Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Trials of Muhammad Ali": The interesting part concerns the military draft as a moral issue

The Trials of Muhammad Ali”, a biography of Cassius Marcellus Clay, well known as a professional heavyweight boxer who adopted Islam and even the “Nation of Islam”. 

But the most interesting part of the somewhat didactic film (by Bill Siegel) concerns Ali’s resistance to the Vietnam era military draft. The film presents the newspaper headlines of the sudden doubling of draft calls and lowering of induction standards in 1965. The film is not always clear in the early part of this presentation about Ali’s conscientious objector status.  Ali was eventually convicted of “draft evasion”, stripped of the right to box, and threatened with five years in prison.  But his case wound up before the Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction on what amounted to an arcane procedural technicality.
There was a legal controversy in religious objection to military service, in that CO status was supposed to be recognized only if the objection was to all combat.  Ali’s objection was specifically about the Vietnm war as a white man’s war in some fundamental way offensive to people of color. So his case took on an existential character.

In 1981, the Supreme Court would rule that a male-only draft had been constitutional, even though conscription ended in 1973, after a few years with a lottery instead of deferments.

The film also makes a point about Ali's statements to newspapers, seen as provocative in the pre-Internet world where self-broadcast did not yet exist. 
I’ve discussed elsewhere my own experience with the draft from 1968-1970 and my own “sheltered” situation because of my education, in conjunction with previous student deferments.  That episode of our history is somewhat forgotten but of considerable moral importance.
The film mentions Ali’s relationship with Malcolm X, assassinated in 1965.  There is a 1992 film of that name by Spike Lee, which I did see, although for some reason I got the time wrong and missed the first twenty minutes.  It is very long.  
The official site is here.  The companies involved are Kartemquin, PBS Independent Lens, and Koch Lorber.

The possibility of resuming of the draft, and all the moral concerns that go with it, have been mentioned since the 2001 9/11 attacks.  It has been suggested that the draft would prevent a president from going to war foolishly, or that it is part of basic fairness.   Charles Moskos, an “author” of the military “don’t ask don’t tell” in 1993, changed his position on open gays in the military in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and gave up supporting his own previous solution.  

Military conscription would probably make a good topic for a documentary film. 

I saw this film at the Landmark E Street in downtown Washington Monday afternoon before a small audience, while Congress stewed a mile or so away/ 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Blue Caprice": dramatic reenactment of Muhammad-Malvo up to the Beltway attacks in 2002, with an existential warning

The film “Blue Caprice”, by Alexander Moors, is a dramatic reenactment, although a but telescoped, of the lives of John Allen Muhammad (original name Williams) and Lee Boyd Malvo, perpetrators of the Beltway Sniper Attacks (Wikipedia link) in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC in October 2002.  The title of the film is based on the automobile from which Malvo sniped while hiding in the trunk, as he was when the pair was apprehended at a rest stop on I-70 on South Mountain near Hagerstown, MD on Oct. 24, 2002. For a whole evening shortly before their capture, traffic was stopped on I-95 from Washington almost to Richmond, about 100 miles.  
The film starts in the Caribbean, where the older man (Isaiah Washington) meets Malvo (Tequan Richmond), and there is very early a conversation that “life is not fair” and that “life s..”, and something must make this right.  Muhammad takes Malvo to his original home around Tacoma, WA, where we learn that Muhammad had lost the right to see his kids after a bitter divorce, which the film plays up as the cause of his rage. Muhammad becomes “father” to the teen, in a relationship that is depicted as exploitive and rather sickening, although not erotic.   The pair goes to New Jersey, as they bounce around with a couple of gun-totting sidekicks, before the spree starts.
The film is a bit of a warning in that Muhmmad explains his plot as a kind of “helter skelter” (at least, that’s one way to say it).  He thought that asymmetric random attacks could bring the country to its knees, as if to cause martial law.  Wikipedia articles talk about prosecutors’ charges of his intention to extort various state governments and other authorities, but the film doesn’t mention these.  The film does not try to give a chronology of all of the attacks.  But this episode is likely to become the subject of a CNN “Crimes of the Century” documentary soon.

The film is shot in full “2.35:1” aspect, and I saw it at the West End Cinema in Washington before a relatively small late Sunday audience.  The soundtrack, as presented, sounded a bit muffled by modern standards.  The music background in includes an F#-Minor slow movement from the big A Major Sonata by Franz Schubert.

The link for the film us here. Sundance is distributing this film directly.
The apparently random nature of the crimes at first made me remember a few other bizarre unsolved crimes near Washington. These all need some good investigatory journalism and perhaps attention in film.  In August, 2008 a technician at JPL Kanika Powell was mysteriously targeted at her apartment (story here )   In November 2008, there was a mysterious shooting of security specialist Sean Green (account ).  In Upper Marlboro MD, teen Amber Stanley was shot at home in bed in an unsolved home invasion (story). These have remained cold according to media reports, perhaps a good topic for NBC Dateline, CNN, or ABC 20-20, or an adventurous documentary filmmaker.   A few of the most troubling (from several veiwpoints) cases in NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” series deserve complete followup in documentary film, such as that of Rabbi David Kaye (story).  

Picture : I-95 construction in Virginia, July 2013.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

More DC Shorts: "First Snow" hits eldercare ethics; "Frame of Mind" is a little high-tech thriller'; "Ephermal" presents an odd view of Spain indeed

I saw the DC Shorts Program 12 at the Anacostia Arts Center, across the “river” from Nationals Park and an adventure to reach.

The most important film socially was the first one, “First Snow” (“Premiere Neige”, 13 min), from Montreal, by Michael Lalancette.   Adult family members gather in a hospital waiting room as the nuse informs the family that the father needs an emergency kidney transplant since hemodialysis is failing, and that all the members, even the wife, are suitable matches.  A younger adult family member arrives as “superman” in bobsledding clothes ready for the onset of winter.  There are pontifications about sacrifice and selfishness.  Will any family member step up?  Does anyone really have to?

Ephemeral” (“Efimera”, 18 min, by Diego Modino) is a bizarre visual pate probably inspired by Cervantes himself.  Alicia (Paula Penarva) dreams of becoming a ballerina as she grows up in her windmill home.  But the community around her somewhat evokes David Lynch as much as it does modern Spain, with bizarre tenements and industrial plants.  Soon she encounters an underworld hostage situation of utmost brutality.
Frame of Mind”, 14 min, by Brett Cramer, sets up a kind of combo of “Zodiac” with “Minority Report”, paying homage to recent hit police detective movies.  A witness to a playground killing (Johnnie Oberg, Jr.) is wired up to electronic gear and his mind is probed as police try to stop a supposed serial killer in a playground situation.   It gets dangerous to the subjects, medically speaking, more so than the kids.  A young teen gives an outstanding performance outwitting the stalker.
“Loveseat” (15 min, by Matthew Richmond) has a young man, to please a girl friend, parting with a piece of furniture that talks.  Echoes of “The Puffy Chair”, maybe.
A Little Something on the Side” (11 min.) explores old-fashioned matrimonial jealousy in situation comedy, the way they did it in the 1950’s sitcoms.  I’m immune to it.
Konig Ludwig” (5 min), a male couple plans for a “hereafter” future in the Bavarian forest, and urns and ashes matter.

