Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The Revenge of the Electric Car": Chris Paine's indie sequel to a "Kill"

In 2006, Sony Pictures Classics had distributed the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” by Chris Paine, in which it was related that an electric car had existed in the 1920s, and that a conspiracy led to its destruction (literally) in the 90s. In 2011, Paine has a sequel, a digital video from a much smaller distributor (Area23a), “The Revenge of the Electric Car”.

The film starts with an area shot of a California cloverlead, and then Wall Street reporter Dan Neil is telling us that he is sold on going all electric. Soon Tim Robbins takes over the narrative, which traces the resurgence of the electric car particularly at the restructured GM, at Tesla Motors (under the charismatic entrepreneur Elon Musk), and Reverend Gadget, who has to recover from being burned out of a facility and then working in another garage filled with toxins. 

There are many side stories in the film, such as Musk’s earlier venture with Paypal, the ascendance of Carlos Ghson at Nissan (with impressive footage of Tokyo), and the career of Bob Lutz.  There is a lot of footage shot in Detroit and suburban Michigan, and coverage of the foreclosure blight as it spreads past the milepost roads in the burbs. 

There is not much attention given to the hybrid, and a lot is said to praise totally electric cars with a range of 100 miles.  We need about a 400 mile range for total electric to be really usable.  

The official site is here

 Wikipedia attribution link for picture of NASA Lithium ion polymer battery. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Role/Play": LGBT drama explores openness for public figures, integrity for political activists

The little drama “Role/Play” by Rob Williams (Guest House Films, 2010, about 85 minutes), taking place almost entirely within a small resort, the Alexander, in Palm Springs CA, manages to cover a lot of contemporary territory about both personal integrity (double lives are no longer “in”) and freedom of expression – even if the film focuses on a particular gay-related political problem (the Proposition 8 fight in California), the moral principles generalize readily for everyone.

The film is “framed” as an interview, a perhaps redundant narrative device, except we can rightly wonder what “happens” to actor Graham Windsor (Steve Callahan), and what the “incident” was.

Graham checks into the gay resort run by  a senior-approaching Alex (David Pevsner), and doesn’t enjoy talking to his agent. He’s been summarily fired from the cast of a soap opera after a sex tape made by a former partner Parker (Matthew Stephen Herrick, the most obviously attractive character for those who want to see “masculinity”, even if his screen time is short) surfaced in the tabloids (and on the web).  It was violation of a “morals clause” that got him axed, not his “sexual orientation”. 

Then “gay marriage” activist Trey Reed (Matthew Montgomery) checks in, with the innkeeper Alex having set up a “marriage” suite with a cake, but Trey has already broken up. 

Graham and Trey develop a “relationship”, in which each character starts to shift his position on openness and expression.  Trey has been the “professional West Hollywood gay” who got married during the “donut hole” period before Proposition 8 kicked in, to prove a point.  He didn’t do it for love. He has all these interesting theories as to why gay bookstores and gay media are failing (that could be a reference to the failure of Windows Media, but the constituent papers, like the Washington Blade, have bounced back strong on their own, thank you.)   Graham wants to live a double life, a private life.  That is hardly possible anymore with Facebook’s “real identity” policy (I call it the “do ask do tell policy”).  As the drama progresses (and the film really starts to become like an off-Broadway play), we learn that Graham’s motives were already changing and he longed for a unified public life.  The film dialogue does explore the different standard of “privacy” allowed in the law for “public figures” (as a price for “right of publicity”) but leads us to believe there is not a good ethical reason for a different standard any more.  The tagline “Who are you pretending to be?” applies well. 

The film makes interesting points about soap opera – and we all know that some of soaps are getting cancelled, and the film certainly gives us an idea why.  It’s true that soaps tend to pander to an old-fashioned idea about the patriarchal family: that a man must succeed at it before doing anything else, lest his life be laid out for him by others.   Soaps have nerd-like characters (like Nick, played by Blake Berris in “Days of our Lives”) set up in situations demanding them to respond to women whether they want to or not. The treatment of gay issues on soap opera has been at best patronizing and superficial in many cases. 

