Sunday, March 31, 2013

"The Host": Meyer explores "multiple identities" or soul changes

Does it make sense for one body to inhabit two more souls?  I’m not talking about schizophrenia or split personalities or “voices” that are explainable medically. 
Stephenie Meyer’s “new” novel and Andrew Niccol’s 2-hour slow-paced sci-fi film, “The Host”, pose that question. Aliens have conquered Earth, and displaced most earthling’s souls with their own.  (This may evoke "Invasion of the Body Snatchers IV", but the mood and storytelling concept are totally different.) They say they can build a perfect world of cooperation and sustainability.  Actually, their ideology sounds like Communism, of the Maoist or maybe even North Korean kind.  (Yes, this movie is a kind of “Red Dawn IV”.)  The problem with extreme socialism is that, when you try to enforce the rules (“everyone pays his dues”) and create a classless, moneyless society (stores in the new world order don’t have brands or even credit cards or cash registers), you break the rules yourself.  Only criminals can eliminate other criminals without adding to sin.  Meyer seems in touch with that.
There are a few refusniks, of rebels holed up – this time in New Mexico caves apparently left by the Chaco Culture (which slowly dismantled its own civilization over a few hundred years). They live underground, and have developed a technology to grow food out of sight. (Hint: the same concept occurs in the 1969 western “MacKenna’s Gold”.  Here, there’s no “old turkey buzzard”.)
One of the young women, Melanie (like in “Gone with the Wind”, played by Saorsie Ronan) didn’t make the complete transition from Wanda.  Her old self talks to her (like a schizophrenic’s voices).  Much of the plot concerns her “escape” back to the rebels, and how “love” (for a smooth-skinned Jared, played by Max Irons) might make the switch complete. 
In my own novel “Angel’s Brother”), the “victims” (so to speal) of a bizarre neurological retroviral infection sometimes find their souls living inside an angel – as they “tune on”, like for a dream, every so often, and learn the angel’s background, while the angel learns those.  If the “victim” doesn’t die, he might “convert” partially (that sounds like the concept Meyer has, so I guess I gave away too much in previous blogs).  Such  a “special” (or exceptional) patient might experience having two bodies, switching back and forth through time-warps within his body (there’s a hint of that concept in this movie in the way the aliens can heal, and also in the way the eyes look).  Just don’t give away too much in blogs.  Oh, no matter. Ideas can’t be copyrighted anyway.
There’s also an interesting visual concept of what a soul looks like when it leaves – an idea we saw in the 1984 film “Dune”.  It also reminds me of an image in the book “Proof of Heaven” (books blog, March 30).  The movie gets its astronomy right – it really can take years for souls to reach other planets, even at the speed of light.  (But maybe consciousness can move faster than light, inside a mini black hole, transmitted inside a bizarre retrovirus --- sorry, that’s my idea).

There's also another idea, not explored here:  what would it have been like for the World going through the invasion?  How quickly would it take people to understand what was happening?  That is a problem with some of these "After Earth" (or "Resident Evil") scenarios -- the cataclysm that set up the story seems artificial unless really explained (the same problem plagues NBC's series "Revolution").  My own novel takes place "while it happens".  
The official site from Open Road is here

Not many people attended this movie at Regal Easter Sunday afternoon.  The scenery – whether around Shiprock in New Mexico or in Louisiana (the nations’ new film center) is breathtaking. (Remember Devil's Tower, from CE III?)

Wikipedia attribution link for Shiprock picture. I visited the area in May 1984 (after going to Lama near Taos). 
Because of some themes in my own writing, this film made more sense to me than it did many reviewers.  But the story still seemed to have some loose ends or holes.  In this sort of writing, they are hard to plug. 

The end credits had some interesting art work of possible extrasolar planets.  Many would be tidally locked.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Admission" is a somewhat contrived comedy about Ivy League admissions, with a likable kid "hero"

The best experience in the romantic comedy “Admission” comes from the brilliant but eclectic high school student Jeremiah (Nat Wolff, who resembles Max Manghella), at an alternative school on a New Hampshire.  He talks logically and gives a great ventriloquist puppet show, backing up his application to Princeton.

The rest of the plot seems, while touching, a bit contrived.  Tina Fey (SNL) plays Portia, a university admissions placement officer, working for the Dean played by Wallace Shawn (“My Dinner with Andre”).  When she makes a recruiting trip to the new age farm run by John Pressman (Paul Rudd), she meets the mysterious but likeable and articulate farmboy, but is confronted by the possibility that he is the kid she gave up for adoption after “mistake” early in her life.

John is a single father figure, having adopted a smart boy from Uganda (no mention of Uganda’s anti-gay problem). He’s also planning to work on a water project in Ecuador (a distant relative in my own family, a recent engineering graduate, did the same in Guatemala, and Matt Damon has been active in supporting these efforts). 

So there are a lot of feel-good plot elements, not necessarily connected logically enough to be compelling – yet the writing follows the formulaic techniques for creating rooting interest and urgency. Will the boy get in to Princeton?  Will Portia and John keep their integrity in the process?  Will the University?

The movie was actually filmed in New York State, rather than around Princeton.  I like to see films made where they are supposed to happen.  I’ve known only one Princeton student, back in the 60s; he was in architecture.  However, I lived near Princeton when I worked for RCA in 1970-1071 and visited the campus frequently.  Remember Nassau Street and Buxton’s? 

I saw this film before a fair crowd on Saturday afternoon at a Regal in Arlington Va.
The official Facebook is here.  McAfee Advisor gave me red warnings consistently for the Focus Features site for the film; don’t know why, maybe a false alarm.  However, Firefox search shows green ratings from all rating companies including McAfee for the entire Focus site. 

Pictures are mine, from spring of 2010.  Quiz: which picture is not from Princeton?  Where is it?

Update: Check review of Arvin Vohra's book "Lies, Damned Lies and College Admissions", Book Review blog, April 19, 2013.  

Friday, March 29, 2013

"The Beautiful Truth": A teenager and his father document the anti-cancer diet of Max Gerson

The Beautiful Truth” (2008, Cinema Libre)  is quite a touching documentary about the relationship between nutrition and cancer, made by a father (Steve Kroschel) and 15 year old son Garrett Kroschel.    The family lives in Alaska on an animal reserve.  When Garrett’s mother dies, he withdraws, and his father decides to home school him, at least partially.  A major assignment is a “book report” on a work by Max Gerson, claiming that diet can cure cancer.
Garrett travels to many locations in the US and Mexico, interviewing people in various movements that oppose silver in dental fillings, vaccines, and processed foods.  Garrett even has his own silver filling removed.   He travels to a cancer clinic in Mexico and meets patients who are recovering despite stopping chemotherapy.  The film presents an odd theory that the use of fluoride in dental treatment was related to the military complex producing nuclear weapons, and I’m not sure I got the connection.