Tomato Story” (4 minutes, Russia, animated), has two women competing to cultivate the perfect tomato.

The Boxer” (3 minutes, animated).  I’ve never gotten the moral point of this sport, so I leave it be.
Performance” (4 minutes) also escapes me, as dancing and boxing combine.  That’s not to say that dancing can’t be very macho. 


DC Shorts: "Legal Stranger". "Girl Clown", and "Rake's Commitment"

I attended DC Shorts Program 3 at the Angelika Mosaic Center Friday night. At first glance, the films in the program as a whole don’t look as substantive as in the past (few are longer than fifteen minutes), but a few of the films last night had a surprising impact.
Let’s start with the longest, a comedy “Girl Clown” (Beth Spitalny, 15 min).  A somewhat introverted secretary Laura (Crystal Faith Scott) finds herself drawn into becoming a party clown.  She even gets hired because she shows up at the interview not trying to become one.  There seem to be some secret covens in her New York (Brooklyn?) brownstone apartment where spirits or beings drive her on to new directions, and there is a beautiful cat.  In one of my own novel manuscripts, a female character has a secret chamber that leads her into unusual understandings about one of her kids.
Rake’s Commitment” (“El Rastrillo se quiere comprometer”, 14 min), by Santi Veiga, presents us with a gaunt Huberto (Javier Coll), who approaches his wife or girl friend (Julia Moyano) about having a child. She retorts that he needs to find something larger than himself to commit himself to.  Is this a call for Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life”?  The film goes through all the possible causes, and Huberto finds it hard to get enthused about someone else’s problems.   One of the causes is gay rights, which gets rather oblique mention.  Can Huberto find enough purpose outside himself to become a good father, or will fatherhood itself be enough purpose?   The film is set in modern day Madrid.
Legal Stranger” (14 min., directed by Amanda Lucidon) presents us a lesbian couple, Amy and Alex, who were married legally in the District of Columbia but who live in a palatial home in Alexandria, VA.  They use surrogacy for Alex to get pregnant, and have the child in April 2012 (the film shows the ultrasound and birth process, almost in Morgan Spurlock fashion).  But then, in Virginia, there are enormous legal complications in giving Amy the legal status of parent.  The film does trace a little bit of the history of the Marshall-Newman Amendment in Virginia, 2006, banning any legal recognition of same-sex unions.   I live in Arlington, and people always say, living in VA is slightly cheaper than MD or DC, but has horrible politics.  The film presents the strong case for gay equality from an individual rights perspective, but other films in the set give some perspective on a more collective idea of moral thinking.  In states that refuse to recognize same-sex couples, the partners are “legal strangers”. Sponsored by Reel Affirmations

The film was shot before the oral arguments on DOMA before the Supreme Court in March 2013, so the film is not informed of the final Supreme Court ruling in June. 
The Big Leap” (10 min,  Kristoffer Rus, Sweden) presents three people on top of a skyscraper, threatening to leap after a financial crisis (maybe the debt ceiling?)  The city, created with CGI, looks like it is on an island on another planet, or perhaps in China.
Ouverture” (5 min, BW animation, Bracey Smith and Neil Dvorak). A girl spills out music (Bach, music from a cantata transcribed to piano) and the notes take on physical form.

Worlds We Created” (10 min).  About the time we first walked on the Moon, a little boy must face the limits of imagination.

T’ai Chi Man!” (2 min), a real short-short based on martial arts movies.

The Primaeval Father” (3 min, animated) gives us an idea why the Neanderthals sustained themselves a long time but could not innovate.

Duel” (4 min, Portugal).  A man and a woman, yes.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Dirt: The Movie": A good middle school science class lesson about conservation

I needed a school-suitable science documentary film for this blog in a hurry, and I’ll get back to why in a moment.  So today, it’s “Dirt: The Movie” (2009),  by Bill Benenson, Gene Rosow, and Elenore Daily, from Common Ground Media and Docurama. 

The basic concept of the film sounds all most too simple.  Dirt is soil, and we’re destroying it.  That was a message of conservation lessons about erosion in grade school in the 1950’s.

I wasn’t aware of the enormous importance of fungi (including what makes mushrooms) in turning fallen and dead plants and animals back into topsoil,  And late in a woman, we’re shown how to make an effective compost pile, or mulch.

The film does decry deforestation and paving of the Earth.  Los Angeles needs to import water from the Rockies because most of its own rain runs off. 

The film has some impressive shots of mountaintop removal for coal.  One scene may be from Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, but another scene I did not recognize, and it really looked like China.

There is also an interesting sequence where prisoners in upstate New York go outside and work in a garden, and their chests expand and hunchback goes away.   For them, it’s a treat.

The website for the film is here
So, let kids on the farm make their mud pies the way we used to in Ohio in the summer.  Exposure to "dirt" is probably good for children, helping them build up the immune systems early in life with gradual exposure to natural bacteria and fungi. 

Picture: Erosion in a suburban yard, lack of sun exposure makes it difficult to keep grass growing, so a little creek starts to develop. 

I had a fiasco this morning with a duplicate film, of “Journey to the Edge of the Universe”, which turned out to be a British retread with a different narrator of an American National Geographic film.  Not illegal, but a bit unethical to make something look like new material when it isn’t.   All the material is on my posting Dec. 8, 2008 about that film.  There was briefly a new entry here today for the UK version, which I deleted and simply added on to the 2008 posting.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Boy": New Zealand film explores Maori culture as questionable dad returns home to son

Boy” (2010) is a rather eclectic comedy set in native Maori culture of New Zealand.  The “boy”, 11 (James Rolleston), has become a devout Michael Jackson fan and worships his father (director Taika Waititi) whom he imagines achieving stardom in the pop world.  Instead, his father has returned to look for a bag of money (reminding one of the Russian film “The Return”) and has failed as a small-time gangster.
Lives are simple in this film and seem to have little connection to the rest of the world, although there are glimpses, like of a bicycle road race.
There is also a pet goat, and a younger brother Rocky (Te Aho-Eketone-Whitu).
The official site (Kino Lorber) is here.
I can remember, when I was about seven, having a fantastical idea about my own father, making up a test for him to fill out, which he mailed back to me special delivery on a Sunday afternoon.
The English is often hard to decipher and the Maori does not have subtitles. 