As physically portrayed, Graham is already 40-something, and his smoothness looks artificial (he rather reminds me of “Brady” on “Days of our Lives”, in a future time-lapse). Trey is more like a 30-something, not perfect, but at least appealing. 

The film makes some interesting references to other movies and celebrities. Honorable mention is given to “Whatever happened to Baby Jane?”  (the classic from Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) and “My Dinner with Andre” (always a favorite of Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel).  And a couple of times the possibility of a crush on Anderson Cooper is mentioned.  (You wonder whether Brian Boitano, mentioned in SouthPark, is next.)

Here is the official site. The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99 or rented from Netlfix with subscription. 

The DVD has a 15-minute short subject about the screenwriting of the film (really, almost about writing movies in general), “Getting into Character”, narrated, produced and directed by Anthony Palato.
The PBS film “Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”, which deals with censorship of speech by public figures at least tangentially, was reviewed on my TV blog yesterday.

Wikipedia attribution link for Palm Springs picture.  I visited the area last in February, 2002. 


Monday, November 28, 2011

Norway's "Troll Hunter" is both a "monster movie" and a take-off on "Blair Witch" and "Last Broadcast"

The Norwegian horror spoof “TrollHunter” (“Trolljegeren”), dir. Andre Overdal, seems on one level to be an ambitious takeoff on amateur road haunts like “Blair Witch Project” and “The Last Broadcast” (the later of these is about the Pine Barrens Jersey Devil).  "Troll Hunter" is also a monster movie (maybe even "The Monster Movie" (replacing "An American Werewolf in London" for the honorable title), one in which the “monster(s)” appears about a third the way through, but there’s a lot of politicking about what it all means.  There was a Swedish “chiller” from the 50s, “Invasion of the Animal People”, that comes to mind. 

Some college students go into the wild to investigate a supposed bear poacher Hans (Otto Jespersen), but pretty soon he gives up his classified secret and reveals that he is a clandestine troll hunter for the Norwegian government.  There’s the usual cover-up, and denials, more or less as if trolls were extraterrestrial aliens or sasquatches.  In fact, they’re made into fascinating monsters, crude, living for thousands of years, reproducing slowly, vulnerable to sunlight, prone to explode or turn to stone, which actually incites some religious tests. 

The movie plot is framed by a claim that the students disappeared, and that a friend received a DVD documenting their whole experience.  Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) is the most conspicuous of the kids and often narrates, but his own demise could come.  There are subtle clues early that this project of voyeurism (earning academic credit in college film school) comes with its bodily costs: the kids are told to scrub the hairier parts of their bodies to remove any human odor, and then cover themselves with smelly troll goo to smell like the beasts, to attract them. It works.

Here’s the official site. The film can be rented from YouTube for $3.99 (or from Netflix with subscription). The US distributor is Magnolia Pictures (Magnet), and in the UK it's Momentum.

Technically, the film is impressive (though just 1.85:1), with good night photography, and stunning Norwegian scenery.  I visited Norway in 1972, taking the train from Oslo to Bergen, then flying to Trondheim, and then taking another train and bus to Narvik. 

The idea that a secret conspiracy or hidden natural threat is passed around on media or among characters in a “treasure hunt” is often used in “science fiction”, particularly in stores that challenge our perception of everyday reality and presents the possibility of massive plots and coverups.  In my novel manuscript “Brothers”, the CIA brings back an ex-military person (now teaching history) as an agent when it learns of a bizarre “Andromeda strain” of sorts from a precious college student, who contacts the agent, who brings the evidence back from Europe, to have it passed to other “targets” in a covert right wing group known to a friend of the college student. The strain “infects” the agent, and other people, with bizarre plot twists (some of them political) eventually leading to the realization that the number of souls in the world is reaching a limit and will contract. 

In another screenplay, “Titanium”, a journalist receives a bizarre beta hi-fi tape that has to have been made in the 1980s, leading him to connect some characters at a private academy to supernatural things. 

