Saturday, June 30, 2012

Solito's film "Boy" from Philippines makes you wonder about the precocious

We don’t get a lot of films from the Philippines, but the somewhat vulnerable country has sometimes generated a fascination from gay men. I recall this interest from one particular bar gadfly back in the 1970s. 

Wolfe Video offers a film “Boy” (one of many of that tile, 2009) by Auraeus Solito, about a thoughtful older teen (the script says 18) and “poet” (Aeious Asin) who falls for a stripper “Macho” (Aries Pena)  and sells his comic book collection to afford the evening he wants.   That would have been something like selling my classical music record collection when I underwent my “second coming” to prove I could give up “attachments”.

The “poet” talks debates the politics of Marcos with his mother (Madeleine Nicolas) and has decent relations with his pa (Noni Bueancamino).

The encounters (especially around the translucent aquarium) are intimate the way you want them to be.
The score, in the end credits, has some wonderful songs by Isha.

The film has been reported as having been banned in Singapore for "normalizing homosexuality".

As for "dancers" -- it's worthy of note that in the U.S., practices vary.  In Washington DC patrons can't touch them legally. In Minneapolis, patrons can fondle but they can't photograph. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

"The Man from Elysian Fields" deals with the old-fashioned model for a writer's life

Another film that deals, from a contrapositional perspective, on the issue of self-created fame and success is “The Man from Elysian Fields”, released in 2002 by Samuel Goldwyn Films, from Fireworks pictures and Gold Circle, and directed by George Hickenlooper.

In fact, the anti-hero, novelist Bryan (Andy Garcia) is in a typical “midlist” crisis with his trade publisher. His last book was “Hitler’s Child” and now his editor says he writes stale novels no one wants to read.  And he is running out of money, and his wife Dena (Julianna Margulies), badgering him about his ability to support a family, doesn’t quite grasp his professional problems – or does she?

After some teasing in a nearby office in Pasadena, he takes a job as a male escort (legitimate) for rich women. The agency, Elysian, is run by a ghostly character Luther Fox (Nick Jagger), who takes the movie into what anticipates the world of “The Woman in the Fifth” (June 19).  Luther even asks (while Bryan is well dressed in  “good clothes”, “do you have much body hair?”  We’ve seen Andy Garcia in other movies. We won’t need to here.

Bryan gets hooked up with rich lad Olivia (Andrea).  It turns out she’s married to a really successful author Alcott (James Coburn), who is dying of diabetes, kidney failure, and related disease.  Bryan befriends Alcott (he even encourages Bryan as a “sub” in bed to satisfy Olivia, even if a gigolo ), and, after some tension among them, helps Alcott write a really great book that would solve all of Bryan’s own problems with his own reputation as a writer.  But Olivia insists that he remain a “ghostwriter” and that only her husband (and the estate) be known for the book.  (Note: Summit's "The Ghostwriter" is reviewed here Feb. 27, 2010.)

There’s one more twist at the end – but this movie is indeed a tale of the issues of ego and pride that go with content creators.  There is an aphorism, “Write what others want.”

Thursday, June 28, 2012

HBO's "Me at the Zoo" is an interesting bio of video star Chris Crocker, but it could go further

Me at the Zoo” (or sometimes spelled “Me @ the Zoo”), an HBO documentary (directed by Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch) and bio of Internet video blog star Chris Crocker, certainly comes from a different world than the family film last Christmas “We Bought a Zoo”.

In fact, I never knew that Chris (original name Christopher Darren Cunningham) had connection to the viral video “Nora, the Piano Playing Cat”, with which the film opens. It seems fitting that someone seen as a social pariah as a youth in a reactionary southern climate, would bond well with animals, on the way to his self-invention as a media star.  The film does cover lightly his social ostracism as a youth, including serious issues with being bullied, a major reason for eventual home schooling. 

Chris (now 24) is best known for his viral video “Leave Brittany Alone!” and during the film says that Brittany Spears is a metaphor for his own mother and her downfall.  He was raised by Pentecostal grandparents in Bristol TN, (the Shenandoah Valley city that straddles the border with Virginia).  I can remember being there at least twice, once in 2005, and once as a boy on an Easter holiday with my parents, on the way to the Smokies and then to Charlotte.  My own father was fascinated by the concept of the divided city.  In 2005, I was on the way to Natural Tunnel, on a weekend that turned out to be significant.

The film traces the history of YouTube and explains well, and shows its trademarked “Broadcast Yourself”  slogan.  The movie also shows how the Internet, with its no-capital self-publishing services, enables an otherwise powerless and non-competitive person to become famous.  A subsequent documentary film could explore the way these publishing services (Blogger, YouTube, and even the modern social networks like Facebook) depend on limitations in downstream liability for both libel (Section 230) and copyright (DMCA Safe Harbor) infractions by users.

Crocker did spend some time in LA as an entertainer, experimenting with drag, before coming back to Tennessee and refocusing on the video and indie movie business.  The film says he makes close to $4000 a month from ad revenue on his blogs.  But that’s not getting rich, like a Hollywood mogul.

Crocker’s appearance (and manner) itself is variable: often silly, sometimes drag, sometimes very conventionally “male” in its own way.  He can look quite attractive.

The official site on HBO for the film is here

I missed the HD presentation Monday night because of the film festival, and saw it Tuesday night on HBO2, which I could get only in standard format (not HD).  Life’s not perfect.  The film looked a little grainy, but that could be for this reason.

The film has a video clip of the Colorado "balloon boy" hoax.

The end credits of the film mention funding from Kickstarter, which I discussed yesterday (by coincidence) on my main “BillBoushka” blog, after a conference on seed funding in northern VA. That invokes today’s “short film”, “iPad Touchtype”, reviewed on that blog entry.

I will have to look into the possibility of Kickstarter for my own film project.  I need to find a local film producer’s symposium in Richmond or Baltimore.  We had these all the time in Minneapolis (because of IFPMSP) when I lived in the Twin Cities.

I’ll also mention that I reviewed “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” on my disaster movies blog, “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” last Saturday, June 23.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle": the battle over the Cape Wind Project off the MA coast

Another film in the spirit of AFI Silverdocs, but only technically ineligible, is “Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle”, about the political battle over building an wind farm off Cape Cod, MA (and above Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, about five miles from some private beaches).  The film, directed by Robin Gemmel and John Kirby and produced and distributed by the Electron Project and Naked Edge Films, started Friday at the West End Cinema in Washington DC (near Foggy Bottom and GWU).

I met one of the producers (female) at the theater yesterday (I missed the name – Libby Handros, according to credits, if I read right).

