hammond will give in to temptation to get illegitimate powers himself (and become grotesque).  But Hal is assisted by a handsome bespectacled techie-geek sidekick (Taiki Waikiki, made up to look like a well-known classical musician friend), fellow test pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), and family members. 

There are plenty of accounts of the “theology” of the Green Lantern online. I found the extraterrestrial city in 3-D interesting, at least.  There were a lot of spires with Guggenheim-Bilbao like surfaces (Marc Guggenheim is one of the writers), towers like the Burj Khalifi-Dubai (here about a mile tall), and various little neighborhoods or kesparates where the “people” live in buildings that look Middle-Eastern.  It’s always twilight here (perhaps they’re in what astronomers call a “termination zone”).  But a society on another planet may have to deal with a population of species genetically different but with equal intelligence, presenting political  and practical problems much more complex than ours with race.  Perhaps that accounts for the fragmented nature of the metropolis’s neighborhoods.  I’d love to see life on the city streets, rather than from “on high”.  With access to space portals and wormholes, this has to represent what Michio Kaku calls a "Type III Civilization".  We have a long way to go to get there. It's interesting to me that these advanced civilizations are so politically authoritarian (like China). 

The film is directed by Martin Campbell, but Greg Berlanti, creator of “Everwood” on TheWB a few years ago, is the lead screenwriter and story originator, and his ideas show up big time.  (“Everwood”  was interesting to me specifically because of the piano prodigy Ephram and I have in fact met actor Gregory Smith.)  Specifically, Hal is told that the Green Lantern must be “fearless”, but then he has to challenge the “powers” of their own fear of admitting fear.  Dealing with your own potential weaknesses (and acknowledging or even admitting them) is not cowardice.

In my own latest version of my “Do Ask Do Tell” screenplay, I have a similar or comparable moral dilemma toward the end. At the risk of flouting the movie industry’s “third party rule”, I’ll pass along a hint about it here, because this film gives me something to compare my own writing to.  My protagonist is given the opportunity to be the first to return from death (or a kind of Purgatory set up by Angels not too far from Earth in light-hours) but he must agree to let “people as people” become real to him and give up the pleasure of experiencing people only throughout his own fantasies.  In a critical “tribunals” scene and ritual, he confronts his captors (including the “Angeles” – not the baseball team in Anaheim!) with their own eventual lack of moral perfection and their own deepest prejudices.   After doing so, he returns to Earth, to find out what has “happened” to it.  Of course, I need to sharpen all of this up.

Here is the Warner Brothers official site There’s a tease for a sequel in the closing credits. The film was produced also by DC Comics. 

Interview with Greg Berlanti, who also discusses “Life as We Know It”, which he directed, which presents the problem of “involuntary” parenthood (reviewed here Oct. 8, 2010)

Pictures: mine, not from movie. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Frances": Biography of rebellious actress shows the horrors of our past mental health system

I remember with some subtlety my six months at the National Institutes of Health in the later part of 1962, as a “mental patient” of sorts. They would say “it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Oh, yeah. This effort had been set up specifically for college students who had been forced out, I was told; but when I got there, I found a variety of patients in other circumstances, with female patients surprisingly less intact than males.

I had been “hospitalized” in part because I had not “conformed” to what society expected, particularly in gender-related areas.  I honestly think the therapists were “on to something”: that in some ways, I hadn’t learn to connect emotionally to “people as people” because I had found the competitive aspect of this humiliating.

By 1962, the worst abuses of the mental health world were receding somewhat, but that was not the case for actress Frances Farmer, the subject of the 1982 film biography “Frances”, directed by Graeme Clifford. It’s long at 140 minutes, in standard aspect, with a schmaltzy music score by John Barry, and some usual use of the opening of Mozart’s A Major Piano Sonata, which the director says parallels the music with its variation form, going into other “keys” and returning (that sounds like more like a rondo, which is not a way to characterize this movie).  The film was produced by Studio Canal and originally released by Universal. The DVD has been released by both Lionsgate and Anchor Bay.  Were the film made today, it would be release in the “arthouse” market, probably with a brand like Focus.

Frances (Jessica Lange) was always a rebellious girl, wanting to explore the world on her own (to the point of going to Russia), to the disapproval of her mother (Kin Stanley).  Opportunities for her in both movies and stage were found for her, and she always resented being expected to play roles she saw as silly. She wanted to choose her own goals and make her life her own expression, and others would not let her. I know the feeling.

Hollywood in the 30s and 40s was a production system, where the studios micromanaged everything, and she couldn’t take that. Her behavior could indeed become boorish: she would blurt out things (“Are you the one who …?”) and insult people.  She started getting into trouble, arrested for driving in LA at night with her bright lights on during a WWII blackout; she didn’t accept the idea of shared sacrifice for war.  She would come home to her studio-owned house and find her stuff moved to a hotel and her contract canceled. Soon, she would be in more trouble with police and be committed to a mental hospital.

So her career ended, for a while, with a kind of blacklist, but of a different sort from what affected Trumbo.

The second half of the film chronicles the horrors of her treatment, ranging from insulin and electroshock treatments eventually to orbital lobotomy (not prefrontal). A doctor says “the fastest way to get ‘em in and out; as safe as removing an infected tooth”.  It’s not clear whether she really had one, but she did return to the screen, sort of, and even appeared on “This Is Your Life” in the 1950s.  But her mother insisted she was not an adult anymore, that she had to do what others said, whereas Frances insisted there was nothing “wrong” with her. She probably would not have been treated for “mental illness” today, but then neither would I have been.

The DVD includes a 31-minute short, “A Hollywood Life: Remembering Frances Farmer”,  by Blue Underground and Anchor Bay,  directed by David Gregory, 2002.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Peacock": Two characters for the price of one, Midwestern town family secrets, a bit of Psycho: all exposed by a train wreck (w/o a "super 8")

Cillian Murphy, as an actor, certainly can transform himself physically and bend genders; he already did that with “Breakfast on Pluto” and then seems virile enough in “Inception”.

