Thursday, May 31, 2012

Richard Bond's film about Tupac Shakur

Having visited Las Vegas (or Cibola, as Stephen King calls the model of the world) recently, I noticed the 2007 documentary “Tupac Assassination: Conspiracy or Revenge?” by Richard Bond (and “Bond Age Films”), examining the investigation of the gangland hit on rap singer Tupac Shakur on September 7, 1996 near the Strip in Las Vegas. 

The incident occurred about two years after OJ, and fits well into 90s lore.

The documentary recreates the scene on Flamingo Blvd with tinted model cars and makes it look chilling, as Tupac was surrounded and trapped.

Much of the rest of the documentary questions the police investigation, and interviews many parties never interviewed by police.  There were complicated ties to activity in Compton, CA as well as LA itself.

Early, the film makes interesting points about the squabble over the "ownership" of Tupac's music in the record industry. 

The DVD presents the film in full screen format. The film has a MySpace site here

There is a detailed biography on Wikipedia, emphasizing the way “2Pac” dealt with the problems in the inner cities, here

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

PBS Independent Lens looks at return of wounded Marine, "Hell and Back Again"

The PBS Independent Lens film “Hell and Back Again”, directed by Danfung Dennis, documents the life of a Marine, SGT Nathan Harris, who is severely wounded in the hip and thigh before the end of his deployment in Afghanistan.  The filmmaker traced his life back home in North Carolina with wife Ashley.

The narrative style of the film switches back and forth between his gradual healing at home and the backstories of the action during his deployments (there were three of them).

There’s a discussion of why he wanted to join the Marine Corps, that is to be a “cowboy”, to be a warrior.  The rest of us depend too much on people willing and wanting to do this.  But he has to get home to his wife. But he says at 26 he has grown up from when he was 18.

There’s a medical session, showing the healing thigh, where the doctor says it will be a year before he can go back to “killing people”.  He says that he will never get back to 100%, and that a grunt is all he ever had wanted to be.  Amazing!

The flatland infiltration episode near the end of the film does invoke the mood of “Hurt Locker”. The battlefield tears are hard to take.

The film won awards at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Jeffrey Brown interviews Mr. Dennis at this link supplied by PBS.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Laurent Bouhnik goes "all the way" in his new "Q Desire"

There is a new, explicit film by Laurent Bouhnik, titled simply “Desire”, with the DVD due from Strand Releasing on June 5.

In an unspecified town on the  Mediterranean coast of France, Cecile (Deborah Revy) experiences the loss of her father, who had been ambiguous and then supportive of her need for freedom. She throws herself into the lives of several teenagers, most notably Matt (Gowan Didi), and finds that only full “physicality” gives her any sense of meaning.  To set the tone of her life, she finds an urn for her father’s ashes in a bar.

In the notes for the DVD screener, the director is quite candid about his belief in the need for physical fulfillment.  The film is quite explicit (with “everything”), from the very opening;  the characters are impetuous, with their smoking, sometimes reckless driving (Matt gets struck by a car but is OK), and their need for adventure.  The film does present lesbian encounters, but all the men are interested in “straight” objectives only (even if blindfolded).  Some of the group scenes are shot in black-and-white and various sepias or colorizing of only certain objects. 

Given the male need for “aggression” in many scenes, I wondered, when I was younger, could I have ever proved myself “worthy”?

The film is also known as “Q” (the title on imdb). But remember, "Q" was the name of the all-knowing older godfather in the James Bond movies. 

Strand's official site is here

The film is not officially rated, but definitely would fall into the NC-17 area.  But that’s OK.  We need a respectable category of film just for grownups.

YouTube trailer from “FilmsActu”:

For today’s “short film”, look at my main blog for a discussion of Khan Academy’s  animated “Alien Abduction Brain Teaser” (18 min).  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"The Man of My Life": eclectic French film about a wise gay neighbor

A French film by Zaibou Breitman, “The Man of My Life” (“L’homme de sa vie”, 2006) sets up a well-to-do family in the Provence region of France, with a new gay neighbor.

Frederic (Bernard Campan), in his 40s and looking fit but otherwise close to his age, has loving kids and an attentive wife.  They invite a new neighbor Hugo (Charles Berling) for dinner, and gradually Frederic starts to question the basis of his own existence, over time.

The film shows a lot of fantasy, apparently embedded in computer and cell phone images, such as Hugo’s “hanging angel” for a boyfriend. It even makes art of the fitness equipment and running gear.

Hugo tells Frederic how his father threw him out of the house, and spread the misery by saying “You hurt your family was well as yourself” by being gay. How?  By not offering grandchildren?  But then we learn that Hugo has a daughter himself anyway.

Hugo also challenges Frederic about the existential basis of life, for example, the importance of family, which cannot be chosen, and friends and lovers, which can be.  He says that Frederic is living his own life from a distance, as if he were looking at it in the third person. 

This film is a bit more ephemeral and subtle than the usual "gay man loves straight man" film. 

Strand Releasing’s trailer:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Daylight" is a taut mini-thriller, German style, in New York State

A recent but brief and taut thriller by David Barker, “Daylight”, transposes European-style small cast plotting to upstate New York.  A wealthy young couple (from Germany or Switzerland), on their way to an unspecified wedding (not theirs?), Dan and Irene (Aidan Redmond and Alexandra Meierhans) picks up a hitchhiker (Renny, played by Michael Godere) when lost somewhere in the Catskills.  Soon they are carjacked, and taken to a house occupied by co-conspirators Leo and Murph (Ivan Martin and Brian Bickerstaff).  Godere, one of the writers, is quite likeable in a way, and seems almost out of character playing this kind of role. 