The documentary moves at a quick pace, building a case that wealthier people (many of them) feared that the “eyesore” of the windmills (“Don Quixote” from HBO’s “The Newsroom”), said to rise 400 feet above the water (slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty) would erode property values.

The movie then moves into the area of summarizing the damage done by our dependence on fossil fuels.  It depicts graphic shots of mountaintop removal in West Virginia, particularly the Kayford Mine about thirty miles south of Charleston.  In fact, the film provides footage of the problem comparable to that of whole feature films on mountaintop removal already on this blog (label “coal mine issues”).

While providing varied background (including Congressional hearings) the movie is its funniest when covering all the demonstrations. Rich people can put the “Occupy” movement to shame.

There's a shot of the Palm Springs (CA) wind farm, apparently from the I-10 rest stop that I remember from my recent visit to California. 

My own experience with the Cape is limited.  I visited Provincetown in 1976 (including the Boatslip), and stayed with friends in Duxbury.   In New England, I’ve been more a mountain person.  Why not build a wind plantation on the slopes of Mt. Washington, the windiest place in the nation?

The official site for the film is here.

West End Cinema link (through early July) is here

The Cape Wind website is here

The film has shown in Cleveland and Boulder film festivals (but apparently not Sundance nearby).

Wikipedia attribution link for Cape Wind Project map (p.d.), here.  Second picture, mine, from May 2012 trip (along I-10 in California, 10 miles W of Palm Springs); part of one of the largest wind farms in the nation. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"The Invisible War" documents a shameful problem in the US Military

While I was writing my 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell” book, I became very aware of sexual harassment against female members of the military.  I remember a 1996 case of one female Naval officer in Florida who was put into psychiatric confinement for complaining about it.

I was not aware, however, of the apparently large occurrence of outright rape, as documented in the new film by Kirby Dick, “The Invisible War”.  I saw this at Landmark E Street last night.  Friday, the theater held a QA of the director.  I’m surprised I didn’t see it at AFI Silverdocs (going on the same weekend).

Before getting to its disturbing subject matter, the film opens with a black-and-white clip from an early 1950s "The Big Picture" television program, with Sgt. Stuart Queen (no pun in those days) selling the value of serving in the Armed Forces.  The film then notes the contributions of female soldiers, sailors and Marines during WWII.  I recall going to see at age 10, with my parents, "Never Wave at a WAC" (with Rosalind Russell), especially the comic scenes of "testing clothes".  Pretty soon we infer that this is a film about grave and covered-up abuse, mostly but not entirely, of military women. 

The film lets a number of servicemembers tell their stories.  They all start out by telling how they had at one time looked forward to joining the military, and how things went wrong quickly once at a permanent station.  

One woman suffered a broken jaw which won’t heal and had to leave, and has been denied VA benefits.
Even a few men report this abuse.  The documentary maintains that this is not about sexual orientation; the perpetrators were said to be heterosexual males interested only in power and domination. 

The documentary shows that the “chain of command” structure of the military is not effective in guaranteeing prosecution of perpetrators, because of so many conflicts of interest within the structure. European militaries prosecute outside the structure. The film says (in the end credits) that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched this film in April 2012 and took major authority away from commanders immediately.  But the GAO and Inspector General structures within the government have been totally ineffective so far.

One of the most shocking episodes concerns abuses at the elite Marine Barracks in Washington DC.(SE of the Capitol).  Women were coerced to go on day long drinking binges with men when “off duty”. 
Another major series of incidents occurred at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, NE of Baltimore.  This is the ordnance center, where some very dangerous conventional ground weapons are housed (including mobile robotic microwave generators that could wreak havoc if ever in the wrong hands).  It is not reassuring that some of the personnel working there don’t have better character.  What about SAC bases and missile silos?
The film points out that male military recruits have a much higher incidence of previous sexual assault than the civilian population as a whole, a fact that could be seen as a reflection on the all-volunteer military. 

The official site is here

There is a related site called “not invisible” here.

The film (from Chain Camera pictures and Docurama) was an official selection with an Audience Award at Sundance.

Photo above (mine). Fort McNair, in Washington DC, where President Clinton gave his "don't ask don't tell" speech in 1993.  I'll get to the Marine Barracks area from the Metro and take a picture of the site as soon as convenient, since I live in the DC area. 

Second photo:  Promotional post card for film, available at theaters. 

Photo below (mine): Naval Investigative Service, Washington Navy Yard (2006).  I worked in the Yard as a civilian 1971-1972 for NAVCOSSACT

Also, here's a photo from a 2010 visit to Aberdeen:  Don't let civilians possess this machine below:
And, now, this just in: MSNBC and AP are reporting (in a story by Paul J. Weber) a major scandal at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.  The story gives a link to another review of this film. Here's the story.

Update: July 5, 2012

I did make it to the Marine Barracks this morning.  See also the "Drama blog", July 4, 2012.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"We Are Legion" tells the story of Anonymous

I attended the very late (10:45 PM) Saturday night showing of “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists”, directed by Brian Knappenberger,  in the AFI Silver’s Roundhouse, not quite full.  Silverdocs had presented the director for QA at an earlier screening, which had sold out immediately when the festival went online.

The documentary lets the hackers, mostly appealing and articulate young adults (a few are women) tell the story in close-ups.   One of the guys could lose his cigarette, but most had the looks that would have made them eye candy in discos.  The group (often called “Anonymous”) coalesced informally, rather like a pop-up thunderstorm (pun).   The idea of anonymity as a right (as part of a protest strategy) was paramount; the film discusses the informal adoption of the mask seen in the WB film “V for Vendetta” (2006, dir. James McTeigue).

The film opens with Mercedes Renee Haefer describing the morning that the FBI banged on her door. Quickly, the film goes to its main narrative. The interview subjects include Gregg Housh, Wired writers Ryan Singel and Stephen Levy,  Priscilla Grim, and anthropologist Gabriella Coleman.  Early, the film tells the story of Chris Poole and his “4Chan” imageboard website (which McAfee Site Advisor marks as “unsafe” because of links to Rapidshare).  Soon the narrative goes head on into the battle with the Church of Scientology, which this group wanted to take down just to prove something.  Naturally, this would lead to cease-and-desist notices and lawsuits, but, because threats apparently were involved, it also led to FBI raids.  One very nice young man in Nebraska told the story of the visit to his parents’ house; his one-year in prison, and the one year of supervised probation where he is not allowed to touch a computer.  He says, as the camera dawdles on his long face and hairy wrists, “making threats, that’s not me”.   