There’s a nice dance ensemble (like Slumdog’s) at the end. 

The film placed well at Sundance, Berlin and AFI festivals in 2010.

I've met only one native Maori, half, that I can recall, on an Adventuring hike in the 1990's.    

Wikipedia attribution link for Maori meeting house. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Prisoners", is long but engrossing small town police drama

Prisoners” is a rich dramatic film, long (153 minutes), but shot, like many mystery dramas, in close-up Hitchcock style of 1.85:1 aspect, directed by Denis Villeneuve. It is a bit like an 80’s or early 90’s movie, with stylistic and plot similarities to “The Silence of the Lambs”.  It is written by Aaron Guzikowski and does not appear to be based on a novel.
Jake Gyllenhaal (the name is Dutch, as if the “double a” should be pronounced long), now 31, has taken to tougher roles.  I think he could lose the neck tattoo, which seems out of character – but maybe I’m too used to the young “nice guy” image of Donnie Darko.  Here he plays Detective Loki, still steady and determined and indeed a hero.   The film opens in a bizarre fashion, as the younger girls of carpentry contractor Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) seem drawn to a mysterious van in front of their house.  The girls soon disappear, and Loki finds the van driver, Alex (Paul Dano, usually known for likeable nerdy roles, but here not so), and brings him in.  Soon it’s apparent that Alex is retarded and that there is no evidence to hold him.  The police have to release him, and Dover goes vigilante, kidnapping Alex himself to “protect his family”.  That’s a partial, but not complete, explanation of the film title.
The plot gets complicated, all right, with twists, particularly involving Alex’s rather vengeful aunt Holly (Melissa Leo).  There are a couple other suspected sex offenders, including a priest, and a store clerk (David Dastmalchian).  Terrence Howard (“Hustle and Flow”) is effective as the natural father of one of the girls. 
The link for the film is here
The film is set in Pennsylvania, around Thanksgiving, with some heavy thunderstorms (possible in the late fall) followed by snow.  That looks good.  But the credits say the film was shot in Georgia.  Yes, it snows in Georgia.  But I like to see films shot where they are supposed to take place. 

The film was produced by Alcon, a major associate of Warner Brothers.  I’d love to see Warner Borthers bring back Warner Independent Pictures for “art house” material.  It doesn’t need to form a separate company to brand some of its films differently; companies have multiple distribution trademarks all the time (look at Sony, and look at the publishing industry).  The film aired at the Toronto Film Festival. “Prisoners” (rated R) is definitely for grownups who usually like festival and art house material.  I saw it in the daytime at Algelika Mosaic. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Seven Psychopaths": Brits have an odd idea of American modern spaghetti westerns

There are people in Hollywood who write screenplays for a living and actually get calls from agents about their next assignment.  The practice reminds me of my own getting calls from a self-publisher trying to get me to mount silly initiatives to mass sell my own books. 
In “Seven Psychopaths” (Martin McDonagh) Marty Faranan (Collin Farrell) has to come up with a tight plot for his screenplay by that name, so he needs to meet real psychopaths.  He turns to Billiy(Sam Rockwell) who makes a living kidnapping celebrities’ dogs and collecting ransom. Billy’s crime partner is a fake preacher Hans (Christopher Walken).  Billy and Hans steal an exotic pet (a Shih Tsu) belonging to a gangster played by Woody Harrelson. In the meantime, Martin has penned a working script based on “The Quaker”  (Harry Dean Stanton). 

This sets up a comic bloodbath, where body parts roll in spaghetti western style, with modern LA as the backdrop.  Curiously the film is produced by a British company (Film 4) along with Alliance Atlantis, and distributed in the US by CBS Films and Sony.
The official site is here

Martin finally makes his deadline.

Monday, September 23, 2013

"Branca's Pitch": A hanging curve that lost the 1951 pennant for the Brooklyn Dodger (but Thompson's homer was a skimpy one at that)

“The Giants win the pennant!”  Remember those radio broadcast words from Oct. 3, 1951, when Bobby Thompson hit a high-inside pitch from Ralph Branca, maybe not even a strike, into the short porch at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan.  The Polo Grounds were like a huge back yard, with a distant centerfield fence (room for Willie Mays’s catch of a drive from Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series), and short porch foul lines, 278 in left and 252 in right.  It’s not clear that the drive would have cleared a “normal” modern outfield. When the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to LA for 1958, they had a short porch in left like that their first year in the LA Coliseum.
Branca’s Pitch”, by Andrew J. Muscato, traces the life of Ralph Branca since then, as related in interviews with his tattooed ghost writer, David Ritz, whose hideaway is not so far from the site of the old coliseum.  Branca’s autobiography would be called “A Moment in Time”.  People do hire real writers to write their biographies.
Some of the later part of the film deals with the question as to whether the Giants stole signs, as the Dodgers collapsed in September, 1951., setting up the playoffs.  The road teams had won the first two games, and the Giants won the third game in a walkoff, coming from behind a 4-1 deficit in the bottom of the ninth.  Branca was brought in to pitch and threw the gopher ball.

The film is shot in refreshing black and white.There are excerpts from "Concentration" and from the Ed Sullivan Show. 

The DVD will be available from Strand Releasing on Oct. 1.   I reviewed from a Vimeo screener.   
I couldn’t find an official site for the film, but I found one for the book here

Josh Prager, who wrote an article on the 1951 pennant from a broader perspective in his book “Echoing Green” also appears, and explains how memoirs are often not as objective as broader historical articles. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Polo Grounds geometric diagram. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"The Patience Stone": a woman caring for her comatose war-maimed husband shares her deepest secrets

The Patience Stone”, from Afghan director Atiq Rahimi (based on his novel), certain combines Islamic values and civil war with a bizarre sexual and personal vision.  The protagonist is a 30-something married woman played by Golsifteh Farahani, who tends to her apparently comatose husband (Hamid Djavadan), who has been shot in the neck after a personal confrontation with one of his own local people.  He may be in a vegetative state, or have the “locked-in” syndrome, as in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Jan. 11, 2008; see also “Sessions”, Dec. 12, 2012).  
There is cacophony and carnage around her, as the woman huddles with her kids, husband, and aunt in early scenes.  The few outdoor scenes, of an Afghan city built on a mountainside, are quite breathtaking.
The woman tends her husband, and his feeding tube.  But gradually she lets out her desires and fantasies, with a candor normally unthinkable in an active marriage. She struggles with the question of fertility, and the implications for her faithfulness.  In a confrontation with an older mujahedeen, she says she makes a living as a prostitute. The old man gets man, but soon a young soldier (Massi Mrowat) who stutters appears as a “customer”, but soon the young man’s real needs take her attention.  What will happen if her husband wakes up?
There is a lot of fantasy material about the male in the movie, odd for an Islamic film given Islam’s strict sexual mores, as if the filmmaker wants to show visually some of the pretexts for Islamic moral beliefs.  She undresses and rubs her husband’s hairy body with oil, and then later undresses the young soldier, who is largely smooth, but has numerous intentional burn marks on his body (although the film doesn’t make them very conspicuous, fortunately).   How much significance does our deepest fantasy material really have?
The husband, when comatose, is supposed to become a metaphor for a Persian “patience stone”. I thought that the Taliban and Islamic practice in the country was Sunni, however.
Sony’s site for the film is here
The film was a co-production between Afghanistan, France and Germany.

