Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Beyond": Director of "13th Floor" covers a lot of ground in kidnapping story, should have focused even more on the likable psychic

The “indie B movie” named “Beyond”, directed by Josef Rusnak (Anchor Bay, 90 min, 2012) certainly offers spectacular Alaskan scenery.  If you rent or buy it, watch it on a wide high-definition Plasma screen (even the conventional DVD looks pretty good, particular in the private plane flight scenes  -- the camera uses the entire 2.35:1 spread). It’s too bad that the film didn’t have much of a theatrical presence.  And the reason may well be, that to please investors, the screenwriter Gregory Gieras went too far to create “bottom line” rooting interest and spurious plot complications.

The main premise is that a radio psychic works with family and reluctant police detective to locate a kidnapped little girl.  (I vaguely remember some kind of case like this from Alaska on ABC 20-20 about ten years ago.)  The film opens with a rather enigmatic prologue of the detective  Jon Koski (an aging Jon Voigt) rescuing a boy in the wilderness from an apparent psychopath.  Soon the film is on its main plot thread, setting up the kidnapping of Amy Noble (Chloe Lesslie) in typical thriller fashion, at the expansive and wide-open family home, somewhere near Anchorage.  Koski questions the husband Jim (Ben Crowley), now an oil company executive.  Was the point of the crime to threaten the pipeline?  No, Jon questions Jim’s background as a defrocked prosecutor, who could have made enemies by someone he put away.  (This gets to sound like it could go the course of Lifetime’s  2006 film, “Family in Hiding”.) A former babysitter Megan (Skyler Shaye) suggests hiring her friend, the psychic Farley Connors (young British actor Julian Morris).  Sarah Noble (Teri Polo) goes along.

The middle part of the film really takes us into Farley’s world, with his tabloid talk show and Ouija boards.  Farley seems to be a likeable, almost charismatic character who may have “powers”.  That doesn’t make him immune to gunfire at the end, though.  It seems as though the movie could have been made to be driven entirely by him, and his story – but then it’s harder to write a conventional thriller plot.  Maybe the Connors character would generate a cable television series on SiFy or maybe Fx.

The movie also offers a subplot at the end about Koski’s own integrity as a cop, as well as other complications in the family.  It seemed almost unnecessary, though.
The official site is here

Rusnak is known for the quirky sci-fi thriller “The Thirteenth Floor” (1999, Columbia), which shows a parallel “Truman-like” world limited with a border in the Mojave Desert.

The film should not be confused with a Swedish drama by Pernila August.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Anchorage.  I visited it in 1980. I remember getting in (in early August) from Hawaii and seeing the fir trees from the motel window in the very early dawn.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Love Book": curious short film using Facebook; "And the Sky Turned Black": a gay journalist is blinded in a terror attack in Pakistan

On a day I was busy storm-watching, I found a 15-minute short “Love Book”. Directed by Muhammad Aasim  Qamar, curiously under “LGBT short films” on YouTube, but this film was straight and it might have been filmed in Pakistan (it might be Karachi; the outdoors scenes look tropical). 
Ali Agzhar is an appealing late teen in a private high school.  He is shy, by the meets Noor Malik on Facebook and then in class.  The visuals of much of the film center around how Facebook works, which is a curious fimmaking concept. The earl scenes are in black and white, and tepia tints (especially purple) are graduakky introduced to convert to color.  Ali’s Blackberry is actually white.  The film has no spoken dialogue; it’s all Facebook -- and "Likeonomics". .
The film comes from Radiant Pictures and Maq Creativity.

Meanwhile, I found a real bonus:

The 11-minute short  “And The Sky Turned Black”, directed by Ellis Watamanuk, with Nicholas Wilder and Travis Grant, presents an intimate encounter where a blind photojournalist picks up a gay trick, and then tells the story, with few words, of how he was blinded in a terrorist attack in Karachi.  He explains what he has lost, and wonders if his new friend is someone he knew, who could have betrayed him.

There have been several attacks against the US consulate in Karachi (Wiki link), and pparently there is an ongoing incident now. . 
The link is here. See also "A Mighty Heart", reviewed June 24, 2007. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Indie Game: The Movie": Socially isolated XBOX game developers pin their lives on the next gaming show

Indie Game: The Movie”, directed by Lisane Pajot and James Swirsky, gives a look at the world of independent computer (XBOX360) game developers, and what makes them tick – as they ramp up for a show in Boston.
These mostly are “informal” young men with loose social connections.  Some say they have their backs up against the wall.  If they don’t get their games working and make a decent result at the show (in terms particularly not only of official reviews and sales but Facebook Likes) their future “careers” are over.  One is a diabetic and is shown injecting himself, but still wants to make enough to help his parents pay off their house.

There is something familiar but disconcerting when one of the gamers says that if he doesn’t make it, his life is over and he will kill himself.  People either succeed or fail in his world. When they fail, they disappear forever.  Everyone is on his own, without  many real-world social connections (although the men do have teams and little companies, and some have girl friends, and particularly attentive cats, which never seem to damage the computers). This was the most striking point of the movie. 

One of the developers explains how his game, “Super Meat Boy”, is supposed to work. The character has no skin, and be killed by a spray of salt.  He explains how the player learns the game.

At the show in Boston, “Peter” has to constantly fix his game, Fez, as it freezes when real users try it. 
This may be one of the first films where the “visuals” consist of heavily indented java code.

It's worthy of note that none of the games seem to be violent. They seem to involve imaginary characters that evoke some sympathy from the players. 
I wondered how gaming programs compare to chess-playing programs, which normally have run on super-computers, to play at an international level.

I wondered how good the games that emulate fantasy baseball or football work.  Is there a game that can replicate in detail all the physics of pitched and batted baseballs, allowing for different stadium outfields?  When I was a boy in the 1950s, we invented pinball-type baseball games to be played in cardboard stadiums.

I could think of other ideas.  Imagine a game set on an extraterrestrial planet that is tidally locked and where only an annular ring (in perpetual twilight) has a climate mild enough for the characters to live.

Or imagine my screenplay.  A guy like me is abducted by “angels” and taken to a space-station near Titan.  Both the “angels” and “me” need each other to “survive” on our own terms, as the Earth back home is on borrowed time.  That sounds like an idea for a game, doesn’t it?  I shouldn’t give too much away.

The film website is here.  The film  (BlinkWorks Media) showed at Sundance.

Google Talks actually has a 50 minute interview with the directors on  YouTube:

Monday, January 28, 2013

"Raw Faith": Unitarian pastor Marilyn Sewell (in Portland OR) tells her story

Can someone serve the needs of others with total sincerity and commitment without having an adult intimate relationship of her (or his) own?  The Catholic Church would say it expects that of its nuns and priests all the time.  Other denominations find this quite daunting.

