Friday, January 31, 2014

Oscar-Nominated Short Films (Live Action): two real thrillers, and two sci-fi experiments, and a comedy

The Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts indeed sold out at Landmark E Street in Washington DC tonight, and there were plenty of heavy moral lessons in them.  Variety’s website list for Shorts HD (Magnolia Pictures)  is here.
This time, Landmark prefixed the program with the previews, and the shorts were interspersed with comments by several directors on the value of short films.  You get to be you own boss a lot more often, with a smaller project.  Shaun Christiensen and Steve McQueen were among the speakers.
The longest and second most intense film was “Just Before Losing Everything” (“Avant que de tout perdre”, 30 min, France,  by Xavier Legrand, 2.35:1).  I recall seeing a sign “lost everything” on a bulletin board at a church at MCC in Dallas back in 1980.  It was common for vulnerable people to say that.  In this case, the victims are a wife and her kids.  She is sheltering them at her job in a grocery store, and tells her boss that he needs to fire her so she can escape, and stay with relatives.  We gradually learn that her abusive husband is chasing her.  This is a taut thriller. (I actually stopped substitute teaching the second go-round myself because of an unusual family glitch, and "fired myself.")

That Wasn’t Me” (“Aquel no era yo”, 24 min., Spain, by Esteban Crespo) was the most intense.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen tribal and warlord-driven violence as graphic as this.  The film was sponsored in part by Save the Children.  A young male and young female doctor (maybe like “Doctors without Borders”) cross the border into Sierra Leone, and are greeted by 12-year old boys with rifles pointing at them.  The male (Gustavo Salmeron) tries to deal soccer cards to placate one of the boys, when one of the warlords shows up. The couple is kidnapped, and soon a ferocious battle erupts as the UN arrives with choppers.  The man is shot by a child, and the lady Paula (Alejandro Lorente) doctor makes a run for it with the child, hoping to save his life and give him a real future, possibly in the West.   Conditions are like this in Somalia, the Central African Republic, and some other remote parts of Africa. Sebastian Junger has written about Sierra Leone.  The film was actually shot in Ecuador, according to the credits, and the look of it is stunning.  This is my choice for the Oscar.

 “Helium” (23 min., Denmark, by Anders Walter, 2.35:1) presents us with a hospital attendant (Casper Crump) bonding with a dying boy.  He tells the boy a story about what heaven will be like, and his vision is rather like that of some of Pandora in “Avatar”, of islands floating in the sky, held up by balloons.  The janitor risks his job and breaks the rules to get to see the boy as he gets closer to the end. But what’s interesting is the janitor’s own vision of the afterlife, and what happens when you go.  I’ve always wondered, how can you live forever as a child in the afterlife if you didn’t get the chance to grow up to be an adult. 
The Voorman Problem” (13 min, UK, by Mark Gill, 2.35:1) is a restatement of the Anthropic Principle, perhaps.  A psychiatrist (Mark Freeman) shows up at a British prison to interview an inmate (Tom Hollander) who claims to be God.  He demonstrates it by changing reality:  suddenly, the psychiatrist discovers that the maps of the world have Belgium deleted.   (That sounds like my own 2004 script, “Baltimore Is Missing”).  Then to prove his point, the inmate pulls a trick right out of Smallville.  Remember when Clark Kent and Lex Luthor traded bodies for a day?
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” (“Pitaako min kaikki hoitaa?”, Selma Vilhunen,7 min, Finland) presents a family not quite properly prepared for a funeral in downtown Helsinki.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"The Act of Killing": the ultimate meta-movie

The Act of Killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer may be the ultimate meta-movie.  The filmmaker enlists men who ran an military dictatorship in Indonesia after its government fell in 1965, to reenact their killing of “communists” with any Hollywood genre they wanted, complete with song and dance.  They get to use all the props and gruesome war dress-up (including drag at one point) they want.
The film opens with young beauties walking out of a burned fuselage by a lake to dance, and later there is a heavenly scene underneath a waterfall where a “commie” victim thanks his killer for balancing his karma and sending him to his reward.

The ring leader seems to be Anwar Congo, but at the end, in a decrepit rooftop of a shop, he spits and retches (never quite vomiting) at the thought of what he has done with his life.

In the middle of the film, Oppenheimer does ask about his not being “caught”, and about how he would feel about being tried before the Hague for war crimes.  At the time, it bounces off him.  He has not guilt.  He was just killing the enemy, commie pinko bureaucracy. Sure, he had used gangster methods from old movies.  Hadn’t Americans done the same think to Indians when conquering the pioneer frontier?  Gangsterism was freedom.  The film uses John Barry’s song “Born Free” from that 1969 movie (about freeing a lioness) as a parody of their idea of freedom.
It’s interesting that so many of the people in the credits are listed as “anonymous.”
It’s interesting that the anti-commie coup happened in 1965, the year that LBJ did his massive escalation of Vietnam, leading to huge draft callus and my own conscription in February 1968.

The film (which is long, at 122 minutes) mocks itself by putting shooting script screenplay directions on the screen for the viewer to see. 
The film, for me, brings up another issue, self-incrimination or self-defamation, and the purpose it serves, and the “implicit content” problem.  Why do people want to reenact bad things they have done, or fantasies of what they really want even if they know that carrying them out would be evil or could get them punished?  I’ve talked about this issue with my own script, “The Sub”.  The issue comes up with Todd Verow’s 1995 film “Frisk” (Strand Releasing) where the novelist Dennis Cooper seems to implicate himself.


The official site (Drafthouse Films) is here. Errol Morris and Werner Hertzog are listed as among the executive producers. 
I watched this on Netflix, but it had played at the West End Cinema in Washington DC. It has been nominated for best documentary. 