The documentary moves into the role of Anonymous in the Arab Spring protests, and finally the interaction with Wikileaks and Julian Assange, which the government (under both Bush and Obama) has pursued aggressively, particularly with the prosecution of Bradley Manning, the (“gay”) soldier accused of lifting many of the documents.  This matter has already been covered extensively in some television documentaries, particularly PBS Frontline.  The film also gets into Anonymous’s support of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement last fall.   I have a review of  the PBS Frontline “Wikisecrets” on the TV blog July 15, 2011.  Friends even of mine have said that the leaks could compromise the safety of civilian contacts in combat areas like Afghanistan.  Of course, one can twist this debate into one about (the U.S. military) being present overseas at all as part of the “War on Terror”.  But certainly the vast majority of leaked information (including a notorious 40 minute film of “friendly fire” against civilians in Iraq, embedded on my “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” blog April 7, 2010), while embarrassing, has little actual national security value.

Here, the ethical principles of the group reached a fork (or “Southfork”, maybe).  The film presents the hack of a PBS Frontlines twitter feed by a subgroup called “LutzSec.”   Here, some hackers were trying to suppress journalism of others, whereas generally others in the group said that the press should be left alone because it is a major firewall against authoritarianism and tyranny.  (Maybe some people, particularly on the political Left, claim that corporate media outlets, even PBS, are part of the "establishment"; I used to hear this a lot in the 1970s, even from my own first gay "trick" in NYC who ranted all evening in my apartment about "the abuse of the media.") In fact, the entire “hactivist” movement had come about in large part in response to the “surveillance” society that came about after 9/11, and had also developed  as a way for “little people” who had not competed (successfully) for power  in a formal way to “be somebody” after all.  I can really relate to the latter argument. Wired has a story on this matter by Kevin Poulsen, May 30, 2011, here

Toward the end, the film covers litigation against George Hotz, who, as a teenager in New Jersey (along with a younger brother) had invented an iPhone unlock, discussed on my “Network Neutrality” blog Aug. 26, 2007. Kids who grow up with computers sometimes develop unbelievable levels of employable skill even before high school. At the very end, it returns to the arrest of Haefer. 

Technically, the film is quite pleasing. Some of the animated sequences have a “3-D without glasses” effect achieved by manipulating relative movement of objects in frames.

This is a gripping, compelling, even monumental documentary. It tells a real story and maintains objectivity, airing all sides.  But individually, the "characters" remain likable. 

The film was an official selection at SXSW in Austin, TX.  It was suggested that it should have been presented in Slamdance (the underground of Sundance).  This was the first of two films I saw that dealt with grass roots protest; the other was about ACT UP (yesterday's second review). 

The link for the film is here.

Pictures (mine, not from film): Outside the AFI Theater in Silver Spring (Sat. PM); Occupy protests in Washington DC.  Note the image of Bradley Manning.

See also "WikiRebels", reviewed here Dec. 12, 2010. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"How to Survive a Plague": How ACT UP and TAG pressured the establishment to find effective medications for HIV

AFI Silverdocs screened the new documentary “How to Survive a Plague”, by David France (from Sundance Selects), Sunday night (the second time) in its largest auditorium in Silver Spring.  It did not sell out, but the audience was large.

The film documents how AIDS (that is, HIV infection – and I’m accepting this as medical fact) became a medically manageable disease by about 1996 because of the efforts of ACT UP  and its intellectually rebellious offshoot, TAG (the Treatment Action Group).

We know that the first anti-retroviral drugs, like AZT, were moderately effective, but tended to fail in time.  The new class of drugs, protease inhibitors, turned out to be much more effective when given in combination.
The film presents many early ACT UP activists, with footage of them as young men in the 1980s, and footage of several of them today as having survived, because of the new protocols. The most articulate is Peter Staley, along with Mark Harrington, Bill Bahlman, and attorney David Barr, as well as playwright Larry Kramer ("The Normal Heart") who gets very blunt.  Staley insisted that he expected to die of the disease, but was one of the men whose viral load went to zero a month after starting the right mix in the mid 1990s.  Protease inhibitors have probably saved six million lives, but in the US at least two million have died because they can’t afford them.  Around the developing world (Africa) it’s much worse.

At first protease inhibitors had many side effects, including muscle loss and development of fat (the "protease pot").  These side effects have become much less of a problem in recent years with fine tuning of medication (see link). 

The earlier parts of the film do delve into the moral questions.  At various points, with varying degrees of decorum, Pat Buchanan, George H. W. Bush, and Jesse Helms (whose Arlington VA home gets cuckolded) all complain that this is all the result of unwise or (religiously) immoral behavior.  On the other side, the film presents the view that a moral society cannot let people drop on the floor because of “human” actions, and makes a comparison to tobacco use (and obesity and drugs) which has a lot of attention today.

The film is also quite graphic in showing early People with AIDS, including a few patients with graphic Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions, one of them form a notorious Geraldo Rivera 20-20 broadcast in May 1983. KS used to occur particularly in gay men, and dropped off rapidly with safer sex (in relation to other OI’s).  It is thought to be caused directly by another herpes virus, type 6, in immunocompromised persons.

I was living in Dallas in the 1980s when the epidemic broke loose, and I volunteered with the Oak Lawn Counseling Center (comparable to Whitman Walker in Washington or the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York).  I lost several friends, including one who made a fully recovery from KS (mysteriously) in 1986, only to relapse a year later and then pass away quickly.   You would go to buddy sessions, and see people you know show up with forearms shaved for multiple iv hookups.

The political climate got rancid in Texas in 1983, when a right wing group called “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS” tried to reinforce the sodomy law (“2106”) with a measure (“HR 2138”) to ban gays from many occupations, pre-DADT style.  Oh, and they wanted to ask.  The religious right floated hypothetical "chain letter" theories that gay men were incubating diseases that could mutate and endanger the general population -- essentially inventing horror or disaster movie scenarios.  But, according to Randy Shilts's "And the Band Played On" (which became a long HBO movie with Michael Moriarity) even Anthony Fauci (who appears a lot in this film) ran at the mouth about this once in 1983, and Robert Bazell made a similar speculation from NBC that this could happen with some other unimagined virus or "andromeda strain" (a kind of Ridley Scott or Michael Crichton scenario. But most viruses, if they become widespread, become less virulent.  Generally, viruses which are too deadly can't spread themselves well (a consideration today with novel influenzas like H5N1 which may be casually transmissible).

The official site for the film is here.  

See also review of “We Were Here”, May 8, 2011. 

"The Revisionaries" looks at the hold Texas has on textbook content

AFI Silverdocs hosted Scott Thurman’s “The Revisionaries” in AFI’s “Roundhouse” Saturday night, the background story over the Texas State Board of Education, which selects textbooks and has enormous influence on the behavior of textbook publishers and the content for kids all over the country.

The film concentrated on two major subject matter areas:  the “intelligent design” debate, and later the way American History presents the separation of church and state.