In “Raw Faith” (2010, directed by William Peter Wiedensmith), a Unitarian pastor in Portland OR shares her life and feelings with us as she prepares to leave the ministry after seventeen years, because she has fallen in love.

The pastor is Marilyn Sewell, and the church is the First Unitarian.  The church, back in 1992, had set up a “no hate zone” to oppose the anti-gay initiative known as Measure 9, which did not pass.  The language of the measure was horrifying and is explained in Wikipedia (website url) here.  I recall that former midshipman Joseph Steffan went out there to assist in defeating it, after his booksigning for "Honor Bound". 

But let’s get back to the film.  For much of its length, Sewell is making a video diary, where she speaks into the camera, projecting a reduced image on the movie screen.   She used to keep it by hand, but it’s not clear that she had put it online as a blog.

She describes her early life, including he being taken from her own mother by her father, and then an earlier divorce with small children.  She felt she wasn’t naturally inclined for motherhood.  But she says she felt a calling to minister and is serving a purpose higher than herself.  She also gives an interesting piece of logic about how she wants there to be a god but doesn’t know there is one.

When I lived in Minneapolis (1997-2003) I sometimes attended the Dakota Unitarian Fellowship, and spoke there in 2002 after 9/11 (in Rosemount). 

Marilyn Sewell’s site (for the film, from Kino Lorber) is here

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A short film about Aaron Swartz and prosecutorial overreach

Today, I put the embed of a 26-minute “short film” by the Real News Network on the index page of my own “” website. That film is “Aaron Swartz: A Fighter Against the Privatization of Knowledge”.  The video follows here:

Paul Jay, senior editor of RNN in Baltimore, interviews Roy Singham, a cofounder (with Swartz) of Thoughtworks (link), and Brian Guthrie of Electronic Frontier Foundation (link) .  They described Swartz’s development of Reddit (link)   to Conde Naste for relatively little. But most of the video deals with the apparent federal  prosecutorial overreach by Carmen Oritz in Boston.

Swartz was indicted by the "fibbies" in 2011, well before he would help lead the political opposition to SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act).  He had apparently written a script to download rapidly a very large number of documents from JSTOR at MIT.  It is difficult to see how this is a “crime”, but some have written that Swartz violated a “terms of service” agreement.  In general terms, it appears that the federal government saw Swartz as in the company of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, but that idea doesn’t really make much sense when one looks at the facts, as explained here at Wikipedia here.

In any case, the government seemed to have a political motive that it could send a message that it would protect “copyright” owners from piracy by P2P, BitTorrent, and various other technologies, but most (or maybe even all) of the documents Swartz downloaded were public documents that institutions had been charging the public for convenient access.  The same is true of Pacer, which holds court documents.
Swartz might seem to have purposes similar to that of Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, but he seemed concerned that many original source documents, while technically public, could be kept from lower income people.
Swartz played a large role in establishing what we call Creative Commons.

The video points out that it costs at least $1.5 million to defend against even a frivolous federal indictment to get it dismissed.  This prosecution might well have been frivolous and been dismissed eventually with enough legal muscle.  JSTOR did not want to prosecute, but MIT had sent mixed signals at best.

The speakers contrast Aaron’s accomplishments with those of Steven Jobs (or perhaps Mark Zuckerberg), which, while very brilliant and innovative, were much more commercial and profit-related in nature.  (But you need profits, sometimes!)
On January 11, 2013 was found to have hanged himself in his Brooklyn, NY apartment.
The video closes with one of Swartz’s speaking appearances.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Swartz leading protest against PIPA and SOPA in 2012. 

From the perspective of this blog, this video fits in with recent reviews here about wrongful convictions and prosecutions (Jan. 26, 2013; Dec. 15, 2012).  I think a biography of Aaron for PBS (the Independent Lens series or possibly Frontline) or an independent HBO or theatrical film (in the manner of work by Ken Burns, Morgan  Spurlock,  Amy Berg, or perhaps Michael Moore) would seem like a worthy project.  I think this will happen, perhaps for an AFI Silverdocs festival.  Maybe I could even participate. 

In fact, if Aaron were still with us and facing gigantic defense fees, a commercial documentary could be made to raise money for the defense.  But people would have to be willing to pay for theater tickets or DVD's, and not just watch a film on PBS or YouTube.  That is an irony of this situation. Sometimes people do need to pay for content. 
There is something also to say about Aaron’s personality, and mention of depression.  I have experienced a mindset that believes that “less competitive” people should not attract attention and should keep a low profile until they prove they can directly support (and “protect”) others (personally), because they are beholden to those who supported them.  I have certainly experienced that kind of pressure, which is hardly sustainable in the modern world of Internet speech (which, of course, could have been put down by SOPA).  “What makes you think you have a valid stake to question us?” is the attitude I get.  It’s an idea from those who grew up in a world of social combat.  If I got that enough I could want to disappear, too.  
It's interesting that reviewed Ben Shapiro's "Bullies" today on my Books Blog, about how the author believes the political liberal left bullies or silences opposition.  This sad story provides a good example.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Quartet": senior comedy, old resentments, but a rousing concert at the end

I recall seeing an outdoor performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto at Carter Barron in Washington DC in the late summer of 1962, when I was a “patient” at NIH (a sequence I’ve widely discussed elsewhere).  I thought it was rather lightweight.

There’s a lot of Verdi in the new film by Dustin Hoffman, “Quartet”.  There’s some Haydn, Bach, Gluck, some pleasant salon music, too.  The setup, however, reminds me more of the “Marigold Hotel” movie last spring.

Beacham House, in rurual England, is a three-story, stone retirement home for retired musicians (or is it retired opera performers).  Now, I would find the excessive socialization in such a place rather oppressive.  All meals are communal.  Elderly people are getting in each other’s way, even when they need the company. One thing is clear: this is not a place where it would be easy for a retired person to continue composing or performing.  There is just too much social distraction. 
Yet, they need to bond together to raise enough money to keep the home open (even in “socialist” Britain).  Verdi’s birthday (in October) is approaching, and their concert is their chance. 
Enter the diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) who had been married, unsuccessfully, to resident Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay).  Her resentment at being pushed to “work” with him again can lead to some comic situations, indeed.

The setting seems to be in modern times, as we see computers and websites talking about hip-hop (along with tours of teenagers or college students, some of whom return to the concert at the end; one or two faces actually looked familiar to me, in person).  Yet, Jean seems to like to play old vinyl records on an old record player.

There’s one young supporting character, Simon;  Luke Newberry looks spectacular.
The official site (The Weinstein Co.) is here. The film was produced by BBC films and Hanway.