I saw it on a Sunday afternoon at the AMC Shirlington.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Wadjda": an on-location look at Saudi society, through the eyes of a teenage girl

Sony’s new release from Match Factory, Tribeca and Venice film festivals, “Wadjda” (directed by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour) seems to be the first film ever shot on location in Saudi Arabia, a country which apparently still has no public cinemas as we know them.

The film was shot around Riyadh, but the outdoor scenes seem to be in drab, flat neighborhoods of low-rise concrete residences and shops.  Only once, at the end, does the film take us to the edge of the desert and its nothingness. The sunny sky always seems hazy, even smoggy.  This is the closest we can come to taking a trip to another planet with a real civilization, except going to China perhaps. 

Ordinary non-Muslim Americans can’t go to Saudi Arabia very easily, although I know a gay Jewish man who actually biked in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980’s.
The story concerns a pre-teen girl Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) who wants go buy a bicycle.  In Saudi culture, women have been forbidden to ride bikes if of child-bearing age, or (usually) drive cars.  She meets all the usual cultural resistance from her mother (Reem Abdullah) and her girls’ school, especially the headmistress Ms. Hussa (Ahd).  She decides to join a Koran-recitation contest to earn enough money for the bike.  Being very smart and intellectually gifted (probably capable of medical school), she wins it.  But then the school make her give her winnings to Palestinian fighters.  Can she still get her bike?  That’s a screenwriting problem. 
The movie (98 minutes) is slow, and a bit tedious with a lot of dialogue about mundane matters from a western perspective.  But the film shows well the foundations of Saudi and “fundamentalist” Sunni Muslim culture (as did Iran’s “A Separation” for Shiite Islam), as tied to disciplining every single person.  Yes, totalitarian societies do that.  But the fanatical attention to separating and covering the sexes in Saudi society seems predicated on the idea that almost every woman can become a wife and mother and every male can become a husband and father; no distractions are tolerated.  Infidelity or “sexual immorality” is not so much a crime against the consent or trust of another person as it is against the perceive future of the culture, which requires babies raised according to religious rules. The script, in a couple places, specifically refers to loyalty not just to family but to one's "tribe".  My understanding is that the Islamist idea of the afterlife is that it starts at the end of all time, not just at death.  From the viewpoint of physics, that makes less sense.
The best official site seems to be here
The film, despite a major distributor, seems to play in only one theater in the DC area, Landmark’s Bethesda Row, in an area with heavy construction and detours and inconvenient from northern VA, although I got there OK and parked in a garage about six blocks away for a Saturday morning show. 
Wikipedia attribution link for aerial picture of Riyadh 

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Salinger": the most complete biography of the reclusive author of "Catcher in the Rye" ever

Salinger”, directed by Shane Salerno and proudly distributed by The Weinstein Company, is a very thorough and compelling biography, running a full two hours, of Jerome David “J.D.” Salinger (1919-2010), one of the most controversial authors in modern American literature. 
It’s common knowledge that Salinger became reclusive after the publication in 1951 of “The Catcher in the Rye”, and reporters have camped out and followed him near his home near Cornish, NH, but he has had a lot more contact with the public over the years than is generally believed.
Salinger started writing little stories while in a military academy, and actually wrote while in combat during the D-Day invasion and subsequent battle to liberate France during WWII, of which the film shows considerable footage.  It’s well known that he was drafted in 1942, but I didn’t know he had first been rejected in 1941 and kept asking to take the draft physical again.  The movie doesn’t explain why he was rejected.  I thought I was almost the only person in history who had done that, being classified 4-F for “psychiatric history” at my first physical in 1964, asking for the physical again and becoming 1-Y in 1966 and 1-A in 1967, and finally “serving without serving” from 1968-1970. Salinger would serve in the counterintelligence corps in WWII while exposed to brutal combat, and would discover victims of the Nazi concentration camps. Salinger had also been published before the age of 21, but had tried to get published in the prestigious New Yorker, only to have a story (a precursor to “Rye” with Holden) pulled in 1942 because it seemed inappropriate with the outbreak of WWII.  “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” would be published in 1946.  Salinger's writing while in combat and holding onto manuscripts in his pack would be more challenging than my handwriting my novel "The Proles" while stationed at Fort Eustis, VA in 1969.

Salinger pulled at least one book from stores (after "Catcher"( in the 1950's when published without his authorization.  I wasn't aware authors could do this.
The film also traces his three marriages, especially his second wife’s own literary career and the confrontation it created.  He was capable of having platonic relationships with younger women.
The movie has a lot of stills of Salinger in his twenties and thirties, with the long face, swarthy complexion and hairy arms.  There’s an observation by Holder Caulfield early in “Catcher” about one of the prep school male teachers, “Old guys’ legs are so white and unhairy.”

The film also covers the three shootings by deranged men supposedly identifying with Holden, including the murder of John Lennon in 1980 and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981.

At the end, the movie lists the publication schedule of many of Salinger’s remaining novellas and stories, to come out between 2015 and 2020.

The movie makes the point that Salinger wrote for himself, as he got older.   As a young man, he cared about getting published, but resisted attention once he was famous.  He was solving problems in his writing.  Of course, most of his career came about long before the Internet, when you had to sell your work to a third party publisher to get your worldview known by the public.

Salinger accumulated a reel film library in his home, and one of his favorites was Frank Capra's 1937 of James Hilton's "Lost Horizon", about a Shangri La where you remain young forever.  I've seen it once on TCM, as I recall. 

The official site is here

I saw the film at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA before a small crowd at the early Friday evening show.  
Can there ever be a film of "Catcher"? 

Picture: Tilton, NH (mine, 2011). 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Museum Hours": A museum guard befriends a visitor with a dying relatiive; where are the real stories?

Jem Cohen’s little film “Museum Hours” may seem a bit gratuitous in the way it looks at storytelling. It’s true, a lot of the paintings in Vienna’s Art History Museum (Kunsthistoriches) tell stories, and paint visions of what daily life would have been like for us had we been born a few hundred years ago. 

