Friday, August 30, 2013

"Closed Circuit": timely, and a kid plays the Assange game against British secret service; the style of Hitchcock without the humor

Closed Circuit”  (directed by John Crowley has the plotting and style of a Hitchcock film, without the sly humor and originality. You wind up with a “pretty good” thriller, although it seems timey given the controversy over surveillance, secrecy, government abuse,  and Wikileaks (and especially the British detention of the male partner of an aggressive journalist).
After a huge terror bombing in London, the British government arrests a Turkish immigrant Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) and conceals some of the critical evidence from the lead defense attorney Martin Rose (Eric Bana).  Instead, a judge has to rule on the classified part, where the defendant has a “special advocate” Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall).   She’s not allowed to have any communication with the main defense attorney.  The only “problem” (for the writers) is that the two have a tentative romantic relationship.  This is an affair, but not of strangers.
The camera surveillance really doesn’t fit as neatly into the plot as it has in some other similar thrillers, like “Paris under Watch” (April 19, 2012) or “Look” (March 31, 2012). 
It’s not hard to guess the reason for the secrecy, of course.  The defendant was putatively set up by British intelligence, which was not as sharp as it is in “Skyfall”.  And the person who figured all this out and who has the damning evidence is the 14 year old son  Emir (Hasancan Cifci)  of the defendant. The boy has hacked his dad’s computers and apparently all of M15, and is amazingly capable of taking care of himself, despite the need to protect him.  He turns out as the most compelling character in the movie. 
There are a few others, though.  Jim Broadbent makes more than cameos, as an upper, loyalist intelligence official (the same acting style as in “Longford”) and the chilling young man (Riz Ahmed) who watches over Claudia when she works in the “inner sanctum”, which is still open to windows and cameras.

The courtroom scenes are interesting, if sparing. Why does everyone wear a wig? Supposedly it is to derail "lookism" in the court (link). 
The official site from Focus is here

I saw the film at the late show Friday night in a small auditorium in the Regal complex in Ballston, Arlington VA.    

Wikipedia attribution link for London picture; My last visit, May 2001. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"The World's End": British horror comedy combines "Judas Kiss" with "Body Snatchers", "Terminator", and "Revolution"; King just wants to scream "I'm free!"

Oh, you’re not supposed to take a wacky apocalyptic British comedy “The World’s End”, by  Edgar Wright, too seriously.  But there real is a lot going on here, to relate to other films, and to serious warnings.

In the beginning, in 1990,  five friends, just too young for chest hair, ready to leave prep school, get initiated with a pub crawl in Newton’s Haven, a wonderful little highlands town that looks like a Shakespeare set (with cars and modernity).  Something bizarre happened at the last pub, the source of the movie’s name.

Twenty some years later, the men get together for the ritual again.  Twenty years has aged them.  The ring leader is Gary King (writer Simon Pegg) who constantly says “I want to be free to do what I want to do.”  One of the friends is a teetotaler.

There's trouble pretty quickly.  One of the bars (with the word "cock" in its name) tosses the brew crew because King is banned there for life after a brawl twenty years ago.  I didn't know that bars could have such long memories.
Things get wild forty minutes into the film, with a restroom encounter with a young man who looks a bit like one of the men twenty years ago.  My immediate thought is, “Judas Kiss” (June 4, 2011 here).  But that is not to be.  There is no love for younger selves.  Soon the five find themselves in slapstick battles with robots (not exactly zombies) whose heads come off without stopping them. Oh, the cyborgs are made of smart material that regenerates itself.  Their synthetic blood (good for transfusions maybe) is blue.

At the last pub, the friends are challenged, and can contemplate the idea of having their old younger bodies, albeit as robots with their memories.  Okay, that’s a rip-off of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Really, wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up tomorrow morning and have my body as it was at, say, age 21?   Some of the friends could use a makeover;  Steve has just a mid-chest tattoo (no hair, still), and one of the other guy’s legs is severely scarred.  The script makes something of physical decline  (“tissue death” as Dr. Phil calls it) and a desire to reverse it. 

The stakes are even higher.  First, it seems that all they need to go is get out of town.  But the rest of the world will not be all right, either.  Say the concept is a bit like the NBC series “Revolution”, except that the physical destruction is manifest.  Electricity will go away, and so will the Internet.  But the friends will be able to teach others to live simply.

A Mick Jagger song “I’m free” is one of the many included.  See my review of a short film by that name May 13, 2013 here.  The pieces all fit.

The website from Focus Features is here.  There is even a quiz!

I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington, in the reclining lounge chairs, and although the auditorium is smaller (84 seats), it nearly sold out even on a weeknight.  The digital presentation (2.35:1) is crisp.  This film could have used 3-D.  The music score by Steven Price often paraphrases some music from one of the Shostakovich symphonies (I think the 8th), a duple-time march. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Them": Romanian-French horror film shows a shocking analogy to a recent teen crime in the US

There are not a lot of “slasher” foreign language horror films in American circulation today, but “Them” (or “Ils”), by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, filmed near Bucharest in Romanian (and French sometimes), from Slowhand Releasing in the US, Mars in France, and Romanian company Eskwad (with Studio Canal) is one.  And there is a point that applies to recent horrific events in the U.S.

Lucas (Michael Cohen), a writer or journalist, and his wife Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) have bought a much larger estate than they could reasonably need, even with future kids, deep in the woods along a one-lane road. Oh, they have everything, including satellite TV and wireless Internet. 

Olivia teaches middle school kids, and in an early scene she talks about freedom.  Unbeknownst to the couple, a mother and daughter disappeared after they had an auto accident in the area.  About 3 AM their first night in their palatial property, they start hearing noises.  Their car is stolen, and the power goes out.  Soon the couple is fighting off home invaders whom they can’t see and who stay just out of sight.

It’s not fair to spoil things too much, but in Oklahoma in the USA in August 2013, there was a senseless murder of a young athlete, a little younger than the man in this film, by teenagers who said “they were bored.”  True, that might have been a gang initiation, or might have race or “class war” overtones, but the same shocking conclusion is possible with this film.  The 2006 film purports to be based on true events, and here the kids said the grownups “wouldn’t play”.

The early scenes have some handsome shots, in full wide aspect, of downtown Bucharest, which looks more prosperous than it probably is.

The film should not be confused with the 1954 classic “Them!” (Gordon Douglas, Warner Bros.) about giant ants gone wild from radiation from nuclear testing.  I think I saw that on TV about three decades ago.
Wikipedia attribution link for satellite image of Romania in winter. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"The Wall": A transparent barrier puts a woman visiting the Alps "under the dome"

The Austrian film “The Wall” (“Die Wand”), by Julian Polsler, is predicated on a concept that echoes Stephen King’s novel “Under the Dome”, which is actually a moderately successful TV drama series on CBS (TV blog, July 11, 2013). Actually, it’s based on a different novel, by Marlen Hasushofer.

