Friday, September 30, 2011

"50/50": Joseph Gordon-Levitt in one of his most challenging roles yet

When I lived in Dallas in the 80s, I befriended a young man who told me about how he had beaten off testicular cancer, after a sudden diagnosis.  Dealing with the worst side effects was simple: illegal marijuana.
As long as he used it, he said, he was never nauseated.  And I’ve always felt that either the substance should be a legal prescription to prevent the worst effects of chemotherapy, or else a legal substitute that is just as effective must be offered.

I also had an incident, in New York in the 1970s, that could test my “loyalty” to a friend, although I knew little specifics in this particular situation.

I wasn’t at first going to see “50/50”, but then I saw “Restless” and reviewed it yesterday, and read that this film is, well, better.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, after his history of versatility (“Brick”, “Mysterious Skin”) and athleticism (remember his tumbling and gymnastics act as host of SNL) accepted the role of Adam, the cancer patient, after James McAvoy backed out “for personal reasons”, according to imdb.  (McAvoy is mentioned with thanks in the credits.)   As we remember from “Inception”, Gordon-Levitt can look wan and gaunt, also. The curious thing here is that he seems fine physically when he gets the diagnosis from a rather aspie doctor who has no bedside manner and pawns off the tough stuff on a young female therapist (Anna Kendrick), and we can predict what may happen.  Adam is a little funky himself (maybe mild Aspergers); he follows the rules enough to stop at lights when jogging, and is afraid to learn to drive. But he can also be very warm.

I used to have a joke, “never go to the doctor.” Here, the cure is at first worse than the disease. The chemo does no good, although his “illegal” behavior quickly tames the side effects.  His buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen) is a bit of a nuisance as far as I am concerned.  In one scene, he invites Kyle to help with the buzz-cut on his scalp – and that’s what it looks like, a Marine’s introduction to Basic.

When it comes to the surgery, it’s pretty serious stuff, and you wonder if he would at least have to be crippled.  This is a movie you want to end happily.

"Kyke" (Seth) seems to impart the bizarre idea that cancer could actually help you "meet  some girls".  Adam buys it. But he seems to already "have one". It seems, though, that the female therapist is a hoarder and Adam has to help her get rid of "this mess" in her car.

Early in the film, Adam mentions "Terms of Endearment", a famous 1982 Paramount film (I saw it in Dallas) directed by James Brooks; toward the end, a character learns she may have cancer when I doctor notices enlarged lymph nodes when giving a shot; the film progresses quickly to a tragic end. No so here, though. But Adam is very blunt in the way he tells his family, "I have cancer". 

It’s directed by Jonathan Levine, written by Will Reiser, based on a “true” story. It’s filmed in Vancouver but is supposed to happen in Seattle (“Restless” unfolds in nearby Portland, OR).

The official site from Summit Entertainment and Mandate is here

Joseph Gordon-Levitt talks to MakingOf co-founder Christine Aylward.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gus Van Sant's "Restless": quiet film, disturbing character, and odd premise -- but a "love story"

Gus Van Sant is certainly peripatetic. He can give us sweeping “indie” films like “Good Will Hunting” (that was really Matt and Ben’s idea) and “Milk” and even “Finding Forrester”, or he can take us through wastelands as in the “Psycho” remake, or “Gerry”, “Elephant”, or this little film, “Restless”.

You have a twentyish boy Enoch (Henry Hopper) showing up at funerals so often (to “gawk” in good clothes) that a funeral director threatens to have him arrested, and then meeting an falling “in love” with a terminally ill girl Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), down to her last ninety days of futile radiation and chemo trying to hold back her brain tumor.

But this is not “Love Story” (and it isn’t “My Sister’s Keeper” either), and it isn’t quite the meandering, wandering tragedy of two lost hikers in “Gerry” (in that movie, there was no resource like in “127 Hours”).  A good clue as to what level of reality is operative here comes from the ghost of a kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase) who gets introduced in a scene where he and Enoch are playing Go (but announce the rows as if they were chess moves).

There’s a line where Enoch tells about an earlier auto accident, and talks about his few days of being dead, and how there is absolutely nothing. So that leaves us wondering if he is climbing Jacob’s Ladder.

Columbia Pictures, along with Imagine Entertainment, is listed as a production company, but the film is distributed under the brand Sony Pictures Classics.

I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in the big auditorium (1.85:1) on a Thursday night and there were only two people in the auditorium, including me.

The official site is this.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"La moustache": a wicked French satire on the external trappings of manhood

I wonder if screenwriting teachers like Emmanuel Carrere’s adaptation of his own satirical novel “La moustache” (2005), from Pathe, Cinema Guild and Koch Lorber.

First, it seems ironic that the noun “en francais” is feminine. The film doesn't strike me as a thriller or mystery, but just as satire

Is this a "comedy" about one’s internal focus on the external trappings of manhood, or part-objects? I guess I should try to write “La grande comedie” about what happened to me as a “mental patient” at NIH in 1962, at age 19.

This film gets into that territory.

One day Marc (a ripening Vincent Lindon), sitting in the bath, asks his wife (Emanuelle Devos), “how would you like it if I shaved my mustache?” Well, when he does, she, and all of her friends, and it seems as though the whole world deny he ever had a mustache. He almost gets committed (not to NIH, which is not in France) over this, and even runs away to Hong Kong.  The “external appearance” issue even causes issues with airport security.  He’s on the lam.

I thought, what if you wrote the same script about chest hair?  Maybe that would please conservative writer David Skinner, who wrote the essay “Notes on the hairless man” in the June 1999 “Weekly Standard”.   

My own father had a mustache, and used to say “men like mustaches”.  There was a bar in Greenwich Village, “Your Father’s Mustache”, and I once had a cat (“adopted stray”) named Mustache.

Back in the 1970s, everyone on Castro Street wore mustaches.  In recent years, facial hair and beards have been coming back, and Ashton Kutcher said, about what happened to him when he played in “Killers” has said that chest hair is finally coming back.  We are no longer a nation of men without chests, but France may be a nation of men without mustaches.

The official site for the film seems to be a joke blog now, but is rated OK.  The music score has a typically Gallic rollicking quality (and alternates a lot between major and minor) – and it’s by Philip Glass!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Leap Year" ("Ano Bisiesto") shows a female journalist taking her personal life to the void

The Australian director of “Leap Year” (“Ano Bisiesto”), Michael Rowe, lives in Mexico and says he needed to do a film with few characters and locations to stay within his means.  But the idea for the story – a lonely conservative female journalist who not only accepts put pushes a (heterosexual) S&M relationship with a wanna-be actor – came from a friend. He says it took hold. (As for locations, most of the story happens in the journalist's modest apartment in an unnamed city, much as if it were a stage play.)

