Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Look": from Adam Lifkin, links personal "Southland" stories through surveillance cameras

Look”, directed and written by Adam Rifkin (2007, from Libertated Artists, Vitigraph and Anchor Bay/Starz),  is an interesting “experiment” of telling interconnected stories captured through surveillance cameras scattered around Los Angeles.  As with films of this sort (ranging from “Crash” to “13 Conversations about One Thing” and even “5 Lines”, about the DC Metro) connections among the characters, often hostile, start to emerge.  The film won the “Cinevegas Jury Prize”.

Visually, the effect is similar to Dogme filmmaking, with handheld and lots of odd closeups.
The characters include a womanizing department store manager, a nerdy convenience store clerk trying to launch an amateur “rock god” career,  a gay (but traditionally married-with-kids) trial lawyer, a high school teacher, and two sociopaths on the prowl.  

The most likeable character turns out to be the clerk Willie Gaines (Giuseppe Andrews), whose alert actions catch the criminals, leading to a climax crash on the Santa Monica Freeway (which was shut down one hour to film this sequence).  Earlier, Willie entertains himself and a sidekick, whom he tries to train to do his job so he can go out, with his synthesizer board.

The most tragic part of the story concerns the teacher. There is a brutal scene where the LAPD comes to school and handcuffs him in the hallway, at least not in front of students.  Later, the surveillance video will show that the female student “came on to him”, after she had gotten a bad grade.  But in California, the age of consent is 18 and the minimum sentence actually served is usually at least ten years.  The gay lawyer explains all of this in a scene where the lawyer really has a hard time being his advocate.  But the lawyer (an his partner) turn out to be the other reasonably admirable characters in a film where most people behave badly when they forget they are being watched.  

This episode, involving the arrest and impending prosecution of the male high school English teacher, hits closer to home.  In 2005, an incident a little bit like this happened at a school where I had intermittently worked as a substitute teacher.  At the same time, I had posted a screenplay for a short film (called “The Sub”) where a male teacher is tempted by a male student and winds up getting arrested in school in a scene similar to what happens in this film! This led to a big “blow up” at the school.

In fact, the teacher has told the student that he had written a screenplay, but because "nobody buys them" she wouldn't have heard of it.  The female student wants to act in it. 

There are also some scenes that depict sexual harassment in the workplace, in this film a retail environment.  In 1998, someone in another department was fired for that reason from the company where I worked.  It seems that some men really don't know how to draw the line. 

The actual opening of the film is quite startling. Two women, in a retail dressing area, are shown quite explicitly, in a lesbian context -- but that aspect of the story doesn't go anywhere.  

The sequences with the psychopaths are horrifying enough. They include the demise of a policeman (who is overpowered at a routine stop), and the kidnapping of two women who are left to suffocate in a trunk in a mall.  (I had reviewed a film a while back called “Trunk”). 

This is a gritty and gripping film.

The DVD has a “Behind the Scenes” featurette (25 minutes), and a lot of deleted and modified scenes and outtakes. 

Anchor Bay’s site is here

Friday, March 30, 2012

"American Farm" examines the history of an upstate New York dairy farm, shows how family farming is declining in the US

The documentary “American Farm” (directed by James Spione, 2005), traces the history of the Ames family and its dairy farm, Contour Meadows, established in 1823 in upstate New York, northwest of the Catskills and northeast of the Fingerlakes (near Richfield Springs). 

As modern times come, the kids in the extended family become much less interested in farming and want to do other things with their lives, and are less interested in the religious callings of their parents and ancestors.  When “dad” has an aortic aneurism and heart attack both, needing bypass surgery, he can’t run the farm.  Gradually, the family has to sell off the herd and various assets of the farm. The film traces the history of the "social capital" of the extended family and of its gradual weakening with modern individualism. 

There’s a sequence where a teenager describes getting up at 4:30 AM, doing chores until 7 AM, having 15 minutes for breakfast, then school, and coming back and doing chores until 7.  

The film also documents the practical and medical hazards of rural life, as when a woman dies of a minor injury when she doesn’t get medical attention in time.

The people in the film are far from “perfect”.  One character discloses that she is an unwed mother.

The film points out that in 1900, 42% of the nation’s population lived on and worked farms. Now it is 2%. Big corporations have taken over farming.

Curiously, the film does not deal very much with the crisis in farm prices in the 1980s, of which I remember media coverage well. 

The DVD has an additional featurette, “Return to the Farm” which interviews family members and tells what happened.  Gradually, family members had been taking on other kinds of work, especially contract repair work, over the years. 

The "message" of the film certainly raises issues about sustainability, if the environmental changes some day force us to produce food and consume much more locally.  

The film was premiered in Cooperstown, NY.  The director says that making the film led him to connect to his own extended family.  The official site (MorningLight Films) is here

I spent summers in a small town in Ohio (Kipton) in the 1950s, and visited a family farm nearby frequently, on Route 20 (as in the film, but a couple hundred miles farther west). 

Wikipedia attribution link for animated map of Fingerlakes area. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Domain", a film by Patric Chiha: a gay teen comes of age, while "responsible" for his alcoholic aunt; some grad school math along the way

One under-recognized problems for LGBT people has been that, absent the likelihood (in the past) of their having their own families, they wind up being expected to take care of other adults in their own families, not just the elderly, but also the disabled.   It’s brutal to call it this, but it is sometimes called the “family slave” problem, and particularly affects unmarried women.

And it might affect young men. At least, that seems to be a principal idea behind the new French thriller from Patric Chiha, “Domain” (or Domaine” en francais).  The film depicts a somewhat emotionally abusive relationship between a middle-aged mathematician Nadia (Beatrice Dalle) with a serious alcohol problem, and her teenage nephew Pierre (Isaie Sultan).  The title of the film refers explicitly to the luxurious mountain (Austrian Alps) rehab facility where Nadia winds up, and where Pierre is told, by doctors there, that he still must be responsible for her.  She’s not supposed to leave the premises.  It’s dangerous for her to be alone outside in the woods on the grounds.  As in Wagnerian opera, the forest is dangerous.  The whole concept of the film has a “Lars van Trier” feel, with many intense close-ups and garish colors (especially red) in many of the party and bar scenes.  Technically, this is a very professionally made film.