The film presents some biographical material on both Max Gerson (who died in 1959, possibly of arsenic poisoning, after his first book manuscript had been stolen and he had to rewrite his book), and daughter Charlotte.
The film criticizes the mainstream cancer establishment, including the American Cancer Society (one of the charities benefitting from donations from my mother’s trust), as a front for the “radiation and chemotherapy” industry.
In places, the full-screen film offers stunning scenery, as the boy flies over Alaskan glaciers in a private plane At the end, he returns home to his rural environment, and meets a neighbor who had lost both legs to diabetes.
The film also describes some odd treatments, such as coffee enema therapy.
The film has a poetic epilogue, where aphorisms of Gerson are quoted.  When one dies, it doesn’t matter what one has or learned; it matters what one taught.  It doesn’t matter who many people he knew, it matters how many people will miss him.  It is not fame or accomplishment that matters, but “significance”. 
 The official site (from Gerson Media) is here

I watched it on Netflix instant play, but it is available now free on YouTube.
Wikipedia attribution link for Denali National Park (I made a visit by private plane in 1980), here

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Bob's New Suit": a "narrative" family comedy seen from the viewpoint of a wardrobe item, set in the Valley, of course

Bob’s New Suit”, a new comedy by Alan Howard, tells the story of a working-class “Vallye” family through the eyes of a suit that its nicest character acquires for a wedding.  Yup.  Ever wondered what your clothes would say if they could talk?
Actually, the comedy “What Happens Next?” (Dec. 31, 2012) also started out in a walk-in closet.  And I sense that this new film is familiar, like I might have heard of the script somewhere, from a screenwriting group when I lived in Minneapolis or from a class here in Arlington. 
This is also a film where “the kids are all right” but the grown-ups aren’t.
Bob (Hunter Bodine), the suit-wearer, a gardener and handyman, is a strong enough young man to hold the rest of his family together.  He’ll have to be a super person to get through all this.  He’s straight, and he needs Jenny (Hayley DuMond and maybe named after a corresponding character in “Swiss Family Robinson”) to see him through the changes that happen to his family when his mysterious dad Buster (John Bennett Perry_, a laid-off aerospace engineer, loses it.  His tomboyish sister (Shay Astar) announces that she is trangender and will become a man.  Mom (Suzi Bodine) can’t tale what Stephanie is doing to the family (starting with his ailing dad, an idea that I faced mysef decades ago), until she has to face that it all came down from Mom and Dad, as deeper family secrets unravel.  Only the suit knows all.  Is this what English author Thomas Carlyle wanted with “Sartor Resartus”?  Check the plot of Carlyle’s novel and “new kind of book”  on Wikipedia (remember your English lit?): it seems to inspire this film. Stephanie does gradually become Steve and dates Marlena (no connection to the character in "Days"), Jenny Shimizu.  Another family member, and scammer, is played clearly by Charlie Babcock. 
The film looks like it was shot largely shot “in the Valley”; it looks like the area not too far from the (“traffic jam”) 405 and 101; I was there last May.  Watching the film, I felt like I could just drive back to the Angelino Hotel and enjoy the view from the roof. 
The Facebook site is here. The DVD (from  Breaking Glass Pictures, and Rowan) will be available on April 2, 2013.  

This film also struck me as a take-off on Robert Altman’s style of filmmaking (“Short Cuts”), or even a miniature “Magnolia” (Paul Thomas Anderson).  

The DVD contains three interviews. I received a screener from the distributor.   Michal Silverblatt ("The Reader", or The Suit talking) interviews the director Howard, who compares his work to that of Alfred Hitchcock ("Marnie" and even the switched identities of "Vertigo"), a mood analogy that I don't see,  He compares himself to George Cukor, John Ford (continuity), and Jacques Demy.  Then Howard interviews Ashtar (a very feminine actress in real life) for 20 minutes, and then Suzi Bodine, about acting with her son. 

Picture: Mine, from the Angelino on the 405, roof bar-restaurant, at breakfast; below, another view. Makes you want to be their right now. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Once Upon a Mattress": the little musical (good to watch on the day that SCOTUS debates "marriage")

In a year that gives so much attention to the big musicals (“Book of Mormon” is due for the screen in 2015 or so), it’s good to look at a few of the smaller ones. 
Once Upon a Mattress” last  entered film as a made-for-TV film for Disney in 2005, directed by Kathleen Marshall. (There are 1964 and 1972 versions.)  It is based upon the off-Broadway 1959 musical by that name (it later went to Broadway) with music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Marshall Baher, based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, “The Princess and the Pea” (and maybe that can be a chickpea, as in “Cold Souls”).

The musical is very popular in high school productions. 

The plot seems ironic when viewed on a day when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about gay marriage, because this is a musical comedy about the “meaning” of marriage.

The story takes place in a medieval or fantasy kingdom, which on the film seems to be rendered in GCI, to look like a set of a castle with a little outdoor space for gallantry.  The colors in the film are quite garish, using the same film hue technique as “Oz” (March 16).

In the story, a bossy Queen Aggravain (Carol Burnett) insists on finding only the most perfect bridge for her homely son princePrince Dauntless (Dennis O’Hare).  Probably most school and community productions choose a relatively good looking person for the role, but the musical is much funnier if the leading man is quite homely and ordinary.  Also, no other marriages in the kingdom can occur until a perfect bridge is found for this almost-gay prince.  That could definitely cause a “demographic winter in the kingdom (to the delight of the religious right). 
But a particular young knight Sir Harry (Matthew Morrison, who is and should be handsome) finds his girlfriend Larken  (Zooey Deschanel) is pregnant.  He can only get married if he can find a bride for Dauntless.  That will be a rather mannish girl Winnifred the Woebegone (Tracey Uhlmann) . 