Don’t confuse this film with “A Late Quartet” (Nov. 6, 2012, here) or the 1979 sci-fi doomday mystery by Robert Altman, “Quintet” (Fox), with some rhythmically curious music by Tom Pierson. 

Picture (mine): Strathmore Mansion, Rockville, MD, 2009.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

"West of Memphis": putting mob justice to the microscope

I actually spent a Friday night in a motel in West Memphis, AR in December, 1992, on a personal trip, anticipating what the Clinton years could bring, having no idea of what would happen there is a few months.  I did think that “Nothing ever happens in West Memphis Arkansas”.  The motel clerk even said that.
The new documentary “West of Memphis”, by Amy Berg and produced in part by Peter Jackson (LOTR), played at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and I wonder why it took Sony Pictures Classics a full year to get this important film about apparently wrongful conviction into major release.  This is one of the longest “mainstream” documentaries ever made, running 147 minutes.

The film gives the (so far) definitive account of the “West Memphis Three”, Damien Echols (sentenced to death), Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., both sentenced to life, for the murder of three eight year old boys near a drainage canal in the Robin Hood Hills area, in May, 2005.  There were initial reports of sexual aspects to the crime. Quickly, the police focused on widespread rumors about the three teenagers who had dabbled in witchcraft.  It appears that the police obtained confessions through relentless interrogations. 

Over the years, various investigations began to uncover inconsistences in the stories, and finally DNA evidence would establish a strong case for their innocence.  The three entered an Alford Plea in 2011,  Jason actually wanted to refuse the plea on principle, feeling dishonored, but finally agreed to accept; had he refused, perhaps none of the three would have been released.  The trial judge still insists that guilty pleas or “confessions” are final and need not be questioned.  The film highlights the political pressure on the police and courts to convict “somebody”. 

There have been three other films on the case: “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills”; “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations”, and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. 

The factual history is well explained in a Wikipedia article here

The film seems to implicate a middle-aged adult connected to the families of the boys.  While in a movie review, it isn’t really appropriate to try to judge that inference,  I felt very outraged that the three teens had paid for someone else’s crime.  It goes beyond injustice; it is degrading. 

The documentary (rated R) is rather graphic in the way it describes the investigations.  For example, it maintains that the sexual damage could have come from animals in the canal, particularly large turtles.  There is a scene where a middle aged reporter allows his forearm to be bit by the turtle.  Later, one of the other family associates describes be required to surrender “thirty pubic hairs”, removed completely from the root one at a time, for DNA evidence, and most humiliating, almost ritualistic, procedure on its own.

I saw this in front of a moderate crowd at Landmark E Street in downtown Washington on a cold, snowy Friday night.

The Alford plea arrangement would mean that the three freed men cannot sue the state of Arkansas.  It is helpful to the freed  men for members of the public to buy full-priced film tickets (or later purchase DVD’s) rather than wait for inexpensive (if legal) replays .  They do need the income.
The film captures the flat scenery of the Mississippi River plain, and then some of it takes place in Little Rock, with some Ozark scenery and bluffs.  The film uses freight trains as a metaphor (possibly suggesting a Holocaust) and has a surprising amount of winter footage with snow for this southern area, despite the fact that the crime occurred in May.

The film also has a lot of low-def original footing of the trial, the defendants as teens, and other principals of the story in 1993. 
The official site from Sony is here.  The other production companies are Disarming Films and WingNut films.

I felt that this film was even more engaging and compelling than “The Central Park Five” (reviewed here Dec. 15, 2012), in giving the detailed rendition of mob justice.   The Arkansas case started in 1993, the NYC case started in 1989.
Wikipedia attribution link for Little Rock, AR picture    My own visits occurred in 1979 and 1988 (when I lived in Dallas). 

See also TV Reviews blog, Dec. 6, 2012 for account of film presented on ABC's "The View".  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"My Worst Nightmare": A French situation "black comedy"

My Worst Nightmare” (“Mon pire cauchemar”, 2011, directed by Anne Fontaine) is a situation comedy (evoking retrospect of the sitcoms of the 1950s) and it is also a satire of modern (and may not so new) French culture and “civilization”, the way you studied it in high school French class.
Agathe (Isaebelle Huppert) is a mid-life wealthy art dealer living in a swanky Paris apartment with her proper husband, a sixty-something book publishing executive Francois (Andre Dussollier).  There is a lot of culture but no physicality.  Their tween son plays video games with a friend who happens to “belong” to single (and womanizing) homeless dad Patrick (Benoit Poelvoorde) who does contract construction work while living out of a truck.  Child services wants to take Patrick’s son away and place him in a foster home.  Patrick hires on to renovate the rich couple’s apartment.  Pretty soon, the opportunities for “sin” and comedy mount.
The movie does present some real issues.  One is “loose kids”.  Social services in liberal welfare-oriented France get intrusive indeed.  Big government – believe it!  But the possible solution is obvious.  The question is, will Agathe take on more responsibility, for other people’s kids, to get what she wants?  Well, she has to know what she wants.  I forgot to mention first, another issue is marital instability – which occurs twice.  It’s odd that Francois announces that he is leaving, and thinks he is still potent enough for heterosexual passion with a woman who could be more nubile.  Conservative writer George Gilder (“Men and Marriage”, 1986) would have fun with this one.
Another issue is the slight at the book publishing industry itself.  Francois describes his job as acting as a gatekeeper of writers who think they have something to say (even by monitoring the book signing parties), when he know he doesn’t.  There are some lines where “publishing” is confused with “printing” (like with abolitionist William Garrison in PBS’s recent series “The Abolitionists”).  Perhaps Francois acts as a literary agent.  But the whole world of “getting published” (and the need even for new authors to get agents) has been turned upside down by the Web and on-demand printing.  The film, as a comedy, doesn’t get into that.  
The museum art work also figures into the story. The credits name a tremendous list of paintings and sculptures, particularly by gay artist Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work inspired so much ire from social conservatives in the US (particularly when he tried to get NEA funding).
The official site is here. The availability date from Strand Releasing is Feb. 5, 2013.
I received a screener of this film.

There is a “review” of the short film “Mister Proof: How to Disappear” on my main “BillBoushka” blog yesterday, January 23.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"American Mystic" traces the rural spiritual practice of three young adults

American Mystic” (2010, 80 min), a film by Alex Mar, traces the lives of three young adults who join (not completely by choice) simple rural and mystical communities.
Kublai, an African-American, was born near Rochester NY and lives on a communal farm on the Lake Ontario plain in upstate New York.  He does wonder why he works hard at manual labor, bailing hay, but makes little; but money isn’t necessary in seeking God.  He says “see what you can get not just for yourself but for other people in your circle”.  Toward the end of the film, he is hypnotized.  I can remember experimenting with hypnosis in the dorm at the University of Kansas in the mid 1960s.  He also talks about telepathy, which I think I have experienced (as when a friend tweets what I have been thinking but haven’t yet posted). 