The director implies that the actor playing Pierre was only about 16 or 17 as the film was shot (in 2009), and he is going through the trickiest transitions in his own life. He is a serious boy with a somewhat charismatic personality, rather like the character Will in the soap “Days of our Lives”.  A twenty-something Farbrice (Manuel Marimer) makes eye contact on a tram (in Bordeaux, where much of the film takes place), and pretty soon they are dating.  The intimacies are not shown, except for a vigorous kiss in a bar, following an interesting session of karaoke-like singing by Pierre and unusual dance moves  (about an hour into the film).  But the gay relationship comes across as his only “wholesome” interaction (even if Pierre is too young for this to be legal in some US states). 

The film mentions Nadia’s mathematical accomplishments, and she talks about Godel, whose ideas in mathematics are controversial and are familiar to any graduate student (as to me, when I attended the University of Kansas for my own MA in the 1960s). 

The film also shows a lot of the characters smoking cigarettes a lot.  Perhaps in Europe that’s still more socially acceptable than it is here.  There are several familiar disco songs in the sound track. 

The DVD will be available from Strand Releasing April 17.   Strand says there will be a theatrical release (check Landmark and other arthouse chains). 

Wikipedia attribution link for Bordeaux bridge picture. I was near the area in the spring of 2001. 

This film should be compared to "Red Dirt" (1999), reviewed here Nov. 24, 2009. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

One of my favorite books as a kid was "The Swiss Family Robinson"; review of Disney's 1960 film brings back "memories"

One of my favorite books as a kid was “The Swiss Family Robinson”, by Johann Wyss. I had a 1949 Illustrated Junior Library edition, with many full page color drawings, and many chapters.

After Monday night’s dystopic version of survivalism, I decided to watch the 1960 Disney version of “Swiss Family Robinson”, directed by Ken Annakin, with  music by British symphonic composer William Alwyn (a theme from the third symphony is used a lot;  I could have used the brazen conclusion of #4).  John Mills and Dorothy McGuire play the parents, with James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran as the boys.

The book and film make for an effective snapshot of “conservative” ideas about freedom, with particular emphasis on bonding social capital.  The family must remain close and connected to survive in the wilderness and prevail against enemies (wild animals and later pirates, especially with the sequences near the end where the family defends itself  from high ground so well, almost out of Clausewitz.)  Dad makes a surprising standard of living with his own hands, building a palatial tree house with separate master bedroom for the “Mrs.”, even bringing the organ from the crashed ship. 

At one point the parents wonder how the boys will ever meet young women and conceive of what it would mean to have families of their own.  Later, the boys show some chivalry when they find out that Bertie, whom they rescue, is a girl but has kept up well  (in terms of physical strength) pretending to be a young man.  The character Jenny, prominent toward the end of the book, doesn't appear in this film.

The movie premiered during Christmas when I was a senior in high school and I didn’t see it then. 

The film is one of the earliest to be listed as filmed in “Panavision” which was replacing “Cinemascope”.

I remember some other films from that period well. For example, I saw “The Guns of Navarone” with a best friend just before going to William and Mary, and in Williamsburg saw “Splendor in the Grass” and then  (with a different music friend) Anatole Livak’s “GoodbyeAgain” (or “Aimez-vous Brahms?”), in which the sad minuet from Brahm’s Third Symphony becomes a leitmotif.  For me, life would soon change, as I’ve explained elsewhere.

The Disney DVD for “Robinson” has a Donald Duck cartoon, “Sea Salt”.

I actually saw Disney’s 1954 “20000 Leagues Under the Sea” (Jules Verne) twice, early Cinemascope.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"The Hunger Games": Is this the future some of our GOP candidates would have in store for us?

Even on a Monday (school) night, at Tyson’s Corner AMC in northern VA at the Imax auditorium, there was a fairly full auditorium to see “The Hunger Games” at full price. 

I have to say that the “look” of this sci-fi “epic” from Gary Ross reminded me of “Atlas Shrugged”.  Most people know the set-up of Suzanne Collins’s novel: after a total breakdown, the US has dissolved and much of the world is ruled by a neo-fascist government form a palatial “Capitol” (which apparently lies in the North Carolina Smokies) where the rich people enjoy their cartoonish dream distant from “real life” out in the fiefdoms where the public has real jobs (coal mining, garment manufacture) and is opiated by public reality TV.  But this is more malignant than any “Truman Show”.

Once a year, two young people are drafted from each of twelve “districts” for a gladiator fight in a woodsy park preserve (with Jurassic aspects) near the Capital.  This year (around 2100 or so), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take the place of her younger sister – again, a statement about family responsibility defined by the procreation of others, not one’s own.  The other conscript from her District is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson ).  The original rules say that only one of the 24 combatants can survive. This conscription-like sacrifice seems to be the government's answer to a prior revolt. 

The powers-that-be make a spectacle.  Effie (Elizabeth Banks) seems like a caricature of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann (intermingled) as she celebrates the sacrifice of her “tributes”.  Coach Haymitch (a sanded-down Woody Harrelson, again right out of “Game Change”) tells Katniss that she needs to earn sponsors by making people like her.  (I’m not very good at that, and it’s hard to see what sponsors can do.)   (Donald Sutherland helps round out the evil as “President Snow”, and Wess Bentley (“American Beauty”) is the game-creator of those wonderful holographic monsters. The “tributes” are treated like royalty for a few days (not the case when I was drafted in 1968), but put through “training” and some “body analysis” which could make some less secure people squeamish about themselves.  Peeta shows how he can camouflage his limbs and not be the worse for wear.  (We did learn that in Basic.)  

Everything changes when the “bell tolls” and the “event” starts.  Yet, the scene turns in to “The Lord of the Flies”.  The weakest kids go down right away to others, but the remaining survivors tend to form temporary social alliances despite the knowledge than only one can survive.  I was not that impressed by the way the film solves its “final problem” with the plot at the end.  But I was impressed by how much story-telling happens in a relatively constricted environment.  

The setting for the film is indeed bifurcated.  The “capital” looks like a set for a model railroad (the high speed train is impressive, and it looks like one in the Ayn Rand film above), and the whole effect is that of people living one someone else’s make-believe stage-world. 