The drama then takes some unusual twists.  The criminals act as if they were at war with rich people, to take by force what they can (to survive?)   Threats and “funny games” start, sometimes erotic (both homo and hetero), and gradually Irene decides she can use her pregnancy as a kind of defensive weapon.  There is a bit of Stockholm Syndrome for a bit – or is Irene faking it?  At the end, we know how Irene saves herself and her baby, but her husband is an open question.

I had rented the DVD and returned it, confusing it with “The Divide” (as on my “cf” blog, May 15), because the title “Daylight” would make sense for that latter film, so I watched it on Instant Play.  The rural cinematography is gorgeous online.  There was a famous film with Sylvester Stallone with the same title in 1996.

The film was distributed by Cinema Purgatorio for small limited release in 2011. The official site from the distributor is here

The film can be rented on YouTube through Warner Bros. for $3.99.   The language is mostly English (a little German, no subtitles). 

Note:  A review of "Battleship" (Peter Berg, Universal) is also on my "cf" blog May 25. 

Picture (mine), off US 9, about 80 miles N of NYC, 2011. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Some samples from "48 Hour Film Project", 2012

I didn’t make it to the DC 48 Hour Film Project recap (the finalists were shown at AFI Silver last night), so I picked three 2012 films from three cities.

From the Cleveland project, I found Dustin Lee’s film, “Transistor”, filmed in Kent and Parma, Ohio, by Maple Films.  The required line seems to be “Nothing is Mundane”.  A young woman, stilling living a home, is bothered by hearing static and voices wherever she is, even in her office cubicle.  It comes off her cell phone, her car radio, an old radio found in the woods.  Finally a young man who knows something about this shows up.

The link is here.   Ohio is pushing film hard as a possible source of jobs in a recession. 

From the Miami project, I found "Mayanetics", by Sean Biffar and John Hunt, Miami, with script line “Some people like it that way” with prop of sunglasses.  This is a short documentary about a fictitious cult religion, as people sleep out on the "South Beach" and wait for a shaman to appear. He does, and is a bit underwhelming.  The young people on the beach, including a guy who doesn't walk on cracks, look like the real gods. 

From Las Vegas, I found the black and white silent short,  “The Grimace” from “Memory Loss Filmz” (sic), by Levi Velasquez  Steve Suarez.  A “joker” trolls the hallways and stalks the staff of a public school, and the film shows nothing that looks like the “Cibola” we know.  Link is here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Big Miracle": in the 1980s, the polar regions could still get too cold

Delta actually shows movies on flights three-fourths across the country, as with “Big Miracle” yesterday on a trek from Salt Lake to Baltimore.

A local news reporter Adam Carlson (John Kraninski) discovers three whales trapped by ice in the Prudhoe Bay area.  He recruits an ex-girl friend and Greenpeace volunteer Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) to stir up the heroic effort to rescue the cetaceans. Adam hopes to have a nationwide news story and has his own ulterior motives besides environmental altruism.  (Rachel was Cindy Lowry in the “true story”.)

In time, a whole town (Barrow) is mobilized, as kids stop school to join an effort “bigger than themselves”.
The environmental issue seems the opposite of what we often hear about today, as with polar bears, who are endangered by melting ice, not refreezing.

There is a lot of 1980s feel-good stuff, with Ronald Reagan appearing to praise the efforts.

The official site is here (Universal).  The film is based on the book “Freeing the Whales” by Thomas Rose and is directed by Ken Kwapis.

Drew Barrymore’s role reminds me of the 2004 film “My Date with Drew”, made for $1000, for filmmaker Brian Herzlinger risks his bod a bit and wonders if he needs to look buff before meeting here.  The official site is still there, from Imagination and Rusty Bear films.

Pictures, actually near Tioga Pass, CA, recent trip

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Of Ice and Fire: A Portrait of the Mono Basin", short film about Mono Lake

The National Park Service shows several short films at the Mono Lake Visitor's Center in Lee Vining,CA. the most important of which is "Of Ice and Fire: A Portrait of the Mono Basin", 20 min, narrated by David Gaines.

The film depicts the history of native peoples who settled on the shores of the ancient volcanic lake (in a caldera at about 7000 feet), and on the islands.  In the 19th century, some pioneers settled in the area, built a small town and even a small narrow gauge railroad, and some people lived on the islands. The film then explains how the tufa (salt towers) formed.

The lake, with no natural drainage, is three times as saline as the ocean.  Brine shrimp and unusual insects live underneath the water.

Recent scientific discoveries have shown that bacteria life in the water uses arsenic instead of phosphorus for many critical proteins, and has given rise to speculation about how extraterrestrial life could evolve. 

The lake (as is much of the surrounding area down to Mammoth Lakes) is in an ancient volcano caldera, that could explode someday as a supervolcano, and poses a risk to civilization not unlike that of Yellowstone.

Trailer from Nature Wonders, Travel Video Store:

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Heartbreak Ridge" recalls some Reagan-era military history

Not all of Clint Eastwood’s films (as directed) are as original as some of the more recent ones.

For example, “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986, Warner Brothers, Malpaso, recently aired on AMCTV as part of its War Heroes series) has Eastwood playing a Marie Gunnery sergeant tasked, after some misadventures, for shaping up a weak unit at Camp Lejeune.  For a good part of the film, he seems a bit like a drill sergeant with draftees.  But the time period of the film is 1983, as the unit then gets called to fight “Cuban” insurgents and rescue medical students held hostage in Grenada.

The Lejuene scenes have mountains, which in real life they could not.  In fact, the scenery looked more like Camp Pendleton than Camp Lejeune.

The Grenada episode was an early military success for Ronald Reagan, and it may have helped set the tone for the tough stance that would eventually lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and even the entire Soviet Union, only eight years after Vietnam had fallen.  (Kennedy, remember, had started out with the Bay of Pigs and wound up with a Cuban Missile Crisis.) Yet, the episode is now largely forgotten.
This was done with a volunteer military (since Nixon's action in 1973), although there had been talk of resuming the draft after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Supreme Court had actually upheld male-only conscription. And just before Reagan took office, in early 1981, the “absolute ban” or Old Policy against gays in the military had been instituted.