The film starts innocently enough: Laura (Monica del Carmen) is leaving a typical Mexican supermarket. Laura looks indigenous, and in line has been a good looking European man. But that’s a false start. Then there is some family stuff, before she meets Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez-Parra),  also indigenous, and, maybe disappointed at first, winds up doing anything she has to do to keep the relationship.

The film becomes graphic, with details that need not be repeated here.  Much of what one can imagine happens, on camera (all NC-17 territory if the film were submitted for rating, which it hasn't been).  In the end, she presents him with a challenge that could set off the next Bundy. Is this a prequel to a Spanish-speaking “Silence of the Lambs”?

The incidental scenes between the encounters, however, provide a political context. She loses her position as a columnist for failure to fact-check – all of this is in a phone chat with Oso, her editor – who never needs to appear in the film (good for the budget). There was a genuine misunderstanding as to what fact checking was necessary and when it would be published.  Could she make it as a standalone blogger?  Good question, but probably harder in Mexico.

She also gives a political theory that pretty much explains the international debt crisis. She says that governments revert back to providing security and provoke problems to make government necessary. Pretty perceptive.  Mexico, remember, does not have Europe’s welfare states.

But the view of sex is something that is totally physical, explosive, and ultimately meaningless, leading to no existential theories. Yet, Laura has marked Feb. 29 on her calendar as a date that expresses a frightening singularity.  But she can always turn the calendar.

The idea that Arturo is an aspiring actor and “performer” is interesting. In one of my screenplays, “Make the A-List”, a young actor auditions for a film in which the director will depict the director’s own earlier incident with a friend of the actor, and its enormous ramifications today.

I received a demo DVD from Strand. The availability date is Oct. 11, 2011. 
The official site is here

This film should not be confused with the 2010 Universal comedy “Leap Year” by Arand Tucker, which I have not yet seen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

TLA has notable films on gay circuit parties

I hear a lot about circuit parties. Even though I enjoy the “customary” disco scene, I’ve never been to a circuit, probably because I came of age too early (that is, too old).

When Boys Fly”, from TLA and New Voices, directed by Stewart Halpern Fingerhut and Lenid Rolov, is a one-hour documentary (full screen on DVD), 2002, about the experiences of three men (Brandon, Tone amd Jon), principally at a White Party in Palm Springs. [A friend, associated with the fight against “don’t ask don’t tell”, actually wanted me to consider buying there; home prices are really depressed, I’m told.]  I was bemused at one point because I saw a hotel by the Pacific, so there were other parties mixed in.

The early part of the movie did focus on Brandon. His parents discuss him and mention that he is an only child and that may have made him distant from other people. Maybe there is the slightest touch of Asperger’s in the character (last film).  He might tend to be more interested in watching.

Some of the stereotypes of the circuit party world are depicted – the drugs, which aren’t as universal as everyone thinks (but a character OD's in one black-and-white scene toward the end).  Men certainly have a good time without them.  The men tend to be shirtless (and [artificially]“smooth” about 75% of the time) before the dancing starts at all, which is the opposite of the case with a “conventional” disco party (picture).  And people travel and spend thousands to go to these.

There’s a comment at the end, “gays spend time trying to decide what to do with their lives. We don’t have families, don’t have kids.” Then they got into the subject of gay friends and whether you can make these into a family group.

The DVD has a lot of deleted scenes and extras for a short feature. In one of the scenes. one of the men says he cannot be friends with someone but could be a lover. Another scene, in a motel room, has Brandon "get it" (the "aggressor" says, "you wanted a military ball" but Brandon is wearing a flashy but inviting shirt, inviting an opening).  Another scene has Brandon "coming out" to a high school coach. One of the interviews discusses Tone's having a stroke.

I would recommend another, more ambitious TLA film, “Circuit” (2001, dir. Dirk Shafer) which is long (140 min) and has a complicated story involving viatical settlements, and a kind of voyeurism more familiar to fans of David Lynch.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"A Mile in his Shoes": A mildly autistic young man learns to pitch; good enough for MLB?

On this weekend of baseball movies, just before playoffs, the Gospel Music Channel (GMC) ran “A Mile in His Shoes”, the story of an autistic young man who becomes a successful pitcher in semi-pro ball. It’s directed by William Dear, based on the story by Frank Nappi.  It appears to have been filmed in British Columbia, but the script places it in Ohio.

Luke Schroeder plays Mickey Tussler, the farm boy who has been sheltered by his parents, especially his father who looks at farm work as the only real world anyway, almost Amish in values.  The father doesn’t believe its morally OK to play games for a living, not even for the Yankees.

The mother announces that has he has “Asperger’s Syndrome”, and the script is somewhat condescending in the way it characterizes it.  True, I had some of the same tendency to take things very literally, but the actual symptoms in my case were much more subtle.

True, Asperger’s is part of the Autism Spectrum of disorders, but whether mild lack of socialization and a tendency to distance oneself from people and view them as “objects” rather as just “people” (and that tendency seems to be related to genetics) should be regarded as pathological when someone achieves a lot anyway is both a practical and perhaps a moral question. There is plenty of debate on the web as to whether Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has Asperger’s – the film “Social Network” would suggest that but may be a misportrayal. Maybe “social empathy” is a quality that naturally varies among human beings the way it does among many animals within a species (like cats). (Here's a typical link from Gawker on Mark; but I don't think his retort "Is that a question" to Leslie Stahl is "pathological" on 60 minuutes: I think it's hitting rude speculation from her out of the park; see "Bill Boushka" blog Dec. 2, 2009 for story on that interview .)

In short, the social deficit associated with "Asperger's" is a disability when it is -- a tautology. Modern technology offers people who are less directly communicative new ways to succeed and interact with others, not available to earlier generations. 

In the film, Mickey is obviously disabled, but it’s hard to say if this is the result of mishandling by his parents and schools. It may well be.

The story, however, rocks, even if it follows a trite formula in screenwriting for maintaining rooting interest.  (By way of comparison, you don’t root for Zuckerberg in “Social Network” in the same sense.)  A scout discovers him by serendipity; he learns to pitch by throwing apples. Later, as he adjusts to a demanding social team environment ("unit cohesion"), a few of the teammates bully him, forming the middle section of the story; but the main motive seems to be turf protection. 

I like the climax. It may be too much of a spoiler to say that Mickey strikes out his nemesis on three pitches, the last one a dreaded knuckle ball, worthy of Texas Ranger’s 1980s ace Charly Hough.  (Watch out for that good old two-strike pitch.)

Technically,  the young man pitches without a windup and has an odd delivery that fools hitters, a bit like San Francisco Giants star Tim Lincecum (or possibly the Nats' rookie Tom Milone). 