The writing, for both the book and screenplay (Gary Ross) would present the a particular challenge, of making the "interior story", of the hunt within the limited space of the forest preserve, itself interesting, when it is the "political message" and entire world setup that seems to attract the audiences in the first place.  I find the same problem in one of my own scripts. 

Lionsgate released this movie early in the year, probably (and correctly) expecting to profit from the sorry behavior of this nation’s ideological (and sometimes extremist) right wing – the GOP political candidates – which the film obviously takes a pot shot at.  The film obviously attempts satire, but it isn't funny (in spots, it's a little nauseating, deliberately). This is the (Canadian) “indie” studio (which fifteen years ago had stressed small films, before acquiring Artisan and some other studios and going public) which, like Summit, makes or bankrolls indie-like films that keep getting bigger. 

The official site is here  (requires newest Flash and enabling pop-ups).
Lionsgate didn’t play its wonderful A-major musical signature during the intro.  Again, I think studios should show their entire trademarks, including (legally protected) music and that the distribution and production company trademarks should complete showing before the music of the film itself starts.   (Sorry, Roadside Attractions didn’t get in on this film, as it often does with Lionsgate.)

By the way, AMC has 22 minutes of previews last night.  A bit much for a long film. 

The Ellen Show has this interview by Liam Hemsworth (Gale). 

I’d give this movie a “B+”. 

Pictures (mine): Charlotte, NC (where much of film was shot); Roadside America (PA), rather like the "model world" environment of the capital, perhaps.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Citizen Vaclav Havel Goes on Vacation", police trailing, in the days before the Velvet Revolution

The little documentary “Citizen Vaclav Havel Goes on Vacation” (2006, dir. Jan Novak) documents the trip to friends that Havel took in August 1985, during which he was followed by state police and briefly arrested twice.

Havel was, of course, known then for his Charter 77 Initiative, a human rights movement.  The freedom of each individual becomes the freedom of all.

Havel would, of course, become the “last” president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 (with the “Velvet Revolution”), and the  first president of the Czech Republic in 1993. How often to artists become politicians?  Outside of actors, not that often.  This gives us good pause to wonder why political campaigns in the US don’t attract more intellectually sound people (as in the film “Game Change”, reviewed here March 10).

The film (full screen size on DVD) opens with a curious shot of shirtless athletes in a stadium, in some sort of ritual.  They have no modesty.  Later, one of his play acts is called “The Unveiling”.

In the US, the movie is distributed by Chicago Motion (link).

Here’s another documentary (6 min) by Lunchbox Communications in 1994, “Vaclav Havel: The Power of the Pen”.  Havel indeed proved the power of words. It is narrated by Walter Cronkite, and features Dvorak in the background.

Havel died in December 2011. 

My father’s side of the family came from Czechoslovakia in the 19th Century and settled in Iowa.

Wikipedia attribution link for Havel picture. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

"I Love Your Phillip Morris": this one is really silly

I do remember the silly TV black-and-white commercial “Call for Phillip Morris” when I was a boy.  In those days we didn’t see anything “wrong” with it, particularly when driving through Richmond.

The comedy “I Love You, Phillip Morris” seems about as pointless.  I skipped out on it like it was a 1961 WM tribunal when it came out in 2009 (from Roadside Attractions), but it snuck into my Netflix queue with some stealth.

The opening is funny enough, when 9-year-old Steven’s adoptive parents tell him he’s special and was picked out.

But the adult Steven (Jim Carrey), once he “comes out”, decides to play the gay “Catch Me If You Can” role.  Oh, gay life is so expensive, outside the Bird Cage. He winds up falling in love with fellow prisoner Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Once Steven gets out, he becomes a new order of flim flam man to get Phillip out.  (The stuff about faking HIV was not funny to me.)

It’s amazing that this is based on a book supposed to be a true story by Steven McVicker: “I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love and Prison Breaks”. 

The characters don’t like Texas, either.  But the movie was shot in Florida.

The DVD comes from Lionsgate (site). The film can be rented “legally” on YouTube for $1.99. Sorry, not many stars for this one. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Shattered Sky" examines ozone depletion crisis, compares it to climate change

On Thursday, March 22, 2012 the DC Environmental Film Festival presented “Shattered Sky: The Battle for Energy, Economy and Environment”  (55 min) by Steve Dorst and Dan Evans, at the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Washington DC.

The film documents the history of the Ozone Layer hole, first reported in the 1970s, leading to the Montreal Protocol during the Reagan years.  There was a period where aerosols were banned in the US (before Europe), but US companies did not seriously get into replacing CFC’s until after the Protocol.

The film draws a parallel to the Ozone Layer problem with today’s “inconvenient truth” about climate change.  It covers the burning of coal by power companies more than it does the burning of oil products by drivers. It shows a number of shots of mountaintop removal in West Virginia and of the enormous surface mines in Wyoming. It doesn’t get around to covering the tar sands issue (March 19).

The website for the film is here.

The film mentions, with some sarcasm, a “professional” documentary called “The Greening of Planet Earth” which argues that increased carbon dioxide levels will be good for Earth (YouTube link Part I here ).

The feature was preceded by a five-minute short, “Psssht”, directed by Holly Fisher, which shows a couple’s use of aerosol products in the morning at home.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is a "kinder, gentler" thriller

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a big stylized “arthouse” movie from CBS, Lionsgate and the BBC, with Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom, based on the novel by Paul Torday.  In advance, it seemed surprising that so much could come from a concept that sounded “artificial”.

Ewan McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, a reticent zoologist who works for the British Fisheries service. 

When his boss forces his hand to support a water  and salmon project designed by a rich sheikh  (Amr Waked), he resists, because it sounds like Middle East image politics, going against good science.  After he goes down there with Patricia (Kristin Scott Thomas), who believes she has lost her beloved (Tom Mison)  in Afghanistan, he changes heart.  He sees that the sheikh is doing this to build social capital in his community, not just to look good.

The tone of the film is laid back, and the two major attempts at sabotage, intense as they should be, tend to seem almost superfluous as a result. From a world political view, one wishes the entire Islamic world were as kindhearted as this particular sheikh. He really honors his religious beliefs in deeds.  

