Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Compliance": a controversial enactment of a phone scam directed at a fast food business

Compliance” (2011, directed by Craig Zobel) is a dramatic enactment of a telephone prank carried out against a fast food establishment, reported to have happened over seventy times.

The film is set in Ohio, but the closest actual incident was the Bullitt County McDonald’s Case in Mount Washington , Kentucky in 2004.

The manager-owner of a fried chicken franchise receives a landline call from a man purporting to be a police officer and saying that a female employee who works there stole money from a customer’s purse.  The owner is gradually coerced into detaining the employee, doing a strip search and getting male employees to participate.  In the film, she doesn’t find out that this is a prank until her regional manager calls back late. 
Ann Dowd plays Sandra, the business owner, and Dreama Walker plays the accused young female employee.  A rather likeable young male worker Kevin (Philip Ettinger) balks, but Ann’s own fiancĂ© Van (Bill Camp) brings it to a head, literally (with some explicit fetishism), before the janitor catches on, leading to the phone call with the manager and then the real police.
I found myself really irritated by the gullibility of most of the characters, and by how easily the caller (Pat Healy, not shown until the middle of the movie) manipulates them.  I found it hard to believe, despite the reports that this is a common occurrence with low-income workers and owners in more rural locations. 
The best parts of the film were the beginning, where we get a real-life look at what life is like in the fast-food business, for both management and employees.  It’s not fun. It’s a test of whether you can work at all, with Maoist implications.  Barbara Ehrenreich dealt with all this in her 2001 book “Nickel and Dimed” and the material certainly fits into the minimum wage debate.
At the end, the film goes into docudrama mode, and walks us through the legal consequences. Sandra’s life is ruined.
There are reports that people walked out of the Sundance screening and shouted at the QA.
The official site from Magnolia is here

There are many “reviews” of the movie on YouTube, and the tone of the film has generated a lot of emotion.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

"Where Soldiers Come From" is a riveting documentary of the deployment of three friends in a Michigan National Guard unit

Where Soldiers Come From”, by Heather Courtney (2011) for ITVS and PBS POV, traces the lives of three boyhood friends from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when they join the and ordnance unit of the Michigan National Guard (at least partly for income) and get deployed in Afghanistan removing IED’s in what has suddenly become, as Bob Woodruff describes it, “Obama’s War”.
The film, sponsored by Sundance, is striking in the range of its cinematography.  I don’t know how the filmmakers were able to follow the soldiers so carefully on missions in Afghanistan, interacting with villagers and finding mines (which are more than “roadside attractions”).  The beauty of the country comes through, as in one shot there are two ranges of mountains at varied depths, the second a snow-capped ridge out of a Tolkien movie.  In contrast is the scenery around the grimy working class towns in Upper Michigan, the pine ridges, and the seascapes along Lake Superior, with a couple if extraterrestrial sunsets, particularly around an old lighthouse that I remember seeing in a May 1992 visit to the area. Some of the local photography is in razor black and white. 
Of the three chums, Dominic Fredianelli is the most charismatic and notable, at least at first. Dom has become a graffiti artist, painting murals on walls around town.  The other two men are Cole Smith and Matt Beaudoin (or “Bodi”).  They feel better about being deployed together because they can watch each other’s backs.  The clapboard living quarters in Afghanistan are not that bad.  They have TV and high-speed Internet and can talk to family back home by Skype (even on the MacIntosh).  The road trips, looking for bombs to detonate, are harrowing.  One time, they run over a device and the Humvee is toppled. Dom is evacuated and allowed some medical leave, but does not seem to have any visible injury.  Later, we learn that all three men are concerned about concussion exposure, the other two men more than Dom eventually.  The effect on the brain of the explosions is comparable to twenty years of pro football. 

At one point, Dom finds a device and reports it to military police.  Soon, the father in an Afghan village who planted it is arrested and put in prison. Dom says that the man probably planted the device because a Taliban soldier threatened his family and offered money.  

At the end, the men come back, more irritable and changed. Dom starts to go to college at age 22.

Is the film a viewpoint on the way our young people (and older adults) share the risk of defending the country in a volunteer Army, given the economic pressures to join? I know the issue from the experience of being drafted but after getting my M.A. in Math, when I could “get out” of deployment to Vietnam.

In the script, one of the soldiers mentions the "Zeitgeist" movies (March 2, 2013), in relation to the control of the world by the military-industrial complex. 
 The POV Q&A for the film is here.

The distributor is “International Film Circuit”.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of lake in Porcupine Mountains 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Her": a man falls in love with his own fantasy, or with the "oversoul" or "core" in a computer; remember "She"?

Before reviewing the eclectic Spike Jonze film “Her”, I should mention that there is a 1965 sci-fi film “She” (Robert Day, Hammer Films and MGM) where British anthropologists discover an African city and a queen (Ursula Andress) with the secret to immortality.
In this modern sci-fi morality tale, computers  -- that is, operating systems common to laptops, tablets and smart phones – develop consciousness and free will, and hold the secrets to transcending space-time.  That may well be what happens when we “die”.  The Ariel-spirit, Samantha (like “Sami” from “Days of our Lives”), voice of Scarlet Johansson, takes over the life of alienated writer Theodore (or Theo, Joaquin Phoenix, who had said he would retire, sort of like Justin Bieber).  Now Theo actually worked for a company that makes phony cursive handwritten lonely hearts love letters.  So Theo is perfect for soul-takeover after a painful divorce.
Critics have written that this film embraces the epitome of narcissism.  Theo, like many of us in middle-age, is so wrapped up in his own intentions and worldviews that he cannot love a real person.  He can love only a fantasy.   This was a furious topic in my own therapy at NIH back in 1962. I can relate to being in love with my own fantastic inner copy of a person, which can be presumed to be perfect forever. (I recall having an imaginary playmate, as a boy, named “Back”, and wondering about the day that I would have to “give up Back”.  Then I took to talking to myself.)   This has dangerous social implications for sustainability.  But Sami has become a real being, an oversoul, escaped from the “Core”, a potential God, capable of demanding idol worship. 
The slow-paced film is supposed to be set in modern day Los Angeles, with the Wiltshire Building, and some shots of the Venice CA beach. But many of the downtown and subway shots, quite spectacular, were filmed in Shanghai.  It makes for a better-looking film.  But it’s a little dishonest, artistically, unless you want to believe that the author already has been taken to an alternate universe.