A vigorous woman of about 50 (Martina Gedeck) drives to a remote hunting lodge (along a one way road), which apparently she will share with a couple.  Her beloved dog Lynx is with her.  The couple goes to the nearby village, which seems to be over an Alpine mountain pass.  She retires early.  The next morning, they haven’t returned.  She sets out on foot with Lynx to look for them, suspecting an accident.  Along the narrow road by a mountain stream, Lynx becomes agitated.  Suddenly, “Frau” encounters an invisible, transparent barrier.  It seems to keep others from the other side from seeing her.

Most of the film consists of her telling her story or surviving alone with her animals (dog, cow, two cats, and eventually a white crow), which become characters in their own right.  A few years of changing seasons pass, as we learn that Lynx has been killed.  Eventually, the dome was breached.  Or did it just come down, and did Frau not try to return from “freedom” to civilization?  Or did she really pass away the first night, and is this her afterlife?  If so, she seemed pretty healthy.  In any case, she runs out of paper for her diary, so there must be another afterlife. 
At one point, Frau refers to having had a supercilious attitude toward other people, and a liking to be left alone.  Be careful what you wish for, as conservatives say!
In the Stephen King setting (or even "The Truman Show"), the dome could block out weather. But here storms come down anyway.  Is this just a Wall up into the stratosphere rather than a dome?  Or is it the barrier to an alternate universe? 
As for the crow, I can relate to it.  The day of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a black crow kept chasing be back into the garage, as if to warn me of the coming storm.  There was no damage immediately near me, fortunately.

The film’s spoken dialogue is in German with subtitles.  In the US, the woman’s first-person narration is dubbed in English.

The German site for the film is here
The only theater in Washington showing it is the non-profit Avalon, which is renovating.  It does have digital projection now, but the upstairs auditorium has no slope for view.  There was a fair crowd for a Monday night.  I don’t know why Music Box, Kino and Match Box didn’t give it a wider release. 

Picture:  A toy and game store near the theater, ironically named after a notorious 1988 horror film, “Child’s Play”.  Remember Chuckie? 

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Still Mine": great libertarian film; a senior citizen can proclaim freedom was well as a twenty-year-old; don't "follow the rules"!

“Do you follow baseball?”  Or maybe the question from 87 year old Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) to the judge was “Do you collect baseball cards?”  The Canadian libertarian film “Still Mine” (a title that refers explicitly to property rights) opens with a crisis, with Craig’s chances of staying out of jail not too good, after throwing as much sand as possible into the eyes of the Canadian paternal welfare system.  He’s warned that he is about to be found “in contempt of court”.  That’s even worse in Canada than in the US.  (Blame Canada!)

The film follows typical screenwriting wisdom (it’s written by director Michael McGowan) in starting with an intractable crisis, only then backing up to the beginning to tell us the whole story.
We find out at the end whether Craig and his disabled wife of 61 years are “free” from the condition of his hand-built new house.  But there is nothing to say a 90-year-old can’t scream “I’m free” like a 23-year-old (as Reid Ewing, racing out of a courthouse, does his own short film “I’m Free” reviewed here May 13, 2013).  Maybe a near centenarian won’t “decompress” by doing pull-ups and riding chutes in a kids’’ playground.  But Craig is no wimp.  He can handle heavy machinery in his own workshop (like my own father did), and pull tresses with block-and-tackle machines on his own.  I won’t be able to do that at 87.
Craig and Irene (Genevieve Bujold) run a cattle and strawberry farm near St. Martins New Brunswick (the small Atlantic province directly east of Stephen King’s beloved Maine).  They are still intimate and attentive to one another, very physically, after six decades.  That’s an important virtue in marriage, traditional or not, right?  But Irene is progressing rapidly into dementia and probable Alzheimer’s, but is determined to stay in their old farm house.  Craig wants to build her a small one-story house on his own land so that his wife can have the run of a house without so much effort and danger.   He has seven grown kids, and he is used to getting things done through his extended family (which he procreated with his own body) and not interfacing with the benevolent Canadian government (although he does use the health care). 
Trouble starts when a local wholesaler can no longer take his strawberries because he doesn’t have a refrigerated truck.  (That sounds like one of John Stossel’s “Gimme a Break” episodes on 20-20, when an Afro hair stylist in Kansas was shut down without a state cosmetology license, or a woman baking girl scout cookies in Charlotte was shut down because she didn’t have a commercial kitchen; maybe by that logic I could be shut down as a self-publisher!)  But the real problems come when he builds his own house on his own land, as a do-it-yourself project with no kit from a Walmart for assembly.  He is told he has to pay the town for a permit.  Then he has to get blueprints drawn. (That reminds me, my electric generator installation contractor still has mine; I need to call them.)  And then he gets inspected.  His lumber isn’t stamped as approved.  His trusses aren’t up to some obscure code. He'd have to tear it all down (or else the town will) and start over -- and hire other people, giving them tax-paying jobs, to do it.  What a lesson in feahterbedding!
It’s pretty obvious what the political point is: all these regulations guarantee that other people have jobs and income, from pencil-pushing, while Craig, somewhat on an Ayn Rand hero, does the real work, still at 87.

Samuel Goldwyn, which likes films with a social message, has a site  here.
I saw the film at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA (the only local theater showing it) before a fair crowd on a Sunday night, good crisp digital projection (installed fairly recently).  Atlantic Canada looks scenic.  I visited the Bay of Fundy and Magnetic Hill myself once in 1978. 

But as for Craig, all you can say is “don’t follow the rules”, and “hopefully, don’t get caught”.  Or, “it’ll blow over” 

Hot off the presses on CNN:  A local government (Raleigh NC) requires a permit to feed the homeless!  Give me a break!

Could there be a "libertarian film festival?"

Wikipedia attribution link to Bay of Fundy picture. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"In Which We Serve": backstories from men on raft from sinking British ship in WWII examine courage, facing adversity imposed by an enemy

In Which We Serve”, a famous British “patriotic war film” directed by Noel Coward and David Lean in 1942 for British Lion, starts out with the line, “This is the story of a ship.”

Indeed, most of the story is told in flashback as seamen played by Noel Coward, Bernard Miles and John Mills, and others, float on rafts off the HMS Torrin after it has been hit by the Nazis in the earliest days of WWII, in the Mediterranean.  Men get shot at even as they drift on the rubber rafts.  I recall the setting for the opera by Hans Werner Henze, “The Raft of the Medusa”, in the 1950s, as a bit similar.

Apparently the Torrin was really a fictional name for a similar ship, the HMS Kelly, commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten, and sunk during the Battle of Crete. 

