Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Another Earth" may or may not be "real"

I like movies about other worlds, but Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth”, from Fox Searchlight, seems a bit like a gimmick.

On the night of media reports of the appearance of a habitable planet approaching our solar system, a young woman Rhoda (Brit Marling) has a tragic auto accident involving the family of a middle aged modern composer John (William Mapother). She is sent to jail for four years for involuntary manslaughter (probably DWI), apparently, and seems to be in an understandable daze when she gets out and wanders the streets of New Haven, CT, which I recently visited myself (Yale music conservatory is there).

She gets “low work” jobs as a janitor and with a cleaning service, and pretty soon is working in the home of the composer, drawing closer to him as if she did not remember who he is. There are some interesting bits of music, including one where a violin bow plays a saw, getting bizarre quarter tone effects that remind one of Gerard Grisey (drama blog, Dec. 9, 2010).

The “Other Earth” seems to get bigger in the sky, next to the Moon. Rhoda enters an Internet essay contest to win a flight to the planet.  She makes the interesting point that in history colonists to new worlds were often outcasts, even ex-cons.  The day for her “flight” approaches and soon we find out there is a rather obvious twist. It’s really rather predictable.  We’ve seen this before, in films like “Wristcutters”. 

The film, however, does pose an ethical, philosophical question. Can you ever get another chance? Can you undo-redo what you have done? The Time Arrow of physics says, No.  In a split second, the entire rest of your life can be changed. On "Another Earth", maybe it's possible, to get another chance.  But you may have to face your own doppleganger. 

The official site for the film is here.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Sarah's Key": another epic, layered Holocaust film

Layered storytelling works well sometimes when you want to tell an epic story that crosses a few generations.  That is the case with the film that The Weinstein Company considers one of its best, “Sarah’s Key” (or “Her name was Sarah”, “Elle s’appelait Sarah”), directed by Gilles-Paquet Brenner.

There may be a little too much coincidence, or it may seem like a setup. But it can be a small world. A Parisian journalist Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas) is about to move into an apartment in a Bohemian section of Paris. Her work on the history of the Vel  d’Hiv roundup in July, 1942 of Parisian Jews, conducted by the French who were trying to make a temporary devil’s bargain with the occupying Nazis, leads her to the discovery of a horrible secret in the apartment.

The film opens in 1942, where there is that knock on the door at a Jewish family’s apartment.  They are carted off to horrific conditions in a stadium and then loaded onto trains for the camps, but the young, precocious girl Sarah (Melusine Mayance), manages to manipulate a guard and escape, and go on to have a real life. But there is this horrific secret. She had locked her little brother in the basement (hence the "key"), to protect him, and after her escape she goes back to find the tragic result.  When she sees the result, her screams are as loud as those in "Sophie's Choice". 

The script does sometimes go into those existential questions that have bothered generations. At one point, a Parisian gentile shouts “they got what they deserve”.  Sarah could wonder, why are we being targeted? What did we do? What did I do?  Indeed, she is shocked when there are no sanitary facilities in the stadium.  She grows up quickly. She will be determined to survive, when some people might not be. But we already know that because she felt protective enough of her brother, even though she made tactically the wrong move.

The film gives some flashback into the 50s and 60s, when Sarah’s guilt over her “mistake” comes back and she takes her own life on the open road.

Here is the official site

The film is adapted from a historical novel by Tatiana De Rosnay.

Friday, July 29, 2011

"Imagination", about Asperger's, is a virtual preview of "Tree of Life"

Eric Leiser’s film “Imagination” takes the subject of Asperger’s Syndrome and builds it into a short (70 min) fantasy that pulls together the elements of “Inception” with “The Tree of Life”.

As the film opens, we see twin girls in utero, with a clear moral message that they are already conscious and alive. But one girl is born almost blind and the other seems autistic. She is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is the mildest form of “autism spectrum disorders”.  Never mind, artistically and intellectually gifted people are often socially inhibited in an Asperger’s-like manner.  Roger Ebert has commented (in reviewing “The Social Network”) that geniuses like Mark Zuckerberg and chess prodigy Bobby Fischer exhibited a touch of Asperger’s (which is more common in boys).

Nevertheless, Anna is put under strict supervision by a therapist who will “change” her, but starts processing visions from her blind sister, telepathically. The father leaves home, and the mother dies in an earthquake, which is shown quite graphically through Anna’s eyes, as are many other California scenes (like Mono Lake – a volcano, you know – and Zabriske Point).  Eventually the girls escape their institution, which raises the question as to whether they have entered an alternate universe of their own imagination.  The film (2.35:1 in instant play) is quite stunning visually.

Nikki and Jessie Haddad play the twin girls, and Ed Gildersleeve plays Dr. Reininger, the therapist.

It brings back recollections of attempts at NIH back in 1962 to “change” me.