Toward the end, Kublai attends a “Dale Assembly” retreat.

Chuck, a native American, practices spirituality in various locations in the Badlands and Black Hills.  He helps build a “sweat lodge” (which can be dangerous if misused).  But he has a regular job in a repair shop in Rapid City, with a wife and child. 

Morpheus, raised in the Bay Area, says she was driven to spirituality after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which the film shows clips of.  She meets a boyfriend (husband?) Shannon living in the open country in northern California, not so far from Mt. Shasta,  which is a center of spiritualism (centered around Lemurian legends  -- see review of “Beyond Lemuria: The Shaver Mystery” here on Feb. 29, 2012).  Morpheus ultimately takes up "witchcraft", which means only, "You create your own reality."
The film has spectacular scenery of the Badlands and Black Hills area, as well as northern California.  I wish I could have seen it on a big screen.  I’ve been in the Black Hills and Badlands twice, in 1974 and 1998.  I remember the drug store in Wall, SD.  For some reason, my own mother did not like the Black Hills – an odd memory.  My parents were on vacation there in 1941 or so when it snowed on June 20. A family movie reel of the storm has been lost (unless I can still find it somewhere in the estate).

The official site for the film is here.   The film (Empire 8) is distributed by Kino Lorber and Tribeca Film. 

Some of the film reminds me of the Twin Oaks intentional community near Louisa, VA (Issues blog, April 7, 2012), although that community is secular.  I also reminds me of the Lama Foundation north of Taos, NM, which I visited in 1980 and 1984 ("spring work camp"), and which recovered from a 1996 wildfire.  
Wikipedia attribution link for Black Hills Picture  

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Is It Just Me?": A gay male love triangle comedy based on mistaken identity

Is It Just Me?”, from J. C. Calciano (2010), is “another gay love triangle, a comedy with an operatic twist: mistaken identities.

Brian (Nicholas Downs) writes columns for “USA Togay”, a free paper with an obnoxious straight editor. He is soft-hearted and soft-looking, but rooms (in West Hollywood) with a body-shaved gogo dancer and porn actor Cameron (Adam Huss).  He meets a nice guy (a guitar singer) from Texas, Xander (David Loren), who first bails him out as a stranger in a coffee shop. (Brian has a habit of not leaving tips in the jar.)   Then he meets Xander in a chat room (coincidentally), and mistakenly sends Cameron’s picture, because Cameron had logged on to Facebook on his computer. 

The comedy that follows pretends to balance lookism against character, and it isn’t always satisfying. Again, you have three characters (as in Judas Kiss), and they’re all likable, but the visuals fall short of potential.  Maybe because it all is just fun.  The way Brian gets caught is funny: Xander discovers the mixup when Cameron appears in a fictitious Netflix DVD of “Ghoul City Massacre”. 

There are some side characters: Ernie (Bruce Gray), Xander’s kindly elderly landlord, and the “faghag” Michelle (Michelle Laurent).  “Judas Kiss” has a similar Asian female character playing umpire in a triangle. 
The DVD has a short film “Dating Advice”, auditions, and a 25-mniute “deleted scenes” sequence with actually repeats whole scenes and makes them longer (without showing the viewer anything new).  I think DVD’s should show how long the extras are so the viewer knows how much time it will take before viewing.  The feature film runs 93 minutes.

The TLA link is here. The film won best picture in the Detroit Film Festival.

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

 First picture (mine, 2012): University Ave in San Diego (where gay clubs are located) 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Craigslist Joe": living on the road by volunteering, barter, your wits -- and Web 1.0

I watched “Craigslist Joe” on Netflix MLK weekend, and it seemed fitting given the backdrop, during the inaugural events, of the “National Day of Service”.

What director Joseph Garner shows, in filming his month-long social experiment over the Christmas season (2011-2012) is that perhaps people can do quite well without money, bartering their time and labor.  And he refutes the notion that the Internet is separating us off into separate worlds of our own fantasy.

Specifically, Garner (now 31) hits the road from southern California with nothing but a cell phone, laptop, and backpack with the bare essentials, no cash.  Can he find enough ways on Craigslist to barter his way through life, perhaps across the country, and live well?  He certainly does.

He manages to hitch a ride to Oregon and Seattle (learning some handyman car repairs along the way), where he volunteers in a soup kitchen for the homeless and meets a man from Iraq who gives him a chance to tutor kids.  (There’s the service requirement right there.)  He hitchhikes (heaven forbid) and barters a ride back through Wyoming (spectacular winter scenery) and the Midwest to Chicago, where he gets learn break dancing (he isn’t that good at it) and attends a straight S&M party.  No, nothing happens to him, but the visuals do show that heterosexual S&M entertainment is pretty much like its better known gay counterpart.
He hitches to New York for Christmas, and then to Tallahassee, FL (home of Bush v. Gore in 2000), then to New Orleans.  There, he gets a lesson in how individual artisans are slowly building back a smaller city (most of us remember Oprah’s images of horror right after Katrina).  Finally, he gets another ride back through the southwest, stopping in El Paso to tour Juarez across the border, before getting back to San Francisco.

Craigslist, as a source of contact, doesn’t always enjoy a good reputation. But maybe good people (people with good character) tend to meet other good people.  The movie seems to confirm that.

In December of 1966 (when I was 23), when I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas, I left with three other students in  a “transit car” to ride across Colorado all the way to San Francisco (where we crashed in someone’s house in San Jose and slept 12 hours), up to Seattle and Vancouver BC (where we stayed in another friend’s townhouse and crashed in sleeping bags on the living room floor). One of the guys took the car back to Longview, WA for delivery.  I flew “home” to Arlington VA from Vancouver (two changes).   We called the experience “taking off”. 

I remember “Dave’s” waking me up at 3 AM as we saw the lights of Denver and passed under the runaways of old Stapleton.  We crossed the Continental Divide around 7 AM, and played in the powder snow at 10000 feet west of the tunnel.  We went across the Salt Lake desert, and I remember driving the night shift through Nevada, and I drove Donner pass into California.  I felt sleepy.  I stayed awake to “Chestnuts roasting over an open fire” (Nat King Cole, and it won’t keep you awake) and “Lady Godiva” (which will keep you awake.)  I remember that.  I had never been west of Topeka before that week. 

How many road trips would I make over the next 40 years, mostly with rent cars?  I can’t count them.  The farthest from home I’ve ever been is Krakow, Poland (near Auschwitz) and Warsaw.   In 1994, in the remote town of Sterling CO (known for cattle mutilations), over lunch, I would make a decision to write my first book.