Wikipedia attribution link for CIA map of Indonesia. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Stolen Seas": important documentary explains the Somali piracy problem, with re-enactment of the 2008 taking of a Danish ship CEC Future

Stolen Seas: Tales of Somali Piracy”, directed by Thymaya Payne, is an important 2012 documentary that will supplement “Captain Phillips” (Oct. 11, 2013) in covering the problem of piracy of commercial vessels and sometimes private yachts in the high seas of the East African coast, particularly by ragtag crews from Somalia.  There are other areas of the world where this happens, such as near Nigeria.
The documentary covers the capture of the Danish ship the CEC Future on Nov. 8, 2008.  The pirates hire a local farmer (who owns a lot of camels) Ishmael Ali, himself a single father, as a translator to help negotiate by phone with the shipping executive in Denmark. 
The documentary explains why the piracy problem is so difficult for bureaucratic western nations to contain with the conventional processes of law.  Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991 (about the time that the Soviet Union collapsed) and is a failed state.  The people in fishing villages have no income because of illegal fishing (no “free fish”) by outsiders and because of water pollution dumped by criminal syndicates.  Piracy has become a “business”, maybe the only company in town.  And shipping companies, given practical realities, have to treat it that way.
After the release of the 13 hostages when the affair is settled in early 2009, Ali finally travels to the US, for a conference on piracy, and is arrested and prosecuted by the DOJ for his role in the affair.

The film notes that there is an issue with a ship's use of a "flag of convenience".  That allows a company to avoid heavy regulation by flying under a small country.  When I worked for USLICO, an life insurance company in Virginia in the 1990s, the holding company actually owned a Liberian ship registry as a subsidiary, and would promote management to positions in that subsidiary.

The film points out that many crew employees come from developing countries, especially The Phillippines.  They are paid somewhat more for the risk, but not much.  Their relative poverty leads to their necessary risk taking in running through pirate waters that really don't have effective military security from big western countries.  And it costs the richer countries less to pass the ransom than to provide security, or clean up the post-colonial problems in Africa.  
It’s interesting to note that the ABC series “Flashforward” imagined that clandestine experiments were conducted in Somalia in 1991. 
The official site is here.  The film is distributed by Brainstorm Media but is available on Netflix and iTunes.
The film played at some international festivals including Palm Springs, Mumbai, and Stockholm.
Wikipedia attribution link for map.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Putin's Kiss": a sobering look at Russian Youth. relevant given the climate there now

Putin’s Kiss” (2011), by Danish director Lise Birk Pedersen and in Russian with subtitles, is another docudrama that seems timely now given Valdimir Putin’s controversy in running Russia, with the issues over the Olympics, security, and the anti-gay propaganda law.
Masha, at age 19, becomes the spokesperson for Nashi, the Russian youth organization, sometime after she got a peck on the cheek from the president. She had been active with the group since age 15.
She is gung ho, as the group is associated with right-wing nationalistic groups that sees the world in terms of friends and enemies of Russia, and socializes people into collective experience.  At one point, she criticizes a novelist when she learns that the novelist is gay, because she sees homosexuality as offensive to the interest of the country.  That certainly plays into the sentiment of the current anti-gay propaganda law, that seems predicated on the crude notion that homosexuals compromise a group’s ability to reproduce its population.
She learns about blogger and journalist Oleg Kashin, who is critical of the collective nature of Russian nationalism and its antagonism to individual rights, much as Soviet communism was, although Kashin also draws a comparison to the Hitler Youth of WWII.  (In fact, there was a copy of “Education for Death” by Gregor Ziermer in our home.  It became the basis of Walt Disney’s short film below).
Indeed, there are scenes at the youth summer camp, with all the changing and in-step singing, that are rather frightening.  Critics point out that Russians are losing their young people to uniform demagoguery, and that Masha herself is an “old lady” at the age of 20.
When Oleg is brutally beaten by forces possibly associated with the Nashi, or at least with Putin, and survives, Masha has to rethink her loyalties.

Opposition leader Garry Kasparov, a world chess champion, is presented, and the "us v. them" mentality of the Nashi shows as they characterize him as a "ground pawn".  (See my review of Kasparov's book "How Life Imitates Chess" Sept. 27, 2007 on the Books blog.)
The film has a great line, "There are no bad nations, only bad people." 

The link for the film (Sundance and Netflix, and Danish Monday) is here.

The 10-minute Disney film is “Education for Death: the Making of the Nazi” (1943), on YouTube here
The film depicts how Nazi families were expected to bear many children, and how the state took away and killed the unfit, and taught the kids to look down on others who didn’t make it in their world.  Rather frightening stuff.  

Wikipedia attribution link for satellite image of Moscow. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Daydreamer" doesn't "tale" us out of ordinary reality in skid row LA

The possibility of finding oneself in a situation of compromised reality can be an interesting speculative topic for sci-fi. 
For example, if you have an intimate encounter with someone you secretly admire in a dream, does he or she know about it with telepathy or a counter-dream?  Movies (like “Inception”, “Dreamscape”, “Altered States” and the like) have sometimes explored his question.
The little film “Daydreamer”, by Brahman Turner (2007) turns this around. Clinton (a lean Aaron Paul) thinks that Casey (Arielle Kebel) is an imaginary playmate.  She and others keep calling him, or on him, at his dive which is one step above a homeless shelter.  Gradually, he gets drawn into a plan to rob some celebrity’s mansion.  He may find out who is real and who isn’t, who can save his life, and who can kill him.
Of course, there’s little in the film to suggest that Aaron’s fantasies are anything but a drug trip (like in “Trainspotting”) or perhaps schizophrenia. 
An experiment with a change in reality at end of life or with an abduction could be so much more interesting.    
The film was produced in LA by Meyer and Associates, and is distribute by Wellgo.   

