Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hallmark's "A Smile as Big as the Moon": a teacher's passion gets his special education kids to Space Camp

Hallmark’s “A Smile as Big as the Moon”, directed by James Steven Sadwith, certainly might have been a hit movie as a theater release. And it certain illustrates the maxim of screenwriting, to create maximum urgency and rooting interest.

John Corbett plays a Mike Kersjes, special education teacher (and football coach) in Grand Rapids, MI, with a driving passion to make his kids prove to themselves that they can make it.  His technique: expect from them the same thing you expect from everyone.  The film tells the (partly) true story of his drive around 1989 to get his students to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL.   His technique is to get them to focus on teamwork, during which they rapidly catch up in social skills.  

The kids have varying appearance and demeanor. Some seem to have Asperger’s syndrome and are actually very good with a narrow range of tasks (like one boy who builds models).  The teacher has the kids invent a board-game (that looks a bit like the old Mr. Wiggley Game, but with space destinations) to raise money, but eventually he turns to a local fast food business owner who employs some of the kids after school.  Some kids actually do quite well in structured employment.  Most of the kids in the film appear to have issues that are medically treatable and appear to be capable of catching up with the demands of the outside world.  The story of JMac, which may be a film soon, comes to mind (Book reviews, March 18, 2008).

I actually visited the Space Camp as a tourist in 1989, and saw the water tank, where participants have to assemble apparatus while swimming underwater.  As a kid, I did not swim, and would have had extreme difficulty with some of this myself.  I was afraid to go on these things in the middle school years.   Some of the other training, such as zero gravity, appears physically challenging. The phrase "The Right Stuff" (also a 1983 WB film) figures into the climax. 

I worked as a substitute teacher from 2004-2007 in northern VA and sometimes had special education classes.  Some of the classes were for the very severely challenged  (much more so than in the film) who could not have handled this.

The film aired on ABC Jan. 29.

The official site is here.

Here is a typical Space Camp scholarship site

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance" airs simultaneously in many indie theaters today with Q&A by Internet, Twitter

Saturday, January 28, 2012, the West End Cinema in Washington presented a showing of the documentary by Bob Hercules, “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance”, from Lakeview Films, narrated by Mandy Patinkin.
The 84-minute film was followed by a Q&A by Skype from New York (since the Internet broadcast appeared simultaneously in about 30 cities), with some questions submitted by Twitter.  There is another show at 11 AM Sunday Jan. 29 at this theater.  The theater is small (almost sold out today), and the digital sound and projection were much better than with some films shown there.  

The ensemble originally was formed by Robert Joffrey (1930-1988) and Gerald Arpino (1923-2008) in New York in 1956.  They were life partners for a long time, and their social setup managed to remain acceptable for the times, and even avoid McCarthyism.  Joffrey was actually born to an Afghan father and Italian mother and the film shows historical footage of work in Afghanistan long before the current troubled history of the country.  For a time, the group was sponsored in large part by Rebekah Harkness, but had to start over after falling out.

The group lost members to the Vietnam era draft (and combat) and would later produce its version of the anti-war (based on the aftermath of WWI) ballet “The Green Table”. Another major accomplishment from the group was the futuristic “Astarte”.

Joffrey would die of AIDS in 1988, but Arpino would remain relatively healthy until shortly before his passing at 85.  The present day head is Ashley C. Wheater, who helped lead the Twitter forum.

One interesting aspect of the film was the physical appearance of the dancers, which for men is nearly always extremely athletic and virile.  One member talked about being 6 feet 6 inches and fitting in.  Members of the ballet had to master both classical and modern dance, which before Joffrey had not been commonly expected.

Today the ballet company is located in the Joffrey Tower in Chicago.

The official site is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Joffrey Tower in Chicago. 

"Albert Nobbs": women living as men to survive in 19th century Ireland

Albert Nobbs” , directed by Rodrigo Garcia, comes across as clever in concept, perhaps.  Shouldn’t 21st century audiences learn about the way women had to masquerade as men in the 19th century, at least in the British Isles, in order to survive?  After all, female authors took manly names.

Glenn Close (who helped write the screenplay) does have some awards for playing the role of a man as she ekes out a living in a small Irish hotel.  If you look closely, even when she’s clothed fully (all the time, almost), she doesn’t look as “masculine” as others, such as Joe (Aaron Johnson), who, after fired at the demand of a customer from another job, gets a chance to redeem himself by fixing the boiler at the hotel. Joe befriends and eventually impregnates Helen (Mia Wasikowska) and Albert is only too happy to take over raising the child since that will suit his purposes as he plans to start a new business, a tobacco shop.

Albert’s ruse is challenged when he is asked to share his lumpy bed with a visiting painter Hubert (Janet McTeer) who also has to masquerade as a man, and fortunately is “sympathetic”.  It’s interesting how there was so little physical privacy in this society.  But that was normal.

In this world, these women sometimes lived with other women as publicly heterosexual couples, and even got to raise OPC (other people’s children).  Nobody thought about this as lesbianism, although in many cases these couples would have liked to be able to live openly as female partners.  Neither Albert nor Hubert want to live as men, although their sexualities seem fluid.

In fact, there is some conventional male homosexuality at the hotel, with the Viscount (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers).

The film is distributed by Roadside Attractions and Liddell Entertainment.  Will Lionsgate handle the DVD? Once again, a film that got into the awards season by Dec. 31 was not available to the public until the end of January.  I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington, in a smaller auditorium but good full widescreen projection, before a moderate crowd, first show Friday night opening day. 

The official site is here

Glenn Close gives an interview here (YouTube video by StarkInsider) where she says “Independent Film almost doesn’t get made". 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Oka!" takes a musicologist from the sickbed into the wild

The film “Oka! Amerikee”, directed by Lavinia Currier and written in part by real-life ethno-musicologist Louis Sarno, comes across as creating a sub-genre.  That is, science fiction or fantasy, placing the protagonist and moviegoer in another world, almost that of another planet, while needing nothing supernatural (with a caveat about the ending, and maybe about his reception of a "message" in his sickbed, below).  The film is part “Avatar”, part “Lost”, part “Terra Nova”, and part “Lord of the Flies”, with a touch of “Into the Wild” and “Cast Away”, maybe even “Dances with Wolves”.

The word means “listen” in Akka (or Aka), the basis of the language of the Bayaka Pygmies, of Central Africa.  Most of this film was shot on location in the Central African Republic, north of the Congo. There are some references to the Bantu and the serious tribal problems covered in other films.

The film invents a fictional character, Larry Whitman, played by Kris Marshall (“Love Actually”).  As the film starts, his doctor warns him he needs a liver transplant and should not travel.  He also has tinnitus and fears danger of going deaf  (like Beethoven), ruining his life as a musician.  He wants to document one more musical idiom in Central Africa, that of the Bayaka.  He goes anyway.  Having plenty of energy and ability to live in the wild while lugging high-tech gear, he doesn’t really have many obvious medical problems (until almost the end),  and he looks pretty good physically (just not perfect).   The film does make him look like a giant compared to the natives (as if out of “Gulliver’s Travels”).  He’s able to make the native people like him and communicate with them in their language and value set.  He (probably knowing this before he left home) runs into the political aspirations of the “mayor” (Isaach de Bankole) and a logging developer (Will Yun Lee), prepared to deforest the area to do business with the Chinese.  The mayor has a political front, to stop the pygmies from hunting and eating elephants, which we know are very intelligent animals deserving of respect. (At this point, I should also refer to the CBS “60 Minutes Presents”, reviewed on the TV blog Jan. 23, which had a segment [also called “Into the Wild”] on elephants as well as wildlife migrations in this general area.)  