The human side today is simple, but that’s often how it is.  Art museum security guard Johann (Bobby Sommer) can tell stories about the pictures, and explain how museums didn’t come into being until the French Revolution, and this one isn’t “free” to visit (sorry, Reid! – but there’s even a simple “free fish” sculpture).  Then Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara) appears, having come from Montreal to look after her cousin, in a coma in a hospital.  Her name and contact had been found in her cousin’s effects.  She stays all winter, any the couple keep each other company.  Neither seems to have a lot ambition in the usual sense.  Bobby has worked in the music and then carpentry businesses, but never acted as a creator himself.  Bobby joins Anne in spending hours beside Anne’s cousin’s beside, telling her stories about the paintings as she remains unconscious.

There is some attention to paintings with nudity, and even a brief visit of guests allowed to be naked, without “imagination”.  They’re rather unremarkable.

One of the most interesting parts of the film is the various sequence of outdoor walks in Vienna, often in fog, then snow (as the entire winter progresses into early spring), often more drab than one would expect.

Museums often seek volunteers, who might have to don uniforms.  For example, the National Academy of Sciences has a museum in Washington DC, and a guide approached me when I visited it last December. Yet volunteering for such a place requires a lot of bureaucracy.  Who wants to take orders that way?

The idea that art simulates life is interesting. When I worked for the Navy Department (in the Navy Yard) back in 1972, a friend and co-worker wrote on essay on "art" and used fog (as in this movie) as a metaphor.
I saw that film at a late afternoon show at the Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax, VA. There was a fair crowd for a weekday.
The film is distributed by Cinema Guild, and I don’t know if the production company of “Little Magnet” has anything to do with Magnolia Pictures.
 The official site is here


This is a quiet film, running about 110 minutes.  Bobby’s own narration in in German with subtitles, but the conversations with Anne are in English. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Vienna tram in winter. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints": Casey Affleck gains rooting interest as a "bad guy", maybe (a remake of "The Chase"?)

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, by David Lowery, presents a somewhat familiar theme.  A rather earthy outlaw Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) has escaped from prison and tries to make his way back to his wife Ruth (Rooney Mara, who reminds one of Sissey Spacek) and baby daughter whom he has never seen.  Bob had taken the wrap for wounding a local police officer in a shootout where the shot came from Ruth, so there is (from a screenwriting perspective) an urgency and a rooting interest in his returning to her.

The film is supposed to take place near Meridian and Glen Rose, Texas, in the Hill Country (or perhaps Palo Pinto “Mountains”), but much of the country looks flatter than it really is, and was actually shot in Louisiana and New York State.  The time is the early 1970’s, and that part looks accurate. But even in the 1970's, I didn't pick up hitchhikers.  
The photography, despite the digital projection and 2.35:1 aspect, looked like it was shot in constant twilight.  I saw the film in the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA before a fair weeknight audience.
The film, a Sundance selection and sponsored by Sundance, was distributed by IFC, even though it was produced with the Weinstein Company. The official Facebook is here

The film reminds me of the 1966 film “The Chase”, with Robert Redford as “Bubba Reeves” who has escaped for prison and heads for his southern town home.  I saw that film my last night in Lawrence, KS, at the Varsity Theater, the spring semester of 1966 at KU, before flying home the next day.  It was the only film I went to that spring, outside of some repertory films on campus (like “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”).  But that (or maybe the following) spring I also saw the horrifying anti-nuke short, “The War Game” on campus. I remember a line from a child in the simulated nuclear aftermath, "I don't want to do nothing."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"In a World": Intra-family battle in the world of trailer voice-overs

In a World …” has attracted attention as a dramedy exploring the world of voice-over in movie trailers and commercials.  It’s directed and written by its female lead, Lake Bell, playing Carol, who seeks to enter the male-dominated world and is confronted with a (properly urgent from a screenwriting perspective) crisis when her father Sam (Fred Melamed) kicks her out of the LA house so that he can live with a 30-year-old girl friend Jamie (Alexandra Holden), while Carol goes to live with sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) already married to an older man Moe (Rob Corddry). 
The “object” of the movie is the audition for and making of a trailer for a Tarzan-like “The Amazon Games”, an obvious reference to Lionsgate’s “Hunger Games” series.  Sam is stepping down so that a younger friend, Gustaf Warner (Ken Marino) can step in. Gustaf is somewhat of a playboy who has inherited a fortune and can do whatever he wants, including spend money on female attendants when he bathes.  But he seems a bit of a caricature, with his high-pitched voice and ultra smooth body, as contrasted with Sam, especially in a Turkish bath scene where Sam looks like an absolute ape.  (Who wants gray hair all over the tops of his shoulders?  Maybe there really is a use for No-No. ) 
Carol befriends her sound booth man, Louis (Demetri Martin). They gradually move toward intimacy, each testing one another.  The actor Martin is listed as age 40 in imdb, but in the movie, partly because of his lean appearance, he looks more like 28.  (Yes, thin men look younger, like Gabriel Mann on “Revenge”).  He is fairly articulate, and maybe the most appealing male character in the movie.
The film picks up momentum and humor in the second half, and the plot threads in the writing seem to come together. 
I saw it at the AMC Shirlington (only a few people on a discount Tuesday night), and curiously, there were no previews.  I don’t know what the future of the theater is, as it is in an old building in an area undergoing extensive real estate development.  There are posters going into November.  Maybe we could have a new indie complex in a new building, maybe connected to the nearby Signature Theater (stage). 

The film won the Sundance award for best screenplay.  It is distributed by Roadside Attractions, without Lionsgate.  The official site is here..   

The film licensed a lot of songs, like the familiar "I want to rule the world" during the end credits. 
The film could be compared to “20 Feet from Stardom” (July 3).  (Note: slight misspelling inside this blog posting url because of initial typo.) 

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Miss Dial": can you make a comedy movie about a home customer service rep? Are phone calls visual enough?

Miss Dial” (directed by David H. Steinberg) takes indie comedy down to its simplest form.  It is filmed in 2.35:1 so that it can spend most of its 89 minutes splitting the screen between two callers.
The setup is worthy of note. Erica (Robinne Lee) works at home in LA as a customer service rep for a service company that resembles Alpine Access, Arise or Live Ops.  (See my IT Jobs blog, Aug. 13, 2007).  She has to be pleasant and sociable on the phone, and has scripts for a large number of consumer products.  Her boss (David H. Lawrence XVII) monitors and checks up on here, and reminds her that her productivity had better stay up, and that she probably has the only kind of job she can get.  That doesn't mean she is a bad person, does it? 
But she cheats on the job to take breaks to cold call and meet people, pretending that she has a technical problem with her connection.  And she does meet a couple of interesting people when she “misdials”.  Eventually she meets a handsome EMT tech (Sam Jaeger) whom she thinks is in NY.  Oh, she doesn’t know he’s handsome until the end.  But there is some clever dialogue about lookism (odd for a phone bank person) – “you can do better than this.”
The Facebook page (Phase 4 Films) is here.