Joe Garner rather resembles a graduating senior (in 1998) from Hamline University who helped set me up with my cable lecture on my book at Hamline.  He resembles Anthony physically and in terms of personality.  Anthony came from the Seattle area, and would caravan back and forth by car between the Twin Cities, and fly back and forth to London it seemed.   He liked the road the same way Garner does.  Even at 21, he drove safely.

The link for the film is here

The film seems to be distributed by Vesuvio and was largely produced by Zach Galifianakis.

I guess I should consider using Craigslist more for my own project needs.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lifetime presents "Prosecuting Casey Anthony"

On Saturday, January 19, 2013, Lifetime TV (along with 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate) premiered the non-fiction drama “Prosecuting Casey Anthony”, directed by Peter Werner.

I’ve reviewed a couple of documentary films about wrongful convictions, so it’s interesting to look at a questionable acquittal.

Rob Lowe plays the prosecuting attorney (in Orlando, FL) Jeff Ashton.  Lowe, now about 48, still looks youthful since he is tall and lean.  Since he’s usually a nice guy (I recall that he was in Stephen King’s “The Stand”), he seems a little out of place here, as he talks like he is on a moral crusade.  The film is framed by his giving a post acquittal interview, in which Ashton says he has not regrets for his behavior during closing arguments, which could have proved a distraction.  Ashton had an almost perfect conviction record before this case, according to the film.

The short film that follows, “Behind the Headlines: Prosecuting Casey Anthony” presents interviews with jurors, who say that Ashton just did not prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) that Casey actually killed her daughter.The circumstantial evidence, involving the remains, the car trunk, and Casey's delay could have seemed quite incriminating but not absolute proof.   The short film also explains how the jury was unusually quick, and did not ask questions during deliberations.  The short film compares this case to the O.J. Simpson acquittal in the 1990s. Marcia Clark covered the case in her book “Without a Doubt”.  The film does not cover Casey’s public vilification and living in hiding (“mob justice”).  It does explain her conviction on a minor charge.

The middle part of the film explores the defense theory that Casey (VirginiaWelch) was abused by her father, and shows a confrontation between the defense and the father (Kevin Dunn).  Of course the father denies it, but in the short film there is discussion of his "body language" during the trail.  The father says he was very attached to his granddaughter Cayley and considered taking his own life. 

The link for the film is here.

One aspect of the moral picture was striking to me.  The prosecution presented Casey as wanting to be rid of responsibility for her daughter so she could party.  That sounds pretty terrible from a parent, and hopefully isn’t encountered very often.  But one can be responsible for someone else for reasons other than his or her chosen actions or behavior.  For example, one can be responsible for one’s parents (about thirty states have filial responsibility laws).  So the idea that one goes through life making choices based on the responsibility that can follow those choices is a bit misleading.  The recent film “Amour” Jan. 13)poses a moral question regarding eldercare, but in this case, with a spouse.  A film based on a situation like this with an adult child could be very interesting. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Get "Vegucated" about the real low-fat diet (and ethics, and protecting the environment, too)

In “Vegucated”  (directed by Marisa Miller Wolfson), a young woman recruits three other New Yorkers to go on a vegan diet, for both health and perhaps ethical reasons.  One of the three (Brian Flegel) works as a bartender.   Vegan dietary rules are stricter than vegetarian.

The tag team goes on a road trip, visiting corporate and smaller family farms (it appears, in upstate New York) to see how farm animals and poultry are treated.

Bottom-line pressures have forced agriculture to treat animals very badly, to say the least, and there are workarounds pertaining to animal cruelty laws.  Milk cows are impregnated artificially and their calves are taken away.  Pigs (and piglets) are treated pretty much as in the 1995 Australian black comedy “Babe” (a film that gets mentioned).   Poultry is herded by machines that often amputate body parts.

The film also maintains that meat production and consumption puts more carbon into the atmosphere than fossil fuel use in cars.  I would question that.  It also suggests that bovine flatulence, which exudes methane, adds to greenhouse gasses.  But global temperatures didn’t rise until the 20th Century, centuries and millennia after animals were domesticated.  The film correctly says that domestication of animals for consumption increased as humans moved into colder climates in prehistoric and ancient times.

At the end of the film, the trio takes a health physical, showing weight loss and reduction of blood pressure, without the need for medication.
Former president Bill Clinton is a big advocate of the vegan diet, and most formal dinner events offer vegan menus.  Often a Portobello mushroom substitutes for meat.  One food mentioned in the film is tofu, a soy product.  An intentional community in central Virginia called “Twin Oaks” manufactures tofu as one of its businesses (issues blog, April 7, 2012).

There reports that Adam Lanza, reported as the shooter at Newtown, had insisted on a vegan diet in order not to cause the deaths of animals -- and yet he suddenly did what he did.  

The official site for this “completely independent film”  is here

The film plays full-screen from Netflix Instant play.

There was a vegan restaurant on 17th Street in Washington DC, between JR’s and the First Baptist Church, that served delicious meals but it has closed.  

Pictures: from Twin Oaks, VA (my one-day visit, April, 2012).  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Hyde Park on Hudson": when world leaders act like ordinary people

Hyde Park on Hudson” seems based on a small concept, the “romance” between FDR (Bill Murray) and his sixth cousin Daisy (Laura Linney)  after he “invites” her (by a manual phone call) from depression-era circumstances to the Hyde Park estate the weekend of a visit from King George (“Bertie”), Samuel West) and wife Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) for a late summer weekend.

The “romance” is subtle (not explicit at all), but it does suggest the idea that there is love after fifty, and love for those who have profound disabilities.  Eleanor (Olivia Williams), by the way, remains dispassionate.  She may have her own secret love life anyway.

That point carries over well in the scenes between FDR and the King (remember, “The King’s Speech” (Dec. 20, 2010 and Feb. 27, 2011 here).  While we see attendants and loved one’s pick up FDR and carry him physically – even as he was able to keep his paralysis out of public sight in those days – and we see the King stammer, even in the encounter alone between the two men. That’s of historical importance because the King is confiding that he expects that Hitler will attack his homeland and that he will need American help.  It would be only a short time after the setting of this film that Hitler would invade Poland.

The storyline (and associated cinematic effects) about Daisy turns a little goofy toward the end, with runs through the woods – with a big full moon right out of “Melancholia” (or maybe even “Judas Kiss”). 