The unit cohesion issues in the film remind me of the early scenes of “A Few Good Men” (1992), with Tom Cruise, where Jack Nicholson played Marine commandant at the old Guantanomo who authorized a “code red” – a bullying or hazing exercise by unit mates to bring a non-performing trooper into shape.  The concept sets a bad example for young people in the larger society. 

Here is Clint Eastwood’s own assessment of his 1986 film.

Warner Brothers rents the film “legally” on YouTube for $1.99. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Recalling more Disney "live action" - "The Great Locomotive Chase"

Disney’s California presence has certainly been redeveloped in the past couple decades, with Downtown Disney (as a kind of bigger Main Street), the California Adventure (not quite all done), and more resorts.  It still looks smaller than Orlando, and if I get down there later, I want to try the “animated film” tutorial (30 min).

When I was growing up, Walt Disney Studios stood apart from the other biggies.  It seemed to be the work of one man (maybe Paramount was, too).  I remember Disney’s own accounts of his plans for Florida; they sounded like all his own idea.

Disney’s films in the 50s had "labels": animation (or “cartoons”), and True-Life Adventures (like “The Living Desert”, “The Vanishing Prairie”, and the bizarre “Secrets of Life”, all with narrator Winston Hibler. I still remember an unusual family outing one Sunday afternoon to see “Desert” in the old Playhouse Theater in downtown Washington (next to the Keith’s, with the unusually tall screen).

The other category of Disney features was called “Live Action”.  It seemed odd to need to have such a name for an offering of film.  The most famous of the 50s was Jules Verne’s “20000 Leagues Under the Sea”, and example of early Cinemascope (and very effective), and “Swiss Family Robinson” (reviewed here March 28, 2012).  Disney “live action” had a way of creating a (family-friendly) world of its own, completely separated from our ordinary reality. In a way, it anticipates the work of modern directors like Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”, etc).

I wanted to note here “The Great Locomotive Chase” (1956), a great childhood favorite. Disney gave the making of this film a lot of attention on his “Walt Disney Hour” show.  Directed by Francis Lyon, it shows the true story (written by Lawrence Edward Watkin) of a union spy James J. Andres (Fess Parker, another childhood “hero” who passed away in early 2010) leads some soldiers into the South to steal a train.  The conductor of the train catches on to them.  The concept of steam engine train chases seems unique in the movies, and one wonders how it would look if depicted in a model railroad set (like the Choo Choo Barn in PA).  The film was another early example of masterful use of Cinemascope.

The film can be rented "legally" and cheaply from YouTube (the movie is still owned by Disney) for $1.99. 

Another “live action” favorite was the classic musical “Mary Poppins”  (1964) by Robert Stevenson (Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke) about a happy English nanny and a reclusive, asocial banker and his family.  Remember the umbrella flights?  Disney did not use anamorphic wide screen format for this film, which would have been expected of all big musicals in its day.

Disney’s concept of dividing a theme park “kingdom” into separate “lands” has always been interesting to me, and appears in my own “Do Ask Do Tell” screenplay, in the works.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Two more GLBT shorts: "Who We Are" and "The Burning Boy"; (also, a belated bonus, "Basketball and Math")

Who We Are”, by Sean Willis,  is an 18 minute short film (2010) in which a fundamentalist pastor’s son Connor (Justin Fix) befriends a gay teen Alex (Taylor Caldwell) and agrees to help with an event with the school Gay-Straight Alliance.  Connor has to deal with his own feelings, and when Alex is beat up in a convenience store, a real crisis will happen for Connor’s father, who can’t even see why bullying is wrong.

It struck me that I would have been utterly incapable of having that pastor’s life and family, constructed around such beliefs and the demands they make on others.

There’s a great song, “At the end of the day, all we have is who we are”. It sounds familiar and has a cheery lilt.
Another interesting short is “The Burning Boy” (2001, Ireland), by Vizpoets and Kerian Galvin, with Cameron Ford (Ben) and Josh Roberts (Chill).  A straight teen and gay teen go on a swim, and then on a day hike to a cabin on a heath.  The straight teen opens up somewhat, and there is a little intimacy, and then an accident that sets the cabin on fire.  Is the boy who escapes a coward?

Link is here.

And here's a bonus (May 25), call it a "short film #3" if you like: "Basketball and Mathematics" ("Basket et Maths"), by Rodolphe Marconi, has a teenage basketball player in an upper class "ecole" fall for his math tutor, and his mother is indifferent. The youtube tranfer is fuzzy, link.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gay comedy asks if a "date" is really an "interview" ("A Four Letter Word")

According to the goofball comedy by Casper Andreas, “A Four Letter Word” (TLA Releasing and Embrem Entertainment, 2007), “date” is a “four letter word” for “interview”.  Later, the script makes a similar observation about “love”.  That's more than friendship.

I recall my last year living in New York City (1978), and I think there could be a couple people who remember me from that period (I was turning 35 then) who might have found “dates” with me like “interviews”.

The film centers “largely” around a sometimes androgynous character named Luke (Jesse Archer), always outwitting his friends verbally, until he meets  a charismatic Stephen, played by Charlie David, a lead in the recent “Judas Kiss” (June 4, 2011 here).  Charlie looks a bit “younger” in this movie – whether that’s deliberate, or because this movie was shot five years earlier is hard to say.  Some of the antics take place in the "novelty" shop where Luke works for Zeke (Cory Grant), who takes the solidarity aspects of gay liberation very seriously).  Does Luke even have enough self-discipline to hold down this kind of job?
The other part of the plot involves an AA group and a sex addicts group, both of which enforce the custom of introducing yourself as “I am an …”, and requiring a unison “hello”.