The mayor demands that Larry bring in his equipment for bureaucratic approval (“we are now a modern country” – laugh) and claims that Larry needs copyright approval to record wildlife and native music.  That’s an ironic point, given the current political battles in the US now over copyright infringement (like SOPA and Protect-IP), but this takes copyright to absurdity.

As the movie unfolds, the music works its way into the story. The music tends to comprise chants, and two-or-three note motives played on primitive woodwinds or percussion, often counterpointed and danced to. As the people chant and dance, they come alive spiritually. This is not music that emphasizes development or personalization of emotion the way European classical music (since Bach, or at least since Mozart or Beethoven) does.  Instead, it is more like a ritual experience, like hymn singing (the same verses over and over) among Evangelical Christians.  As the film progress toward a penultimate climax with the elephant hunt, another crude and very large woodwind is introduced (“The Bayaka”) and the sound has a mesmerizing effect.  The music has taken over and driven the plot.

At the end, a medicine man has to tend to Larry.  There is an “Inception-like” sequence that the viewer must interpret for himself.  I don’t know whether Sarno really did have these medical issues in real fact. (If a viewer does, please comment.)  I like the possible interpretation that local medicine healed him (just as I once witnessed a healing at MCC Dallas in 1979 and maybe another one at an AOG in Florida in 1998). If so, I can think of small directorial changes (or images) that could have made that point stronger.

Interesting also is the “living off the land” – the quick building of tree-component huts as if they were tents, covered by huge leaves.   How many of us could build these things with our own hands?

The film was edited and processed in the US; I would have expected France (as the film is mostly in French and in Akka with subtitles).  The production companies are James Bruce and Roland, and the distributor is a small, obscure one, Dada.  I don’t see that it was in the festival circuit; it should have been, where it might have gotten a major corporate distributor and been in the running for Oscars or Golden Globes.  This is a film that could have used Imax and 3-D, although it’s hard to imagine attracting the necessary investor money for such a big project on this obscure but (morally) important story.

The movie site is here

I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC late Thursday afternoon in front of a fair crowd given weekday time slot.

I did rent “Lord of the Flies” around 2004, and was left with the impression that Getty’s character was hardly much of a leader, just too young. As a substitute teacher, I ran into this novel a lot .

I saw “Dances with Wolves” in 1990 when it came out, and remember the trials of Kevin Costner’s character. I saw “Cast Away” in 2000, and remember Tom Hanks and the volleyball playmate Wilson.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Pygmy peoples in Africa.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Bad Actress": what does a has-been soap star do to get back into the limelight?

Well, ready for a cynical black comedy about Tinseltown and the B-grade actors?  Well, you’ll enjoy Strand’s upcoming “Bad Actress”, directed by Robert Lee King.

Beth Broderick plays Alyssa Rampart-Pillage, who got knocked off the fame stage of soap opera in the 90s as she outgrew “HMO Nurse”.  (Funny, “Days of our Lives” has been reincarnating the characters and rehiring the actors it had axed.)  She’s had to work in the real world, just doing commercials for her husband’s air conditioning business. That’s Bernie (Chris Mulkey).  When her talented daughter Topanga stages an Earth Day demonstration at the opening of a new store, tragedies ensue and a body count mounts. The notoriety will give Alyssa her new chance for another "career".  We may learn what Alyssa and cousin Morris (Vincent Vintresca, and he is not a cat) are capable of, with the complicity of virile gigolo boyfriend George (Andrew Levitas), who is all to willing not to stay out of jail.  Alyssa’s other two kids, fraternal twins Rebecca (Whitney Able) and Russell (Ryan Hansen) are the only two solid people in the movie.   Besides environmentalism and police work, the movie has some interesting explorations into wills and the “dead hand” issue – all because Bernie, after seeing Topanga’s ghost, gets religion and starts believing in sacrifice and charity.
The movie even takes a poke at the Oscars at its “climax”.
The official Facebook is here. The “official site” is here.

The DVD is available Feb. 21, 2012 and the pre-book is Jan. 24, 2012.

The film played in international film festivals in New York, Miami and Cleveland.

This may be a good play to mention a 2002 film for comparison, Brent Huff’s “100 Mile Rule”, where some Michigan businessmen decide they can “play” because they are more than 100 miles away from their wives when at a sales conference in LA.  The film really hits hard the nature of “sales culture”, that is, “always be closing.”   I saw this at an international festival in Minneapolis in 2002.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"; the short "Ode to the Dawn of Man" shows baby play, literally

Werner Herzog, with very gentle “sotto voce” narrates his stunning documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, examining the implications of pictographs and artwork found in caves (the Chauvet Cave) in the Provence Region, in an area of rolling plateaus, steep cliffs and river banks, in southern France.

The cave had been sealed off accidentally by rock slides, and was discovered in 1994. The artwork appears to date back about 32000 years, and contains probably the earliest artwork and even musical instruments (including a pentatonic flute) ever found. The people used the caves only for ceremonial purposes. At one point, the explorers follow thumbprints back into the cave to follow the movements of a typical hunter. These were true “homo sapiens”, not Neanderthals, who lived in the area and who might have been able to interbreed.

The photography has very muted colors, necessary inside the cave (where access is so strictly controlled and not open to the public), but the technique continued outside, giving the French countryside a rather extraterrestrial look.

The film, produced by Creative Differences and the History Channel, has DVD distribution by IFC. It also showed at the Toronto Film Festival (2010).

The official site is here. The theatrical release was available in 3-D.

The DVD has an expansive 38-minute short “Ode to the Dawn of Man”, which demonstrates the rehearsals for the music of the film, composed by Ernst Reijseger. The music, with a chamber group including keyboards, chamber orchestra, and wordless chorus, tends to emphasize ground bass (in 2/4 time) with many variations. The composer’s wife often rehearses with the baby in her lap, and in a sense at the end of the film, the baby plays some notes on the piano, one at a time, while Mom plays an atonal, 12-tone theme (rather odd effect). That is an interesting concept in teaching a 1-year-old music.

Can babies learn to play instruments this young? Does anyone know?

Another interesting sidelight is the keyboard artist, youthful-looking Dutch artist Harmen Fraanje (link), who sometimes conducts, but usually plays both the upright piano (keys exposed) and tracker Wurlitzer organ, arranged in a perpendicular manner so he can play one with each hand simultaneously.

Wikipedia attribution link for Chauvet Cave picture. Other pictures, mine, from northern MN.