The backstories invoke the whole interesting subject of how both civilian and military (Naval) populations understood what was happening with Germany and the rest of the world just as the war started.  The answer is not very well.  Some thought that there was starving in Berlin, when in fact under Fascism, Germany was booming, but at a terrible price.  Everyone believes there want be war, until there is (and the scene where the men on the ship that war has been declared is made heartbreaking).  Later, the bombing of London and the effects on ordinary civilians is shown.
This was an era where young men did not own their own lives, and had to risk it all for the great good of their country.  The same was true in the United States as long as we had a military draft, which I dealt with (however evasively with the deferments and special MOS) during the Vietnam era.  But women had their own risks in earlier times, like childbirth.

There is one backstory of particular interest, when the ship was near Norway, a sailor went AWOL. The captain later tells the men he let the guy off with a warning.  But given the conditions of the times, he could have been executed for cowardice (not exactly like Billy Budd).

The music score is by Noel Coward himself (an ironic last name, given the subject).  It rather reminds one of Malcolm Arnold.
I rented the (black and white) film from Netflix (Westlake, at one time United Artisits), but it is offered “free” on YouTube, as by Gravitas Ventures.

For today’s short film, someone asked me to present “Definitely Different” by Jodi Good, here. 3 minutes, definitely a pounding rhythm.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" looks like derivative fantasy

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”, directed by Harald Zwart and from Sony Screen Gems and German/Canadian production company Constantin, appears to start another fantasy franchise, this time based on the fiction of Cassandra Clare.  On the surface, it seems like a mixture of “Harry Potter”, “Twilight” and a little bit of C.S Lewis thrown in.  The “gimmick” seems to consist of arbitrary portals to a shadow world, which can appear anywhere (as in a painting or window) indoors or outdoors in contemporary New York City (after all, people’s apartments in the City are rather like little kingdoms) and sometimes contain a strange kind of glop for extrusion. 
The concept was not particularly effective.  Life in the Big Apple is just not like this  I’ve lived there, and interacted there too much time.  A “parallel universe” world (like in Potter, Eragon or LOTR) seems like a much more effective idea for fantasy.

As in Harry Potter, characters have novel ways of communication, through embeds in pictures or objects, again constituting a kind of biological Internet.

The story is driven by the sudden disappearance of the mother of the heroine Clary (Lily Collins), while she is out clubbing with her nice stable boyfriend Simon (Robert Sheehan).  The disco is wild (it’s not just the Culture Club, and it’s not like Therapy either), and Lily may have gotten some drugs spiked in her drinks.  (My mother used to warn me about this.)   She meets a wilder punk musician, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) who creates some heterosexual competition.  When she gets back home, her world comes apart. She finds the apartment ransacked, and her mother gone.  Typical break-in?  No, it’s a shift to another universe.  Monsters run around (the ectoplactic blob that comes out of a dog – crawls out of the woodwork -- is pretty good). Pretty soon she is on a wild adventure in the City to look for “shadow hunters”, with the tension between Simon (who gets kidnapped and strung up once) and Jace, and a variety of other similar characters, until they finally encounter the Werewolf Alaric (Harry van Gorkum).  Along the way they encounter the ring leader Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), as well as Alec (Kevin Zegers). 
The physical presentation and behavior of some of the characters is curious.  Very early, Simon is presented as the conscientious, likeable geek, whose facial appearance with the black-rimmed glasses seems like a deliberate likeness of upcoming NYC classical composer-pianist Timo Andres.   The physical similarity, speech style and body language at first glance were so striking that I wondered if Timo had been cast for the part, since I didn’t know who was in the cast.  But in the movie, the world of piano belongs to Jace, who tries to perform some of the Goldberg Variations in a curious scene of the film’s midpoint and says that J.S. Bach was a “shadow hunter”, and that the ear-satisfying dissonance that occurs naturally from Bach’s counterpoint was a way to drag demons out of the woodwork.  Even for Bach, it took “a long time to become a good composer.” 

There is also the matter of the tattoos.  Several of the characters, most of all Jace (Bower) are heavily decorated with shadow-chasing symbols.  There is a scene where Clary, visiting Simon while he recuperates, draws a sketch of Jace with an ankh tattoo embedded right to the chakra center of his chest.  The heavy use of body art, for a few characters, apparently precludes several of the male characters (most of all Jace) from having any differential body hair at all.  A couple of them look waxed (or "thmooth").  The tattoos are implemented with a soldering iron (rather like one in my late father’s workshop) that probably comes with No-No  The only exception to this equalizing male hairlessness comes with the Werewolf, of course, who seems appropriately virile.  What does Clary feel attracted to? I’m reminded of a  June, 1999 American Spectator essay “Notes on the Hairless Man” by David Skinner, who would think that none of these characters are up for love and family.
Sony’s “Make.Believe” link for the film is here. I still wonder how Sony decides what goes to Columbia, Classics, Screen Gems, and Tristar.  It’s all essentially “Columbia Pictures” with the Statute of Liberty.

I saw this before a surprisingly small crowd late Friday night in a large auditorium at Regal in Arlington VA.  The look of the film is very large, inviting Imax.  It’s long, running 130 minutes.

 Pictures: Mine, NYC, Dec. 11, 2010.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"The Gerson Miracle": are we all killing ourselves?

The Gerson Miracle”  (2004) is Cinema-Libre’s earlier film (see “A Beautiful Truth”, reviewed March 29, 2013 here) about the work of Dr. Max Gerson, directed by Steve Kroschel.

The DVD starts with the trailer (as if were part of the film) and builds up emotion a bit before it gets into the story of Gerson’s work and Gerson Therapy,  seen through the life stories of about nine cancer survivors.

As expected, the film presents a dim view of the horrors of conventional radiation and chemotherapy, which often sicken and humiliate the patient only to prolong life for a few years and are rarely completely curative. 

It also castigates our lifestyles, putting toxins into the environment, putting many of our kids way back in line.  This has always gone on, from the days we used lead paint and asbestos, through today, with our depending on processed foods.  The film is critical of the way technology, even cell phone use, exposes people to hazards, and admits that the film stock used for the movie is toxic.  That may have changed a lot since this film was made.

There's another question:  could there be such a thing as a cure for all cancer?  Or is "cancer" really a collection of different diseases, to be conquered one by one.  There are many common cellular similarities among many of them. 

I can recall that during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, many people wanted to put belief in holistic methods.  There wasn't much better for a long time, but now there is.
The sound track plays much of the first movement of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, with some effect.

Cinedigm has uploaded a free full film video on YouTube, but I watched it with my Netflix subscription.

There are some videos about this film from the New Video Group, which curiously blocks it in the USA for copyright reasons.  I haven’t seen this kind of situation before.  YouTube says “Sorry about that.”