The Queen sets up tests for the princess, including an exhausting ball, and a particular enactment of the wedding chamber where the bed is covered with twenty mattresses,  which a chickpea at the bottom, to see if the princess is “senstivie” (feminine) enough to carry out her duties. Just as in "Twin Peaks", there is some "warm milk" (but not "skim milk").  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"The Holy Quaternity" or "4Some": two couples squatting on a resort after a hurricance; they mix, and the kids aren't OK

4Some” (or “The Holy Quaternity”, or, in Czech, “Svata Ctverice”), a little 80 minute comedy by Hrejebk, may be a modern Slovak  answer to “The Ice Storm” or even “Bob, Carol. Ted and Alice”. 
Marie and Vitek, and Dita and Ondra, share a house near Prague and the men work together (always around big electric power stations).  When one has some lottery winnings, they go an island in the Caribbean for a “vacation”.   There is some discussion of the idea that much of the previous undesirable content of the island had been wiped out in a hurricane. The two couples don’t have any moral scruples about sharing their love for each other in all directions – they don’t believe in the marital norm of exclusivity (so much a topic of today’s social debate).  But this time, when they get back home (to a central European winter), the kids may not be all right after all.
There’s a nice sound track, that uses the Mozart Gloria near the end.
The setup reminds me of my own family beach vacations when I was a child.  We always shared the same row house in Ocean City for a week in June, many years in a row.  No, none of the antics of the film happened with us.  One year (1950) I got the measles and we had to come home early.
The official site is here. Strand Releasing has announced a DVD release date of April 16. The review was done from a screener private Vimeo link. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Noam Chomsky: a good subject for an "interview film"

In downtown Minneapolis in 2002 and 2003, when on the way to “The Saloon” on Saturday nights, I sometimes stopped at a newsstand store on Hennepin called “Shinders”.  My last visit (in 2011) seemed to indicate that it had closed, but I recall it because there were beaucoup books and rags there by Noam Chomsky and his theories about 9/11.
At the West End Cinema in Washington recently, in a casual conversation about another film, a patron called Chomsky a “liberal gatekeeper”.
The film “Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in our Times” (2002), by John Junkerman, presents Chomsky in some interviews and speeches in front of college audiences.  (I dreamed last night that I was giving a speech, like my 1998 Hamline University speech).  Chomsky was 73 when these interviews were filmed, ten years ago.

Can “interviews alone” make for interesting documentary film?  Sometimes, if the subject is compelling enough.  (Consider Sony’s “Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary”, also in 2002).
Chomsky says some startling things.  He sees street crime as a metaphor for war, and says that at some level there is probably always some legitimacy to it in terms of unresolved social inequality.  (That reminds me of the People’s Party of New Jersey back in the early 1970s, that saw violence as legitimate and saw middle class professionals like me as part of the enemy.)  This is obviously a dangerous and frightening notion, but some people see it as a predecessor to revolution.

But the main thrust of his remarks is to see the United States as the world’s main terror state, so George W. Bush’s “War on terror” had to be meaningless. 
He also claims that Palestinian suicide bombing in Israel did not start until 2001, despite Israel’s occupation and expropriation of lands in the West Bank ever since 1967.
The film originated from Japan and has this site.  But it was filmed
in the Bronx (at Fordham) and apparently distributed by First Run Features.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Abel's Field": A teenage boy, saddled with raising two little sisters, finds personal salvation from an ex-con

Some “Christian” films are actually good. “Abel’s Field”, by Gordie Kaakstad, follows the conventions of screenwriting (Aron Flasher) by piling on the crises for its likable teenage boy hero Seth (Samuel Davis), and makes you wonder how he can possibly solve all the problems thrown on his shoulders.
Seth, 17, is supposed to be a high school senior in a Texas town, and was kicked off the football team after he was overburdened with taking care of two seven year-old twin sisters after his deadbeat dad left.  A distant brother and oil worker Keith (Joe Ward) renounces any responsibility and says that therid dad created families and left them. Also Seth’s mother died tragically at 35, apparently from cancer.

Right off the bat, we have a common theme that doesn’t get discussed openly by policymakers.  People often have to raise children that they didn’t “choose” to have by performing heterosexual intercourse.  Older kids sometimes have to raise siblings, and sometimes (as in “Raising Helen”) people raise siblings’ kids after family tragedies.  Why don't we point out this explicit problem more often?  This ought to play much more explicitly into the “family values” debate than it usually does.  In fact, a few states have filial responsibility laws drawn up to require adults to support impoverished siblings as well as parents.

The story is set in motion by two other major characters.  Richard Dillard plays the authoritarian football coach Chalmers (“I am the football coach, so I am God”), and he still has the authority to get Seth expelled when he fights back after a football player bullies him in the hallways.  The film could go into why the bullying occurs but doesn’t.

Seth makes do by working as an auto mechanic (he’s very good at it) and in fast food.  To punish Seth, the coach makes him work in detention for an itinerant contractor Abel  (Kevin Sorbo), rebuilding the watering and drainage system for the football field before the fall homecoming game. 

Abel gradually becomes Seth’s spiritual mentor, but then we learn that Abel has a very troubled past himself, possibly criminal.

Seth has almost “perfect 10” looks (although we never see him without full shirt and trousers), and he seems too clean cut for the situation.  

Seth would be able to inherit his parents’ house, but is unable to pay the enormous past due liens on it, that his irresponsible dad ratcheted up, so he faces inevitable foreclosure (very easy under Texas law) and eviction (with his dependent little sisters).  There is a sequence where he is “tempted” into theft to get out of the problem, and that becomes a test for the screenwriter. 

Abel also has a book of drawings.  It’s rather curious that, at the end of the him, he doesn’t need his own artwork any more.  It’s about people?  That part I had trouble believing.
The official site is here. Notice Seth’s “looks”. 

The 2012 film is available on a rather inexpensive DVD, or can be rented on YouTube for $3.99.  The distributor is Sony Affirm and Sony TriStar.

The film was shot in Thall, Texas, a small town east of Austin.  I may have driven through it in November 2011, when I went to Bastrop to look at the wildfire damage. Even thought the film is new to distribution, the technology shown looks 80s-like; I don't recall seeing PC's or smart phones.  

Compare this film particularly to "The Conrad Boys: (Dec. 12, 2008). 

The DVD has a 23-minute short “Behind the Scenes” by Hussain Parina.  There is a sequence where the method of painting the multiple tattoos onto the bod of Kein Sorbo is demonstrated.  Kevin complains about the partial upper chest shaving. 
The director considers the film homage to the values of his own father. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"War Witch": a teenage girl tells her harrowing story of life among brutal Congo rebels

War Witch” (“Rebelle”), a French-Canadian film directed by Kim Nguyen, and nominated for best foreign-language film (French and native African) is tough to watch.
Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is talking to her unborn baby somewhere in the Congo as the film starts, warning him that when he comes out of her belly, she may not be able to love him the way a mother should.  We’ll find out at the end if she does. 
We then watch her story, of her being kidnapped at the age of 12, and forced to become a rebel fighter in the Congo. She is elevated to a “witch” because of her intuition about the enemy. The film shows this which ghostly characters made to look albino and static.  She meets an albino native who wants to marry her.  She makes him prove his manhood by finding a white rooster in the village.  The marriage results in the baby, but is short lived as she is taken back.
The brutality of the film is horrific – she is made to do unthinkable things, even as a child.  So she gets some revenge with, shall we say, an “implant” – something American soldiers found Vietnamese women did during the Vietnam war.

