Friday, August 31, 2012

"The Imposter": Dateline-style docudrama about a Frenchman who fools the family of a missing teen

Sometimes we have disturbing events in our lives, and they don’t make complete sense.  We go back and look through everything in meticulous detail to see what happened.

That sort of problem lends itself especially to crime, and often leads to the kind of investigative reports you see on NBC’s Dateline or ABC’s 20-20. And it can lead to docudrama filmmaking, a combination of dramatization, illustrated narratives and interviews, which can become more nailbiting than conventional mystery drama.

So it is with “The Imposter”, the docudrama from director Bart Layton, Film4, and distributor Indomina (in the UK, it comes from Picturehouse, the New Line brand than is no longer used in the US for reasons unknown).  According to YouTube, IFC is also a distributor.

On 1994, a 13-year-old boy disappeared in San Antonio Texas.  Three years later, in 1997, the family got a phone call from Spain about a teenager claiming to be that boy.  This would turn out to be master imposter Frederic Bourdin, an orphan (almost out of Victor Hugo) who would pose as missing kids in order to have and identity, be somebody, and be cared for.  He would be the only person able to fool immigration and enter the US under a fake identity.  He even had himself tattooed to resembled the boy, and even fooled the parents that he was the boy.  There are visual clues in the film that would have given away his real age (23) as older (like chest hair), and behavioral clues, that he knew nothing about San Antonio.

Bourdin described horrifying allegations of abuse from members of European and maybe US militaries. Presumably he made these charges up.  But they could have been a serious distraction to trying to repeal the ban against gays in the military in the US had they been credible and more public.

One of the main characters in the film is a facilitator at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria VA (not Arlington, as said in the film).  Another character is an elderly San Antonio private investigator.  They both describe increasing suspicion against the San Antonio family.

The original teen is still missing.

One could compare Bourdin to Farnk Abagnale (Leonardo Di Caprio) in Steven Spielberg's 2002 film (Dreamworks), "Catch Me If You Can", which was "comedy". 
I saw the film late Thursday night before a fair crowd at the Landmark E Street in Washington DC. Landmark still shows digital projection without previews and integration into the rest of the theater’s system.  

Other theaters seem to be converting to all digital. The film is presented in full 2.35:1 aspect.

The official site is here

According to the credits, the San Antonio portions of the film were actually shot in Phoenix.  There seem to be more movies these days with British and European sponsors (Film4 and Studio Canal) set in the US. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Young filmmaker Jamie Johnson shines in pre-2008 documentary "The One Percent"; they are very concerned about "losing it"

Jamie Johnson, a young adult (b. 1979) in the family behind “Johnson and Johnson” company, certainly “intrudes” into his own documentary, “The One Percent”, starting out as he adjusts a mike on his upper chest as he gets ready to be filmed.  (That’s all OK; he is slender, youthful, and “desirable” or even "cute", unlike most of the stuffy, even decaying old me whom he interviews.)  He ends by winning the support of his mother, who was not born into wealth.  For most of the rest of his 76-minute film, he fights off resistance from his father and other male family members, and documents the resistance of many of the wealthy in “talking about it” with the media.  And the kids of wealth grow up with the idea that you don’t speak out, as Nicole Buffet finds out, after her grandfather cuts her out of the family (and I guess, the will) for appearing in the film.

In fact, the film was made in 2005-2006, well before the Financial Crisis of 2008, during the middle of the Subprime real estate bubble, before many people could admit what would go wrong.

An early scene of the film shows a seminar at “Lido Wealth” in Florida, giving a seminar about “Family wealth: keeping it in the family”.  It’s as if “blood loyalty” and sexual self-discipline could provide a moral justification for massive income inequality.

Jamie has a lot of conversations with Milton Friedman, who gets tired of him, but at least makes his claim that “trickle down” really does trickle. He talks to Roy Martin, a lumber industry captain in Louisiana, about the idea of being endowed with wealthy by God, to do something with it.  He also interviews Coday Franchetti, and Chuck Collims, som of Oscar Meyer.

One of the most interesting episodes occurs when Jamie tours Belle Glade, FL, a town on Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, heavy into the sugar cane business, which really exploits cheap labor.
I visited the town on vacation, in an Alamo rental car, back in August1986, curious because Belle Glade had been reported as a center of an unexplained AIDS outbreak.  The center of town looked like a scene from a third world country, with crude signs around for hand laundry.  I remember being followed by a car until I got out of town.  Was AIDS the dirty secret, or was it economic practices?  Not so far from Belle Glade  (50 miles) is one of America’s richest communities, Palm Beach. On the other hand, West Palm Beach (which I remember from a childhood trip) is quite ordinary and middle class. 

The official site for HBO is here
The DVD (ion Netflix) comes from Virgil Films, and the film starts playing with no menu. The film can be rented “legally” on YouTube for $1.99.

Here is a supplementary short film (9 Min), “Who Are the One Percent?” by Thom Harmann and Robert Greenwald, from Nov. 2011 (post 2008-crash).  Does the One Percent “keep down” the other 99%?.  FDR had said that no one should become “rich and fat” because of war in 1941.

Greenwald’s site is “Who are the 1 Percent?”, basic site here

Wikipedia attribution link for Belle Glade scene 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Cosmopolis": Cronenberg's fantasy of the idle rich in an "Occupied" (Canadian) Gotham

David Cronenberg likes to tease and puzzle us, and there’s a certain affiliation with the work of David Lynch, particularly in Cronenberg’s latest meditation on morality, “Cosmopolis”, based on a novel by Don DeLillo.

Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a financial asset manager who certain is in the Top One Percent with no sense of purpose at all.  In a typical day in the City (Cronenberg makes Toronto look a bit like Christopher Nolan’s version of Gotham), Eric rides his white stretch limo to a belated haircut, but only after dealing with a cast of bizarre characters (maybe out of Terry Gilliam) who could take him down.

He looks fit enough, even in his business suit.  Pretty soon, he takes pieces of it off, particularly for his daily medical checkup, which includes an echocardiogram (and electrocardiograph) accomplished with difficulty by “the doctor” across his hairy chest.  There’s even a hidden pot in the urinal (for number 1 and number 2, both).

Oh, yes, the Occupy protesters find him, and trash up his limo, along the way. The movie has some yard signs saying that capitalism must go.

