Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"ETHOS": Woody Harrelson hosts a dystopian view of our media-polluted "democracy"

Woody Harrelson sounds earnest as he narrates the hour-plus documentary “ETHOS”, directed by Peter McGrain. Harrelson is sometimes joined by Noam Chomsky, Bill Hogan and Howard Zinn, and even Michael Moore. The film (2011) comes from Cinema Libre and Media for Action.

The film makes a familiar argument that the ideals of democracy and rule of the people are subverted by the moneyed classes, who want to control individuals.  The Federal Reserve is presented as having been set up by a cabal of secret bankers.  Woodrow Wilson is quoted as saying that debt to private interests will undermine democracy – but remember that Wilson was willing to jail people for sedition, especially opposing the draft.

The film hits hard the role and “abuse of the media”, which it sees as a puppet of the corporate state. It depicts Freudian science as antithetical to the self-expression of the individual and mentions Freud’s nephew, Binrays, as the father of modern “public relations”.

It shows a variety of images, including one of coal mining and mountaintop removal. 

The film discusses the concept of the national id chip, and warns that someday the government may mandate that we have chips implanted in our bodies so we can be tracked.  Some people actually want that.  The film also tracks back the ease with which the government has exploited public fear since 9/11.

Harrelson mentions climate change and particularly peak oil, which is supposed to climax in 2015.

But toward the end, Harrelson suggests that, in a market economy, the consumer still has the ultimate power, to refuse to spend money on the products of evil companies.  But this is isn’t possible, of course, with local monopolies, like power companies.

I think it would be interesting to make a documentary on a variation of this theme, specifically, the pressure on the individual “who is different” to conform to the goals of the family and surrounding majority in the community.  I can look at many episodes, conversations and incidents in my own life, particularly during my own “coming of age” and later after “retirement” (and especially relating to my late mother’s eldercare) and come up with some definite impressions.  The “different” individual is expected to learn to take care of himself (herself) and then provide for other people in a manner more or less commensurate with gender.  He (or she) is expected to understand and make differential “sacrifice” (an idea particularly prevalent with the Vatican).  He is supposed to make and maintain emotional attachments in a manner reflective of the needs of others.  In short, he (she) learns to express “complementarity”.  And he remains silent about his own views unless he has real responsibility for others.  The “moral majority” suggests that the stability and sustainability of civilization depends on reigning in on self-indulgence of individuals.  But, nevertheless, those in “power” seem to have achieved personal “complementarity” but turn around and become corrupt in their desire to stay in power.  It then seems that sustainability has something to do with the individual’s being able to go outside of “the box” and empathize with others whose circumstances are very different from those in his own family.

I am a media position in an unusual, perhaps precarious person.  I am curiously both powerful and powerless.  I was able to climb onto an unusual observational perch and communicate to the world and gain some recognition through user-generated content.  This is a development really not covered by the film. Because of my background, I became very preoccupied with my own stability, my own productivity as an individual contributor at work, and with exploring my own feelings in relationships.  After “retirement”, circumstances forced me to see how I had missed so much connectivity that others take for granted.

The film is available for streaming but not by DVD, on Netflix. 

The link for the film is here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

"Ruby Sparks": invent the idea lover in your fiction writing

I can relate to the idea of creating the ideal person (potential lover) on paper as a character in a novel.  I don’t have one “idee fixe” for perfection; it keeps shifting according to my latest experience (and any interaction with an interesting person can make his “properties” seem significant).

But in 1988, in a novel manuscript called “Tribunal and Rapture”, I did have a more fixed fantasy, who gradually becomes disclosed, first back in metro life and then in a hidden ashram, as the rest of the world falls apart (bear in mind, these were Cold War years).  I did have the idea that I could write my own personal future history.  I named the 80-inch tall character Craig Nickerstahn, a name that came in a dream.

In “Ruby Sparks”, we have a slender, nerdish but appealing young man Calvin, a once-successful novelist (Paul Dano, already echoing a similar role in “Being Flynn” [March 15, 2012]. I suppose that Paul could fit one of my ideals. (He was really compelling in “There Will Be Blood” (Jan. 4, 2008), a film showing where I actually “met” someone.)

Now, I don’t know why Calvin still writes on a manual typewriter, in a film where he also uses a smart phone.  If he wrote on a computer (eventually he does), the fantasy trace would be stored in the cloud.
I had an Royal typewriter, Elite type, from the 1940s, while in high school. For college, my father gave me a Pica typewriter with chemistry and math symbols added.  I had that machine fixed numerous times until the 1980s.

It’s hard to believe in real “writer’s block”.  What’s hard with fiction is to master your own content after you have written it.  You have to live in your fictitious world, and know what you want.

Nevertheless, Calvin goes to  a therapist (Elliot Gould) to get over his problem.

Now “The Girlfriend” (no intentional relation to the independent film by that name that I reviewed on July 16) becomes his successful second novel, but the phantom Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) seems like a character out of “The Tempest”.  Yes, whatever he writes (that is, types by hand), she does, almost turning into a robot – a fantasy.

Dano is an executive producer of the film. Dano, in an interview, explains how Calvin falls in love with his character, and then she materializes.  But one could already be in love with a fantasy of a character that one creates.  (Imagine being “in love” with “Will” in “Days of our Lives”.)

No question, though, that his dog, who really loves him, will find the real Ruby for him.

The film, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, written by Zoe, also offers some others who “made the A List” – including Chris Messina, as Calvin’s doubting brother, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening,  and Steve Coogan. 

I enjoyed the background music, especially a waltz passage that I believe comes from Verdi's opera "Rigoletto". I thought I caught a quick excerpt from Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".

The film might be compared to "Barton Fink" (1991, the Coen Brothers, Fox) where a 40's screenwriter has writer's block. 

Here's an oddity: the previews (of "Ruby") have a scene (mentioning a Spanish teacher) that doesn't seem to appear in the finished film.  A deleted scene, maybe?

Fox Searchlight’s official site is here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry": story of major Chinese artist and dissident

The documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” starts with a touching scene presenting his cats around the artist’s Beijing studio “factory”.  One of the felines jumps up and operates a handle to open a door to get his food.  Ai says that this is remarkable.  But when I lived in my first garden apartment in Dallas in 1979, I was “adopted” by a male cat that knew how doors worked, recognized my car sound, and would hide things in my apartment as a game.  And today, neighborhood cats (and foxes) know which houses have open outdoor water faucets, and which yards have areas that pond during heavy rain.