The official site is here

YouTube trailer from the film’s producers.  “Let the manhunt begin!”   (Remember “Social Network”: “let the hacking begin.”)  Another good line is, "Lose a button, make a friend". 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Renoir's "A Day in the Country": I get led to it by a missed R.A. shorts screening

Reel Affirmations sponsored an additional gay shorts series on May 11, which I did not find out about in time.  I tried to find some of the films on Logo or YouTube and sometimes found other films with the same or similar names.

I couldn’t find Sal Bardo’s “Requited”, but I did find an 8 minute “dramatic short film” titled “Requited” directed by Jonathan Talbert, with an African American woman (Sharina Martin)  analyzing her inability to make a particular (heterosexual) relationship work, link  

Again, I missed Pella Kagerman’s film, but I found another curious short called “A Day in the Country”, by Brett Pausina, for the Watkins Film School, on vimeo, here. The sound has yet to be filled in, but the black-and-white photography in this 13-minute stroll catches one’s attention. A father lets a daughter go off on a walk in the woods, where she meets a menace that seems to turn gentle.  But there’s a bit of “Blair Witch” at one point.

But the famous film by this title ("Partie de campagne") is the “unfinished symphony” by Jean Renoir, based on the short story by Guy de Maupassant, filmed in 1936, released (40 minutes) by Janus in 1946, available on Hulu here  (also from The Criterion Collection). (This is the fist time I've used Hulu, which asks a single survey question about each brief ad, four of them in the film.)  I think we watched this in high school French class, without subtitles, and had to write a paragraph on it.  In 1860, a family of a Parisian shop owner visits an inn, whose manager curiously resent cityfolk (people are supposed to bring their own fishing gear), but the daughter of the visitor falls in love with a worker at the inn.  The rain sequence is great to watch, but not connected much to the story. The romantic background music by Joseph Kosma sounds technically clean for the time. 

Again, I couln’t find Pollino’s film, but I found a 9-minute French film “Regrets” by Fred Bouchal, from the Vienna Film Festival, and it’s rather interesting. 

A man, on the run from organized crime in the winter, encounters a small boy who brings back memories of his own life, before he dies.

I found a curious gay male short by SETEC about two men who meet on the NYC subway, called “Connected”.  It rather reminds me of “Trick”.

I have a review of the recent  apocalyptic film “The Divide” (immediate DVD) on my “disaster movies” blog May 14.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Drama Camp" is Brocka's fourth in a series: familiar "direction"

Q. Allan Brocka has a fourth installment in his notorious and flippant gay comedy series, this time (2011), “Eating Out: Drama Camp”, from Ariztical. 

This time, the boys and girls (and mixtures) go to a rural drama camp, somewhere in the Sierra foothills, to get the chance to explore their fantasies in Shakespeare adaptations and other plays.  At the end, there will be a competition. And proprietor Dick Dickey (Drew Dodge) has an inflexible rule, that sounds like it belongs in the Crew Club, “no sex.”

The “guests” say three to a cabin, in twin beds, but there’s plenty of experience having straight and openly gay men room together.  That puts pressure on the “straight men.”

The “exercises”, of learning to perform intimately with other actors beyond one’s personal choices, prove too challenge to one poor guy, who throws up on his partner.

Nevertheless, the Shakespeare provides ample opportunity, toward the end, for some real intimacy, directed in stages (imitating a similar scene in Brocka’s first film in 2004).  The participants get caught, but then it’s possible to “blackmail” Drew with his own hypocrisy.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Last Call at the Oasis" is a somewhat scattered look at the coming water crisis

Remember the 2000 film “Erin Brokovich” with Julia Roberts (20th Century Fox, Steven Soderbergh) about her battle over  underground water pollution (by “hexavalent chromium”) with PGEC around the town of Hinkley, CA in the Mojave Desert? Picture below (mine) is near Hinkley and Barstow.

She’s back, as herself, updating the same issue in “Last Call at the Oasis”, a new documentary from Jessica Lu (Participant, and Art Takes Over).  The film also documents similar pollution issues around Midland, TX, and earlier, the coming water shortage for the entire Southwest, centered around the profligacy of Las Vegas (or “Cibola” in Stephen King’s talk).  The film covers a controversy over building a water pipeline from Baker, NV to Las Vegas (news coverage link).

The later part of the documentary covers the group Friends of Earth Middle East (link), which may be the only group which actively succeeds in promoting peace in the area.  Representatives of the group were present for a Q and A at Landmark E Street on Saturday, May 12.

The narrative progression of the film seems a bit random, bit the scenery is impressive.

"Peak water" is not quite like peak oil, because water is supposed to be renewable.  The film pointed out the tremendous energy resources needed for desalination plants (and the likelihood of increasing CO2 levels). 

The official site is here

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" doesn't provide seniors with an easy way to live

When people retire and lose loved ones (or even super-long-living parents) they often get unwanted solicitations for opportunities to find “an easy way to live”. 
So “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” for the elderly and beautiful, directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”, which I do remember) begins in dank old England, with Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) contemplating how she will go on with her late husband’s debt.  Another couple is insulted when a real estate agent shows a British retirement home with a railing around the wall and a security hot plate for falls.  Pretty soon they all learn about the Marigold Hotel in India, which will not turn out to be a wel- equipped CCCRC  (Continuing Care Retirement Community).  On an English golf course, Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) says that the resort will be like Florida, but “with more elephants.”

Once they all get there, it’s pretty much a quaint dump, of course, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of overpopulated, caste-driven India. The manager, Sonny (Dev Patel), sees it as a business opportunity to be flipped.  But he becomes the ultimate huckster (“… then it is not the end”).

The place is indeed quirky.  Some rooms don’t have doors, and the phones don’t work at first, but Sonny has his own Internet connection. Dev (“Slumdog Millionaire”) plays the part as a goofball (it might work with someone like Bill Murray), but he is just so cute, as the camera dawdles on his hairy arms but smooth chest in many scenes.  And he’s also fighting for a basic civil right, to choose his own wife rather than give in to the Indian custom of arranged marriages.