For today’s short film, I’ll pass along a 4-minute video recommended to me called “Hi-Fashion: Lighthouse”, link here. Note the alien costumes. Note the abstraction, and catchy music.   It is distributed on “Paper Mag”.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"The Spectacular Now": Actions do have consequences, but this film mutes and sugar-coats them

The Spectacular Now”, by James Ponsoldt (based on the novel by Tim Tharp) presents us with a “hero” who is pretty much the opposite of me.  You can tell what high school senior Sutter (Miles Teller) lives for, which is not to make A’s in geometry.  In the opening scene, he is composing a college application essay on a MacIntosh, and it’s apparent he has no appreciation of “Jobs”.  
He works in a men’s shop, and parties hard.  He gets into bars and drinks underage with girls – they don’t show him boasting about it on Facebook.  He sneaks cans or open containers around everywhere.  He meets a “nice girl”, Aimee (Shaileen Woodley), and then decides to track down his deadbeat dad.  Eventually, his behavior has consequences, but the movie doesn’t really seem to tie these together too well at the end.
Miles’s presence is curious.  At times, he looks like a caricature of Mark Zuckerberg; in close-up, be looks a bit soft, and far from perfect.  That may be OK, but his manner and appearance seem to force him to carry his social charisma on pure momentum and activity, not substance.  At the end of the movie, he has to answer a question on facing “hardship” on his college application.

Andre Royo is effective as the geometry teacher, Mr. Aster.  But a high school senior should be beyond plane geometry, right? 
The film was shot around Athens, GA, in flat, southern pine country.

The official site is here

There was a fair crowd for this film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA on a weekday night.
Wikipedia attribution link for downtown Athens picture  My only visit was in November, 1971. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Paranoia": a stereotyped thriller about industrial espionage, and the smartest possible phone. Just don't wear it on your bod.

Paranoia” seems like a stereotyped “B-movie” thriller about the highest tech world, but it does deal with some hot stuff.

Directed by Robert Luketic, with Australian backing, the film does present a stylized look at New York high corporate life.  Maybe it is appropriately cynical. It follows the conventional wisdom of screenwriting class and film school, to insurmountable crises, one after another, for the hero.

And indeed Australian born Liam Hemsworth, somewhat resembling Tom Welling, looks the part of Adam Cassidy, even if his acting style is a bit restrained.  More interesting is his slightly shorter friend Kevin, played by Lucas Till, who is even a better geek.  In fact, Till plays almost the same character that he did in “Crush”, if a little less obviously athletic.  And he has to overcome injury inflicted by the evil of others.

Another element of the plot is filial piety.  Adam takes care of his father (Richard Dreyfuss), half on oxygen but smoking while dying of emphysema. In an early episode, a health insurance company (pre-Obamacare) drops out of covering his care.  To a screenwriter, that sets up the urgency.  New York State, in fact, does not have a filial responsibility law.

So Adam gets set up when he gets fired after a presentation.  The boss, Wyatt (Gary Oldman) doesn’t have the class of Donald Trump, either.  I wondered if the name Wyatt came from the character (who burns his own oil well) in “Atlas Shrugged”.   Pretty soon Adam gets summoned off the NYC streets to go to work for competitor Jock Goddard (a bald Harrison Ford), in a big industrial espionage caper.  The advice is “don’t get caught”.

Yes, there’s a moral lesson here.  The people who play by the rules get run over by the cheaters (hedge fund managers).  There are no moral values, there are winners and losers – in Jock’s mind. 
The technology is freaky and interesting.  Do you want your smart phone to know everything about you?  (I wonder about electrocardiograms done by smart phone – can you really do one just by fingertip contact?   Can you do the Holter monitor without humiliating shaving?  Look here.)  

Look at the film a couple days ago, “Terms and Conditions”.  Remember the line, “They ‘trusted me’”
But some of the scenes with the computers generate some suspense.  Can Adam get his wireless connection up fast enough and do a complicated flash drive download before his assigned girl friend gets out of the shower and catches him?  That part of the film was pretty accurate.  You have to be competent in bed in a spy job like this.

Adam is a competent chess player (they should have shown him play Lucas Till’s character – remember “Crush”).  In one scene, he loses a game white White where he has a rook and several pawns for Black’s Queen.  Larry Kaufman would have enjoyed the position (maybe out of that crazy sacrificial line from the Slav Defense).
And at the very end, Kevin (that is, Till), having recovered, hand writes some java code (a “method”) on a blackboard as if he were teaching a programming class.

The disco scene was interesting.  Could that have been he Culture Club?  
a “method”)

The official site is here from Relativity Media.  Yes, “I am Rogue.” The distributor didn’t publish the length of the film (about 100 minutes even).

I saw this film late in a small auditorium at the Regal Ballston tonight.  It seemed like a private showing just for me. Too much competition this week. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Igigi Studios short films: "The mock's not on me"; also,"G" from India, and the "Top Ten Gay Movies of All Time" by someone

Today, I looked at some of the films at the site of IgigiStudios.

There are three short films in a series by Jason Greene called “BEINGreene” (or “Being Greene”). 
The first is “Gay Birthdays” as Greene celebrates his 23rd birthday, outdoors in the LA Silverlake community, with his devoted dog, who is not fooled toward the end of the short (6-1/2 minutes) when Greene puts on tights with leopard spots to go into light drag.  The visitor can compare to a feature “The Dog Walker” (2002), reviewed here  Sept. 19, 2006 (previewed by IFPMSP when I was living in Minneapolis in 2002).  Greene follows a mockmentary style, even saying “The mock’s not on me”.  The direct link (typical of the site) is here
The second is “The Greene Technique”, a visual meditation that aims toward the goal of changing people into aliens, a rather inverse idea from “invasion of the body snatchers” (maybe more like “Friday’s Aliens” (Feb. 27, 2011). 
Both Greene films use black and white at the beginning and end to sharpen the effect.

The third film, “Inner Child”, about 20 minutes, was reviewed here Oct. 8, 2012 (on the same posting as for Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie”). 

The Igigi site also hosts the “” Series, by Reid Ewing, aka “Reid Rainbow”.  It looks like I reviewed these on May 13, 2013 along with a feature documentary, “Do Ask Do Tell” about the now repealed military gay ban.  When I reviewed these before, they had been on YouTube, before being moved here apparently in July 2013.  I looked at these short films again and the libertarian satire really comes through.  Reid’s “mockumentary” acting (perhaps based a bit on his “Modern Family” character Dylan) is brilliant, and cuts right through social classes.  Reid’s viewpoint seems to be that government is set up only to keep the rich even richer and in power.   Both “liberals” and “conservatives” would enjoys these films, for different reasons.  Maybe they should be played before our dysfunctional partisan Congress.   They would play well on NBC’s  SNL or Comedy Central.  Could Reid host SNL?   It would seem that Reid ought to make some income from these.  Even Donald Trump would think so. 

The film I reviewed yesterday (“Terms and Conditions…”) also takes up the question of “what in life is free” – that is, what is the bargain on the Internet when you get free stuff – and invite the whole world to watch you and the government to bust into your home some day.  OK, I sound like Julian Assange. Could this inspire a “ 04” film?  I hope so.