The film also shows living conditions in sub-Saharan Africa as absolutely gruesome.  I could not have survived this. 
The look of the film (and the culture) reminds one of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (July 9. 2012 here).
The official site is here.  The theatrical distribution in the US is being handled by Tribeca film (from the 2012 festival, which I attended but I did not see this film there).

I saw the film Saturday afternoon before a sold-out crowd in a small auditorium at the West End Cinema in Washington DC. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Olympus Has Fallen" is essentially "Red Dawn III"

The big “B movie” opening this weekend, “Olympus Has Fallen”, starts with a conventional but detailed prologue at Camp David in the Maryland Catoctin Mountains, right before Christmas.  At about 1200 feet elevation , they have a real snowstorm just before Christmas.  The Secret Service, led in part by Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) leads the entourage which has a horrible accident on icy roads.  Banning gets blamed with the first lady dies in the accident.

The “plot” of the movie, then, has a lot to do with the “opportunity Banning has to save the president (Aaron Eckhart) and indeed the whole country right after July 4, eighteen months later, after a North Korean mercenary terrorist attack on the White House.

You read right.  This movie is “Red Dawn III” (see my “cf disaster movies” blog Nov. 22, 2012 for this franchise) in practice.  It starts with a C130 that invades DC air space with unbelievable defense against missiles, shooting up the White House and surrounding area with a gattling gun. Then there is a ground attack, which captures the House and holds the president and all his staff hostages.  You know what the title of the movie means.  North Korean terrorist Tao-Woo (Keong Sim) is as mean as they come, and is on the verge of getting the US to blow up all of its own nuclear weapons on its own soil to destroy the county , through compromise of various security codes by this “home invasion” – preposterous to be sure, but maybe a telling lesson for ordinary home security.   There is some Marxist ideological talk about the evils of Wall Street and the need to bring everyone in the world equally low.

This movie doesn’t provide much or a “warning” because the plot really couldn’t happen.  What could be more likely would be local EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attacks with microwaves, or “radiation dispersion devices” or possibly bioterror.  One can imagine a scenario where any ideologically extreme group could try this to bring the country down, and that thought is scary.  Yes, Communism could still “try-catch”  it, and it’s conceivable that North Korea or Iran (maybe not so much the old Al Qaeda any more) could pull something.  In one of my novel manuscripts from the 1980s. “Red” infiltrators contaminate New York City, causing a mass evacuation when one of the main protagonists is in a bathhouse (this dates back to 1982, before AIDS was fully understood).   Early in my coming of age (in the early 1970s), I was exposed to some on the radical Left who wanted to plot such awful things out of their own indignation that some people could be richer than others  (maybe at the expense to others). This grim scenario has been possible for decades.
Morgan Freeman seems a bit kind as the Speaker of the House, officially in charge of the nation from the Pentagon bunker at 3 AM.  Breaking news points out that this is the first time the White House has fallen since the War of 1812.

Of course, the release of the movie this weekend is coincidentally timely, given North Korea's recent bellicose threats to annihilate Washington, and its cancellation of the armistice with the South.  A war with the South sounds like a real possibility.  Maybe there is something to the Domino Theory (that justified drafting me in 1968) after all. 
The official site (Filmdistrict and Millennium) is here

I saw this film in a large auditorium at Regal Cinemas in Arlington VA, before a moderate crowd at the early evening show.
The film is frantic in pacing, and sometimes seems almost silly. Compare it to “Zero Dark Thirty” which seems measured and real by comparison.
One other point. On 9/11, there were brief incorrect reports very early in the event that the Washington Monument had been struck, which happens in this film.  It is possible that, had Flight 93 not been downed by the passengers, that it could have hit the White House or Capitol, but both would have been evacuated.   The attackers might have done more harm toward decapitating the government (as Dick Cheney calls it) had they chosen these targets  before they hit the Pentagon, which was completely repaired physically within one year.  I’ve covered the “conspiracy theories” in other movie reviews.  

I never heard the White House called Olympus before.  As if it deserved to be named after a volcano on Mars. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Upside Down": Intriguing look at an unusual "dominion"; Sturgess looks like a hero

The indie sci-fi film “Upside Down” (I can’t spell the second word that way) by Juan Solanas is based on a premise that creates possibilities for storytelling but that doesn’t make much sense in physics.
Two earth sized planets are almost touching at one point.  The planets’ matter is “inverse” of one another, but that doesn’t mean it behaves like matter and anti-matter (or anti-particles).  The only consequence is that an inhabitant of one world “overheats” (like a car engine) if too long on the other world.  It’s possible to fly like superman between the two worlds, that are maybe about two miles apart at the closest point.

The setup causes political problems.  The “upper” world is rich, and because of the overheating danger, can maintain an absolute ban on travel among the two worlds, and keep the lower world impoverished.
Adam (Jim Sturgess plays the 30 year old adult) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) have dared the ban, crossing an “in ovo” boundary (to borrow from Clive Barker’s “Imajica”) as kids, leading to punishment for both.  Years later, Adam has developed his invention based on pink bee pollen, which can make people young and has anti-gravity properties.  He gets a “job” in the headquarters Trans World company, and the scenes of an immense office space with workers upside down (and even job interviews) is indeed engaging.

Suffice it to say, innovation turns out to be a panacea for the political problems, and Adam (with the help of a laid-off employee) deploys his invention.  One can say that the movie has a libertarian, Cato-like message .  Sturgess turns out to be an Ayn Rand-like hero, with a touch of Clark Kent.  Remember, he was good at math in “21”.

The official site (Millennium Films) is here. The film was shot in Quebec and France, with a lot of help from Warner Brothers.  

The concept of the “youth potion” was interesting to me.  In my own novel (“Angel’s Brother”), I have a hierarchy of beings, and explain how angels come to be.  If a young man is infected with a certain virus that encapsulates a microscopic black hole, he can get infused with energy that overcomes entropy and allows him immortality without necessarily needing to reproduce.  (This can sound like a world that doesn’t need women!)   But when older people are infected, they often develop bizarre (cutaneous) malignancies and die.  But some have their memories transferred to an angel, and can remain alive intemittenly forever in the consciousness of the angel (rather like experiencing a sequence of dreams).   The angel also learns everything that was in their “heart and soul” when they lived.  Some adults have an intermediate result and can share telepathic interchanges with the angels.

In this movie, the look (especially the Dubai-like skyscrapers) reminds one sometimes of similar effects in the dream sequences of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”. 

I saw this at the first show on a Thursday night at Landmark E Street, before a small crowd.   