What I wanted to see, of course, was to fold this movie into “Moneyball” and see Mickey make it in the Majors.

A theatrical release would come from NGN releasing.

On my Book Review blog May 18, 2008, I review the book "The Game of My Life" about J-Mac and basketball; that book supposedly has been bought by Columbia Pictures. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moneyball: Innovation, using math, helps sports teams with lower payrolls, shows how intelligence achieves "justice"

If there will be Rollerball (remember that movie), then, eventually, be Moneyball.

Bennett Miller directed this film for Columbia Pictures, and writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin recreated the andante morality play that we saw Sorkin deliver with “Social Network”. It’s based on the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis.
Before getting into much more about the movie, let me say that Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane’s (Brad Pitt) theory works today. In 2011, the Washington Nationals brought up the reserves in September and got spectacular results, with road 4-game sweeps (however improbable) of the Mets and Phillies. Their young pitchers were identified by both scouting and analysis. It’s not just Steve Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Now it’s Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock, and Ross Detwiler.  And note something else. Jason Werth may have a disappointing batting average, but opposing teams make a lot of errors on grounders he hits and when he’s running the bases.  So Werth contributes to the Nats’s run production in a way statistics usually doesn’t measure.

In fact, Thomas Boswell has a Washington Post column Sept. 25  on what September portends for the Nationals here.  Remember Manager Jim Riggleman's resignation during a Nat's win streak over a battle with the GM Rizzo? Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (generally pretty articulate compared to some of the ballplayers in the movie) called it "shocking", sotto voce.  The real life dispute between the GM and field manager with the improving 2011 Nats resembles the conflict in the movie.  But there's no remark in the movie script like replacement Davey Johnson's comment about preferring hairy-chested pinch hitters (after one of Johnson's first walkoff home wins).  

Stonewalled by ownership about being forced to compete with a low payroll (after losing free agents like Giambi to richer teams -- reinforcing the old adage that the A's were a "farm club" for the Yankees) , Beane hires (from Cleveland) a young, geeky an unathletic statistician Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to model the selection of players. The rest of management resents it, most of all field manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). (I live the salty comments from some of those old codgers about the players, like "His legs are gone." So are theirs.)  He takes Peter’s advice about “getting on base” percentages and signs former catcher and slugger Scott Hatteberg (played by Chris Pratt, a major star in the WB series “Everwood” as Bright Abbott; I met Chris along with Gregory Smith at a public mall appearance near Philadelphia in 2005). Hatteberg has to struggle to learn to play first base. But he hits a critical pinch walkoff homer in the A’s 20th consecutive win in late 2002.

Beane’s “people skills” come through all the time in the movie, and he teachers some of that to Peter, who, to the shock of the players, takes on some real authority.  Beane, oddly, doesn't like to watch the games (so Peter does the road trips), and says he shouldn't socialize with the players, about whom he makes decisions. 

But it’s their cleaning house in mid 2002 that turns the A’s around, leading to a 103-59 finish.  You can check all the facts in the film at Baseball Reference (link).

Here’s the official site. The film is shot in standard aspect, without Cinemascope.

Nevertheless, here's a rebuke of the movie in the Washington Post Oct. 25 by David Maraniss, link. Scouts really had found the top 3 starting pitchers for the A's in 2002 without the new math.  Like the question with "Social Network", is fidelity to truth necessary to win "best picture"?

Update: Sept. 7, 2018

Thomas Boswell explains the flawed Moneyball played by (Washington) Nats owner Mark Lerner and general maager Rizzo during this troubled season, here. When you have a lot of veterans on a roster in the last year of their contracts, the atmosphere gets distracting to the rest of the team. The waiver system needs reform:  the Nats let the Cubs and Cardinals loot them when the Nats still had to play them. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Abduction": We love Taylor Lautner; if only he could be an ET and not know it (and that's no spoiler)

Abduction”, the new B-movie thriller with Taylor Lautner (he turns 20 in February, so perhaps he is still America’s wealthiest teen) was not screened by “professional” reviewers before its release by Lionsgate – despite all the hype.  And, yes, Lautner’s body is still making its own changes, and the camera (directed by John Singleton) dawdles on him.

The trouble is, the plot is so frantic, and chase-driven, that it really would be believable only if the explanation were supernatural. For a while, you wonder if Nathan (Lautner) really might be an alien. Yet, with more finesse Afred Hitchcock used to take chase plots like this and make them work. Remember "The Man Who Knew Too Much"? (and Arthur Benjamin's "Storm Cloud Cantata". That's what this movie needs.) 

The film has a long prologue. He see Nathan joy riding, and then his father, in suburban Pittsburgh, is so intent on making him super at defending himself.

When his sociology teacher assigns a term paper and arranges him to work with a potential girlfriend (Lily Collins) to get a teamwork grade, the setup is perfect. The classwork assignment leads him to look at missing’s persons websites and find himself, as a child. And then we quickly learn that it is a phish. ain
But the plot to run from is so preposterous as to defy description.  No, the CIA isn’t like that.

Sigourney Weaver has taken a step down from playing Ripley in Alien(or in “Death in the Maiden”). She plays Nathan’s therapist.

There’s an Amtrak train ride, with a stranger on the train, and a climax at a Pirates game (including a homer) where Lautner does his famous stunt.

Here’s the official site.

I saw this in the AMC Courthouse Theater in Arlington before a small crowd, 7:50 show. 

Picture: My visit to Pittsburgh, 2007. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Whirlwind": a handsome man plays "destroying angel" for other male couple's relationships

The gay drama “Whirlwind”, directed by Richard LeMay based on a story by Jason Brown, comes across as a stageplay on video, and seems like an amalgam of “Iceman Cometh” and “Boys in the Band”. No, Drake (David A. Rudd) is pretty much “The Walkin’ Dude” (for those familiar with Stephen King), and his mission is a little more than to “walk into a bar”.  He busts into a closely knit group of gay men in the Big Apple and gradually tries to shred their relationships and any since of commitment, with the total “Ayn Rand” message: “Take Control”.

Early in the film, when in a bar (the disco scenes seem scaled back), he berates one of the men, an African-American, who had lost a lover two years before to an auto accident (maybe it was getting struck on a bicycle, as reckless  bike behavior is said by bloggers to be a big issue in the Apple these days, seriously), for not dating or tricking again.  The guy asks, “have you ever lost anyone that you LOVED.”  Well, the Dude has just been jilted (because, as Erika tells a fictitious MZ in “Social Network”, “you’re an a.h.”), which is not the same thing. But the other man says, “You should know not to say that.”  The verb “know” (savoir) is interesting here.  But Drake immediately steals another man's "catch" and takes him home; the "mark" is played by a particularly attractive blond actor who doesn't appear again. 