In David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”, the arrival of mystery tapes at the saxophonist’s home drives the early part of the plot, eventually involving dopplegangers and identity-change. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Narvik. 
The title of this film is ironic for me, inasmuch as I have blogged about the "copyright trolls" (like Righthaven).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hallmark's "Mitch Albom's 'Have a Little Faith'" premiers first on ABC

ABC, on Thanksgiving Sunday, presented Hallmark’s “Mitch Albom’s ‘Have a Little Faith’”, based on the Detroit sportswriter’s book of the same name.  Compared to some other faith-based films, it seems a little bit didactic (after all the action in “Courageous”, Nov. 10).  It's directed by Jon Avnet ("Righteous Kill", "Fried Green Tomatoes").

Mitch (Bradley Whitford) is asked by an aging rabbi Albert Lewis (Martin Landau) to write his memoir or eulogy – and it’s a bit deal for a writer to be so “commissioned”.   The rabbi is aging and says he is approaching his earthly end, but is still active and sharp mentally.  Along his journey, Mitch meets a man from a Detroit homeless shelter.  After Mitch spends a night there (it’s much more crowded than Army barracks), he meets the ex-con pastor Henry Covington (Laurence Fishburne) who runs it, as well as an new congregation  (the “I am my brother’s keeper Church”) in an old downtown Presbyterian Church building with huge holes in the roof.  The writer’s journey into real faith starts.  The early part of the film tells Covington’s back story of crime in NYC. But the connection to Albom is not made clear until the film's middle, which to me seems like a structural flaw in the screenwriting.

The movie makes a lot of simple plays on words: the difference between “books” and “action”; later it depicts Covington as having been told by his father to “take what he wants.”  Lewis notes that babies are born with their fists clenched, as if to “take”, but a person’s hands open as life progresses.  

Mitch will say he is not “better” than the people in Convington’s world, or even smarter, just luckier. Knowledge itself is not the goal, but the process of searching for it is what matters.  He starts out and stays within the perspective of his own Judaism, while embracing Christianity at the same time, particularly at the end as the church is repaired. 

Here is Hallmark’s site.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The Green": important drama about a falsely accused gay male teacher

Wolfe released its new controversial drama “The Green” about the perils of a gay male teacher on Nov. 22.  I’m sure that the distributor and film production staff, when scheduling the release of the film, had no inkling of what would suddenly unfold at Penn State.  But as I watched the film, and the accumulation of hysteria around a falsely accused  (fictitious) teacher, I felt a definite chill and sense of panic myself. 

The title of the film is an understatement.   Forty-somethings Michael Gavin (Jason Butler Harner) and Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson) have left New York for a “green” life in suburban Connecticut.  Despite the recent legal changes, they’re not quite ready for formal gay marriage. Michael is having contractors fix up an old house.  Michael teaches  (high school) English and drama at a private Yardley Academy, which in the inner halls isn’t so different from a typical suburban public school.  My own father, back in the 50s, used to ask “Why would a man want to teach English?” – a prejudiced question, as my 10th grade English teacher  (a football star) was actually one of the best I had.  It seems that Yardley has its own share of troubled kids, and one of them, Jason (Chris Bert) is attracting attention by skipping class and failing classes while still focusing on his own world. We don’t know for a little while how desperate his family situation is.  His redneck father is suspicious of everyone, including Michael.  One day, some other kids try to bully Jason, and Michael breaks it up, with due assertiveness.  That’s the right thing to do, we say.  But Jason says he is picked on because Michael pays attention to him, and pretty soon Michael is called into the principal’s office and then arrested on phony charges of an “inappropriate relationship”  with Jason.

Enter the hotshot lawyer, a British woman (Mary McCann).  She minces no words, concluding that this is a shakedown by Jason’s family for money.   She says, “you’re a gay may teacher, and a student has made an accusation, and that’s all that matters.  The best I can do is prevent a conviction”.  Michael is out on bail (not shown), put pretty quickly the prejudice and anger from the townspeople (with no facts, only rumor) is manifest.  His contractor quits, leaving his open roof open to an approaching hurricane. His lover Daniel starts to fight and is about to leave him.  A minor gay character from the local pub Glenn (Michael Godere, who looks ten years younger than his imdb age, probably always) sometimes tries to smooth things over.   The police confiscate his lover’s computer.  And so on. 