The film comes from Albino Fawn Productions (link) and Vanguard International.  Albino’s next film will be “Glitch in the Grid”.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Tabloid": a documentary about a kinky case involving Mormon missionaries

Sundance Selects and Showtime have a limited theatrical release of a quirky documentary by Errol Morris, “Tabloid”, about the “true story” of 1977 Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney.  After a bizarre experiences with dating within the customs of the Mormon Church, she went to England, and would be arrested for “abducting and imprisoning a Mormon missionary”.   The platform release of the film seems to coincide with the recent tabloid and hacking scandal in Britain, but that is a coincidence.

The film, oddly shot 2.35:1, features mostly interviews or sound-bytes by her and various others involved in her life.  It seems like a cheaper way to tell a story rather than acting it in layered fashion.

The film is rather explicit, both with images and talk about heterosexual S&M.  It can be as graphic as the gay versions.

There have been a number of other films about LDS over the years: “God’s Army” (2000, directed by Richard Dutcher), which tracks a few young Mormon missionaries;  September Dawn" (2007, by Christopher Cain), and a couple of films about Mormon anti-gay attitudes: “Latter Days”, and “8: The Mormon Proposition”,  reviewed her Feb. 11, 2010. 

Here’s the Sundance website  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Captain America" plays on the moral demands on young men in past generations

I related, in the second chapter of my 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell” book, how I took the draft physical three times in the 1960s, going from 4-F to 1-Y to 1-A, to redeem myself after my William and Mary fiasco. I thought I might be the only person in American history who had done that.

Well, apparently it had happened in Marvel Comics, too. In the opening scenes of “Captain America: The First Avenger”, by Joe Johnston (Paramount),  A scrawny Steve Rogers trolls the US Army recruitment centers around New York City in the early 1940s, trying to find one that will pass him, despite his asthma and weak frame.  One Army doctor says “I am saving your life.”  The opening clips depict the moral obligation on every able bodied man to serve, and the backup plans for serving the country like collecting scrap metal. Not being able to serve is a source of personal shame. Rogers has been a target of bullies, and the film hints that bullies behave the way they do because they perceive “the weak” as a drag on the group and possibly something that could bring the country down. There is definitely some right-wing thinking here on this side of the Atlantic.

Rogers finally hits pay-dirt at the World’s Fair (which I thought happened in 1939; I visited the 1964 fair myself at the same spot).  He meets a scientist who seems to look at him as “special”.  He is told he should always remain a good man, no matter what he becomes as a soldier.

Now I saw this film last night in a sparse auditorium, in 3-D, in a Regal auditorium where the air conditioning had failed. I felt that was in Basic Training again myself, watching the early sequences (there was even a night infiltration – I don’t quite remember going under the barbed wire myself at Ft. Jackson in 1968 from bivouac, but I guess we did.)

In my day, there was a sequences of MOS’s for “special people” – “college grads” (those with advanced degrees in sciences). I wound up as a sheltered "01E20, Mathematician."  I would spend my last 21 months at the Pentagon and then Fort Eustis, where buddies called me “Chicken Man”.   Any of my “buddies” from the days of my own service will remember me when they see this film and the issues it raises. My service occurred during the years of controversial student deferments from the draft. 

Now Steve wonders what’s up when the MP’s escort the scientist in. Pretty soon, he learns that after Basic he will undergo “The Procedure”.

Now, we get into the effect on star Chris Evans (“Fantastic Four”).  The actor says his head was appended to a smaller actor’s body with CGI for these opening scenes. That’s innocent enough. But that gets to what “The Procedure” is all about.  For one thing, your chest has to be available. Steve is told to take off his shirt (a drag queen from the Town DC might have done made him do that.)  Two enormous plates with electrocardiographic leads are pasted to his minimally haired chest. Then, mass hypodermic injectors are applied to his upper arms.   His body is encased in an armor coffin.  He is injected with various “vitamins” and secret potions.  He emerges big and buff, Chris Evans as we usually see him, but relieved of his chest hair, every last follicle removed. Yup, he joined the club Aston Kutcher talked about for “Killers”.  The Procedure exacts its price.

Now, when I was young, I was very sensitive and modest about my body, and I saw any insult such as this a potential future source of shame. That  persistent threat of abasement would become eroticized. In the movie, however, Steve Rogers is nominally heterosexual, but maybe only enough to be rubber stamped by the norms of the day.

All of this has transpired in the first 35 minutes or so. The rest of the film (as did the very opening) deals the Nazi plot to use a secret weapon, the “Cosmic Cube” tesseract.   This roughly corresponds to real-history about how close the Nazi’s may have come to having nuclear weapons (as in the film “Copenhagen” , Michael Frayn’s play -- drama blog, Nov. 12, 2006). 

The Army decides that its universal soldier is “too valuable” to risk in combat, so it sends Steve around the world on USO tours to raise support for war bonds. But soon Steve becomes the darling of military intelligence, and winds up piloting a flying wing (that was a real plane in the 40s), to stop a catastrophic attack on the East Coast – which could have happened.  In typical comic book style, he winds up frozen in a “fortress of solitude”, to be awakened to a recorded baseball game, to step out in to the post 9//1 NYC escorted by Samuel L. Jackson.

Hugo Weaving plays the arch villain, the Red Skull, whom, I guess, is essentially an E.T.  