Eric starts to go down the “real” moral dark side at a critical point, once he gets a chance to play with weapons.  The final confrontation with Benno (Paul Giamatti) is appropriately apocalyptic if also talky.  The whole movie is a bit like a stage play (despite its $20 million budget, to pay A-list stars who make appearances, including Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, as well as co-star Juliette Binoche.

There’s an odd reference to the music of Erik Satie in the script, but I didn’t hear it played.

The official site is here

I saw the film, distributed by E-1, at the Landmark E-Street in Washington in a large auditorium before a small Wednesday evening (early) crowd.

For today’s short film, see my “Retirement Blog” Aug. 28 for AARP’s “Understanding 401(k) Fees” (3 Min.)

Picture below:  Remember Cronenberg's "Spider"?

Conservative "propaganda" film by D'Souza, "2016: Obama's America", is well-made

During the week of the Republican Convention, an independent film directed by Dinesh D’Souza and John Sullivan, “2016: Obama’s America” has been playing in local theaters. Distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures, it appears that this is a “subsidized” run for political points by the right. I was expecting a takeoff on a rant against the president by Michele Bachmann.

Nevertheless, the film has an interesting thesis.  Technically, it’s well done: we get to see a lot of the world, particularly rural Kenya (where Obama’s father comes from), Indonesia, and Hawaii. 

I saw it at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington, in a large auditorium, for the $6 Tuesday night special price. The film is reported to have done well this weekend, but the auditorium for the 9:10 PM show was almost empty.  Just three of us.

D’Souza has already laid out his these in two recent books: “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” and “Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream”.

The film traces Obama’s life in detail.  D-Souza often quotes from Obama's own book "Dreams of my Father", Barack Sr. 

A turning point in the film occurs when D’Souza interviews one of Obama’s half-brothers, George, who has lived a good part of his life in poverty in Kenya, but has written an e-book “Homeland” from Simon & Schuster (2010).  D’Souza asks George why Barack has not helped take care of him personally and intervene as his “brother’s keeper”.  The idea that Africa can benefit from capitalism if the European settlers stay and build the country comes up.  At this point, the direction of the film turns toward examining Barack Obama’s supposed anti-colonialism, as part of Obama'd ideological thinking about worldwide social justice and redistribution of wealth and political power, toward an older system where many countries and parts of the world shared regional influence. 

Obama inherited his views from his father, and D’Souza claims that this view  explains Obama’s opposition to the Keystone Pipeline and expanding domestic production of energy, while supporting third world production, inverting the idea that we need to be less dependent on foreign oil.  Obama even returned a bust of Churchill to England as a testament to his opposition to colonialism and mercantilism (a topic that I remember from a US history exam in high school!)  

It's true that "colonialism" used to imply expropriation of natural resources and resale of products, causing native peoples to go into debt.  But the case can be made that developing countries do better when they jump on the capitalist bandwagon themselves.  But then, it's so easy to exploit the cheap, slave labor and underlying caste structure. 

D’Souza also says that as America grows slowly weaker because of Obama’s policies, it will become saddled with even more debt, which will cripple future generations.  His predictions, that Obama would allow Iran to have nuclear weapons and allow a Muslim "caliphate" sound scary -- the EMP (electromagnetic pulse) terror threat definitely is related to possession of nuclear weapons by Iran and North Korea (D'Souza could have made this point explicitly). 

There is a lingering question:  if a group of people or a nation is to be held accountable for abusive behavior in the past, what does that say about the morality of individual citizens and the sacrifices that they must make?

The official site is here

On my Book review blog, I have reviews of two of D'Souza's books: "Life After Death: The Evidence" (Nov. 9, 2009), and "What's So Great About America" (April 10, 2006).

Another of Obama's half-brothers (Mark Okoth) is an accomplished pianist.

The video below comes from "The Blaze":

Compare this film to "Hillary: The Movie" (May 1, 2009).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Premium Rush": Bike messengers work for a living (and take a lot of risks)

We’ve had bicycle road racing movies before (like “American Flyers” and “Breaking Away”), but I can’t recall an action picture based on the life of a bicycle messenger, before “Premium Rush”, from director David Koepp for Sony-Columbia Pictures.

And this is one of those unifocal 90-minute movies based on a single precept, single form of activity. We see the athletic and likeable Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) apparently doing his own stunts, evading traffic and pedestrians, and engaging in all kind of bad behavior on the streets of Manhattan. 

The background is that of a short story, not novel (remember literature class).  Wilee has to deliver a mysterious envelope that has attracted the attention of a rogue double-dipping NYPD cop (Michael Shannon) who is pretty persistent as the villain. There’s a backstory about hawala and a need for an immigrant to get her daughter into the country. It occurred to me that most bike messengers probably work as process servers, too. 

Really, I think that bicycles should be treated as vehicles and follow the same laws as the rest of us.  That means no going through lights (drivers have to pass them repeatedly), and particularly no riding the wrong way (because right-turning car drivers can’t see them in time).   

Gordon-Levitt, 30, looks perfect in the role, although he now has a widow’s peak in his buzz cut (when he’s not wearing the helmet). No, he didn’t have to shave his legs (you can’t tell until the ambulance scene) – he was luckier in that regard than Kevin Costner in “American Flyers” back in the 80s  (April 25, 2011 here).  In D.C., most messengers "do" -- but does wind resistance really matter?

The official site from Sony is here

Have no fear, this film definitely earned the "Made in New York" badge. Xavier High School on W 16th St is one of the filming locations.  I found I was quite unfamiliar with the Chinatown streets.

For today’s short film, we turn again to bicycle safety in Manhattan, for a film showing cyclists for about three minutes at a busy Manhattan intersection videotaped from a nearby apartment balcony. The film is “3-Way Street” by Ron Gabriel (2011), on Vimeo.  It ought to be shown in a shorts festival.  

"Something Ventured": the business innovation that enabled modern telecommunications

The development of modern telecommunications and personal computing was, from a business viewpoint, largely the result of the development of venture capital as a way to finance innovation, according to the film “Something Ventured” (2011), directed by Daniel Geller and David Goldfine, distributed by Zeitgeist.

The story begins with the inventions of William Shockley in the 1950s, leading to the development of modern semiconductors that make all modern telecommunications possible.  After approaching many companies unsuccessfully, Shockley was able to get off the ground with Fairchild in the late 1950s.

By the early 1970s, semiconductors were used in video games, such as those coin-operated in bars, and then miniaturized somewhat as home toys.

The next big jump would come with the personal computer, particularly from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  Early investors were not that impressed with them at first, finding them having “b.o.” and “shooting for the moon” with the idea that individuals would actually need and want personal computers.