In any good screenplay, the protagonist has to draw on some hidden character resource to solve his problems and provide the film a climax. In this movie, the solution will come from a series of coincidences involving the storm, forcing Michael to confront Jason’s father. The film bypasses what could have been a complicated and interesting courtroom drama – that would have made another movie. 

The film could be compared to Lionsgate’s “Student Seduction” (2003), discussed here May 4, 2010, in which a female chemistry is accosted by a male student and then accused. In that film, the prosecutors and court system plays much more into the story. 

Then there is my own screenplay short, “The Sub”, which I have worked in a “layer” of a bigger screenplay for my “Do Ask Do Tell” film.  In that film, an older gay male teacher, call him “Protagonist”, has a cardiac arrest at school and a precious music student saves him with a defibrillator.  Protagonist is an amateur composer himself, and this leads the student to invite the teacher home. The teacher, after recovery, goes (unwise). Soon the student has tricked him into helping him make a fake ID to get into a gay bar.  By “happenstance” the student appears at the same time on a weekend night as Protagonist, and they dance. Soon Protagonist is arrested at school. His own lawyer is also blunt and not too sympathetic (just as in this film).  The district attorney wants to offer him a “deal” of no jail if he will register (as a “sex offender”).  But then Protagonist dies of another heart attack, but the student performs his music. 

Here’s the official site.  This effort, directed by Steven Williford and written with Paul Marcarelli, is important viewing (for adults), but perhaps a bit painful to watch.  I have to admit that I didn’t “like” the characters as much as I did in some other LGBT films.  I hope Wolfe Video and Table Ten Films can get it into theaters (like Landmark or AMC Independent; I simply purchased it from Amazon).   It is shot in full 2.35:1. 

It's important to note that the film is almost pure drama (it seems like a stage play at times), probably in the PG-13 area.  There is almost nothing explicitly shown in the film. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

"I Can't Sleep" tries to solve a 1990's mystery (and reign of terror) in Paris; distributor Wellspring Media had an interesting idea

I’ve seen most films present LGBT characters more favorably than the 1995 film I watched today, that is, a French film from Claire Denis and Wellspring Media, “I Can’t Sleep” (or “J’ai pas sommeil”).  

The film hypothesizes about the spree of robberies and murders of senior citizens in Paris in the 1990s. The anxiety among senior Parisians explains the title of the movie. If this is supposed to be an art film, it is a bit of a downer.  Three characters are traced.  Daiga (Yekaterina Golubeva) has emigrated from Lithuania but speaks little French.   Theo (Alex Descas) struggles to support a family as a musician.  Camille (Richard Courset) has moved from the leather scene to cross dressing but still enjoys the discos.  Their lives start to come together.  One of them, at least, is up to no good, and he or she may drag the others along.  The unraveling at the end is quite effective.   But this is one of those movies where you’re not sure you care about the characters much.  It’s a bit off course from French film that I am used to. 

I found a 2003 reference to how Wellspring Media works (or worked), and its relation to Koch Lorber.  The concept here for film distribution (“one stop”) sounds interesting.  We ought to see more of this.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Hugo": Martin Scorsese gives us the early history of film from the eyes of children -- in a "G" film for grownups

There’s not much question that  UK-French film “Hugo” will be up for Best Picture for 2011.  It is a near-children’s film directed by Martin Scorsese, produced by GK Films and John Depp (Infinitum Nihil) in London and Paris, and distributed in the US by Paramount (was this Paramount Vantage?  -- although $170 million is a bit much for independent film).  It’s based on the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick. 

It’s pretty well known now that this movie is an artist’s history of early film, specifically the work Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), and “A Trip to the Moon”, a wonderful animated short, is shown in entirety.  (In that film, Saturn appears, so you wonder if the “moon” is really Titan.  The animation makes it look plausible, even in the 1930s.)