The official site for the film is here

Monday, July 25, 2011

"A Walk into the Sea": Esther Robinson's indirect biography of Andy Warhol, based on the disappearance of her nephew

A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory” (2007, 77 min, Arthouse, Chicken and Egg, Thatgrl) is a tribute by director Esther Robinson to her uncle Danny Williams, a collaborator and probable lover of Andy Warhol.  One night in the 1960s, Williams went out along the beach of the Massachusetts coast “for some air” and disappeared.

The non-appearance of someone when expected can generate interesting storytelling, but most of this film is a memoir, with lots of old footage, of Danny’s involvement with Warhol and the “Factory”, which is also the name of a short bw film embedded in this documentary.  Warhol’s “non-conformist” personality and creative temperament are shown, as in many other documentaries.  Williams’s mother talks about “domination” and submission, and refers to domination as “evil”.

What led to the disappearance?  A fall?  Something related to drug use?

The website for the film is here

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Friends with Benefits": Justin Randall Timberlake comes of age, and softens

Friends with Benefits” (director Will Gluck) does something interesting:  It takes the dark, autumnal but crisp world of social satire in “The Social Network”  and the same sorts of appealing young (and sometimes older) adult characters and turns into a garish, Cinemascope situation comedy of the kind Fox liked to produce in the late 50s.  The distributing company, Screen Gems (I still wonder how Sony decides how to brand its movies, as it used its Classics brand for Woody Allen’s recent comedy) has its distinctive trademark morph into a position on a web page, which star Justin Randall Timberlake, playing “Dylan”,  a sales manager at GQ, moves off the page with his finger to start the comedy.

The movie works. A full house at the AMC Tysons Corner clapped at the end for the late show last night.

The “story” is like that of many other romantic comedies. Dylan meets Jamie, a headhunter (Mila Kunis) and pretty soon is testing the scope of “friendship”.  That was an issue for me in NYC in the 1970s in the gay world, as people would say, “I want friendship with you” but not more.  Such is the lot of the less attractive.

The world around Dylan and Jamie is populated with interesting people, maybe from the world of David Fincher. In the opening sequence Jamie  alternates in talking to Dylan with another character Quincy, who is obviously based on the “socially awkard” Mark Zuckerberg as played by Andy Samberg (remember Samberg’s impersonation on SNL in the “battle of the Bergs”).  No Jessie Eisenberg is nowhere to be seen, but pretty soon there is a scene under the Brooklyn Bridge, from the BargeMusic  boat (where I recently went to a concert) where Shaun White shows up playing himself, although he is not as nice as he is in his Amex ads or in the film “First Descent”, where is closer to his real nice self). I sat watching and wondering if the NYC “gang of 6” classical composers would show up as characters.

Woody Harrelson plays an older gay man Tommy who  (after giving the mandatory lines about immutability) gives people rides across the Hudson in his private speedboat (what a way to take tricks home from Julius’s and Ty’s and have the privilege of living in Jersey, as if US 46 were another Sunset Strip), and who captures the behavior of the straight people in the movie as an extension of his own world.

As for Justin Timberlake: First, I went to an ‘Nsync  performance at the Metrodome in June 2001. At the time, he looked like the heterosexual music world’s most virile representative. But time and makeup have taken their tolls.  (My Army buddies would have said to him, “you’re losing hormones.”) He did those ugly tattoos (out of sight in this movie – he has to wear socks in the bedroom scenes).  Then he had the bushy hair standing up from his forearms reduced, and I don’t know how (technically, this film is inconsistent in that area).  And Jamie seems to love stripping off his shirt to his chest (she doesn’t even need the preparation of disco dirty dancing), which seems to have been almost completely smooth (particularly compared to how Justin had looked as Sean Parker getting out of bed in "The Social Network" just last fall).  Writer David Skinner’s notorious article “Notes on the Hairless Man” from the conservative Weekly Standard in 1999 seems well demonstrated.  At one point, Dylan mentions leg shaving, but never carries out the threat.  Ashton Kutcher (“Aplusk” on twitter) had weighed in on all this on YouTube after what happened to him when he made “Killers” for Lionsgate because of the appearance of his stunt double.  Kutcher says “the hair will come back”, as has Jim Carry.  Remember, though, that Zachary Levi “got it” to be in Screen Gems’s own “Weiners”.

The movie has spectacular wide shots of both NY and LA, some of them quite original. 

The one place where the movie turns darker is toward the end of the LA episode, where Dylan has to protect his Dad (Richard Jenkins) who is sliding into dementia. Dylan insists that his Dad is still the same person that he had been.  But just barely. 

Here is the official site

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Terri" is an American satire of "youth" in the style of Truffaut

Personally, I like to see movies where young people achieve things (like “Social Network”). Instead, “Terri”, directed by Azazel Jacobs (from Art Takes Over) is a Truffaut-type satire of youth, now transported to a California suburb. It opens with Terri (Jacob Wyzocki) in a bathtub, with his declining uncle (Creed Bratton) asking him to clean the scum ring before he goes to school. He is wide, and he is soft, and not too demonstrably different from the opposite sex. He wears his pajamas to school because they're "comfortable". But he actually takes care of his failing uncle dutifully. 