Update: Jan. 24

Oscar nominees for 2012 ceremony are here. There are nine nominees for Best Picture.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Clapham Junction": powerful British gay drama structured like a Robert Altman film

Clapham Junction” is an interesting British gay drama, directed by Adrian Shergold, that plays like a Robert Altman film, or even like the film “5 Lines” about the DC Metro.  Over a period of about 36 hours, it traces the lives and interplay among several characters in south London, with a central event being a horrific slaying of a gay man in a London park. 

The film was originally produced as British made-for-TV and ran 2 hours, and was condensed to about 100 minutes for DVD release on E-1 and Regent.  It may have played in some LGBT festivals. The concept is quite intriguing and some of the characters are quite compelling, but not all of them.  The film seems uneven, but that may be because of the cuts.  (Why not release the entire original?)

The opening of the film is interesting to me, as one of the characters is walking through a featureless tunnel, almost a metaphor for passing on.  That character, who is African American, does feel taunted, but he is more of a foreshadow for the main course of drama to follow.  The tunnel metaphor appears again a few time.

The main story begins with a gay wedding, or civil union (this is 2006 in Britain). It’s lavish, almost to the level of “Melancholia”, and even offers some music from the finale of Saint-Saens’s Organ Symphony (competition, it seems, for William and Catherine picking the music of Hubert Parry right before they tie the knot.)  The partners are Will (Richard Lintern) and Gavin (Stuart Bunce).  But Will gets distracted soon by a sudden fad for a handsome waiter Alfie (David Leon).  (“Alfie” was a famous British comedy in 1996, remade in 2004.) Alfie, unfortunately, will stumble into tragedy later.

Other subplots meander, however. The most important concerns a teen, Theo (Luke Treadway, 22 when the film was made, and definitely too “mature” now on imdb for the role), who takes a liking to thrity-something Tim (Joseph Mawle), making eye contact and later watching him from an apartment window. Trying to get away from his overprotective grandmother, he eventually visits Tim and begs for some personal attention, manipulating the older man quite cleverly.  It is definitely possible for adults to get into trouble with minors this way because the minor is “mature for his age” (as Theo is) and can manipulate him.  It’s also a difficult topic for film, as in the 2003 movie “Student Seduction” (reviewed here May 4, 2010), but it puts a different spin on the “Dateline Problem”.   This situation propels the film toward a big climax to supplement the tragedy that has already happened. 

There is a dinner scene near the end where the grandmother asks why gays think they have a problem, “they” got their rights now, right?  Why can’t they just keep their ideas to themselves and leave “normal people” alone (so “normal people” can function without having to think about themselves)?  There’s another great line to the effect, “I don’t have kids because I’m gay”.

The music score uses Bach’s unaccompanied cello music a lot.

The film is quite explicit in a few places, and would probably get an NC-17 if shown in US theaters.   But I think we need films with real substance intended just for adults.  In this case, the explicit scenes are necessary to convey the entire meaning. I wonder if the full length version covers the questions about hate crimes against gays; it appears in this film that the perpetrators don’t get caught. One could otherwise compare this movie to films about Matthew Shepard (“Anatomy of a Hate Crime”, and “The Laramie Project” (plays blog, Dec. 17, 2010). This film should have become better known than it is.

The actual location in London has a site here. The area was apparently affect by flash mobs during the looting crisis in 2011.


 This might be a place to mention another Strand film, "Frisk", from 1995, directed by Todd Verow, based on a novel by Dennis Cooper where the novel author apparently admits to horrific deeds or inclinations in a letter early in the film, which leads to a first-person rendition of the deeds in the film, which are quite graphic. A potential legal oddity. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"A Separation" (from Iran) presents divorce, eldercare, and "bribery" in a complex moral drama

The film “A Separation” (“Jodaeiye Nader az Simin”), from Iran (director Asghar Farhadi), certainly provides a roadmap for how we construct and resolve moral dilemmas. The story provides a good case for the “collective good” aim of moral principles common in most religious scriptures (whether the Koran, the Bible, the Book of Mormon), and yet at its conclusion makes personal honor an absolute.  That is to say, the “hero”, dutiful husband Nader (Peyman Moadi, who makes himself energetic and likeable), finally has to decide an issue on the basis of whether he really did anything wrong, rather than on what resolves the needs for two families.  All religions have to deal with these kinds of situations.  And so do all reputable legal systems.

Simini, Nader’s wife (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran to give a better life for her blossoming daughter Tehmeh (Tarina Farhadi).  Nader, however, cannot leave his father, deteriorating rapidly with Alzheimer’s disease, alone.  As the movie opens, they want a pragmatic, no-fault divorce which the religious cleric (under Shiite law) cannot allow.  She goes away briefly, while Nader tries to hire a caregiver, who, a female, at first wonders if she can even provide the physical care that the aging father needs.  After some mishaps, Nader tries to fire her, and as she leaves the apartment, she falls and soon miscarries.  There follows a complex battle in which Nader is accused of causing the death of the unborn child, but even that does not account for all of the moral complexity.

The film takes place mostly in door, with a lot of rapid, heated dialogue; the technical quality of the film isn’t quite up to contemporary standards, and the top and bottom were cropped slightly to fit into 1.85:1. 

The practical difficulties of caring for the father, who no longer recognizes his son, are well demonstrated.
The official site is here. It had played in the New York, Telluride, and Toronto film festivals and won the Golden Globe for best foreign language picture.

Update: Dec, 8, 2015

There is a 52-minute documentary on this film by Azadeh Moussavi and Kouroush Ataee.  Farhadi explains how he was inspired to make the film by an image of a man bathing his grandfather.  Later the documentary traces the awards circuit for the film and the difficulty it can cause Farhadi when he returns to Iran.  It also mentions that politics of the US trying to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons. The documentary was placed on a separate DVD, for the film "About Elly" (here, Dec. 4, 2015)/

Friday, January 20, 2012

"Space Tourists" (from Sundance library) shows civilians who will pay millions to pay to be trained as astronauts

Sundance is offering a 2009 documentary by Christian Frei, “Space Tourists”, which documents the experience of several civilians around the world who have paid up to $20 million to fly on Russian or European space shuttles. 

The documentary is in segments, including an effort in Kazakhstan with a young adult Iranian woman as a tourist (more or less taking the first hour), and then another project in Romania (from the viewpoint of a young engineer), and then a presentation of Russia’s Star City, where Charles Simonyi, architect of Microsoft Word and Excel, is trained, in a variety of situations (centrifuge, zero gravity, wilderness survival).  Imagine paying millions of your own money to do this?  Will Mark Zuckerberg try it (having the advantage of youth)?  Simonyi comments that this is like military life. (For survival training, they are given weapons with one round.)  The young woman says she is willing not to come back from space.

There is also a section where ragtag engineers camp out on the steppes to recover components of the Soyuz as it falls.

Much of the early part is photographed by young Norwegian Jonas Bendiksen, who explains the physics of a lot of the shuttle work.

Toward the end, there is an effective animation of a lunar landing echoing the mood of Kubrick’s “2001”.
This film (as well as Thursday’s here) comes from a list of “New discoveries from Sundance film festival”.  I could not find these in the 2012 alphabetized list  (here ).
Here is the official site for this film. 