Back in 1974, I wrote a little short story called "Friendship over the Phone", about a gay man finding another peer wants only "friendship". not a "relationship". 
I bought a digital copy on Amazon for $9.99, the price of a budget movie ticket.  It was not offered for rental on Amazon, but it is offered on YouTube rental for just $1.99.  My own experience has been that Amazon, private Vimeo and Netflix are less likely to have slowdowns than YouTube on feature films,

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Homophobia": a major "short" about gays in the military from Austria, apparently during Cold War period; also, riveting short doc on Uganda anti-gay laws

Homophobia” (2012) is an important short (23 minutes) from Austria about gays in the military, even with the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.”
The film, directed by Gregor Schmidinger, portrays a late teen young man in a unit prevent illegal immigrants from coming from Hungary.  The film seems to be set during the Cold War years, and may be taking place before most European countries preceded the US in lifting bans on gays in the military.

A straight soldier (Gunther Strumlechner( accosts a gay soldier (Michael Glatschnig) for “recreation”, and then apologizes when they are on guard duty together in the snow at night.  But then complications develop, with the feelings of both men, and whether they trust one another.  There is a serious confrontation.

There is a line from the cadre, that the “75% who are born that way” can affect the 25% who aren’t (the so called “waverers”), and this was an unfortunate idea in the early days in the debate on “don’t ask don’t tell”. 

The film is produced by “Irrational Realm”.

There is a 10-minute film by Theo Ferguson, "A Short Documentary on Homophobia", posted on YouTube by LGBTDocumentary, filmed in Britain.  It gives a quick history, with an emphasis on religious beliefs in "natural law" and that God insists that people behave the way he made them (which runs into logical trouble quickly. Toward the end, the film answers the "illogic" of most anti-gay "arguments".

But the sleeper documentary on this subject is the 57-minute BBC documentary, "The World's Worst Place to Be Gay", by Scott Mills, YouTube link here. The film seems to be part of a BBC series called something like "Dangerous Places" so maybe it should be on my TV blog, but I'll put it here this time to reinforce a point.   Scott, himself about 30, a radio and TV DJ and producer and raised in London, teams up with a friend from Uganda living in Plymouth, and then flies to Kampala, Uganda on his own on a most dangerous adventure. This is one of the most graphic films made directly in the "third world" that I have ever seen.  Scott lands in the middle of the hysteria from a 2009 draconian anti-gay bill that could impose the death penalty.  People in the streets tell him that homosexuality is "un-Afrcian" (an idea parallel to Putin's idea that it is un-Russian).  A couple of local tabloids called "Onion" and "Rolling Stone" actually try to goad witch-hunts of secretive homosexuals.  But this attitude seems to be recent, and to have been imported by certain evangelical pastors who were able to influence politicians.  It is shocking to see "common people" believe in "non sequitirs" because they are told to by authorities.   Curiously, Mills finds one gay bar in Kampala. Mills visits a witch doctor, where he gets beaten by a "last chicken" in a ritual, and then goes to Mbarama for a partly illegal debate on the subject on the radio.The idea of denial of procreation and threat to fertility of the population does come up int he debate (Putin seems to play this card in Russia).  Mills gets in trouble and is almost arrested, but gets out of the country with his tape, but not before bringing some goods for people thrown out of their homes and living in the barrios.   This is a riveting film and ought to be distributed in the US.  I'll see what I can do.

One quick business note: I had posted a review of "The Union: The Business of Getting High", but then I found I had reviewed it Sept, 3, 2009 and "forgotten".  I added more comments (quite a bit more extensive) to my review t\here.  Netflix has a habit of recommending films you've rented before unless you remember to rate them, in quick case the yellow stars become a "red flag".

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Don't Tell": Italian drama about past child abuse partly filmed on UVa campus

Don’t Tell” is an ironic movie title for me, given my own activism and the title of my books (“Do Ask, Do Tell”), but actually it is the assigned English title for a 2005 film originally called “The Beast in the Heart” (“La bestia nel cuore”), by Cristina Comencini, based on her own novel.   It’s nice to be able to make a your own film from your own book. I’d like to do that.   

A young woman Sabina (Giovanna Mezzogiomo), happily married in Italy to Franco (Allesio Boni) starts having nightmares about her childhood when she becomes pregnant by him.  She travels to Charlottesville, VA where her brother is a professor, to explore the mystery, and discovers a horrible family secret of abuse by their father.  The brother showed he could protect his sisters -- unchosen family responsibility. 
The film shows a lot of the real University of Virginia campus, including the graduate student living quarters.
The film has a climactic sequence where Sabina goes into labor when alone in a rail tram car.  I wondered, if I had been the only other passenger in the car, could I have done anything but what she does, pull the emergency lever.  Remember that in “Days of our Lives”, a gay character Sonny steps up to such a challenge and delivers Gabi’s baby when they are on the run from pursuers in the woods.

There is also a subplot with another lesbian sister.

I had been to Charlottesville today, and by coincidence I played the Netflix DVD when I got back, but I had no idea that some of the film had been shot there.
This is a large, ambitious Italian film distributed by Lionsgate, which in more recent years has not distributed foreign language films.  The music score is interesting, with a theme by Satie, and an excerpt from Robert Schumann’s Piano Sonata #1 in F# Minor.


This is a slow-paced film, and it runs a full two hours. It played at many European film festivals, including Venice.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve": forget the debt ceiling because the Fed prints too much money; the rest of the world could stop taking the dollar

Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve”, narrated by Liev Schreiber and directed by Jim Bruce, and distributed by Liberty Street Films, gives a thorough history of the Federal Reserve and of our monetary policy since the 1907 panic, when the “nation’s bank” was first proposed, although it was set up as a federation of regional partly private banks with central control. 

The background motivation was the stable history of the Bank of England, but after WWII the US, still on a gold standard, was set to become the nation’s leader. 
The nation’s finances seemed stable in the mid 1960’s, until the Vietnam War and new “Great Society” programs of LBJ had to be paid for.  All of this led to Nixon’s abandoning the gold standard, with the simple “trust me” faith in the Federal Reserve as the only backup to currency.  (“Dumb f__”.)  What would result was printing of money and the inflation of the 1970’s.  Volcker would get things calmed down, and then the Ayn Rand disciple Greenspan would be appointed to be chairman by President Reagan.  Greenspan would preside over the “Great Moderation” and boom of the 1990s, but after the dot-com bust and then 9/11 it became apparent that the only way the US economy could “grow” was a very low interest rate policy, increasing the value of financial and real estate assets while prices of some essential (but not all) commodities rose, affecting lower income people.  During that time, Ben Bernanke would be appointed new chairman (by Bush) and continue the same general approach. 