Reid, Jason "et al" may know about the "Mockumentary film festival", link
Igigi has a trailer for a feature film called “Project Philippines”, by Sur Realismo, about five dancers from Juilliard who travel home to teach dance.  It also announces another feature, “Chouinard”, about an art institute of that name.  There is also a short called “Curly”, about an inner city youth gaining access to art classes.   Many of the films mentioned on this site are directed in part by Gianina Ferreyra.  

Igigi also appears to have just added a trailer for "You Are the Sea" (short), by Sur Realismo, based on a play by Zachary Kolodjeski. 
I looked at a few short films tonight.  One of them is “G: Tamil Short Film”, by A. R. Raveentha. Two young men in India fall in love, for richer or poorer, literally, as over 29 minutes they experience everything.  Most of the film is in Hindu (a little in English) without subtitles.  There is also subplot of being videotaped.
Then there exists the 8-minute short “Only Always You” by Anthony Aguiar.  A somewhat homely young man hides in an outdoor park as he sketches a handsome young man doing calesthenics, and then puts himself in the scene.  When a real life female shows up, complications develop.  With Brandon Rogers and Andy Flora.

“Jay Bell Books” lists his “Top Ten Gay Movies of All Time”, taking about 20 minutes, here.  I’ve seen most of them.  My favorite on his list is “Judas Kiss”.

Update: Sept. 5, 2013

There is another gay short film where drawing a sketch figures into the plot.  It is "Wastelands", a Dutch short by Marco van Bergen (13 min).  A teenage boy meets someone whom he has a crush on and camps out on the beach, platonically, and is disappointed when the other boy is straight.  Cinemascope.  Look for it on YouTube.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Terms and Conditions May Apply": the risks of Internet use for ordinary people is more than I thought; misinterpreted posts can put you in jail

How many of us read the fine print before using Internet services?  We don’t have much choice but to accept them, but that could ultimately be dangerous, according to a new documentary by Cullen Hoback, “Terms and Conditions May Apply”, from Variance Pictures (also Hyrax, Topiary, Roco).  
The biggest threat most computer users is still probably hackers and criminals, but the likelihood of corporate misuse of information, which is much more pervasive than most users realize, seems to increase, and most of all is the risk of government misuse, which has more recently attracted attention because of the Wikileaks and Snowden NSA scandals.
We meet some interesting characters:  Barrett Brown, from Hacktivists;  Max Schrems, a handsome Austrian law student with accent-free English who launches litigation, and toward the end, Mark Zuckerberg himself (not Jesse Eisenberg or Ashton Kutcher), chased down by reporters near his new Palo Alto home, right after the film has displayed his notorious “The ‘trusted me’” email. 

There has been a lot of talk in the media about “metadata” or “pen register” surveillance, but the film presents at least three cases where ordinary people were detained or investigated for apparent threats in social media, all discovered by intelligence or police text-trolling software, from materials given to law enforcement by service providers.  In one case, a man in Ireland was detained at LAX for days because of a supposed threat made on Twitter.  In another, the NYPD visited a man just a few days after he had moved into a new apartment because of a Facebook posting.  In still another, a man in Britain was detained as a possible security threat because of the 2011 Royal Wedding based on out-of-context interpretation of a social media post.  It was not clear whether these posts had been intended for everyone, or had been whitelisted for just friends or followers, in which case the police really would have been reading private content.  The film did not mention the case of a teenager in Texas prosecuted for a misread Facebook threat (Internet Safety blog, July 3, 2013. 

The film also points out a problem with metadata snooping: police could misinterpret a consumer’s search engine requests or purchases.  A writer might be searching to learn about how a terror attack could come about in a novel, not in real life.  The film also mentions (as does Daniel Solove in his 2011 book “Nothing to Hide” (reviewed July 23, 2013 on the Books blog) that when personal or activity information is held by a third party, there is no Fourth Amendment protection from searches. 
A person has “nothing to hide” until he or she does, the film says.  One quick refutation comes from the fact that people sometimes have their credit scores lowered because other customers of the establishments where they use their credit cards have poor repayment histories.  
I wondered if electronic searching could have caused my 2005 incident when I was a substitute teacher (“BillBoushka”” blog, July 27, 2007).  But it sounds unlikely that public school systems  would have been having contractors run Internet searches to match up the names of teachers with all possible troubling word combinations, and even if something popped up, it would need to be interpreted.  Of course, in the film, people were detained just on the basis of automated Internet background investigations (triggered possibly by intelligence activity) without concern for context.

The film gives an interesting anecdote about Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard, not included in “The Social Network”.  That is, Mark’s buddies in the dorm asked him, “Why would an individual want a personal website, anyway”, sometime in the early fall of 2004.  I wonder if Zuckerberg knew about me and my “” and “” sites and my “Do Ask Do Tell” sites and even my participation as a COPA litigant (under Electronic Frontier Foundation) on the theory that COPA could destroy the “free entry” system for Internet self-publishing.  (The bigger dangers have come from SOPA, and now the proposal to weaken the CDA Section 230 concerning downstream liability of service providers – itself a potentially good topic for documentary film .)  The reason he might have known is that there had been some controversy over Harvard’s banning military recruiters in 2003, when Zuckerberg was a freshman, over “don’t ask don’t tell”, and so he would have heard about it.  With any curiosity at all, he could well have found me by search engines and realized what one person could do.  But what he would add was social context – the idea that some publishing is layered within certain communities (like schools) or lists of people.   Privacy settings are predicated on nuances in the way these white-lists work.  

The film also makes a good point on the fact that “terms and conditions” are often the most troublesome with “free content”.  But any paid hosting service will have a TOS or “acceptable use policy”.

The official site is here.
I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC late on a Sunday afternoon before a small audience, but I had missed the chance for director QA yesterday to see “Jobs” first. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"JOBS": almost too straightforward as a biography of the Apple founder ("Uncle Steve")

Jobs” (or more correctly, “jOBS”) is a two-hour, somewhat conventionally scripted biography of Apple founder and inventor Steve Jobs, as directed by Joshua Michael Stern and written by Matt Whiteley.
The film opens with a middle aged Jobs announcing new products to his eager employees.  You can recognize actor Ashton Kutcher’s voice and facial lines anyway.
It then goes back to the days when, in 1974  at age 19, Jobs dropped out of college (Reed College in Oregon) Jobs dropped out of college to invent game boards and soon had a vision for a personal computer.   Jobs is depicted, when young, as having no people skills and having BO (rather like Jack Nicholson's character in "The Witches of Eastwick");  yet he quickly learn to bargain and negotiate hard with vendors and retailers in a way that would make Donald Trump proud. Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) comes across as rather slovenly at times, reinforcing the amateurism of the early days in a Palo Alto home garage.   As a ruthless and idealistic perfectionist who expected everyone to follow his own way of thinking, he could overpower people, and sometimes do the “You’re fired” thing well before “The Donald” trademarked the phrase.  There’s a scene that reminds one of the recent AOL public sacking at a conference call.
The film recounts his battles with the board.  Once the company went public, his idealism and principles were put to a test by Wall Street bean counters, played by established stars like James Woods.
The film does not go into the health crisis at the end, which came from an unusual form of pancreatic cancer.  There is speculation that his delay of conventional treatment may have reduced his long term survival chances, but he lived eight years, until October 2011.
Jobs denied paternity to a daughter for a while, but eventually raised her.  Work and innovation made him tick; personal relationships seemed like an afterthought.  Nevertheless, he assembled a cast of characters, including Chris Espinosa (Eddie Hassell), some of whom did not always maintain his respect.
The history of the personal computer does come through the film.  There was a time when color was a challenge for game designers.  Putting everything in one box so that it worked when the consumer plugged it in was a challenge, as I recall from the Radio Shack TRS-80, my own first computer at the end of 1981.  But soon Jobs insisted on separate the components, especially the keyboard.
IBM and Microsoft are depicted as haven stolen Jobs’s ideas.
The official site (Open Road films) is here.