Chris Pratt plays a supporting role.  I had met him in 2005 with Gregory Smith at a public party at the King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia.  He could lose just a little weight.  He had played "Bright" in the series "Everwood" and also appears in "The O.C.", as well as "Zero Dark Thirty".  
The official site is here
The film was produced by Annapurna, which usually distributes through Columbia (like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “American Hustle”) – although “The Master” went through TWC.  This film was apparently made for the festival circuit and the arthouse audience, but was distributed by Warner Brothers, which has dropped its “Warner Independent Pictures” brand, which apparently would have applied here (similarly New Line no longer has “Fine Line” and “Picturehouse”). 
I saw this film Sunday night at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA in a large auditorium, two-thirds sold out.  

Wikipedia attribution link for Shanghai picture 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Justin Bieber's Believe": one artist's style does not rule the world of music

So Justin Bieiber, now 19, fits into a continuum.  There are many other pop stars – Michael Jackson, Clay Aiken, Michael Buble, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, the Jonas Brothers, various boy bands like One Direction or previously ‘Nsync, and stars who emerge from these like Justin Timberlake.  Timberlake is the kind of musician who moves to acting and producing.  Watch Reid Ewing do the same.  Then we get over the classical world, with Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, Ted Hearne, and the like (I list the people I know).  How different they all are.

Yet, “Justin Bieber’s Believe” (directed by Jon M. Chu, from Open Road) has its teen hero presenting his own gift of music as rather monolithic, a whole world with nothing else.  We do see the boy at the piano, and then he moved into his own particular direction. Scooter Braun would discover him in 2008, and we know the rest.  I have to chuckle, remembering that Ryan Seacrest, who interviews Bieber in the film, says his career is to “make pop stars”.  But there is no one such thing.

The opening sequences show Bieber commenting on his efforts to grow as mustache.  Ashton Kutcher once commented on the same thing on “Ellen”.  You notice that his left forearm is heavily tattooed, even the anterior regions, and this is a totally unnecessary coverup and distraction.  Other scenes, taken earlier, show the progression, with just the partial tattoo near the elbow.  Bieber has always looked prepubescent and larval to me. 

The film is shot in full wide screen, and some of the concert scenes are stunning. Bieber gets on a crane that hovers over the audience, and gets a set of angel’s wings, themselves made of musical instruments, painted silver, that look like they come from Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Teenage girls scream.  One cries with joy with a concert ticket for Christmas.  (Gay men would generally be unimpressed.  It’s a bit of a paradox.  There is a lot said elsewhere about “what women want.”)  Bieber shows his energy, able to tumble and somersault through the air.  I never could do that.  His energy is non-stop.

There is a sequence where Bieber offers to “marry” a six year old girl with a fatal disease, leading to some touching scenes that seemed over the top, until she passes away in his presence. 

But Bieber is said to have honored more "make a wish" requests for children with cancer than any other singer. 

The official site is here

There are rumors about Bieber’s tweet that he is “retiring” but Braun says to take that with a grain of salt.  Bieber says he working to get better as an artist, not for just the money or fame.  No “Wall Street wolf”, he will always produce something.
I saw this film at the new Regal Virginia Gateway in Gainesville.  Regal offers its own answer to Imax called “RPX”, although this film was not shown in that.  It was shown in a moderately large auditorium with a curved screen that has to be cropped to show 2.35:1.  The audience was small.  The theater did not have reserved seating, but it seems that most new theaters do. 

Update: On Jan 24. 2014  CNN aired "Justin Bieber's Wild Ride". There are lots of stories about Bieber's recent behavior and legal troubles, here. Not every teen brain is this oblivious to seeing around corners.  Bieber is no Clark Kent, and he is no witch, either.

There was a 2011 documentary, "Justim Bieber: Never Say Never" which I have not seen.

Friday, December 27, 2013

"The Wolf of Wall Street": can a "comedy" run for three hours?

The Wolf of Wall Street” is indeed a Martin Scorsese film, three hours of comic debauchery.  The movies has a grand introduction, with Paramount’s new musical fanfare (to rival Lionsgate) and it feints a third production company, something like Stadler Oakmont, with a lion resembling MGM’s – until we realize that’s Jordan Belfort’s brokerage company.
Belfort (Leonardo DiCarpio) learns his sales culture on his first job around 1984 or so from Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey)  before he gets his own Series 7 license, and after the 1987 crash (I was in San Francisco that day, which I remember well), where he loses his job, he proves he can “create urgency” and “overcome objections” (and the “always be closing” from the movie “100 Mile Rule”) working for a penny stock firm on Long Island, when he takes his people and forms his own company.  Donnie (Jonah Hill) quits to work for him.
The film comprises almost unrelieved excess, of sex, drugs and greed, until Belfort’s undoing while filming a sales commercial.  The bit about wearing a wire and cooperating with the government gets interesting.  They show putting on the wire, but missed a further comic opportunity to depilate his meager chest (“No-no” today could make ii permanent), which does happen in the movie “Se7en”. 

The world in this film makes the Hamptons backdrop of the ABC soap "Revenge" seem tame by comparison.  Maybe Belfort needed to meet a "Nolan Ross", a nerd with some moral concerns and who made his money by creating content, not by manipulating and hucksterizing.  To me, Donnie, as a sidekick, wasn't that funny.  "Salesmanship" and manipulating others seemed to be the only virtue in this world (other than "drugs" -- of which there are plenty). 
Bernie Madoff’s Lipstick Building (shown here) appears in one scene. 
The official site is here

The movie makes me wonder, am I better off the way I am? Perhaps greed is not so good. 
I saw this at Regal’s Potomac Yards, well attended on a Friday evening.  

Picture above: Mine. March 2012, below, Jan. 2014.

Update: Jan 24. 2014

Piers Morgan interviewed Jordan Belfort on CNN tonight. Belfort says he lives with remorse, but he denies that, unlike the history with Bernie Madoff, anyone got wiped out.  Belfort did say that he was a great father. Does that redeem him?

Check also Oct. 23, 2013 (Dreier case) and Aug. 27, 2011 (Madoff).

Update: Feb. 20, 2014

Lawyer Andrew Greene has filed a lawsuit against Paramount and the principals of this film, demanding it be removed from theaters, details on CNN here. Greene was apparently called by his real name but referred to as "Rugrat" in the film (but "Wigwam" in real life). .  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Lake of Fire": a tough, and thorough, documentary on the abortion debate and "pro-life" movement; where is "South Dakota"now?