But then there is wonderful outdoor scene as a film climax, a hot dog roast out on the summer lawn.  (You have to accept this as a period piece, and overlook the smoking and some other behavior.)  I could literally taste the frankfurters, and, as the characters  -- especially FDR – just acted as themselves – I  had my own epiphany at that moment.  I thought, if I “got what I want” from someone (I won’t give details), would my own attitude and my own future change?  Would I be more open to certain interactions and changes than I am now, maybe even permanently?  I was a jarring thought.  Stephen King once wrote, “Give me what I want and I’ll go away”  (“Storm of the Century”).  I change that to “Give me what I want and I’ll love everybody else.”  Oh, I’m not sure it computes.

The official site (Focus Features and Film4) is here

This movie has nothing to do with a 1984 comedy film by Paul Mazursky, “Moscow on the Hudson” (Columbia), with Robin Williams. 

Pictures: Mine: Saratoga Spriungs, NY; near Route 9 and Hudson

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Coriolanus": TWC and BBC offer less known Shakespeare tragedy in a modern, war ravaed Balkan setting

Hollywood sometimes likes to take Shakespeare’s historical plays and recast them into modern, dystopic settings.

In 2011, Ralph Fiennes directed and starred as Caius Martius, given the cognomen of  (play and film name) Coriolanus who is banished by his own country and then bonds with former enemies to extract a violent revenge.

The modern film is shot in Serbia, and uses the urban and rural destruction of the long wars of the 1990s, and maybe some rough parallels to recent history. 

The “making of” extra on the Anchor Bay and Weinstein Company (and BBC)  DVD stresses that the “Rome” in the film could be any modern city after civil strife has destroyed it.

There is an interesting bit of moral politics at the beginning of the play (adapted by screenwriter John Logan). The plebeians, or “proles”, are denied food and grain because they haven’t served in the military, a play on more modern implementations of conscription.

The film played at the West End Cinema in Washington DC late in 2011. 

The adaptation (which must omit some of the play to fit into exactly two hours) would make interesting viewing for an AP English high school class, although some teachers might be put off by the gratuitous personal violence, especially at the end. 

The image of crossed rifles on the DVD (with fixed bayonets) seems to provide a metaphor for modern genocidal war. 

The official site is here.

The play inspired the Coriolan Overture, Op. 62, by Beethoven. Christian Thielemann conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in this video from late 2011, link  The overture ends quietly.  I had an Angel recording of this with Klemperer back in the 1960s.
This movie could be compared with the PBS film “Macbeth”, reviewed on the TV blog Jan. 30, 2012.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Unsolved Suburbia": "can do" teens in gay comedy (not quite as convincing as "Judas Kiss")

Ever since WB created its series “Smallville”, the idea of a super teen has held traction.  And sometimes that even gets into gay comedy.

In “Unsolved Suburbia”, the 2010 film by Cheetah Gonzalez, Marty (Johnny Lockhart) is the social renaissance-man, a high-achieving (grades, sports) high school  (apparently in “The Valley”)  senior getting close to 18, straight during the week and gay on weekends.  He has an appealing sidekick, long-haired Jake (Stephen Christopher).  Some one puts out a hit on friend Thomas’s lover, and Marty gets to play male Nancy Drew. In the meantime, danger comes close to home, as he tries to keep his boyfriend and girlfriend from finding out about each other.

The film has a goofy background, where high school students seem to consort with teachers and sports coaches in a way that in the real world would get the teachers thrown in jail. (In California, the age of consent is 18).

The film also takes us into Black and White to suggest a fracturing of reality.  At the end, we’re not sure what planet Marty is on.  The film has a bit of “Judas Kiss” (June 4, 2011) effect, with likable characters (some of whom can "do everything") and layers, but it seems off-hand, and the acting and speech sounds forced, as if the film had been first acted in Spanish and re-recorded or dubbed  (a lot of mid-section dialogue is in Spanish).  In California and Texas, it's common for "European-looking" people to come from ethnically Hispanic backgrounds and speak Spanish first.  

The film is supposed to have a sequel, “Unsolved Summer Vacation”.

The film comes from Ariztical and Hollywoodland Entertainment.  The official site is here

Need most gay comedy be this flippant?

Monday, January 14, 2013

"A Royal Affair": a three-way love triangle, and period piece -- and a debt ceiling debate

The period piece “A Royal Affair” by Nikolaj Arcel (“En kongelig affaere” in Danish) appeared about the same time as “Anna Karenina” and "Lincoln") and was at first overshadowed by the more obvious offerings.  But now “A Royal Affair” has an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film, and comes out as more compelling than (at least) "Anna".  Magnolia Pictures is to be praised for picking it up (from Zentropa) for US distribution.

The film, while depicting little known Danish history, gives us a major perspective on the Enlightenment and the spread of progressive thinking (as with Rousseau) in Europe.

In the 1760s, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) sails from England to Copenhagen to satisfy and arranged marriage with Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard).  As soon as she meets him, outdoors, peeking behind a tree, she sees that he is a bit of a fool.  He grunts and speaks staccato. 

There’s an important hint just before she meets him. She asks when her books will arrive and is told that her books will undergo Danish censorship and some will get shipped back to England.  “We’ll find something else for you to read.”  It’s interesting how the royal courts feared new ideas even in print.

Fulfilling royal duties in the Queen’s chamber is a bit of a challenge for them both, but somehow a male baby does result.  That’s what marriage meant in those days.

Enter the third vertex on a potential love triangle, the physician from Germany Johann Fredierick Struensee  (Mads Mikkelsen), supposedly to attend to the unpredictable Christian, who is still seen as a buffoon and a bit mad.  Caroline is swept off her feet by this older, wiser strong man (probably about 40).  The illicit affair, leading to the tragedy at the end of the film, is inevitable.  And there will be illegitimate babies.

Struensee has also had published some progressive writings regarding social reform – but anonymously.  In those days, you kept a low profile if you had “ideas”. 

But it is the relationship between Struensee and Christian that completes the triangle.  At times, there are hints of bisexuality, making some of the film a bit like a soap opera (one thinks of “Will and Sonny” on “Days of our Lives”, or maybe “Nolan and Marco” on “Revenge”).  Christian looks up to the older man and takes hints from the doctor on progressive reforms, including cleaner streets, orphanages, and smallpox  vaccinations for all.  Christian starts to become more likeable himself, and actually can sometimes fight off his own Court, able to fire people.  As boyish as he looks, there’s a bath scene where – yes – he actually has chest hair (sorry, Johann doesn’t get into the bath with him, but almost). 

The Court is constantly reminding Christian that it has no money.  So Christian orders that pensions for the Court be “means tested” to pay for some of his reforms.  (Sounds like today’s debate on Social Security, Medicare, and the debt ceiling?)  Christian gradually turns over power to the doctor.  But when soldiers in the guard don’t get paid on time (again, the debt ceiling) a major revolt starts, leading to the tragic but necessary end.

Christian’s biological son would return and become a good, progressive king. 