Drake is more attractive, by conventional standards, than most of the other men, in the sense of having the “external trappings of a man”. He is always going around with his existential, negative talk, telling the other men don’t have much time left in their lives, and that (gay)" relationships aren't meant to last" (long). As this film was made in  2007, it seems dated in the world where gay marriage is debated.

The other men are planning a “party” (hence BITB), and Drake’s crashing it, most unwelcome, will lead to the climax of the play-film.

The DVD includes selections from the table reading. That clip starts with the "relationships not meant to last" scene. 

Here is Wolfe’s official site


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Meridian Hill Pictures produces many documentaries about education in Washington DC; new film will honor art teacher with cancer

Brandon and Lance Kramer direct (and Cameron King edits) a number of short films about education for Meridian Hill Pictures in Washington DC.

Inspired Teachers” (7 min) follows Ben and Michele, young teachers in pro-active interaction with elementary school students, in various subjects like mathematics. The film documents the Center for inspired Teaching, formed in 1995.  It appears to pre-date controversial DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee.  Would I be comfortable with that degree of continuous interpersonal interaction as a teacher?

When I Grow Up” (5 min) sounds self-explanatory, as the kids say what they imagine to be “their place in the world of work”.  Then some professionals, graduates of Sidwell Friends, speak, including a writer.

Kids Day at HRC” depicts a field trip to the Human Rights Campaign, in April 2011, at the HRC headquarters on 17th St. Former president Joe Solmonese is interviewed.   HRC is presented as a typical workplace that interfaces with the public, but not specifically about gay rights.  Toward the end the film covers bullying, and HRC/Meridian have a separate PSA on the issue.

Teaching What You Love” from the Arts and Technology Academy presents a music teacher, Ms. Cooper, who demonstrates her grade and middle school classes in both classical and jazz music, mostly strings. There is a little section of a string quartet performed and it sounded like Elliott Carter, but the film didn’t identify it.  She talked about “freedom” in the context of performing music, and tried to debunk the idea that classical music was too rigid.

Community Harvest” from Washington Parks and People, 9 min, was the largest film.  It presents the volunteer building of the North Columbia Heights Green.  Schools use it to teach “expeditionary learning”.
The website for Meridian Hill documentaries is here.  

Today WJLA TV reported a new film “Life as a Collage” where a 16 year old directs and students at the Sitar Arts Center document the work of a teacher fighting liver cancer.  I presume that the film will be available on YouTube soon. It was shown free at the Center Sept. 20. 

Here is WJLA’s report.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Equality U" looks at the ban on gay students by many "Christian" colleges

Another film on the “Snag Films” site, “Equality U”, directed by Dave O’Brien (2008), is indeed available now for complete viewing,  (website url) here

The first forty minutes of the film are “interrupted” four times for PSA’s by Goldman Sachs, here

This powerful documentary relates the adventures of a group of gay college students who charter a bus for the “Equality Ride” and visit about twenty “Christian” colleges around the country that officially ban gay and lesbian students or behavior, in a manner more or less familiar with the military gay ban (covered in the posting yesterday “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”).  Except, at these schools it’s more like “Do Ask, Don’t Tell”.

The topic rings true for me, because, as I have documented at length (on the “BillBoushka” blog Nov. 28, 2006, I was expelled from William and Mary in the fall of 1961. WM is a state school, but my event happened more or less at the end of the McCarthyism era.

The students will visit private universities, which on the face would seem to have the right to their own policies.  But many gay students go there before realizing they are gay, on the prodding of parents who want to see their kids follow in their footsteps and ratify their own belief systems, perhaps essential even to their own marriages.

Many of the schools belong to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (site).

The first school the kids visit is Liberty University, in Lynchburg, VA, associated with Jerry Falwell. They get arrested for trespassing. As at most campuses, they are not allowed to talk to students. One university student says that homosexuality is a sin because it evades the responsibility to be open to having babies. That actually sounds like the Vatican position to me.

They go on to Regent University in Virginia Beach (any connection to Pat Robertson?), Lee in Tennessee, and Oklahoma Baptist University, with snow on the ground  (the film seems out of sequence), and North Central in Minneapolis.  I don’t know where that is despite living in Minneapolis 1997-2003.  I am familiar with Bethel College in nearby St. Paul.

The biggest confrontation happens at Mormon-affiliated Brigham Young in Provo, Utah.  Until 2007, even admission of orientation or political support for gay rights was grounds for expulsion.  The students have a “lie in” on the lawn, resulting in arrests, to demonstrate the suicides that they claim are prompted by Mormon anti-gay doctrine and actions.

 Many of the students become personalities during the film, including leader Jake, who winds up at Harvard Divinity School.  One lesbian participant is told by her parents that her bank account will be confiscated and that she will be kicked out of home, if she gets on or stays on that “Bus”.

This is a powerful film, well photographed technically, with many appealing students as protagonists. It does not explore the idea of "equality" as we have come to debate it politically, however (as with the gay marriage issue). 

The film comes from Cinevolve and Eyethink Pictures. I can be rented in full from YouTube for $3.99 or watched “free” with Goldman Sachs Public Service commercials on the Snag site.

Eyethink offers this YouTube trailer.

 Pictures: Around Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, VA, my personal trip in 2005.  I actually attended a service at TRBU in 1989.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Don't Ask Don't Tell", based on Marc Wolf's "Another American: Asking and Telling" is becoming available on Web; to be shown Sept. 20

I received a tweet this morning from “We Ask They Told” announcing the availability of the independent film “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” from producer Vuguru and Decoupage, on a site called Snag Films, sponsored by Goldmann Sachs.  Imdb lists the director as John Walsh.

The basic link is here.

The first of 11 parts, about 10 minutes, plays. The other parts right now give a “not available” from AOL.  I will monitor and watch the remaining segments as soon as possible.

Snag says that the film will be shown on Comcast Xfinity and Verizon FIOS Tuesday night Sept. 20, but that is during the planned celebrations, but I suppose the film will be shown in person at some of the celebrations.

The opening segment shows Marc Wolf, in a monologue, sometimes sitting at a table, in a barracks room where the bunks have been stripped down to box springs, talking about the issue of “privacy” or prudishness in the barracks, which Sam Nunn and Charles Moskos had originally brought up in 1993 early in the debate after Bill Clinton proposed lifting the ban.  He also plays on Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Pursue” (from his July 19, 1993 speech at Fort McNair), preferring instead “Don’t Seek” as more “Anglo-Saxon”.