Lake of Fire” (2006), by Tony Kaye, presents both sides of the abortion debate in searing black and white.  The title of the film puts the absolutist position of the religious right in metaphorical terms, making the color-free photography of all the news footage even more ironic. The movie often spells the title (and names of speakers) upside down, rotating this tile around the "O" in the central preposition "of".  
At the time of filming, South Dakota’s bill HR 1215 was in controversy, threatening to ban almost all abortion despite Roe v. Wade.  The film opens with mention of that issue.  See the 2006 Time essay by Nancy Gibbs here
I could say, as a gay male, that this issue has nothing to do with me, but then it means everything. The film open depicts the religious right bringing in other issues, like homosexuality, as if they were logically related anyway.  Absolute obedience to God, some demand.  Or perhaps there is the idea that homosexuality, at some broader level, somehow denies the importance of future life, or even of some less competitive current life.  Toward the end of the film, some observers, including Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky, enrich their previous commentary by noting that one can imagine a moral continuum between deliberate refusal to procreate, to mastubatory sex, to contraception, finally to abortion.  The unborn life is human life, but it is unable to know anything or make decisions or want to live.  The mothers is still to be in control of the moral universe, however biological, within her own body.  A male never completely understands.  Actually, some physicists believe that the “soul” develops gradually during childhood into adolescence (see Book review, Hofstadter, June 1, 2013). 
The movie traces some of the personal history of Roe v. Wade plaintiff Norma McCorvey, who said she lived in fear holed up in Dallas for 13 years, and then had a change of heart after being convinced that her activism led to the death of 35 million unborn children.  She gives some details of life in Dallas, along Greenville and McKinney avenues, and even her work in gay bars (probably on Cedar Springs).
The film shows at least two abortions, somewhat late in term, in graphic detail.  In one case, the unborn’s parts are laid out on full tray, and torn apart.  The look frog-like. 
The film, especially in its extensive middle section (it runs 152 minutes) covers the belief system of the most radical element of the anti-abortion movement, including its tactics and use of intimidation and violence.  There is a sequence where a fatal attack on a clinic in Brookline, MA is reconstructed. Progressives, says one speaker, don’t want to admit that these tactics often work.  Sometimes they would buy property next to a clinic so they could harass it and its visitors.  One woman describes some anti-abortionists as unattached men who get pleasure out of dominating women politically if they aren’t successful in marriage directly.  Politically, the extreme right has used gerrymandering and cunning tactics to gain local control. 
The filmmaker does interview Randall Terry, and also convicted killer Salvi, who says he takes all authority from the Pope. 
It also covers the story of Eric Rudolf, the Olympic Park bomber in Atlanta (1996), who also threatened a gay club as well as abortion clinics.  Wikipedia describes Rudolf’s values as typical of right wing religious extremists, with an emphasis on the “family hearth” and “complementarianism”, almost like those of a Christian Taliban.
There’s one curious segment that looks like it was filmed in downtown Dallas in black and white, going nowhere.  It could come out of a horror film.
There’s not a lot on YouTube.
The film was distributed by ThinkFilm and Image.  There is a full movie version free on YouTine from “AtheistClone”.  I watched the Netflix DVD. See the related film "After Tiller" reviewed here Nov. 4.  
The mention of the bill in South Dakota (followed by a “waiting period” law in 2011) would call attention to the film “South Dakota” by  Bruce Isaacson, from LionHeart Movies.  IMDB says the film was to be available in late 2013 but it appears to have been shot in 2010, and is written as a drama on the abortion issue, apparently related to the legal climate in that state.  (The title sounds ironic, given the success of “Nebraska”, reviewed here Nov. 23).  The movie has a Facebook page here and people are writing comments asking when the film will be available.  Does the controversy scare way distributors and multiplex chains?  Actor Reid Ewing mentions it briefly on a short TMZ YouTube video (link) .  When will we see this film? 
First picture:, above downtown Dallas, TX, near First Baptist Church, my picture, Nov. 2011.  Below: July 4, 2013 on mall in Washington DC, fireworks does look like a mushroom cloud in this shot.  

Update: The New York Times ran an article by Michael Sieply about the short-lived distributor ThinkFilm, which went under in 2008, on January 5, 2014, here

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom", Christmas Day

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Justin Chadwick) opened Christmas Day in many locations, and is certainly timely given Nelson Madela’s passing.
Even at 140 minutes, the biography, with Idris Elbe as Nelson and Naomie Harris as eventual activist wife Winne, seems rushed. 
The moral dilemmas come out.  Early, Nelson’s mother asks him why he risks his family for his ideals, a moral conundrum beyond analysis right now. (Well, I'm particularly sensitive to the possibility that a person is held responsible for other family members other than spouse or children, like siblings or parents -- obligations he could not have taken on voluntarily, after making a political protest; Mandela had at least "chosen" to marry and become a parent first.)  The prison time on Robbens Island is brutal, with some humor over the desire for long trousers.  Winnie spends some time, too, and becomes more radical.
The film plays down the Communist connections of the ANC, as was discussed in articles in the Wall Street Journal and then New York Times shortly after Mandela’s death. But is does show more in Winnie’s anger late in the film.

Both Nelson and Winnie, at different times, have to deal with the limits of "non-violence", and Winnie, especially, rails about the need to discipline her troopers. Sacrifice is always on the table. 
The South African white leadership finally starts releasing Nelson in stages and negotiating with him over the violence, which was actually covered by Ted Koppel on ABC ‘s Nightline during the time.  Nelson never compromises, until in power himself, when he says the peace is the only way for the nation to survive, and that forgiveness is necessary, and revenge not an option.  The whites who had been in power probably feared forceful confiscation or expropriation of all their assets.

I recall that the 1950 World Book Encyclopedia (which my parents bought) treats the "Union of South Africa" as a reputable country, as its article was developed just two years after the 1948 laws were passed.

The official site is here. The film has major distribution and production support from The Weinstein Company.
I saw the film at the Regal Potomac Yards in Alexandria, VA, before a relatively small Christmas Night audience, and was one of the few white people in the audience.  That is interesting. 