There’s a conversation in the middle of the film about Asperger’s that seems grating, and Alfred says that people with it are not easily offended.  Not true (personal experience).  But Alfred has to deal with others defining his goals for him.

The full widescreen scenery – the Yemen dam facility was really filmed in Morocco – is quote breathtaking. I saw this film in the Arlington AMC Shirlington on a Wednesday night before a small crowd. 

The official site is here


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Double Take" makes all of Hitchcock's films into a metaphor for the Cold War

Director Johan Grimonprez  gives us a great satire of the whole Cold War and “military-industrial establishment” mentality in his documentary “Double Take” (2009), where he presents Alfred Hitchcock as a history professor (Ron Burrage), presenting news reels of the entire Cold War period in double takes against his own films, with particular use of the metaphor in the 1963 film “The Birds” and, later, “Topaz”.

The early part of the film has a Vice President Nixon  meeting Khruschev, and the ante gets upped with Sputnik and then with Kennedy’s election and the Bay of Pigs, and then the Berlin Wall crisis.  The United States, around 1961 or 1962, still had enormous superiority in quantity of ICBM’s and had them set up in Turkey.  The US, according to the film, seriously considered a pre-emptive strike in mid 1962. But them we know the history that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.   Duck and cover.  (I didn’t see any quotes from “The Atomic CafĂ©”, but they would fit.)

The news reels, mostly black and white, have a wonderful grainy quality about them. 

In the midst of all these “double takes”, Hitchcock talks about the fact that most people could not accept the presence of a dopplganger.   If there are “two of us”, that’s one too many.  What about identical twins?  Just don’t ask the Winklevii.

At the very end, after Hitchcock’s passing in 1980 and Reagan’s ascendancy, with Star Wars, there’s one more bit of spoofery.  Reagan is presented as saying that an extraterrestrial enemy would draw us all together, and other politicians are admitting there is plenty we know that we don’t know.

This satire (from Kino and Soda Pictures) is well worth renting or watching online.  Indeed, it is much more “tongue-in-cheek” than Sony’s “The Fog of War”.

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Tetro", layered family drama in Argentina, may be reflective of Coppola's own background; composer Golijov stars

With Francis Ford Coppola, you never know.  I rented “Tetro” having heard about the controversy Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov.

The film is a “typical” Coppola, an epic in layers, mixing fiction with experience, fantasy, and maybe a sprinkle of supernatural. The main story, in black and white, concerns the visit of 18-year-old Bennie, a ship steward, to his older brother’s home in Buenos Aires.  The brother Tetro (Vincent Gallo) is unwelcoming and secretive, and despite a female “mentor” Miranda (Maribel Verdu), has become despondent and unable to finish a bizarre novel about the family.  Bennie takes himself to adapt the manuscript (which he finds) into a play (“Wander Lust”), much to his brother’s shock. Nevertheless, it soon gets produced in Patagonia (with stunning scenery in black and white), leading to even more shocking family revelations and a climax, suggesting that Bennie has more powers than he realized.

The music by Golijov seems to resemble the concert overture (March 8, my “drama” blog).  It has some motivic relationship to an introductory  theme in Brahms’s First Symphony, as well as relationships to another film composer discussed on that blog entry.  But thematic relationships in music among composers are inevitable.  I “dreamed” a hymn theme that starts with the descending motive of the Polonaise in A by Chopin but then took it into a totally different place.  The film also uses music of Puccini (Madame Butterfly), and Mozart,  Offenbach, Easdale (“The Red Shoes”, a famous ballet film from the 40s) as well as the Brahms itself near the climactic unraveling of the movie.  Golijov says that the film gave birth to this music of his (“Osvaldo Golijov: Music Born from the Film” featurette).

The film shows the “fictional” components (the play, the ”Red Shoes”  and “Tales of Hoffman” excerpts) in color, in standard aspect, whereas the BW is always 2.35:1 (The “Hud” effect of Black-and-White Cinemascope), and this technique creates issues of projection in theaters that aren’t properly set up for full wide screen without vertical cropping. The "play" scenes have some interesting effects, such as ocean waves on a stage. 

The DVD comes from Lionsgate, with the original release from Alta and American Zeotrope.  I’m surprised that this film could be made for $5 million.
It’s good to mention a slightly earlier film by Coppola also with music by Golijov, “Youth Without Youth” (2007, Sony Pictures Classics), in which an elderly and failing linguistics professor (Tim Roth),  is struck by lightning right before WWII and starts to grow younger, like a Dorian Gray or Benjamin Button, while having a relationship with a woman growing older. In the meantime, he intersects and must evade Nazi experiments.
There is a short film “Fausta: A Drama in Verse” with a female Faust performing in a stage cabaret, in black and white. The poetry is by Mauricio Kartun. 
There’s another short of interviews, “I’ve Always Been Crazy”, where the director encourages the mentally ill to perform in front of a camera.  “Sometimes you don’t need actors.”

Also, “You don’t have the actors become the characters. You have the character become the actor”.  If some actor played me in the movies, would I become him?  (Maybe an exercise in “Being John Malkovich” or maybe Patrick Stewart – who looks and acts like me, after all.   Would Malkovich house all the information of my consciousness, otherwise stored on the surface of a black hole after I’m gone?  Interesting thought.   Everyone else played by Malkovich – maybe some kings in Shakespeare plays, whatever, also wind up on the Schwarzchild surface, housed with me.  Each one of us lives forever, intermittently.   So if you want immortality, be a character in a movie or play, and get acted.  Boy, that sounds like a premise for some heavy sci-fi.)

Official site for purchase is here. The film may be rented on YouTube.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Dirty Oil" and "Pipe Dreams" lay out the case against a US switch to Canadian tar sands oil

Today, I attended a session of the 2012 DC Environmental Film Festival (link) at the Carnegie Institution for Science. This was the “Tar Sands Program” presented with the National Resources Defense Council (link).
There were two films directed by Leslie Iwerks.  The feature came first, “Dirty Oil”, 73 min., from 2009, narrated by Neve Campbell.  The film described the gigantic Athabasca oil tar sand dig in northeastern Alberta, strip mining of an area almost that of Florida.  The mining is shallow and there is no “mountaintop removal”. But the potential for environmental damage is enormous.