Early in the film, a young female high school biology teacher is explaining that lineage doesn’t imply direct ancestry.  You didn’t come from your uncle.  It seems like a play on words.

The film goes into biography mode, concentrating most on born-again Austin area dentist Don McLeroy (he looks just like Dr. Phil).  McLeroy teaches Sunday School and does exercises with the kids demonstrating how many animal pairs could fit into an ark-sized ship.  He proselytizes to his patients.  And he reruns for chairman of the Texas State Board.

There are some scenes in the board debates, and an opening scene where McLeroy is grilled about his views in the State Capitol in Austin.

My own feeling is that “intelligent design” is entirely consistent with modern physics and cosmology (as Stephen Hawking explains it).  By the anthropic principle, we live in our own Universe with the particular constants of physics that make life and our own consciousness and free will possible.  I can’t buy the idea that the World was created literally in seven days 4500 years ago.

Also appearing in the film is a female law professor from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, who has consulted for the Board, and a male anthropology professor from SMU in Dallas, the latter of whom appeared with McLeroy in the Q&A.

The film played in Tribeca, Boston, and Seattle film festivals.

The production company  is Naked Edge Films.  The link is here.

Today’s short film, on YouTube (not in festival): “Wax My Chest: Hang with Shane: Day 121”.   (That’s the artist’s name, “Shane” [as in “Judas Kiss” – the same kind of person), not “shame”.) A very attractive male artist is in your face preparing, with a girl friend, for the release of his iTunes hit “The Vacation Song”.  He keeps you in suspense for eleven minutes to see if he will survive his dare.   Here's the link, which YouTube flashed to me (because of tracking cookies) when I went to the site this morning to post this review.  Is Shane from Texas, too?  Maybe. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

"Detropia", at AFI Silverdocs, looks at the collapse of the Motor City

Today, the 10:30 AM showing of “Detropia” at the AFI Silverdocs film festival was a sellout, and was followed by a 45-minute panel discussion of the collapse of what used to be America’s fourth largest city. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady direct this self-distributed film.

In 1930, Detroit was America’s fastest growing city. Now, having lost half its population, at 730000, it is the most rapidly shrinking.  Houses and some highrises are being torn down, and the city is considering asking some residents to relocate to reduce the cost of services as it faces bankruptcy.

The turning point may have come with the 1967 riots.  The low point might be Obama’s 2009 bailouts of GM and Chrysler. 

The city has a surreal look, with old skyscrapers even looking worn, with most views of the city looking across wastelands.

There are periods of relief, as with artists who move in, wooed by the low costs for lofts and studio space.
Toward the end, someone says “Capitalism exploits the weak”.  There is also a comment that the middle class is the buffer between the rich (the 1%) and revolution.  And the middle class is going.

There are several explanations.  One is that unions got too demanding.  Business was too cushy and complacent and made a shoddy product until the 80s.  Then, in the past decade, the financial rules changed (or were found to have loopholes), encouraging banks to sell people mortgages they knew they probably couldn’t afford.

A more subtle point is that the parts of the world taking jobs have lower standards of living.  The low wages accompany dormitory living by young people emigrating from poor areas and sometimes expected to send money home to relatives.  The collapse of some of the rust belt could be seen as a symptom of people living off the unseen sacrifices of others.

The fall of Detroit follows the “canary in the coal mine” idea.  Many other communities (like Camden NJ) have seen the same things happen.

The end credits were cut off for the discussion.  But it’s important to note the background music: from Nabucco  (the brass opening) and Rigoletto (Verdi), Madame Butterfly (Puccini), and The Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan).

My only visit to Detroit occurred in 1984.  I stayed in a bizarre windowless motel downtown for $30, and went to a Tigers game in the old Briggs Stadium.

Compare this film to "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" about St. Louis, March 16, 2012 here.

AFI has extra showings this weekend (June 24) because of previous sell-outs. Check here

The ITVS film (90 min) has aired on some PBS stations.  The official site is here

"Rock of Ages": the nice post-teen Drew becomes "rock god"

Discos really ought to have more nights devoted just to 80s music.  At least, that’s how I felt after two hours of lilt in Adam Shankman’s “Rock of Ages”.  Everybody sings in this musical.

In 1987, a small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) takes the Greyhound from Oklahoma to LA and meets sweet “rock God wanna be” Drew (Diego Boneta), a barback at “The Bourbon” on Sunset Strip.  Drew, who is very sweet, helps her get work, in a world run by a sleazy Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise, his smooth body disfigured by tattoos) and opposed by a moralizing mayoral candidate Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Whitmore’s campaign to clean up the Strip reminds one of the “Moral Majority” of the 1980s, more visible in Texas than in California, picked up in later Reagan years by the “Straight Slate” and Anita Bryant’s spectacle earlier in Miami back in 1977.  There is the old-fashioned rhetoric of protecting “families with children”.

There are other subplots, where manager Dennis (Alec Baldwin) admits his love for Lonny (Russell Brand) in song.

But Drew, in the end, takes the entire show, with his energetic but usually kindly manner.  His "boy band" anticipates 'Nsync, to appear a decade later. There's a line where Cruise's character says he can offer "fame", although not love. 

The movie looks great in digital projection.  The film was produced by New Line Cinema, which is now “just” a production subsidiary of Warner Brothers and does “specialty” genre comedies and musicals.  It would nice to see it back in its glory days of the LOTR movies.  I know someone who read scripts for New Line early last decade.  It has contracted.

There was a fair crowd at an AMC Court House in Arlington Thursday early show.

Here’s New Line’s own trailer. 

The film could be compared to "Burlesque", from Screen Gems (reviewed Nov. 25, 2010), which has a similar story. 
The official site is here

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"The Prince and the Showgirl", the film behind "My Week with Marilyn"

The film whose making inspired “My Week with Marilyn” last year sat on a very long waiting list at Netflix. That's "The Prince and the Showgirl".  Finally, it arrived in a red envelope, apparently a new disc, in perfect condition.
The 1957 film, from Warner Brothers and Pinewood Studios in London, is based on Terrence Rattigan’s play “The Sleeping Prince” (not “The Student Prince”).  For some reason, when I write about Norma Jeane Mortenson (Baker), I tend to type "Maryland" instead of "Marilyn". 

The Technicolor, of the indoor royal sets, is as garish as I’ve ever seen.  The outdoor scenes, though, appear to have used a lot of matte paintings.

And showgirl, Elsie (Marilyn Monroe) has just one song, near the end, so this romantic comedy is not a “musical”.  But there’s grand music at the Coronation scene (King George in 1911), starting with Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad” and migrating into other medley before returning to Parry.  This hymn was used by William and Catherine at their 2011 wedding (TV blog, April 29, 2011).