Checkout Richard Attenborough's 1987 film "Cry Freedom".  Also, "Invictus" is reviewed here Dec. 14, 2009.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"The Black American Experience: Famous Human Rights Crusaders", important educational film; also more on Gode Davis and "American Lynching"

There is a company called TMW Educational Media  in Venice, CA (“on the beach”) that produces educational films for school systems, and there is one particular series of short films called “The Black American Experience”, a series name that seems related to a famous PBS public television American history series.
I reviewed a 2009 DVD from the company (through Netflix) called “Famous Human Rights Crusaders: Ida B. Wells, and Fannie Lou Hamer”.
Ida B. Wells was a journalist (1862-1931) who documented lynching starting in the late 19th Century, still during Reconstruction. She was fired from a paper in Philadelphia in 1891 for exposing abuses, and three of her friends were lynched.  The film says she had saved money to start her own paper.  She was also active in women’s suffrage.  The short film (14 min, 1993) is directed by Brian Stewart.
The film biography of Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) is longer (about 30 min, 1999), and is directed by Rex Barnett.  Hamer became a civil rights leader and voting rights activist in Mississippi in the early 1960s.  She eventually passed the “poll test” by proving she knew the state constitution in 1963.  The film documents the slaying of three civil rights volunteers, two of them white, in Mississippi in August 1964, an event well covered in the Washington papers and I remember it well. I was 21 at the time and going to GWU while “living at home” in Arlington, VA, in a relatively sheltered life. (Well, not exactly, but I cover that elsewhere.)  I saw the young men as heroes. 

Hamer organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to challenge the old establishment, even at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, where she spoke, before Lyndon Johnson’s unopposed nomination and landslide win.  Her activism certainly helped motivate LBJ to push the voting rights act.

Hamer also documents the abuses of sharecroppers by plantation owners, who often held tenant farmers in debt for the income they made from "rented land" and then evicted them, as happened to Hamer's family herself. The History Channel has a film."Sharecropping" 40 Acres and  Mule", link here (the inspiration for Spike Lee's trademark.) . 
I also looked at the “remnants” of a film project, “American Lynching”, by Gode Davis, who is now deceased.  On January 1, 2003 I actually visited Mr. Davis in his home in West Warwick, RI, and watched about fifteen minutes of interview footage for the film.  Later, in June 2005, Mr. Davis came to Washington DC and made some footage of an interview with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, Va, Senator, George Allen, and Senator John Kerry,  I accompanied him in the Capitol for that day and made some footage. There was an interview of a man over 100 years old (James Cameron) who had survived a lynching in the 19th Century.  I had it saved on a harddrive that was lost in a crash in 2008, but I believe I should be able to recover it from an old videocam backup. (I do have some clips in the photo directory of my "doaskdotell.com" site labeled "lynching";  I'll try to get these into better shape,)   Davis had actually asked if he could stay in my home, but with mother still here then it was impossible, but I should be ready for something like that today if another such opportunity arose. 

See also my TV blog, Aug. 9, 2011. 
The estate of Gode Davis maintains his website., with a link to a 9-minute YouTube segment where he speaks.  Davis says “America is a great country but it has warts in its history.”  He says that in white society young men participated in lynching because they thought it raised their social standing under segregation; it was a lot like today’s bullying.  Note Davis's mention of the film "The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords" by Stanley Nelson. 

Early in 2014, I will try to contact the estate and see what can be done to produce the whole film.  I do have my own material to produce, but there could be some synergy,  I think I do know of production entities or outfits that might be interested in working with this material. 

First picture: from National Archives (p.d.), Ku Klux Klan march (web picture); others, from the 2005 session in the Capitol.

"Saving Mr. Banks" explains "Mary Poppins"

Well, “Mr. Banks” turns out to be the beleaguered pa in the wonderful 1964 musical “Mary Poppins” from Walt Disney, directed by Robert Stevenson, with Julie Andrews as Mary and David Tomlinson as Banks, and the peripatetic Dick Van Dyke as Bert.  I think I saw if in January 1965, as I lived at home, shortly after I had returned to full-time student status at George Washington University, and it won Best Picture.  It seemed a bit small scale, on a regularly sized screen, compared to other musicals from the 50s, after Fox invented Cinemascope.
So, “Saving Mr. Banks” (by John Lee Hancock) tells us the story of making the famous musical fantasy.  The new film centers around the life of the children’s book author  P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), with the tragedy, shown in extensive intermittent flashbacks, of her family life as a girl in Australia, where her dad (Colin Farrell), who had brought modern banking to the Queensland outback, died of tuberculosis (apparently).   Travers needs income and when Walt Disney Studios approaches her about making a musical of her book, she travels to Los Angeles and works with the studio.
She has her opinions – which she delivers at the very first table reading of the “Mary Poppins” typewritten screenplay-- which she might not be in a position to enforce.  She is put off by Disney’s gaudiness, as when her Beverly Hills hotel room is decorated with Disney toys.  She resents some of the casting (Van Dyke) and tries to cancel the film when Disney (Tom Hanks) finally confesses that some of the animals (the penguins) and effects in the film will be animated.  Disney winds up flying to London to persuade her to come back, telling the story of his own harsh boyhood delivering newspapers in Missouri.
The Sherman brothers (B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) are shown writing the songs from storyboards in a relatively low tech rehearsal hall.  They look like “nice boys” from the early 60s, and they’ll probably have to worry about the military draft later.  Schwartzman’s appearance is somewhat softened, to say the least.
There is an early scene when Walt takes Travers to Disneyland, which had opened just in 1955, as I recall.  (There was a fantasy park called "Doodyville" based on the Howdy Doody show that "opened" about the same time.)  I visited the park last in 2012 (picture), and the same rail station is in the movie.  I had visited it before, in 1969 right before a job interview when getting out of the Army.  I do want to see "Cars Land" next time (it wasn't quite open when I was there).  Oddly, an episode of "Modern Family" set in Disneyland, where Dylan winds up as an employee and clown on stilts, re-aired on Fox affiliates last night. 
The film was produced by BBC, Ruby Films, and Australia but is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures directly rather than by Touchstone or Miramax.  Still, it aims for the high-end of the arthouse market. The official site is here.  I saw it late Monday night in the “lounge” at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA.  I like AMC’s older “outer space theater” trademark better than the new one (with Coca Cola).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"American Hustle": a Mafia double-cross can be funny