Then the guidance counselor/assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) befriends him, and wants use him as a foil to help manage the other troubled or challenging kids.

In this film, those kids who might have been the targets of bullies (Terri calls them the "monsters", with no reference to Charlize Theron's character) gradually learn to hang out together and make a little society, leading to a bizarre climax where Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) tries to prove to Terri that there is somebody out there for everyone  -- a backup myth of the heterosexual world.  The other little friend, Chad (Bridger Zadina) manages to liven things up a bit.

The technical style of the film reminded one of “Blue Valentine”. Josh Hartnett gets thanked in the credits.

Here’s the official site link

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"The 400 Blows": Truffaut's satire on the authoritarian demands made of kids by our "system"

The 400 Blows” (“Faire les quatre cents coups”), a 1959 satire (of sorts) by Francois Truffault, now in the Criterion Collection (originally Zenith) may be the earliest film in black-and-white Cinemascope. That sets the stage for the seedy vision of Paris in the expansive opening scenes, until the story settles on the life of the troubled boy Antoine (Jean Pierre Leaud).  Everything he does to resist an authoritarian school system and parents (themselves derelict) leads him in to petty crime; when he tries to right his wrongs, he just gets deeper into trouble.

There’s a scene early where he is in a kind of merry-go-round held up by centrifugal force, that reminded me of the concept of being trapped in a steam room (last night’s film).  It might have been inspired by the merry-go-round scene of “Strangers on a Train”.

The teacher makes a charade of his “classroom management”, bringing back my own days as a substitute teacher.  When he catches Antoine in a lie, Antoine feels compelled to live life on the run. That sets up various situations, including a scene involving an accidental house fire, where his father threatens to send him to military school.   In the US these days, parents sometimes do call upon military schools to come and pick up their kids in the middle of the night and carry them away.

There’s also an interesting sequence about plagiarism, when Antoine parrots a story by Balzac, and a sequence involving a stealing a typewriter (as valuable as a computer in the 1950s) and trying to return it. Before he finally winds up in reform school, there’s a great scene with a puppet show. Finally, Antoine escapes, underneath a wire fence, leading to a great final scene on the coast, some great abstract impressionism for its own sake.

It would seen as though this film might have attracted the attention of French classes when I was in high school. 

The film reminds me of a favorite of screenwriting teachers, “Bicycle Thieves” (“Ladri di biciclette”, or “The Bicycle Thief”, 1949), from Vittorio Di Sica, where a father and his young son track down a thief who steals a bike he needs for his job putting up Rita Hayworth posters around town. Satire again?

The DVD has a 20-minute short documentary about Truffaut, "Cineastes de notre temps"; a lot of music from the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique gets played. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Logo short "Steam": how would you like to be trapped in the afterlife with a "best friend"?

Tonight, I was a little short of time, but I looked up the 13-minute short film “Steam” on Logo, directed by Eldar Rapaport.

Two men, attracted to one another, are in a steam room – maybe the Continental – and look a bit opposite. The more sensitive man (Julien Zeitouni) has all the visible “external trappings of a man”; the smooth man (Scott Hislop) is more assertive and says he is a writer. Clue?  Well, Julien suddenly realizes there is no way out of the steam room.  Pretty soon he has to wonder if he is there for all eternity. Could this be Heaven, or Hell, or a figment of his friend’s imagination, or the result of a horrible accident?  Or does the "waitress" have horrible plans for them?

I recall a feature called “The Steam Experiment” about a similar trap (also called "The Chaos Experiment", see April 8, 2010 on this blog.

My own screenplay for “Do Ask Do Tell” has a situation a bit like this, embedded in a story layer.  I discussed it on the “BillBoushka” blog July 10 while in New Hampshire.

Back in 1972, when I was hiking in the suburban Maryland woods, a friend said that if he was trapped forever somewhere, I would be his first choice of someone to be with. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Magic Beyond Words": the biography of the author of the Harry Potter books

On Monday, July 18, Lifetime TV (and MediaMax) premiered “Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story”, directed by Paul A. Kaufmann.  Maybe this is "magic beyond worlds", too. 

Poppy Montgomery plays the adult Rowling, who insists she wants to become a writer (which is not exactly the same as writing) and nothing else as she dazzles people as a girl and goes to Exeter.

However, after college and teaching in Portugal, she marries there and then has a falling out (over her husband’s unfaithfulness) and separates from her husband. She winds up on welfare, with a matronly social worker scolding her about leaving her husband. The conversation with the welfare worker hints that she could have forgiven, but chose not to.   

Still, she has gradually begun planning her fantasy novels. She actually earned a postgraduate certificate so she could teach again after writing her first novel, in cafes by hand. Eventually, she would finish “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” on a manual typewriter. About the same time, I was embarking on my “Do Ask Do Tell” book project on an Erols computer with Microsoft Word on Windows 3.0. 

It must be said that she had to “engage life” and take its risks before “being listened to.”

Finally, when she talks to publishers, they tell her, change her name because boys won’t buy books written by women (George Elliot?) and not to quit her “day job” because nobody makes money on children’s books.