Compare with "Metro" , Feb 12, 2011 here. Do not confuse with "Daydream Nation", Jan. 23, 2014.

Note (Jan 28):  It looks like I typed the verb "take" and "tale" in the post title, but one could "bitcoin" a verb "tale" to mean "to tell a story that helps a person escape his own reality".  So maybe it makes sense.  My own take on this situation is sci-fi -- the person doesn't recognize his situation because he's actually been abducted and taken to another world (or the afterlife).  That could be interesting.  Or use the world "tail" to mean to follow the person, out of skid row.  In this movie, that doesn't happen either.  I wish it did. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Artifact": Jared Leto documents who the old business relationship between record labels and artists needs to crumble away (story of "30 Seconds to Mars")

Artists have a particular gift: what they think of inspires other people.  It is difficult to merge art and commerce.  And the new gatekeepers in the world of art are not the moneyman beancounters, but the fans. What human beings crave is two things: sex and music, both of which transcend space-time. 
Those are a few paraphrases from the new (2012) indie documentary “Artifact”, by Jared Leto, who directed it with the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins, because of litigation – a $30 million lawsuit by EMI for “breach of contract” by his group “30 Seconds to Mars”.  (Actually, at the speed of light, it’s more like 15 minutes.) 
The film explains the old business model for the record industry in popular music.  It would provide an advance to the artist to produce the album, and then claim about 85% of the revenue from album sales, and try to charge the artists for all kinds of promotional expenses, keeping the artist indentured.  
This plantation model (it sounds like Reconstruction, and it seems to treat artists as their slaves) developed in the 1950s, and carried forward, but really began to fall apart with the rise of the Internet.  The industry says that it’s illegal downloading and piracy that has destroyed it (hence the battles over Protect-IP and SOPA in 2011), but it’s also the fact that consumers want to buy single songs, which they normally can do legally from iTtunes of Amazon for something like $1 a piece.  Really, though, singles (as MPG files) are rather like the old 45 RPM records with the big turntable spindle.  Remember those?
The film points out that younger adults, however, have grown up in a world where they expect to get their music free.  Under this kind of pressure, old business models cannot survive.  And probably service platforms that enable free content cannot live forever if the public is too persnickety about ads and abut being tracked.  Reid Ewing’s satirical short films based on the “it’s free” concept (May 13, 2013) seem to apply here. 
Part of the story behind the litigation is that EMI got taken over by corporate raider Guy Hands, who then tried to bilk the company, which at first refused to settle with “Mars”, which claimed that in California artists were held only to seven year contracts.

At some points, the company seemed to be trying to control everything the Leto brothers did, with supposed "360 contract logic".  That explains the pseudonym for the director.  I've never had an advance for any work, but imagine if a company tried to control my blogs and the content of my own books.  It sounds unbelievable. 
There is some factual history on Wikipedia about the lawsuit against “Thirty Seconds to Mars” here.  The record label had been Virgin, which then had belonged to EMI.
The film is told largely from Jared Leto’s viewpoint, but he shares the stage with his older brother Shannon. Both were raised poor in the bayous of Louisiana, and the film has an impressive shot of the swamps and beaches.
The group’s album “The Is War” would become a success, but still the group had not been paid by the EMI carcass (after Citibank bought it and split it up) as of the time of filming.

The official site is here.
Leto, about 38 or 39 at the time of the filming, looks more like a perfect 25, partly because of his lean appearance.  At the time, he had not yet made “Dallas Buyer’s Club” where he would have to shed his external trappings of manhood and play a totally committed transgendered person.  Leto also was heavily made up to be the old man in "Mr. Nobody".  I wasn't aware before of that most of Mr. Leto's career energy have gone into his music.
If Leto has his "30 Seconds to Mars", I have my screenplay "69 Minutes to Titan".

Just tonight on the CBS Grammys, the awards a mentioning producing successful music releases independently without record labes and still getting the audience numbers. That's what this movie is all about!

Leto appeared himself (a man again) at the Grammy's to announce the appearance of a performance of "One" by Metallica from his band (from "This Is War"?)
Pictures:  mine, NYC (2014), Gulf Coast of MS (2006).

Don't confuse this film with the Belgian experimental horror thriller "Artifacts", reviewed here March 20, 2014. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"I Used to Be Darker": rogue teenage girl crashes her extended family dynamics

“I Used to Be Darker” is an independent drama about family dynamics filmed “locally”, in Baltimore and Ocean City, MD. by Matthew Porterfield.
Taryn (Deragh Campbell), a teenage immigrant from northern Ireland, gets into trouble with her destructive hissy fits while living in Ocean City and gets kicked out of a place, so she calls her aunt and uncle in Baltimore, country musicians Bill and Kim (Ned Oldham and Kim Taylor), asking blunt to meet her at the bus stations so she can crash. But Bill and Kim are in the middle of a difficult separation, just as their rather responsible daughter Abby (Hannah Gross) comes home for the summer from her first year of college.
The dynamic of the couple is interesting. Bill resents the fact that he doesn’t have the time for his own musically creative life because he supports the family.  He seems to depend on his wife’s musical hardware to carry on, and that may go with her.
There is some unelected family responsibility made into an issue, when Kim is challenged with the question, “after all, she is your sister’s child”.  As if she was automatically responsible as the backup?
What does the title of the film come from?  There are various romantic temptations and liaisons abounding, but maybe a scene where Abby paints her purple room white is symbolic.
The official site is here. The DVD from Strand Releasing will be available January 28, 2013.  I viewed a screener.  I just missed the opportunity to see it at the Maryland Film Festival on Charles Street, Baltimore in May, 2013.