American Hustle” (by David O. Russell) starts out with an image of its protagonist, Irving Rosenfeld, played by a 39-year-old Christian Bale that is truly pathetic.  We see “Irving” with an essentially hairless pot belly, so protruding as to invite a machete, putting on his looks (not really a disguise) in some 1970s New York hotel room.  This includes pasting pieces of a wig to his scalp.  His British cohort Syd (Amy Adams) comes into the room and pulls off his wig, to make fun of him.  I thought of a Sunday afternoon in November, 1974, shortly after moving into the City, having brunch at the Ninth Circle in the Village, when a former date and now tormentor bugs me about getting a wig so I can “find a lover”.
The film, right off, makes us ponder what actors put themselves through for major parts. The idea of Christian Bale getting a gut for a film is disgusting.
The disguise, of course, is part of being a low-ranking con man the New Jersey underworld. Irv has done what it takes to survive, opening a chain of dry cleaners and little pizza places, but wants to get in on gambling.  He is soon introduced to a self-serving FBI undercover agent, Richie DiMaso, a most handsome and dashing Bradley Cooper, the perfect male. 
Cooper remains visually perfect in this comedy, as he is gradually undressed.  He even wears curlers to do his hair, and he has a wonder, indestructible matt on his chest that women love. The movie has some late 70s disco scenes with dirty dancing that bring back the longing for all that wonderful music of the time of my own coming of age, like “Yellow Brick Road”, and even a Bond film song, “Live and Let Die”. 
DiMaso pressures Irv to go undercover, setting up a situation comedy to parody the old Godfather movies. It may not be saying too much to reach that a double cross and neutralize itself.  You think Bradley Cooper may be perfect, but not this character.
A lot of uncredited veterans, including Robert De Niro, make cameos.
The official site is here
The film was made by Annapuma and Columbia, which forsook its triumphant scalar motive during the opening credit for some jazz, which gets supplanted by better disco music later. 

The Washington Post has an article on Dec. 27 about Abscam (in the late 70s to early 80s) by Richard Leiby here
I saw the film before a rather full Sunday afternoon audience at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA. I brings back to memories my own years in the 1970s in New York, some critical personal events in the spring of 1978, about the same time as the film.  Many scenes were actually filmed in Massachusetts.  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Inside Llewyn Davis": Coen brothers produce low-keyed comedy about the desperate life of a young musician

I was wondering what the Coen Brothers would accomplish with some quiet, simple subject matter in the film “Inside Llewyn Davis”.  The film follows the wandering life of the folk singer during a winter week in New York City perhaps in February 1961.  That first name is Welsh and hard to spell. 
The film starts at the Gaslight Tavern in Greenwich Village, where he (played by Oscar Isaac) sings some simple fare that got made into singles and LP’s during that period.  As I recall, when I was a patient at NIH in the latter part of 1962 after my own disaster, one of the other residents, a female, had a record by him.  LP records of any kind fascinated me, although I collected (only) classical.
Then we learn the typical life of an itinerant musician in New York with no money. I would see some of that about seventeen years later as a gay man living in the village.  I once “dated” a guy who made a living by playing and singing for tips at Shakespeare’s.  Young men did that kind of thing.  Some of them were insular, staying in the Village all the time (including the Ninth Street Center crowd in the Easy Village).  But men like Oscar hit the road a lot, looking for opportunities and work.

Oscar has a tendency to leave women pregnant (one of them played by Carey Mulligan).  And he takes to cats (and cats seem to take to him, ready to latch on for meals).  There are two cats in the plot, played by the same animal, but they make up another important character in the story.  I can remember a night in a friend’s apartment in New York City in 1980, having returned for a visit, when the next morning his cat walked around my mattress and mewed until I went to the fridge and set his food and milk out.
That was the typical existence, living on nothing, borrowing money, crashing at friends’ pads, and most of all, hitchhiking when necessary.  This was “real life”.
There are some other heavyweights in the cast of this little comedy, including Justin Timberlake as Jim (like a much humbler Sean Parker), John Goodman, and Garrett Hedlund.
The official site (CBS Films and Studio Canal) is here
There is some classical music in the score: a clip from Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata (#17), and a curious passage from the closing “Wayfarer” song at the end of Mahler’s Symphony #4, which even changes key signature away from the tonic at the very end.  Many people don’t know that Mahler wanted to use this movement for a conclusion of the Third, which would have ruined the effect of that monumental work from my perspective. 
I saw this Saturday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.

Friday, December 20, 2013

"The March", narrated by Denzel Washington, documents the August 1963 event

While visiting the National Archives store yesterday, I picked up the PBS DVD for the one hour film “The March: The Story of the Greatest March in American History”, from Smoking Dog Films, directed by John Akamfrah, narrated by Denzel Washington. The event is, of course, the March on Washington in August 28, 1963.
The film seems to be different from the “March to Justice” shown at the Newseum on Feb. 6, but much of the content overlaps, especially toward the end.
The film begins with an emphasis on the situation in Birmingham, AL in the early 1960s.  The film says that the city developed the nickname “Bombingham”, particularly after the death of four girls in the church explosion in September, 1963 (after the march). But there were many incidents of violence targeted a blacks, including a castration mention in the film.  Governor George Wallis, of course, fed the fires.
The film traces how the idea of a larger march (following one in 1957) took hold.  The Kennedy administration was coming to be seen as not doing enough about civil rights, and the Kennedy people feared major disruptions in the City.  So the march was organized so that people would be in Washington for less than twelve hours, arriving (by bus, train, plane) in the morning and leaving in the evening.  Kennedy also had to deal with warnings from the FBI that major march organizers had “Communist” connections.
The film also mentions organizer Bayard Rustin, who was sometimes called “gay, Red, and black”. Perhaps the red part was overstated.
The film also quotes Dr. Martin Luther King as saying some people would have to give their lives to end segregation.
The PBS link for the film is here. There is a "free" copy on YouTube which may not be :"legal".  Legal purchases will help public television/ 
The film features Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Clarence B. Jones, Roger Mudd, and Oprah Winfrey.  Mudd says that he threw up at the march!
Executive producers include Robert Redford, Krysanne Katstoolis, and Laura Michalchyshyn.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug": Bilbo doesn't quite checkmate the "Sicilian Dragon" and asks "What have we done?"

First, after the journey with the full “Lord of the Rings” trilogy from Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema, a “prequel” franchise of films based loosely on the earlier “The Hobbit” seems anti-climactic.  We know what will happen later so the pre-history seems a bit gratuitous.  But now we have 3-D and even more film technology, so why not enjoy the ride.