Weiwei actually lived and worked in New York for about ten years, but went back to Beijing in 1993, a few years after the Tieneman Square massacre (1989). He would build his reputation, hiring artisans to work out his ideas, and would be a major player in designing the Birds’ Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics.

The film (directed by Alison Klayman, who filmed him working for several years) seems more concerned with the arc of the artist’s life (the way a documentary about Andy Warhol might be), than just the political message about free speech. But that becomes important, after Weiwei tries to expose shoddy construction practices after a major earthquake in Sichuan.  The police would invade his home and beat him. Later, he would be allowed to build a studio in Shanghai, and then see it torn down, an event that he would satirize with a sham public celebration.  He would “disappear” for 80 days in 2011, and emerge with a $2.4 million “tax fine”, for which volunteers have raised about $1 million.

The film gives some detail on the police action against blogger Liu Xiaobo.  A female official says, “we didn’t punish him for his thoughts. It was only a problem when he published them online on the Internet.”  Xiaobo was arrested for "inciting" rebellion against the state. It's a curious concept.  I guess if I lived in China they would arrest me, too.  The New York Times has a history of Xiaobo here.  

Weiwei would remain active most of the time on Twitter.

Sundance Selects is distributing the film. I saw it at Landmark E Street Sunday afternoon in front of a fair crowd. The director had been present for Q&A Friday and Saturday nights. The official site is here

Note: the spelling of the first name is "Ai" but the "i" often displays as "l".  

Viso has a YouTube trailer:

This film could be compared to Tribeca’s “High Tech, Low Life” about Chinese blogger “Zola”, reviewed here April 26, 2012. 

For "today's short film", please see my "International Issues" blog July 28 for a discussion of the 25-minute "Journeyman" film "One Child Policy". 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"The Special Relationship" between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair: they brace for the wrong enemy

I remember in the early part of my high school junior year’s “Virginia and U.S. History” that our ex-military history teacher made a lot of the concept of “mother country” and associated mercantilism.

The Special Relationship” (2010, HBO, dir. Richard Loncraine) could refer to the modern day between “mother” and superpower son. But it’s also about the relationship between new Labor party Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bill Clinton throughout most of Clinton’s presidency.

Martin Sheen looks and sounds like Tony Blair, and there are some household scenes where his body is not as young as his face.  However, Dennis Quaid, in playing Bill Clinton, is kept covered up, maybe for good reason.

Whereas, in the early days, Blair’s main concern was Northern Ireland and the IRA, soon it turned to Bosnia and Kosovo, and here Blair became the hawk, touting “Onward Christian Soldiers”.  His friend Clinton grimaces, saying that Blair sounds almost like Jerry Falwell.  

Blair is presented as having regarded Slobodan Milosevic as an existential threat to the civilized world. The film has considerable excerpted news footage of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.  In a private meeting, Blair urges that all of NATO send ground troops, and Clinton refuses, saying that Blair does not grasp how politically unacceptable it is for America to fight overseas on the ground.

The film, less than 90 minutes, concludes with brief coverage of the 2000 election, and footage of the real Blair and George W. meeting at Camp David.

The entire history, of course, seems oddly prescient of 9/11, which no one saw coming.  The film does not cover Clinton’s limited strikes against Al Qaeda, focusing entirely on Bosnia.  There’s one line where Clinton says to Blair, “Don’t answer any questions about gays in the military.”

The film briefly covers the affair with Monica Lewinsky, the “impeachment”, and Hillary Clinton’s (Hope Davis) calm handling of her husband’s indiscretions.

The official site for the film is here

The film has an opening tagline from Oscar Wilde: "A real friend stabs you from the front."

I also recall, with somewhat of a cackle, that a Unix programming instructor at a local community college in the 1990s loved to make fun of "Bill Clinton". 

Friday, July 27, 2012

"The Queen of Versailles": The rich don't always get richer; hucksterism can break down

There is a moment late in the documentary “The Queen of Versailles”, where former billionaire David Siegel, 74, sits in a cluttered room in his mansion (it almost looks like a hoarding site) and works desperately to save his “world’s largest time-sharing company” (Westlake) and gripes about the meal that his articulate wife, Jackie (44) has made for him. He asks something like, do you know what it would be like to do without electricity? 

That struck me as an odd question for a “rich old ruler” to pose.  I doubt he has any clue as to what EMP really means, but it could be a global equalizer.

The name of the film (directed by Lauren Greenfield) refers, of course, to Jackie, and the film is in some sense her biography (not his).  Raised in upstate New York, she had been trained as an IBM engineer, but left to model, and had survive one bad marriage before meeting David.

Then, living on an island near Orlando, David decides that isn’t good enough, and decides to buy a $100 million virtual replica of the Versailles Palace, complete with extras like a baseball field (like John Grisham, maybe – the Devil Rays are the nearest MLB team). He says he will do it “because I can”.  Hence the rest of the movie title.  As the film opens, he also takes credit for throwing Florida to George W. Bush in the 2000 election, and throws hints of illegality.

The film provides a cogent description of how the time-share real estate business works.  The heart of Siege’s business seems to have been his Westlake hotel and casino in Las Vegas.  I did not visit this during my recent visit to Las Vegas, and the movie’s end credits tell us it has finally been foreclosed and no longer has Westlake’s name. 

But the training sessions for sales employees are telling. They remind me of the phrase “Always Be Closing” in the 2002 film “100 Mile Rule”.  Salesmen get prospects hooked on the condo time shares on the first visit – on the theory that if you use it every year, it is cheaper than a hotel. 

Then, the 2008 financial crisis hits, with all its derivatives and credit default swaps falling like a house of cards (or a house built on sand).  David fights the banks to keep his casino-condo, but the couple can no longer afford Versailles, and it sits and rots unfinished on the market.  The kids (she has seven of them, and enjoys having babies, she says – and her husband still doesn’t need Viagra) might need student loans and real careers. 

The film won Best Director at Sundance.  The official site (Magnolia Pictures) link is here

Washington ABC station WJLA movie critic Arch Campbell noted that the director started working with the couple before the crash, intending to make a documentary just about the home, not knowing that it would turn into a story about economic downturn and rebirth.

I wondered what Jackie's world means for our moral debate on "marriage".  Sure, there was complementarity, and a great deal of benefit. 
I saw it before a modest Friday night crowd at the Shirlington in Arlington, early show. The audience chuckled a lot at the rich people eating caviar in new poverty.