By the mid and late 1970s, banks and lenders where changing their business models, away from demanding collateral to looking at business plans and trying to predict future earnings as a justification for investment. 
Arguably, the more business-friendly atmosphere of the Reagan administration in the early 1980s was a big help to Silicon Valley. 

Venture capital helped develop the Tandem computer, which is a backbone device that financial institutions and other entities (like power companies and the military) use in environments where extreme robustness and reliability are required. 

In fact, the development of venture capital also probably drove the changes in computing culture, away from mainframes and inhouse applications, as in the 70s and early 80s (the atmosphere that my own IT career grew in) to minicomputers, use of packages, and then the idea of end-user control even of requirements, which went along with the development of the Internet but also caused a huge shift in career paths in the information technology world, as the old paths of “programmer” and “analyst” became too artificial.

We can ask ourselves, why did the "financial innovations" of venture capital morph into bundling of financial products (like credit default swaps)?  

Certainly, modern telecommunications is a testament to individualism.  "Working together" put us on the Moon but didn't create Facebook. 

The recent controversies over use of patents (the Apple-Samsung case) could certainly affect the future of venture capital, as could the basic questions about social networking company (Facebook) business models.

The official site for the film is here

The film is available for instant replay on Netflix but is not yet on DVD.

Monday, August 27, 2012

"Lord: Save Us from your Followers": A discourse about Christianity settles into practical social capital

Dan Merchant’s loose documentary “Lord: Save Us from your Followers”  (2008, Lightning Strikes and Big Fish Media)   carries the subtitle-tagline, “Why is the Gospel of love dividing America?

The 100-minute film (full screen on the DVD) gives us a meandering answer with all its micro-interviews and snippets. 

But it’s good to look at this through the back door.  The heart of real Christianity is the practice of “radical compassion”, and “giving of yourself to others”.   It’s about being your brother’s keeper, and taking care of “the least among us”.  It’s about social capital.  (That’s what the last half-hour presents.) So why the moralizing, and the putting down of people who “sin” (women who don’t carry their babies, and then, in the opposite sense but most of all, many gays and lesbians)? 

It’s hard to really “give of yourself”  (that means your own core being, not your creative or expressive works) unless you know or believe that others must do the same.   That’s the first hour.
So, along the way, “being right” is important, to give life (and its sacrifices) enough meaning.  But eventually self-righteousness defeats itself.  Socilaization and sharing or burdens (and forgiveness) is important because no one can achieve everything on his own without the hidden sacrifices of others. 

But since moral correctness can never be proven intellectually on purely secular terms without some conundrums and seeming contradictions, people turn to religious teachings, as laws given by God.  They get lost in the procedures of the church – even the “body of Christ” (“Corpus Christi”) – which is the church itself, or the mass of people who carry on its work.

Merchant presents repeated clips with figures like a younger Rick Santorum, about the time he wrote “It Takes a Family” and took up the idea of The Common Good.  He also spends some time with pastor Rick Warren (“The Purpose-Driven Life”), who the film says has given away most of his wealth.

The biggest sin of Evangelical Christianity is its commercialism, someone says, and then its self-righteousness.  And more than one preacher apologizes for the behavior of “churchianity” towards gay men during the AIDS crisis.

The spend some of its second half in Portland, Oregon, said to be the least religious major city in the U.S.
There is some attention to bullying, especially anti-gay bullying (and this film was shot before the topic really became a public issue) and it gives one harrowing example, by narration, of a suicide after taunts in locker rooms for physical education.  (The film was also shot well before the Sandusky scandal.)

The film presents a “culture wars game show”.   The basic question is “Who belongs to the community for whom we accept some common responsibility”? I think that the range of the “common good” (as Santorum would see it) is something that can change across generations.  Today, because people can live longer, sharing responsibility for caring for the elderly and disabled (which is not chosen in the sense that having babies is) is part of the “common good” in a way not really foreseen when I was growing up, but many of the ideas of “family values” – the notion that people should take care of one another rather than leaving it to governments – which had come out of the trials of earlier generations (wars, depressions, no safety net) fit right in to today’s notions of extended family responsibility.

The official site is here

The DVD has a couple of featurettes  (“bumper stickers” called “Man goes to church” and “Man goes to college” -- at Lewis and Clark College) and five “conversation starters” (about abortion, consumerism, mission starters [a year of service, Mormon—style, without proselytizing], evolution v. intelligent design, and confessions).  These extras on the DVD provide some pointed focus not available just from the theatrical film release. 

The consumerism starter (with Tony Compolo) asks, “if you’re rich, is it because you worked and deserve it.  Is it all abot fending for yourself?”  Our houses are big not because we have a lot of children (we don’t) but we need room for all our stuff!

The Mission clip says “It’s not about what I know, it’s about who I am”.

The clip on "evolution v. intelligent design" makes a particularly striking argument.  That is, if you take God out of science and reduce everything to a "natural process", then why not eliminate the disabled, who would tax the "evolutionary" survival ability of others?  That was, in a sense, Hitler's argument (whether it really comes from Nietzsche ("The Gay Science") is somewhat dubious).  On the other hand, if you accept God's design and the idea that every person has inherent dignity, then everyone has an inherent obligation (not chosen) to advance the dignity of others personally. Otherwise, a slide into Darwinism (really, more the ideas of Herbert Spencer) is likely and hard to stop. It isn't about "being right."  Yet, as the speaker points out, this possibility gives evangelical Christianity a compelling reason to strengthen its purely intellectual case for intelligent design. 

The "confession" section starts as a mockery of glbt confessions.  

There is a stirring video “We are all the same”. 

Here's a great quote: "George W Bush changed our hearts, and Dick Cheney turned it back".

Wikipedia attribution link for Portland, OR picture (last visit, 1996). 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"The Rockefeller Family and Colonial Williamsburg" shown at visitor's center

The Visitor’s Center at Colonial Williamsburg now offers a second film, “The Rockefeller Family and Colonial Williamsburg” (1992, 29 min), directed by Richard McCluney, Jr.

It follows some showings of “Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot” (discussed here May 8, 2008). 

The film (often in just 1:33.1 aspect) starts with images of Williamsburg as a quaint town (with deteriorating colonial buildings) in the early 1900s, and then describes the gradual involvement of John D. Rockefeller and especially his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller by the rector W.A.R. Goodwin.  Economically, Williamsburg had actually boomed during WWI.  Abby enjoyed staying in Williamsburg as much as she enjoyed the Rockefeller’s other two homes.