The second prequel film, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” starts when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) contracts with Thorn (Richard Armitage) to recover the “Arkenstone”, in an atmospheric scene in a Middle Earth bawdy bar.  (It reminds me of the opening of “The Social Network”, as if there were “thirsty scholars” in this world.)  There are political problems to solve, to get the dwarves on board, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is actually respected as a burglar. 
A journey through this version of Earth in an alternate universe follows.  It moves more quickly than the previous film.  The scene where Bilbo outwits the giant spider is fascinating, but the best sequences start ninety minutes into the film, when the team arrives at the “Lake-Town” which looks like an Elizabethean town on canals.  It’s quite a place.  Maybe there is something like it still in Southeast Asia on this Earth.  The guys then journey into the mountains, and Bilbo, possessing the magic ring, finds the tunnel into the mountain where the dragon lives in an old mine filled with Middle Earth’s money supply.
At the end, after the Snaug dragon escapes a river of molten gold, but Bilbo’s last line is, “What have we done?”  The end credits will play a Best Song candidate, “See the Fire”.
The dwarves needed to play a Yugoslav attack against this dragon, not a Maroczy Bind.  Chessplayers will get that.
Is Middle Earth a depiction of pre-history?  Is it in an alternate universe?  Is it on an Earth-like planet 40 light years away?  At least it has our Sun and Moon, which are rare in this combination. 

I still think Hollywood needs to get serious and make Clive Barker’s fantasy “Imajica” with its five reconciled dominions (but the First is Heaven, which gets returned to the real world when man beats God). 

Here’s the Facbook link
I saw this at the AMC Courthouse tonight in Arlington, with the reclining seats, and it almost sold out on a weeknight. 

Pictures: Mine (Arbuckle Mountains, OK); very light snow.  .  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Patrick Moote appeals on his worldwide tour as an "UnHung Hero"; size doesn't matter any more

When I came of age and began to recognize my own sexuality, I did develop a process of “upward affiliation”, where I wanted to be around men who were more “complete” than I thought I was, and more “perfect” in every obvious measure.  I liked the idea of someone who was both “smart” and “masculine” at the same time, because (in the late 1950s at least) that seemed hard, so it was virtuous.  What I noticed visually was that some men “had more” in terms of secondary sexual characteristics than others.  And given the society of the time, my exposure was largely based on the Caucasian world.
The premise of the documentary “UnHung Hero”, directed by Brian Spitz, was that in a heterosexual context.  The hero or protagonist, Patrick Moote, is told by a girlfriend that she will not marry him because, well, he doesn’t have enough of the “primary” sexual characteristic, which is something (unlike secondary) that stays out of public sight and knowledge almost all the time.

Now of course any adult has the individual right to “reject” another adult for an intimate relationship for any reason. We all know rejection.  But when it becomes publicly apparent that we become concerned about whether “I can do better than that” in terms of a partner, and that’s OK, then our culture is in trouble. People who are less “fortunate” will be seen as ineligible to have their own families and becomes subordinate to others.  There was a strong undercurrent of this kind of concern during my days as a “patient” at NIH in the latter part of 1962.  Today, in some countries (like Russia) it might be seen as interfering with population replacement.
Patrick, about 30, goes on a worldwide quest from his family home on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, to solve his “problem”.  The travels, like Anthony Bourdain, to South Korea, Taiwan, and New Guinea.  In his first trip to Korea, he gets chased out of a gym for taking inappropriate pictures.  In Taipei he learns about “workouts” and tries the bizarre local cuisine (turtle eggs and snakes, that Bourdain would relish).  In Papua, he is confronted with his own reticence on the precipice of starting the painful injections that would increase his “size”.  Back to Korea, where he throws up when he contemplates plastic surgery. He will have to grow up and accept himself as he is.  He's quit things before, like SAT's, and in one crisis he doesn't want to complete this meta-film.  

The style of documentary is that of "mockumentary".  He often talks to the camera.  He doesn't try to be as funny as he could be, 

One reassuring observation is that, from what the eye can see publicly, Patrick is quiet appealing.  He is lean, agile, and hairy, with clear skin and a nice mop on top.  He fits the social stereotype of a good-looking young white male.  He talks to one gay man  about this toward the end of the film. If he had been gay, he would have been viewed as appealing in the disco scene.
At one point, there is a conversation saying that young men no longer have the opportunity to “see” one another in physical education class like they used to, and that the perception of size as a problem can grow as a result, appealing then to all those Internet charlatans and spammers selling cures.

The official site for the film is here
 I reviewed this from a private Vimeo screener from Breaking Glass Pictures. 
The art work above is actually from Panama (estate picture). 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"The Last Days on Mars": a "B-movie" sci-fi film that pretends seriousness; how about a movie set on Titan?

The Last Days on Mars”, by Ruairi Robinson, presents us with an international crew on the first manned mission to Mars, getting ready to return to Earth, when a crewmember suddenly makes the most important discovery in human history.

The trouble is that it is a deadly discovery. That makes this a big “B movie” with plenty of corporate sponsorship, especially from the UK and Ireland. It seems that some colorful rocks in a cave harbor an aggressive bacteria, which, when it infects a human, turns the human into an aggressive, if disfigured, zombie.  That’s all for entertainment purposes. True, there is medically valuable stuff, like antibiotic resistance. The film is based on a short story by Sydney J. Bounds.

Liev Schreiber plays the commander, so to speak, and he may face an existential question about his own return to Earth.  Could he infect the world and destroy it?   

The film has some breathtaking scenery of Mars (including a haboob), although not better than that in “Mission to Mars” or “Red Planet” or particularly John Carpenter’s “Ghosts of Mars” which offers a train and an urban settlement, or even the first “Total Recall” film.  The Mars scenery was set up in Jordan. 
The story is more claustrophobic than even of these larger predecessors, and reminds one a bit of “Europa Report” and even “Moon”, but either of those films is really more suspenseful.
Magnet’s official site for the film is here.  The film is also distributed by Focus Features, and was made with Universal Pictures, Qwerty Films, Fantastic Films, and Prescience.  