The whole story of Melies is almost tragic.  He almost invented the cinema, which dazzled audiences with approaching trains. After World War I (shown in clips), the public was concerned with real life and real hardship (remember influenza, too), and not too easily entertained.   His movie business, which had replaced his interest in mechanics and gadgetry (he had invented a kind of robot called an Automaton) died financially. He sold most of his celluloid stock to survive.  Or he thought he had sold it. 

But the story is told in apposition through the eyes of a boy Hugo (Asa Butterfield, who at 13, will certainly find this movie a career lauch).  He has lost his inventor father (Jude Law) to a tragic accidental fire, and  then even his mean uncle, and lives in the Paris station, fixing clocks, trying to escape the station master (Sascha Baron Cohen).  One day he brings a notebook for animation to Melies, who thinks he had stolen it and threatens (illogically at first) to burn it.   But he meets tween Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) in Melies’s household. Her own intellectual preciousness helps launch Hugo on an adventure in which he plays gumshoe and solves a number of problems, finding out who the embittered Melies really is and enabling the kids to recover many films thought to be lost.  Isabelle has a great line -- saying that people die if they lose their purpose. 

The film gives us a look at technology and intellectual property a century ago, with issues (innovation and copyright) surprisingly relevant to some of today’s debates (as on copyright infringement, as with Congress’s controversial SOPA bill). 

The CGI is out of this world, recreating Paris in the 30s, and the scenes involving steam trains are particularly sensational.  There is a dream sequence involving a catastrophic train wreck, followed by another dream where Hugo examines his body and finds it has turned into a robot. Technically, the film is overwhelming.  Despite the economic problems in Europe, it doesn’t seem as though the film business there spending money for sensational filmmaking.  The film is presented 1.85:1, maybe to facilitate showing of the embedded silent clips, but I would have preferred the full 2.35:1.

I saw this at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA, in a large auditorium, and a large Thanksgiving night crowd, mostly adults.  (This movie, though PG – almost G – really is for grownups, too -- especially intellectual property lawyers.) The theater has a very wide curved screen and does not crop vertically.  At AMC’s newer Georgetown and Tysons, it crops vertically, so that 1.85:1 films (like this one) actually look larger.  I recommend seeing this film in a new facility if possible, and in 3-D, which is used in a very natural way, without exaggeration. 

Here's the official site. I can almost predict a Best Picture win for this film -- 5 stars. 

This may be a good place to mention a 1992 Fox documentary "Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography" which was shown to a film class in high school when I substitute taught.  Actually, English and drama teachers are going to like to show "Hugo" too.

Picture: inside MCC Washington DC, which resembles the "glass house" studio depicted in the film.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn", the fourth film of the series, is "just" a Part I: and we know what will happen to Bella

Now, we not only have big film franchises; individual films in these series are broken into parts, almost as if “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” really could have fit onto television.  Say, compare “Smallville” (the series) to “Superman” (two franchises).

The fourth film of the “Twilight” franchise based on the books of Stepenie Meyer is itself a “Part 1”: That is, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 1”. 

We were left before with the “romance” between homely Bella  (Kristen Stewart) and the nice, handsome vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and the handsome werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). 

First, let’s talk about Lautner, who has only a couple more months as America’s highest profile teen (if you don’t count Justin Bieber, who is just too larval).  I guess animals do have character, at least canines and maybe felines: a sense of right and wrong.  Jacob can change back and forth as necessary, but he is really the most likeable character, and maybe the only one in this movie with a moral compass, at least enough to satisfy Anderson Cooper. 

I was going to skip this one, but then I heard that the movie really does start with and center around a wedding, as did “Melancholia”. Rather than show a lavish reception too crowded with people and sugary desserts (and home telescopes), though, this film moves on to the honeymoon and "consummation" more quickly.  And the film has numerous nocturnal moon shots, menacing enough to be confused with Van Trier’s doomsday planet (as if director Bill Condon sensed his film would be compared to Trier’s – he probably did).  And Bella (like Justine and Claire in Trier’s film) seems doomed for most of the film. And that’s really the problem here. The mood is heavy enough that Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” could have fit the “love” scenes between Edward and Bella, in a sense. 