But in “Peacock” he goes into altered states again, in an ironic, slow-paced thriller somewhat inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. This little film from Lionsgate (director Michael Lander) attracted my attention because a train wreck figures into the lot, instigating it – on the heels of my seeing “Super 8” and even “Atlas Shrugged”.  The film has a bizarre mix of story elements.

It is set in the flatland town of Peacock, NB, but was actually filmed around Boone, IA (a little of it in Minnesota – and I suspect it got some attention in Minneapolis, where I used to live, as well as in the Kansas City Jubilee festival circuit – it is very “Midwestern”).

Cillian Murphy (“28 Days Later”) plays reticent bank teller John Skillpa. But early on we learn that he also plays the “wife” Emma, when he shaves down and dresses up.   That “pre-spoiler” changes the focus of suspense in the movie, from internal to external elements. Nobody in town seems to notice – the smooth hands and wrists (in one scene later, he shaves an eyebrow) – not even that he and his “wife” never appear together.  He has “become his own man” (he even says “you’re not the boss of me”) after his mother died, leaving him to have to do things for himself, they say. But even that is somewhat questionable.

After the train wreck in his back yard (it doesn’t get shown in a lot of detail), the political folks want to have a fundraiser at his home. He has to set up a ruse to hide his own Tootsie-like other side.  But there are deeper secrets in his past, very dark ones, about his mother. This other woman Maggie (Ellen Page) shows up with a baby and keeps asking for money, and we learn she may have good reason to.

Cillian (on the DVD) describes the character’s problem as “dissociated personality disorder” (not schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder) as caused environmentally.  There is a “War of the Roses” within one person.  Eventually, John/Emma will resort to violence, something out of “Sling Blade”.

There is controversy over the ending, and the DVD offers an alternate ending, which is almost as abrupt and ambiguous.  There’s a touch of “Tree of Life” in this story, toward the end, too.

The DVD also explains the physical transformation, into softness, to create Emma – to have two completely separate people with one body. “Us ladies have to stick together, right?”

Other big stars appear: Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman, Josh Lucas, Keith Carradine.

The official site is here

Lander says he wrote the script when in a workshop sponsored by Fox Searchlight (which didn’t wind up being the studio to pick this film up).

Picture: (mine) western Wisconsin (Spring Valley). 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Beginners": another LGBT take on how "the tree of life" really works

On the night that New York State legalized gay marriage, I saw this little film, which, in a manner different from “Judas Kiss”, is another “LGBT” take on “The Tree of Life”, this one actually more similar in style to the visual and spiritual epic from Fox a few weeks ago.  This time, the film is “Beginners”, and the title indeed suggests that life can take on a new beginning at any age.

Ewan McGreggor may be 40, but in the film he looks more like 28 or so, in the summer of life. He plays Oliver, a young, totally heterosexual graphic artist and writer who recalls the story of his father’s epic life.  (He's also developing an art project tracing the "history of sadness".) His father had announced (in 2003) at age 75 “I’m gay” after losing his wife after 44 years of marriage and raising Oliver.  The father Hal (Christopher Plummer) would die of lung cancer in four years, but he spends those years finding love and his own personal destiny; it's never too late for love!. Much of the film’s flashback content shows the loving personal care the son gave the father, as he deteriorates physically, but never mentally.  Goran Visnjic plays Andy, Hal’s lover (looking more youthful on film than on imdb), who explains why he is attracted to older men.  (The day that I “came out” for a second time, Feb. 18, 1973, and went to a “gay talk group” on the upper West Side on NYC, I remember someone’s giving a similar story and reason.) 

Oliver explains in other flashbacks the early history of his father's life, how he knew he was gay as a teen, served in the military in WWII without incident (hence, another example countering the past military gay ban), and had a psychiatrist tell in in 1955 that homosexuality was a "disease".  His wife knew but said she could enthrall him, which she must have enough to have at least one son. The film does suggest some answers as to why homosexuality was seen as "such a big deal" in the 1950s and throughout much of the 60s, until the Civil Rights movement and then Stonewall (again, as I experienced in my own coming of age and William and Mary expulsion in 1961).  It seems as though everyone was supposed to "pay his dues" and raise a new generation. But of course, we know how that turned out to be a canard.   

The him has some "other" beginnings, too. Oliver meets Anna (Melanie Laurent) and begins a romance, at one point visiting her apartment in NYC and not knowing she is in LA (his home). The intimate scenes don’t really live up to their promise.

And there is the wonderful dog -- pooch --, Arthur, whom Oliver takes over and "raises" after Hal dies.  The film is filled with subtitled and touching comments from the dog, which are more or less like what a five-year old child would say about the goings on.  (That is more or less the cognition of a social carnivore: street smarts and a certain kind of good memory, but no understanding of human abstract culture.)  “I understand 150 words but I don’t talk”.  The dog is constantly on camera, desperate to hang on to human attachment.  A cat wouldn’t have done that (but there’s another movie coming about a domineering cat, “The Future”). Remember Cleo, the talking dog, from the 50s sitcom "The People's Choice"?

The film, directed by Mike Mills, is from Olympus and Focus Features.

Here’s the official site

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Farmageddon": Governments shut down organic farming out of political motives

I snuck out from an on-call work situation to see the new documentary from Kristin Canty, “Farmageddon” at the West End Cinema in Washington this afternoon. It was surprisingly well attended for a weekday, with some entire families with teenagers old enough to see how important this film could be.  The film is in self-distribution mode on a platform release, showing only in a few cities. The DVD is due by late fall.

As the film opens, we see the stairwell of a rural house, and a woman narrating tells of getting up before dawn on a winter morning and seeing guns drawn and then police and federal agents out of the blue. We don’t know where that farm house home invasion (from the fibbies) takes place until toward the end.

The film spends its early time covering a family farm in Vermont that tried to raise European sheep organically, to be shut down by the USDA, which would even threaten the family into silence. The theory was a possible mad cow disease risk, despite repeatedly negative biological tests (and I don’t think sheep have had the disease anywhere since the 18th Century).