But these aren’t exactly children’s books.

It’s interesting to see her start teaching, and dealing with “real children”. But, after all, she had been a mother herself.  She works on her books from her desk when she gives the kids work. I used to do that as a sub. She gets a publication offer by phone at school.  It would take a year for the first book to appear in stores.
400 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide.

The official site from Lifetime is here 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Garzelli's "The Sentiment of the Flesh" plays with peculiar fascinations and fetishes (among doctors)

“What about the body?”  That was a question posed in a church-sponsored encounter group back in 1972. That body image, or body image, related to self-worth was a common hang-up. And obsession with these things, well my mother once said, if you get into this, “people will think you’re peculiar.”

Well, in a French teaching hospital, Helena (Annabelle Hettmann) and Benoit (Thibault Vincon) are peculiar enough in the movie “The Sentiment of the Flesh” (“Le sentiment de la chair”), a title that invokes memories of a notorious Andy Warhol movie. This production (new director, Roberto Garzelli) has class (it made the festival circuit in Chicago, Rome and Montreal) and is being released on DVD by Strand (July 26). But it is indeed challenging, to say the least. Helena likes to memorize the details of her beau’s body (even the birthmarks – the film literally opens with a shot of a hemangioma) and resident physician Benoit (the boy friend) eroticizes over cat scans and MRI’s (a scary thought for the TSA today).  He even changes the dye when giving her an MRI to see “more”.  The young intern (Pierre Moure) is a lot cuter and saner.  One thing, Benoit smokes like a chimney, a depressing habit for a doctor. But his morbid curiosity leads the film to a truly graphic (and definitely NC-17) climax.

The official site for the film is this

Strand’s trailer is on YouTube:

Picture: not from film (a local karaoke party)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"The Wages of Fear" (generating "Sorcerer"): some old-fashioned movie making

In 1977, I recall seeing a film by William Friedkin, from Universal and Paramount, “Sorcerer”, at a large theater on E 86th St in New York City.  Based on a novel by Georges Arnaud and starring Roy Scheider, it, with a lot of spectacle, related the story of outcasts hired by an oil company to transport crates of nitroglycerin through a Latin American jungle.  The title of the film refers to one of the trucks.

That movie sticks in my mind, but two years earlier I had seen another movie at the same theater, and when leaving, picked up a little magazine at a newsstand that would lead me to visit Dan Fry’s “Understanding” west of Phoenix, AZ.  That would start an episode of my life.  (“To Men of Earth” could make a good movie.) I don’t remember right now what that other movie was, but I remember the theater and the intersection.  I didn’t frequent the Upper East Side all that much when I lived in NYC.

Today, I watched the DVD of the original 1953 film “The Wages of Fear” (“La salaire de la peur”), directed by Henri Georges Clouzot, from Janus Films and now the Criterion Collection. Several men with difficult backgrounds are stranded in an isolated Latin American town. The film (147 min) slowly develops their histories; the first shot in the BW film is two insects, and the first words are “I hate mutts”.  Some hundreds of miles away, there is an oil field explosion. The Southern Oil Company (SOC) has one its managers hire the castoffs to drive nitroglycerine through the jungle. The men are told there are no safety devices and they have to do everything with their “arms and legs”.  One wonders about “exploitation” but this is 1953.  What ensues is a journey and battle for survival, with the truck getting stuck in various situations challenging physicality for the filmmaking itself.  The men fight each other yet develop almost homoerotic bonds.  

At the end, Mario (Yves Montand), having survived the ordeal,  is driving his rig for pleasure when he misses a curve and crashes the rig. In the meantime, the Blue Danube is playing at a party back home. Did this scene inspire the use of the Blue Danube in the “2001: A Space Odyssey” movie?

The DVD is spread onto two discs, one is the film, and the other has many extras. 

I recall the marque for this movie appearing in the Washington papers for weeks around 1953. I think it played at the old KB Ontario, which showed mostly foreign films.  This film is both in French with subtitles and English. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter: He is risen!

The last forty minutes of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”, in 3D Imax, indeed make for pretty compelling epic filmmaking, nodding not only to the Toiken Ring cycle, but even “Inception”, British style. And the idea of playing with the afterlife – how you can go there and come back to tell about it – is presented, with J.K. Rowling’s theology.  I have to say I have thought about some of the same ideas myself, as I noted in my last post on this series.

Harry has grown from tweenhood to young manhood, morphing from a geeky boy (who likes chess) to a superhero, even if a bit shorter than Clark Kent.   Daniel Radcliffe was 21 when the film was shot, and there is an early English beach scene where he changes shirts, and shows off his chest hair, known from stage appearances, and trim body. Rupert Grint, as his best friend Ron, does not fare so well in that scene, with love handles and a little soft paunch; he needs to go on a fitness program, and he is only 22. (My own father, however moralizing, used to make remarks about people like this: “pot belly, no ambition”.)   And in the Epilogue, where “all is well”, 19 years later, Harry has his own wizardly kids, as does Ron, who looks just fat, whereas Harry, supposedly 40 now, could still pass for 28 and looks trim.  The “Ron” character needs to remain a good, physically fit role model for young people just as Harry does.