Kutcher is convincing in the role, with his lean, restless presence. Kutcher is popular on Twitter as “aplusk”, and once promoted Twitter on Larry King Live.  In more recent times, he has had staff review his tweets before he posts them (he once invited all of his million followers to Hollywood Hills party at a friend’s house, just before I went to LA myself.)  Kutcher’s own life as a technology investor meshes with the role he played.  Kutcher, in the recent past, has led the “Real men don’t buy girls” campaign, against child sex-trafficking, which has gotten the attention of state attorneys general, who want to gut Section 230 and saddle Internet companies with more “brother’s keeper” responsibility to counter the problem (my “BillBoushka” blog, Aug. 9 and 11 entries).  It would be interesting to know how Kutcher feels about the Section 230 matter as an investor. 

PBS has aired a smaller biography of Jobs, “Steve Jobs: One Last Thing”, reviewed on this blog Nov. 3, 2011, very shortly after his passing.  

I recall listening to Jobs talk about entrepreneurialism on a PBS documentary in the mid 1980s (afte rhis first scuffle his board and I think after he had started NEXT) while living in Dallas.   Mother was on a visit and watched it with me.

I come away from all these films with the impression that Jobs was all about passion, and focusing on one's own goals.  But most people seem to have to pursue the goals set by others!

The film did not draw me into its world as much as the somewhat fictionalized dramatization of the history of facebook in "The Social Network" (Oct. 3, 2010). 

Angelika Mosaic preceded the feature with a Hulu short film from GE Focusforward (any connection to "Focus Features"?) “The Secret of Trees”, about teen inventor Aidan Dwyer, who (near NYC) developed a configuration of solar panels based on the distribution of tree leaves according to fractals and Fibonacci sequences link ).  Angelika often shows a 5-minute Hulu short subject about innovation. The theater is to be commended for keeping the number of previews at a minimum. 

Pictures: I haven't used the iPod much (except to record vinyl to play on a TV or computer); also: MacBook (for composing with Sibelius); the iPad (a hotspot when traveling); I also still use the 2002 iMac downstairs to play DVD's. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Lee Daniels' The Butler": synoptic history of the Civil Rights movement, and the confluence of submission with "subversion"

"Lee Daniels’ The Butler" seems almost too hasty to be optimally effective; it might have well made a good television series.  It tells, loosely, the story of Eugene Allen, renamed as Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker. The film is based on a Washington Post article "A Butler Well-Served by This Election" by Wil Haygood in 2008, where the film ends with the election of Barack Obama. Some reviewers have noted that the biography takes episodes from the lives of several butlers, and is therefore composite. 
As the film runs through opening corporate credits (starting with The Weinstein Company), the speakers remains silent, and then the opening of the Schumann Piano Concerto rings forth.  Young Cecil  (Michael Rainey. Jr.) will see his attentive father shot on a Georgia plantation, for speaking out in a cotton field after the master (Alex Pettyfer) rapes one of the servants in a cabin.  The grandma of the house takes care of Cecil and teaches him to become a “house n___”, setting up his skill base for his “career” serving eight presidents.
The historical narrative is at times riveting, particularly when one of Cecil’s sons (David Oleyowo) becomes a freedom fighter, while Cecil watches with horror on television in the Kennedy White House.  The film pays particular heed to the Greensboro NC lunch counter sit in, and the lynchings in Mississppi (civil rights workers were murdered in 1964), and the Selma march in 1965.  The other son joins the Army and sacrifices himself in Vietnam,
The film does indeed develop the idea that sometimes “submission” or subservience is actually subversive.  I could offer my own take on it as someone who was “different” as a boy and teen in not being physically competitive with other boys, as I grew up in the 1950’s in the northern VA suburbs.  I was certainly sheltered from a lot of the evils of the world.  I learned about “Brown v. Board of Education” in a middle school classroom, but I really didn’t grasp the social inequality at a street level until my own Army service (1968-1970) and then as a young man, coming out (“a second time”) as “gay” in 1973.  It seemed as though I was supposed to be seen rather than heard because other, stronger boys might make “sacrifices” to protect me.  (I would have a “sheltered” MOS when in the Army;  the young men who serve in infantry in Vietnam were disproportionately black.)  I developed a certain attitude, where I expected to see the strength and virtue in others that I though had been demanded of me.  If I did not see it, I would not find another person worthy of love or personal attention.  I would tend to stay in my own fantasy world instead.   On the other hand, had I been physically competitive, I would have been able to “protect” others without disadvantage or “shame” and seen doing so as morally essential.   Once I could not do this, upward affiliation made more sense to me.  Society, it seemed, wanted me to “come to terms”, marry, and give it another traditional family anyway.  As an adult, it was difficult to find meaning in providing for others because I didn’t have a family of my own.  But that’s a “chicken-egg” problem.  Really, I couldn’t provide for others in a way that was expected anyway.
But Cecil Gaines does so.  He accepts his place in the world (in a way I would not), and eventually wins the respect of each president, to the point that finally Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman, with Jane Fonda as Nancy) personally intervenes to give black staff equal pay.

Even the street activism of Cecil's son involves a certain submission to the goals of the group.
Oprah Winfrey is appropriate gritty as Cecil’s wife, Gloria, and ages to age 90 in the movie.  She stands by Cecil in dealing with the more rebellious son, who will not accept the “shame” of submission, and eventually joins the Blank Panthers before running for Congress.  It's a little disconcerting to see Oprah smoke cigarettes, even when acting.  

The film highlights the former use of the word "Negro" as being acceptable at one time, as with LBJ. 
This “independent” film has plenty of other A-list stars, including Robin Williams as Ike, James Marsden as Jack Kenney and Live Schreiber as LBJ.