The plot, while sounding fabricated, is serious.  The British government is pampering royalty in the tense years just before World War I would break out.  The middle-aged Prince Regent  (Laurence Olivier, who directed the film) from the fictitious country of Carpathia is invited to a performance of “The Coconut Girl” (nothing to do with “The Sunbonnet Girl”, the simplistic operetta of my own middle school days).  He meets Elsie, and is infatuated enough to invite her back to his hotel, discretely, for a private supper. Because she can speak German, she learns of a plot by the actual king, a teenage boy (Jeremy Spenser) to take power and build an alliance with pre-war Germany. Of course, we know that WWI would start with an incident in Serbia in the Balkans in 1914.

The DVD is formatted to fit the player automatically; when fitted to widescreen, in a few scenes early, the faces looked widened.  The original film was just 4:3 aspect, common until the late 50s. The DVD has a black-and-white newsreel announcing the production of the film. 

Picture: That's my parents' apartment, around 1942, estate photo. 

"The Intouchables": a man from the streets learns caregiving, compassion, friendship

I didn’t make the trek to the Embassy of France for Filmfest DC’s closing night presentation of “The Intouchables”, by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, but I caught it last night at the AMC Shirlington, now distributed by The Weinstein Company and produced by Gaumont, Studio Canal and Alliance Atlantis.

For me, the obvious comparison is to the indie film “An Angel Named Billy” (Feb. 23, 2012, here).  But this story presents more obviously existential challenges for the caregiver.

African immigrant Driss (Omar Sy) shows up for an interview for a job as a caregiver for a rich middle aged man now a quadriplegic because of a paragliding accident. He really just wants to do the required number of interviews so he can go back on welfare.  (That reminds me of a line in the spoofy Minnesota comedy “Great Lakes” (2002, dir. James Byrne) where Noble, played by Jeff Gilson, asks, while crawling under a table, “Does that count as a job interview?”)

But the Parisian aristocrat Philippe (Francois Cluzet) won’t let him off the hook.  He says he likes the man from the streets because he (Driss) won’t show any of the expected pity.

Driss is dazzled by the luxury of his live-in quarters, but resists the intimacy of the job at first, as a nurse guides him into the intimacies.  He feels that dealing with orifices is unmanly, maybe even homosexual (considering the culture he was reared in).  He learns to put on the support garter stocks on Philippe’s balding legs, necessary to keep blood coming back to Philippe’s brain.

The movie actually starts near the end, as Driss is driving Philippe in the rich man’s sports car to a hospital and is stopped by cops.  I recognize the tunnel: I drove through it in a rental car in my own visit to Paris in 1999. The story of the friendship unfolds then from the beginning.

The visual climax of the film occurs when Philippe goes paragliding again, as a quadriplegic.  It’s Driss who has to be forced to jump.  There are, in most cities, clubs that offer lessons in parachute jumping and paragliding, typically several hundred dollars a session.  Not for me.  (Another good one is hot air ballooning.)

According to the endnotes for the film, both characters are still living and are still close. 

It's interesting in this film how some of Paris looks just like Washington DC, especially around Dupont Circle. 

TWC offers a six-minute short, “My Valentine”, as sung by Paul McCartney, with Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman.

The feature film should not be confused with the 1987 Paramount classic gangster film “The Untouchables”, directed by Brian De Palma, with Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness. I saw this in Dallas when it first came out.

The official site (for "The Intouchables" from TWC) is here

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"The Woman in the Fifth" is a French homage (by a Polish filmmaker) to the style of David Lynch

David Lynch certainly inspires other filmmakers to try weirdness, which is not to say they are copycats. Sunday's film proved that, and lightning seems to strike twice in almost the same place. 

That’s the case with the film “The Woman in the Fifth” (“La femme du Veme”). Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke, still looking good in skivvies at 41 in a couple scenes), has traveled to Paris after getting fired from a professorship over a scandal.  He says he wants to reunite with wife and daughter, but actually his divorce was bitter and he’s under court order to stay away.  After an unsuccessful attempt to visit the daughter in his ex-wife’s posh Paris apartment, he goes on an odyssey, getting robbed while asleep on a bus, and winding up on skid row.   He gets a room for barter by working for a mob boss  Sezer (Samir Guesmi), watching the fort at an underground bunker where hit men pay visits to consort.  He works on is next novel by cursive longhand (does he have a computer?)  And he encounters a mysterious widow from Romania or Poland, Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) who seems to offer him a restoration of manliness (but he has to stick to a strict schedule to visit her in the Fifth arrondisement).  So does a younger, still very nubile woman (Joanna Kulig) in the pension.

Pretty soon things go bump in the night, people start dying or disappearing, and Lynch-like owls, wood spirits and phantoms populate his life.   Has he slipped into madness (as if he were schizophrenic), or a parallel universe?

Director Pawel  Pawlikowski, adapting a novel by Douglas Kennedy, keeps the audience glued to the screen, with lots of little effects.  There’s a mysterious trouble light that flickers in the bunker, and the commode in the hotel gets unusual attention, as does a neighbor.  Little blackmail notes get written by hand rather than transmitted as ransomware, which wouldn’t look as good on camera.   

I saw the film, distributed by Art Takes Over (produced by Film4 in the UK, Haut et Court in France, Canal+, and the Polish Film Institute, at the West End Cinema in DC.  The small venue seems to have installed new digital projection, as the images and sound were much crisper than before.  (Does this mean using a Blu-Ray advance DVD, or digital feed, rather than film?)

The film is in French (about 2/3 of the time), English and Polish. 

The official site (will launch Shockwave) is here.

Today’s short film is a selection from YouTube’s “Once a Week Film Fesitval  (link), and is “The Fourth”, by Jared and Justin Varava (and "Big Fantastic").  Lucas Fleishcer plays a hirsute San Fernando Valley jock trying to complete a track team by recruiting a fourth man from the competing teams.  It will even provide a jogging outfit.    Is this like baseball free agency?  He needs to shave off some time on his 440 sprint, and at the very end announces he will shave his arms and legs and use "more permanent measures" like electrolysis (or lasers).  We don’t get (or have) to see that.  The viewing link (17 min.) is here.

Pictures: Mine (2012): Paris in Las Vegas;  Upton, CA (didn't take any pix in the Valley; it seemed boring by comparison to other places.)  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"The Sensation of Sight": a teacher, after a tragedy, faces real life

The indie film “The Sensation of Sight” (2005), directed by Aaron J. Wiederspahn, unfolds like a stage play, and at 135 minutes is as long and as quiet as most of them.