I saw the entire play “Another American: Asking and Telling”  in late April 2000 at the Studio Theater in Washington DC during the “Millennium March” weekend.   (Later that weekend there would occur an “Equality Rocks” concert at RFK Stadium, where I would see Keith Meinhold.)  In the play, Wolf emulates a number of the cases, such as Miriam Ben-Shalom in the early 1980s, during the “absolute ban” dating back to 1981.

Chapter 1 of the film is also available on Marc Wolf’s website here

I’ll report more on this film as soon as I can see it in full or get it to play on my computer. The producers would do well to make this film available for Instant Play in Netflix quickly, or perhaps available for the typical $3.99 rental on YouTube. 

Here is an excerpt from “Another American” on YouTube from the Kansas City Repertory Theater.

Do not confuse this film with the 2002 spoof "Don't Ask Don't Tell: Attack of the Gay Space Invaders" which from Doug Miles and Refried Pictures, which is a "transformation" of an old Peter Graves sci-film from the early 50s. That DVD is available from Netflix. 

Dec. 7:

Chapter 2 of DADT is now available at the same site.  3-11 have yet to be posted.

Sept. 30, 2012

Below is a picture of the Studio Theater on 14th St in Washington DC, near Logan Circle, where I saw Marc Wolf perform his monologue play in April 2000, during a March on Washington weekend.

Update: February 24, 2014

The complete 85 minute film is now available on Snag Films.  Wolf talks to himself, impersonating all his interviewees, in various military environments, sometimes reminding me of my own Army Basic   Not sure I follow his argument on treason at the end.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ryan Gosling adapts as the Driver (for the L.A. Mob)

Ryan Gosling, a 30 year old Canadian actor, usually comes across as a gentle person, but in “Drive” he can adjust ferocity according to the circumstances.

Gosling plays “Driver”, a Hollywood stunt performer who makes most of his living as a “driver” for the local mob in LA.  After meeting another “reformed” mobster’s wife (Carey Mulligan), he is hired for a pawn shop heist that goes wrong. Pretty soon, there’s a contract out on him.

So the character adapts, able to explode into slashing violence himself, until there is a final “High Noon” confrontation with a local boss (Albert Brooks, in an atypical role).  He’s told he can “protect” the woman if he gives up his own future, not a very good deal for an individualist. So he does find a way out.

About 40 minutes into the film, there is a clue as to the transformation of Driver's personality, when he says, "Shut your mouth" to a potential accomplice.  Coming from Gosling, it sounds jarring. 

The film is directed by Danish Nicolas Winding Refn, and comes from a familiar production company, OddLot, and a novel distributor, Film District, which has a great animated trademark intro itself of showing LA.  This is the sort of film you expect to see from Lionsgate or Summit.  Again, these days, if you want to make an “independent” film, you need the money for A-list directors and cast.

Here is the official site. “There are no clean getaways.”

I saw this at the Regal Ballston in Arlington late Sunday afternoon, digital projection, large auditorium, small but enthusiastic audience. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"A State of Mind": BBC documentary gives detailed look inside North Korea

The 2004 documentary film from Kino and BBC (and Film Forum) “A State of Mind” gives a detailed look of personal life inside North Korea.

The director, Daniel Gordon, also narrates. He follows two young women (Hyon Sun Pak and Song Yun Kim) in their training for the North Korean “Mass Games” as choreographed gymnists.   We called it “tumbling” in PE in high school.

The film centers around the extreme form of Communism that insists on submitting the individual to the well being of the “collective”.

North Korea seems to have almost no money economy was we know it.  The two women live in a family apartment allotted to them by the state, with state radio, which cannot be turned off, always talking in the apartment.  State propaganda also blares throughout the city of Pyongyang, 2 million.

Despite the emphasis on unity and conformity, the dance performances are garish with color, and sometimes use western-style music.

The preparations occurred while the SARS epidemic was going on in China, and North Korea delayed many of the activities out of fear of “contagion” (as with the current film by that name) even though there is little air traffic between North Korea and the rest of the world.

Later some of the girls are replaced by boys.

Toward the end of the film, there is some spectacular mountain scenery, almost like it was out of “Lord of the Rings”, as the girls make a pilgrimage to Mt. Paekdu.

North Korean propaganda says that it “won” the Korean War in the 1950s.  

The official site for sale of the video is here. There is also school pricing. 

The film is available for Instant Play to Netflix subscribers.
Wikipedia attribution link for aerial view of the capital. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Higher Ground": a woman immersed in her community of faith learns the value of doubt; where does the audience live?

"Higher Ground", the new “faith” piece from director Vera Farmiga to me seems more like a 100-minute live-in with a cultlike evangelical Baptist community than anything that tells a universal story.  It’s based on a 2002 memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs, “This Dark World”, and perhaps as the title suggests, it’s a kind of cult soap opera. This movie expects you to "live it" for 100 minutes or so. 

It’s set in upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley, not in the Bible belt (you sort of expect a film like this from Texas).  But that probably matters little.  The characters live an intimate life which is predicated on the idea that everyone there share’s its purposes – here, to save souls.  The outside world is not dealt with much, and presumably it stays away, out of sight. Everybody has to belong to some kind of community, right? At least, this movie depicts "living in a community" rather than as an individual. 

Vera plays Corinne who, despite the tender mercies in the community, is capable of doubt.  Now some theologians say that personal questioning – of the Mother Theresa kind – is absolutely necessary to faith. 

Within the context of this film, I’d believe that. Her faith strengthens when her baby is rescues from drowning when a bus goes off the road, but then another family member has cancer, and well – do bad things really have to happen to good people?  Read Job.

The appeal of this film to most of the sparse audience (at the AMC Shirlington) was the way the people – mostly women – in their own spaces, deal with (mostly marital) sex and even the trappings of masculinity, in their talk and their art.  Sin (even drugs, and marital breakup) creep into the community, under the guise of godliness, not so soon after periodic baptisms. The people share all our vices; they just have their own community to give it context.

There's a curious song named in the credits, "Hair on My Chest"; yet none of the "married" men in the community in the film seemed to have any.  (One scene in particular comes to mind.)  They say marriage and fatherhood actually lowers testosterone levels.

I also thought, this "community" may exemplify what writers like Carlson and Mero mean when they talk about "The Natural Family" (Book review blog Sept. 18, 2009). 

Here is the official site from Sony Pictures Classics. It’s probably too whimsical to have come from Sony’s “Affirm Films” (April 3, 2011 on this blog).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"The Rage of Placid Lake": do some people really want to wear suits and sell insurance? Look at the Rage IN Placid Lake, a real (made-up) person!

The little Aussie satire “The Rage in Placid Lake” certainly walks us through the land of conformity, Babbit-Sinclair Lewis style. (Or perhaps I think of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit”. )  Note the preposition. "Placid Lake" is not "Lake Placid NY". 