Nevertheless, young technicians make $100000 a year to live in the latest boomtown, Fort McMurray. For way up north in a Canadian prairie province, the climate looked warm and dry.  The machinery looks like it came out of Star Wars. 

American already “imports” more oil from Canada than the Middle East, the film says. The tar sands project is seen as a way to prevent another Arab oil embargo or Iran crisis. But tar sands mining releases enormous carbon dioxide itself.

Toward the end, the film covered the effect of Canadian oil on the Great Lakes region, as there are more refining jobs, especially in Illinois and Indiana.

One episode showed a doctor in Alberta being railroaded for whistleblowing.

A Canadian official living in Calgary computes his own carbon footprint, and warns that individuals will have to become more aware of their own dependence on oil.

Here’s the website (Babelgum Pictures) for “Dirty Oil”, link

The second film is “Pipe Dreams”, (2011, about 40 minutes, narrated by Daryl Hannah) about the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would supplement the original Keystone pipeline. But the XL Pipeline would go through some sensitive areas, especially the Sand Hills on Nebraska, over the Ogallala Aquifer. Trans-Canada tried to force ranchers to sign easements more or less blind, and threatened then with eminent domain suits.  Even though Obama turned down the license of XL early this year, Trans Canada is still continuing to litigate against ranchers.
The film says that the first Keystone project has had 12 leaks, one of which, in North Dakota, was discovered by a rancher and not by the pipeline technology. 

Both films left the impression that future and current oil projects should shut down, and that Americans should go cold turkey until they can depend entirely on renewable resources.

Afterwards, there was a panel discussion with a Native Canadian, a member of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and a Nebraska rancher.   I whimsically asked if we all face having a public “carbon footprint” score like our FICO score. (See this reference).  That could have enormous ramifications for the debate on “social capital” and put enormous pressure on less “socialized” individuals (me) to accept more intrusion from others into their lives. 

The moderator said that a number of people had been arrested at demonstrations against the Keystone XL Pipeline in August.  A quick poll showed about 40 people in the audience (of about 200) standing to indicate they had been arrested at the protest. There had occurred a "hands around the White House" in October.  

 Many audience members were concerned about fracking, which is booming suddenly in Ohio. There was alarm that tar sands, oil shale and fracking projects would occur all over the world.  This population is very determined that the public give up oil.  The moderator felt that the public as a whole had been slow to connect  "dirty oil" to climate change, but said people are starting to connect the dots.  The GOP is really oblivious. 

Note: the domain name "dceff" for the film festival has nothing to do with "eff", Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Poland's "Sala samobojcow" presents a tragedy for a gay teen after Internet humiliation

The Polish film “Sama Samobojcow” (I’ll translate the title below; it’s disturbing) opens with a recital, where a young man is singing Schubert, and another young man Dominil (Jakub Gierszal) watches.  Soon we learn that the tall, lean, and affable Dominik has it all. He’s graduating from high school, and prepares for the senior prom.

At the prom, someone plays some jokes.  A couple of women kiss, and then Dominik kisses another mail friend while others film and upload to the web.  That doesn’t necessarily phase him, but then soon he’s in a judo wrestling class, when a partner comes on to him.  Dominik “loses it”, and has an “accident”, and that gets caught on video too, and winds up in public.  Now, he’s humiliated.

The possibility of that sort of incident is not trivial. I suppose it could have happened to me, in gym or even once in the Army. 

The movie’s credits are framed as YouTube-like videos, and now there is a scene showing tweets, with the Tyler Clementi tragedy mentioned.  Dominik, to deal with his humiliation, retreats into an Internet world of Second Life.  The film doesn't leave the impression that the videotaping and viewing online was intended as malicious or mean-spirited; rather other teens just seemed "curious".

About 40% of the film takes place in this alternate reality, with very professional animation. Dominik’s avatar looks realistic, as do the other characters.  But the case that he is really living in an alternate world with its own geography and own timeline is not so convincing as, say, “Inception”.

Domink has told his well-off parents that he is gay, and they’ve reacted with denial.  It appears that they now know they will not have grandchildren, and this turn is putting a strain on their marriage.  (The father, though, just wants him not to tell people.)   Eventually, they hire psychiatrists to try to get him out of his own world. When dad disconnects him from the Internet, he goes bonkers. (That measure reminded me of my own father's, back in 1962, threatening not to let me listen to records when I "complained" that we needed more modern, light-tracking equipment to protect my collection.)

This is a story you want to come out well.  At one point, a therapist asks Dominik if he wants to die, and he says, no, people who do these kinds of things are narcissistic, think that the world revolves around then.  But the spiral downward continues.  I wish the film had a happier outcome.

The film (hashtag “@SuicideRoom”) is directed by Jan Komasa, and distributed by  ITI and Wolfe. It was nominated for best picture at the Berlin Film Festival.  We're still not finding the big corporate distributors (like Sony)picking up major foreign LGBT films, when they are so obviously important.  This film is professionally made and had plenty of resources.   

It's interesting that gay rights has not always done so well in Catholic Poland.   There is an element there that points out that Muslim immigrants "take care of their own" (by sending money back) and that considers gays part of the European depopulation problem.  I saw this when I visited the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh a few years ago. 

Here’s the official site. Wolfe is providing a link to the Trevor Project, here

The film can be rented from YouTube for $3.99. 

Update: March 18.  I have reviewed Lambda Rising's short film "Overruled: The Case that Brought down Sodomy Laws" (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003) on my LGBT blog.

The Cartoon Network's 30-minute show "Stop Bullying: Speak Up" was reviewed on the TV blog March 19.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"The Pruitt-Igoe Myth": documents a notorious public housing failure in St. Louis

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History” tells the story of one of the most notorious public assistance failures in American history, the rise and fall of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis.  The film is directed by Chad Freidrich, is produced by Unicorn Stencil,  and is released to theaters by First Run Features. I saw it Thursday afternoon at the West End Cinema in Washington DC.

The project comprised 33 11-story buildings north of downtown St. Louis, completed in 1954.  At first, low income people (mostly African Americans who had moved up from the south and lived in slums) enjoyed the views and took some pride, decorating the place for the first Christmas. 