Friday, January 24, 2014

"Mitt" (aka "Romney Revealed") is a close-up on the Romney family 2006-2012, through the presidential campaign (Netflix distribution)

Tonight, NBC News informed its viewers that Netflix has itself released to video a close-up look at the life of Mitt Romney and his family, from 2006 until his loss in the presidential election in 2012.  NBC called the film “Romney Revealed”, but when I looked it up, it was called “Mitt”, directed by Greg Whiteley.
One wonders how a filmmaker got the permission of the family to do this.  For openers, he would have to deal with the Secret Service all the time.
The film starts in 2006, moves quickly through the 2008 primaries until McCain wins the nomination, and then gives its closest look at the whole 2012 campaign.  In fact, the film opens with a hotel room scene where Mitt asks what he should say in his concession speech, before it goes back to 2006.
The intimacy of the entire extended Mormon family was striking.  They are always doing things together.  The grown children, especially the men, are extremely attractive by most contemporary values.  Everyone is always so well dressed. In one hotel room scene, Romney tries to iron his cuffs with a steam griddle after buttoning the cuffs on, a mistake.  He is ready to read Thomas Carlyle’s “Sartor Resartus” (still yet to ever become a good old British movie).
Toward the end, the family (as well as Mitt) gradually excepts the reality that Mitt “is going to lose”.  The team actually delayed the concession speech until it was very sure about Ohio, whose urban districts changed the state. 
Mitt notes that suburban precincts got much bigger turnouts than they had for McCain in 2008.
Mitt makes a couple of remarks about his own values.  He does say that it is relations with other pople that matter in life, not just wealth, and he does display that. It's very noticeable that everything his adult children do is rooted in social, familial and church context, not the case with me. He also says he fears that the Democrats will “tax the rich, and borrow” and put the United States at “the tipping point” in five years.  I wonder if by “tipping point” he is referring to Porter Stansberry’s theory that the world’s sudden rejection of the dollar as reserve currency could cause a sudden depression (“cf” blog, Sept. 1, 2013, and also an important idea in the Jack Ryan movie reviewed here Jan. 19, 2014).

Remember, Romney had made his own form of mandatory "Obamacare" work in Massachusetts.  It was seen as a way to enforce personal responsibility.
In the last scene, Mitt and his wife return home to their townhouse in Belmont, MA.  It looks like the afterlife inside.
The official site from One Potato Films is here. The distributor of record would be Netflix Red Envelope Films. 

There is a note about Todd Gellstein’s upcoming “Buffalo Girls” (about children boxing in Thailand) on the International Issues blog, Jan. 22.  

Picture above: near a polling place, Arlington VA, 2013.  I did work as an election judge three times between 2004 and 2007.  It's a grueling 18 hour day for low pay.  That could make for a documentary film. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Daydream Nation" is a curious thriller-comedy, about a teenage girl's dangerous world (in Canada)

Daydream Nation” (2010), by Michael Goldbach, is a curious mixture of horror, comedy, and strangeness, and mild eroticism, over some very serious matters.

A girl Caroline (Kat Dennings) moves from the city to a small coastal town (apparently in British Columbia) for her last year of high school.  She isn’t going to have the luck of Bella in the Twilight movies, or maybe she will.

The town has posted warnings for young women to walk in pairs because a serial killer hasn’t been caught, and on the edge of town an industrial fire threatens to slowly consume the village with a China-style mushroom cloud (maybe like Harbin’s smog).  This sounds like a prologue for something like Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”.

Quickly, the irresponsible high school English teacher Mr. Anderson (Josh Lucas) sets up tutoring sessions, which very quickly ripen into an inappropriate relationship.  But the movie never goes into the legal territory one naturally expects (as I do in my own screenplay short “The Sub”).  Instead, Caroline also gets into another relationship with an attractive but troubled senior her own age, Thurston (Reece Thompson).
The film does have some interesting stuff.  There’s a scene with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #30 in the background (that music had been used in “Trick” (1999)).  In one odd scene, Thurston encounters a wounded man, can’t help him, and then feels he is a coward.  Then Mr. Anderson puts on a disguise and dyes his hair Anderson-Cooper-white, and starts telemarketing.  Is he the killer?  Well, there are some twists and surprises. 

One other odd moment in the film that is medically valuable occurs when Caroline describes how her father woke up with an armpit itch one day that turned into cancer.  That would have been Hodgkin’s disease.  She even says he went totally bald from the chemotherapy before dying.  What does this connect to?  The toxic waste fire?
Great line from the girl as a narrator: “There are some things in this world that are destined to occur, and there is nothing anybody can do is to stop it.” 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Control" is a rather contrived thriller about a faked execution

Control” (2004), by Tim Hunter, is another thriller that teases with the afterlife idea (compare to the 2007 "Lazarus" film reviewed here Jan. 9). 
In a crude opening scene, Lee Ray Oliver (Roy Liotta) is strapped to a gurney, electrodes on his barren but tattooed chest, getting injected.  Then the body bag is opened in a secret location, and Oliver wakes up, and is given a chance at a second life, if he will undergo an experimental drug therapy to reform his brain chemistry. The neuroscientist Dr. Michael Copeland is played by an earnest Willem Dafoe.
The reform will be rocky.  Ray is still violent at first (and the movie shows plenty of flashbacks of his horrible boyhood) but gradually calms down, and tries to contact the family of one of his victims, where a young man is now mentally disabled (talking like a simpleton) because of a gunshot wound purportedly from Ray.  The young man’s brother gets involved and, when learning that Ray is still alive, wants to finish justice himself.
But then another element of the plot opens up.  It seems that Ray was on a placebo, and had controlled his violent tendencies only because he believed he was on the meds.