Most viewers know by now that Bella and Edward get married, and that Bella already knows her days as a human being are numbered.  It’s not hard to guess what she’ll become. 

In fact, you could look at this film (as Trier’s) as an attack on the “sanctity” of heterosexual marriage. You enter into a lifelong relationship at your own risk.  Edward takes Bella back to his favorite Brazil and Rio (the film credits give a nod to the country’s film ministry, almost making Summit’s effort a foreign film franchise like “Dragon”).  Almost immediately, too soon, she gets morning sickness, and it may not even be morning.  The Quileute and Volturi have moved in on them, maybe.   Earlier, there are some curious scenes where Edward and Bella play chess; Edward always wins; Bella is shown resigning a game by knocking over her White King. Chess players will wonder about this.

Enter the obvious comparison to “Rosemary’s Baby” (with no chance to "pray for" it).  But there’s something grostesque here.  Bella starts to look wan very quickly, but so does Edward (a process that had started in the previous films for him).   If you want a class of people who will live forever and if you want the movie audience to feel connected to them, make them stay young and strong. For example, consider turning them into angels rather than vampires (but then you break the laws of thermodynamics, which require entropy – aging and deterioration, necessitating reproduction).  Something odd was done to the actor Robert Pattinson here.  His body hair – particularly arms and legs – is thinned out, attenuated, perhaps chemically, or maybe by digital editing.  (I saw this movie in a digital projection version; maybe in the standard projection presentation Pattinson looks more "virile".)  In the Army, when I served in 1969, "they" (the other guys in the barracks) would have said “he’s losing hormones”.  (In fact, recent studies show that men do lose testosterone when they become fathers, at least in marriage.) The same thing seems to have happened to Justin Timberlake in some of his films.  Actors go through a lot of destruction – and forced entropy.  Maybe it’s permanent.

Jacob The Werewolf, however, looks manlier than ever (19 is older than 16) and really just about perfect (whether as a primate or a carnivore).  Lautner has some great lines in the script – they sound like things the real Taylor Lautner would say. (Lautner has said on late night TV that this film is complicated.)  Lautner has a particularly interesting line about “family” and the idea that when you marry, you’re committed to stand by your wife and progeny, whatever it takes. True, but this is Cullen’s family, not Jacob’s.  But Jacob seems to think it is his.  

As for Part II, we’ll learn what happens to the non-human Bella. (As for Rosemary’s Baby, I don’t know what to expect.   I’ll say, without spoiling anything, that the birthing scene is rough compared with what Morgan Spurlock would show us.)   But, think about it. If, on Smallville, Clark Kent fathered a child, would he or she be human?  Edward, by the way, has some Clark-like powers – the speed – but they’re half-hearted and unconvincing.

Christina Perri’s song “A Thousand Years”, sung during the closing credits, sounds like a Best Song candidate. 

Note something else: In the 1994 film “Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (Anne Rice), the ageless characters played by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise didn’t “deteriorate” as I recall.  They had a real love story. 

Summit’s official site seems to he ""  Webroot marked it as suspicious in Firefox only (not Chrome), so I didn't link (Webroot is very strict on "spy cookies" and sometimes gives false positives).  MyWOT and McAfee were OK with it.     (There are some fake official sites out there.)  "" lists all of Summit's movies but doesn't link separately to them, so it won't work as a link indefinitely. Oddly, imdb did not given an official site.  Summit Entertainment should clarify how it wants us to see its official site. 

There are a few reports of some audience members being disturbed by the lights in the birthing scene, with one case of an epileptic episode; this would be very rare or could be coincidental, but maybe theaters need to advise audiences in advance.  