But public policies were set in such a way that the projects could not be maintained. The federal government had supplied funds to build the project but not to maintain it. Residents couldn’t afford enough rent to maintain the buildings. Furthermore, in some ways the buildings were inadequate.  Elevators stopped only at every three floors and people had to intermingle a lot (which had been thought to be good).  Residents at first were not allowed to have televisions or even phone.  “They wanted to rule us with their stipulations because we took their money”, one past resident said.

Conservatives  (and especially libertarians) will point out that this story illustrates the idea that “government doesn’t work”.  Instead, people should be empowered to help themselves.  We know the arguments.  Marriage is to be encouraged.  Not just Santorum, but libertarian writer Charles Murray would tell this story well.

Public policy failed in other ways, as society remained segregated, and the while middle class moved to suburbs.  St. Louis was not allowed to annex land, which worked to its serious disadvantage. The film demonstrates how American ideas of middle class life varied from reality with clips from the situation comedy "My Little Margie" which I remember well. 

The film ends with video of the implosions of the buildings in 1972.

My most recent visit to St. Louis occurred in 2000.  I remember passing through on a family trip in 1961 right after graduating from high school.  I have relatives in the suburbs (Clayton) on the father's side of the family. 

Here is the official site

Wikipedia attribution link for overhead picture of development in 1950s (USG survey).

Today's short film is Barack Obama's "The Road We've Traveled", reviewed on my Issues blog (17 min).

On the International Issues blog there is also "George Clooney Witnesses War Crimes in Sudan's Nuba Mountains" (4 min). 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Being Flynn": a writer comes of age by charity -- and parenting his own dad

A film about writers and about homelessness hits two hot topics at once, so “Being Flynn” was indeed an important film on my new list.  Directed by Paul Weitz, it’s a major showpiece right now from NBC Universal’s Focus Features.  I saw it at Landmark E Street last night before a fair crowd.  Yet, it’s pretty easy to imagine how this could have been a made-for-TV Hallmark film – except it would have to be gentler.

The film shows the Harbor Street Shelter in Boston in the early 80s (actually filmed in Yonkers, NY) as a horrible place, with the male occupants largely the mentally ill.  At one point, it’s said that most of the men will be gone within a year.

The story, of course, tells us how Nick Flynn (played by a sleek and youthful Paul Dano – likable as he always is) came of age as a writer.  The real life event, of his own father’s (Robert De Niro) showing up at the shelter, actually happened when he was 27.  Flynn would go on to finish college, become a high school and college teacher as well as writer.  But in the shelter, even though he first was hired “on call”, he was obviously one of the most efficient and communicative employees.  He is certainly experiencing and giving charity according to the “Teachings of the Church”. He made reading the staff reports seem like bookstore readings.  (My own patient records from NIH in 1962 have similar notes, but not as literary.)

And Nick somewhat redeems his own father.  Jonathan does eventually get better as the film progresses. The son became the parent of the dad.  It shouldn’t have to be that way.

Early in the film, we see Nick chicken-scratching by hand and throwing away wads of paper. He gets over his writer’s block pretty quickly as he does the humanitarian work. He really reaches out.

There is the back story of his relationship with his single mother (Julianne Moore).  Dad had been sent to prison early, and Nick knew little of him.  One day, when Nick is 22, he accidentally leaves an incomplete story about his mom (handwritten) out in the home and she finds it when she comes home.  A tragedy follows, but that might have happened anyway.   I know, for a long time, I was reluctant to show my own mother my book in 1997.  It was a big event the Sunday afternoon in May 1996 when I decided to tell her and show her what was happening.

There’s an interesting twist early when Nick “interviews” the residents of a group apartment to be allowed to move in.  This is pretty common in large cities. The “gay” resident  Richard (Thomas Middleditch) is not given a lot to do as a character, but he seems very stable compared to everyone else.  The film takes place when the AIDS crisis was near its height, but that isn’t mentioned.

Toward the end, there’s a book signing party for Nick’s book of potry, “Some Ether.”  With the demise of neighborhood book stores, these parties are becoming less frequent. That’s regrettable.  I held some myself in the 90s for my “Do Ask Do Tell”, and, in Minneapolis, went to wonderful events hosted by Vince Flynn (no relation as far as I know – it’s a common “Irish Catholic” name) and Sebastian Junger. 

Here’s the official site

A good comparison could be made to the 2000 film from Gus Van Sant and Columbia, "Finding Forrester", about an African American teen (Rob Brown) becoming inspired to write by a reclusive author (Sean Connery), Columbia Pictures. 

The gerund "Being" has been used to title a film before. Try "Being John Malkovich"(1999). 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Documentary explores Grove Press, Barney Rosset, and "banned books"

Back in the late 1970s, I lived in the Cast Iron Building in Manhattan, at 11th St and Broadway.  A few buildings toward the west in those days, there was a townhouse that housed the Grove Press, known for publishing avant garde and risky books, as well as the Evergreen Review, all founded by Barney Rosset.  The Bhai faith was on the street, and across the street, in another antiques store building, the United States Chess Federation had been housed in the mid 1960s, when I first started playing in tournaments. I did not know at the time that the Grove building had been bombed and burglarized in 1968 – all this at a time when NYC residents were increasingly concerned about residential security. (A building housing the Weathermen had a much bigger explosion, nearby, in 1970.)

I even sent a typed query to Grove about my own novel manuscript, “The Proles”.  Surprisingly, I got a “not interested” letter back quickly. 

The 2007 documentary “Obscene”, directed by Daniel O’Connor and Neil Ortenberg,  from “Double O Films” (distributed by Arthouse films to theaters in early 2008), traces the career of Mr. Rosset.  He did publish William S. Burroughs and “Naked Lunch”, already covered here, and fought the courtroom battle, but this film traces the evolution of obscenity law in book publishing way back, to uncensored versions of  “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” (D. H. Lawrence), and “Tropic of Cancer” (Henry Miller).  “Naked Lunch” was merely the third such case where Rosset showed “redeeming social value” by building on the idea that “past is prologue” (as one of my chess buddies  -- who would help me get a job at a critical point -- always said). 
I wasn’t aware that people had been going to jail for bringing “bad books” into the country then, before the 60s.