The Epilogue introduces some of the film’s most stirring music, supposedly by Desplat (“The Tree of Life”); but the actual music that concludes the film before the credits start sounds like the brazen, postromantic  close of William Alwyn’s Fourth Symphony in B-flat. It would have served William and Kate well at the wedding.  That is one thing about English music: it can be very loud and virile. The AMC Tyson’s audience (in the 3-D, Imax auditorium) applauded as if at a concert.

The “afterlife” scene takes place in London fog, supposedly at King’s Cross, without trains; Harry goes without glasses and looks a little younger, but the photography remains just slightly vague.

The Wikipedia articles on the novels explain how horcruxes work. But by now most visitors know that just before the film’s climax Harry overhears a conversation in which he learns that he is a horcrux for Lord Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes – and by the way, Warner Brothers uses this infamous villain as part of its opening trademark – an unusual idea for trademark law).  My own novel explores the idea that people can have other people’s souls – but not “parts of them”, as in this novel and movie. (I worked out my own ideas, not yet made public, without reading any of the HP books.)   But the whole concept is intriguing, as it delves into basic questions about consciousness – “what makes me into me”.  And does that identity remain intact after “death” and could I (or anyone) conceivably return?

One of my favorite lines occurs early, "Wands choose their wizards."  Quite existential!

The film is directed by David Yates and was produced by Heyday Films. Here is WB's official site.

Warner Brothers offers this YouTube embed:

Will grad students do PhD's in English Literature by focusing on J.K. Rowling? Don't go back to the classics.

Update: July 17, 2015

Visited Diagon Alley myself in Florida, rode the Hogwarts Express. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"The Princess Bride": 1987 layered fantasy anticipates today's blockbusters, even Royal Wedding

“The Princess Bride”, a 1987 British film directed by Rob Reiner based on the book by William Goldman, from Fox and later MGM, illustrates layering, even if superficially. As the film opens, a boy (Fred Savage), home in bed with a cold, plays a late 80s video baseball game (showing a bunt), when his father comes into the room to read him a bedtime story. The boy actually gets into some of the existential questions of the fantasy tale, that has some disturbing elements. At one point, his grandfather tells him that “life is not fair.”

In a countryside that looks a bit like Middle Earth, the Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) is to marry Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) and is kidnapped to incite a war. The adventurer Westley (Cary Elwes) will negotiate a land of Chaucer-like characters to save her, including Vizzini played by Wallace Shawn (“My Dinner with Andre”), but not after undergoing “rendition” himself in a rather provocative-looking “torture machine”.

There is a wedding scene that in retrospect would seem like a parody of the recent Royal Wedding, and she never says “I do.” That becomes critical when Westley finally is reunited with her, when he utters a now famous line often showing up in heterosexual tweets: “There is a shortage of perfect breasts in the world. It would be a pity to damage yours.”

The film still has the following official site, link.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"A Century of Silent Service", from U.S. Submarine Force Museum in CT

The U.S. Submarine Force Museum in Groton, CN (link) sells a documentary DVD “A Century of Silent Service” with subtitle “100 Years of Submarine History”, produced, written, narrated, and I presume directed by Skip Church, from Sonalysts, Inc. (link).

The film is in two parts, for a total run time of about 87 minutes. At the museum, about 50 minutes is shown free to visitors. The complete DVD costs about $35, rather expensive, but typical for non-profit private foundations.

Each “part” begins with an introduction by Jimmy Carter, and now a submarine is being built in his name.
Submarines were invented in the 19th Century and used during the Civil War, but began to advance in the early 20th Century with the diesel engine.  During WWII, they were very effective in the Pacific, until a media reporter had “loose lips” and published important secrets.

The most important innovation after WWII was Rickover’s nuclear powered boat, which allowed submarines to live underwater in stealth for months, and which would contribute heavily to breaking the bank (including financially) of the Soviet Union, leading to its collapse in 1991 (after the fall of the Berlin Wall).  The use of submarines to fire cruise missiles at distant land targets, while always possible with nuclear warheads, became critical during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Technically, the video looks sharp on HD, but many of the historical scenes are in black and white.
The film, of course, makes much of the Nautilus (which in in port for tours in Groton), launched in 1954, as having made living conditions much better for submariners. To the tourist, the cramped quarters (often mentioned during the political debate over gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell”) are quite shocking.

The film also documents many submarine tragedies, where all men were lost, and at least one where most were rescued with a diving bell.  The film, made in 2001, does not discuss the service of women, for which the most modern submarines can make accommodation.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tyler Perry's "The Family that Preys" doesn't pray enough!

Tyler Perry’s “The Family that Preys” (Lionsgate, 2008) starts out as if it were to be a feel-good “family values” movie that could be shown at a GOP convention (not that the GOP is as pro-family as it pretends to be). 

While Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodard) lives a simple Christian life while managing her diner. One daughter Pam (Taraji Henson) stayed in the path of the family business, but  the other daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) has Shakespeare-style ambition. She’s married to an employee of the same construction company, Chris (Rockmond Dubar) who wants to start his own business, but starts an affair with their (white) boss (Cole Hauser). There will be biological consequences as well as romantic and business ones.