David Strathairn plays Finn, a small town high school English teacher who has mysteriously quit teaching, left his wife and little daughter, and started selling encyclopedias door-to-door from a child’s wagon.  Finn encounters a number of towns people, including a single mom, and troubled teen (Ian Somerhalder), as we begin to piece together what has happened (many of the incremental flashbacks are in black and white). A good clue is that he is followed by a silent young man in untucked white shirt and tie, observing him.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to say what happened.  Near the end, we find out.  The young man was a student, apparently failing his class, who gave Finn some encyclopedias and then shot himself dead right there in the classroom, in front of Finn, who then goes about his personal penance.
Finn is said to be slightly autistic, perhaps with Asperger’s syndrome himself.  (He says, “Life is a second language”.) There’s one line where a town teen won’t give him a motorcycle ride because he would look a little too “gay”.  Perhaps so.  This film was made before the public understood the scope of the bullying problem, especially for gays, and is deliberately vague on these matters.
Finn is also criticized, several times by different characters, for his self-absorption, beyond his bookish, boxed-in existence.  The single mom says that life is about interacting with other people, and that it is an unaffordable conceit to think you can understand yourself or your own life as a prerequisite to commitment to others.
The film was shot in (“Our Town”) Peterborough, NH, in the south central part of the state.  It opens and closes with an autumnal shot of an estate that looks European. The chamber music score (a lot of cello and piano in an irregular rhythm) seems to be composed by Scott Pettigrew. 

As for encyclopedia sales, we bought the World Book from a door-to-door salesman in 1951.  People used to do this. There’s a scene early where Finn insults a potential customer, who comes back and agrees to buy on book for $20, and chides Finn “don’t blow your sale”.  Always be closing.

The film is distributed by Monterey and had a brief theatrical run in 2008.  It showed at the San Sebastian film festival (Spain). It was shot in 18 days.  The DVD has a long featurette ("Inside 'The Sensation of Sight'") by Ron Wyman) on the making of the film.  The official site is here

Picture: Tilton, NH (mine, 2011), not far from site of film. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kittredge's "Pornography" is a monument to Lynch, De Palma, Cronenberg, Verbinski, Ridley Scott

Screenwriting teachers talk a lot about “beginning, middle, and end” of a screenplay (there’s more, however, such as “point of no return” and “point of recognition”). More advanced classes talk about “layered storytelling”, which can throw away a lot of the rules and fracture the narrative.

There are different ways “to layer”.  The simplest is the flashback or backstory. Another is to embed a fiction story written by one of the characters. 

Then you can weave everything together in a continuous narrative, or you segment the film into separate “shorts”.

The 2009 experiment by David Kittredge (from Wolfe), “Pornography: A Thriller” (the official title has only the first word) takes the latter approach, splitting into three “long short” films, with characters crossing and connecting. He doesn’t title the sections (he should have).

The first part, about 28 minutes, shows a backstory of adult film star Mark Anton (Jared Gray) in 1995.  Anton wanted a better life and walked into a dangerous business deal. Strapped to a chair and then a gurney in an isolated closet apparently in NYC (you think about Sweeny Todd), he argues for his own independence.  They can pay him to perform, “but you can’t buy my pain” he says.  He also talks about how pictures freeze time at the present, which always vanishes into the future from the past, otherwise (sounds like General Relativity).  A masked monster engages him, and he disappears.

Part 2 takes place in 2009, as a “regular guy” gay journalist  Michael Castigan (Matthew Montgomery, made to look about age 30, easily the steadiest character in the film  -- perhaps inspired by Anderson Cooper) is writing a book about the history of gay porn, and moves into a large apartment near the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn (the area looked familiar to me) with a lover William (Walter Delmar), whose appearance is interesting when you look closely (as in the bedroom).  Michael finds a hidden safe in the closet, with a business card showing an image of a ring with an ankh already shown in the first part.  He also finds an old DAT tape with video of whom we know to be Mark Anton.  Intrigues, he wants to find out what happened to Anton.  He starts to visit a video technology shop. When the owner (David Prevsner) restores the tape and watches the video, he disappears, too.  Now, the film is in territory visited already by the 2002 thriller “The Ring” by Gore Verbinski from Dreamworks (where anyone who watches a particular VHS video expires).  At this point, we also feel like we’re in David Lynch territory – concepts both from “Lost Highway” and the infamous “Twin Peaks” series and movie prequel (“Fire Walk With Me”). There’s also some reference to David Cronenberg, Brian de Palma, and even Ridley Scott.  This section of the film takes about 35 minutes. 

‘Suddenly, we see a new character, actor and writer Matt Stevens (Pete Scherer, who looks a bit too much like Montgomery), finishing off a screenplay in Final Draft that seems to be writing itself.  All the sudden, we’re in Hollywood, and Part 3 of the film is announced by oversaturated hues and an almost cartoonish look.  Matt gets to direct his film about Mark Anton, which in time recreates (in pieces) Matt’s theory about what must have happened to him.  The work on the set is quite taxing – no pee bathroom breaks allowed for actors.  He gets a cell phone call from  journalist Michael, who appears only once more in the movie.  We start to wonder if Matt had Michael set up to live in that apartment.  What’s not so clear is all the surreal goings on.  The last part of the film is the longest, and the hardest to follow.

My own (“Do Ask Do Tell”) screenplay has a protagonist (based on me) in a mystery interview situation (apparently on another planet).  I embed a troubling short film that my character wrote and posted as a screenplay (showing it in black and white), leading to a presentation of “life history” incidents, generated in reaction to the screenplay, in natural color.  In the ashram (on this other planet, perhaps Titan), “Bill” is given tasks to prove himself worthy for a special ritual, which the other characters, who brought Bill here, must also face and need Bill’s story in order to prepare themselves.  Back home, on Earth, it will soon be the End of Life as You Know It (but by no means the End of the World).  But in my setting, the “screenplay” is totally fictitious, not a reenactment of past events; rather, it generates events.  The other “angels” who have brought Bill to “Titan” have a definite interest in Bill’s attitudes or fantasies about them.  Following the example set by the Kittredge film here, it would be necessary to select one "angel" character and funnel all the information about "Bill" to him (his performance on the "tests" and backstory viewings) from the other companions, and show why he needs it. 

“Pornography” is an ambitious film,, even monumental. It played many of the LGBT festivals and at the Atlantic Film Festival. The DVD includes a featurette “Smile for the Camera” (12 minutes) about the film, and a lot of replaying delete scenes.  The original film had run 150 minutes before trimming to 104 minutes. 

The official site is here

Pictures, mine (2012): Baltimore Pride (2);  Palm Springs CA.  I do get around!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Moonrise Kingdom": This is what satire (and Benjamin Britten) is all about

Wes Anderson put together an all-star cast for his “indie” satire “Moonrise Kingdom”, written with the help of the Coppola’s.  These days, some Hollywood studios use their boutique brands (Focus) to place quirky films with all-star casts in front of “movie buff” audiences.