Later scenes show the dedication of the restored city (the effort had started in 1926) by FDR in 1937.  This year, 2012, marks the 75th Anniversary for Colonial Williamsburg.

Nelson, the son of John and Abby, would become a famous governor of New York State and cement the concept of a “liberal wing” to the Republican party; but I don’t remember hearing much about the connection of his family to Williamsburg when I lived in New York, despite my own experience with William and Mary, discussed elsewhere in these blogs (Oct. 23, 2011). 

The ticket for both films was just $3.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Marmaduke": what will family pets tell us when we uproot them from their old home?

Sometimes I stumble onto family comedy, like the Tom Dey (2010) film for Fox and Regency, “Marmaduke”, the talking Great Dane, with the voice of Owen Wilson (sorry, no gams shown). 

His family (Lee Pace and Judy Greer) get moved to the O.C. (that’s Orange County, California, complete with the theme song from the famous Fox TV series) from Kansas, to the dislike of territorial pets, who include Carlos the Cat (George Lopez).   The big boss (William H Macy) wants Phil (Pace) to market organic dog food to Petco.  The household pets, with the help of their new friends, wreak havoc in the house, and then with the LA sewer system.

What do family pets think about? What would they say to us?  They see the same world we do with very different eyes and ears, as amateur filmmakers who track cats with mounted cameras have found out.  Back in the 1950s there was a television show called “The People’s Choice” with a talking dog named Cleo.
The O.C. except gives us a cameo of the very handsome Adam Brody.

Hulu offers an interview with the director, in "Life after Film School",  (website url) here.

You can hear the “O.C.” theme on this Fox trailer (no embed offered), link.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Waiting for Armageddon": Do Evangelicals create inconsistencies inside their own moral thinking?

When I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, I heard a lot of sermons (some on the car radio) about the Rapture and the tribulations, to be followed by the Millennium.  There was a lot of debate between pre-tribulationism and post-tribulationism.
Among America’s 50 million Evangelical Christians, many believe some variation of this prophecy.  A film by Kate David, David Heilbroner and Franco Sacchi, “Waiting for Armageddon” (2009, First Run Features, 74 minutes) traces this whole faith system through its component pieces.

The early part shows some people, living mostly in the south (like Oklahoma) testifying that they think that the Rapture is near, and that their own kids won’t get to grow up and raise their own families before getting taken.  It isn’t fair, the kids think.

But most of the film talks about the tribulations, and the various ways that the final battles around Armageddon and Jerusalem may play out.  Of particular concern is the mosque on the Temple Mount. Its presence, in the minds of some people, can forestall the prophecies in the Christian Bible from coming about.
The film makes the point that owning a piece of the right real estate is like “owning the truth”.

The tribulations in some accounts would lead to total societal breakdown among those left behind.  Could these events include solar storms and electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP), the latest concern among some on the Right?

The film mentions the controversy over the "144000" who may be the maximum number of people who reign in Heaven, or the maximum number of Jews saved after the tribulations; there are many theories, but there is a suggestion that the number of souls gets "contracted" (typical link).

The theology of a film like this would seem to stand in contrast to other components of the religious right, which emphasize the problems of “demographic winter”.

The official site is here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Friends of God": A. Pelosi records evangelical Christianity as it "happens" for HBO

Before her well-known bio of Ted Haggard for HBO, Alexandra Pelosi had directed an earlier “live in” hour with the religious right got HBO,  in 2006, “Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi”.
Pelosi lets the worshippers speak for themselves, as the film has almost no direct interviewing, except for a couple little spots by Haggard (before his fall) and Joel Osteen. 

It’s striking, and disturbing, how many of the people accept the “rules” as given down by God, and don’t believe they need intellectual rationalizations. They join in on group singing and collective experience.  They let themselves go in ways I would not.

One of the most remarkable moments comes when a woman (in what looks like Mennonite dress) says she gave up her dreams of becoming a lawyer in order to do what God wanted, that is, give herself to a husband and bear and raise eight children.  She doesn’t “choose” a life; her family is her life.

Others explain their faith in creationism with lines like “you won’t find the word ‘dinosaur” or ‘computer’ in the Bible.  Another, at a religious revival (this may be Assembly of God) saysm “You won’t get AIDS here”.  Another man celebrates the idea that married men get the most sex.

There is a scene inside a service in the white-painted sanctuary Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg VA.  I actually went to such a service myself in May 1989, and revisited the area in 2005. I also heard Falwell give a sermon-rant about “herpes and AIDS” in a southern Baptist church in Irving, Texas in late 1983, when I was living in Dallas.

Toward the end of the film, a gay man, standing outside the Lynchburg church after attending a Falwell service, celebrates the idea that he has the freedom to attend a meeting of those who want to impose on his own life, out of the own sincerity of their beliefs (not for money or power), however wrong.

Falwell died of a heart attack in 2007, at age 73, after the film was made.

The idea that certain obligations can be imposed on everyone, outside of their capacity to make choices and then be held responsible for these choices, is very important to me, and it really affects those of us who are “different”.  Like it or not, sustainability does imply some sort of individual “duty”, even if the external loyalties change with time as society becomes more global (and more asymmetric).  But duty here seems not to come from any rational perception of the common good (even in Santorum's sense), just from what some people interpret as God's commandments. 

HBO’s official site for purchase is here

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Celeste and Jesse Forever": Heterosexuals can mess up marriage even while divorcing

If there was a romantic comedy to prove that straight people can mess up marriage, perhaps “Celeste and Jesse Forever” would fit.  Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are going through a divorce, and try to remain “friends” while they both date.  Actually, it seems like Jesse already “has a baby” (age three months in another woman’s womb) while Celeste is too busy outperforming him in her advertising career.  It’s perfect George Gilder stuff.

Well, Celeste may not be doing so well after all.  Her gay agency boss Scott (Elijah Wood) advisers her that a top client was offended by some accidental imagery in one of their posters.  Later, the movie tries to take this thread into a gay disco scene, which it flubs (it obviously didn’t try to film in the Abbey in West Hollywood).  Seriously, most men in gay discos are fit and trim.  Why weren’t they in this film? There's another cute line, where Rashida asks Jesse if he's gay just before he says he really will become a dad.