Most of the rest of the film concerns federal and state attacks on organic farms, especially those trying to sell raw milk, in a number of states, including California, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Ohio.  In Maryland, unpasteurized milk is absolutely illegal, but in some other states if can be “sold” in coops in limited circumstances (but never cross state lines).  The film traces the formation of some coops, with some details as to one south of Elyria, Ohio, in a town called La Grange, operated by the Stowers family.   I spent my boyhood summers near Oberlin (actually Kipton)in the 50s and 60s, and I remember some family trips (on my maternal grandmother’s side) to buy fresh farm food, and we may very well have visited this coop or a similar one. I definitely remember Lagrange and Pittsfield.

Another victim is a Mennonite farmer in Pennsylvania, and still another is in California, where supposedly the law is more favorable to local organic farming.

Politically, the government seems motivated to protect large agribusiness from low cost competition so it hauls out “the law”. Imagine what could happen if the same thing happened with media companies. (It does.)  The film demonstrates well the conservative-to-libertarian arguments against big government, which often corrupt the law to serve the interests of those who keep it in power.

Medically, the pasteurization question is double-edged. We have taken it for granted since the 50s or earlier (because of the devastating but infrequent threats from a few bacteria like a few e-coli), but raw milk, produced properly, may be more healthful inasmuch as people actually benefit from exposure to more “good bacteria,” building stronger immune systems and probably less prone to cancer (especially colon and stomach cancer and probably lymphomas) as well as allergies and autoimmune disease.

The film has a lot of shots of farmers markets in New York City, especially the Village.

Farmageddon - Movie Trailer from Kristin Canty on Vimeo.

Picture: family farm from my mother's side, near Kipton, Ohio (not in film, about 15 miles from LaGrange in the film)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Marwencol": fantasy village of Mark Hogancamp

In 2000, artist Mark Hogancamp was beaten viciously outside a bar in Kingston, NY by gang-like young men who hated cross dressers.  Broke and severely disabled, Mark rebuilt a life by building a 1/6 scale model of a WWII era town (supposedly in Belgium) in his back yard, called Marwencol.  The documentary film of that name by Jeff Malmberg, released by Cinema Guild.

Mark lived in his fantasy town, where the dolls were based on people he knew. He would imagine situations that could have occurred in occupied lands during WWII.  It was a little bit like living in the world of a model railroad exhibit.  I used to like to do that as a boy. Mother would call that “Baby play”.

The stories that Hogencamp invents, however, are intricate, detailed and poignant, even if a little of it sounds like fairy tales in the face of an enemy. The town has a king and queen. The people resist the Nazi's toying with them as if the invaders were extraterrestrials conquering another planet. A little bit of the narrative, especially in the deleted scenes, is personally quite bodily sensitive. In one of his stories, people make crosses out of human blood as a decoy.

He talks about the wrongfullness of judging other people, and says "men tried to kill me" and admires female moral values. In other clips he says he knows he is "talking to himself" and living in fantasy (an issue in my own therapy back in the early 60s). 

Eventually, he is approached to have his town shown as an exhibit in New York City, when he must deal with going back to the world, having regained most of his life skills in the mean time.

He mentions being married, and I can recall writings (as in those of Paul Rosenfels) that most cross dressers are actually straight. In one scene, he says he contemplates whether he would prefer to look like James Bond, or be “smooth”.  He seems to want to move from playing one kind of person to the next, in a kind of constant rotation.

The official site for the 2010 film is here.

The DVD has many small extras, including a miniature of the show in NYC, and a video of his watching his own film, as well as more make-believe stories with the dolls. 

The YouTube official trailer from Cinema Guild is here.
 The idea of models has occurred in other movies. In the 1980 David Lynch film "The Elephant Man", Joseph Merrick constructs a model of a cathedral (the film was in BW), as here on Flickr. 

Pictures: Above: the Fairfield village from "Roadside America" in PA; below, my own model railroad around 1952 or so. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A couple more Logo short films: Give me what I want, and I won't go away; cowboys don't need aliens

Well, seeking respite from “another real job”, I rather messed up this week. I mistakenly allowed a Netflix DVD of a documentary about Garrison Keillor to get mailed, forgetting I had seen it on PBS and blogged about it, finally finding it. Then I watched the PBS Frontline film “The Madoff Affair”, thinking it was a new take, and discovered I had written this one up two years ago.  It looked good in HD on Plasma. And next time I take a train to NYC I must visit the Lipstick Building.

So I migrated to LogoTV to look for some new short films, and found a UK Film Council/Yorkshire short (12 min) by Dominic LeClerc, “Protect Me from What I Want”.  A white and somewhat immature looking, thin Brit, Daz (Elliot Tittensor) living in a flat picks up a young Middle Eastern man Saleem (Naveed Choundhry) and brings him “home”.  Maybe this is ordinarily post-disco behavior, but not this time. After some intimacy (not as well done as it might be), Saleem sleeps, and Daz can peek at his wallet. No, he remains honest, but he knows he has crossed dangerous political and “religious” boundaries.  (There was a novel “An Affair of Strangers” back in the 80s about this sort of thing in a straight context set in Israel and Palestine.)  But this sort of thing needs a feature-length treatment.  And it’s a bigger issue in the UK than here in the US, probably.

The Logo link is here.

I also tried the 26 minute “German western” short “Cowboy”, by Till Kleinert. Christian, played by Oliver Scherz, is a 30-something real estate agent who visits a run-down farm to make unsolicited offers. He finds a late-teen farmhand “Cowboy” (Pit Bukowski) who eggs him on, first by inviting him to help with the chores, then borrowing his car, then talking about “girlfriends”.  Pretty soon, Scherz has more than he bargained for. The buildup in the film reminds one of Carter Smith’s “Bugcrush”.  (Sorry, no aliens.)

The writing of films like this, is all about the buildup of tension between characters.  I should heed the lesson well.

In both of these films, I could lose the cigarette smoking. It is depressing.

Here's an interview with the director about the Cardiff Festival Iris Prize for this film. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Submarine": Oliver Tate will make you sit up and take notice of him, just because of his pen

In the Welsh coming-of-age comedy “Submarine”, which Ben Stiller helped produce, Olive Tate is certainly the kind of 15-year-old one would want for a son if one had children.  He’s articulate, talented, hardworking, and people-smart. He’s concerned about breaking the “barrier” – at probably too young an age – in his own dating relationships, but he also connives to save his parents’ marriage – and that’s unusual.