One character, Graham (Tom Wilkinson) says he’s gay when approached by a female interested in romance – and then the film develops a back story about how the family of a past boy friend in India had felt shamed.  He has returned for the end of life.

And in the end, “all’s well”: to save the hotel from Sonny’s creditors, all the new residents will wind up with lucrative jobs running it.  Will they find new romance?  They will gradually become more open to it than I would.

The film is distributed by Fox Searchlight with Participant Media, which stresses social issues, as the production company. The official site is here.  

I saw the film at the early evening show at the AMC Shirlington, starting the second week, in a large auditorium, before a relatively large crowd.  The audience did chuckle a lot and find the movie funny.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The concept of "11/11/11" and "the bad seed" don't add up

There have been plenty of movies about the “bad seed” concept (including the original in 1956), but the horror film “11/11/11” from “The Asylum”  (a “B movie” video distributor, link) tries to combine this idea with the “end of the world.”  It’s not too engaging. The film is directed by Keith Allan and was apparently available about the same time as “Melancholia”, if only by coincidence.

Jack and Melissa Vales (John Briddell and Erin Croker) move into a quaint Florida (I think) neighborhood, just before their son Nathan (Hayden Byerly) is to have his eleventh birthday on that date.  Almost immediately, horrible accidents start all over the neighborhood (or as in that commercial for Mucinex, “There goes the neighborhood!”)    The realtor can’t explain why the numbers “111111” are engraved in a wall in the house. 
Pretty soon the script gives us silly lines about how numbers can add up to 11.

Melissa has medical problems with her pregnancy, and is put on absolute bed rest.  That point, that this sort of thing happens to families, is well taken.  But insurance will pay for the nanny for their home-schooled son (I doubt many health insurance companies really will do that).  But soon Jack has to fire the nanny and get her arrested, not realizing that the problem really could be with his son.  Every parent wants his firstborn to turn out to be Clark Kent -- perfect, and gifted -- but sometimes there's too much red kryptonite around.  

About an hour into this 90-minute film, we’re treated to this coven of witches, who ride incognito in black limousines (not going to gay bars), and we realize that apocalypse will happen indeed unless Jack plays hero.
I think the concept of an approaching rogue planet or brown dwarf is a lot more interesting than the “coven” approach.

There are other films on imdb with this title, which seems rather popular.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kane Hodder really is prolific with his "roles"; example, "B.T.K."

Occasionally, a gratuitous film will have some redeeming scenes, and that is the case with “B.T.K.” (dir. Michael Feifer), a “biography” of Dennis Rader, played by utility actor Kane Hodder.   The 40-something church lay officer, Boy Scout troop commander and steadily married father of two daughters had a horrific other life, which leads him to say toward the end of this 85-minute film that he’s “not human”.  (Hodder played Jason in “Friday the 13th.”

In a family showdown, just before his impending apprehension, one of his daughters tells him off, but mom (Amy Lyndon) lectures the daughter, “he’s still your father”.  “No he’s not”, the daughter says. He had always complained that they weren’t boys.

The true story takes place in eastern Kansas, and there’s a scene with a sign “Kansas City, 25 Miles”, with desert mountains in the background, which is, of course, geographically wrong.   Rader carries out a lot of his dastardly deeds by posing as a copy himself, giving people frivolous parking tickets.

The DVD, distributed by Lionsgate (2008), is one of a series of similar films from Barnholz Entertainment. The letters in the title make an acronym, which need not be repeated here. 

Here’s an hour-long interview with the actor from “This Week”.

Picture: Flint Hills, Kansas (mine, 2006). 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

"To the Arctic", new Imax film about a polar bear, doesn't have the narrative strength of some other nature films

Warner Brothers and director Stephen MacGillivray present a 3-D Imax 45-minute “museum” film, “To The Arctic 3D”, depicting a polar bear and her two cubs struggling to find food in a world where ice floes to carry them are getting scarcer, in a warming climate.   (Sorry -- my brain momentarily scrambled the title with Paramount's "Into the Wild".)

The film does document the fact that the north polar ice cap will probably disappear in summer completely by 2050.  The North Pole is supposed to keep some ice cap all summer long, even though it is smaller than the Antarctic's.

The polar bear is related to the brown bear, with the male almost twice the size of the sow. The film depicts the rogue  male as a threat to kill or eat the young of the female.

But as a species, the polar bear is under threat. 

The film doesn’t have the narrative focus or storytelling that “Chimpanzee”, which also came out during Earth Week, does.

The film shows seals and walruses, and has a stirring sequence where the mom and cubs are making the most of a small seal for a meal.

Most of the scenery in the film is just ice and water.  But there is one impressive sequence showing rocky fjords, rather like a scene out of Toiken.   The film appears to have been shot in far northeastern Canada.

The Smithsonian link for the film is here

The film could be compared to “Arctic Tale”, in 2007 from Paramount Vantage (dir. Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robinson), with Queen Latifah narrating, telling a duel story of a female polar bear and female walrus.
There is a review of “Rescue 3D” on the “Films on Major Challenges to Freedom Blog” May 8.  It shows across the Mall at Air and Space.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Marvel's "Avengers" have to work as a team.

I made it to “The Avengers” (or “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”, dir. Joss Whedon) on a late Monday afternoon at Tyson’s AMC in northern VA, for an IMAX 3D viewing, and was surprised by the ample crowd on a weekday afternoon. It was largely young adult male, perhaps high-tech, with people whose jobs are 24x7.  This was not a private showing "Just for me", (say, like "Kids in America" at another AMC a few years ago, when I needed it). 