Nerdy Placid Lake (Ben Lee) is the butt of teasing and jokes, and even tries to bite back a bit when one of his tormentors is gay. But he imagines he can fly, and winds up in a body cast.

Then he decides he can put on a suit and lead a conventional life, selling insurance for “Icarus”.  His mimicry conformity so alarms everyone that his Dad would hire a deprogrammer. And his girl friend Gemma (Rose Byrne) resists his sell out.

I certainly am reminded of my own post-career, where I got unsolicited calls to become a life insurance agent, “instead of” a writer (or blogger).

Directed by Tony McNamara, the film (2003) is distributed by Film Movement.

The DVD includes a short “At Dawning”, directed by Martin Jones (12 min). It’s like a dream. A woman (Jenny Agutter) wakes up in a London flat after a one night stand and wants to go home. Trouble is, an ex (Yan Attal) hangs from a tree outside, with his baby and another girl friend upstairs.  And she just wants to get out of things.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"The Loss of Nameless Things", a biography of Oakley Hall III

In 1978, aspiring but reckless playwright Oakley Hall III, director of the Lexington Conservatory Theater in upstate New York, fell off a bridge in upstate New York at age 78, to suffer horrific and crippling head injuries.  Years later, the play he had been working on, “Grinder’s Stand”, would finally be completed, and produced in 2002.  

The documentary film for PBS Independent Lens “The Loss of Nameless Things”, tells the tragic story through interviews with everyone who knew him. 

The film gradually introduces the menace of the bridge with images of it, and stories about how daredevil boys would climb over the girders as proof of their machoness.

Gradually, Hall makes his own appearances in the film, somewhat able to communicate his sense of his situation and loss of memory.  He appears at the production of his play at the end of the film.

Hall recovers much more intellectual and social function and former independence than doctors predicted. His injury had been described as an accidental lobotomy.

There’s a proverb early in the film, “Genius doesn’t pay dues.” Later, “a little child makes you smarter.” Later, there is a comment when he reaches age 52 that "the two jokers in a deck of cards should be counted."

Hall died in early 2011.

The DVD includes an excerpt from "Grinder's Stand"  (name misspelled on the DVD TOC and "Ginder's" as well as readings of Oakley at Meriwether, comments at Random Lake, and more readings from "Kindness".

The PBS site for the film is here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"The Whistleblower": Ethics 201 in a war zone; will AMC replace its old theaters in Arlington VA?

I used to hold a double-edged attitude toward whistleblowing. If you know your employer is doing something very wrong, as an individual you shouldn’t depend on that employer for your livelihood. That could certainly bear on, for example, working for a tobacco company – in modern times.

But the international thriller “The Whistleblower” is far away from such observations. The film, distributed by the Samuel Goldwyn Company, and directed by Larysa Kondracki, dramatizes the efforts by a former divorced female cop from Nebraska to uncover a trafficking scandal among UN security forces, hired by a private contractor, in Bosnia in the 1990s.

I didn’t see the names of Ashton Kutcher or Demi Moore in the credits as executive producers, but I expected to, since their campaign is “real men don’t buy girls.”   But in Bosnia, male security forces did so, and it was big “profitable” business.

The film opens as a young woman in Kiev prepares to go to Bosnia to work, not knowing what she will get into.  Then it shifts to Nebraska, where police officer Kathryn Bolovac (Rachel Weisz) has even lost custody in a nasty divorce, and takes a job overseas, to earn $100000 in six months.

Pretty soon she is playing Erin Brokovich, even rescuing some of the girls from the Ukraine and Romania, one of whom gets murdered.  She arranges a wire-wearing (with some help from Peter (David Strathairn) to get the evidence to the BBC at the movie climax.

The script contains a lot of material on diplomatic immunity and how crime can hide behind it, and about serious ethical conflicts of interest within the United Nations itself in running the force.
I saw this near the end of a run at the AMC Shirlington, just one afternoon show on weekdays, with a small audience.

Here is the official site

Much of the film was shot in Romania (and much in Toronto, by Canadian and German production companies). The opening scenes in Kiev look real and are most effective.

here is the Wikipedia attribution link for map of Bosnia.

This film bears comparison with Marco Kreuzpaintner's "Trade" (2007), from Roadside Attractions, a large-scale drama about illegal trade from Mexico, a New Jersey family and the desperate effort of a young man to save his sister.  

"AMC Independent" used to be called "AMC Select".  In Arlington, the Shirlington Theater, which looks like it is ready to be razed for real estate condo development, is the main indie house, but the Courthouse sometimes shows some of them (especially recently).  Usually Tysons and Georgetown and Hoffman Center reserve a couple auditoriums for indie films. 

AMC would do well to provide a modern theater in Arlington for indie movies.  Maybe it could join forces with the (Shirlington) Signature Theater next door (a stage) to build a state-of-the-art facility. The older Shirlington and Courthouse properties can't last forever. 

Readers may enjoy this YouTube clip that shows AMC's trademark trailer of an outdoor theater on another planet.  It's really good -- with blue and violet vegetation (likely on a planet with a cooler sun) and a distant modern city sort of looking like it belongs in the Middle East.  Maybe that's what a civilization 30 light years away looks like, complete with Facebook. There's also an AMC Independent trailer and a Walt Disney trailer on the clip. FlashMaster659 made this video, I hope legally, but I won't embed. Link.  AMC should win an Oscar for its extraterrestrial theater trademark video.

Also, AMC hands out a sheet for the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, link here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"For Once in My Life" examines a Florida band of people with disabilities (PBS POV)

"For Once in My Life", is a film available through PBS POV, about  The Spirit of Goodwill Band, a music ensemble  in south Florida composed of a group of musicians with varying mental and physical disabilities. 

The film is directed by Jim Bigham and Mike Moormann.

The members tell their widely varied stories.  At one point, a special education teacher tells a class that about a third have disabilities that one can’t see and that “can’t be helped”.  He mentions depression as a disability and encourages the audience to make an effort to reach out to them. 

In another scene, a special education teacher helps a trombone player, but reminds him that effort in music has helped keep him from being suspended.  A supervisor similarly counsels a young adult at work. But the group is rehearsing for a show – the film counts down the days – and the loss of people to suspensions could hurt the group. The students seem to get that.

But other scenes come from adoptive or foster parents who have raised the kids and know how they were born with the disabilities, and know that they will not always meet the expectations of others. A few of them had been abused by original families or parents.

There are other scenes showing the musicians at work, particularly in sewing  jobs.

There is plenty of music gear in the films, especially electric piano keyboards.  The music does tend to the "popular" for the culture.