With this film, the fun-poking – and the background music lessons – are more important than the story, which is set on an island off the New England (Rhode Island) coast in 1965.  Scoutmaster Ward (Ed Norton) says he is a full time scoutmaster first and a math teacher part time (is he a husband and father?)  His whole thing is to whip boys into becoming men.  Those who deviate from society’s collective expectations for them (to be ready to go to war, for one thing) could await horrible fates.  So when little Sam (Jared Gilman) cuts a hole in a tent and goes on the lam with a sweetheart (Kara Hayward0, all the legions of the establishment join in the search, under threats of “Social Services” (Tilda Swinton) to put the boy in an institution and give him shock treatments.  There are plenty of other “authorities”, such as Sharp (Bruce Willis), Pierce (Harvey Keitel), and Laura (Frances McDormand), at least not throwing up from pregnancy as in “Fargo”.

I remember my brief period as a Cub Scout, probably around age eight, and the paperback manuals, and the merit badges and insignia, on khakis.  There were projects like "tie your necktie", anticipating the day you would have to as a grownup man.  I was never good at knots. 

Overlaying the film is a look of miniaturization, with doll and tree houses, and a progressive lecture on Benjamin Britten’s “A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”.  Later Saint-Saens’s “Carnival of the Animals” joins in.  The climax of the film, in which a thunderstorm and tornado-laced hurricane hits the island, employs Britten’s church opera, “Noye’s Fludde”, to great effect.  There are also effects, with the lightning, that recall similar visual concepts in “Melancholia” and even “The Hunger Games”.

There's just one scene between the tween boy and girl that tests limits; but the effect is still merely comic.  

The photography (the film is shot 1.85:1 to emphasize close-ups) uses a lot of saturated, almost cartoonish hues.  But in digital presentation (apparently in use in the Charles Center in Baltimore where I saw it, near the overcrowded Gay Pride Block Party yesterday in early evening, before an almost sold-out auditorium), the effect plays out well.  Britten’s music comes to great climax toward the end (and during the closing credits), and one needs to see this in an auditorium with full Dolby Digital capabilities, which Charles St. has (even as an old, historic complex).  The audience applauded this film. See this film in digital projection if at all possible!

The official site is here

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Absent": new thriller from Argentina explores the "seductive student" issue, to the chagrin of school districts

As the Argentinian Hitchcock-style thriller “Absent” (“Ausente”, dir. Marco Berger) opens, we see a shots of arms, legs and chests of young men lounging around a swimming pool, generally quite hairy, and we really wonder where this film is going to take us. Pretty soon we see a fortyish – balding but lean and fit – sports coach Sebastian (Carlos Echevarria), and then attention focuses on one student, Martin (Javier De Pietro). Another faculty member asks Martin’s age, and we’re surprised when he says “16”; he looks more mature than 16 biologically. If everybody at the school does competitive swimming, at least no one shaves.  

It’s worthy of note from the outset that everyone in the film is “white”;  Argentina was settled considerably by Europeans, and in the movies sometimes is made to look interchangeable with Spain. It isn't.  

The story begins gently, and draws you in, perhaps straining intellectual credibility.  Martin excuses himself from class with a supposed eye injury, and draws Sebastian into looking after him.  Through a complicated set of circumstances, Martin says he is locked out of his family’s home.  Sebastian, saying or being told he cannot leave a 16-year-old alone (which doesn’t make a lot of sense, really), takes Martin back to his own apartment. 

You can see that this is a case of an attractive teenager trying to set up an older person.  In school systems, it has really happened (usually in heterosexual circumstances, sometimes as a strategy to overcome bad grades.  This possibility is the premise of my own screenplay “The Sub” which, after I posted it online in early 2005, created an incident in the Fairfax County (VA) school system late in 2005 (see the “Bill Boushka” blog, July 27, 2007).  The idea was explored in Lifetime/Lionsgate’s “Student Seduction” in 2003. But here, it’s taken out of legal drama into the area of mystery, suspense, and even the supernatural.
The film plays on our cinema experience, with a scene recalling “Psycho”, before settling down to some sleep behavior.  Pretty soon Sebastian knows he is trapped, as he overhears things.   Martin is “absent” from class every day after this encounter.  Sebastian has to wonder when the cops are going to show up.

School systems are very frightened about this topic and don't like to see films dramatizing is showing up even in the indie cinema market.  Foreign producers (especially Spanish) are not to be daunted.    

The story provides a solution to its "anti-hero's" problems.  In my screenplay, the teacher dies in jail but the student celebrates the teacher’s life by performing the teacher’s musical works.  What happens here is somewhat the opposite, perhaps, but not exactly straightforward.

The film has a brooding music score by Pedro Irusta, for chamber orchestra, that would stand up well as a concert piece, rather echoing the moods of expressionistic composers, particularly Alban Berg.
Most of the film is shot indoors, on low budget, so you don’t get any expansive feeling about what Buenos Aries is really like.

The mood of the film reminds me of Martin Donovan’s “Apartment Zero” (1988, now Summit). 

The film was screened by Reel Affirmations at the Carnegie Institute on 16th Street in Washington DC.  The film was interrupted by previews from Breaking Glass Pictures just after it started, then started over.  When it restarted, the sound (dolby digital)  and projection improved substantially.  The screen is small and has to be cropped even for 1.85:1. 

The production companies are listed as “Rendez-vous” and “Oh My Gomez”.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

HBO airs "41", documentary biography of George H. W. Bush; he talks about himself.

Well, Jeffrey Roth’s new HBO Documentary “41”, shows that you can make a reasonably effective film by having someone sit in a chair – in his summer home, perhaps – and talk about himself, recall his life.

That’s what George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st president of the United States does in this 100 minute film. He looks pretty weathered and tired now, and in recent years his profile has been low.

His account of his WWII service as a naval aviator is interesting; he was shot down once, parachuted, and was rescued by a submarine.  Afterwards, once he was at Yale at met and married Barbara, you lose the sense that he’s paid his dues.  He notes that he couldn’t live in his particular housing of choice without at least one child.

Like many biographies, the film gives a synopsis of history for sixty years or so, particularly the Reagan years when Bush was vice president.  The assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981 is shown, and Bush was almost president then.

The second half of the film does cover Bush’s one term as president, with particular emphasis on how he handled the fall of the Berlin Wall.  There was a risk of drawing in the Soviets into European conflict had he overpressed. He then moved on to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, leading to the First Persian Gulf War. 
The 1992 election, where he lost to Bill Clinton, is sparsely covered.  His “accident” when he became ill at a state dinner in Japan in early 1992 isn’t covered.  He is shown turning over the White House to Bill Clinton in 1993, but no mention is made of the debate that would soon erupt over gays in the military.