Pretty soon the plot explodes with the consequences, including an interesting HR scene about forbidden inter-office relationships, discussion of pre-nups, and then some inexcusable intra-family fist violence.  

The film, populated mostly by lesser known cast members (except as below), tends to come across as life a “Lifetime” movie, and is not as bold as Tyler Perry’s later “For Colored Girls …”  (Nov. 11, 2010 here).

The film was shot in Louisiana (with recognizable attractions in New Orleans), Georgia  (the Atlanta skyline, worthy of CNN) and North Carolina.  As for making movies, the South is booming these days. 

Kathy Bates is her usual matriarchal self as the “boss’s” mother and powerful lawyer, almost befitting a horror film.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Landmark, Reelz TV, Porsche sponsor a short film contest; sets up the imagination

Reelz and Porsche are sponsoring a short film contest explained on “My Daily Magic” for Landmark Film Club members (and maybe others), link here.

The deadline is July 28, 2011.  There doesn’t seem to be any limitation on subject matter.
I get the impression that a video like “Nora, the Piano Playing Cat” on YouTube a few years back could get some traction.  Something that shows animals learning to do things in a surprising way.  Nora really liked to play Bach.

The Nora "franchise" sequel is in fact available

On a more serious note, I suppose a personal documentary investigation could be interesting. I can envision one that would run about 20 minutes.  I can show at one level how I lost a particular substitute teaching job back in 2005.  Then I could show the “Forensics” from my website as to how they accessed it and how “they” (school administrators) must have been “scared” by it (or felt they were put in a compromising position). I could reconstruct the actual events that must have happened behind my back. The result is frightening and chilling. (I eventually got the job back but that’s another matter; my main blog, July 27, 2007). 

I can also imagine an interesting short film about what happens when a man responds to an unsolicited email for a gay encounter.  He gets more than he bargained for.  But, hey, that almost sounds like a variation of Carter Smith’s “Bugcrush”. 

In 2002, I entered a 4 minute video of a simulated 9/11-type scare at the University of Minnesota in the Flaming Film Festival sponsored by Minneapolis Intermedia Arts.  It was shown.  It was called prosaically "Bill's Clips" and taken on a Sony camcorder current for its day. The airraid sirens in stereo were pretty effective. 

I think that the tragic story of Tyler Clementi deserves a  documentary film treatment, and for entirely different reasons, so does the story of Rabi David Kaye, but these may be too long for short film. 

"I am Rogue" sponsored a "Big Break" contest and announced a winner, "Cost of a Soul", here. More later.

And a few years ago Miramax sponsored three screenwriting and directing "Project Greenlight" contests.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

"Gun Hill Road": Hispanic family deals with a transgendered son, screened by Reel Affirmations

On July 7, Reel Affirmations screened a new film by Rashaad Ernesto Green, “Gun Hill Road”, at the Landmark E Street Theater, two private screenings, well attended.  The production company is Simon Says and the distributor is listed as Motion Film Group.

The name of the film is a major street in the Bronx; it doesn’t mean too much to the "outside world". Here’s the setup. Esai Morales. plays  Puerto Rican laborer Henrique, a married Hispanic man getting out of prison on parole after a period of solitary confinement for a fight. He returns home to find his son Michael (Harmony Santana) transforming himself into Vanessa.  In his situation, having his son be transgendered is the ultimate insult to what is left of him, his family.  To his son, he is almost a stranger.

The physicality of the transformation is quite explicit at spots in the film, with the forearm shaving and silicone injections. As Vanessa, “she” has some explicit situations with men; finally his father tries to force him to have intimate relationship with a woman, setting up a familiar intimacy with an odd twist.   Finally, Vanessa may have the last say on his dad’s fate.

The film certainly explores the idea that parents (especially fathers) may believe that their kids are emotionally or psychologically indentured to their family purposes; their right to this kind of authority over family and  lineage is part of the stability of their marriage. The wife Angela (Judy Reyes) must hold the family together and realizes that she could very well lose her husband for good, if he cannot accept his son the way he is. 

But Thompson has been effectively destroyed already. To stay free, he must hold down a menial job; he gets fired from a restaurant as a cook for the way he messes up a bean salad.  Isiah Whitlock Jr. (the most familiar name to me -- "Cedar Rapids")  is sympathetic   enough in brief appearances as the parole officer. 

Here is the official website.

Here is a “First Look” YouTube video from Sundance:

The film has support from Tribeca and opens soon in film festivals in Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

"Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman" is about an architectural photographer, for a change

There have been several documentaries about architects (like "My Architect" and "Sketches of Frank Gehry"), but “Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman  chronicles the life and career of the architectural photographer (1910-2009, a life of 99 years).   The film emphasizes brisk black-and-white stills of the southern California scene as it came of age in the 40s and 50s.  But he resented the abuse of the concept of modernism. He once said that “post-modernism is to modernism as female impersonation is to femininity”.   I don’t think you would say that about post-romanticism.