The plot, when laid out in end-to-end detail, is so intricate as to sound perfunctory – but that’s normal for the world of comics.  (It isn’t any more complicated than, say, ABC’s “Missing”).  Needless to say, the main point is getting the world’s “superheroes”  (under the guise of “S.H.I.E.L.D.”) to overcome their individualistic egos and work together as a team. There’s some politicking at the beginning because Loki (a laconic and partially attractive Tom Hiddleston) and his minions have taken over the minds of a couple of them with the help of this top-secret gamma-ray emitting Tesseract.

One of the most interesting visual concepts in the film is the sub that becomes an aircraft carrier that becomes a chopper and flies around.  In time, the movie’s extraterrestrials destroy a good part of Manhattan – not a new thing for Hollywood, and it’s interesting that you don’t do a whole lot more on a $220 million budget split among Disney, Paramount and Marvel Studios than with the handheld budget of “Cloverfield” (disaster movies blog, Jan. 8, 2008). 

The transformations come relatively late.  Thor (Chirs Hemsworth) manages to look a lot like the Nationals’ Jayson Werth, who may have watched this movie in Minneapolis after his career-saving wrist fracture surgery early Monday.  Chris Evans, as Captain America, keeps us from seeing much through the spandex. Bruce Banner really is Mark Ruffalo, the indie star (like in “Margaret”) until the gamma rays make him into a Hulk, and then he can change back, waking up in a dump, his hairy bod in view, and at 44 he has not started to go downhill.  (But would he "take one for the team"?) By Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-com  (April 13 review) edict, Samuel L. Jackson, as Nick Fury, is in charge of the group, as fends of ideological challenges to the importance of freedom but still gets members of the team to dismiss squabbles over how they got there.

The official site is here

People stayed seated for the two encores after the closing credits. In one of them, the “Other” Chitauri, sitting on asteroids, confer about a sequel (a scene that looks quite striking).  Then the ensemble eats quietly in a schwarma restaurant.  They are the angels of the world, wondering what came before and what’s next.  It all depends on who needs them.

Marvel offers a 1-minute YouTube video "featurette" about "The Threat”.

I don’t think that this sort of thing is an existential challenge to self-indulgent civilization (or to the “Me Generations”).  Maybe something like an EMP device would be.

There's one technical curiosity. The film was shot in standard aspect (IMDB says 1.78:1) rather than the 2.35:1 customary for such action films.  The way AMC Tysons (Auditorium 3) is designed, the entire IMAX screen space was used.  But I would have preferred the wider aspect for a Cinerama-like effect.  From my position in the theater, somewhat up front, just above the split, the 3-D images looked a bit over-exposed.  

The music (by Alan Silvestri) has a credited sequence (early) where the Schubert A Minor string quartet is orchestrated, and it's effective.  But later I thought I heard some Shostakovich, and also the brazen, super-hero theme from the finale of (late British composer) William Alwyn's Symphony #4, which I have on CD (Chandos). Alwyn had composed some film scores in the 50s and 60s ("Swiss Family Robinson"). I think I heard the same theme near the end of the last Harry Potter movie.  Don't obscure classical music quotes deserve mention in end-credits?

First picture: I know it's the wrong movie, but AMC likes to use Lorax to tell us to turn off our cell phones.  Second Picture:  IO figured in to the 2010 Space Odyssey sequel.   Third Picture:  The Avengers must need Lockheed technology.  

Monday, May 07, 2012

"Love Free or Die" is a compelling portrait of gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson

On Sunday May 6 the Maryland Film Festival presented the biography “Love Free or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire Is Changing the World”, the story of Episcopal Bishop Vicki Gene Robinson, who was elected to the post in New Hampshire in 2003, after a bitter struggle within the Anglican church about accepting openly gay people into the clergy. The title, of course, is based on New Hampshire’s libertarian state slogan, “Live free or die”.

The film, directed by Macky Alston, is remarkable in providing “live” coverage of events spanning so many years.  The climax of the film occurs with the 2003 vote in Minneapolis (where I was living when news coverage occurred. The so-called “Anglican Divide” followed as a result.

Some of the most interesting footage in the film occurs early with a visit to Canterbury cathedral, which was the end destination of the famous 1944 film by  Powell and Pressburger, “A Canterbury Tale”.  Reviewed here March 15, 2011.  The Church is quite deceptive and evasive about allowing filming. Later, Robinson is shown standing near a bridge near the church that resembles Washington DC’s Memorial Bridge, followed by a conclave in which someone becomes disruptive over the gay issue and must be removed.

The film was shown in the spacious (Maryland Institute College of Art) MICA Brown Center in Baltimore, and both the director and Robinson were available for a detailed Q&A.  Robinson said that at the time, the Anglican Church “risked its life” over the issue.  He also said that the US ought to follow the lead of France, and perform all legally-driven marriage ceremonies in a civil procedure, and then have a separate consecration in Church.   I asked a question about Edward Wilson’s book  (review May 1) and comments about eusociality and homosexuality as a form of diversity that promotes altruism within a group, and Robinson was familiar with Wilson’s arguments. 

In 1989, I had a co-worker friend who was very active in the conservative Falls Church Episcopal Church.  He had a roommate with ties to "Love and Action" and "giving up the gay lifestyle".  I've written about that group before (Oct. 19, 2011).  That particular congregation, one of the first in Virginia, got involved in the Anglican Divide. 

The film was produced by ITVS, Reveal Productions and the Sundance Institute, and for PBS Independent Lens.

The official website for the film is here

PBS Independent Lens says that the film premiered at Sundance on Jan. 23.

Below: Poster for film:

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Maryland Film Festival's WTF shorts: Some New Wave, some existentialism

I was able to get in free (but late) to the Maryland Film Festival’s “WTF Shorts” at the WindUp Space on North Street .  The festival link is here

I’ll cover the films I saw.