Disparity in wealth increased. The result was enormous increase of consumer debt to support an asset bubble, which collapsed when derivatives fell apart.  The film claims that the whole world financial system almost stopped functioning in mid September 2008, and there was no choice but to bail out AIG.
But now, the film says, the biggest threat is government debt.  This certainly points to the debt ceiling crisis, for which the quick aspirin is to print more "Weimar" paper money..  Something has to give, or there could be a new danger of collapse.  Could it be retiree entitlements?  Is this the place to talk about baby boomer behavior (not replacing itself and “demographic winter”)?  This is the place to talk about real wealth.  Maybe civilizations on other planets don't have money at all, like their worlds are just "intentional communities". . 
The film does not specifically mention the controversial views of Porter Stansberry (as explained in his video “The End of America”, reviewed on my “Films on Major Challenges to Freedom” blog, Sept. 1).  That is to say, financial collapse can occur if the rest of the world suddenly stops accepting the dollar as a “reserve currency”. The film does hint, though, that the Fed cannot print money forever and expect the rest of the world to accept, after interest rates have gone too low.

The site for the film is here.  The film has played in some smaller film festivals, including Vancouver and Lincoln Center (Walter Reade) in NYC.  I saw this before a fairly full auditorium at Landmark E Street in Washington DC tonight.
When I bought the ticket, I had a tongue slip and asked for “Money for Free”.  That is, “it’s free” (shout it several times.)  It seems Federal Reserve Policy could well motivate a “Reid-ing 04” film. 

You can’t get something for nothing, and sustain it.  If it sounds too good to be true, it always is.

Note: there are other films called "Money for Nothing".  Imdb has yet to show a film titled "Money for Free".  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"In the Fog": slow drama from Belarus explores personal moral dilemmas in an obscure German occupation during WWII

In the Fog” (“V tumane”), directed by Sergei Loznitsa, is a drama from Belarus set in 1942 in German occupied near the western border of the Soviet Union.  It is adapted from a short story of Vasil Bykaw. The history may be obscure today, but the point of the drama is to explore existential questions about morality, loyalty, and sacrifice.
The film is long (127 minutes) and slow. The wide screen cinematography captures the drabness of the forest environment, mostly looking like the nineteenth century, sometimes approaching black-and-white.
The basic setup concerns the Nazi German occupation, the Belarussian administrators who go along with them (like the Jewish elders at Theresienstadt in “War and Remembrance”), the rebels (called the Partisans) and the ordinary rural people.  The protagonist, Sushenya (Validimir Svirskiy), whose jobs was to walk railroad tracks with handcars (I don’t recall seeing a “model railroad” handcar in the movies before) has been arrested and wrongfully accused of blowing up a train (that sort of thing would happen in “The Peacemaker” in 1997) and then released.  That makes him a pariah among the Partisans, who try to execute him as a traitor.  But the Germans intercept the plot, leaving Sushenya the moral problem of saving his intended executioner’s life and carrying him through the woods.  I’m not sure that the eventual denouement is that convincing.
I had thought about these sorts of dilemmas as a kid.  In tenth grade English (in 1959), when we wrote a short story as a theme project, I created a situation where a lifeguard has to rescue a drowning person when a “duck and cover” siren is blaring. The young male teacher (and previous football player but very good “professor”) didn’t understand my conclusion (the bomb goes off) but gave me a “B” on it. This teacher welcomed moral controversy; most of his final exam essay questions on literature were about it;  and one student wrote a theme trying to prove the existence of God. 
The official site is here. The DVD will be released by Strand Releasing September 17.  The other distributor is The Match Factory. 
I reviewed the film from a Strand screener.
The title of the film, as translated, recalled Sony’s documentary “The Fog of War”.  The very last scene of the film does justify the title.  It’s rather like a quiet epilogue to a Bax symphony.

Another film for comparison would be the 1999 Finnish film “Ambush” (“Tie Rukajarven”, directed by Olli Sarelaa, set in the Russo-Finnish war of 1942.  I saw that at a film festival at the University of Minnesota in their Bell Auditorium that year.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Another Country": British boarding school drama, set in 1930's, sets up the "old chestnut" about homosexuality, communism and security

Another Country”, a 1983 BBC-Goldcrest film set mostly in a British boarding school in the 1930’s, and based a play by Julian Mitchell and directed by Marek Kanievska.  Most of the film is told as a flashback from an old Guy Bennett, loosely adapted from the Soviet spy Guy Burgess. The play somewhat sets the stage for previously common ideas about homosexuality, communism, and security, old chestnuts that plagued me when I was growing up.

At boarding school, Guy (Rupert Everett) is a somewhat charismatic figure even if he fails his military inspections.  Amazingly, he aspires to become a house “God”.  He and Tommy Judd (Colin Firth), claiming he is a communist, are questioned as to why they are “different” and put others in their future ruling class at risk.  There have been some covert gay scandals involving other students, and Guy has started covertly dating Harcourt (Cary Elwes).  The ensuing scandal leads to Guy’s getting “caned” (spanked) and disgraced. 

There is a scene where Guy challenges Tom, with “You think some people are better than other people because of the way they make love” – as if that contradicts communist ideology.  But Guy would become a notorious spy, as documented in the 2-DVD BBC set “Cambridge Spies”, offered as a preview on the DVD. Guy actually came to believe that homosexuality would be Ok in Russia.  The current "anti-gay" law involving pro-gay speech in Russia (and the upcoming Winter Olympics) does seem like a troubling irony now to anyone watching the film. 

The idea of becoming a “God” (one of the two top perfects) is certainly a curious one, as if someone could become an idol.  That’s always sounded like a contradiction to me in traditional Christianity:  you aren’t supposed to worship idols or people as idols, but only God – yet you are supposed to be able to give up everything and follow “Him”, a bit of a contradiction. 

The paddling (or "spanking") scene reminded of other hazing that used to go on.  At William and Mary in the fall of 1961, freshmen (who didn't skip out on the initiations) were taken to a dorm basement where "they" shaved the boys' legs, on the theory that for one unfortunate soul, it would never grow back.  You didn't even have to be rushing for a fraternity to get scraped.  I skipped it, and wound up getting thrown out of school for admitting "latent homosexuality" to the Dean of Men two months later. 

Later, Kenneth Branagh and Everett also starred in the stage play in London. 