The film, directed by Lee Toland Krieger, suffers from a somewhat trite script, written in part by Rashida herself.  But it makes LA look good (the indoor scenes were shot in Rhode Island).  The Disney LA Philharmonic Hall appears, and there is a hotel scene with a panoramic view of LA from the “405” that looks like it was shot literally in the boutique inn (the Angelino) in which I stayed last May. 

The early scenes in the film introduce us, literally, to some of Andy’s body on the beach, with his modest leg and chest hair, as if to remind us of his role on SNL.  Remember when he tried to act the part of Mark Zuckerberg  (alongside another imitation by Jesse Eisenberg) on SNL – eclipsed when the real Mark appeared?

There's an interesting embed of the "Happy Painter's" syndicated television show, which I remember seeing on Saturday mornings after returning to the DC area in late 2003.

Note that the March 2009 issue of  "Out" has a cover picture of Andy Samberg. 

The official site is here.

Apparently the film appeared at the “LA Independent” film festival. But stylistically, it’s more like a big studio romantic comedy, mixed with some B-movie fluff.  It could well have been released under Sony’s “Screen Gems” or “Tristar” brands rather than Sony Pictures Classics. 

Alternate spelling of the title: “Celeste & Jesse Forever”. 

I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington, before a moderate summer weeknight crowd. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Sparkle": fictive story parallels Whitney's career, as she plays the mom

My own reason to see “Sparkle” was (of course) to remember Whitney Houston (in her last film), who plays mom, Emma, who resists the desire and efforts of her three daughters to form a singing group in the 1960s, viewing (most of all, “Sparkle”, played by Jordin Sparks) her daughters as “problem children” throwing away a chance for “black respectability” through education and church.   Mom wants the family to be cohesive, with the sisters able to take care of each other’s kids and of each other – but they do that through their music.

The film “musical”, directed by Salim Akil for Sony-Columbia-TriStar) is a remake of a 1976 film, originally set in Harlem in the 1960s, now moved to Motown – Detroit.  And the film perhaps portends well for the ability of the film business to help rebuild the Detroit economy. I’m not sure which of Detroit’s four or five facilities were used; the one getting the most attention lately is the MGM Grand downtown.

Despite mom’s fears, the girls gradually sink into trouble, including cocaine abuse (the nosebleeds) and a fight leading to manslaughter and jail for one of them.

But they get their chance at the end, with a grand concert  to please the agent Larry Robinson (Curtis Armstrong).  There’s an office scene shot from one of Detroit’s high rises, looking over to Windsor.
The music has a lot of “pop” from all the way back to the 60s (“These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”), including some of Houston’s favorites later .  Hearing music like this, for me, relives the days of my own coming of age, particularly the time when I was first working and living completely on my own. 

The official site is here.

I saw this on a Tuesday night in a large auditorium in the Ballston Common Regal.  Even on a weeknight, I would have expected more people.  

The picture shows the MGM Grand in downtown Detroit, from my recent visit.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Expendables 2" really does have something important to say about national security (and it's entertainment for conservatives)

It seems as though Hollywood likes the idea of the government’s forming swat teams of expendable men who will sacrificed for political expediency, or maybe even to save the country.  (We just covered the point with “The Bourne Legacy” (Aug. 15).) Lionsgate’s franchise sequel “The Expendables 2”, from Simon West (and production company Millennium Films), continues the idea, bringing back together almost every conceivable action star in a film from a quasi-independent studio. The list includes Bruce Willis as “Mr. Church”, Arnold Schwarzengger (who is “back” from being California’s GOP governor), Jason Statham, Chuck Norris, Jet Li , Dolph Lundgren, and Jean Claude Van Damme.  Add to the list the likeable Liam Hemsworth, the one “Billy the Kid”, whose chest is attacked by a knife (with eventually fatal result) in a confrontation with the enemy, and he is “sacrificed”.  And he has a devoted girl friend and probable future family.  Even George Gilder might not approve of showing promising men this “barren” before having families.  Otherwise, yes, this is a movie for “conservatives”.  The one female, Maggie, exposed to combat  (Yu Nan) has quick-trip computer skills apparently not available from the male world (probably, Mark Zuckerberg would not volunteer to go; he has too much to lose).

I checked it out, in a big auditorium at Arlington’s Regal  complex in Ballston (before a fair Sunday night crowd), because the subtext of the plot is important.  A missing computer-triggered device contains directions to a storage place for plutonium somewhere in the former Soviet Union.  The film actually used an interesting cave in Bulgaria as a filming location (and Wikipedia reports that a stunt man died making it).  Later,  the “tag team” encounters a complete combat city, constructed by the Soviets for maneuvers in the 1980s, rather resembling the world around Chernobyl.  We do get a feel for the old evil empire.  (Again, this is entertainment for conservatives.)  The point is, of course, that policing up loose nuclear waste or fuel from outskirt areas of the former Soviet Union is a high national security priority.  It’s not just about whether Iran or North Korea could use it for a bomb (it could).  It could also be used to make “radioactivity dispersion devices.” 

The official site from Lionsgate is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Devetaska-pestera cave in Bulgaria.
My “cf” (Film on threats to freedom) blog has a review of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s 45-minute docudrama “The Last Best Chance” from 2006. Lionsgate could do the world a service by giving that important film commercial distribution (maybe after extending it to feature length). 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"The Flaw" gives a simpler account of the 2008 financial crisis

At a time of year when a lot of the new movies are trite, I can recommend viewing (on Netflix) “The Flaw”, the 2010 documentary on the financial crisis of 2008 by David Sington, from Docurama and Dartmouth Films.  It makes a good companion piece to Sony’s much larger “Inside Job”, reviewed here Oct. 24, 2010, as well as Lionsgate's "Margin Call".

“The Flaw” is pretty simple to understand.  Wages aren’t rising quickly enough. So banks and lenders decided they could wave unaffordable houses in front of ordinary workers, on the theory that their “assets” would go up in value, if they would only take on the debt.

Of course, that created a bubble.  Since real wealth wasn’t being created to match it (unless you say that houses bigger than what people need are real wealth), it had to fail.  Or perhaps it wouldn’t fail if employers increases wages quickly enough and didn’t send all our menial work to dorms in China.

The film (with some animation) makes a good distinction between “goods markets” (based on items people use and need, which tends to control the price), and “asset markets” (based on the idea that the item is a financial asset which should increase in value, like real estate – supposedly finite in principle). The film paid less attention to the securitization issue (and the whole system of credit default swaps) than did the Sony film.

There’s something else here: a good old moral lesson on the value of work, and the dangers or relegating it to others around the world.