The festival is presenting “The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke” (also at SXSW and Sundance) as perhaps the most important of the set (13 min).  Directed by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, it’s a pseudo French new wave animated short (rather explicit in some aspects) about a progressive American mayor who endures a nearby nuclear meltdown. The film is said to be inspired by the 1962 doomsday short “La Jetee” (reviewed Oct. 28, 2010), but that's no so clear in the viewing.

While Henry Sleeps” (13 min.), by Craig Butta, shows a married mom leaving her baby with a stay-at-home dad while she pursues pleasurable pursuits to earn money for the family, and even goes to Confession.  Hubby comes to accept being a stay-at-home dad.  But the film manages to take some pot-shots at the authoritarianism of the Church, especially in Catholic Baltimore.

Crown”, (8 min.), by AJ Rojas, seems like an introduction to “Enter the Void” (April 22, here).  A hapless middle class man in “good clothes” visits a nice home taken over by a drug gang to get high on bongs himself.  He winds up re-living his own birth. 

Transitions” (4 min.), by Robert Todd, seemed like a collage out of “Star Wars”, but showed a lot of possible extraterrestrial civilizations.  May I refer the visitor to “Alien Planet” (The Discovery Channel, 2005), reviewed on my TV blog May 3.

I Am Your Grandma”, 1 minute, by Jillian Mayer, provides a video log registry of her unborn (and unconceived) grandchildren.  Hope we don’t follow the course of “Children of Men”.

The Observer” (5 min.), by Abbey Luck, tells its story in black and white animated abstractions of some other kind of life. An individual citizen breaks away from an authoritarian King and wants to “blog” a new way of life. But he’d rather kibitz than play the game that he knows he’ll lose.

Meaning of Robots” (4 min.) by Matt Lenski, has Mike Sullivan discussing his photography of a robot sex film. 

The venue is long and narrow, with flat seating, and it was a little hard to see the screen from the back.

"Sun Don't Shine": taut noir thriller set in Florida, plays at Baltimore film festival

The Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore screened (in the Charles Center) the gritty  “Sun Don’t Shine”, by Amy Seimetz.  The 16mm-to-digital film (82 minutes) takes tight plotting and the “thriller” genre to the ultimate.  At one time, the byline was “the plot is top secret”.  The title does seem to poke fun at John Sayles and his "Sunshine State" (2002), because in this movie the action comes quickly and time moves fast. 

Leo (Kentucker Audley) and Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil), on the run in central Florida, have a stormy relationship.  Crystal acts jealous and childlike.  But there’s a terrible secret in the trunk of their carm vulnerable to break-downs on the road.

As the film progresses, we’re led to wonder who is really the “fox” here. 

Seimetz and the cast were present for questioning.  The comment was offered, that the film does not re-enact the back story.

The film was shot around St. Petersburg, FL and has a hot, swampy feel. 

I couldn’t help feel that Kentucker is about as physically attractive as the male gets.  The camera, despite the 16mm, can dawdle on the details.

Is this film like “Bonnie and Clyde”? Not exactly.  It reminds me more of “Body Heat” (1980) – there is a chimes scene, and there’s somebody “not smart enough not to get outsmarted.”   (There’s no line, “He’s not too bright. I like that in a man.”) Needless to say, the police find they have their work cut out for them, maybe literally.  I think some swamp alligators have some work to do, also.

The film also screened in Austin, Texas at SXSW, link.

The film apparently doesn't have formal commercial distribution yet.  I would think it would attract notice.  

Picture: near Clearwater, FL (mine, personal trip, Nov. 2004).  

Second picture: Q&A last night. 

Below: Art grille overhead at the Charles Center, Baltimore.

Friday, May 04, 2012

"Gloria" (Cassavetes, in 1980) tests the limits of a circumstantial maternal bond

Having reviewed “Julia” (April 23), I went back and rented the film by John Cassavetes, “Gloria” (1980, Columbia) that had supposedly inspired the recent film. At the time I was not aware that there is also a 1999 version of the “Gloria” plot by Sidney Lumet.

In Cassavetes’s film, “Gloria” (Gena Rowlands) is a former mistress of a mobster planning to return to a former life with her savings. One day, her neighbor Jeri (Julie Carmen) in her low-income Bronx apartment building, gets a mob hit (motivated by her husband Jack’s  (Buck Henry) “cheating”, as Gloria is visiting to borrow coffee.  Gloria winds up on the lam with Jeri’s six-year-old son Phil (John Adames), who says “I am the man”, after his whole family is gone.

Gloria gradually bonds to the boy, and the film tests the boundaries of circumstantial motherhood, which happens in nature (as in a NatGeo film where a mother leopard was actually trying to feed a baby baboon).  Sometimes both of them test the bond.  Gloria is not above drawing weapons to protect the boy, but she is not as greedy as the character “Julia” in the later movie.

I was living in Dallas when the movie appeared but apparently skipped it.  It would have attracted attention because of the popularity of the “Godfather” movies.  The film does was not originally whon in Dolby Stereo, which in 1980 was still a bit of a luxury.  The musical soundtrack by Bill Conti reminds one of Elmer Bernstein and is quite impressive, and seems to come through in stereo (like an “AAD” compact disc) in the DVD.

The film opens near Yankee Stadium, and then shows Jeri before it shows Gloria, a curious way to introduce the story. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

"Weakness": another suburban family dramedy, and "another" teacher gets in trouble

Weakness” was a pejorative as I grew up; people looked for visible signs of it. It’s also the title of a recent dramedy by Michael Melamedoff, and here’s another recent film that explores how teachers can get into trouble.

Josh (Bobby Cannavale) is a high school English teacher in an older Long Island town.  His gravely ill mother reminds him to take care of his autistic younger brother Pete  (Keith Nobbs)after she’s gone.  And she does pass away.  Josh tries to keep him in a group home and Pete gets tossed out.  Josh winds up carrying for him physically (the film shows this).  Family responsibility is not the result of one’s own intercourse, but of other people’s (including parents). 