There is a review today of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” on my “films on threats to freedom” blog (see Profile, look for “cf”).

"Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel" traces Corman's record career with B-movies, indie film, and actually some real art film; he is "an artist"

Alex Stapelton’s “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel” documents the career of director/producer Roger Corman who produced and/or directed more movies (almost 400) than any other person.  Perhaps he invented both the B-movie and the independent film. Now 85, he sounds as sharp as ever. He has the focused mind of a Jimmy Carter. (Imdb credits him with producing 398 movies and directing 56.)

Corman made an early alliance with the infamous American International Pictures, known for motorcycle movies (“The Wild Angels”), and then, after a falling out, founded New World Pictures.  

The documentary shows a huge library of excerpts, which show how effective low budget carnage can be.  There interviews with many other Hollywood stars, including Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson (who looks fat), and Eli Roth (“Hostel”), who looks cute.

Corman tried making some “quality” film with social statements, as in 1962 with “The Intruder” where a man  (William Shatner) tries to stir up reform in the segregated south – a precursor to the horrible disaster in Mississippi in 1964 with the three voting activists.  No one (including AIP) wanted this film at the time. 
Corman also started importing foreign film, especially Ingmar Bergman, through his New World Pictures (for example, “Cries and Whispers”), because he had developed a way to market independent film with the business models of the day.

I saw this film at the West End Cinema.

The official site (Anchor Bay) is here

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sundance offers "Advise & Dissent", examining the process of selecting Supreme Court justices

Sundance is offering some of the films from the current festival for online viewing, from this link

I watched “Advise & Dissent” (or “Advise and Dissent”), 2009, from David Van Taylor and Lumiere Films. This documentary looks at the process of picking justices for the Supreme Court, through the eyes of the “Third Branch Conference” as well as political pressure groups on both sides, ranging from People for the American Way to the Family Research Council.  The Cato Institute is mentioned in the credits.

Much of the film covers confirmation hearings of President Bush’s appointments of Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito, along with the failed appointment of Harriet Miers.  Roberts was non-committal in his answers (he had to be pressed to name his favorite movies – “Dr. Zhivago” and “North by Northwest” but not “Casablanca”).  Alito was challenged heavily as to his record as an appeals court judge but at the end he received an apology for the grilling.

The early part of the film makes a big point of the tendency of the religious right to manipulative language of freedom for its own reactionary mindset.  The 1987 hearings of Judge Bork (“Slouching Toward Gomorrah”) are excerpted, and at one point Bork is grilled as to his views of the right to privacy. Bork fires back “privacy to do what?”  Later the right wing complains about the “minions on the Left” and that includes George Soros!  (In my own DADT book, I had coined the phrase “nightbreed minions”, referring to a Clive Barker film.)  It’s clear that the Right wants to retain the “freedom” to barge into the personal lives of people it considers dependent or morally less worthy. The film does mention many of the decisions eventually rooted in large part on privacy, ranging from Griswold v. Connecticut (contraception, even within marriage, 1962) to Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Of course Roe v. Wade (1973) is mentioned, and it has always seemed that the abortion issue is a proxy for a larger issue of willingness to commit to protecting the vulnerable. 

The official site is here.

I chose the YouTube option to watch the film, for $2.99 (48 hour rental, convenient  automatic charge for those with Google accounts).  Low-cost YouTube licensed rental of new independent films sounds like a constructive answer to Hollywood’s complaints about piracy, giving some more money, however modest, back to filmmakers.

But it concerns me that it took a film that is this important two years to get into the festival circuit and become available for watching even with paid rental. (See review Friday -- this is in Sundance library but I couldn't find in 2012 list.) 

The Sundance Film Festival runs in Utah Jan 19-Jan 29.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Paranormal Activity 2" no longer has much punch

I got around to seeing “Paranormal Activity 2” finally, and found what seemed to be the same family carrying on its handheld, Dogme-style documentation of haunting, a year later.

After an apparent burglarly, the family sets up more security camera equipment and record everything on a DVR.  They also hire a nanny, who soon informs them of more problems.  The film progresses much as the first one did, with many black-and-white clips of “activity” caused by unseen entities in the middle of the night, and then even during the day.

This time, the demons make Biblical or Passover-style rules, threatening family members based on their position in the family (putting the first-born male up as collateral). The film gets speed toward the end, leading to sudden and abrupt violence.  In a different kind of film, we’d call it tragedy. 

It’s interesting how old fashioned “family values” make everyone vulnerable.

Katie Featherstone and Michah Sloat star as “themselves”, although Micah’s “future” may now be with the undead. 

This sort of film was so effective when new (like “The Blair Witch Project”).  Sequels tend to get stale, and you need to see it in a theater with other people to feel scared.

Paramount has found this little franchise a real cash cow. (It really should be branded as “Paramount Vantage”.)  This second film (2010) cost just $3 million.  It’s directed by Tod Williams, whose 2004 film “The Door in the Floor” gave us Jon Foster as Eddie O’Hare, the young man hired by a Long Island family in disarray, maybe a mini version of “Revenge”. 

I do hear sounds in my own house at night.  The plumbing?  Squirrels on the roof?

Picture: I know that is based on "V for Vendetta".  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Angelina Jolie's "In the Land of Blood and Honey" is brutal

In the Land of Blood and Honey” is indeed a hard and brutal film to watch.  New director Angelina Jolie pulls no punches in conveying to us the horror of the violence in Bosnia in the early 1990s, and provides us with some explanation. After the Communists left and Yugoslavia broke apart, the ethnic factions and jealousies exploded.  The atrocities in the film are comparable to those of the Nazis.
The story is a “love story” of sorts, across factions (like Crosby’s 1970s novel “An Affair of Strangers”).  Danijel, a Serbian cop and soldier (Goran Kostic) sees Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a Muslim.  The relationship will indeed be challenged by the circumstances, and to say too much more would spoil things.  But the conflict within Danijel is of an existential nature.

Life is indeed cheap as atrocities are carried out against civilians, especially women.  Among the men, loyalties are tested in simple ways, with sudden horrific consequences for slipups.

This is, after all, a story about tribalism.  In the film, the Serbs say they resent subservience to the interest of Muslims.  I recall a Time Magazine cover in 1993 titled "Bosnia", at a time when, with public attention on gays in the military and Waco (the early days of Clinton), very few people understood what was going on. 

Much of the film was shot on location in Sarajevo, which still looks ragged. Much of it is in winter, and there seems to be plenty of snow. 

I saw this Monday night in the Landmark E Street in Washington DC and it was well attended.

The link is here

The film was produced by GK films (a major British producer that often works with Paramount) and distributed by Film District (“Drive”).  Jolie is also listed as a producer. 

In 2001, there was a similarly titled film "Milk and Honey" produced by Joe Maggio, about a NYC man deteriorating in a series of relationships.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

"The Iron Lady": Meryl Streep becomes Margaret Thatcher (the conservatism is softly pedaled)

The Iron Lady” (directed by Phyllida Lloyd) is a somewhat extravagant biography of Margaret Thatcher (b. 1925), the “conservative” British politician, serving in Parliament from 1959-1970, Education Secretary until 1974, leader of the Conservative Party until 1979, and then Prime Minister until 1990.