This film was more stereotyped and not as original as the “Lazarus” film reviewed recently.  The brief theatrical release was through First Look. 
The DVD was released by Millennium (and Emmett/Furla) and is available through Netflix.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Poisoned by Polonium: the Litvinenko File" is a scathing indictment of modern Russia's government, and it really matters now

In “Poisoned by Polonium: the Litvinenko File” (2007, “Bunt, Delo Litvinenko”) Andrei Nekrasov presents the culture of Russian leadership as it transitions our of Soviet communism into a kind of totalitarian statist capitalism, rather like that of a crime family.  The ideology of communism has been replaced by the beliefs of criminality and the mob.  Rich people can have nice cars and houses but cannot express themselves or speak out.

This is more a film about the latest history of Russia, almost like a return to the tsarist state, than it is just about the ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko (called Sasha), who achieved political asylum in Britain after having to flee when he criticized the practices of the FSB (the Russian Federal Security Service), the successor of the KGB.

The film starts with the filmmaker looking at a ransacking and burglary of his own home, with nothing taken.  Those in power don’t want people to know.  He interviews Litvinenko numerous times.  Sasha’s appearance is inconsistent, especially in shadows, so sometimes it is hard to distinguish if it is him. Sasha says he wanted to believe in justice, that his life served a moral purpose, and if it could not, it could be over for him. 

The film covers what happened to a lot of dissidents, including a theater student expelled for not submitting to the new ideology.  One person was exiled for having a copy of a poem by a particular female dissident in his room.  The Russian need for a police state increased after 1999, with a theater attack in Moscow from Chechyan rebels which was like a 9/11.  But the ideology became even more jaded, one of right-wing prejudice where you do what you have to, or else what you got will be taken away from you by force. 

The poisoning doesn’t get covered until the last twenty minutes of the (104 minute) film.  It is explained that polonium-210 emits slow-moving alpha particles, which don’t penetrate the skin.  But if ingested (as it was apparently put in his tea) it can penetrated the porous GI tract.  So it can be carried around as a murder weapon.  The Alfred Hitcock thriller “Notorious” got into this a bit (Dec. 20, 2009). 

There are a few scenes where Sasha lies in bed, having gone completely bald (even eyebrows and body hair) from the radiation.  This even happened pretty quickly.  Not only was this a “mob hit”, it set up a humiliating, excruciating death.  It was an act of personal terrorism. He was not safe or beyond reach in a western country. 

Vladimir Putin appears often in the film, speaking with the same doubletalk that he has shown recently with respect to Russia’s controversial “anti-gay propaganda” law.  He looks younger, and I chuckle at those outdoor pictures of him with an absolutely hairless chest (and that's natural).  The film does not seem like comforting viewing for the Russians right before the Sochi Winter Olympics. 

The film, from Dreamscanner, was distributed by Kino and is available on Netflix instant play. Wikipedia picture of poloniums here. Note the curious purplish-silvery appearance.  Picture may have an enforceable copyright (not usual on Wikipedia), might not be fair use in a commercial reproduction. There's a similar concern with an explicit still of Litvinenko in the hospital bed showing the effects of the radiation. 

By the way, read what Wikipedia says about astatine, a most curious halogen.
Picture, mine, is from Philadelphia. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

"The Square" shows the tragic backsteps in Egypt's Arab spring

The Square” ("Al Midan" ), by Jehane Noujaim, traces, with interviews, videos and artwork, the history of the Arab spring revolution in Egypt since 2011.  It has gone through different phases, first to oust the secular dictator Mubarak (supported by the US), to be replaced by military rule and then Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, himself finally removed.
Revolution often leads to a more oppressive regime than the one it replaced.  Paul Rosenfels used to say that (Books, April 12, 2006).  Late in the film there are discussions among the men (races and backgrounds are mixed) about the difference between revolution and politics.
The oppression under Mubarak involved torture, sometimes with electrocution that caused scarring and body hair to fall out.  But it seemed to get even worse under Morsi.
Originally, the people wanted freedom to worship under Islam or Christianity. Under Morsi. It was reversed and Islam was enforced.

The star of the film is activist Magdy Ashour, who says that the people need a conscience if they are to have a good president.  But, despite the solidarity and unison demonstrations, he says that every one who came to Tahrir Square was a leader.

The official site for the film from Gathr, Participant Media and Netflix is here. It has limited theatrical release, such as at the West End in Washington.

Remember, the Arab spring shows the problems with Facebok (in particular) requiring users to supply their real names to the site for visitors. 

Wikipedia attribution link for aerial of Cairo 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jack Ryan looks sharp as a shadow recruit -- a plausible idea

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”, directed by Shakespearian Brit Kenneth Branagh, who also plays as a villain, presents Chris Pine as Jack, the new Renaissance man.  A PhD graduate student at Oxford on 9-11, he joins the Marines and gets shot down.  He starts dating a young doctor (Keira Knightley) who helps him recover.  Then he is recruited by the CIA to work as a shadow in a Wall Street hedge fund, looking for irregularities in Russian accounts. 

The film is based on "trademarked" characters from Tom Clancy novels.  Don't worry, the characters in my own novel and screenplays are totally original and different from this, although I do use the idea of being on the CIA or spook payroll while having a regular job (in my case, a high school AP history teacher -- which Ryan could obviously do). 

The Putin crowd plans to crash the dollar as a reserve currency (Porter Stansberry has explained that idea – see my “cf” blog Sept. 1, 2013) by a super short sell and a simultaneous terror attack, a gigantic conventional underground explosion below the Financial District, engineered by a Russian Orthodox extremist in Michigan.  Then Americans will have a depression and learn what it is like to be poor, so the movie say.