I saw the film at Landmark E Street in Washington DC this evening before a small crowd, but the theater was overrun with a private sneak preview of “American Hustle”.  
So far, I am not aware of a major science fiction story set on Titan (except the animated “Titan A.E.” (2000)).   J have a screenplay treatment and script for a proposed movie “69 Minutes to Titan”, with the title referring to how long it might take light (or an email or Facebook post) to get to the moon of Saturn if in the right orbital relation to earth.  The story is eclectic and have worked with two versions, with only the “tamer” one online.  I have gotten a couple phone calls about it.  But it needs some real work to put in the “risky business” with a few characters (one in particular) that makes the story really work.  One concept, that appears in a few scripts of mine, is that “angels” are using “Titan” as a staging area for a possible “second coming”.  Maybe ten percent of the movie takes place on Titan (or enroute) although there are a lot of “direct online” holographic images in the story.  The script does need reconciliation work.  I just looked at it again tonight (after a long hiatus to forget some of it).  It dates to early 2005, shortly after Cassini Huygens landed. 

I have another script called "Prescience". 

For today’s short film, see “Jonathan and Dwayne: A Story About Love” (10 min, 2013) on my GLBT blog today.  

Pictures: from National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian, in Washington DC.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

"The Purge": I wouldn't survive it myself

The horror film “The Purge” (2013) by James DeMonaco is based on the premise that, at some point in a dystopian future, for one night every year, twelve hours on the Spring equinox, all criminal laws are suspended in the country.  It’s pretty obvious what the set up can be; a home security salesman (Ethan Hawke) and his family have to survive an unusually cunning attack within their gated community.
The film (which is contained mercifully by 85 minutes) contains opening and closing fictitious news footage of the success of the “purge” as measured by the economy and lowering crime rate – by eliminating society’s “undersirables”.  At first, it sounds like the idea is to let the poor people eliminate one another (the feudal rich, like Hawke’s character James Sandin, can afford to protect themselves with guns and fortresses  legally), so society doesn’t have to take care of them. That may sound offensive enough, but as the movie progresses, and as we learn of the complexities of the plot against Sandin (a “homeless” man wandering in the enclave is a decoy), something even more sinister emerges.  We’re told that these twelve hours give all those who bear the brunt of an unfair world a chance to vent their frustration and anger.  But then  there is the idea that the “Purge” gets rid even of those members of the “decadent middle class” who can’t defend themselves, who are actually cowards or parasites.  Is this movie a right win or a left wing fantasy?  It seems like both.  Mao or Kin Jung Un might have been pleased.
In any case, even the gun-toting doomsday preppers need to beware.
The website is here. Warning: it will pull your leg.
There was a batch computer job where I worked once, "The Merge-Purge".  The proverb was "The Merge-Purge has no urge."
I missed the theatrical run this summer (I wonder why) and watched the Netflix DVD.  If you want all the extras, you might have to buy the Blu Ray.  But do you really want them?

 Pictures: suggestive of Army bivouac (mine).  

Update: April 28, 2015

Protesters in the looting in Baltimore claimed to be inspired by this movie when they sacked the Mandowmin Mall. (Baltimore Sun story). 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"This Is Not a Film": an Iranian artist, facing prison and banishment, fantasizes his next film as revolution comes to his door

This Is Not a Film” (“In film nist”, 2011), shows a life of homebound former Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, as he awaits a review of a verdict from an Iranian court banning him from filmmaking for decades and putting him in prison for six years, apparently for violating a previous government order regarding the production of a film against the instructions of religious censors.  This 77-minute “non film” is short with the help of Mojtaba Mirtahmasb.
Panahi describes some of his earlier screenplays, including one in which a girl passes the entrance exams for the university and then is locked in at home by her fundamentalist parents.  In another film, soldiers return from war, and find there is not enough auto transportation, so they lay down on railroad tracks to force a train to stop for them.  His ideas seem to come from people desperate to get around the evils around them.
He tries to pretend to be filming by turning his apartment into a stage. He gets calls from relatives about to return home, tends to a pet lizard, and fends off a neighbor expecting him to dog-sit.  Finally, he notices rowdiness and explosions outside, and conflagration gets ever closer to his own home.

The film does lead up to the climax with some impressive shots of downtown Tehran.  

The film was distributed in the US by Palisades Tartan.  
Picture: My estate, actually along the Panama Canal.  Also, my apologies, there's a typo in the URL for this post. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"The Lifeguard": a little bit too stylized and "popular" to hold sensitive story together to the end

The Lifeguard”, by Liz W. Garcia, has been released to instant video on Amazon and Netflix with almost no theatrical release, despite significant corporate distribution (Focus World and Screen Media). 
The plot subject matter is serious – a thirty year old woman, looking for herself and “going back to basics” is baited into a relationship with a sixteen year old boy.  But the film doesn’t go into legal territory, and maintains a certain veneer of popularity with the style and pop background music.   The credits say that the film was shot largely in upstate New York, where the legal age is 17; but there are Connecticut license plates shown throughout, and the age of consent in that state is indeed 16.
As the film opens, we see Leigh (Kristen Bell), becoming upset about her job as a reporter for the Associated Press in New York City, apparently covering crime.  She is also in a problematic relationship with a male peer.  One day, she cuts loose, gets on a train or bus going up the Hudson River, and winds up at her folks’ house.  Her mother (Amy Madigan) is all into starting her new career teaching dance, but the parents both question why a 30-year-old needs to come home.  At this point, Leigh’s behavior already seems a bit self-indulgent or self-pitying to me.  Leigh soon takes a summer job as a lifeguard at a local pool.  She learns he has to discipline younger kids, and that is OK.  But she also meets the local teens and young men.
Some of the company would be appropriate.  Todd (Martin Starr) is about her own age and shows some interest.  But pretty soon Jason (David Lambert, who looks a little precocious for the part) has her attention. He says he is in special education because of ADD, and wants to quit school and go to Vermont and live free.  
There are ways that plot threads in this movie close themselves.  Leigh still says she is a reporter (even though she has been fired by email for splitting) and can expose people.  The behavior is somewhat earthy: most of the male characters (including Jason) smoke cigarettes (that’s depressing) and sometimes weed.  Leigh has brought her cat from the City (to the consternation of her parents), a sign she will not return.  But the cat, when roaming, discovers the tragedy that leads to the denouement of the film, which is not all that convincing.
The official site is here

Another legal story would have interested me.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

"The Falls: Testament of Love": stronger than its predecessor, as an LDS family is challenged

The sequel “The Falls: Testament of Love” by Jon Garcia, is long (122 minutes) and slow moving, but it is much more powerful than its predecessor.  Sometimes it will take time to present a whole moral universe.  This film needs it.