Craig Roberts (19 at the time of filming) plays the part with great self-confidence, demanding respect in his narrative.   He says “most people think of themselves as individuals, believing there is no one on the planet like them.”

The movie has a quirky look. It does sport the spectacular Welsh cliffs and bluffs, and even a power plant. It shows technology of the early 80s – Oliver still does his self-promotion on a typewriter, Barton Fink style – he’s obviously a promising writer.  And there are some weird scenes indeed. For example, Oliver’s girl  friend  (Yasmin Paig) tries to singe the hairs on his shaggy leg with a fireworks sprinkler (electrocution would do the same thing).  The Dogme filming style actually makes this scene work.

Noah Taylor plays the gaunt geek father, struggling in a low level academic job after losing a teaching post, with Oliver just aware of the hardships, even though it seems he stays in private school.  Sally Hawkins is the kindly mom, and Paddy Considine appears as Graham Purvis.

The prep school scenes could have used a little more followup. There's just one line of gay-baiting. 

The movie, from British Film4, Red Hour, Optimum, Mars and the Weinstein Company, has official site here.   It’s based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne and directed by Richard Ayoade.

There was a fair crowd Saturday night at the Charles Center in Baltimore, near the overstuffed gay pride block party up the street. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Soho Square": Ultra low budget British thriller with unsettling premise and end

Occasionally, we encounter some significant films reported to have been made for less than $10000, like “Primer” (Shane Caruth of Dallas).  British director Jamie Rafn made a genre detective flick in 2000 that made the Sundance Channel and Showtime, “Soho Square”.   That's SoHo in London, not Net York. As the movie opens we see an attractive man, in closeup, in a bath, smoking, not too much chest hair, and apparently down and out. When played on an iMac, the stereo effect of the British telephone ringing fairly startles, and makes the viewer wonder what just happened in his house. Pretty soon we learn that the detective  (Anthony Biggs) has taken to the bottle after losing his wife, which later, in a flashback, we learn may have been connected to childbirth. It still is risky to give birth.  In the meantime, his boss is concerned about a rash of particularly savage killings in the area, with the use of fire.  Can J. get back to work and help solve the cases. He meets a female bartender (Lucy Davenport) who motivates him. But the film then races toward an unsettling conclusion.

The soundtrack has an annoying presentation of the slow movement of Chopin's Second Piano Concerto on an out-of-tune piano. I don't get it. 

The Sundance link is here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Supernatural's Jared Padalecki plays the young Thomas Kinkade

Jared Padalecki was named a presidential scholar when graduating from high school in Texas, but he immediately jumped his career in acting, most notably playing the likeable law student brother Sam in the series “Supernatural.”

In 2008, he played lead in a gentle Christmas film, "Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage", “based on true events" back around 1977, that raises some old questions about family values, especially as they apply to those with “artistic” talents.  Jared plays Thomas Kinkade, an art student at Berkeley. He comes home to his mother  (Marica Gay Harden) and brother  (Aaron Ashmore, from Smallville) in the High Sierra town of Placerville for Christmas and finds her house falling down and her in danger of foreclosure.   Because of her pride, she doesn’t even want to tell her she was laid off. (Was the timing of this 2008 film a coincidence?)

Quickly Thom is faced with the question of how to use his painting skills – in art – to economically practical use to save his mother’s house.  Should he have to come back from school to support her?  Not if he can paint things that will sell the town’s Christmas message. But he doesn’t get to choose his own message, completely.

Old veteran Glen (Peter O’Toole), looking for a second trade wind in life, can play mentor.
The screenplay builds upon crises in a conventional way, as they teach in tearjerker class.  (Even a Christmas tree lighting in the Christmas Tree Capital of the world is a fiasco.  And then the pageant itself falls down.)   Maybe there’s a message: paint what other people want.

It's not about "how to paint" but "why to paint".  How would that apply to music composition?  (Debussy's "Claire de Lune" gets played a little too much here.)

The official site, from the real-life painter, is here. It's directed by Michael Campus.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Midnight in Paris": Woody Allen offers time travel to screenwriter/novelist as a way to work out his karma

I suppose that it’s logical that Woody Allen (now 75) would think of some of the same plot devices that I have.  Even in a romantic comedy, when I would be dead serious with any sci-fi setup.

Yup, it’s time travel.  You get taken by angels, and find yourself living in an earlier era. You’re abducted periodically, and if they send a private eye after you, he gets sent back more than one generation, back to the time of the Three Musketeers, with no Milady.

That’s what happens in “Midnight in Paris”, or rather at midnight, whenever a particular aspiring writer takes his strolls in the City of Light, alone. He even gets to come back every morning, although others may not.  It’s rather like surviving the love trains at a disco.  And he gets to think and talk about the life and existential nature of a "writer" all the time, and still seem manly and romantic enough for a girl friend. He might even make for a good father some day. Or, if he isn't careful, he might lose her. 

The film looks small, shot in digital video on a few streets in Paris, and then in some roaring 20s boudoirs where people smoke like chimneys.

Owen Wilson, who doesn’t have enough of the external trappings of manhood, plays a genre screenwriter Gil, traveling with his fiancee Inez, Rachel McAdams and her Republican tea party parents on business in Paris (sorry, it's all heterosexual). He wants to write the great novel set in a better time. So he gets what he wishes for, when he goes on midnight strolls. He meets The Thief of Always in a yellow model-T.  He even gets repeat visits, a chance to bring his paper manuscript (back into a time before thumb drives) so that Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) can read it without chopping off his feet.  He consorts with F. Scott FitzGerald, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemmingway. There’s enough here for plenty of English themes. 