When he arrives in Moscow (done with CGI – actually filmed around Liverpool, UK – Russia wouldn’t be too happy to cooperate on this one), he is chased by a burly man from Uganda – obvious political reference again – and he drowns the thug in the toilet with his bare hands.

Part of the plot concerns the couple and "heterosexual marriage", another culture war twist that causes the CIA to have to recruit Cathy (the young doctor) too with no clearance when she shows up wanting a weekend with her hero boyfriend.  Pine is very likable in this film as the "hero".  He doesn't oversell himself. 
The official Paramount-Skydance site is here.
I do like the idea of a “shadow employee” – I use that concept in my own “Angel’s Brothers” novel.

I saw the film in Regal’s RPX.

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Eating Alabama": a local man returns home and tries sustainable local living and farming, and finds the big companies have outrun him

In the 62-minute 2012 documentary “Eating Alabama: A Story About Why Food Matters,” 35-year old Andrew Grace and his wife Rashmi return to rural Alabama and try to see if, as proof of a sustainability concept,  it is possible to live off the land and eat only what is produced locally, like their ancestors had.  So this film is neither “Eating Raoul” nor “Sweet Home Alabama”.   

And there is the film “At Any Price”, reviewed here May 3, 2013, where a legal problem was presented, where Monsanto and maybe other companies would sue farmers to kept the seeds of patented beans and then planted them.  One farmer presented in this film had the same experience, and went bankrupt.

As the film opens, Grace is hunting, and he introduces the idea of killing what you eat (a practice that Mark Zuckerberg has tried).  He then tells the story of the past year as flashback.

The film presents the process by which large companies have gradually taken over agriculture, and driven out smaller farmers who don’t produce the volume. 

Grace shows how difficult it is to bake bread from scratch, how much hustling you would have to do for all the ingredients. 

There are many scenes of “Southern Comfort”, that is cookouts and neighborly gatherings, even a rural jazz fest.

ITVS offers a video extra (5 min).

The film is shot all over Alabama.  The hills and low mountains of the northeast are shown, but most of the state looks pancake flat.  In Birmingham, the film shows some urban gardens, which have replaced older homes.

The official site is here

The filmmaker once mentions the history of slavery.  One of the farmers says something like, “We don’t think about the meaning of our lives the way our lawyers do.”

I rented the film from Amazon.
Wikipedia attribution link for Cahaba River. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger": animation for the epic novel, interviews for the biography

The documentary “In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger” (2004, by Jessica Yu and Susan West) gives a biography of the enigmatic American writer and graphic artist (1892-1973), whose one huge book (published in pieces after his death and available in chunks from Amazon, often expensive) was in fact titled “The Story of the Vivian Girls in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Cause by the Child-Slave Rebellion”. It is a 15,000 page heavily illustrated novel, enigmatic in a way that is perhaps like James Joyce or William S. Burroughs, or even Salinger, or maybe, to look back to the 19th Century, Thomas Carlyle (“Sartor Resartus”, which has never been filmed – see Books, Dec. 1, 2013). He had indeed imagined a new kind of book. Maybe some literature professors like his work.
Darger was extremely introverted and lived as a recluse in Chicago most of his life.  He was drafted during World War I but, after seeing some of it, got himself out and made a living as a janitor.  As an artist, he kept to himself, talked to himself, and lived in his own world, populated by imaginary people of his own creation, perhaps based on fantasies he created of people he had met and admired.

Interviews with other people who knew him speak of his inability to relate to other people, and his substituting his own fantasies for real life.

He is said to be an artist who created only for himself.  Yet, had he lived later, he might have become known on the Internet.  Perhaps he would have remained obscure for years, and then suddenly gone viral.
In modern medicine, he would probably have been seen as having Asperger’s Syndrome (he would talk about specific subjects like the weather and the snow) or perhaps a “schizoid personality” (the difference between which seems elusive).

In moral terms, one can wonder, if you don’t like other people enough, what good is producing art?  Can it ever be just for the self?  I think a co-worker of mine in 1971, in an (unpubished) essay that he wrote called something like “The Fog: What Art Does” (no connection to the horror film; it predates it) asked the same question.  Maybe I can find that online now.  

The novel tells the story of seven female angels (sisters) who lead a child rebellion against slave owners.
The film uses animation of some of Darger’s drawings to communicate some of the story of the novel. Dakota Fanning and Chris Pine speak as narrators.

The film took several years to make.  It was produced by Cherry Sky and Diorama, with ITVS, PBS, and seemed to have support from Fox and Universal.

Jessica Yu explains the pseudo-documentary film in a half-hour presentation. From the tone of her extensive comments, I think she would understand my work. Maybe she would also find the late Gode Davis (“American Lynching”) interesting to look at.
I got the film from Netflix on DVD, but I see a “free” version on YouTube; I don’t know how legal it is.  It ought to be rentable as a video.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Frozen": Would this make a Broadway musical? The queen, with her "superwoman" powers, is rather wicked

Walt Disney Studio’s animated Christmas feature, “Frozen”, comes across as a Broadway musical, with the original songs by Christophe Beck, and Robert and Krsiten Anderson-Lopez.  Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, the film  has a screenplay adapted from a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.