Maybe Michael Moore would like this film. Or maybe Tom Shadyac of “I am” (review here March 27, 2011) would say, David and Jackie have a lot more than they “need”.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"The Lion of Judah": The Passion of the Christ through the eyes of stable animals

The animated feature “The Lion of Judah”, directed by Roger Hawkins and Dercyk Broom, places a fictitious story of stable animals in parallel with the Passion of the Christ.

A lamb Judah needs to develop his social capital to avoid being sacrificed at the same time that Jesus goes through the passion, the crucifixion, and finally Resurrection.  The other stable animals include a pig Horace, who will remind some viewers of the 1995 Australian film “Babe”. (Oliver North actually liked that film on his 90s talk radio show.)  There is also a rooster (Drake) and rat (Slink) and cow (Esmay).
The script (Brent Dawes) does explain quite clearly, in Christian terms, why Jesus atones for all of our sins.  But then it poses the question as to why Judah must be sacrificed (too) to relieve others of having to account for their own personal wrongdoings.  This all provides a twist on the concept of “personal responsibility”.
The DVD is distributed by Warner Brothers, but the theatrical release had come from Rocky Mountain Pictures, and the film was produced independently in South Africa by Character Matters and Sunrise Productions. The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99.

The official site is here

The film should not be confused with a 2012 short documentary by this name on the Holocaust (review to come later).

For today's short films, see the Issues Blog, July 24, for "Gone too Soon" (about Ryan White) and "Whitman-Walker Health".

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged": a timely documentary as "the movie in three parts" comes out

Imagine a documentary movie that starts with quoting a fictitious moral speech. “You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence for unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith. You have sacrificed wealth to need.”  This, of course, comes from John Galt’s speech near the climax of “Atlas Shrugged.”

The film “Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged” (2011, directed by Chris Mortensen, Mad Universe Pictures) begins with this arresting quote.

After going through Ayn Rand’s early life in Russia and her first novels and getting to “The Fountainhead”, it quotes her hero (Howard Roark) as saying, something like “I must love the doing and love my work first, not the people” (before I can actually help people).

By then, the film has shown images of America from the 1920s through the post War 50s, and makes the case that the problem is invisible, a “philosophy”  (which turns into "prophecy").  America, at one time a fount of freedom, had been overrun by social consciousness. 

The film then explains Rand’s concept that all the “doers” of the world go on strike.

The film further reviews Rand’s background, indeed how she had protected her parents’ family in Russia, but then goes beyond the idea that Communism is thuggery to attributing to victims the moral responsibility for their losses at the hands of others.  Altruism, as commonly understood, becomes a moral evil in Rand’s world.  The idea that “others are more important than me” leads to decay.  But opposition to “self-sacrifice” is not the same thing as endorsing “piggishness” or short-term greedy behavior.  As in a chess game, it’s sometimes not a good idea to grab pawns in the opening.

Eventually, the film develops the idea of personal autonomy or individual sovereignty.  Do you own your own life?  It certainly must no belong to “the state”.  But does it somehow belong to “the community” in a personal sense for sustainability reasons.  I start to wonder.

The film then covers the overwhelmingly negative reviews of “Atlas Shrugged” after publication. Random House had wanted John Galt’s speech removed.  The most destructive review was from Whitaker Chambers.  Yet the book became a commercial success, at one time rising to 4th Place on the NYTimes best seller list.

The film covers the Financial Crisis of 2008 as an example of how of some of Rand’s predictions came true.  It describes 2008 as an example of the failure of “crony capitalism”.  It then explains the term “objectivism”.  One side idea is that regular people should take place in politics occasionally and then go back to being productive.  Should writers and artists be expected to run for office?

In my own experience, a commitment to “individualism” is challenged by coercive pressure from others to actually be willing to support some of their goals personally, even at sacrifice of my own, if the “need is great enough.  This includes openness to personal relationships that might have been rejected or ignored, if they are within some moral “goldolocks zone” of me.  Why?  Because I am ultimately dependent on “sacrifices” from others that I cannot see.  Will the individualism of Rand enable people to work together in a way to give the whole planet sustainability?  Can private interests protect the power grid from existential threats, or prevent climate change from destroying many areas of the world?  Well, some of these problems might need individuals to invent things, just as Alan Turing did during WWII.

You can’t be your brother’s keeper when you no longer have anything to give.  As in Greece right now, the “looting runs dry.”

There is still a division, my mind, between “altruism” (defined as participation in social capital or “eusociality”) as a moral necessity for sustainability, and the idea that government can enforce it (without becoming corrupt or “cronyized”).  And there is a connection, however nuanced, between “altruism” and the way people seek and maintain relationships (influenced by the desire to procreate, or lack of such desire).
The end: “You believe in life. You want to fight for it, to die for it.  I only want to live it.”

I reviewed “Atlas Shrugged: Par I” on April 15, 2011 on this blog. Part II should appear in Fall 2012. I’m rather surprised it isn’t a cable miniseries instead.  The documentary discusses the films near the end, as long as earlier attempts to develop a film partly because of problems with Rand’s approving a script.

I 1998, I saw an earlier similar documentary “Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life”, directed by Michael Paxton, during a visit to Dallas.  That film had been distributed by Strand Releasing and Fox Lorber.

The film can be rented on YouTube legally for $3.99.  

The official site is here

(An alternate title is "Ayn Rand & the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged".)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Bullhead": crime drama from Belgium with a life-stopping backstory

It would sound strange to most American film buffs that you could do much in film with an obscure cultural battle within Belgium between the Flemish and the French Walloons, and that there is such a thing as a Belgian livestock mafia.   We don’t think about farming in Europe and the “Low Countries” now in days of battles over finances and the euro.

Nevertheless, when a young cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), who we see pumping himself with shots of steroids and testosterone, sets a web of tragedy and intrigue in motion when he is approached by a veterinarian to deal with a Flemish beef trader.  His chance to prove his manhood socially is set off in motion, and we see this previous quiet bodybuilder going to the dark side.

That’s the setup of “Bullhead” (or “Rundskop”), a 2011 Oscar nominee for best foreign language film by Michael R. Roskam, now on DVD from Image and DraftHouse.   There’s a horrific backstory that layers upon the current day murder mystery that ensues.  There’s a clue in Jacky’s womanish skin, which the camera sometimes indulges.   About forty minutes into the film, we see a reenactment of an incident two decades before when Jacky, just starting to learn about the meaning of sex and girls at age 10, is attacked by a girl’s brother Bruno (David Murgia) who chops off all that matters.   Subsequently the doctors put Jacky on testosterone for life, and his father even asks, “Will he be gay?”