When I was substitute teaching in early 2005, I had an assignment with a band class and special education students included, without much specific instruction, and it turned out to be very challenging. I'm afraid I didn't fully step up. The details are on the "BillBoushka" blog July 25, 2007.

The website is this. The video doesn't seem to live on the PBS any longer but can be rented at Netflix for Instant Play (subscribers). 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

DC Shorts in Arlington VA: "Sudden Death!" is a musical (maybe a parody of "Contagion"?)

Today, 9/11, I saw Showcase 6 of the DC Shorts Film Festival, at the Artisphere in the Rosslyn section of Arlington VA.  The facility has what looks like a small IMAX auditorium, which did not necessarily serve regular video and film that well.

The principle film was “Sudden Death!” (19 min), by Adam Hall. There is an epidemic (in LA) where people break out singing and dancing and drop dead.  What does the “cure” involve, giving up dancing?  The link is here.   With Matt Lutz, Adam Hurlbert, and Doug Jones.   The lilting music is by Kenny Wood.  It’s ironic this plays when the big film “Contagion” opens (see Sept. 9).  (Don't mix this up with the 1995 film with Van Demme; note the punctuation mark in the new film's title.) 

The next most important film is “Der Eisangler” (“The Icefisher”), by Anna Montanya, 17 min.  A little boy wants to hold his parents together as according to a fairy tale, and goes out onto a frozen lake fishing. Tragedy ensues.  The scenery looked like northern Minnesota.

Then there is “Eva Is Leaving”, from Israel, in Hebrew, by Aya Somech, 17 min. A man tries against all odds to keep his restaurant kosher.

The Hack”, by Travis Alford and Nicholas Mah, 12 min, has an exiled (or maybe blackballed, as with Trumbo) screenwriter finishing a screenplay on a rebellious typewriter, which becomes a character. This must be taking place in the days before personal computers. He doesn’t even follow the FinalDraft format.  There are shades of “Barton Fink”.

The Potential Wives of Norman Mao”, 8 min, by Derek Nguyen, plays on the insistence of some people that they get grandchildren.  They send their babied son around the world trying to find a wife, and wil disinherit him if he doesn’t marry. In the end, he settles for what’s realistic.  (Sounds like “The Bachelor” or even “Marty”.) The only film shot 2.35:1.

Rumbleseat”, 6 min, by Mike Roberts, is a rotoscopic animated short that puts a sports car driver on another planet.  How many light years away?  What would a planet with a diamond surface look like anyway?

Fake Beard”, 6 min, by Craig Peck, plays on the role of “appearances” starting out with a rather attractive young man in a boring job.

Heart Says It All”, 5 min, by David Eagle,  has a couple meeting after sending love letters with candy hearts. When one of the pair wants to break it off, a comic but violent and grisly end comes. Not so funny as a comedy.  No "I (Heart) Huckabees" here. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Circumstance": ambitious film deals with closeted gay life in Iran

If you go see the Iranian drama “Circumstance”  ("Sharayet"), directed by Maryam Keshavarz and in Farsi, you will wonder how a fill like this could have been shot in Iran at all. It wasn’t.  Most of the filmmaking was done in Lebanon, with a lot of technical help from the US and France.  At several critical points in the film, we get a breathtaking shot of Tehran from a hill, were maladjusted but smart character Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) would provide for his wife and kids with a mansion, he says. Earlier, he has been told “a Muslim gets married and provides for a family.”

And that’s a lynchpin of religious fundamentalism when it deals with sexuality (including homosexuality), and not just Islam.  The idea isn’t just that if you make a choice (to perform an act that can create a baby) you follow through with the responsibility you (pro)created. It’s that you belong to a family and a culture and you owe the deepest parts of your life to it because it gave you life. Fundamentalism believes that if it can’t demand this of everyone, it’s culture cannot survive.

Now, everyone knows that the “meat” of the story is the clandestine lesbian relationship of two women, Atafeh (Nikohi  Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy).  Much of the film focuses on Atafeh’s family. Her parents are moderate and have a nice home with grand piano and a curious record player with a victrola horn (despite the fact that the film is set in current time).  Mehram, Atafeh’s handsome brother, arrives home from drug rehab and says he is giving up music, and that is sad; there is a wonderful moment where Mehram and his sister play some Bach together on the grand piano   (curiously, there is a similar music-making scene in the GLBT festival-circuit  flick “Eating Out” set in Arizona).  Mehram takes on the bizarre self-assignment to tape the two women surreptitiously (reminding one of the tragedy involving violinist Tyler Clementi  in New Jersey), and mix it with Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” to make an anti-gay “transformation” (or maybe a remake of “Rear Window”).  He takes up Islamist extremism, making a lot of his piety with the formality of his prayers. Yet, there is so much ambiguity in his talk that one quickly picks up on the likelihood of his own repressed homosexuality.  Eventually the authorities get involved, and there is a solution – arranged heterosexual marriage, all for appearances, at least, with some "pomp and circumstance".  The plot becomes positively operatic.

There are plenty of disco and party scenes in the film, and the Iranian young men, quite frankly, including Mehram, are quite spectacularly handsome (the camera dawdles on them even more than it does the lesbian women).  You wish he could have emigrated to the West as Mehram the Pianist and had a real career that he obviously had wanted and been denied.

This is quite an engaging film.  Like Marwem Hamad’s “The Yacoubian Building” (Strand, 2006), it shows the potential of Islamic film even with LGBT materials. Would judges at the Oscars be ready for this next year?

The film is produced by Participant Media and released by Roadside Attractions (and that probably means Lionsgate) and Sundance Selects.  The official site is here

I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA in the late afternoon show Saturday Sept. 10 before a moderate crowd, in a large auditorium (shot in 2.35:1 aspect).

Friday, September 09, 2011

"L.A. Zombie" is really a social statement; if this kind of extraterrestrial walked off the beach, who would notice?

The borderline between true visual art and “porn” narrows all the time it seems, especially now with the new horror spoof “L.A. Zombie” from Bruce LaBruce, available from Strand Sept. 20 (pre-book Aug. 23).

Francois Sagat plays the blue-painted extraterrestrial zombie who emerges from the Pacific Ocean (the opening shots make you expect a surfing movie, or maybe “Summerland”), to get picked up as a hitchhiker by a surfer (why?) and then go on to bring as many homeless people on skid row back to life as possible.  You know how.  I suppose this is a twist on vampire movies (or maybe the old 50s Saturday night chiller “The Undead”). There is a particular visual concept. The Zombie likes to probe “openings” wherever they are on the body (I can almost imagine the havoc that could happen in a disco scene had LaBruce took the film into that territory).  On a PG-13 blog, I can’t describe it more specifically.   There are scenes that explore the color red very artfully. Finally, we are led to question whether Zombie is really an alien or just thinks he is, out of schizophrenia. 