The kingdom, situated in what looks like a Norwegian fjord, anticipates the crowning of its new queen Elsa (Idna Menzel).  But really, she is something like a female Clark Kent, with powers, and unfortunately they tend toward being wicked.  He sister Anna (Kristen Bell) meets a handsome prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and apparently she has her own karma problems, not having lived a real life or known what it means to give and receive love.  Hans deceives her, as he has political designs on the kingdom.
Elsa chides Anna about wanting to elope at first sight, and suddenly loses control of her powers.  Everything around her freezes, and she flees to the mountains, to live in her ice lodge.
Anna goes on a journey to find her, and enlists a kindly trader Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who is made to look confusingly similar to Hans.  They meet a hilarious snowman, who stays alive even when broken into pieces.  He yield a great line, “Some people are worth melting for.” Kristoff has a hut in the woods and likes to eat lutefisk, maybe some homage to Scandanavia, or to Minnesota. 
The premise of the story, taken literally, reminds me of a 1998 TV-made thriller “Ice" (Jean de Segonzac), where the world fast-freezes when the Sun suddenly loses a quarter of its output. 
The visual effects reminded me of the Gaylord Hotels’s Christmas attraction,also  called “Ice”.
The best song is “Let it go.”

Disney’s official site is here.

There's a website, of the Hardin, China ice sculpture festival, that has visuals similar to what is in the film. here

The short film was a cartoon "Get the Horse",  where an old-aspect black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoon is formatted on an inner screen, and interacts with the theater, spilling water from the screen over the audience (ironic -- next paragraph).

I saw this at the Regal Ballston Common, which still doesn’t have all auditoriums open after a pipe burst above the top floor during the freeze last week. I don't recall any previews, thankfully.     

Pictures are mine (not from film). 
Update: Dec. 11, 2016

ABC aired "The Story of Frozen:  Making a Disney Animated Classic" tonight (one hour).  Disney has announced a sequel "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" for 2017.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Lone Survivor": Moderation indeed is for cowards

When war machine character Shane Patton (Alexander Ludwig) pronounces “Moderation is for cowards”, the guys in a Navy Seals Unit are in the middle of their “unit cohesion bonding”, but of course the phrase reminds me of what used to be expected of all young men a half-century ago, when we had a military draft, which privileged men could get out of.  And in “Lone Survivor”, there is plenty of activity that we at least got exposed to in 1968 in Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, SC, like bayonet and hand-to-hand.  This all happens in those gruesome firefights on the piney slopes of an Afghanistan (actually New Mexico, probably near Taos and the Lama Foundation) ridge starting 40 minutes into this two hour movie.  In my own Basic Training, a couple of drill sergeants actually got bloody noses and mouths in the hand-to-hand.  (Yes, you can think about the “health” implications if you want.)  A movie like this reminds me of why so much was made of “gender responsibility” when I was growing up.
The only survivor will of course be Marcus Luttrell, played by Marky Mark Wahlberg, who helped produce the movie (directed by Peter Berg). It’s Luttrell’s book that forms the basis of the movie, an account of a 2005 incident where, as “Operation Red Wing”, a Navy Seal team was dispensed to assassinate Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. 
The film starts with Luttrell being defibrillated on a Navy chopper, and then flashes back to tell the story of the past three days.  The last portion, before his rescue, where he is protected by a Pashtun tribe that honors its religious tradition of “radical hospitality”, is quite touching.  And Luttrell’s earlier decision to stick to his own moral compass and not take the life of a teenager turns out to help save him.  Good karma.
The film becomes relentless with the graphic battlefield violence and wounds (enough, along with the street language, to earn an “R”).   I don’t think Luttrell could really have walked on a leg with a compound thigh femur fracture as shown in that last portion. This is an action film, and not as cerebral (despite the one moral discussion) as “Zero Dark Thirty” (Jan. 11, 2013).
The official site from Universal is here.  The production company Emmett Furla certainly has an interesting trademark with its mag-lev train. It’s interesting that the film wasn’t released until 2014, and did not try to get into the awards season.
There’s an impressive cast, including Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana as the lively  Commander Kristensen, who will go down himself when his chopper is shot down.   

I saw this film at the Angelika Mosaic before a light Monday night crowd. 

There was a 3-minute short film from GE Focus Forward, "Wild Life in Downtown L.A." with artist Zac Geoffray/ and Eric Cook.
Wikipedia attribution link for Rio Grande near Taos (my most recent visit, 1984, for “spring work camp” at Lama).

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Paradise: Hope" rounds out a curious Austrian triology

Paradise: Hope” ("Paradies: Hoffnung") is the last of the trilogy for domestic films by Ulrich Seidl.
For this slow-movement finale, mother (on the way to Kenya, as in the first film) leaves her teen daughter (Melanie Lenz) at a posh summer camp in Austria for overweight teenagers.  (In the second film, the aunt had proselytized Catholicism.)   
The facility is run by a slender 50-year-old doctor (Joseph Lorenz).  Through some “innocent” medical encounters, Melanie starts falling in love with him.  He has to deal with his “guilt”.
The film hits the road only once, when the kids go out to a bar (illegally), and two men their take advantage of her.  One of the you men says, “You like them chubby”, and the effect is rather silly.
The camp shows the kids lining up for calisthenics – the doctor talks about “discipline”, almost with Nazi values.  The boys are apparently shirtless, but it is hard to tell whether they are not girls themselves.  One scene reminded me of my first draft physical back in 1964.  The film is a test of our attitude toward others.
The official site for the trilogy is here

I have to say that the concept of a camp for unfit teenagers reminds me of a concept in some of my own novel manuscripts, a re-education" Academy" for those spoiled yuppies displaced from the job market. I've pondered it since the days of hostile takeovers in the late 1980s/
I reviewed the film from a private Vimeo screener from Strand Releasing, which had cropped the film to a narrower aspect ratio. The DVD is available Jan. 14.  I saw an entry for a "free" full film on YouTube which I believe would probably not be legal.  