The documentary also discusses the controversy over the Swedish 1967 film “I Am Curious (Yellow)”, by Vilgot Sjoman, followed by a sequel “I Am Curious (Blue)”, both of which I rented from Netflix a few years  ago.  The documentary shows the most explicit scene from the first of these films. 

Here is the official site

The University of Texas has a reading from Miller’s book: 

Let me mention another documentary film from 2000 that I saw in Minneapolis at the University, "Book Wars", by Jason Rosette, about used book sellers in the East Village in NYC.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tyler Perry's Good Deeds: how many of us don't know "real life"?

Good Deeds”, directed by Tyler Perry, from Lionsgate (and part of Perry’s franchise of TPS films), certainly plays the “social capital” card. Tyler plays Wesley Deeds, an African-American software venture capitalist who had benefited in the past from minority business grants, now running his enterprise from San Francisco.  (There really is or was a company like his, Mitchell Systems.  I would have had an offer from that company when moving back to DC in 1988.) Tyler, out of responsibility, has let his mentally unstable brother (Brian White) work for him (recalling a theme of a film reviewed here March 11), and trusts another man Mark (Jamie Kennedy) as his COO. 

One of his employees, a night-shift janitor, Lindsey (Thandie Newton) has run into hard times, getting evicted from her Mission District apartment, and having a confrontation with him over a parking space.   Lindsey has a six year old child Ariel (Jordenn Thompson), having been made a single mother by a vaguely described tragedy.  The film gets rather specific as to what life is like for the homeless. She is sometimes desperate and not willing to go out of bounds to protect her child. There is a line, early in the film, when she asks Wesley, "do you have kids?"  Nope.  "I thought so." 

Wesley starts to come out of his shell to help her.  He offers her a corporate apartment, but then it gets much more personal.

"Tyler Perry Studios" has become a brand for movies dealing with family issues, and the story lines seem surprisingly race-independent.  The storytelling technique is a bit stylized in a "Lifetime" manner. The plot reminds me of Charles Murrays' new book "Coming Apart" which I am reading now. 

The film makes one wonder, what happens if someone shows up on your doorstep? It’s happened.  Details – another time.  There is a film about this situation in a gay context “The Conrad Boys”, reviewed here Dec. 12, 2008.

The link for the film is here.  It is sometimes called "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds". 

I saw this at a late show at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington. That theater often closes earlier weeknights. It seemed like a private showing just for me.  (The same thing once happened there with "Kids in America".) 

Monday, March 12, 2012

"The House of Adam" (2006): "The Feature" by Jorge Ameer unsettled a lot of people (more for its ideas than directing)

I was intrigued enough by the short film version of “The House of Adam”, by Jorge Ameer (production company Hollywood Independents (site) and distributor Ariztical) on the set that I reviewed March 6, that I rented the 83-minute feature.  The feature is older than the short collection, dating back to 2006.

First, I got something wrong. The character struck by the car on the mountain road in the opening minutes is Anthony, not Adam.  The material in the short takes about 25 minutes of the feature, with a few short scenes added, before we get to “the rest of the story”.
This film has attracted widely opposing viewpoints online (in imdb comments), with some people saying they were bored, but I think they were more offended by some implications of the film.  I found myself fascinated by the concept of storytelling, as well as the character Adam (Jared Cadwell) himself.  The plot is a “string” of coincidences and tragedies that play out like a dream, but life can be like that.  It moves too quickly.  It’s better to take two full hours and develop your movie fully with all the proper foreshadowing, in which this film falls “short” (pun).

As for the “paranormal activity” toward the end, it seems like a sudden turn of genre, when it could have been prepared better (in the writing). Is Adam really some kind of angel who can live forever?  He fights off abuse and wrongful accusation and even death, to surmount everything, even maybe from the “grave”.  But this isn’t even the “dead hand”.  It’s a miracle if it really is believed. I supposed Adam is a bit like the “angel Billy” in the film (from the same distributor) that I reviewed (Feb. 23), but Billy’s character is better developed, possibly because in the “Billy” film the script takes more time with his inner character.

There are a couple of other points.  I’m not sure I buy Anthony’s sudden kiss of Adam right after his apology for his ruse (which resulted in Adam’s false accusation).  It needs more preparation. When it happens, it could then be more intense.  The film could spin more detail about Adam's responsibility for taking care of his mother after her coronary bypass surgery (my own mother had that surgery at age 85 and lived to 97, until later 2010).  But Adam, it seems, never does wrong, unless you believe one set of scriptural passages "very literally".   

Later, in the film’s middle, the break-in and attack on Adam (he comes home to now-his cabin home in the middle of his place’s being ransacked) is horrific and gratuitous, with the attackers quoting Leviticus and Romans in a way that seems even more vile than in the real-life attack on Matthew Shepard in Wyoming in 1998.  That is upsetting, and you want to see them brought to justice, somehow, before the film ends. Period. Even if Adam “lives”.  But things like this do happen.

And, for the ending, yes, I suppose the “theological implications” could unnerve some people.  But if Christ returned and lived among us as an ordinary, obscure person, would we be too sinful to notice? Help us all!
Where was this film actually shot?  Lake Tahoe makes sense.  But is the countryside really in the British Columbia coast mountains?  The sun-filled, early Spring outdoor cinematography is good enough; the lighting in some indoor scenes could use some work.  The film appears to have been shot in HD, and the DVD played in an aspect ratio between 1.85 and 2.35 on my iMac, rather intermediate wide screen.  

The DVD includes two informative featurettes, including a self-interview by Ameer.  The director (who is black and speaks with an accent (French), and might have a North African background) plays the realtor in the scene where the cabin is sold to a new couple. 

I have to say I rather liked this film and it certainly kept me guessing, and wondering.  I even think Roger Ebert would have given it a "thumbs up".  

Picture: Mine, New Hampshire lake country, resembles some scenery in the film.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Of Two Minds" looks at mental illness and family responsibility

The Lifetime film “Of Two Minds” (directed by Jim O’Hanlon) certainly explores the idea of “family responsibility”.  Kristin Davis plays Billie Clark, who, as the movie starts, finds her mother collapsed from a heart attack.  In the hospital, in her last words,  the mom tells Billie to take care of her baby sister Elizabeth, who we soon learn is schizophrenic. Billie and her husband (Joel Gretsch) inherit a house and money, that will keep them out of bankruptcy, but the responsibility to care for  Elizabeth (Tammy Blanchard) is part of the deal. Blanchard plays the part chillingly, almost as if she were possessed at times. 