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Let My People Go!": French and Finnish gay men play Moses

Let Me People Go!”, by Mikael Buch, mixes a lot of cultures in a situation comedy.  It starts in a pastel gingerbread house in a Finnish forest where Ruben (Nicholas Maury) lives with Teemu (Jarko Niemi).  
Ruben is French and Jewish and looks it, and Teemu is “Nordic”.  Ruben works as a mail letter carrier.  One day he delivers a package with a huge amount of cash.  After signing for it, the elderly recipient tries to get him to take it back.  He does, after a scuffl,e.   Teemu, a schoolteacher who seems pretty responsible (except in a scene in a forest dunbuggy)  kicks him out of the house, properly fearful of his lover’s foolishness.  But Ruben travels to France for Passover, and his luggage gets lost.
What follows is a series of family escapades, some gay, some straight, and some having to do with Jewish identity.  In one scene, Ruben asks if he can give up being Jewish.  No, you can’t.  There is some mention of the idea that the Jews have wronged Palestinians in order to re-establish their identity. 
In a comic finale, Ruben does get in trouble with the law, before Teemu (who speaks English and Finnish) comes to France to reunite with Ruben.  It sounds like comic opera.
The title of the film refers to embedded scenes from the Paramount film “The Ten Commandments”. 
There is a flashback of a little Jewish history where the screen compresses (from “Scope”) to standard aspect ratio, which does not work too well in a theater that already crops to shot 2.35:1. 
The site from Zeitgeist films is here.

I saw this film at the West End Cinema Wednesday night before a fair crowd, early show.
My favorite Finnish film is “Joki” (“The River”, 2001), several interlocking stories that circle around in time (the way “Pulp Fiction” does).  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"7 Below": One haunted house, more than one time zone

The film title “7 Below” (or “Seven Below”) suggests an outdoor vista of ice and snow, maybe a blizzard.  You hear that it’s about a group of strangers or acquaintances who get holed up in a haunted house in northern Minnesota during a a storm.
But actually the film (by Kevin Carraway) is shot in Goshen, Ohio (near Cincinnati) in summer, and the storm is a powerful front with power outages (candle light) and tornado watches.  You don’t get to see the twister.  Instead, the group is caught in a time warp, where the relive the scene of horrible murders committed there a century earlier by a disturbed boy (a timely theme, it seems, although this film seems to have been completed early in 2012).  Some of the characters learn they could be reincarnations, of course.  Actually, the idea of characters from different “time zones” interacting in the same space is potentially interesting.
The steadiest fellow is a medical student Adam (Mike Barr), who looks a little silly when he can’t identify a corpse early in the movie,  but then he carries the film, his own vulnerability the last to be exposed.
Luke Goss is the avenging angel Isaac, and Val Kilmer looks very over the hill as Bill McCormick.
The film is distributed by Arc Entertainment  (Alliance Atlantis) and the production company list includes Vtiamin A Films.  I guess nobody wants night blindness in a haunted house.
The official site is here

Monday, March 18, 2013

"White Elephant": a "poor" Catholic church in Argentina, in practice

The Argentinian film “White Elephant” (“Elefante Blanco”), by Pablo Treparo, in its look, calls to mind an 80s film, “The Mission”, that I saw at school a number of years ago when I was substitute teaching. 
The title refers to the ruins of a tuberculosis sanatorium built near Buenos Aries in the 1930s, abandoned and now the heart (and symbol) of a shantytown  (“Villa Virgin”) in the suburbs of what (in the 50s) encyclopedias had called “the most beautiful city in the world”.   We usually “get to see” the slums around Rio or Sao Paulo in the movies;  Argentina has tended to keep its poverty out of sight until now. Movies, as they say, take you to another world, and this one certainly does (and it is no “Emerald City”).

In this movie, the Marxists are rather the good buys, and the capitalist guerillas represent right-wing totalitarianism.  I don’t know where this fits into Argentinian history – which is a problem with getting an audience for a film like this in the U.S.

The intermediate backdrop of the film is the death of Father Joseph Mujica in 1974, from a right-wing gunman.  In modern times, a hippy-like Father Julian (Ricardo Darin) wants to use the stories of miracles performed by the deceased legendary Mujica to get political support for a new hospital. But entering the picture is his friend, a volatile French priest Nicolas (Jeremie Renier), who has left a difficult situation where an earlier village “mission” was destroyed by rogue outlaws.  He wants to engage the drug kingpins and convert them, whereas Julian fears that will make priests combatants.  Nicolas befriends an atheist young woman and social worker Luciana (Martina Gusman). 

Nicolas and Luciana actually rescue a kid who throws up in their car, but then they begin to fall in love.  Nicolas will not keep his vows of abstinence.  He is capable of temptation in more than one direction.
Julian (the “slum priest”) and Nicolas will be tested when the ghetto explodes near the end.  The scene reminded me of the conclusion of a 1966 film, “The Chase”. 

The film is interesting and timely now because an Argentinian has been crowned as Pope Francis, and we know that he is deeply committed to poverty, and to conservative social mores which of course challenge the celibate priesthood.

The solemn music score by Michael Nyman is brooding and quite effective.  The film is shot in full 2.35:1 and the realism of the poverty in the outdoor scenes is overwhelming.

A site from the Tiff Festival is here    
I received a private online link for a review screening.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Oz: The Great and Powerful": is wizardry a prerequisite for greatness? Stay in the Emerald Hilton

From a filmmaking perspective, the most interesting part of the new remake fantasy “Oz: The Great and Powerful”, by Sam Raimi, in 3-D, from Disney, is the 40s-style opening in black and white, with a 4:3 old aspect ratio screen.  Carnival musician Oz (James Franco), with sidekick Finley (Zach Braff, who can do everything) entertains the masses on the Kansas plains.  He echoes “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist”.  He stirs controversy when he declines to cure a crippled girl with his magic sleight. In the scramble that follows, he gets picked up by a tornado (well done and transported to another planet, Oz. 
The screen shifts to color, and widens gradually to full Cinemascope, and it’s important to see this film in a theater that uses the entire screen surface for wide screen (otherwise the opening has to be cropped even more).  I saw it at the AMC Courthouse, remodeled with the reclining seats.

Oz has a geography, starting with the Emerald City, which looks like a green Dubai (or maybe a Hong Kong or even KCMO).  I wondered what a hotel room in one of the towers would be like?  Would there be Internet and Facebook?

Oz goes adventuring, and engages his characters: a monkey who looks like a small human with hairy arms and legs;  a doll with amputated lets who talks and moves around when Oz kindly glues her back together.  The ride inside soap bubbles, and eventually enlist an Army of farmers to fight the wicked witch. (It’s amazing what the farmers think their own skills contribute, toward solidarity.)  Michelle Williams is reasonably compelling as a girl friend in Oz.
The color (Deluxe) shows about the best use of hue that I have ever seen in film.