My own concept in a couple of movie scripts is that the protagonist gets “abducted” or perhaps goes through “transition” (death) and is taken to some kind of artificial world – maybe a synecdoche set up on Titan, or maybe a parallel universe, or maybe the innards of someone’s model railroad set (“Roadside America” as one of the Roadside Attractions), placed in an earlier time era, and encouraged to procreate so there will be children or progeny who can learn from his world of ideas and live in them.  (At least his life is still easier than a March of the Penguins.)  But, expanding on a concept in Woody Allen's film, the protagonist has the opportunity to experience being at different ages. 

Sony’s official site for the film is here.

EFE International offers this interview with Woody Allen.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"X-Men: First Class": Bryan Singer's prequel, says those who are "different" change history; an interesting "take" on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Anderson Cooper wrote a tweet recently recommending the latest “X-Men”, so Sunday night, after Pride and a big lightning storm, I went to AMC Tysons to see Matthew Vaughn’s new Marvel film “X-Men: First Class”, in DP, from 20th Century Fox.  (The nearby Regal was shut down by a power failure, but the website didn’t tell us.)

I’d seen the other X-Men movies a few years back, but the “superhero” theme seems to be catching on all the more these days (from Smallville to “The Event”, to “Sky High” and “Incredibles”).  This film is a prequel to the others, with a definite social and political bent.

In fact, the story is by Bryan Singer and Sheldon Turner; it took four screenwriters to transfer this intricate, back-and-forth story to the 130 minute film. It traces the origins of  Charles Xavier (James McAvoy as a thirtyish adult) and  (going back to the Holocaust) Erik Lensherr or Magneto (Michael Fassbinder), and several  “kids”, the most notable of whom is Hank McCoy, to become the Beast (Nicholas Hoult); these Xavier pulls together in his “school” for heroes (rather like Harry Potter).  The shift-shaping blue Raven is played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Kevin Bacon is his usual lean-and-mean as Sebastian Shaw.

The CIA brings the pieces together to counter the upcoming Cuban Missile Crisis. Actually, the film does a good job of setting up the factual history with the Soviet concern over American bases in Turkey in the early part of 1962.  (I covers this side of the conflict even more than New Line's docudrama "13 Days" back in 2000.) And as the crisis develops and Xavier (McAvoy plays the role with great charisma) deploys “the kids”, the film shows clips of Kennedy’s speaking and setting up the blockade, with the threat of nuclear war if the Russians cross it.  (I don’t really recall Americans restocking their fallout shelters; I don’t think my parents did much to react to it.)  I remember hearing Kennedy’s first speech while eating dinner in a George Washington University student union, attending classes at night while I was “hospitalized” at NIH for “being different”.

Now, I’ve told that story before on my blogs, but this film tracks to it in some personally bizarre and uncanny ways.  Hank’s “gift” is that his feet are really like hands; he can function as a biped or run on all fours.  He wants to be “normal”.  The film shows curious images of his foot-hands, with dense hair about the wrists that should really be just ankles.  Hanks gives himself an injection that should turn him back to a normal teenage boy (after all, he has his girl friend  (January Jones) and in his world it’s a least all right to be a nerd – it wasn’t in mine). He’ll just settle for hairy legs and maybe run track and field.  (All of this tracks to some bizarre notes in my own NIH records, pictures of which I have shown on the web – maybe they leaked into the script.)   The trouble is, the injection (of the green “promycin”, to borrow from The 4400) starts to work, then backfires and rebunds, turning him into the Beast (like a werewolf or Wolverine), resulting in a cameo by Hugh Jackman. 

The story winds up with a curious climax on a Cuban beachhead, which might have fit into the series “Lost”.  Missiles fall back on their perpetrators, and then Xavier has to show his own morality and protect both Russian and American sailors (including the gay ones). 

There’s no question that Bryan Singer intends the film to metaphorize the question, how should society treat those who are “different” (better than it does), and what are the moral responsibilities of those who are “different” in a way that would give them undue asymmetric power over others without running the usual risks and taking the conventional responsibilities that others must take, in order to enjoy projecting themselves from their own world of fantasy and unusual opportunity.  It’s facile to compare the “dangerous difference” to homosexuality; it seems that Hollywood these days knows that “don’t ask don’t tell” applies to extraterrestrial or other non-human origins.  You can’t really excel and make it on your own without being “one of them.”

Fox has an official site here

The music score, by Henry Jackman, sometimes recalls Hans Zimmer’s “Inception”  score with a similar ground-bass theme with shifting harmonies.

Here’s Byran Singer’s discussion of the evolution of his two main characters:

See my "disaster movies" blog July 14 2011 for a discussion of "13 Days" ("Thirteen Days") (2000) on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"The Last Mountain" is Coal River Mountain, to be saved from mountaintop shaving

Bill Haney’s new documentary “The Last Mountain”, from DADA films, traces Bobby Kennedy Jr.’s battle against big coal, especially Massey, particularly to save Coal River Mountain, near the now destroyed Kayford Mountain in southern West Virginia.  The constructive plan is to populate the ridge top with a windmill farm.

Mountaintop removal can now remove or epilate almost 1000 feet from a ridge, although coal companies claim they rebuild the terrain to its approximate original shape afterwards.

In this film, “tree huggers” hike in and set up tree homes to occupy the mountain as Massey starts operations.
Almost 50% of America’s electric power comes from coal, and one third of that comes from Appalachia.

The official site for the film (and trailer) is here.

My pictures: Coal train from Wyoming in Minnesota; is there any danger to the Spruce Knob area?

"Super 8": Kids make a vampire movie, adults fight the real Space People in 1979 Ohio

Who can complain about the idea of a movie about kids sitting around and talking about screenplay story structure, even in a steel town in Ohio’s Appalachia-end in 1979? (It might help if you threw coal strip mining into the mix.)  Well, these middle school kids make a vampire movie, called “The Case”, actually aired on the left side of the screen (2.35:1) during the credits. (Was this short really written and directed by kids, even for Paramount/Dreamworks?  One would hope so.)