The film is told through fluid flashbacks, generated naturally as Thatcher cleans out her husband’s belongings after he passes.  The film starts with her buying a pint of milk. 

Meryl Streep really is amazing as Thatcher, and totally Brit.  Nothing of the eclecticism of her many past roles (as in “Sophie’s Choice) comes through. (I have imagined Streep as right for the part of “high school principal” in my own “Do Ask Do Tell” screenplay.)  The makeup must have been amazing. James Broadbent  (whom I remember most from HBO’s 2006 film “Longford” from Tom Hooper, depicting the Lord’s work with prisoners).  Streep won the Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a drama (story).

Thatcher herself is slowing down in present day, and life is getting a bit tedious. She would be 86 now.  That’s really not that old.

The film does not explain her philosophy in a lot of detail, but she says her beliefs are based on saving Britain.  There is a scene where she talks with her husband about the difference between “feelings” and “thoughts”.  People need to pay more attention to “thoughts”.

Nevertheless, the anger and indignation of some of the public comes through, in the demonstrations and sometimes (IRA-related) violence.  Her defense cuts help tempt the rebels in Argentina into the Falklands war, with tragic loss of life to families of British sailors.

As a biography, and with a somewhat artificial narrative construct, the film doesn't have the tension of some other historical dramas (compare to "The King's Speech" in Dec. 2010). 

The film is distributed in the US by the Weinstein Company, but has large corporate support in Britain, including Film Four, Pathe and 20th Century Fox. 

I believe I spotted one person I know personally as an uncredited extra.  

The official site is here

I saw it late Sunday afternoon at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA in the largest auditorium, about three-fourths full.  It is shot in full 2.35:1 aspect.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Thatcher with Reagans.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Bridesmaids" set to frolic at the Golden Globes; it doesn't help "straight" marriage

Even before “Melancholia”, Hollywood seemed to like botched or compromised weddings, especially in the year that William and Catherine tied the knot.  In the spring, a rather long and bloated comedy, “Bridesmaids” (directed by Paul Feig, produced in part by Judd Apatow), from Universal and Relativity, became all the rage, and is getting a lot of attention at the Golden Globes.

Annie (Kirsten Wiig) is invited to become the maid of honor for the wedding of “best” friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph).  In the situation comedy to follow, a lot of jealousies grow, especially from Helen (Rose Byrne). In the scramble that follows, Annie develops a “relationship” with a cop (Chris O’Dowd) who stops her for a broken tail light;  a salmonella vomit-fest occurs (anticipating Polanski’s “Carnage”), and Annie, refusing to let her rival buy her a first class airline ticket, goes bonkers and gets kicked off a plane, which has to land in Wyoming. (Something like this really happened in 2001, shortly before 9/11.)  Then she gets kicked out of the bridal shower itself.

At least there’s no Brown Dwarf approaching and threatening to swallow up the earth anyway. And there’s no music by Wagner, but a great lilt in the 20 or so songs that play (“Rip her to shreds”, “Hold out for one more day”. 

Sister Brynn is played by Rebel Wilson, who looks like a younger Kathy Bates.

This movie will do the institution of heterosexual marriage as much good as did “Melancholia”.

 Maybe we should watch MGM’s 1954 frolic “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

By the way, Annie is supposed to live in Wisconsin (like angels Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in "Dogma"), and to its credit, some of the film was shot there. 

Official site is here.You can rent the movie from YouTube online for $3.99. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Roman Polanski puts "God of Carnage" on screen -- and takes himself so seriously

The film “Carnage”, directed by Roman Polanski, rather reminded me of my experience in 1967 or so seeing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”, that in black and white, at the huge Granada theater in downtown Lawrence, Kansas when I was in grad school.  I still remember the sniping in Mike Nichols’s film based on Edward Albee’s play.

This new little film mostly takes place in a Brooklyn apartment, overlooking the East River, not so far from my favorite “Bargemusic”.  It’s shot in full 2.35:1 to mimic the effect of a stage, where the four “grown up” characters can snipe at each other, and worse (that in a moment).  I wondered in the credits why it took film companies in four countries and a horde of carpenters to make a movie that could have worked Dogme style with ordinary video in a typical larger NYC apartment.  (This is my second "Brooklyn" film in a week; "Pariah" was filmed nearby.) 

The movie is based on the play by Yasmina Reza, “God of Carnage”, and was on Broadway.  And the movie pretty much is a play.

In the quick prologue, one boy punches another with a stick on a NYC park.  Then, Alan and Nancy (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet), whose son was the alleged bully, are visiting Michael and Penelope (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster), parents of the victim, to make amends.  They keep trying to leave the apartment on amicable terms, and stuff happens.   First, the “home team” offers peach cobbler (a mistake, it turns out) and espresso; then Alan keeps getting Blackberry calls about a case.

The vocational information is interesting. Penelope is a writer (“I wrote a book”) and had a book on art history co-published through the establishment, and is working on a project involving Darfur. Her husband is a handyman salesman. That seems odd.  But Jodie Foster acts appropriate but. But Nancy is an investment banker and Alan some sort of liability lawyer. Alan keeps on talking about corporate press releases and blogs when he takes the phone calls, so the theme of “credibility” in media seems important.

But things go downhill.  The constant “false starts” on “leaving” and not making it on to the elevator take their toll.  Nancy suddenly doesn’t feel well, says she is nauseated, and becomes much more argumentative.  Suddenly, she vomits all over the hosts’ art history books.  It seems like, her lunch, let alone the cobbler, didn't "digest". 

The small audience at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington was giggling a lot now.  The slide continues, and it turns into women vs. men.   Nancy, despite her total loss of control, starts drinking heavily and behaves even worse.  The limits of technology will be tested deliberately.

In the end, I wondered, what is the point?   My Army buddies would have said, there is no point in this 80-minute exercise (but the play must have fared well enough -- it's considered a "comedy").  It simply turns into black comedy.  Oh, yes, there is some argument about marriage, and men saying that having kids (through wives) has just become too dangerous for them, and that women are too much trouble.  Is the point, then, to document the slide of “marriage” as a civilizing institution? Maggie Gallagher would then love this movie.  It’s their kids who “pay”.  At least, there’s no rogue planet approaching Earth in the last scene.

Official site from Sony Pictures Classics is here ; Sony apparently was in on this film from the beginning.  The film was an Opening Night attraction for the New York Film Festival in 2011. 

What would Woody Allen do with this material?

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows": great entertainment, and a pre-history of what caused World War I (and everything since)

Movies are supposed to take you into a different world, and the “sequel” (number II), “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” does just that, demonstrating with presto-moving images the opportunities provided by technology of the 1890s in England and France.  It garners effectiveness from Hans Zimmer’s orchestral score, somewhat reminiscent of “Inception”; here, he treats us to a pacing 2/4 march (almost like the “Tom Thumb March” from the John Thompson piano course), working in some Richard Strauss, and in one embedded opera scene, the climax of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which comes out as so brutally effective (see April 9, 2011 here for a review of the film of the opera).