The official site is here.
“I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great man.”  To me, Braff would have filled that bill better than Franco.  Do you need to become a wizard to be a great man? A boyfriend asked that back in the 1970s.
I’ve seen most of the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” with Judy Garland, by Victor Flemming and Noel Langley, on reruns.  The film is notable for its early Technicolor, with its sepia black and white in the opening and close (the new film omits BW at the end.  The films are based on the 1901 children’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. 

Remember Oprah's Dr. Mehmet Oz, who talks about the importance of social connectivity for his heart patients.  You need to love somebody who loves you back.     

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Emperor" plots a bit with Post WWII history in Japan (and it does "plod")

Emperor”  is the second major “foreign” film this week (actually, from New Zealand) about life in an “occupied” country after surrender at the end of World War II.

In fact, the film begins with the shorts of Hiroshima’s atomic bombs, but it won’t go the course ‘Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (which came to William and Mary in the fall of 1961 my one semester there).

General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) has the job of stabilizing Japan and wants to run for president. He “hires” JAG General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) to investigate the role of Emperor Hirohito in any war crimes. 

The film shows some of the post war destruction to Tokyo, and offers some flashback where has a romance with a Japanese woman (Eriko Hatsune) about the time that Pearl Harbor was approaching.

The dramatic content of this historical film doesn’t seem particularly compelling. Fellers gradually develops evidence that Hirohito really did play a role in Japan’s willingness to surrender. Despite two nuclear detonations, Japan’s militarists still wanted to fight on.

Fellers looks at the emperor’s “library”, and notes that Japanese soldiers worshipped the emperor as a “god”.  That made them dedicated and loyal fighters, compared to Americans, so the script says.  Hirohito hardly looks like a “god” in the final “confrontation” however.
The official site is here. The film, directed by Peter Webber, is distributed by Roadside Attractions, often associated with Lionsgate.

I saw the late show Friday night in the large auditorium at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington, but the turnout was quite small.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

"We're Not Broke": big business lobbies away taxes

Remember how John Boehner, early in the debt ceiling debate in 2011, hinted that better-off social security recipients should accept means testing and turn it back, because “we’re broke. We don’t have the money”.
Well, a 2012 documentary by Victoria Bruce and Karen Hayes shows that we do have the money; “We’re Not Broke”, the film title says. Is this about shared sacrifice?  Or is it about a world that sees evading taxes as a way for richer people to "support families"?

The biggest part of the problem is that mainstream corporations can shelter than income from reasonable taxation.  The film maintains that offshore tax havens aren’t just the province of Internet hackers and counterfeiters.  Mainline US corporations do this all the time.  The film gets into an obscure discussion of “territorial taxation”, practice by many other countries. 

The film also presents the “Occupy” movement, including “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy DC”.  There is a scene of the Freedom Plaza demonstration in Washington DC in 2011.
It also presents attractive upper middle class young men helping organize and join in the demonstrations.

The film skims across the waves of the question whether our society is “everyone for himself” – the Michael Moore retort about “What’s in it for me”?  It doesn’t go down too far into the spiritual area (like Rick Warren’s “Purpose”). 

There is an interesting history of how Athens (the Greek City-State) justified taxation of its people.  With no Athens, there could be no personal wealth. 

The film also shows the collusion between corporate lobbyists and IRS tax executives, who often play miscal chairs in their own job market (sounds like "conflict of interest").  People "support families" by manipulating the tax system to exclude their own shareholders from taxation.  Small businesses, with moderate income consumers (and sometimes even without separate corporate structures) have no chance to protect themselves from higher taxes (despite GOP claims to the contrary).  What does the GOP really mean when it is so intransigent on any new revenue at all as part of political compromise? 

The official site (Paradigm and Roco Films) is here.
The film can be rented on YouTube for $2.99.   It is also available on Hulu and Netflix Instant Play. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Emmanuel's Gift": a boy fights for the disabled in Ghana; Oprah narrates

Oprah Winfrey narrates most of the 2005 documentary “Emmanuel’s Gift”, directed by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern. This film tells the story of a boy born in Ghana with a vestigial, deformed right leg and who went on to raise money for disabled people in the country with bicycle tours. ‘

In Ghana, 10% of the people are disabled, and the culture stigmatizes them, meaning that many wind up in the streets begging.  As a boy, Emmanuel  Yedoah left home to go to Accra to work shining shoes to raise money for his mother – filial responsibility or piety is very strong in these cultures – and became interested in cycling.  I was amazed that this is possible with only one leg.  Emmanuel took inspiration from an American athlete Jim MacLaran, who would be gravely injured in two separate cycling accidents. Emmanuel would eventually have surgery in the United States to remove the leg and be fitted with an effective prosthesis.

The last part of the film discusses the social and political climate in Ghana, remarkable in that it is considered one of the most democratic in Africa.  Emmanuel is able to raise funds and awareness to provide facilities and social respect for the disabled in some communities. 

Emmauel married in California and has one child, according to the end credits.

The official site is here. The film is distributed by First Look and produced by “Lookalike”.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Ghana.  
The film makes me consider how I can “hide” behind moral stigma in order not to feel more for people in his situation than I do. It can get personal.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Obselidia": A road trip into a simpler world of forgotten things, and a warning

Here is a little film where you need to introduce the tagline first.  “If the world is going to end tomorrow how will you live today?”  The film is “Obselidia”, by Diane Bell, and apparently a hit at Sundance in 2011. 
George (Australian Michael Piccirilli),  works in a public library and, typing by hand, working on an “encyclopedia of obsolete things”, which will force him to learn to become a huckster.  He works on a typewriter by hand (in a manner like Barton Fink), and sympathizes with people who can’t afford or don’t know how to use computers.   I actually remember the visit of an encyclopedia salesman to our home around 1951 when my parents bought me a World Book!  
George has discovered the writings of Lewis (Frank Taylor Hoyt), who predicts that global warming will make most of the world a desert even by 2020.  He meets an equally lonely movie projectionist Sophie (Gaynor Howe), and goes on a comic road trip to meet the guy in Death Valley.
George grows a bit.  He learns to drive.  He learns what it might be like to look after someone in an emergency.  The couple wanders a bit, going to an old opera performance, and then camps on the scientist’s “ranch”, which is filled with more knickknacks and “obselidia”.  They sleep together in a tent, platonically.
The couple has a conversation about having children.  George says he could have kids only if men could bear babies (“Children of Men” perhaps), but that means he is alone, not that he is gay.
I recently visited a museum in Frostburg, MD with a lot of “obsolete things”.  I recall what my own life was like, growing up in the 50s, in a suburban world controlled by my parents – yet it was a rich world, even without freedom as I know it today or even my own money.  I placed a lot of value on my classical record collection – with now obsolete technology (although many people stand by vinyl today), some composing by hand, and performing piano locally, sometimes my own music.  I had a taste of a little bit of celebrity but was competitive enough, given the times, to sustain it.