The official site from Magnolia is here

Caroline, by the way, plays the harpsichord or clavier (black and white keys reversed), old music that sounds like Scarlatti.

The film was shot in the Czech Republic, and has some scenes with hills and low mountains that may not match the geography of coastal, low-lying Denmark.
Here is the Wikipedia attribution link for Copenhagen picture.  I visited the city in July 1972 and got drunk for the first time in my life at the amusement park on some very strong beer.  Somehow this picture reminds me of "Smilla's Sense of Snow" (1997).  

I saw the film ("Royal Affair") in a lightly attended performance early Sunday at the AMC Shirlington, to leave time for the Golden Globes.  Ben Affkek did very well.  The website for the party is still hanging this morning, 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Amour" explores the moral landscapes of eldercare

The film “Amour” (“Loeve”), by Micahel Haneke (“The White Ribbon”)  distills out moral concerns with eldercare about as much as any screenwriter could image.

The film opens with the Paris police forcing their way into the ritzy apartment of two retired music teachers.  They have to open the windows to get rid of stench.  You see an elderly woman, lying, departed on a bed.  My own mother looked like that in the funeral home the next day after she passed away (in 2010).

As the main story starts, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are attending a concert where one of Geroges’s students (Alexandre Tharaud) plays (the piece is a Busoni transcription of a Bach chorale). They come home and find that their apartment was broken into, although little seems to be taken.

The next morning, the elderly couple is having breakfast, and Anne suddenly becomes mute, sitting up, but not answering Georges.  We see all the details of French living, down to the boiled eggs.  She snaps out of it.  But it soon happens again. She begs never to be taken to a hospital or institution, but she very quickly declines.   Forty minutes into the film, Georges is having to care for her most intimate needs. Georges does say that the same thing could have happened to him. 

The student pays a visit and plays a Beethoven Bagatelle.  (I think that any one of several pianist friends of mine could have been cast for this part – just have to join SAG.)  George starts seeing visions of his wife as she was before, playing Schubert.  Soon, the couple’s daughter and son return for visits, reigniting all kinds of imaginable family tensions.
Georges hires nurses and caregivers – on his own, without an agency – and then one of them is just a bit rough on Anne, who by now is screaming every day in dementia.  That sets up a final irony as to how things will end.

There is a friendly pigeon that keeps flying into the apartment, wanting companionship.  Even the bird figures into how it ends.

When my mother declined, starting in 2007, I eventually hired caregivers, from an agency, who went round the clock before the end.  She spent the last four days of her life in a hospice, before passing away in December 2010.  Perhaps I sound cowardly for not doing more “hands on” myself.  I had not volunteered to marry anyone and say “till death do us part” – and I found out that this can be expected of family, “anyway”.

The link for the film (Sony Pictures Classics) is here

It is very unusual for a foreign language film (French – the director is German) to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  The film won the Gold Prize at Cannes.  

I saw this film before a sold-out audience Saturday evening (smaller auditorium) at Landmark E-Street in Washington DC.

Picture: Capital Hospice in Arlington VA, formerly Woodlawn Elementary School.  My mother passed away at this hospice on Dec. 14, 2010.  I attended Woodlawn 1949-1955 as a boy.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Zero Dark Thirty": do CIA agents really live like soldiers?

Zero Dark Thirty” (directed by Kathryn Bigelow [“Strange Days”; “The Hurt Locker”] and written by Mark Boal)) opened in general release (outside NY amd LA) today, and I saw if Friday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA, in a half-full weekday large auditorium.  The film is shot in standard aspect (1.81:1), probably to take advantage of the many closeups, and it fits well on the large curved screen set up to be filled completely.  The photography is very sharp, almost like VistaVision (is it 70 mm?), and the night mountain visuals of the helicopters approaching Osama bin Laden’s compound are truly unearthly.  Most of the middle Eastern scenes were actually shot in Jordan, according to the credits.
The film really is the story of the young female CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain).  What struck me as perhaps improbable is the idea that an intelligence analyst, working with computers, data, photographs and reports, would actually spend most of her time in the field, actually working with interrogators, exposed to physical danger almost like military personnel.  I was also surprised to see so much of the interrogation done by civilians, starting out with Dan (Jason Clarke, who is appropriately mean and “barren”).  I have, having grown up and lived around Washington for much of my life, personally known a few people who work(ed) for the CIA, and I have the distinct impression that, “this is not how it is.”  Yes, station chiefs do recruit locals to do their spying.  But most of the work is far from the scene.  Had I grown up in a socially more progressive climate (than it was in the 50s and 60s) I think I would have made a good analyst and found satisfaction from doing so.  But, no, I could not have handled the manipulation of the interrogations.

The film does indeed start with a blank screen recreating some of the morning of 9/11 (another reason that the Washington DC area should have gotten the film on Dec. 21, the same time as NY). Soon we’re in an interrogation chamber with Dan and Maya.  It’s brutal.  At one point, Dan says he’ll let a female see the subject’s “junk”.  I have no opinion on whether this really happened; we know that McCain and some conservative senators have protested the rendition scenes (there is some waterboarding).  There is no nice young man like Jake Gyllenhaal ruminating about watching his “first torture” (“Extreme Renditions”). Note: Coin Powell has told "Meet the Press" that the US military has not used waterboarding since 2003 (the year of the opening "torture" sequence). 

The movie has Maya (and Dan) jumping back and forth all over the world in unbelievable and untraceable fashion.   (She even visits Area 51 near Las Vegas.) Eventually, they zero in on a particular courier (by "abusing" another prisoner and then backing off slightly).  Maya reasons that Osama bin Laden would hide in a city so that he could direct attacks.  Gradually, well-coordinated ground spying pins Osama bin Laden down to the well-known and crude compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The last forty minutes of the film recreate the actual raid in stunning detail.  There is no attempt to show the activities within the White House and State Department that weekend, as they are really not part of the story. The raid, though, is like a pawn storm in a chess game.  Osama bin Laden has been checkmated just before he is shot.  He had indeed "castled" into the attack.  

I wanted to note the performance of Chris Pratt, as Justin from DEVGRU.  At first glance, he looks too much like Dan, until you look more closely.  Pratt played “Bright” in the WB series “Everwood” and Fox’s “The O.C.” as well as “Moneyball”.  I met Chris Pratt in August 2005 at a public gathering with other Everwood cast members (notably Gregory Smith) at the King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia. 

I do remember the day of Osama bin Laden’s death and President Obama’s announcement.  I had heard through the grapevine that something was going on by Saturday morning.  But when there were NATO attacks in Libya, I thought that Gadhafy would be assassinated, and that Obama’s announcement would be about him.  It was Jeffrey Toobin on CNN who told us that the president would indeed talk about bin Laden.  It is possible that domestic leaks, even among ordinary bloggers without clearances, could compromise an operation like this.  People can put “two and two together” all too easily.