In fact, Jacky’s adult friend Diederik (Jeroen Perceval), lean but prematurely bald, is gay, and Jacky doesn’t know it; and that hardly matters in the final web of coincidences that get Jacky framed for a dealer’s murder.  (It’s rather like saying that the character Will’s homosexuality in the soap “Days of our Lives” is turning out not to mean much now.)  In the middle of the film, there’s a more recent flashback where Jacky goes to a straight disco (playing the same music I hear all the time at Town DC), and is told he has to wear a shirt. That’s odd, as shirt removal is a ritual in “love trains” in gay discos; for that matter, I’ve also wondered why some straight discos didn’t allow tennis shoes. 

This is a brooding film, over two hours, with a string score by Raf Kuenen, music in C# minor (I checked on my Casio) that reminds one of Richard Strauss’s “Metamorphesen.”  Toward the end, there is a staircase that recalls the effect of a similar scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo". 

On the DVD, the director, after explaining that the rural mafia and other conflicts in Belgium are real, talks about the characters.  He compares Jacky to Batman, someone who wants to be big after a childhood trauma, and even mentions the analogy of locking himself in the bathroom.  (It is a total coincidence that I had rented this DVD the weekend of the Batman-related tragedy -- the DVD came out rather quickly after a brief theatrical run spurred by the Oscars -- but Roskam's comments seem accidentally all too relevant.) In a similar interview, the actor Matthias explains that, because of the childhood assault, Jacky will never be able to "give love" the way a man normally does, even if he receives it.  

The "Making Of" short on the DVD shows how Matthias bulked up for the part, using special nutritious supplements with fish (a kind of "muscle milk"), somewhat reminiscent of how Taylor Lautner did the same thing for the Twilight movies (not a good idea normally at age 16).  I cannot fathom altering my vulnerable body for a movie -- except maybe my own! 

The language of the film is Limburgish, a form of Dutch heavily influenced by German.  The film showed at AFI-Los Angeles and Palm Springs film festivals.
The official site is here

Image rents the film on YouTube “legally” for $3.99. 

The DVD has a 25-minute short, “The One Thing to Do”  (“Une seule chose a faire”), from CCCP and Arte France, where Schoeanaerts and Tibo Vanderborre play two young “pre-terrorists” meeting with an older mercenary (Serge Henri-Valcke) in an outdoor restaurant in Corisca.  After an ideological discussion (with some combat flashbacks, that seem to be relate to the Bosnian civil war in the 90s) about how it’s important to make everybody in the world play the game of life by the same rules, a plot twist occurs (along with some scenes of mass bodies) where the mercenary is to be apprehended for war crimes.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"The Dark Knight Rises" seems like typical Nolan

I’m not particularly a comic book fan.  I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” this afternoon at an ETS presentation at AMC Tysons Corner.  All the Imax performances were sold out, but this one was maybe 80% full. The security environment, much discussed by the media since Friday's tragedy in Colorado, was low-key. 
I think Nolan’s worldview (of shifting realities) actually works better when he starts in “this universe” rather than a parallel one (like a comic book franchise).  The style of filmmaking resembles “Inception”, but the “message” isn’t quite as compelling.  What is left is a typically entertaining action film, long, with some good ideas.
Nolan uses the same music composer, Hans Zimmer, whose music builds powerful circuits around ground bass themes.  The look of the film is a little darker than “Inception”, and seems much less “real” than even the dream components of the 2010 masterpiece.
As Bruce Wayne eight years later, Christian Bale really doesn’t look much worse for wear as he enters early middle age. Still, the characters don’t look as “comic-con” as in other comics movies. The villain, Bane (Tom Hardy) wears a simple mouthpiece that would appear to hide a disfigurement.  (The “Joker” costume does not appear.) 

Michael Caine is still endearing as Alfred, who is supposed to know everything but let others take the glory.  But the sweetheart character is the young cop, Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who had been raised in an orphanage.  At the end, the senior Wayne insists that most of his wealth go to the orphanage rather than just to pass along wealth to family.

A lot is said about the dark violence in action movies like this. The stock exchange attack hardly seems very real, but the implosion of Gotham’s sewer system, which causes a football field to sink (Nolan doesn’t care that the real stadium is in New Jersey, but this is “parallel universe”) is quite original. There is a backstory involving Wayne’s (Batman’s) escape from a dungeon that recalls a similar effect from “The Ring” movies.   He needs some “lesbian upper body strength” to get out, on his own.
The script has many “national security” concepts worthy of serious dramatic treatment.  I thought I heard EMP mentioned once.  At the end, Batman and his allies have to prevent a neutron bomb from going off in Gotham (aka New York), and it get shipped out into the ocean, maybe not far enough.
At the professional football game, a kid sings the Star Spangled Banner, a cappella, but I was reminded of midshipman Joseph Steffan’s singing it at an Army-Navy game in the 1980s.

Clip about James Holmes and this film, here (ABC News). 

The official site (requires Shockwave) is here

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Sebastiane": gay cinema set in ancient Roman Empire, actually seems decadent today

Here’s a curious little (87 min) film from Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress, dating back to 1976, from Kino.
It is called “Sebastiane”.  And it’s not the name of a cantankerous apartment cat. No, Sebastianus (Lenoardo Treviglio) is a Roman soldier in 300 AD, exiled to a remote arid post for practicing Christianity. 

The men, isolated situationally from women, turn to one another.  When Sebastian rejects an advance, he is persecuted to the point of a crucifixion scene (with bow and arrow) at the end of the film.

The film would sound like a downer today, but in 1976 it was viewed as daring. And the speech is actually in Latin.

Life in the film is grimy and gratuitously intimate (an issue always debated in the military), and not glitzy as in those 1950s Fox Cinemascope spectacles about Roman life. (I remember crying at the end of "The Robe" in 1953, again about persecution.)  The film, however, is shot in full wide screen, almost as if to mock the spectacle genre.

The film opens with a bizarre costume party sequence, and contains bizarre scenes of a soldier shaving his own body with a sword before he does likewise to Sebastian.  This is rather uncommon in film (although remember a scene like that in “Deliverance”).

Is the film as decadent as Bob Gucionne's sprawling "Caligula" (1979), which I do remember seeing Dallas?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer", a bantamweight "comedy" from Paramount in 1970

Henry Miller’s novel “Tropic of Cancer” was notorious after being banned as “obscene” from the United States in the 1930s; it would be re-published by Grove Press in 1961 and “cleared” by the Supreme Court in 1964.

Paramount made the film in 1969, about the time I would be getting out of the Army.  The film offers Rip Torn as the expatriate writer living in Paris (in the early 60s), living is adventurous life one day at a time.