The plot is politically important, too.  Warmongering “Professor” James Moriarty (Jared Harris)  makes his fortune setting up a military-industrial complex, then setting off incidents so that the great powers will go to war and buy his munitions.   (His quote, “people have an innate desire for conflict.”) This is terrorism for profit, as a business.  He’s even trying to set up a major assassination at a summit in Switzerland.  We all know that about 25 years later, he would get his wish, and World War I would ignite.  Sherlock (Robert Downey Jr.) is his enemy, and he has targeted a gypsy Sim (Noomi Rapace) because her brother had worked with Holmes.

Early in the film, Dr. Watson (Jude Law) marries Mary (Kelly Reilly), in a bucolic countrified scene that comprises somewhat less than the royal treatment offered William and Catherine.  The relationship of affection between Sherlock and Watson continues, however; and in the chase scenes – especially on the train – there is some “accidental” (in one place, quite graphic) intimacy .  Watson has made himself into the “marrying kind” with an eye to occasional initiation.

Technically, the film runs non-stop with well-imagined events and quick shots.  At the summit, Watson plays a chess game with Moriarty, who opens as White with “1 P-QB4” (the English Opening).  Pretty soon, they are calling out moves to each other;  Holmes, as Black (playing a reversed Sicilian, maybe)  plays a queen sacrifice and pulls off a tricky brilliancy for a checkmate, the game ending on a discovered check.  (Remember the chess game in the first Harry Potter movie?)

I saw this on a free pass in a smaller auditorium at the Regal in Arlington VA, but the technical problems had been fixed: the surround sound was working right again, and the projection was perfect.   If you can find it in a big auditorium with digital projection, see it there.  Regal, by the way, has an ad to encourage in-theater experiences: “Go Big or Go Home” with an image of a miniaturized flatscreen TV.

Hollywood threw its corporate biggest to make this film: Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow (actually an Australian company) and Legendary, directed by Guy Ritchie.  I didn't see a budget on IMDB, must have been at least $150 million.  Filming was done in the UK, France and Switzerland, and postprocessing in the UK.

Is it time for another visit to England?

The official site is here

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Swimming in Auschwitz": documentary by six survivors re-airs on some PBS stations

On Wednesday, Howard University Television aired a slightly condensed version of the documentary by Jon Kean, “Swimming in Auschwitz: Six Stories of Survival”, from Bala Cynwyd Productions.

Six Jewish women who survived the notorious concentration camp in the Holocaust tell their stories. The narrative is spliced with many black-and-white film clips and photos of life in to-be-occupied Europe before World War II.

The women include Renee Firestone, Erika Jacoby and Lili Majzner.

In most cases, the women report a relatively rewarding middle-class life being taken from them by outside invading enemies. 

One woman from Czechoslovakia said that she had been told her country was a Republic modeled after the United States.  Nevertheless, it was easily overrun.  She described a life of outings and theater that was replaced by curfews, and eventual deportations.  Eventually she would have a taste of the old life, pretended, in the Paradise Ghetto Theresienstadt, before a three day train trip to the camps.  (The same sequence is followed in Herman Wouk’s epic “War and Remembrance”.)  Another was told that the Germans were a well-educated people, and such people aren’t aggressors.  One woman from the Netherlands described a strict upbringing in foster care and not noticing the loss of freedom.

The women described the harrowing process of arrival at Birkenau, with the segregation of women, and their shoring which they specifically say included the humiliation of removal of all body hair as well.   (There is a scene like that involving gale male prisoners in the 1996 film “Bent”, based on the play by Martin Sherman.)    The film shows the notorious “Arbeit macht frei” sign several times, and the women say that when they first arrived, after the three days in the box cars, they were curiously “relieved”; it didn’t “look bad” at first, for about the first hour there.

During the last months, before liberation, some of the women were removed from the camps and sent to German factories as slave labor. The Nazis wanted to eliminate evidence of what they had done (and eliminate witnesses).

Erika Jacoby is  introduced at a performance of the film in this YouTube welcome by Dr. Spiegel.

There is a very short YouTube vidoe by Jarke Mensfelt showing the actual "swimming pool". 

Visitors might be gently “warned” that YouTube has a  nearby nine-minute video by “Nokikov” that presents, rather flippantly, the Holocaust denial argument  mentioning the pools and other "luxuries" (it carries a user-generated warning).

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Birkenau gate.  I visited on May 25, 1999, by hired taxi, after arriving in Cracow that morning on a night train from Berlin. 

The most harrowing moment in all of the movies about the place is the flashback scene in Alan J. Pakula’s film “Sophie’s Choice” (1982, based on the book by Wiliam Styron) where Sophie (a younger Meryl Streep) has to choose between two children as she arrives at the camp. I remember seeing this at Northpark in Dallas that year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

LDS visitor's center: "Joseph Smith" and "The Testaments"

I journeyed to the Mormon Temple Visitor’s Center in Kensington, MD yesterday to see the two largest films offered.

In the main auditorium I saw “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration” (61 min), on a big screen that appeared to be Imax, the aspect cropped to almost 2.35:1.   The photography of early 19th Century America is crisp and stunning (almost like 3-D without the need for glasses), with a tendency to add reddish hue to some scenes, giving some of the foliage an almost extraterrestrial look at times.  The LDS church is very capable of making professional-quality film. 

The 15-year-old Joseph Smith comes across as the world’s nicest teen, who has taught himself to read well enough to decipher the golden plates he discovers.  The religious family and community around him discourages his new ideas, but in time he perseveres.   In the early part of the film, it almost seems as though a whole new religious movement gets started by the charisma of a prescient teenage boy.  (No, I don’t think that Justin Bieber could start a church.) But the actor who plays the young man looks different, but more like the usual pictures of Smith.  Out of very little substance Smith seems to win converts to his idea that the real apostles are to be “restored”.   The film also focuses on the idea that restoration offers salvation to everyone, even those who have already passed away.  (The film presents a link between the passing of his own older brother and then the latter practice of being baptized for the “dead”.  The film doesn’t go into deals about the theology of the pre-existing soul or the stages of afterlife.)    The rest of the film traces the persecution of the Mormons in various places in the Midwest until Brigham Young takes them to Utah.  The angel is shown as a “person” only once.  It’s ironic that a religious group that was so persecuted would favor a society that is even more socially conservative and nuclear-family-oriented.  The film does stress the importance of gender and family roles and does mention the concept of “eternal marriage”. 

I was the only person in the auditorium for the 12:30 show, which seemed to be "just for me". Two young women entered and told me that the story was “true” and started to proselytize a little.

The church staff said the film was shot in 2005 and also has a slightly longer 69-minute version (which may explain more theology). 

Many films, mostly about the LDS Church and its leaders in more detail, are available to be seen in request in the smaller auditoriums.   But I saw the other better known film, “The Testaments: One Fold and One Shepherd” (64 min), also in full Cinemascope.  The film traces the history of an artisan and his son in a Mayan community in parallel to the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. After the Resurrection, and a catastrophe at the Mayan temple settlement, Christ appears and restores sight to the artisan.  One item of accuracy: most of the Mayan areas were in relatively flat country, without the green mountains shown (and probably inserted with CGI) in the film. 