Josh is actually married to Elizabeth (June Diane Raphael) who, like Betty White’s famous 50s character, is not ashamed.  She makes ceramic phalluses for flea markets.  Liz also believes in open marriage, and decides Josh should fix up the 19th Century “this old house” they inherited (along with Pete).  Josh falls off the roof (he, as my own mother once said, “is a climber” and not afraid of ladders) and breaks his leg, although he seems to heal quickly enough from it, enough to go to baseball batting cages.  We learn he wanted to become a baseball player but didn’t exactly have Bryce Harper’s genes. 

During his recuperation, Elizabeth has a fling with the handyman they hire (Daniel Sunjata), and Josh faces more romantic distractions from his world as a teacher, even in the summer.  Finally, he gets involved with a just graduated (the previous June) senior (Danielle Panabaker) who had been a star in his English class (with King Lear, I guess). 

It gets around, and the school district suspends him with pay.  It’s not clear why this would be a problem since the girl is no longer a student and is presumably over 18.  From that point, all’s well that end’s well (and read that in English).

The film is shot in 2.35:1, which may not have been necessary.

The official Facebook is here.

The production company was Apropos, distributor was Osiris.  It’s available for Instant Play on Netflix but not yet on DVD there.  It was shown at the Austin Film Festival (2011?  SXSW?)

The film, in my own mind, would make a companion piece to “Margaret”. 

Picture: belated St. Patrick's Parade, Ft. Hamilton section of Brooklyn NY (mine)

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

"Margaret": a teenager wants to dictate her own terms of justice to others

As the new Fox film by Kenneth Lonegran, “Margaret”, opens, a fussy teenager Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) gets a trigonometry test back from preppie school teacher Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon, who here looks about 25), with a “B-“ grade. Mr. Aaron confronts her with the fact that she cheated (he uses gentler words).  He lets her off.  She wonders why she has to know all this stuff.

When I taught algebra as a graduate student, back in 1966, I once caught someone copying on a test.  I gave him an automatic F for the course.  He even came back to my dorm room at KU to argue.  At 22, that’s the only time in my life I’ve done anything like that.  Well, one other time.  I gave a roommate there a bad reference to fibbies for bragging about attacking gays in the streets in downtown KC. 
In this movie, Lisa goes on a vendetta to get a NYC MTA bus driver who causes a horrible accident in trouble, to try to get him fired and prosecuted.  Why?  Does it make her feel important?

In the early part of the film, it would seem that is assuages her own guilt. The accident occurs as Lisa is chasing a bus, distracting the driver (Mark Ruffalo). It appears she is trying to catch the bus but she is titillated by the driver’s cowboy hat.  The movie shows him running a red light, and hitting a female pedestrian with a baby carriage. (It’s quite graphic.)  Lisa winds up holding the woman in her arms as she bleeds out, and we see a bare glimpse of the baby, who will be brain damaged (little more is said about the child in the film).  Lisa tells the cops that she thinks the light was green.  Was she trying to protect the driver at first?  Later, she connects up with a woman (Jeannie Berlin) running the victim’s estate, and wants to change the police report.  What makes her tick now?  In a book by Edward O. Wilson, “The Social Conquest of Earth” (books, yesterday), the author writes “People gain visceral pleasure in more than just leveling and cooperating. They also enjoy seeing punishment meted out to those who do not cooperate (freeloaders, criminals) and even to those who do not contribute at levels commensurate with their status (the idle rich).”  Is this indignation?

The film gets us into the world of lawyers, where we’re walked though the system which will prune the deep pockets of the MTA, which will settle to avoid publicity over its inability to fire a bus driver with previous moving violations.  Lisa is surprised at the moral relativism (and opportunism) of the legal world.  Lisa even pays a surprise visit on the driver at his Brooklyn (Ft. Hamilton area) rowhouse, and manages to make herself threatening.  This scene is one of the film’s most harrowing.

Lisa also remains self-indulgent enough to trap boyfriends (Kieran Culkin) and eventually her math teacher.   The movie leaves us hanging and wondering about a possible sequel: will something be done to Mr. Aaron for his moment of weakness, falling for an advance (which happens with her visit to his apartment).  A similar idea occurs in my own short screenplay “The Sub”, which, when posted onlne, caused a ruckus in the Fairfax County School System (VA), even though it was all fiction.

The film also covers Lisa’s stormy relationship with her actress mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), and divorced father, living in California.  It emphasizes her wealth and “privilege” yet doesn’t have the “Gossip Girl” look. The mother keeps saying that “life is not an opera”, even though lines in the plays that the actress performs mimic her life.
The film has A-list actors, and I’m surprised (with a $14 million budget) it doesn’t have wider theatrical release.  (It's reported that the movie has undergone legal disputes, as was filmed in 2005. Yes, the movie is long, at 150 minutes.)  I saw it at the West End Cinema in Washington DC, and the projection was not the best (it has been good on other films, even given the small screens); that was a loss in the music scenes, especially the climax at the opera (a performance of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman” Barcarolle by Rene Flemming; earlier there is a passage from Bellini's Norma).

The original music for the film is composed by Nico Muhly (one of a number of visible young NYC composers), and I have a review of some of Muhly’s music on my “drama” blog, Oct. 4, 2011. 
The film seems a bit episodic, chopping off scenes that could be concluded.  It throws in a lot of other classroom scenes, especially with an English teacher played by Tom Broderick, with a quote from a Gerald Manley Hopkins poem ("Spring and Fall") that explains the title of the film.  (And, yes, we had to read "King Lear" in high school senior English, too.)

The official Fox Searchlight site is here. The theatrical release was edited by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker.  This may sound like a strange perspective, but this film sounds like it could have been a multi-part dramatic television series.