The DVD and Instant Replay are available from Warner Brothers (essentially “Warner Independent Pictures”) and Netflix. 

For today’s short film, look at John Wooley’s “The Internet Must Go” (30 min.), on my Network Neutrality blog, today. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"John Dies at the End": a real alternate universe might be more interesting without the drug trips

“John Dies at the End” is a film title that amounts to a forbidden spoiler, but maybe not exactly.  The film was around Landmark Theaters, from Magnolia and Magnet, late last winter and went to instant play and DVD quickly. It is directed by David Coascarelli and based on David Wong’s novel.

Chase Williamson plays David, and takes on a robust, conventionally clean-cut Caucasian appearance.  Apparently he had taken on the name as part of a ruse.  He’s really into the “out there” with his friend John (Rob Mayes), also clean cut.   Both are college dropouts and don’t have the edge on inventing another Facebook.  Paul Giamatti plays the reporter Arnie Blondestone, and is as out of it as everyone else.  He is perhaps a “could soul” with a chick pea brain containing is levels of reality (or dreams). 

All these friends are into a new street drug; people who use it may come back no longer human.  It seems that’s the “alien’s” way of making their divine invasion, to get everybody stoned.  Social conservatives will love the premise.

There’s plenty of racy monsters and decapitations and limbs rolling, but John and David (like in the Bible) always look unscathed; they never quite “get it”, even at the end. But the intermediate scenes reminded me of the drug monsters of "Naked Lunch". 
The most interesting part of the film is the last third, when the crew passes through an invisible door (a girl takes off her arm to open it) to an alternate universe, where technology took a different course a century ago, and computers, like master-mind Korrok, became organic (a pretty common sci-fi theme).  The colors in this world are different – maybe it really is on a smaller planet around a smaller star (like a red dwarf).  The women are nude, but the men are not, and the head honcho wears a Groucho-like mask.

I had purchased a Blu Ray disk at Best Buy, and it kept stalling and playing slowly throughout the DVD.  From what I found out online, I need a firmware update to my two-year-old Samsung, and I’m not set up to do it.  So I “cheated” and watched it on Netflix Instant play from the point it started stalling (about 20 minutes in).  It’s probably easier to get a small new BluRay unit for my latest laptop than it is to mess around with an older player; the DVD will have a lot of extras.  I’ll report on that here when I get the technical problem solved.
The official site is here.


The dark comedy-horror genre here may have gotten in the way of presenting a more interesting theory about other worlds and alternative universes.   Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica” does that and it needs to become a movie.  I’m surprised it hasn’t yet. 

Monday, September 09, 2013

"Adore" is too choppy to deliver on its "anything goes" premise

The Australian film “Adore”, by Anne Fontaine, takes itself seriously, with coastal scenery and schmaltzy music.  The premise, based on the novel “The Grandmothers” by Doris Lessing, has two middle aged moms (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright), neighbors in a bucolic sunny setting, falling in love with the opposing young adult sons (James Frecheville and Xavier Samuel). 

The sons even get married and have kids, adding to the family tension.  The two young men seem to fight a bit – there is an ocean scene that recalls “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, and even tease the boundaries of homoeroticism but never really go down that path.  The two older women go  little farther, however, into lesbianism to supplement their torrid heterosexual lives.  This could be a film where “Anything Goes”.

Unfortunately, the narrative is too choppy, the scene cuts to abrupt and truncated.  The movie, at 100 minutes, seems to have a lot of deleted scenes.  Maybe director’s commentary with the DVD will help.
The film does go into Tom’s acting and directing career toward the end, but doesn’t do as much with Ian, despite his serious injury, which heals all too quickly and completely to have even happened.

This is also a fantasy world where young men have a grand total of zero chest hairs.

The official site (from Exclusive Media) is here. That’s an ironic name for a distributor.

I saw this at the Avalon in Washington, the only theater showing it here.  There was a small crowd, but the Redskins provided competition (while losing).

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Robert Altman's "bi" comedy about personals, "Beyond Therapy", doesn't predict his riveting films in the 90's; notes on 80's gay film

In the 1980’s, before and during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, comedic and dramatic gay films were being made that tried to present urban gay life, even when in satire, in its normal degree of separation (variable at times) from the suburban and rural world of Reagan’s “Normal Rockwell” America – families with children.

Robert Atlman teased us with a little wobbly comedy, “Beyond Therapy” (1987, for New World Pictures and now Anchor Bay and Image), based on by the play by Christopher Durang (who adapted it to screen).  The basic setup is that Bruce (Jeff Goldblum) and Prudence (Julie Hagerty) meet on a blind date based on newspaper personals.  Yes, people really did that in print in the days long before Craigslist, and here they do it at the behest of their therapists.  Soon Prudence learns, with some shock, that Bruce is “bisexual”, and Bruce gives her a lecture on what he “has” that women don’t have:  a beard (maybe body hair), height, more muscle.  That invites a certain narcissism that infuses the rest of the characters, especially two jealous men chasing Bruce, that is Bob (Christopher Guest) and Stuart (Tom Conti). 
In Manhattan in those days, “therapy” was a trendy word:  the Ninth Street Center in the East Village still met, as did Identity House, probably.  People really did live their own lives, go to Fire Island, and have to deal with “so jealous” but not legally recognized lovers.  And they were just learning that they needed to stay safe.
George Gershwin's song “Someone to Watch Over Me” figures into the comedy, as does some Bach on a harpsichord. Can “women theoretically have a sense of humor”?  How about the line, "I am sick of talking about therapy; I hate therapy." 
I call this comedy.  I don't think that Piers Morgan would find the scene where Stuart shoots up a restaurant funny -- or did it really happen? Matt Damon's angelic character Loki does something similar in a corporate boardroom in "Dogma" (1999).
The film is set in Manhattan but everything indoors was filmed in Paris. 
I skipped this when I was living in Dallas, but rented it recently. 

Altman would do much more impressive work later, with “Vincent & Theo” (1990, MGM), about Vincent Van Gogh, “Short Cuts” (1992, which I got to in a snowstorm), and “The Player” (a 1992 Hollywood mystery about the politics of getting screenplays bought, and an eclectic masterpiece).

Two other important gay films that I remember well from the 80’s are:  “Making Love” (1982, Fox, by Arthur Hiller, where a young doctor (Michael Ontkean) falls for a writer (Harry Hamlin) who starts with an office visit (there’s an odd prescient reference to K.S.; the romantic scenes are very well handled and have a lot of buildup;  and “Parting Glances" (1986, Bill Sherwood, Cinecom and FRF) deals with the issue of a gay man’s taking a work assignment in the third world, and has a subordinate character with AIDS who never loses his energy. .