As far as anthropological evidence (or lack of) for Mormon progeny in the New World among Native Americans, see footnote 104 on this Wikipedia reference, link

I did see these films the same day that Mitt Romney was winning the New Hampshire 2012 primary – and that’s a convenient coincidence.

The Mayan history that we know well (when the Mayan cities were well established) would take place about 1000 years later, before the Maya would fail.  Mel Gibson has made the two “Hollywood” films that seem most relevant: "Apocalypto", for Touchstone Pictures, in 2006; and “The Passion of the Christ” for New Market Films, the last film I would see with my mother in 2004.

In 2007, Christopher Cain directed a frontier film “September Dawn” about offshoot sect from Mormonism and a confrontation with pioneers on September 11, 1857.  “God’s Army” (2000), by Richard Dutcher), shows the life of Mormon missionaries in California: the young men pay for their own missions.  And “Latter Days”, by Jay Cox, tells the story of a missionary who discovers that he is gay.    

When I was in the Army (1969), one soldier was doing genealogy and was considering asking for a recommend in the Mormon Church. 

Mormonism certainly strikes me, at least, as having a “works-based” concept of salvation. Are people called to "live with God" or to "become Gods"?   

Actually, cosmological physics (especially the Second Law of Thermodynamics) and mathematics would have a lot to say about the potential of immortality.  One might be able to prove mathematically that only a finite number of souls could enjoy immortality, it seems to me.   The concept of entropy would explain why reproduction (procreation) is necessary.

The Washington Post has a major story on Mormon social values (by Michelle Boorstein) Jan. 12, here.  A larger percentage of Mormons than of the general population believe that being a successful parent is the most important thing one can do and believe that having a good marriage is mandatory.  Note that the moral belief centers on the idea that a person is required to perform a pre-existing obligation (getting and staying married and raising children as an oblication), rather than follow through on a choice already made (having sexual intercourse that happens to result in children), the latter of which has become the "libertarian" idea of personal responsibility.

The Pew Research Center has a report Jan. 12, 2012, "Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society", here

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Exam": a "closed room experiment" leads to articulation of a curious proposal about longevity

Okay, high school kids (or maybe college students), here’s a movie for you, “Exam”, from Stuart Hazeldine based on a story by Simon Garrity.  Or I could say, here’s a tight thriller for job applicants.

Actually, the situation, of putting some people (or just one person) into a mysterious enclosure and letting him (them) solve a puzzle has been tried before, as with “Fermat’s Room”  (reviewed April 19, 2009), or “The Interview” (1999), an Aussie film from Craig Monahan, a big hit at a Twin Cities film festival).

Eight job applicants report to a windowless room for the final “test” for a selection process for a mystery British company.  Supposedly they will sit for a written exam, and they’re told that they can’t leave the room, “soil” their own paper, or talk to the guard.   The invigilator  (that is, proctor) does talk up the life-changing benefits of joining such a superior “organization”.   Pretty soon they all notice there are no questions on the exam.  They’re not told they can’t work together.  Remember how in high school that students felt more comfortable doing projects “in groups”.  

The characters have nicknames like those in a board game: Black, White (from chess), Brown, Dark, Blonde, Brunette.  One imagines Clue tokens.  They try some experiments that causes the lighting in the room to darken to ultraviolet and then infrared, giving this film, shot in 2.35:1, a contradictory closeted, minimalist look.  It seems to want to be a stage play.  The film had opened identifying each character and showing some mundane details of interview preparation.

In time, some possibilities come out of the woodwork. Some of the contestants might already be with the company.  And one of the contestants, the most articulate and aggressive (White, played by Luke Mably),, is infected with a deadly virus and requires an antidote. The company, which we learn is a pharmaceutical, not only manufactures the antiviral drug but has patented a way to extract from the virus (or antibodies related to it) gene therapy drugs (maybe augmented by nanotechnology, as per Michio Kaku and his “Physics of the Future”, books reviews,  May 23, 2011) to maintain the fountain of youth, maybe for everyone.  (The applicants, in their 20s, have been told they would work for 80 years.)  The company is on the verge of enormous profits.

I wondered at first if the virus was based on HIV, but it doesn’t sound like it. There’s no virus I know of that fits the profile in the fictitious movie.  Nevertheless, the irony, that a deadly virus could form the pharmaceutical basis of developing a potion that prolongs life almost indefinitely, is a fascinating one.  True, since the film was made, the mere act of experimenting with deadly viruses has drawn public criticism, as with the recent stories about an artificial H5N1 and the controversy over publishing the details.  It is true that infection by an innocuous virus can be therapeutic. For example, asthma patients sometimes find their symptoms lessen when they have a common cold, because the rhinovirus gives their immune cells something else to do. 
The film lists IFC as the distributor, and has not had a theatrical release in the US.  I don’t know why it hasn’t.  Maybe the West End in Washington DC would look into it.  This film definitely should be offered in arthouse theaters. 

I watched it in instant replay from Netflix on a reasonable sound system, and the schmaltzy score by Stephen Barton was impressive.  I had accidentally mailed in the DVD (the wrong one) and was lucky it was available on replay, so I watched it immediately yesterday.  (I don't have a quarrel with Netflix's recent "restructuring"; DVD's are starting to arrive damaged with scratches, and instant broadband playback is becoming the norm; you still pay for it, average of about $3 a movie.) It was a fortunate “mistake” because the “idea” (about the longevity cure) applies to my own novel.

IFC official site is here

 Second picture: from a freshman physics lab notebook.  Hardly trials for an anti-HIV drug. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

"Release" is another curious UK film from Flaxstone, is all over the map with prison, the Catholic church, and the "priest problem"

Another gritty British drama from Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin poses a “what if” question as a troubled priest approaches his day of release from a roughshod prison in Bristol England. The film is titled, simply enough, "Release", a name which alone doesn't mean much. 

Jack Gillie (Daniel Brocklebank) has a clandestine in-cell relationship with another guard Martin (Garry Summers) and has adjusted to the violence well enough to try to defend younger cell mate Rook (Wayne Virgo) from assaults by the other prisoners, who assume Jack’s imprisonment has to do with the recent priest scandals in the Catholic Church.  Jack is presented as lean, rather virile and in his own way attractive.
Jack relives his story in flashbacks, and in the middle of the film we see the peculiar tragedy (involving  a boy he thought he could aid) that led to his imprisonment.   As his release approaches, another elder of the Church (Dan Jones) scolds him not for his acts but simply for acting out on his homosexuality.  The cardinal makes a lot of the idea that the Church requires everyone to accept his own personal cross, which for some men will be difficulties with women.  Then just as the “Release” to the Outside world occurs, another tragedy strikes, literally from a cross.   We even get a glimpse of what a man experiences at death.

Catholicism in England is perhaps locally controversial; Andrew Sullivan has written about it a lot.