His wife even pays him a visit, and he accuses her of having lice! (That issue came up in Basic Training in the Army!)  Later, there are all kinds of meandering misadventures, such as a gig teaching English in Dijon, where Henry uses a lot of creative metaphors in front of teenage males.

The film has Miller narrating by reading graphic text from his novel.  The language, as well as some “full” scenes (showing the “rosebush”) is responsible for the DVD itself (from Olive Films) sporting an NC-17.

What was striking for me was the “attitude” of Miller and some of his make “friends” in the film.  There is a curious juxtaposition of wanting the responsibility of fatherhood and seeing other women as playthings.  It’s hard for a non-heterosexual  to grasp.

Joseph Strick directed the film.

See review of a film about the Grove Press here March 14, 2012. 

Henry Miller was also a painter.  There is a 4-minute YouTube short, "To Paint Is to Love Again" on his painting career.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

HBO broadcasts documentary about birding in NYC's Central Park

Monday, July 16, HBO aired a one-hour documentary “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, by Jeffrey Kimball.

Because New York City’s (that is, Manhattan’s) Central Park is a large natural oasis in a huge “concrete jungle” spanning four states, a relatively large population of birds pass through on migration and also liv there.  The documentary featured a huge population of colorful male birds normally seen in bird textbooks but rarely seen in practice.  These included a large number or warblers, and a Baltimore Oriole.

It’s rather interesting that in nature, it’s the male that is often conspicuous for color and physical beauty.  This is most notable with birds, but happens with some other social animals (like lions).  The showering of the female with the mystique of beauty is a particularly human invention (parodied or overcome in the male gay community, perhaps).  Of course, with “eusocial” insects the opposite prevails: the female is often larger, and the queen rules the world, literally.

The film, like many nature documentaries (such as those from the Disney era of the 50s) is divided into seasons, starting in spring. Despite this past mild winter, we got to see Central Park under snow.  

The most visible human personality was probably Starr Saphir, who has led birding walks all year (particularly in fall in spring) for decades, for a small charge. 

The HBO link is here

Note: The short documentary that followed, "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" is reviewed on the "Films on Major Challenges to Freedom" blog Monday. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Girlfriend", by Justin Lerner, offers an innovation in casting; director's feature builds on his short films

The filmmaker name "Justin Lerner" rings a bell.  I can't quite place it from my own past.
I received (from Strand) a screener for his first feature, “Girlfriend”, with DVD to be released Aug. 7, 2012.
The film depicts the evolution of a friendship between a young man with Down’s Syndrome and a single mother in a small town in Massachusetts (Wayland).   What is remarkable is that Lerner cast a former high school classmate, Evan Sneider, who actually has Down’s for the part.
Lerner could not write the exact words for the script for Evan’s part. Instead, Evan somewhat believed the story and spoke in his natural manner, which is humble, direct, and compassionate.  Usually his actions seem “right”; it is the expectations of “normal” society that stand out in relief.

When Evan’s mother dies, she leaves him an inheritance in the form of cash in a box.  (Curiously, there is a similar scene and concept in the recent Hollywood film “People Like Us” (July 6, 2012). Evan tries to help neighbor single mom Candy (Shannon Woodward), by dumping cash gifts in her home.  But Candy’s problems are bigger than what Evan can comprehend.  They include an unforgiving landlord, and a very jealous ex-boyfriend Russ (Jackson Rathbone), who then tries to manipulate Evan.

Evan wants to help her just out of his own nature. He doesn't question who was personally "responsible" for her poverty and for a now fatherless son.  But I think most of the rest of us would.

Complications come when Evan awakes to what relationships are perhaps all about, and soon he expects “something” in return.  As Dr. Oz would say, he wants her to “love him back.”  She must become his "girlfriend".  

The DVD has three shorts about making the film, the music score by “100 Monkeys” (no relation to “12 Monkeys”), and a BBC interview.  Lerner insists that his project is pure storytelling and would work with a character with various other possible issues. My reaction to this is complex.  I was considered physically “behind” when I was growing up (was teased) and a little bit autistic; so what should be expected of me (in terms of performing in a “normal” way) was seen as a moral issue.

I must say that I personally would resent anyone's imposing a "relationship" on me, however grateful I needed to be in practice.
The film (94 min) is shot in full 2.35:1 format and uses fall scenery effectively and fills the screen with many two-character shots.

The film is an official selection of the Toronto Film Festival, and appeared in Gotham, Woods Hole, and Mill Valley film festivals. 

Official site from Strand is here

Lerner has four other short films on Vimeo on his own site. (None of them were on the sample DVD.)

These films demonstrate other aspects of Lerner’s interest in people’s needs for relationships and connections.

The Replacement Child”  (2007, 25 min, also 2.35:1) shows an 18 year old Todd Turnbull (Travis Quentin Young) returning to his hillbilly home after a year in reform school for hitting his stepfather. He is taunted about religious faith and a policeman even tests his temper. But when he finds his best friend dying and the faith-healing parents refusing to have the boy treated, he has to take measures into his own hands, again. The surprise ending explains the title.  Evan Sneider appears here as Todd’s “boss” when he gets his job back in a fast-food joint. This film is the closest in style to "Girlfriend" and makes a good companion piece. 

Maggie’s Not Here” (2006, 20 min), shows Maggie (Alisha Seaton) working in a college library.  She loves Richard (Michael Kass), who has a dissertation and is the more obviously “good looking”, but has to deal with the jealousy and physicality of an older man Luke (Wesley Stiller), as well as her own pain during culmination of any relationship.  The rivals have at least one physical confrontation (a common thread on Lerner’s films).

Echostop” (2005, 12 min) presents a woman Anna (Hope Taylor) who faces the permanent loss of her boyfriend (Jona Newhall) – really permanent – when she leaves her home for the day.

Solo” (2004, 3 min) has Roy (Geoffrey Gould) playing a game of air hockey on an LA rooftop ("Vertigo" anyone?), , and needing a playmate (Jason Cole).  Again, a confrontation ensues. 

Picture: Mine, northern MA, July 2011. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Legacy": Black ops produces a modern day "Manchurian candidate"

The 2010 indie thriller “Legacy”, from “Black Camel” and “CodeBlack Entertainment” (and  Vivendi), with director Thomas Ikimi, achieves a lot as a low budget conspiracy thriller.  It puts together plot threads from “Manchurian Candidate” with “Inception” in a claustrophobic stage-play-likeness set mostly in an grimey warehouse and then in a “grungy as can be” Brooklyn apartment.