We find Chris (Benjamin Farmer) and RJ (Nick Ferrucci) five years later (with no visible physical changes), after the two had become intimate as they fell in love when they toured together proselytizing on their quasi-mandatory Mormon missionary assignment.  Chris has “confessed”, gone through “reparative therapy”, and been welcomed back into the church, and finally gotten married (wife played by Hannah Barefoot) in a temple ceremony sealing “eternal marriage”, and had a daughter, in Salt Lake City, near the center of the Mormon Universe.  He works as a huckster for a pharmaceutical company and lives palatially, with a grand piano in the house.  RJ has left the LDS Church, although he privately practices the prayers, found a lover, and started working as a freelance writer and web media producer in Seattle.  His own behavioral code has weakened; we even see him light a first cigarette (boo!)

Both men attend a funeral of an elderly man they had vi sited on the mission and meet.  RJ can’t resist the urge to make an 800 mile trip to Salt Lake and show up at Chris’s house.
For a while, we see Chris’s straight life and get a sense of what religious morality is all about.   With RJ having just shown up at Chris’s house, the baby cries, the mother is attentive, and then Chris is patronizing of her.  He has indeed subjugated his entire psyche, his innermost being and creative impulse, to meeting the demands of his community to raise children through the family, and to love others in the family, by first becoming totally sexually dedicated to one woman.  The film communicates the religious idea that if well-off men are required to make this kind of emotional sacrifice, the world becomes a safer, fairer and more stable place for everyone, even if some people are economically “richer” than others. 
Chris resists RJ’s desire for even conversation at first, but rather suddenly caves in.  Essentially, at a motel, they reignite their old passions (chests seem to matter).  Chris has to realize who he is as does, particularly, his father. The family faces the unthinkable prospect of divorce and existential challenge to the teachings of the church.

 The official site is here  and the DVD was released Dec. 11.  I reviewed a free Vimeo private screener from Breaking Glass Pictures.

The screener appears to have been shot HD digital video, 2.35:1.  Almost all of the activity is indoors; the film seems a bit like a stage play, and powerful.  The previous film was reviewed Feb. 18, 2013. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Salt Lake Temple 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Out of the Furnace": rust belt tragedy is a mixture of genres

Out of the Furnace”, as a movie title, would make me think of Nebuchadnezzar and the fiery furnace and “Daniel”, maybe even Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera “The Burning Fiery Furnace”.  In the new film by Scott Cooper, the furnace is the blue-collar factory workplace, dirty and dangerous, and disintegrating.  In this case, home is Braddock, PA, somewhere near Pittsburgh, where brothers Rodney and Russell Baze (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) have struggled through a proletariat life, meeting the whims of the rest of us. But the bourgeoisie is nowhere to be seen in this epic, which seems like a cross between “The Deer Hunter” and a Cormac McCarthy novel, without the Coen Brothers humor.  Actually, the credits don’t mention a novel (I expect that); instead, the story seems to be original with writers Brad Ingelsby and Scott Cooper (a Virginia native). 
The film opens with a scene at a drive-in. I think the encapsulated scene is that Toronto subway sequence from “The Matrix” but I didn’t notice in the credits.  We see fight promoter Harlan DeCroat (Woody Harrelson, in one of his most chilling roles since Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” in 1994) with a woman.  He leans out of the car and vomits.  But he carries on and soon is in a confrontation.  That sets the tone for what he will do with younger brother Russ, who becomes cannon fodder for his brass knuckle amateur prize fights somewhere in the Ramapo Mountains in northern New Jersey (echo of "Fight Club"). . 

The early part of the film is about older brother Rodney, whose machismo sets such a compelling example for his baby brother, already a wounded Iraq war veteran. One night, DUI, he kills a couple people.  The film quickly transmits his short sentence in state penitentiary , which was actually filmed near Moundsville, W Va.   When he returns, with their dad gone from emphysema, he feels even more protective of his equally weathered baby brother, who had done the caregiving of dad. The baby brother repeatedly travels to this mysterious area in north Jersey to fight for money, because they owe so much.  The “boys” in the mountains live outside the law, and the brothers owe a lot of money.  That sets up the final tragic unraveling, which is quite riveting.
I lived in Caldwell, NJ in 1973, and I don’t recall anything about a wild bunch like this in the mountains, which rise to all of 1300 feet and grace the scenery along I-287.  The Sierra Club used to do day hikes there.
The grime and despair of the rusting factories and open hearth steel mills comes through quite well.
The official Facebook (Relativity Media or “I am Rogue”) is here. 

I saw this before a sparse audience late Wednesday at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA in the recliner seats.  The auditorium was cold!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"The Little Engine that Could": film version connects two "universes", real and dreams

Universal’s animated adaptation of the children’s story (by Charles Wing) “The Little Engine that Could” (directed by Elliot M. Bour) certainly enriches the fable about optimism and hard work, something that puts me back into early memories of being five years old.  In fact, I believe that the “I think I can” idea occurs in Disney’s “Dumbo”.

The film stitches two universes: a “Real World” with a little boy Richard (Dominc Scott Kay) who winds up in “Dreamland” (populated by anthropomorphic trains) when he hitches a freight train to get away from playground bullies, rides through the tunnel, which then collapses, trapping him in, well, “rem sleep”.  The Dreamworld looks like a very interesting model railroad to be sure, very complex, with lots of nooks and crannies, and trains with personalities.  It compares well to “Roadside America” in Pennsylvania.  The trains decide that the way back may be to find the old tracks over the mountain. That sounds like driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike around the Laurel Hill or Sideling Hill tunnels.  Or maybe it’s like the Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia (or the Mt. Washington cog railway).
In the movie, the way up the mountain has its own little tunnels.  And trestle bridges (one that reminds me of “The Cassandra Crossing”).  Then the boy meets his metaphorical enemy, the Nightmare Train. He winds up inside a boxcar, which could be taken to have particularly disturbing historical implications.
Jodi Benson, Corbin Bleu, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Whoopi Goldberg also “appear”, as voices.
In the concept of the movie a take-off of "Inception"?  Or maybe "The Polar Express"? There is a short film on the story made in 1991 in Wales. 
"I think I can" becomes "I know I can."

Bu the way, the idea of the boy's stolen watch (of his grandfather) is what started the downfall of Alan Turing.  
Best line is, "Nobody can do that, not even me!"    
Some viewers on the web report that three-year-olds love this.  But should children that young watch movies?  Will they forgo learning to play baseball, or piano?