Billie tells her teenage son Davis (Alexander Le Bas) to learn to take care of his “aunt”, which he does. Le Bas, barely 16 when the film was shot (apparently around Vancouver) makes his character likeable, even powerful, and almost takes over the film as the center of gravity.  He tries to teach “Baby” how to use computers.  (Le Bas is definitely a young actor to watch, a sort of young Ed Norton.) But “Baby’s” behavior is erratic and “selfish” to say the least.  When she makes a move on her nephew, a family crisis ensues. The husband will leave Billie and take the kids if Baby doesn’t leave.  How will Billie navigate this impossible situation?  Another sympathetic relative with a ranch with animals (horses) can figure in to the solution. 

The film makes a point about the difficulty of placing the mentally ill.

When I was a patient at NIH in 1962, one of the female patients exhibited behavior similar to “Baby”, and even through a catatonic fit once, just as in the movie.

It's interesting that at times, Baby thinks no one has done anything for her.  She thinks of the house she is living in as "hers" when it is not.  Since she is part of the family, she acts like she is owed something.   

The official site is here.
The film is a bit over-stylized (as are many lifetime films, mostly produced in Canada, especially British Columbia, on limited budgets).  It could have been tweaked for a theatrical release, as the issues it covers are important.  Lionsgate or Roadside Attractions would have been the logical distributors. 

Update: March 8, 2015

Sony now distributes the DVD.  Imdb says the film was shot around LA but it looks like Vancouver to me.  

HBO's "Game Change" (about Sarah Palin) is great film-making; is it true to history?

The film “Game Change”, about Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy and other participation in John McCain’s 2008 GOP presidential bid, directed by Jay Roach, ought to have been a theatrical film. The film looked great in high-definition flat screen, but as Regal Cinema says, “think big or go home”.

Julianne Moore is convincing as “this is Sarah”, even if she overplays her vulnerability a bit.  Ed Harris isn’t quite so convincing as McCain, but baldy Woody Harrelson blows us away with his authoritarian personality of Steve Schmidt.
Of course, the funniest part of the movie comes when the campaign finds out that Sarah “doesn’t know anything”. Her first blooper is that Saddam Hussein started 9/11.  (No, it was Al Qaeda).  She nearly has a nervous breakdown when forced to deal with issues in an intellectual way, with critical thinking.  Bluntly, Schmidt says “She doesn’t know anything”.  She flubs her interview with Katie Couric.  She resents the instusiveness of her prep coaches.  Only her “people skills”, that could raise a disabled child, bring her along. She is challenged as to whether she can promote views slightly different from her own (McCain was less conservative) and she says no problem. But she winds up memorizing answers for debate questions. 

This is almost like the debate scandal in “Days of our Lives”.

Is this real history?  Or is “Game|Change” like “The Social Network” in that it misrepresents a major public figure to make a “movie”, to entertain.  It’s funny to contemplate Sarah Palin joining the company of diametrically opposite Mark Zuckerberg.  It’s also instructive to wonder why “creators of culture” usually don’t want to run for office.  You never saw a Steve Jobs run for president. The nation is worse off for it.
The film is adapted by screenwriter Mark Strong from the book by Mark Halperin and John Heileman. The music score, by Theodore Shapiro, sounds familiar, with its rapid themes in the cellos. 
HBO produced the film with PlayTone as the main partner.  Will it do a theatrical release anyway?
The website is here.
A good comparison will be the film "The War Room" about the Clinton campaign in 1992, from Chris Hegedus and G. Pennebaker (October Films). 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"The Forgiveness of Blood" examines "family values" in Albania

One of the aspects of the battles of the “culture wars” in the area of “family values” has to do with the idea that in most cultures, until recently in the West, “family” imposed obligations on other family members beyond their own choice.  True, spouses had to be faithful. But the kids, even as adults, were accountable for their fathers and for siblings.  Families were all in it “together”.  That seems to be what Santorum wants.

But we all know that this runs away in tribal cultures, into blood feuds. Such is the case in the film by Joshua Marston, “The Forgiveness of Blood”, from Fandango and Portobello Pictures, distributed by Sundance Selects (from the 2011 festival). It played before a substantial crowd at the late Saturday afternoon show at Landmark E Street.

The film takes place in rural Albania, and deals with old traditions of “kanun” and “besa” which are invoked by families even without the involvement of police.  Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is a likeable teen, slender and trying to beef up with weights, and intending to start an Internet business.  At home are a younger sister and Dren, much younger brother.  His father gets involved in an old land dispute involving access for easement, and comes to the aid of Nik’s uncle, unintentionally (probably) killing another man.  In the US, this would be viewed as manslaughter.  The grieved family imposes kanun, threatening to kill all the males in the family. With "kanun", the males of a family stay out of sight to avoid targeting by the aggrieved family, except when on a kind of military-like pass, "besa".  Nik is grounded.  The sister has to give up school and run the bread cart for the family.  Nik tries to make the best of things for a while, even trying to build a gym on the roof, enclosed by bricks.  Eventually, he has to deal with whether to turn to the police to have his own freedom.  There is a confrontation scene where he and his sister talk to the father about the need for the father to go to jail to pay for his own crime, and the father is offended that his kids won’t sacrifice more for him or for others.  Finally, Nik has to make one more critical decision about his own future and his loyalty to his family.  Is this “Santorum’s world”?

Nik is really quite charismatic, but the movie could have done without the scene where he points a defensive rifle at his brother in jest.

Nik also stays wired, by cell phone and Internet, while serving the "in home detention" for his father, and this figures into the resolution of his problems.

The film could well be compared to Iran's "A Separation" (Jan. 26, 2012 here).
The official Sundance site is here.

I see also from a Google search that the film has been picked up by IFC.  

Today’s “short film” is a 4 minute commercial by Cartier jewelry, and it shows a cheetah jumping on a piper club that flies all over Paris. The cat starts out in Russia and China first.