The official site (“What happens when the rich get richer?”) is here

Try this for some legal home late summer viewing.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Recount", an earlier HBO film from Jay Roach, dramatizes the mess in Florida after the 2000 election

Jay Roach has a lively “earlier” HBO drama, “Recount”, from 2008, giving a dramatic chronicle of the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election and the debacle in Florida.

Kevin Spacey places the lead Democrat boss Ron Klain, and Laura Dern is memorable for the stubborn Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.  Gore and Joe Liebermann play themselves.  You already want Gore to move on to global warming when you hear his voice.

I remember that night well.  I was living in Minneapolis, and active with the Libertarian Party.  There was an early even returns party at a bar in St. Paul, where I heard NBC project that Florida had gone for Gore. I jumped in my Ford Escort, somehow still a bit uneasy, and drove through  a wet snow, whitening the grassy areas and the first of the fall, toward another party in Eden Prairie.  I got lost, and came upon a railroad crossing somewhere in the southern suburbs.  Just as I stopped, I heard that the early projection on Florida had been rescinded.  Sometime after arriving at another bar in the suburbs, Florida went for Bush.

In the coming weeks, the media would cover nothing else but the recount controversy.  I remember having the TV turned to it on CNN, while working at my Windows 98 computer across the living room, from my pad in the Churchill Apartments in downtown Minneapolis, with the glorious view of the Post Office.  (I wasn’t high enough to look across it to the Mississippi River.)  It’s a period in my life that I remember well.
The early months of the Bush administration would sound innocuous enough (it did snow in Washington inauguration night), but we didn’t start to sense the dread that would come until summer.   (I went to a snowboarding party with Pride Alive on inauguration day, a Saturday.)   It would turn out to be a bizarre time in my own life.

The film becomes synoptic (with no "good news") toward the end, as the Supreme Court intervenes in the notorious “Bush v. Gore”,  and the Court even said that this was a “one time only” action.  Yes, the revolution was bloodless now.  Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be so in nine months. The film has some neat visuals as to how voting cards, machines, and "chads" work. 

I was surprised to hear that the GOP machine apparently conspired to keep those with names resembling those of convicted felons from voting. The rest of the history (like the Butterfly Ballot, which Democrats designed) was familiar. 

The official site is here

Friday, August 17, 2012

"The Turin Horse": Nietzsche, and then the end of the world

I missed “The Turin Horse”, (“A Torinoi Io”) when it showed recently at the West End in Washington and was able to get if off short wait at Netflix (from another city).  The film, directed by Bela Tarr and now Agnes Hranitzky,  is said to be Tarr’s last.  And it follows his practice of black and white, long takes, a slow pace, and a desolate environment.

The film really has two aspects.  For me, the most obvious was that this is another presentation about “the end of the world”.  Around 1889, a farmer (and his grown daughter) in rural Hungary (it doesn’t look like Italy), tend to their dying horse, and realize that the world around them is failing.  Near the end, in fact, even oil lamps at night don’t work.  This is a world without residential electricity so an electromagnetic pulse attack idea isn’t possible, but it seems that their world is getting blown away from them in an endless windstorm.  The mayhem is hard to see.  Perhaps existence itself, or the laws of physics, are failing.  The final scene, with where the 50-something farmer (Janos Derzsi) sits with his daughter (Erika Bok) in a dark room and he tries to eat a bite of potato, is as conclusive as the end of “Melancholia”.  It is the end of the world, which didn’t happen.

The film is slow and intimate.  In one early scene, the farmer peels a potato with his fingernails.  Later, we see the daughter helping him with his longjohns.  Not only is the horse decaying, but so is he. 
In the middle of the film, just before the gypsies appear, there is an existential conversation with a townsperson about moral decay and how humans don’t deserve a good fate.

There is a brooding cello music score by Mihaly Vig, wich features a permanent ground bass in 6/8 time.
The other aspect of the film is its motivation.  In 1889, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche intervened when, while in Turin, he witnessed a farmer starting to whip an old horse.  (This introduction is not shown.)  Shortly thereafter, Nietzsche became disabled and spent the last ten years of his life under the care of his mother and sister (he was only 45 at the breakdown).

Reagarding Nietzsche, the psychiatrists at NIH wrote this about me when I was am “inpatient” in 1962: “He avoided all heterosexual contacts and his relationships with girls was of the most casual sort. He was goven to philosophical ruminations and following the age of 16, obsessive thinking about the Nietzechean supermen whome he both idolized and hated… He questions and wonders and he puts under constant scrutiny these contemporaries to see if they come up to his standards for an ideal man.”

The official site (from Cinema Guild) is here

The DVD includes a crude short film “Hotel Magnezit”, made by Tarr in 1978.  The short depicts a man fighting eviction from a group apartment.

The DVD has a 46-miinute press conference at the Berlin Film Festival.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"The Bourne Legacy": the title reveals a not-so-high story concept

The title of “The Bourne Legacy”, Universal’s new franchise thriller directed by (and story partly concocted by) Tony Gilroy), tells you the concept, and also hints at what’s “wrong” with this summer sizzler.  It waited until August, after all, to come out. Yes, it’s a mashup of karma inherited from all of Robert Ludlum’s novels.  There’s even a photo of Matt Damon as the former Jason Bourne.

This time, Jeremy Renner (just 41) plays the new “hero” Aaron Cross, and in the opening scenes, holed up in Alaska (actually Alberta) he’s too far ahead of schedule on adapting to the bizarre drugs the CIA has delivered to his body through viral vectors.  As “Outcome # 5’, he gets a checkup visit from a hunkier Outcome #3 (Oscar Isaac).  Now, he doesn’t really look that super in disrobed shots.  His hairless body is not as perfect as, say, that of Michael Phelps – and let’s add that there is a flashback showing the medical transformation that he once underwent (looking like a bone marrow transplant patient). His beard – that’s all he has – is turning gray. (I don’t know if the movie has any pun with Disney’s “I Am Number 4” (Feb. 20, 2011 here). 

When the CIA finds out, it’s also exposed to some internal pressures from the FBI to cover up its “Operation Outcome”, so the not-so-big chief Eric Byer (Ed Norton, who is starting to look wan) order the outcomes eliminated.

Now there’s a sequence with a gray wolf (echoing “The Grey” (Feb. 2), with artificial animal winding up with the internal body tracker.  Back home, scientist Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) gets a visit from security forces, after another Ivins-type  (David Straithain) shoots up people in a lab.  The film moves from one setting to another (although a lot of it takes place around Bethesda MD) with ease, winding up with a great chase and escape for Marta and Aaron in Manila, right out of Global Pursuit.