Picture: downtown Austin, TX; nothing to do with this film, but a lot of indie film gets shot in Austin.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tom Six teases us with "The Human Centipede" (and there is a sequel now)

Recently, Landmark E Street in Washington showed a pleonastic sequel, at midnight, to a film with zero stars, a “full sequence.”  So I rented the 2009 “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)”, directed by Tom Six, distributed by IFC.

The film opens happily enough, with a distant shot of the German Autobahn. That’s about it. Pretty soon, two young American women get a flat tire (from a set trap), wind up in a modern house of a mad. Neo-Nazi scientist (Dieter Laser).  What follows is a smaller scale film like the two “Hostel” films (the second of which has a cannibalistic scene that is pretty indescribable, toward the end). 

The surgeon had once a humanitarian attempt to build a practice separating Siamese twins.  But that wasn’t god enough. He had to reverse the concept, in this film, with a Japanese man followed by the two women, literally, with stiches. 

The wailing and gnashing are pretty relentless in this spoof.  If it's bad, it's not bad the same way as the pseudo-pretentious "The Room".

And Tom Six is flippant enough in the DVD interview. 

There was some background piano music that sounded like Chopin and then Bach, but it was not credited. 

Actually, the concept behind “Bugcrush” (Jan 29, 2008 here) was a lot more interesting than that of this film, which did place at “Screamfest”.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"The Descendants": Payne's new dramedy tests our ideas of social manliness

When “The Descendants” (dir. Alexander Payne, Fox Searchlight) started rolling, the theater had just shown a Wagnerian preview of “Melancholia”, and as the movie progressed, I felt as though Van Trier could have directed this and wiped out the characters’ personal problems with another rogue planet. 

The film starts with a woman (Patricia Hatsie) on a speedboat, and that’s the last time she will be conscious.  The real estate lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) starts talking about life in Hawaii, that it’s not permanent vacation.  True, middle aged business executives (male) feel OK about parading in their shorts.  Soon the narration stops and the acting begins.  We quickly learn that his wife is comatose, and pretty soon Matt gets the news that nothing can be done, and that according to her living will, life support must stop. 

Matt now has to be a single parent father to his two daughters, Scott, 10  (Amira Miller) and Alexandra  (Shaileen Woodley, 17), a kind of bad girl at a boarding school.  And pretty soon it hits the fan, as Alexandra tells him that his wife had been cheating.  

Most of the rest of the plot deals with Matt’s tracking down of his rival, who is tied to his business dealings with the real estate trust.  To avoid spoilers, one can just say that the plot solves the problems originally and somewhat quietly, but closes the loose ends.  There’s a refreshing point that some of wild land ought to remain so rather than be turned over for greedy overbuilding. Matt also is always questioning the morality of a system of lineage supporting inheritance of unearned wealth.  He says he wants to leave his daughters enough to do something, not enough to do nothing. The movie provides a bit of a crash course in trusts, for those who may find themselves involved in administering those of their parents or spouses.

The script comes up with punchlines to keep the slow moving film funny. Alexandra has a sidekick boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause), who shocks us at first with his social insensitivity (particularly in a scene involving another supporting character with Alzheimer's Disease), and gradually gains our confidence, almost becoming a critical lynchpin for Matt's being able to solve his problems at the end. That's good screenwriting!

For me, of course, the point is how easily the whole life of a man like Matt can be challenged by a spouse’s infidelity. He had to deal with the idea of not being man enough to have kept her.  And in his world, family and business, with social support and manipulation, are all tied together.

Very early, Matt criticizes his youngest daughter for sharing pictures of her comatose media, and lectures her on what is private within a family. This sounded like a lesson for social media users.  He's always telling Alexandra to look after her younger sister -- an indication of his lingering prerogative as a father. 

The scenery of the film is lush.  I do remember seeing the musical of Michener's "Hawaii" as a college student, and I remember the line about the importance of getting married. 

Of course, I avoided that entire world until certain interests tried, over the past few years, to drag me back into playing “their” game.

The official site is here

I saw this film at the Angelika Center at Mockingbird Station in Dallas.  Does this complex replace the old General Cinema Northpark?