The film, supposedly an American thriller, was actually shot in Scotland by a Nigerian company (emphasizing black characters mostly), and unfolds through the consciousness of Malcolm Gray (Irdis Elba), who has somehow escaped from a rehab hospital after his Black Ops team in Eastern Europe was betrayed.  He holes up in the barren apartment, where you’re glad to have a fridge and probably couldn’t afford cable.   
In the meantime, his visible brother, Senator (R-NY) Darnell (Eamonn Walker) is talking tough on terror in all the press interviews as he prepares to announce his candidacy for president. 

The film often teases us with newspaper “front page” clips and television excerpts suggesting that the US is turning into a police state as a result of the “war on terror”.  We learn that Darnell had a lot to do with breaking up a plot to bring Sarin into the United States (possibly from stockpiles in the former Soviet Union – a problem well known with nuclear and biological weapons, too).  But that activity may have betrayed Malcolm’s unit.

Is Malcolm really back in the US, brainwashed to take out his brother?  Or is it even “worse”?  In this film, there really is a potential for spoilers.

The film does raise other points.  Do US intelligence services regularly use uniformed servicemembers? (Here, Malcolm is an Army WO.)  Black ops isn’t the same as a Seals raid (as with Osama bin Laden) is it?  The movies seem obsessed with the “extreme rendition” possibilities in intelligence, and seem to overlook the problem solving that would be needed when clues are obscure but menacing.  I can speculate further. Could intelligence services pick up a potential EMP scud attack, perhaps launched from a pirated boat? 

The film makes simple and effective use of everyday props.  One wonders if it needed the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

The official site is here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Road to Nowhere" is another movie about making noir movies, and drowning in the process

The title of the film “Road to Nowhere”, by Monte Hellman, is itself layered with multiple meanings. The film actually shows, with a bit of noir, the unfinished tunnel in the Smoky Mountains at the end of the road, which started in the 1940s, as well as the controversial dam, into which a small plane crashes in a critical scene.  (There’s a site explaining the road here).

The title also refers, besides to the film, to a fictitious film which its lead character, a handsome likeable director Mitch (Tygh Runyan) is making about a North Caroline political scandal (not really that close to John Edwards).  

When Mitch hires an inexperienced actress Laurel (Shannon Sossamon) from the “real world” to get closer to the real case, he, shall we say, gets more than he bargained for. OK, he finds Laurel romantically irresistable   Is Laurel really Velma, murdered (in the “Revenge”-style plane crash)?   If so, that would take this film into "Vertigo" territory.  In the meantime, another consultant, Bruno (Waylon Payne) seems to be investigating Mitch.

Outside is all of this is a blog run by Natalie (Dominique Swain), which had inspired Mitch to make the film, but which has now inspired its own “Road to Nowhere” DVD. 

In my own “Do Ask Do Tell” script, I have a structure like this:  there is an inner fictitious screenplay about a possibly questionable encounter between a substitute teacher like “Bill” and a precocious student, there is a whole life story which incorporates the way the screenplay affected the real world, and there is an ashram, in the afterlife or on another planet, where Bill and various other characters have been brought .  The “dude” in the inner screenplay is an “angel” running the show, and he has, by surfing Bill’s life and online presence, brought (or “abducted”) others to the ashram to carry Bill through his own particular tests (which can cross timelines).  The outcome of the tests affects how these other characters will turn out in the “Purification”, most of which they have escaped (on Earth).  “Bill” will find out that he is essentially different from many other people who have been taken in some particular aspect.
The Hellman film embeds some clips of famous films (the chess scene in "The Seventh Seal") and has a few embedded cameos (Leonardo di Caprio and Jack Nicholson).  Perhaps the title will remind us of David Lynch and "Lost Highway" -- and some of the same noir (and North Carolina location) is here, if not all the outright weirdness. 

In the end, of course, a “layered” film has to add up – else it’s gone “nowhere”.  For Mitch, whom we have come to admire, it leads to lockup.  Not all ends well here.  

The official site (uses QuickTime) from Monterey Video (2010), is here

Compare this to "Pornography: A Thriller" reviewed June 18. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Pelotero" documents gromming of baseball players in Dominican Republic

Documentary filmmakers Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jonathan Paley have reported on how Major League Baseball groomed at least two players (Miguel Angel Sano and Jean Carlos Batista) in the Dominican Republic in their film “Ballplayer: Pelotero”, now in theaters from Strand Releasing, with Bobby Valentine (Manager of the Boston Red Sox) as an executive producer.  (There is a story on this by Steve Silva in Boston.com, link here.)

The major league clubs have facilities – sometimes full “academies” – to train players, who can sign on July 2 of every year at age 16.   Players get the maximum contracts at that age, so MLB goes to great lengths, with background investigations (and medical exams including bone scans) to prove that they are not in fact older.  MLB also checks for performance enhancing drugs – in blood, urine, and even poop.  Some teams are fussier than others on the age issue, and most teams also bring some players from other areas of Latin America (such as Venezuela) to the “academies” in the DR. Twenty percent of all MLB players have spent time in the Dominican Republic; many grew up there.

The players are motivated to get the largest possible bonuses to provide for their families – that means parents and siblings, not their own (future) children.

There’s an early scene where a couple of  (black) players say, “We are smooth, but the Americans aren’t smooth.”  That sounds odd, but later in the film, the camera dawdles on a player’s shaved underarm.

Trevor Martin was present for a Q&A for three shows Friday at the West End Cinema in Washington DC.  The directors spent nine months in the DR making the film.  The country borders Haiti. It was not badly affected by the 2010 earthquake, but it does have a border and “immigration” issue with Haiti.

MLB would not let the filmmakers interview it about the practices.  Many teams (the Twins, the Astros, the Pirates) allowed them to film around the academies, but a few teams (the Yankees and Indians) refused.

The film aired in many festivals, including Miami, Sarasota, Boston and Cleveland. I think it just missed Silverdocs. 

The film is narrated (in English) by John Leguizamo. The Spanish of the players is very difficult to follow (there are subtitles), for viewers used to "Madrid" or "Argentine" Spanish in film. 

The official site link is here

The film can be rented “legally” on YouTube for $6.99.  And, yes, "we" ask viewers to “pay to play”.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Andrew Garfield is sinewy as "The Amazing Spider-Man"

Back in at the end of the earlier “first” Spider Man movie,  Tobey Maquire, as Peter Parker, announced “I am Spider Man. With great power comes great responsibility.”