While the virus-driven implantation of new Nietzchean genes sounds like a great sci-fi idea (I do the same thing with my book manuscript “Angels’ Brothers”), a whole story based on fibbies hunting down their own people (that is, fibbies becoming goons) doesn’t sound too transformative.  John Grisham, let alone Robert Ludlum, would think of much better.  In the end, what’s the point?

As for the characters, ,movies like this give a "jaded" idea of what people live for:  world domination and ego, but not relationships or any emotional investment in other generations. 

 I got lazy and went to and older local AMC and saw it in a smaller auditorium. The Courthouse theater has put in digital projection in every auditorium, but the sound system, which seemed to do the stereo from hidden ceiling speakers, had trouble making the speech clear (that was true during previews, too); it sounded as though the spoken passages were missing a channel, even though the music and fireworks sounded great.

 The official site is here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Buck" (Sundance) seems like a supplement to "The Horse Whisperer" (Disney, 1998)

At 2011 Sundance, the gentle documentary about horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, titled simply “Buck”, directed by Cindy Meehl, won the audience award.  It is now distributed by IFC.

The film documents the life-work depicted in Disney’s 1998 big budget drama “The Horse Whisperer”, for Touchstone, of Brannaman.  It starts out by making the impression that training a horse to accept a rider is a bit like conditioning an animal to accept a feline predator gnawing the back of its spine.  Brannaman survived his own abuse as a child to become an expert in how horses interact with people, and even accepted the idea of “special needs” for horses.

The film almost seems like a footnote to the history of transportation: horses were the main form of private transit until well into the 20th Century.  (Well, maybe camels during the Old Testament times.)

The film was shot in California, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and even France.

The official site is here

I recall some bizarre experiences with seeing the original “Horse Whisperer” at a General Cinema at the Mall of America near Minneapolis.  The first third of the film was in standard aspect, before it switched to 2.35:1, and the theater said this was intentional!  I saw it on a Saturday afternoon in a largely empty large auditorium, and an overweight man came in and sat right next to me.  Then he complained about the noise of the crinkling shopping bags in my lap!

Picture: Trip to Whiteface MT. NY (no horses)

Monday, August 13, 2012

If violent films are bad for some people, at least they've been around since the 50s on TV replays

Do violent movies really do affect unstable people?

I do recall when growing up that my own parents would let me see anything with violence or murder as the main themes until I was a teenager.  I found out about all those “good movies” (like the first “House of Wax”) at a summer day camp (despite being called "lazybones" by the "other boys")..

In the early 1960s, the  WTTG station (now Fox) aired a Saturday night series called “Chiller”, starting at 11 PM.  Everything was in black and white then, and  many of the films followed a predictable pattern, o planting little clues in an ordinary setting (like a school) until the monster shows up in the last twenty minutes. “Blood of Dracula” and “The Werewolf” followed that pattern.  (Remember the archtypical lady English literature professor in the Dracula movie, writing the names of classics on the board?)  But a couple of the sci-fi ones were pretty graphic, such as a couple of mountain climbing misadventures “The Crawling Eye” and “Beast with a Million Eyes” (which used the scherzo of the Shostakovich 10th Symphony, at the time only recently recorded at all).  “Invasion of the Animal People” had a curious mismatch of aliens in Scandanavia (foreshadowing “Troll Hunter”).  And there was Roger Corman’s original “Little Shop of Horrors” (with the famous scene in the dentist’s chair invoking the Masochist and the Sadist), much funnier than the remake. A few were nasty in spirit, such as “The Hypnotic Eye”.  Sure, don’t ever let anyone hypnotize you from a television set or stage show (watch out for that “Prestige”).  And “Donovan’s Brain” probably caused (or capitalized on) the future 2008 financial meltdown.

In the early 50s, we even had Saturday morning “Movies for Kids” with the serialized “The Clutching Hand” (which did invite copycats), and “The Woolworth Mystery” which seems to have vanished into thin air.

There was plenty of stuff in the movies then (the late 50s to early 60s), re-aired on television, that could have further perturbed the already unstable.

See review o Corman biography here Jan. 20, 2012. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

"In Search of Beethoven": comprehensive story of Beethoven's business life

Phil Grabsky has produce long documentary biographies of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.  I rented “In Search of Beethoven”, and found that it quickly takes us into the European (especially Viennese) world (about the time the Eighteenth Century started) where young men composed classical works for a living.
Beethoven left home in Bonn (his mother died shortly thereafter, causing a return) for Vienna to study music at 17, and may have met Mozart, but studied with Haydn.  He was actually accused of a plagiarism scam that almost ended his career, but “revolution” back home enabled him to stay in Vienna and make a go of it as a composer.  He was already under filial legal or moral obligation to support his brothers (as his father became alcoholic), a fact that could foreshadow today’s hidden problem of filial responsibility laws.   Most of Beethoven’s early masterpieces really were written for publishers on some sort of commission.
Visually, one of the most striking images early in the film are the old start claviers, with black and white keys reversed.

After the first 45 minutes or so, the documentary moves toward and emphasis on Beethoven’s music, which well before 1800 had already shown striking, but now familiar innovations. Beethoven had been a vigorous, attractive and sometimes impetuous young man, but by his late twenties he was already showing signs of deafness.  He had met a young woman to whom he dedicated his Moonlight Sonata. (It’s far from clear that his tinnitus and eventual deafness came from syphilis or an STD.)

As “Fidelio” is discussed, Emmanuel Ax says, Beethoven was less concerned with human beings in the flesh than with humanity as an idea.  Later, Ax says,  “To be a good composer, you can’t be completely normal.”  And it takes a long time to become a good composer.

Beethoven’s own self-promotion came to a head with a concert of his music in Vienna in 1808, where the programmatic Pastoral Symphony was performed, followed by the Fourth Piano Concerto, whose harmonic adventures were revolutionary at the time.  The idea of a business success was not as important as the idea that he could pull off such a concert at all. At the time, Beethoven was the new "competitor" for Mozart (dead) and Haydn (old and feeble). 

Later in life, Beethoven struggled with family responsibility, despite his deafness, struggling to get custody of his nephew while unable to care for himself in the end.  His latest sonatas show the effects of his life, with lots of short hesitating phrases breaking up long lines.