But, while staging one scene, the kids witness a gigantic freight train wreck (which gets filmed in Super 8 accidentally), very well done (in the outer film story) and destructive with such unstoppable momentum.  (One of the more precocious kids (played by Courtney, below) notices, in the distance, a car being driven onto the racks just before the crash -- a deliberate sabotage that plays into the plot later.) That’s the setup of “Super 8” from sci-fi writer and director J.J.Abrams.  Pretty soon, goofy stuff happens – people and hardware getting snatched up from gas stations.  The Air Force is involved, and soon is setting up a wildfire and evacuating the town, actually filmed in Weirton. W Va.  (Weirton steel was a client of mine at work back in 1991; I’ve driven through the town and recognized the steel mill.)   Oh, yes, the government is covering up UFO landings and crashed saucers from the 50s.

The movie turns into a ménage of “X Files” and “Goonies” (maybe even “I Am Number 4”, also about Ohio) perhaps and doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy. The other idea, that a behemoth monster (pretty much out of Japanese horror but also some inspiration from “Alien”) can make a spaceship to go home out of junk, seems disconnected – but I like the diplomacy scene where the kids negotiate with the monster. 

One problem for me was there really wasn't much of a connect from the layers of "reality" in the film.  By the way, at a nearby church here in Arlington, teenagers made a sci-fi short similar to the one here during their 30 Hour Fast to end world hunger. 

With many young actors: Joel Courtney, Jessica Tuck, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, and adult Kyle Chandler. The June 17, 2011 Entertainment Weekly has a story on the "real" kids.

Another interesting observation was the nature and capability of the camcorders (analogue Super 8, still popular with some indie filmmakers) available to filmmakers in 1979, when Executive Producer Steven Spieberg was at prime. The kids seem pretty good at using them. 

Paramount’s official site is here

The film should not be confuses with "8-1/2 MM" or "Se7en". 

Pictures: No, not Ohio. NJ, and the NYC subway

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

BBC's Royal Wedding DVD contains featurette "William & Kate: A Royal Engagement"

The “Royal Wedding” DVD from BBC and Time-Warner discussed on my “Plays” blog today has a 50-minute “featurette” titled “William & Kate: A Royal Engagement”, directed by Sally Norris, produced by Wendy Robbins, narrated by Sophie Raworth.

But the film really is more like two separate biographies of each of the couple. The film plays particular heed to how William “pays his dues” and prepares for the responsibilities he was born in to. At 18, he goes to Chile on a volunteer project and lives in tents for three months (cleaning privies among other duties), once stranded in a storm in Patagonia for five days.  Later, he is shown on a survival exercise in the Royal Air Force.

There are also scenes at school, where he admits being behind in a required term paper.

William is serving as an RAF search and rescue pilot based in Wales, and the couple will live there.

Some of William’s friends, like Jules Knight, speak about him; Knight is most striking in his looks.

William’s rapidly increasing baldness is also apparent in the film. Early male pattern baldness seems to be a prominent gene in the royal family.

Piers Morgan appears frequently, speaking in the analytic style now commonly seen on his CNN interview program.

Catherine “commoner” background in Bucklbebury is presented in a low-key fashion, and the schools she attended are shown; they look like they could come out of some of the more pedestrian scenes in the Harry Potter movies.   The film gives some attention to her having to avoid the media.

Their courtship does seem to have been a long, low-keyed affair, stretching a decade.  By comparison, my own parents knew each other about four years before getting married (in 1940). 

Picture (mine): The Royal couple should visit the Twin Cities. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"Demographic Winter" looks at declining birth rates in wealthier societies

Acuity Productions has an hour long film that explores the problems caused by lower birthrates in wealthier societies, called “Demographic Winter: The Decline of the American Family.”  The film, dating to 2008, has only a skeleton entry in imdb. 

Phillip Longman (author of the 2004 book “The Empty Cradle”) starts out. The discussion turns to a definition of “replacement fertility”. Gary Becker from the University of Chicago joins in.   Insese Slesere from the Latvian legislature talks about population decline in Eastern Europe. Kay Hymowitz, author of books on marriage, appears, and then Steve Nock, who believes that gender equality caused everything to change. David Popenoe criticizes cohabiting as pushing up the age of marriage and reproduction. Harry S. Dent appears.

Generally, the film is correct, in that many wealthier countries have fewer children and older populations, with perhaps unsustainable programs to support aging and retired populations. How that affects the policy debate on Social Security and Medicare is now well known in this country. The United States is approximately replacing its population because of immigration and because lower income (often minority and immigrant populations) have more children.  This observation causes critics of the “demographic winter” crowd to maintain that the concept is a right wing call for having “the right babies” and not just more babies.

But it is clearly true, as the film says, that as western society becomes more individualistic, with narrow definitions of “personal responsibility”, the perceived and actual cost to the individual for having children increases, to the point that economics discourages it. But welfare-state attempts to use government programs to balance work and family by forcing employers to provide paid family leave or, as in Sweden, heavy government subsidies for parents, meet with limited success in encouraging birth rate. (The film makes that point by showing Swedish children playing in the snow with “Rosebud” sleds.)

Phillip Longman admits that he has only one adopted child, and that he has developed his concern out of science and economics, although he says the problem could drive him more to faith. (He has written elsewhere that many people are too preoccupied with themselves or “self-absorbed” to have children.)  But the social changes, with a focus on “equality” regardless of gender, may have helped create a climate where men are less interested in reproduction and find much less emotional value (or "excitement") in having families at all. At one point, late in the film, Longman connects all this loosely to today's debates on gay rights or gay marriage and gender parity. 

The film comprises a long series of brief interview clips from various social science researchers (some of them do seem to come from "The Right", especially the social and religious conservatives), occasionally with supporting imagery, and takes on the style of presenting another “Inconvenient Truth”.

Here are some of the more specific points in the film:

Population increases for a while as birth rates decline because of a “health explosion”.

Longman argues that failure to replace a population can encourage slavery or indentured servitude.  And he says you never have economic prosperity during depopulation.

Affluence means “we want to live our lives as individuals instead of in large groups.”

Two-thirds of households in western countries are childless, according to the film.

“Adults have a responsibility for children generally” (that means other people's children as well as their own).

The US is barely at fertility replacement, but partly because of out-of-wedlock births!

Those who can economically raise large families are not having them, whereas those who cannot afford them do have them.

Divorce (and singleton-hood) leads to smaller households that are less efficient in energy use and may have larger total carbon footprints.