The DVD comes from Humble Films, and starts playing immediately, with no menu or individual scene access.  Technically the film looks good (some of the photography reminds me of “Zabriskie Point” [Nov. 19, 2011]) , but I wish more care were given to the DVD usability.    
The official site is here

The film can be rented on YouTube for $2.99.  I believe that it was available for Instant play for a while on Netflix but now the only other way to see it is to buy the DVD: it is not available for rent.  

For humor, check my main blog Feb. 23, 2013 for a posting about free content and the "library".  

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Time of my Life" ("To Always"); film from Belgium looks at voluntary euthanasia

Time of My Life” (in Dutch, “Tot Altijd”, which translates as “To Always” or “Until Forever”), is a new film by Nic Bakthazar, available from Strand Releasing in DVD on March 19.
The film tells the true story of Mario Verstraete  (Koon de Graeve), a young politician in Belgium who developed a particularly aggressive form of multiple sclerosis, and fought to have euthanasia legalized in Belgium.  He would be the first to pass away (at age 40) under the new law in 2002.  The film is narrated from the omniscient viewpoint of friend Thomas (Geert Van Rampleberg). 
He seems like a young man when he has his first symptoms, spotty vision loss.  He becomes physically dependent fairly quickly, being struck by a car in one scene.  He visits a physical therapist who recommends SM sessions in the gay male community. 

It’s clear that the idea of a law like this is disturbing to many people, who see it as a slippery slope leading to a society that does not place value on the lives of the disabled.   One couple compare this story with that of Terri Schiavo in Florida in the United States. Of course, it also reminds one of the activism of Jack Kevorkian in the 1990s, which resulted in a prison sentence. 
The US National Library of Medicine at NIH has a story on the passing of Mario and the publicity it attracted here.

In my own life, I’ve seen MS develop in women much more often than men.  I remember a tearful moment in a church service in Dallas in the early 1980s when a lay minister announced she had it. 
The official site is here.
I watch the film as a private video on Vimeo available to screeners.  The film is shot in full wide screen 2.35:1. The film is quite long for “docudramas” of this type, running slightly over two hours.  
There is some nice classical music in the background, including Ponchielli, one of the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss, and the Schubert Unfinished.  The close of the film uses the quiet conclusion to the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms.  The very last memorial scene, outdoors in the Flemish countryside, is quite moving.
The film could be compared to “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, reviewed Jan. 11, 2008, a French film about a man with locked-in syndrome.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Koch": documentary biogrpahy of New York City's feisty mayor

The Avalon Theater in Washington DC (a non-profit, continuing operations for a facility dating bac to 1923) is showing the chatty biographical documentary “Koch” (by Niels Barsky)  in its big auditorium, with fair attendance today (Sunday afternoon).  This has nothing to do with the controversial oil company (Friday’s pot), but, rather, New York City’s feisty mayor Ed Koch, who held office from 1978-1989 and recently passed away at 88.
I lived in New York City in the 1970s, and remember his New Year’s Day inauguration to start 1978, when he said ‘Come East”.  The City had fallen into despair with the financial crisis of 1957m and the famous New York Daily News headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead” (link) .
New York did get better quickly in the 1980s.  A friend, on my visit back from Texas in 1982, said, “actually New York is booming.”    Koch kept himself personally above the corruption of others, or he at least tried to.

He calls himself a "fiscal conservative" and a "social liberal".  The film says little about his terms in Congress from 1969-1977.  Koch actually wrote one time that he supported the idea of filial responsibility, that adult children should be held responsible for their parents.  (New York State, however, does not have a filial support law.)
Koch was a bachelor all his life, and actually teamed up with Bess Meyerson in the 1977 campaign to deflect “homo” character assassination from political opponents.  He refused to answer questions about sexual orientation, and said that politicians shouldn’t have to.  On the other hand, many feel that a politician’s “coming out” would help less fortunate LGBT people.  Some felt that his response to AIDS in New York City was underwhelming.  Late in the film, there is some graphic footage of PWA’s and ACT-UP demonstrations.  (See review of “How to Survie a Plague, June 24, 2012).

Koch was felt to have an uneven record with African-Americans.  He first supported and then tried to close a hospital in Harlem as part of New York's financial restructuring.  He does refer to himself as "white" and his Jewish background, while shown (in extended family events) doesn't seem to put him in a a "minority".

I believe Koch was still in office when the police scandal associated with the Central Park Five occurred in 1989 (see Dec. 15, 2012 posting).

The official site for the film (Zeitgeist) is here.
It is said that Ed Koch leaves behind the entire City of New York as his lineage.  Whenever he was in a plane landing back home, he felt like he owned the City as if it were “the Ring” (that is, Frodo's). 

By the way, I do remember those old subway tokens of the 1970s.  I was living in Dallas for most of the time if Koch's mayoralty;  I left NYC in early 1979, when things were still not good. 

"Lore": a gentile girl and her siblings explore a wasteland: Germany under occupation after WWII

I don’t recall seeing a collaboration between Australian and German filmmakers before. “Lore” is such an effort, but it comes across as almost following the prototype of a situational horror movie, where survivors have to deal with moral paradoxes in a wasteland created by others.

It’s 1945, at the Allies have partitioned Germany.  Lore (Saskia Rodensahl) is expected to protect and lead her younger siblings through homelessness, barter, and scavenging as her Nazi parents take leave, expecting to be brought down by the new authorities. 
The journey is grimy and grungy.  Northern European spring has never looked so ugly in the forest.  Death and maiming are everywhere.  You see a baby with bedbugs, and a young woman with mangled legs.  You think of del Tor’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”.  Lore meets a young concentration camp survivor, apparently a Jewish man (Kai Malina) who seems likeable enough (and less scathed than he  would have been).  While she feels drawn to him, she has difficulty overcoming the bigotry that her parents had installed in her.
What would have been more interesting would have been a view of life “before” the fall to the Americans or Russians (they’re moving between zones).  What was life like for gentiles who believed in Nazi ideology and saw an economy booming, until the Allies brought destruction to their own homes?  There is also opportunity (barely hinted at in the script) to point at the divisions that Germany will take as it is split between western values and Communism.
The idea of a film about navigating a wasteland is certainly not new. In my own 1969 novel manuscript “The Proles” I have my self-generated characters exploring a world after all-out nuclear war set in the 1980s.  In Stephen King’s mammoth novel  (and TV miniseries in the 1990s) “The Stand”, the heroes explore an America destroyed by a plague.  You want to know how it all came about.
The official site is here, from Transmission Films in Australia.  The US distributor is Music Box Films, and the director is Cate Shortland. The film is based on a novel  ("the Dark Room") by Rachel Seiffert.