The official site (TLA Releasing) is here.  The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99 and is available on DVD (but not streaming) from Netflix.

“Secret of the Rosary” Films offers two short films on YouTube,  the “Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”. They're not pleasant to listen to. 

The notorious 1986 "objective disorder" phrase is "explained" and later "idolatry" is mentioned in textual analysis.  Bluntly speaking, the theology gets into (feminine) "self indulgence", denial of complementarity and the refusal to "give of oneself" and show willingness to create and bring up new life (children).  The Church imagines that God has mapped out everyone's purpose even if allowing Free Will.  Toward the end (the video has no change in visual image and the speaker talks in monotone), the material hints at the dangers of HIV.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Canadian director Cronenberg does a microscopic history of psychoanalysis in "A Dangerous Method" (remember "Spider"?)

It’s appropriate for me, in reviewing David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” to first recap some of my own experience with psychotherapy and “analysis” of sorts.

The “diagnostic interview” started with an “emergency” visit at 6 PM to a psychiatrist in NW Washington Nov. 30, 1961, two days after my William and Mary expulsion. Then was a period of visits to a therapist on Glebe Road in Arlington, in a second floor office of a high rise apartment. He would suggest the inpatient experiment at NIH, which started in July 1962.

Each patient had individual therapy three times a week. There was group therapy, family therapy, family art therapy, unit government, and group activities.  And I was the only patient who went to college nights. 

The individual therapy sessions went around in circles, as I looked for the grand revelation, that magical fix. 

The therapist seemed to want to prod into my fantasies, and face what purpose the fantasies served.
The female patients tended to be less intact than the males, because of how they had been selected. I can only guess what their individual therapy might have been like, but an early scene in the film gives a hint.

A somewhat violent femalel Sabina (Keira Knightley) is brought into a Swiss mental hospital in 1904. Although there are some shock scenes (cold bath), the main therapy is the  “talking cure”.  Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) proposes to “just talk” a couple hours a day, sitting behind her so she can’t see him.  At the beginning, she is hard to control. She is what I called (in my NIH days) a “g.d. MP”.

He uses the methods of psychoanalysis he has learned from Sigmund Freud.  He gets her out of herself, and into expressing the at first unbelievable goal she has of becoming a doctor herself.   Then he travels to Vienna to meet Freud (Viggo Mortensen) himself.  Their potential disagreement begins to develop, as Freud has a surprising aversion to too much escapist fantasy.   Jung begins to fall in love with his patient, while still acting dutiful to his wife (Emma Sarah Gadon).

The film is sketchy on the substance of most of Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, but provides an alternative with Sabina’s ideas, once she is well enough to be ready for real life and school. Sabina says that sex necessarily requires that one put his ego at risk for loss, or at least for a person’s sense of change into something else.  That sounds like a theory of marriage, where the man and woman are transformed into new sense of self with permanent love, while abandoning earlier modes of fantasy that had been used to build the ego. (That point seemed to come out in my own experience at NIH in 1962). 

In the 1970s, I was connected to a group in New York City called the Ninth Street Center, founded by Paul Rosenfels, whose best known book is “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process” (1972), reviewed in Books blog April 12, 2006.  Sabina’s ideas sound predictive of Paul’s theory of “polarities”, where personality specializations are independent of biological gender.  (The group is known today as The Paul Rosenfels Community, link here )   Paul had authored several other books in his days of working as a psychiatrist, such as “Love and Power”.  I do have at home a DVD with BW footage from the talk groups in the 1980s.

The film is distributed in the US by Sony Pictures Classics, but by Lionsgate in Britain and Universal in some countries.  It was produced by resources in Canada, Germany and the UK.  The official Sony site is here

The music score, adapted by Howard Shore, uses a lot of the music from Wagner’s Siegfried, including a piano rendition of the “Siegfried Iydll”.  There is a scene where the “Ride of the Valkyries” is played on an old victrola dating to just before World War I (the main part of the movie runs through 1913).

I saw the film late Saturday night at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington in front of a moderate crowd. 

In early 2003, I attended a screening of Cronenberg’s “Spider” at the Landmark Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis, with Cronenberg present for a Q&A.  That film followed mentally ill man released to a halfway house in Canada. I remember the menace of the simple quilt images. 

Saturday, January 07, 2012

"The Wedding Weekend" aka "Shut Up and Sing" fought more than one battle around 2006

There is a film “The Wedding Weekend”, a comedy directed by Bruce Leddy, distributed in 2007 by Strand Releasing and First Run, that “Creative America” says was harmed by piracy attempts just before release (see my Dec. 7 posting for “Stolen Jobs”).  The film is also known (overseas) as “Shut Up and Sing”, which is the name of the production company and a key line in the script, but that brings up another point, to be covered below.

Six guys who had formed an a cappella group in college reunite fifteen years later for a friend’s  (Mark Feuerstein) wedding in the Hamptons on Long Island.  The guys have varying success in life and look pretty good (particularly Spooner [Chris Bowers], but are concerned about their lack of commitment and wayward lives. They worry that their lives will soon go downhill as they approach life’s midpoints (they say it’s 11:30 AM on a 24 hour day.)  One of them (David Harbour) worries about a receding hairline, which really isn’t noticeable.  They get in trouble, all right, with a police sting for prostitution, and don’t “stay out of jail”.  One of the guys has gotten fired for cause, tries to shoot himself, and his girlfriend (some of the old girl friends are there) dumps him.

The script is appropriately flippant. When the future groom announced “Fellows, I’m getting married”, the guys ask “when’s the baby”, and later express their own resignation to the necessity of marriage. (I think of “My Fair Lady”: “Why can’t a woman by more like a man”.)

The film has many songs but comes across as situation-to-romantic comedy, not a musical. (It’s really not like “The Artist”; maybe it’s just a touch of “Jersey Boys”.)  The wicked song during the end credits speaks of obligations to society when you grow up, like being able to go to war.

As to the title change, the producers/distributors  got into a legal battle with The Weinstein Company which had released the documentary “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing”  (or "Shut Up & Sing"), directed by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Park.  This somewhat crude documentary (technically) traces the history of the group after singer Natalie Maines publicly criticized the Bush Administration – the trio having come from Red State territory. The film made a powerful argument about free speech "in practice". 

Normally it’s not a problem for two films to have the same name unless one of them is part of a franchise or TV series (like “Terminator”, Mission Impossible”).  Maybe the short time span between the two films (I saw the Dixie film at Landmark in 2006) created a trademark argument. Maybe the controversy then attracted the “pirates”.

“The Wedding Weekend” should not be confused with “Wedding Crashers”(Davis Dobkin’s big comedy with Owen Wilson and Christopher Walken about traveling wedding busters, for New Line, which I saw in 2005).  There are other comparisons: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002, Joel Zwick, not my favorite), and “The Wedding Singer” (1998, with Adam Sandler).

And while I’m at it, I’ll mention Melody Gilbert’s one hour documentary “Married at the Mall”, referring to the Mall of America, which I watched in a class in Minneapolis in 2002.

The official site for the ("Wedding Weekend") film is here.

Picture: from my parents' wedding, May 15, 1940, Washington DC.