I think Tobey Maguire had more fun (“Whee!”) with the role than Andrew Garfield does in Marc Webb’s new 3-D summer Marvel comic book epic, “The Amazing Spider-Man”.  (It’s a little soon for an entire franchise remake.) But Garfield, now 28, both very lean and very muscular, really has the charisma for the role nevertheless. As the AP high school student by day who generates his jelly suit by night, he pulls it off.

Here, Peter Parker is attending a science high school in NYC, and the little subplot about bullying seems out of place.  When he interns at the high profile biotech company, he gets fascinated with the opportunities and gets himself bit by the arachnid.

Yes, there’s the story of his missing parents (associated with the research), and the death of his uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), as the aftermath of an encounter with a street thug.  There’s the overzealous (but not evil) Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who, wanting to grow his arm back with spider venom, turns into a golem or dinosaur.  Dennis Leary places the police captain who suspects Peter’s vigilantism, and Emma Stone (the cop’s daughter) will be Peter’s loyal girl friend (no "Gossip Girl" here), who will have to clean up Peter’s mauled chest in one scene after an encounter with the golem’s claws.

There’s a line from Uncle Ben, “life’s about responsibility, not choice.”  But that’s early on, when Peter, just discovering his powers, doesn’t show up home in time to walk his aunt May (Sally Field) home in the dark.  Yes, as a young male, he’s expected to be protective of extended family.

Sony’s official site is here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"When a Man Falls" he doesn't always get back up

When a man falls down in life, is it over, or should he (in a finite world) have another chance?

The 2007 Sundance Institute film by Ryan Eslinger, “When a Man Falls in the Forest”, perhaps provides an existential dramatization of that question, as four “failed” people in a snowy city (Toronto), just before the holidays, interact and stumble.

In the beginning, a blue-collar (literally) building janitor Bill (Dylan Baker) enjoys opera (Catalini’s “La Wally”, not credited) as he works at night, and tries to rest days in his apartment to motivational tapes that teach lucid dreaming.  This potential get carried far enough that he dreams vividly about an earthquake with a heroic skyscraper rescue. (Was Christopher Nolan familiar with this film before he made "Inception"?)

A coworker Gary (Timothy Hutton) is agoraphobic (but watches a video of a 60s balloon ride to get over it) and has to deal with his kleptomaniac wife (Sharon Stone).  Another coworker Travis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) had bullied Bill (because of his apparent autism) in high school and is trying to make amends. 

Gary has a brilliant son (David Williams) who is finishing advanced calculus before college.
The characters seem to stumble for the first seventy minutes of the film (in one scene, Bill’s legs collapse under him literally in an elevator and is picked up by coworkers), but then a tragedy happens to Gary.   As a bystanding shopper in a convenience store, he hesitates to give an armed robber his wallet and is shot dead instantly and brutally.  He falls, gone, because his life was taken from him by force, perhaps to serve another man’s survival needs.   The son will ask Travis what his father had been like before marriage, because he couldn’t conceive of his dad as a single man, without mom (a relationship).  Yet, he fell.

This is a somewhat unpleasant film, perhaps, and only moderately popular with viewers.   But perhaps it makes us ponder our place in life, how it depends on fortune, and our willingness to connect with others (and keep those connections) on terms not always of our own choosing.

The (DGC) film (from Rigel and Insight Film) was distributed by Screen Media.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Here": two loners find love, reluctantly, after themselves, in Armenia

The road film “Here”, by Braden King, has a simple enough premise, with  “a man and a woman”; and it takes a leisurely stroll through Armenia (the former Soviet republic – not Albania) consuming over two hours.  But it covers a lot of moral territory, and entertains us with “Tree of Life” styled video from another of New Wave filmmakers. 

Peter Coyote narrates and asks the existential questions about the relationship between science and – not faith, but dreams and maybe art.  Then we meet the man, Will Shepard, handsome (about 30), blond and hairy (played by Ben Foster – in “Prometheus”, “Alpha Dog”, “30 Days of Night”), is the lone scientist-cartographer, working alone (by choice) all over the world in a “ground-truthing” project, doing surveying to provide details to add to satellite data to make new maps.  During the movie his work starts to fail in quality, possibly because of equipment problems.  (His computer terminal  has an email program that reminds one of the DOS days of the 1990s.)  He’s in trouble, and this may be his last contract. 

But he has met, in a rural cafĂ©, Gadarine Najarian (Lubna Azabal), a photographer and artist (about 25) who has returned home from Canada and Europe and whose family resents her independence.  Her brother calls her the “prodigal sister” while their father is dying. But she goes on the road with Will, and, as the precepts of their lives are challenged, they gradually (if predictably) become intimate.  Yes, reproduction rules.

The film, which (in 2.35:1) is breathtaking  in scenery, takes us to the Iran border, and also to the dangerous Nagorno-Karabagh region. The filmmakers faces as many perils in real life as did the characters.

The film was made with sponsorship with the Sundance Institute and Tribeca. It got into and won awards in beaucoup festivals. 

The Strand DVD releases July 17. It includes eight brief videos (providing background in the film), collectively called the “Explorer Story Interludes”.  They are “Girl from Moush” by Garine Turossain;
Actual Size” by Barbara Meter and another by Naomi Umash; “Cloud Mapper” (with an image of a derecho, perhaps) by Ben Rivers; “Astronomer” by Julie Murray; “Alchemist” by Bill Morrison; “Shadow Explorer” by Guy Sherwin; “Found Footage”, by Aghdam.

The official site is here

Picture (top): Mine (2011), from Mt. Washington area of N.H. -- plenty of science on the summit with the weather observatory. 

Monday, July 09, 2012

"Beasts of the Southern Wild": a lower Louisiana delta community is the "canary" for all of us

Beasts of the Southern Wild”, winner of the Grand Jury drama prize at Sundance and also a winner at Cannes, is part fantasy (“Pan’s Labyrinth”, maybe), and part NatGeo drama that seems to be inspired by Hurricane Katrina.  The film, directed  (and largely written) by Benh Zeitlin is one of those cinema experiences that inserts us in another world and makes us live through its hardships and personal attachments.  It is uneven, curious, unsettling, and powerful, all at the same time.  People in some communities have no choice as to how they will live and as to the human attachments they must form and maintain (that is, “social capital” is essential to their survival).