The ZDT  film bears comparison to the book “No Easy Day” by Mark Owen (Matt Bissonnette), in which the CIA analyst is called Jenny (as if from “Swiss Family Robinson”), Oct. 9, 2012 on the Books blog.  It also should be compared to The Weinstein Company’s cable TV film  “Seal Team 6: The Raid on Osama bin Laden” that was aired on National Geographic Channel Nov. 4, 2012 (and reviewed on my “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” or “cf” blog; follow the Blogger profile).  But this subject matter needs the big screen to be effective.  

The official site for ZDT is here. The film, from Annapurna Pictures (link), is distributed by Columbia (logo)  ), which is using its normal Hollywood brand, rather than Sony Pictures Classics (which could make sense since the “style” of filmmaking is very much that of large-scale independent film).
It’s again interesting to compare this film’s treatment of CIA work to my own in my novel script “Angels’ Brothers”.  I have my main character (who gets called back to intelligence from a job as a history teacher after leaving military intelligence) essentially hunting down the source of a bizarre disease that may have come from “the beyond” (a touch of “Andromeda” maybe); most people don’t know he works for the CIA, and he discovers the “secrets” in a “David and Jonathan” relationship with a precocious college student, in a way that “threatens” his marriage.  It’s all subtle;  there are no guns, no car chases, no recruiting, no renditions. In fact, there are only two overseas trips in all the globe-trotting.  Instead, most of the intelligence turns out to be domestic, to go beneath a society that is falling apart, while the main characters network to keep themselves above the fray.  And, yes, there will be aliens. 

The CIA picture (of its wall honoring those who have passed in service) is in the public domain, from the Wikipedia article on the agency. 

The best account I can find of the Senate inquiry into the torture scenes appears Jan. 3 in the Los Angeles Times, by Ken Delanian and Steven Zeitchik, here. Contrary to urban legends and rumors, Sony does not appear to have made any cuts or changes because of the controversy.  Sony says it delayed worldwide release until Jan. 11 to avoid too much competition (with "Miserables" ant others) Christmas week, and to write down marketing expenses in 2013.

The feature at Angelika was preceded with a three minute short film from Hulu, "The Invisible Bicycle Helmet" (Frederick Gerkin), about an innovation from a young woman in Germany about a bicycle helmet that acts like an air bag. There were only two previews (thankfully). ZDK runs 157 minutes.

Update: May 11, 2015

Peter Bergen discusses Seymour Hirsch's claims about the hit on OBL here

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"GasHole" examines the history of oil production, resistance to alternative

GasHole” (spelled as one word) is a 2010 documentary, directed by   Scott Roberts and  Jeremy Wagener, tracing the history of oil production and the apparent attempts by the oil industry to sabotage alternative fuels.

A central idea in the movie is the Hubbert Peak Oil Theory (wiki article and admire the math ) which maintains that domestic oil production in the United States might have peaked around 1970 (just when I started working) and for the whole planet, around 2000-2010. 
But interest in alternative fuels started early, after WWII, in the late 1940s, with ideas like the water injected carburetor   There was a patent bought  near Modesto CA  Shell.  A heavy car called the Buick Roadmaster in 1947 was said to get tremendous mileage.  But the oil companies quashed the research or hid it.  There was also a 1947 Studebaker supposedly getting 150 miles per gallomn. A book describing the engine went out of print and now is  not even in the Library of Congress (and all books are there, including mine, as I learned in 1997).  The film gives accounts of a couple of researchers found murdered in the Mojave Desert.
Americans next got concerned about improving gas mileage after the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, with the gas lines and even-odd rationing of early 1974, leading politicians to promise energy independence.  Speeches by Nixon (November 1973, just as Watergate heated up), Ford, and Carter on the subject are excerpted.  (I remember watching the Nixon speech in a motel while on a work trip with Univac.) 

But the public would lose interest after the shortages passed (there would be another brief crisis in 1979 because of Iran). 

The film punctuates itself with some engineering demonstrations on high mileage could work, but older designs, before the electric car.  But the hydrogen car is shown at the end.

The whole concept of peak oil is somewhat challenged by a sudden domestic energy book in the US due to Marcellus Shale, leading to enormous natural gas production (the Pickens Plan) and new ways to make oil. The US may be a net oil exporter by 2030.  The new challenge is to produce and use the fuel without adding to carbon emissions and climate change.  This idea is already explored by the recent drama “Promise Land” (review here, Jan. 2, 2013).

The official site for the (“GasHole”) film (Cinema Libre) is here.

This film can be rented on YouTube for $2.99 or from Netflix instant replay.

The film should be compared to the CNN TV documentary “We Were Warned” ("Films on major challenges to freedom"  blog, June 2, 2007).
Other films on this blog are “Fuel” (Sept. 19, 2009), and “Crude: The Real Price of Oil” (Oct. 25, 2009), a short “Driving Greener” (June 24, 2008).  Also, there is “A Crude Awakening” (2007, Telepool, directed by Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack), a film making dire, if outdated predictions, on my “doaskdotell” site (old review). 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

"The SkinNY": new gay ethnic comedy from Patrik Ian-Polk, with a warning at the end

The best aspects of the new gay comedy by Patrik-Ian Polk, “The Skinny” (that is “The Skim NY”) is the tutorial on HIV prevention near the end, and the plentiful disco music, sounding 80s-ish, but composed by the director himself.

Four young black gay men (Jussie Smollett, Anthony Bureell as Kyle (“the thin man”), Blake Young-Fountain and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman)  and their lesbian best friend (Jennia Fredrique) get together in for a wild weekend in New York City a year after their graduation from politically correct Brown University (remember those speech codes?) 

The characters are a bit silly.  One of them says he deletes his Facebook profile and starts over when he has a new boyfriend.  If I did something like that, I’d never publish (or accomplish) anything. 

Gradually, stuff happens, and they wind up going to GMHC to get counseled on HIV prevention, and to face the question as to whether to take retroviral prophylaxis given the uncertainty.  By now we’re in the territory of gay soap opera.

I wasn’t aware that Harlem has its own gay pride march and festival.
The film was produced with Logo and the DVD is available from Breaking Glass Pictures (as of 12/11/2012). 

I got a review copy, which did not have the extras and seemed to lack details in some of the less well-lit scenes.  I hope the commercial copies have that technical issue fixed. 

I suspect some of the music from this film will show up on disco floors soon.

The official site is here
Apparently the film premiered in festivals in NYV in June 2012.  

Last two pictures: Mine, NYC, near Yankee Stadium, subway, April 2010.