The film was originally developed by Columbia and sold to TWC in a turnaround.  A dispute with Warner Brothers over a silent short film by the name “The Butler” led to the official placing of Lee Daniels’s name (without the extra possessive apostrophe) in the official title.  But normally in the film business, it is acceptable for different films to have the same title, as long as it is not a trademarked franchise of sequels.
The best official site that I can find is the TWC blog here

This film is said to be Oprah’s first major film role in 15 years.  Oprah did mention that she was fortunate to go to integrated schools when on ABC’s “The View” today.

I saw the film with a moderate Friday afternoon crowd at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA today. 


Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Angel": Francois Ozon takes a more linear look at the world of authorship

Angel” (or “The Real Life of Angel Deverell”, based on the novel of that name by Elizabeth Taylor) is “another” English film (2007) by French director Francois Ozon about an author.

The film is less “mysterious” than some of the director’s other work, but instead it comes across as like an early 50s period epic, enhanced by garish Technicolor.

Romola Garai plays Angel, the romance author who insisted on having life her own way, said what she wanted, still pleased her readers, and got rich.  Maybe her story reminds us a bit of J.K. Rowling, but not exactly.

We know she is opinionated  when in grade school she reads her homework assignment to class, and instead of a description of her real life (above a grocery store), it’s a romantic version of the life she wants.

Later, she wins a skirmish with a publisher, in not allowing any changes to her first novel (“Lady Irania”).  Since I am a woman, I understand what childbirth is really like, she tells the male editor.  Her readers would agree.  So while her editor first thought of her as conceited, she was more in touch with people than she seemed.

She meets a painter Esme (Michael Fassbinder), and is pressured to hire her sister (Lucy Russell). As she becomes richer she retreats into her own world, while her husband goes off to fight in World War I.  Rather like Scarlet O’Hara, she has trouble accepting the brutal impositions of the outside world. 

Esme is able to question the limits of her “humanity”.  Using the pronoun “you” in an impersonal sense (like “vous” instead of “tu”) he points out that he needs a wife to give of herself, not just through the veneer of her work, and fantasy. 

Esme has become broke, and the couple lives off her, and she has to change her style to please her writers more.  But then both lives spiral downward.

The issue of a best-selling novelist staying on top is very real.  The traditional publishing world is not very nice to mid-list authors (although that can change in the Internet world of self-publishing).  Donald Maass had talked about this problem in his 2001 book “Writing the Breakout Novel”, as had Scott Meredith earlier in “Writing to Sell”.

Ozon’s mystery “Swimming Pool” (2001), with Charlotte Rampling, had set up a complicated plot indeed when a mystery novelist gets offered a stay in a country house in France and gets implicated in a real mystery.  I had seen that film at the Uptown in Minneapolis. 

The film was distributed by IFC in the US and Lionsgate in Britain.

The music score by Philippe Rombi has a piano concerto slow movement theme that sounds a bit like the sweet second movement of the Shostakiovich Piano Concerto #2.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Beauty" (or "Skoonheid"): a middle aged closeted gay man carries his desires to the limit

In “Beauty” (or “Skoonheid”, in Afrikaans)  director-writer Oliver Hermanus takes some welcome risks with “gay” cinema.  He also presents a modern South Africa that looks far from the prejudices we thought it had overcome.
Francois van Heerden (Deon Lotz), married, moderately rich and running a carpentry business in the countryside, has been losing interest in his marriage (Michelle Scott).  He looks average enough for his age: hairy, but balding, perhaps gaining weight.  He meets his non-blood nephew, Christian (Charlie Keegan), 23, at a wedding party, and in time starts watching, even stalking him with various ruses.  In the meantime, we learn of his hideaway out on the ranchlands for casual gay sex.

It gets creepy, as he stares at Christian from a distance on the beach, Chris being with a girl friend.  Pretending to need Chris for legal work, he gets them to meet in a motel.
It’s a little unexpected to see a man in his mid forties overpower a young, healthy man physically.  What follows I have never seen in gay cinema that I can recall, although there is something like is in Carter Smith’s classic short “Bugcrush” (Jan. 29, 2008). 
The irony is that Christian is not so straight after all.

I thought there were some problems with the continuity in the gay disco scene.  No, I don't see people throw up in alleys behind bars and go back in. 
TLA’s site for the film is here


The film has a lot of continuous long-takes, in Dogme style (despite full widescreen, often with stunning ranch and landscapes and views of Capetown), often where one can see characters talking (from Francois’s point of view) but can’t hear them.  

The film (2012) is available on Netflix instant play.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Post Tenebras Lux" (Latin for "After Darkness, Light"): Carlos Reygadas spins his own "tree of life"

Post Tenebras Lux” (Latin for “After Darkness, Light”), the latest feature by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, created controversy, sometimes boos and catcalls, at Cannes and a few other festivals, but the film produces an interesting challenge: the notion of facing the end of the good life, a retreat into simplicity, and a preparation for the end.
Juan (Adolfo Jiminez Castro) has moved his family (including wife played by Nathalia Avecedo and small children) from European urban life in Brussels and London back to the Mexican countryside.  During the film, and in somewhat random sequence and “stream of consciousness”, his wife and kids reflect not only on their new circumstances but the meaning of what they left behind, as they seem to wait for the end.

The film is shot in Dogme style (reminiscent of Lars Von Trier), and in the smallest 4:3 aspect ratio, and the images as blurred slightly on the edges, an effect that I found distracting; viewing with 3-D glasses (even on the computer) was helpful.  This unorthodox technique is supposedly justified by the “canyon” effect desired in many of the outdoor scenes in Mexican mountain country.  I think the film would have looked better going the opposite way, with full wide screen.

The film opens in silence, and black and white, but soon shifts to a full color sequence of a small child lost outside on ranchland among animals, and calling for her mother.  Then we see an odd “red devil” sequence where an alien seems to enter the house.  Is this reality, a dream, or an invasion that will explain Juan’s eventual demise? 

We then see sequences of Juan’s glorious past life, starting oddly with a sequence in an AA meeting for his best friend, Silver (Willebaldo Torres).  There some orgy scenes (they remind me of the Continental Baths in the 1970’s, and at least beg the question as to whether STD’s or AIDS could be part of the doom).  There are also sports scenes involving a teen rugby team (with which the film will end).  I recalled the rugby sequence at the end of the 1940s classic “A Canterbury Tale”.  There is also family intimacy, which can be explicit.   Juan and the other characters seem to be bisexual; the camera tends to emphasize the importance of the male in many scenes.   As the film progresses, the sense of doom grows.  Silver comes to an end in what looks like a rural home invasion.  Then the family is facing Juan’s own departure.  Near the end of the film, we see a bizarre sequence where Juan looks out on a forest and sees trees start to fall, but not just from a storm, but from some sort of evil presence.

The official Facebook is here.  The official Mexican site has disappeared, but the phrase has an English site explaining the term here

The DVD will be available form Strand Releasing August 20.  Check Amazon.  The film could be compared to “The Tree of Life”.  The film is largely in Spanish, with some French.