Washington is often shown with snow in the film, even on days that I know were dry, such as the day of Bill Clinton’s inauguration and parade, which I attended.

Wikipedia attribution link for Bush home in Kennebunkport, ME, Walker’s Point,  which the film says has been damaged twice by hurricanes.  I saw it once in June 1995. 

I guess we could draw an amusing comparison to Lionsgate's "W." (2008), about "son"  George W. Bush (Oliver Stone's film).  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"A Siren in the Dark": body-snatcher or angel?

I must say that for me, at least, “A Siren in the Dark” (2008), by Laura Reilly and Steven Vasquez, gets to be a bit of a jumble. 

Cameron (Todd Tetreault) is a gay cop with psychic abilities, a bit like the NBC series character Grimm.  A crew-cut teen (David Beutler) enlists Cameron to help him find his unsteady lover Josh (Orion Cross). The journey turns into an episode of “Supernatural”  as the informal tag team discovers a coven of “sirens” or “angels”.  Maybe this movie is a take-off on “body snatchers”.

The film, from Ariztical, is shot in full 2.35:1, but the photography is sometimes a bit grainy. The film was shot in Orange County and around the Russian River.

Sometimes, "less is more" with explicit scenes, at least for me. 

The official site is here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"The Country Teacher": Czech film about a gay teacher gradually wanders into danger

Perhaps Eastern Europe is just getting started in the LGBT market, and the film by Bhodan Slama, “The Country Teacher” (2008, Czech Republic, “Venkovsky ucitel”) is certainly expansive, sensitive, and goes into some dangerous territory.

The teacher is a bepseckled 30 year-old played by Pavel Liska. His mother is a chemistry teacher in Prague, and, as we learn, his parents know he’s gay and have some reluctant acceptance – harder on the father because he will not have further heirs.   After disillusionment in a relationship with a contemporary, he “runs” from his life and takes a job teaching grade school science in a rural school.  The headmaster has misgivings, but helps him get an inexpensive room on a farm owned by an older widow (Zuzana Bydzovska) with an attractive, lanky teenage son Pava (Ladislav Sedivy).   Life on the farm is somewhat primitive, as everyone has chores like drawing well water and pitching hay. The ex-partner  (a bit soft and unattractive) shows up in the school, pretending to be a school official, and tries to get the “teacher” back into the relationship, creating emotional and practical disruptions. 

But in the meantime, at the urging of the mother, the Teacher starts tutoring the teenager, and for a while all goes well, as the boy’s grades improve and it seems he will be able to go to college. Along in this sequence, there is a scene where a farm cow has a miscarriage, and that will turn out to be important symbolically.  To celebrate the boy’s successes, the two go to a party, and they get drunk. A sequence follows where the teacher definitely crosses the line.  It’s quite sensitively filmed, but it is clear that the teacher was not “trapped” or involuntarily tempted (a concept in my own screenplay, causing so much consternation when I was a sub and it was found online).  In many situations (not in the country), the teacher could have been prosecuted.  In this case, the storyteller finds a more upbeat way to bring things to resolution.

There’s an interesting classroom explanation by the Teacher, early, of why worker bees become asexual and remain loyal to the “Queen” without becoming “losers”.  Later, he asks if it is a problem for him to be a teacher because "I am a homosexual."  And in a scene late in the film, officials say "it's come to be a recogized thing". 

The official site (Czech) is here.  The film was distributed in Europe by 20th Century Fox, and by Film Movement in North America. The film is shot, very professionally, in full 2.35:1 anamorphic, and looks "big" with a lot of rural scenery in rolling country, as well as some impressive takes in Prague.  

The DVD comes with a 10-minute “monthly” short film, this one from the UK, “Peter and Ben” by Pinny Grylls. A British shepherd forms an emotional bond with a non-conforming sheep.

Film Movement certainly does pick independent films with provocative concepts and storylines. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Room 314": a quintet of short films about couples who stay in one motel room (Michael Knowles)

It sounds like an exercise for a screenwriting or stage-writing workshop.  Imagine a motel room un unnamed city, and write different short plays about the couples who stay there.  Write what you don’t know.

Michael Knowles did just that, and then aimed to turn one of the five short episodes into a short film. But he went on and did all five, producing a quintet (a set of integrated short films in one setting) in the spirit of “The Decalogue” from the 80s.

The lodging unit is “Room 314”.  While the 2005 film (now from Vanguard) played a lot in New England and the location of the Fairfield Inn remains unnamed, I get a certain feel that the film was shot in Texas, perhaps in Austin.  I wonder how many motel rooms like this one I have rented in my life when "on the road" and what other stories each room could tell.  

The first couple is  “Nick and Stacey” (13 min)  with Matthew Del Negro and Joelle Carter.  Nick, who is quite handsome, is actually a pretty wholesome football player, and good looking, and would never drug a girl. Nevertheless, Stacey can’t remember how she wound up in the room, and Nick remembers she was good.

Now “Harry” (16 min, Matthew Laurence) has taken the room alone to break his AA regime, and his wife Gretchen (Sarah Bennett) has followed him there, with an intervention that may save him from suicide.
“Jack and Kathy” (22 min) intend a physical reunion, and we gradually learn each is married, to someone else.  Michael Knowles (the writer and director) and Robin Myhr play the parts.  Jack says he is a huckster who can sell anything to anyone. "People are inately cheap.  They have no thoughts of their own" he says.  He comes right out of the comedy about sales culture, "100 Mile Rule", with its mantra, "always be closing."

“Matt and Tracey” (10 min, Todd Swenson and Monique Vukovic) come to the room already in the midst of some bizarre role-playing game.  You gradually notice some physical disfigurements with shocking effect:  Todd’s hand and wrist look burned, and Tracey seems mottled.  Tracey starts making threats after admitting she’s working.  I’m not sure what gives here, although I could guess.  I’ve never seen anything like this in a gay male film that I can recall.  But I once, in the 1970s, had a “confrontation” with a friend who wanted to impress me that what I saw wasn’t everything.  I can now imagine how Knowles could craft my own incident into a film (but it’s not in just one location).

“David and Caly” (about 35 min, the longest piece, with Michael Mosley and Jennifer Marlowe) has a couple pretty much starting over, but then really going all the way, in a climax the depicts real heterosexual passion of which I am not personally capable.

The official site is here.  The film has played widely in smaller film festivals around the country.

Picture:  Hotel in Ontario (probably Ottawa) where my parents stayed around 1942, estate picture.