Men may need women more than women need men. (That was a favorite point of George Gilder in the 1970s and 1980s with his books “Sexual Suicide” and “Men and Marriage”.)  Younger adult men have little appreciation of taking responsibility for raising a new generation, and tend to depend on their parents and remain “Child men”  A related book is "The Natural Family: A Manifesto" by Carlson and Mero.  Check my Books blog, Sept. 18, 2009 and March 28, 2006. 

The Romans at one point decided that liberating slaves could increase their population.

The film is narrated by Judith Adolphson, directed by Richard Stout.

The film has a website with synopsis, trailers, and DVD purchase instructions, here. There will be a sequel called “Demographic Bomb”
The complete film is currently posted by The SuzuliM on YouTube, in eleven five-minute segments, the first below.

I have a label “population demographics” on my “Bill on Major Issues” blog, with the most important posts March 8, 2009 (with Longman and Gray's proposed “Family-Based Social Contract”) and Feb. 20, 2009. There has been a suggestion that married parents with children should pay much less in social security taxes.  

In my own view, the “demographic winter” problem fits into a broader discussion about sustainability and “generativity”. There is a paradox (sort of like one of the “non-contradictions” in elementary particle physics):  to have a society that remains progressive and values the individual, then the individuals have to lay themselves aside sometimes, realize it isn’t always “about you” and accept the idea that a common future is important, and accept as a moral principle that everyone has his own skin in the future that follows him or her. But that could lead to a complete rethinking of the “rules of engagement” and what we really mean, in a deeper sense, by “personal responsibility”. It isn’t all about what starts with personal or “private” choice.  But many of us will remain concerned that it is going to be about "the rules" as they affect us personally and individually.

This is a good film to watch shortly after seeing “The Tree of Life” (reviewed here June 3).

Monday, June 06, 2011

"Bobby Fischer Against the World": compelling bio of chess champ on HBO

Female chess champion Susan Polgar introduces the HBO film “Bobby Fischer Against the World” with her blogger entry  (website url) today.
The documentary film is directed and written by Liz Garbus.  HBO has a snazzy site for the film here

The early part of the film covers Bobby Fischer’s upbringing, which is put out as explaining his eccentric and introverted and intense personality. Yet, as a young man, Fischer was handsome and vigorous and could be likeable in his own way.

Much of the film chronicles the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match. Fischer lost the first game with a temperamental blunder and forfeited the second game, refusing to show up over a dispute over playing conditions. He did not like to be photographed and deal with the public then. Yet Fischer came back to win the match convincingly, changing from his usual King Pawn openings to Queenside openings sometimes.

Chess boomed in the US after Fischer won. The match had a lot of political significance in the cold war, and curiously occurred just before Nixon’s reelection and subsequent Watergate.

As he grew older, Fischer became eccentric again, eventually getting into a legal wrangle for playing a tournament in the 1990s in Yugoslavia against orders from the US government because of Clinton’s policy in the Balkans.  He would be arrested in Japan in 2004 but win asylum in Iceland.

The film attempts to model the relationship between chess, with its abstract and deterministic model (even though there are more possible games than atoms in the universe), and the “tree of life”, or perhaps karma.

This would be a good place to note the 1993 film about a fictitious chess prodigy who wants to emulate Bobby, “In Search of Bobby Fischer”, which I saw at the Shirlington at the time it came out. It’s directed by Steve Zailian, from Paramount, with Max Pomeranc as the prodigy. I remember the dialogue line “They’re just pieces.”   That film had amateur scenes in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

Yet, a documentary, with many live shots of Fischer at many ages and many live shots of tournaments, most of all 1972, and some chess analysis.

The main website for the US Chess Federation is how this.  My best rating, in the early 1980s, was just under 2000.  

Last picture: White resigns! (The Ruy Lopez modern Archangel.)  See the "BillBoushka" blog, Aug. 19, 2008, for my own chess history.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

"Au Pair, Kansas": family dramedy with some secrets, and with an important famil care practice explored

Midwestern film festivals have been treated to a domestic drama with some surprise LGBT twists, “Au Pair,  Kansas”, directed by physician-filmmaker J.T. O’Neal, filmed (in full 2.35:1) in the countryside near Salina, KS, in winter, with some snow and brown prairies (The ridge-like hills are larger than I expected). 

An “au pair” is a domestic assistant hired, usually from overseas, to help raise the kids in a family and usually regarded as a family equal. (I can think of situations where this could be reversed, as a sequel for eldercare.)  In the film, Traci Lords plays Helen, recently widowed after her 40-something husband, a successful buffalo rancher and engineer, has died of melanoma (which is generally a bad scene). She hires soccer player Oddmund (Havard Lilleheie) from Norway to look after her 15 and 10 year old sons and help with the ranch.

The oldest, Atticus (named after Gregory Peck’s character in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, played by Spencer Daniels), is rapidly becoming a man and will celebrate his 16th birthday. He watches videotapes from the benevolent deceased father about what to expect.  Oddmund is a bit of a cut-up, and eventually gets in trouble after Atticus gets sick when he first tries to drink. His attempt to clean up the situation (literally) leads to a horrible but incorrect accusation. But there are more family secrets: Traci’s husband was bisexual, and may have married in order to have children. Slowly the community in a small Kansas town has to come to terms with difficult ideas.

Fortunately the county or town sheriff (Cher Ferreya) is level-headed enough (because of her own issues) to control the situation (she reminds me of the sheriff in “Smallville”).
Much of the film happens during the Christmas season, and the indoor scenes have spectacular interior Christmas decorations.

The writer and director gave a screenwriting workshop, and compared the practical issues for screenwriters in writing spec and shooting scripts in both conventional Hollywood and indie markets (Hollywood has a Third Party rule and “coverage” system: “Pass, Consider, Buy (almost never)”.  Cardinal rules: Keep it simple, and “Don’t Be Boring”.   He challenged the audience to remember how much dialog sticks to the ribs. Most of us remember "I am the king of the world" from "Titanic" and that's about it. Our visual cortex is much better at memory than our verbal. 