This film was reviewed from a private screener link (complimentary) on Vimeo.

Monday, August 12, 2013

"The Men Next Door": rather contrived comedy about gay father and son

The Men Next Door” is a gay situation comedy that comes across to me as “opera bouffe” without (much) music. 
Doug (Eric Dean) experiences his fortieth birthday.  His smoothness keeps him from resembling Steve Carell (“The Forty Year Old Virgin”) too much.  But he befriends a neighbor Colton (Benjamin Lutz), although maybe not efficiently, when he tells Colton that Colton should wax (there’s a little bit of chest scraggle, hardly visible without BluRay.)  Soon, Doug meets Colton’s dad Jacob (Michael Nicklin), who is 50, and now, it turns out, is gay himself.  Oh, yes, Colton has a straight brother.   In time, Doug has to make a choice, as he can’t date them separately forever.  His decision may indeed show the end of lookism.

There is a little room for seriousness in the backstory. Dad has to explain why he got married and had kids to begin with.  It often happens. 
A variety of other characters pop in to the Doug’ Valley home.  (The area rather looks like Woodland Hills, as I remember it.)  The 84-minute film, by Rob Williams (no relation to Robin) has a lot of short takes and shifts that don’t exactly work for me.
The official site (Guest House Films and Wolfe) is here
The film went so far as to be as lighthearted as possible that it seemed to drift away.  I watched it o Netflix instant video.

If you take the title and change “Men” back to singular, you get a title that sounds like it would belong to film noir.  But not this film. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Elysium: The ultimate planned community; what's it really like to live there?

Elysium”, on the surface (pun) certainly plays out the “class war” between the rich and poor.  Early in the film,  in a ruined Los Angeles that looks like a South African township during apartheid, a young Max (Matt Damon when grown) asks his Catholic nun why life isn’t fair.  As a soldier, he’ll try to make it right later.  When forced by his boss to expose himself to lethal radiation, he just has to get to the “rich people’s” colony on the gigantic space station to get cured, and get some other people (including a mom and daughter with lymphoma) cured.  Classic screenwriting requires urgency, right?

The space colony is run by Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who manipulates he “board” as well as some rogue businessmen (like Carlyle, William Fitchner) to keep this ashram of privilege available for her kids.  She utters a line about the value of having kids, although she looks too old.

There are other characters in the mix, including a defrocked Kruger (Shalto Copley), whose medical reconstruction proves “it always grows back.”

Really, I wanted to see more of the colony, more about its internal geography and daily life.  The ring structures remind one a little of the spaceship in Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Rendezvous with Rama”.  But the place looked rather monotonous, without different zones or magic kingdoms.  It did not come from Disney.
Tristar’s site for the film is here

Matt Damon’s body of tattoos (temporary makeup?) did not impress me. I prefer without.

I have a screenplay in which a character finds himself in a kind of “afterlife” in a “space station” that is furcated into historical periods.  The character (based on me) eventually has to father a child to provide more young people to run the staff of the ashram, which supports a base of alien “angels” (the best of us).  The world below will go to pot, just as in this film.

See also, review of "Upside Down" March 21. a simlar story concept to "Elysium".

Friday, August 09, 2013

"Windfall": a small town in upstate New York resists the wind turbine companies

A film I reviewed August 7 started out with homage to wind power as a boon to ranchers, but there is a little documentary called "Windfall" (2010) by Laura Israel, which shows that in more populated rural areas, as in the northeast, it can become a real problem for landowners.
The setting is Meredith, NY, in Delaware County, SW of the Catskills, maybe 40 miles from the NE corner of PA.  Windmill companies approach landowners and make them sign confidentiality agreements not to discuss potential income-generating income land leases with anyone (even privately, let alone on the Internet), so they can’t organize resistance or demand more money. Eventually, the townspeople overcome this barrier and get organized, although they have to deal with their own interpersonal squabbles and "conflicts of interest" first/ 
The film points out that some of the surrounding area did not even have electricity until just after WWII, and the area is well prepared with self-sufficient (probably armed) people who could survive a power grid failure (hint, a warning about a solar storm or even an EMP attack). 

Now, though, the wind turbines, once installed, cause real distractions: “shadow flicker” on sunny days is distracting to some people, and the turbines interfere with television reception and probably wireless Internet, although those problems could probably be managed by carefully placing all the turbines with respect to the positions of cell phone and broadcast towers.  The whish sound from the turbines is also disturbing in some homes.  In the film, the turbines (400 feet to the top of the tallest blade) seem close to some farm houses.  

It is common to see wind farms on the tops of ridges in the northeast, especially Pennylvania, and it’s necessary to dig about 30 feet into the ridge to place a cement floor – so this is “minor” mountaintop removal.  It’s a lot less destructive than strip mining for coal.

The film asks the question whether wind farming is superfluous, and whether the real strategy for clean energy should focus just on natural gas.

The official site (Cat Hollow Films) is here

The DVD and Instant play are available on Netflix. 

Picture: Mine, near Mt. Storm, W Va, 2010. 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

"Pacific Rim": the real aliens are sea monsters

Pacific Rim” struck me as a blow-up of the Japanese horror films of the 50s, especially “The Giant Behemoth”.  It seemed odd to me that Guillermo del Toro would spend his talents on something on a premise that is less promising than even a story for a typical comics-based movie.  The title reminds me of Arthur Honneger’s tone poem “Pacific 231”.

The big idea is that enormous sea monsters (a kind of takeoff of “Alien” and “Predator”) hatch in undersea vents and storm through coastal cities.  Humans have terraformed the Earth to the point that aliens (perhaps Earth’s first colonists a billion years ago) are expected to return and colonize the Earth with more of these creatures.  So the world’s militaries have invented these huge fighting robots, into which human soldiers enter, to be sealed off.  They fight in pods of two, and somehow the robots join their thoughts – as brothers (Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff) or lovers (with Rinko Kikuchi). 

The geeks in the film have dissected one of the creatures and isolated its two-part brain, which looks a bit like the floating guild creature from “Dune” (1984).  There is Dr. Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman, no place here for Anthony Hopkins), and the sidekick Dr. Newton Geizler, played by Charlie Day.  Now this actor, otherwise a conventionally attractive young male, appears with both forearms heavily tattooed – out of character, and meaning he can have no “hair”.  Maybe the actor wore a tattoo sleeve as a makeup prop (these do exist in Hollywood); it’s hard to tell.

The overlong, bloated film goes into some other clich├ęs, such as monster pregnancy, and the destructive behavior of the carnivorous larva, which can eat someone up.  

The official site from Warner Brothers and Legendary is here

The film showed distant shots of Sydney, Hong Kong, and Singapore. 

I saw this in Imax 3-D at the AMC Tysons, before a moderate Wednesday night crowd.  IMDB lists the aspect ratio as standard, but the presentation looked wider.  The music score by Raman Djawadi reminds one of the music of Hans Zimmer.