The film actually depicts how homeless men live rather graphically, and probably true to life – sometimes in cardboard shacks, sometimes in culverts dug out of the LA water system.  Sometimes LaBruce gives us handsome shots of modern downtown LA for contrast.

The style, despite the garish color, is a bit that of old silent movies, with sparse, earthy dialogue.  There is a curious use of a late Chopin Nocturne in one scene, and some rather interesting modern brass music in others. 

Here is Strand’s official site. I received a review copy from Strand. 

LaBruce does an interview on YouTube, and describes it as motivated by a desire to make us examine how we look at society’s outcasts.  He mentions the irony over fear of HIV.  The “victims” come back to life as their own persons or human beings, not as zombies themselves.

Could this film become a “midnight cult classic”?  Maybe not like “The Room”. 

Picture at to of post: from a disco party, not from film. However the blue color and general appearance is similar to that of the zombie in the film, in some scenes. 

Note: I reviewed the new WB release "Contagion" (with Matt Damon, dir. Steven Sodernergh) on my "Films on Major Threats to Freedom" blog today.  I guess the zombie film represents a different kind of "contagion." 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

French docudrama "Army of Crime" chronicles WWII resistance led by poet

The 2009 French film “Army of Crime” ("L’armee du crime"), directed by Robert Guedigarian (based on the story by Serge le Peron), may seem like a companion piece now to “The Debt” (and the antithesis of “Sarah’s Key”).  It is produced by Studio Canal, available on a Koch Lorber DVD, as well as Optimum.  It won prizes at Cannes.

An intellectual and idealistic poet Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian), at some risk to his family, helps organize ragtag fighters and leads a new resistance in Paris against the occupying Nazis.  He had to deal with his own “ethical” objection to killing, and revolution in a real world sometimes goes against his idealism.  The historical event was the “Affiche Rouge” (“red poster”) affair, where the Nazis presented resistance fighters as something like our own illegal aliens.

An important concept is the Communist background of the protagonist, and the famous hymn from “Reds” gets played, quite stirringly.  The Germans claim that the “Jews and Communists” caused all the war in Europe.

There are some particularly brutal “rendition” scenes when fighters are caught, with rather explicit bodily damage.  Eventually, the Nazis take retribution against the poet’s family – the “perfect storm” of moral dilemmas.

Near the end, the gang is put in the box cars. The film has a curious epilogue.

The Mozart A Minor Piano Sonata is used a lot in the background.

The official site is here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"Shank": gritty British drama "combines" gangs and gay people

People will try almost any idea of seemingly improbable combination of problems for a movie story idea.
So it is with the first “Shank” (2009), a grimy British drama, directed by Simon Pearce, where a young British man Cal (Wayne Virgo) in a working class gang in Bristol, England has to come to terms with his own homosexuality, in a situation where a female Nessa (Alice Payne) calls the revenge shots.

The noun upon which the film title is based has several meanings, including a well-known game, and any of them could apply.

It starts when Cal "rolls" (to use a term common a couple of generations ago) a middle class man Scott (Gary Summers) in an outdoor car scene that is explicit but brutal in its depiction of the random dangers of cruising (augmented by sniffs).  He then has an interest in Scott's friend Jonno (Tom Bott).  But he gradually has a change of heart after rescuing Oliver (Marc Laurent) from an attack, and then falling for him. The film then moves from explicit scenes of tenderness to a brutal and finally tragic conclusion.

The film is distributed by TLA Releasing.  The official site is here.

The DVD has an extra ("From Behind") on making the film, where the director explains his ideas about the confluence of all walks of life, specifically for closeted gay men.

Laurent, on the DVD, discusses the issue of performing actual “acts” when in such a film (officially not rated, probably in NC-17 territory, but if it borders on “soft core”, it certainly has a rich plot and real acting, which distinguishes it from the intentionally “adult” market).  The DVD, however, also shows the cast doing regular gymnastic calisthenics and later karate before a day’s work on the set.

The film was shot for a pretty low budget of about 20000 pounds.

The film should not be confused with a 2010 film of the same name by Mo Ali, around some of the same themes, a future decay in London (which we’ve already seen this year with the flash mobs).

Wikipedia attribution link for Bristol picture. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

"Apollo 18" is an interesting film-making experiment; the "ET" premise is actually plausible

I’m a little perplexed about the way the little indie sci-fi experiment “Apollo 18” got released.  Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gollego and produced by Bekmanbetov, and with “executive production” from The Weinstein Company, it was sneaked in to Labor Day release by horror film distributor Dimension Films without pre-screening.

The premise of the film is that NASA has some classified footage as to why we stopped going back to the Moon.  Three astronauts who died in plane crashes in the early 70s without body recovery are purported to have been on this mission to the Lunar south pole, where they found a wrecked Soviet lander.  When one of the men (Nate) goes out on patrol to investigate, something gets into his spacesuit.  Back in the module, another buddy opens up his spacesuit, revealing a smooth chest covered with electrodes (remember a “preparation” scene like this early in Apollo 13!) and a gaping wound slightly below. The buddy pulls out a metallic artifact out of his body. It seems as though Nate is infected by a device that had reconstructed itself from nanobots left from an extraterrestrial civilization.  And of course, neither the Russians or America’s own national security can let the men come home and contaminate the Earth with “infection” from these nanobots, well predicted by Michio Kaku.  If extraterrestrials have left their progeny on the Moon, it's likely that this is how they would do it -- imagine nanobot life as a step up from retroviruses -- but then why didn't they fall to Earth?

Of course, what’s interesting about the film is the style:  choppy footage (presumably faked for the movie), often just in 4:3 aspect, much of it black and white, making it look like an old movie, or a docudrama. That’s where the indie experimentation comes in to play.

Yet, the style of filmmaking and storytelling, far from that of the inspirational “Apollo 13” (Ron Howard’s epic for Universal in 1995, which kids in middle school science watched when I substitute taught),  or even the quizzical and conspiratorial “Capricorn One” of the 1970s (or even the Fox classic "Alien" series), is more like that of Sony’s “Moon”.  The claustrophobia of life on the lunar lander, including sleeping in hammocks, comes across well.

I saw this at the AMC Courthouse, in a large auditorium, which wasn’t necessary. The Courthouse has been sharing more of the responsibility with the Shirlington lately for independent films. Given the young adult demographics of the Courthouse area in Arlington, that sounds like a good idea. The Courthouse theater is in need of renovation as a modern indie house.  

Here’s the official site link

There is another site “” that doesn’t respond, with a note about it on Yahoo! here

YouTube “Beyond the Trailer”. “Maybe some footage is meant to be lost”.

Wikipedia attribution link to picture of Nanocar.