I saw this late Saturday night at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington in a large auditorium in front of a small audience. 

Friday, March 08, 2013

"Greedy Lying" oil companies and lobbyists, and the denial of climate change and any inconvenient truths

Craig Scott Rosebraugh could lose his upper arm tattoos, but he’s produced a compelling, if heavy-handed attack on the one-sided nature of the energy lobby in denying climate change, for short term profits for a few more years.  That’s the gist of “Greedy Lying Bastards”  (remember another film whose title started with “Inglorius”?)  Is this real documentary, or propaganda?
The film particularly indicts Koch Industries and ExxonMobil  as the guilty companies, and Citizens United as the conservative lobby that even bullied the Supreme Court into overturning limits on corporate campaign contributions.  (Remember the film, “Hillary, the Movie”?)  He also blasts some respectable libertarian-oriented think tanks like the Cato Institute, which I have often supported.

The film also explains the psychology of arguing denial, by making overcoming doubt take energy (just as it takes with religious faith).  It also shows how the energy industry built up "argo-fake" lobbying organizations with other interests (like tobacco) to leverage the psychology of "doubt" with the public.  
Imagine your life if your career is to lobby for these companies or PAC’s.  You wouldn’t dare have blogs, Facebook profiles, twitter postings like mine, and you wouldn’t dare author books like mine, or make movies like this one.  You have to be one-sided to make enough money to provide for your family, to spread your genes.  I can’t bring myself to compete that way.
The other aspect of the film is very graphic footage of the effects of climate change (apparently) on families now.  Much of the film concerns the wildfires near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2012, and traces the losses of several families, and their odyssey through evacuation.  There is some footage near the end of “Hurricane” Sandy.  There are plenty of close-up shots of terrifying tornadoes, and a haboob in Phoenix. (He left out the 2012 derecho.)  And there is coverage of the failure of international negotiations (as in Copenhagen), and of the fate of island countries like Tuvalu.
The official site is here
I do think there is something lacking in just blaming corporate greed for climate change denial and the increasingly violent storms that seem to be happening.  There is also individual lifestyles, that seem not to need others as much as they used to.  Is that an argument for Amish values?  You wonder if everyone should be expected to be prepared to shelter others, because it could happen to anyone.  Will this become a new social requirement?   

There’s great quote from Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, where he talks about helping families rather than saving an abstract planet.  The film moves right back to the Colorado Springs fires.

A good question is how the insurance industry is responding to all these problems.

I saw this film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA at 8 PM, and there were only three people in the audience.  I thought it would do well.  I guess I should feel guilty because I own some ExxonMobil.  In fact, natural gas holdings paid for all of my aunt's eldercare until she passed away. 

See related film about Koch energy reviewed here Sept. 20, 2012.  

Thursday, March 07, 2013

"Cyrus": tell a terrifying crime story through "reality journalism"

Mark Vadik’s film “Cyrus: The Mind of a Serial Killer”  (2010) could be viewed as a curious exercise in layered storytelling through journalism.
A young woman Maria (Danielle Sabchez) and her young camera man interview an old codger Emmet (Lance Henriksen) in an old Midwestern house, about a serial killer Cyrus (Brian Kraus) who has disappeared after a spree in rural Michigan (near Niles).

Emmet tells a terrifying story, of a young man who brought his bride to a mystery farm, and went crazy when she wasn’t satisfied with her new lifestyle.  Pretty soon, Cyrus was into all kinds of unspeakable activities, the results of which he sold to diners in a nearby restaurant. 

As the film  progresses, it seems like a combination of “Motel Hell” and “Silence of the Lambs”.  The former of these two horror films was actually funny. Not this one.  Actually, it takes on elements of “Saw” and “Hostel”.  But in time, Maria has reason to wonder if there were not just one monster but two.  How could this old guy no so much and collect so many mementos?  In the end, the storytelling device seems a little artificial.

There is some interesting commentary, however, on what makes these criminals tick, and there is a little speech about some of them (including Dahmer, Gacy, Bundy and Manson) at the end. I think what is really needed is a documentary about rampages (Holmes, Lanza, etc).  

The film could pose questions about journalists shield laws and privileges, and when journalists have a legal and moral obligation to contact law enforcement.  For example, NBC News and Dateline have often worked with law enforcement to set up stings.  

It's also possible to get into the area of the risks journalists must take.  But that sort of seriousness about policy discussion is not the point of the film.  
The official site is here (for Anchor Bay).

Things roll in this movie.  It’s rather 80s-like. 

Pictures: south central Michigan (mine, from Aug. 2012).  

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

"Killer Joe": Matthew proves machismo by playing a rogue cop aka hitman

William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe” attracted controversy in 2012 in the arthouse circuit because of one particularly graphic scene near the end, where Matthew McConaughey’s character Joe (police officer and moonlighting hitman) demonstrates his machismo (which is necessary, given his smoothness) with a female character Sharla (Gina Gershon)w with the help of a particular prop, a fried chicken leg.  (In the trade world, this seven-minute sequence is called “The Chicken Scene”, although that’s not quite accurate; it will probably become a trivia question for Millionaire.)
Perhaps the film could have been used to promote Chick-fil-A,  Oh, I’m being sarcastic, of course.
All the characters in this black comedy are either dimwitted (Chris, the indebted drug dealer, played by a usually innocent Emile Hirsch) or despicable.  So when Chris hires Joe as a hit man to knock off his mom Adele (Julia Adams), for life insurance money, there are all kinds of complications and “terms of service”, of course. 
Actually, the final scene, where sister Dottie (Juno Temple) exacts justice, is even more graphic than the scene that earned the NC-17 (the DVD is officially unrated).  Although an R version existed, Friedkin resisted showing it. 
It’s pretty obvious to compare this film with Quentin Tarantino’s “Djano”, the latter of which makes this little Texas film (actually shot in New Orleans) seem worth overlooking. The film does have the style of a "modern" spaghetti western.  Modern Dallas isn't like this now.  (I've lived there.) 

The official site from Lionsgate is here

The title of the film (“Joe”)< brings to mind the 1977 film by Jud Taylor, “Tail Gunner Joe”, about Senator Joseph McCarthy.  That was far more interesting to me (and seems ironic to mention here.)