The film ends by covering his Solemn Mass (a favorite work) and Ninth Symphony. Norman Del Mar suggests that the Choral Symphony is a “flawed” concept and  the “joy” is hypothetical rather than experienced.  Yet, given what had happened in Beethoven's life, the "joy" in both these works transcends the composer, and sets a tone for all of western civilization.

The DVD is distributed by Seventh Art.  The official site is here.

In 2006, MGM distributed a film by Agniezka Holland, “Copying Beethoven”, a historical drama about Anna Holtz, who copy-edited Beethoven’s scribbly manuscripts.  That movie presents Beethoven’s inspirations as coming to him from above, like a musical manifesto.

My “drama” blog has a review of a similar film, “A Wayfarer’s Journey: Listening to Mahler”, on March 1, 2009.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"The Campaign": Congressional candidates who aren't content with kissing babies in public

After attracting attention personally with my own books and blogger journalism, I have sometimes been approached about whether I would run for office, or help other candidates.  I actually did consider running for the Senate under the Libertarian Party in Minnesota in 2000. But I prefer to research and deploy content, and let others fight their silly partisan battles.

And silly it is, in the new comedy by Jay Roach, “The Campaign”.  Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), entrenched GOP congressman in a rural North Carolina district, faces a challenge from an androgynous (though married-wht-kids) candidate Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), put up by a couple local CEO’s who have even less scruples about how much exploitation it takes to feed their bottom lines.

To say that the satire is irreverent and gross is a bit of an understatement.  There are plenty of R-rated references to bad behavior, and even a couple to body hair removal.  (Marty’s own bod had been “ruined” by a playground accident, but his portly, petite wife (Sarah Baker) seems not to care until Cam tests her fidelity. 

There’s a scene where Marty dodges a punch from Cam, who winds up socking a baby. Later, the same thing happens to Uggie, the pooch from “The Artist”.  And the media moguls (including Wolf Blitzer, playing himself on CNN) love it.

There was a pretty big audience at the AMC Tysons Corner Saturday afternoon.  The audience was pretty much in the aisles with this one.  The humor, unlike the case with Roach’s HBO non-fiction film “Game Change” (review March 11, 2012), is pretty much of the toilet paper variety.  But, yes, this movie is funny.

I guess this was an appropriate movie to see on the day that Mitt Romney introduced Paul Ryan as his running mate for the 2012 election. I guess Ryan is "cute" (married, three kids); seriously, we need the debate on entitlements. 

The film, while set in the Tarheel State, was actually shot in Louisiana. 

The official site (starts Shockwave) is here

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Zeitgeist: The Movie": The Spirit of the Times, and lots of conspiracy theories

The independent 2-hour video “Zeitgeist” (“The Spirit of the Times”), directed, written and narrated by Peter Joseph, certainly lays out the history of conspiracy theories.

The film is laid out in three forty minute parts.  It opens with a man talking about religion, which the picture is nothing more than an animated sine wave.  I think the voice is Osama bin Laden.   After some bombastic war scenes, The first part develops the “fallacy” of religiosity (lie Bill Mayer’s film for Lionsgate), comparing Christianity and Judaism to Egyptian religions, and pointing out all the obvious fallacies in the way major holidays (Christmas and Easter) are observed.

Part II is called “The Word Is a Stage”, and lays out the conspiracy theories behind all major wars, starting out with 9/11.  It examines the idea that the World Trade Center towers could not have imploded or pancakes from the jet impacts alone, and also discusses the collapse of another building in the area that was not struck directly.  It also looks at the Pentagon evidence, and claims that other evidence exists around the site in Pennsylvania for Flight 93 (some of it in Ohio) suggesting a conspiracy. 

Part III is called “Don’t Mind the Men Behind the Curtain”, and outlines the case that men in positions of financial power deliberately conspired to start WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, and the Vietnam war.  It traces everything back to a mysterious secret meeting of business magnates at Jekyll Island (off the coast of Georgia) sometime around 1907.  The film makes an interesting point about American colonial history, that England (mother country), out of mercantilist motives, denied the colonists the right to have their own currency in order to keep them indebted.  I remember this from high school – it was the basis of a final exam question.

The film concludes with some inevitable epigrams, like “There is no other, there is only one”, and “the revolution is now.” It claims that the government and business complex does not want individuals to think for themselves (with the exception of Silicon Valley, which has broken ranks).

The official site is here

Lionsgate's "Raising Jeffrey Dahmer" portrays a father's burden

Lionsgate used to release mostly small films, and then got into horror (the “Saw” franchise), became a public company, acquired other distributors (such as smiliar competitor Summit Entertainment), and became a producer and distributor of “B movie” comedies and action films for the mainstream market.  It also developed one of the best musical trademark logos in the business, despite using it against its bizarre “saw” machinery (which opens up onto a scene of the “true” Lions Gate in Greece).

Lionsgate uses its stirring musical opening for the disturbia, “Raising Jeffrey Dahmer”, directed by Rich Ambler, from 2006, rather than its grind for horror films (against the same machinery).  That’s appropriate, because Ambler’s drama focuses almost entirely on Jeffrey’s father Lionel (Scott Cordes): his being informed (starting with a “phone home” sequence and reaching police) of his son’s crimes, and his having to fend of popular and media rumors about his having abused his son – all of them false. 

The film opens in court, where Jeffrey (Rusty Sneary) recounts his first homicide, when home alone in Ohio, at age 18.  This one incident is dramatized quickly, and the young male victim, played by Frankie Krainz, is depicted as unusually attractive.

The film uses fuzzy focus and sometimes black and white for the flashbacks into Jeffrey’s boyhood, showing his gratuitous behavior, killing animals.  As a young adult, Jeffrey (who always speaks in a monotone) is constantly fending off his father's concern out of "privacy" and at one point says he wants to have a lab, just as his father (who is shown as a laboratory scientist) does for work.   There seems to be no real explanation for Jeffrey's path other than genetics.  There are some childhood development experts who do claim that upbringing means less than a lot of people think, and that inheritance and organic factors mean a lot more.  Certainly, the justice system is having to deal with these questions given the occasional violent outbreaks leading to tragedy, especially two recently during the summer of 2012.

In the end, the film doesn’t tell us a lot about why this happened.  It does show us how a father has to deal with his own level of responsibility, and decide just what he can do for himself and the others who remain in his life.

The film (available from Netflix) can be watched on YouTube free legally, but requires login and age verification.

There is an review of the earlier film “Dahmer” here on July 8, 2012.