Hushpuppy (Quevenzhane Wallis) is a precocious (African American) six year old living in ramshackle community  (“The Bathtub”) in lower Louisiana, in a part of the Delta already partly washed away by dredging and threatened by rising sea levels.  She has accumulated some book learning about global warming, Al Gore style, and already imagines melting ice caps.  She has learned to cook, rather recklessly with the primitive gas stoves in the family’s mobile home. One day, she accidentally sets the house on fire, and her mother disappears.  Her father Wink (Dwight Henry) gives her tough love as she seeks mom in a growing maelstrom.  A storm, possibly like Katrina, comes and floods everyone out.  Everyone resists the government’s effort to rescue them and make them stay in approved shelters (in sight of the oil refineries).  The film makes reference to levies and possible deliberate flooding of their homeland to appease oil companies, shipping channels and big cities (New Orleans). But other mysteries are unfolding. Ancient oxen-like boars called aurochs run amok and do more devastation (like tearing down remaining power lines), but seem to like Hushpuppy.  Wink falls ill, vomiting blood, and  has been teaching Hushpuppy to survive completely on her own, nabbing catfish with her bare hands (as in another 2001 indie film called “Okie Noodling", directed by Bradley Beesley, sometimes shown on PBS).

There’s a touching rescue scene, in the middle, where a woman tells Hushpuppy, “You have to learn to take care of people weaker and sweeter than you.”  It seems odd that everyone pressures Hushpuppy to be dependable when she really seems to be pretty good at doing things (despite the accident).

Is this film a warning of how “the purification” could start?

The music is by Dan Romer and the director and is riveting.

On YouTube, the young director (writer and composer) explains how he developed the film at Sundance Institute, and how he had to rework the story in accordance with the non-actors that he found.  Hushpuppy wound up being younger than he had originally expected (he had imagined someone about 11).  He says the Institute puts every idea in your script under a microscope.  The end credits mentioned  a “substitute teacher” rather than “studio teacher”.

The official site from Fox Searchlight is here.

I saw the film in a small auditorium at Landmark E Street in Washington DC before a fair crowd on a Monday afternoon. 

Picture: Mississippi Gulf Coast, my picture, Feb. 2006. 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

"Dahmer": disturbing biography, somewhat incomplete

The 2002 film “Dahmer”, directed by David Jacobson, is a dramatization of the notorious life, from fantasy to horrifying acts, of Jeffrey Dahmer, who is played by Jeremy Renner.

The visitor is invited to read the detailed biography in Wikipedia.  It is graphic, and the details need not be dwelled upon for their own sake here.  But Dahmer’s history was obviously very troubled long before his final period in Milwaukee.

The film focuses on his life in that apartment 213 in a low-income area of Milwaukee. He could be seductive with his guests.  It’s perhaps interesting to compare this real life tragedy with a famous gay horror short with a somewhat similar theme, “Bugcrush”  (Jan. 29, 2008), where the viewer wants to pull the “guest” right out of the movie scene but is still titillated by the perpetrator.

The film does cover, in flashbacks, some of Dahmer’s troubled relationship with his father (Bruce Davison) and grandmother, as well as an episode in Ohio at age 18 where, when home alone, he invites a fellow high school wrestler over, leading to a violent end, activity which he would not resume for nin years.  At one point, he tells the wrestler that he (the wrestler) will get married, have kids, and develop a pot belly, and presumably ruin the fantasy of perfection that he could display in youth.  In the commentary after, the filmmakers noted that Dahmer saw people just as object for his own pleasure.

The film shows, early, a missed opportunity by police to catch him, as well as another one in Ohio when he was stopped for drinking and driving. It does not go into detail on the final arrest (although it shows the evening with the young man that led to it), or the trial; and it gives only a few images of life in a Wisconsin prison, where he would be slain by another inmate after just two years of incarceration.

There are a few other interesting scenes that are well done: his being trained to work in a chocolate factory, and a scene where a bouncer tosses him out of a gay bar. 

Lionsgate has a similar film from 2006 “Raising Jeffrey Dahmer” by Rich Ambler, apparently more from the viewpoint of his father. 

The idea of a dramatization of a notorious person like this is to dramatize what makes him tick. Still, I think that the subject matter is better served by documentary.  For example,  I think it would be good if a documentary filmmaker (maybe even someone like Morgan Spurlock) made a film about a few of the more disturbing cases caught in the Dateline Internet stings.  While the people are disturbing, the actions in the criminal justice system and treatment programs are important to document.  The case of Rabbi David Kaye is particularly disturbing, for example, because  it was so long before he was even prosecuted.  What happens to people when they are finally on “supervised probation”?  What on earth is their “treatment” like?

My last visit to Milwaukee occurred in Nov. 2000. Wikipedia attribution link for Milwaukee picture, here

The DVD (from Peninsula Films) has a featurette discussing how the film tried to look at Dahmer’s psyche, “The Mind Is a Place of its Own

Saturday, July 07, 2012

"Safety Not Guaranteed" for time travel companion seeking another chance; Duplass brothers like sci-fi to be "puffy"

You can tell that “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a Duplass Brothers movie (they are executive producers) even before you see the time adventurer, a 40-ish grocery store clerk Kenneth (Mark Duplass).  Just the goofy style – you expect to see a puffy chair in the first motel scene.

The premise is interesting. Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) gets assigned two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni) to do a story about a guy who advertised for a time travel partner in their hip Seattle magazine.  (The companion must bring his or her own weapon.)  Right off the bat, we have a good question – is it ethical or legal for media companies to get their dirty work done by unpaid interns? (See Books blog, Ross Perlin’s “Intern Nation”, June 8, 2011). It gets worse when Jeff shares the motel room as they go to coastal Washington State to hunt down the purported time traveler. Darius gets her own bed, and Arnau (a quite handsome 21 year old) gets pointers on how to pick up girls.

They track down Kenneth, and, after some subterfuge, he agrees that Darius would make for a totally appropriate platonic companion (the script mentions that she is a lesbian).  We start getting into the paradoxes of his life history, and wonder if this proof that time travel can work (despite the unidirectional nature of the “time arrow of physics”).  Furthermore, fibbies – bald G-men in good clothes – are chasing him.

The end may seem like a combination of “Contact” with “Another Earth”.  Maybe people get another chance.  But, up to the conclusion, this film doesn't take itself too seriously.

The idea that a journalist is “challenged” by some mystery close to home can make for an interesting premise. In my screenplay “Titanium”, a philandering young journalist is confronted by reports that his pregnant fiancĂ© has “gone up” during a violent Texas storm accompanied by UFO sightings, when the police are not impressed.

The director is Colin Trevorrow and the line producer is Derek Connolly.

The official site (from Film District, Alliance Atlantis and Big Beach Films) is here

I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington on a Saturday afternoon.  There were some projection problems, as one channel of sound often dropped out.