The 2008 documentary does talk about his influence on Frank Lloyd Wright and shows the Wright house SE of Pittsburgh, as well as Frank Gehry (with some shots of the NY Guggenheim and the Los Angeles Philharmonic concert hall).  I visited the Wright house in 1995 myself, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao in 2001.  

The film is from Art House and DVD from Video Media.  The director is Eric Baker.

The official site is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Guggenheim Bilbao photo 

Monday, July 04, 2011

"Everything's Cool" traces political opposition to telling the "Inconvenient Truth"

Somehow I missed “Everything’s Cool”, the 2007 documentary about the debate about global warming, from Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand.  The film is distributed by City Lights and Red Envelope (Netflix), and probably ThinkFilm; production companies included Toxic Comedy and Lupine.

The original warnings about the possibility of a runaway greenhouse effect, making the Earth someday like a Venus, started in the late 1980s.  In fact, even in the early 80s people noticed we were having the hottest and driest summers ever, and by the late 1980s western wildfires (Yellowstone) appeared, in a world not used to them yet.  (I recall a 1978 wildfire in the LA area, big news then;  now they happen every year).

Policy makers entered the debate, the conservative to libertarian side saying that nature always oscillates, and that a wealthy world is better off than a rustic one. On the other hand, the economy depends on a planet that behaves itself; it’s not the other way around.

Policy makers and think tank employees (even at Cato, according to the film) say that their studies are funded by one-sided interests (the oil or coal industries). So Ross Gelbspan leaves  “the publishing establishment” and eventually writes “Boiling Point” (link ), after “The Heat Is On”.   He says that pursuing the truth on your own as a free lance “make you feel good”, but it’s “a curse to know this stuff”.  “Real people” will ask “why bother?”  It goes existential.

The film gets into the political censorship of the W Bush administration, as well as the musical chairs in the job market. Toward the end, Leonardo Di Caprio, Al Gore (“An Inconvenient Truth”, book and 2005 film), Barbara Walters and Oprah all appear.

The “Climate Code” show (2006)  with Dr. Heidi Cullen is covered.

Finally, in 2006 or so, organizers in Vermont and other states hold marches and hikes to show public support for policies that recognize the need for much lower carbon emissions.

The current official site is here.

The DVD Bonus Footage contains several short films: "An Alternate Approach", "More from Do You Care Truck", "Extended Shishamareff", "Rick and the Bar Mitzvah", "We Could Just Adapt", "A Message from the North" (with Jake Gyllenhaal making a visit), "Jeff Nachmanoff and DAT" (with more commentary about the importance of the 2004 Roland Emmerich film "The Day After Tomorrow" (20th Century Fox), where entertainment engages the public more than documentary "information".

There are also five "Activist Extras": "Everything's Cool at Sundance's Leveraging Film Festival". "Set Up: A Day of Action", "Biofuels High", "Green Jobs Revolution", "Youth Unite for Clean Energy". The last short, the most substantial, presents youth undergoing a 3-day fast in front of the White House (not just a 30 hour fast) because the US wouldn't sign the Kyoto agreements. Another student drops out of college (sacrifices) to start a green "social movement". The relevant web link is Climate Challenge here.

These short films come from "Working Films". 

Sunday, July 03, 2011

"My Perestroika", documentary about coming of age as Soviet Union falls, on PBS POV

PBS is offering “My Perestroika” , directed by Robin Hessman, on line at its own site through Aug. 28 here   (the full film link is on the right – there are a couple of commercial breaks early), as part of its POV series.   In some cities, the broadcasts started June 28 (July 2 in Washington DC). The film (from Red Square Productions) was recently shown at the West End Theater in Washington DC through the International Film Circuit.

Five kids who grew up under the Iron Curtain are traced is adults in a state-run capitalism, which is not exactly freedom. Most of the historical footage of life in the Soviet system is in black and white and most of the film is in Russian with subtitles.

One man recounts how he was told in the Soviet school system that he had to grow up to become a “real person” and “productive for society”.

A woman recounts living in an apartment and still having summer vacations “by the sea” and claims that married parents had cottages but singles had apartments. I don’t think it was that generous.

Others depict life as “dulling”, the same year after year, but stable.  There is a chilling recount in bw of a nuclear attack drill.

In the middle of the film, there is a sequence depicting the fall of the Soviet Union and the attack on the “White House” at the end of 1991. Yet, as Hessman says, “if you were a student, you went to school. If you were a worker, you went to work.” Much of her material came from 8mm home movies.

A businessman contemplates setting up a dress code for his employees and asks “what’s the difference between Russia and the West?”

Later one of the men notes that the kids, growing up with the Internet and learning how to hack, will get around authoritarian impulses to retake power.

Perestroika was originally linked to “the end of drunkenness” and “restructuring”; them came “Glasnost” (“openness”) and “privatization”.  Heavy smoking is common in the movie.

The on location scenes in drab parts of Moscow remind me of Anthony Hyde’s novel “The Red Fox”.

The main website for the film is here

Remember the second half of “Angels in America” was titled “Perestroika” 

Picture: small business in the US (VA), not in film.