The Wordpress site for the film is thisThe tagline is, “He’s not gay, he’s European”. 

First picture: Flint Hills in Kansas (mine), somewhat East of location of film. 

"Kink Crusaders": LGBT leather convention in Chicago in 2008

The film “Kink Crusaders”, directed by Mike Skiff (and Third Rail Media), documents a 2008 LGBT leather convention in Chicago, which the hotel industry bid up to get because of the enormous business.

The “contestants” included a large variety of people, including gender changes (both directions), people with disabilities, and a number of fads and fetishes.  Some, such as one man from Venezuela, seemed rather “conservative” (in terms of conventional physical fitness) by comparison. (As for the women, one is reminded of a website a few years ago called “Valkyries” dedicated to female body builders.)

One contestant was a physician from Britain who noted that the laws on accidentally transmitting infectious disease (as with devices) when seeking pleasure were still quite stringent. 

There were a few brief glimpses of rather explicit practices, as well as some more innocent stuff, such as waxing (this time, just of a back; no “40 Year Old Virgin” man-o-lantern here). 

Others described the history of the leather movement during the AIDS crisis as it unfolded in the 1980s.

The official site is here.  The tagline is "When missionary just won't do it."

Saturday, June 04, 2011

"Judas Kiss": gay science fiction about the time arrow, alternate worlds: "Tree of Life" and "Inception" come together

Judas Kiss”, written and produced by Carlos Pedrazza, directed by J.T. Tepnapa, seems like a gay combination of “Tree of Life”, “Another World”, and “Inception”. 

 The “Judas” part of the layered story is deeply buried as a family secret of college freshman Danny Reyes (Smallville’s Richard Harmon), who may have betrayed his family by making a film about it. Enter 35-ish Zachary Wells (Charlie David), fated to judge a filmmaking contest at Keystone College near Seattle (not in PA),  forced to stay in a freshman dorm. There’s a clue when he’s oblivious to the modern rule that you can’t smoke in dorms anymore.  He goes to a gay disco, meets Danny, who sweeps him away.  But pretty soon we learn that Zachary is a kind of projection of Danny from another universe, back into space-time, hoping to keep Danny from making a mistake, possibly by, this time around, judging Danny to lose in the contest. (That violates the time-arrow of physics).  Moralists will see their “intimacy” as the height of narcissism. 

Danny has tremendous charisma; he is chased by well-to-do preppie Shane Lyons (Belgian born Timo Descamps, a singer in his own right) but loves Chris (Sean Paul Lockhart).  Getting his relationships right is part of fixing his time arrow.  The movie, however, doesn’t necessarily deliver the ending we root for.  There is an interesting twist in that it seems to matter which of Danny's two "Suitors" will be best for him, and for a while he seems willing to sell himself out -- because the "other person" is still pretty good.

The intimacy is quite well done – keeping the tension in many scenes.  You tend to like all the characters, even those who are less than morally perfect.  (Physically, they are all lean, fit, and clean-cut; Wells gets called "the old man" at 35.  The camera tends to correlate advancing middle age with chest hair perfectly.) I liked Shane even if he plays the pseudo-villain (and, oh, not really) -- when he offers that "tutorial".  In how many movies is one attracted to most of the characters?

The movie uses a simple wave effect to suggest the parallel universe jumps (they're reversible)  There's a scene late between Danny and older-self Zach with an enormous moon that reminds one (or anticipates) of Lars van Trier's approaching planet Melancholia.  Prescience?  Coincidence?

The movie does start out with a light touch (involving Zach and his "present day" (or "alternate universe") "lover", which turns out to come from a plot twist. You expect the movie to be a comedy or satire, but it rapidly becomes more serious, and approaches thriller territory -- an interesting shift of pseudo-genre. 

Does it make sense to ask yourself, can I have a second chance, go back to my youth and get things right and become much more successful -- and happier?  This movie takes a shot at the question.  Is the time-arrow of physics absolutely irreversible?  Maybe it's only entropy that limits us.

The site for the movie is this.  The DVD will come from Wolfe. 

From the Minneapolis Film Society GLBT festival (link) with a Q&A today.  I am told it will play in Fort Worth very soon.

Make no mistake, this film is a masterpiece.  I could have been in there with all the heavy hitters at awards time.  The Academy missed this one.  It needed more aggressive theatrical marketing. 

The film is prefixed by a short video “Like It Rough”(featuring Timo Descamps) about vampires.  I suspect that the DVD will contain the entire embedded “Judas Kiss” that is played in the outer movie’s final scene.
The writer says that the script took 5 years to develop and the talent search was done very carefully. Hope there is a wide theatrical release in the arthouses.

Not rated, probably on the borderline between PG-13 and R; the story and acting tend to downplay material that would otherwise seem explicit.

Technically, the film was shot with a large portable camera in a somewhat Dogme style, a bit like a Lars van Trier film. 

I love the main song  "Crash" aka "Listen Now" in the film.  Have I heard that on Sirius XM? (Note comment on the name of the song below.)

Picture (above): mine (not in film).

Below: from Q&A, at St. Anthony Main Theater (formerly the Reading), Minneapolis.

There are some films about the Biblical Judas, to be sure. There is a 2006 National Geographic film "The Gospel of Judas" (dir. James Barrat) about a lost book for the New Testament, and a 2004 film from Paramount  for ABC "Judas" with Johnathon Schaerch as Judas Iscariot and Jonathan Scarfe as Jesus. There was also an unrelated "Judas Kiss" from Key Entertainment in 1998. 

Update: July 20, 2012

Here's an interview with actor Richard Harmon, link. He's a stunning young actor. 

Update: April 11, 2014

The theme song by Brian Lam appears to be titled "Crash".  The words include the words "Listen Now" a lot, which I used to think was the title, but that's the title of another Metallica song associated with the phrase "Judas Kiss" (not sure what the connection means).  The right way to look it up online is to use the title "Crash".  It has a wonderful lilt, somewhat reminding me of "Let It Go" from Disney's "Frozen". Wikipedia has a list of all of the original songs from "Judas Kiss", which is quite impressive for this "small" film.