Picture: Mine (near Baltimore, MD).  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Split Estate": how mineral rights to natural gas fracking often disregard landowners

I did not know that on lands with oil and gas reserves, there is often a practice of what is called “Split Estate”, where the landowner (and homeowner) owns the surface but another party owns the mineral rights underneath.  (Somehow this reminds me of “air rights” in New York City for Donald Trump.)  In many cases, surface or homeowners are not compensated for disruption to their land necessary to extract minerals, often natural gas by fracking (or fracturing).

The 2009 film by Debra Anderson for Red Rock Pictures, narrated by Ali MacGraw, presents some families near Rifle and Dry Hollow (near the Roan Plateau), in western Colorado, as well as some more families in northern New Mexico, affected by the practice.

In some cases, there have been out-of-court settlements, but then homeowners or landowners are gagged and not allowed to tell the media the truth (or blog about the issue in social media).

There was one family told to keep windows open so their home would explode as methane gradually accumulates. 

Toward the end of the film, the medical issues for many families are documented, and these include adrenal tumors and bleeding disorders. 

In Congressional hearings, Rep. Waxman asks why energy companies don't play by the same rules as the rest of us. 

The oil and gas industry is depicted as largely exempt from the ECPRA, or the “Community Right to Know Act”.

Wikipedia attribution link for aerial picture of Roan Plateau.    I was in the area in 1966, and then again in 1973. 
In my own family, mother’s side, a relative had a gas well near Wellington, Ohio, which provided income for many years without incident.  So I know that some landowners in many states do have the mineral rights. 

This would not apply to surface mining (“mountaintop removal”) of coal, where normally no one lives – but it would apply do damage to surrounding water tables and streams, as documented in other films about the coal industry. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

"August: Osage County" need not be renamed "Oklahoma!"

August, Osage County”, directed by John Wells, and written by Tracy Letts from his own play, comes across as a play on a wide movie screen, set in an Oklahoma county, on the Kansas border, almost entirely within the Osage nation. 
“August” has appeared in several other movie titles, particularly “August Rush” (2007) and then just “August” (reviewed here Nov. 1, 2008). And “Oklahoma” wouldn’t quite work here as a title the musical (which I saw in restored Todd AO at a theater in Columbia Heights, MN, around 2001).  That’s too bad, given that we have movies like “Nebraska” (Nov. 23) and “South Dakota” (upcoming).

As the film starts, the balding blond Weston family matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) curses up as her husband (Sam Shepard) hires a caregiver (Misty Upham) for her, and she is unwilling to use respectful terminology for native Americans. But soon she puts on her brunette chemotherapy wig and assembles everyone after her husband (Sam Shepard) has suddenly gone on the lam, to be found drowned.  The loud daughter-sisters Barbara, Karen and Ivy (Julia Roberts. Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson) feud, matching their mother for foul mouth – making Violet’s “mouth cancer” (no doubt, aggravated by chain smoking) ironic.  Violet has become a prescription drug addict, maybe understandably, to the anger of Barbara.  A little medical pot helps.  The sisters are prodded by a questionable doctor to take guardianship and put her away, warning she is sinking into dementia.  The husbands (Chris Cooper and Ewan MvGreggor) try to keep some discipline, especially a dinner time.  But soon a series of family secrets starts spilling out, leading eventually to a maze of incest. 
There;s a "free fish" lunch scene near the end, where catfish is served, and Violet refuses to eat.  I was reminded how my mother would try to get me to hide the fact she couldn't eat much from her caregiver.  
The film requires me of a few parallels: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” (black and white, which I saw in 1967 at the Granada Theater in Lawrence KS with other grad students), “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “On Golden Pond”, “Terms of Endearment”, and even “One True Thing.” 

The Weinstein Company’s official site is here.

I saw this film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifeld VA before a surprising weekday afternoon crowd. 

Picture: in the Arbuckle Mountains, OK, Nov. 2012, my trip and pix.  

Thursday, January 09, 2014

"The Lazarus Project": Is this another experiment with the hereafter? Paul Walker takes us into it.

The Lazarus Project” (2008), by John Patrick Glenn, based on the story by Evan Astrowsky, seems timely now with the passing of actor Paul Walker, a youthful 34 when this film was shot, entirely in Manitoba, although it has to simulate both Texas and Oregon.

What drew me to rent the Sony DVD from Netflix was the “life after death”, which is not so esoteric in the movie after all. 

Paul Walker plays Ben Garvey, who is trying to go straight after prison and is dedicated to his wife (Piper Perabo) and young daughter.  But he loses a job a brewery when his employer finds out about his record with a routine credit check for a promotion. Out of desperation for his family, he agrees with his brother to commit one more armed robbery. But three people die in that crime, and under Texas law he gets the death penalty.
The opening of the film goes in quicktime; he is in the lethal injection room at minute 22.  (Some early films by Lars van Trier move like this.) 

He wakes up, walking in the woods.  We’re to wonder if this is heaven or purgatory, or an alternate universe.  But he hitches a ride that takes him to the grounds of a mental hospital, which he is told is in Oregon, to be rehabilitated.  He’s also given a job as a grounds keeper.

The film now plays games with reality testing.  He gets to live in a cabin alone, with a dog who finds him and, despite early rejection, loves him.  He starts to build a relationship with a female psychiatrist (Linda Cardelinni).  He befriends some patients, but is taunted by the psychopath William (Tony Curran) who reminds one of Hannibal from “Silence of the Lambs” (he had attacked someone only because the person "was home"). The mysterious angel Avery (Lambert Wilson) and priest (Bob Gunton) round out his experience, as they warn him he will die if he leaves the facility and his “second chance”.  He’s also soon told that his life in the cabin is a hallucination. Some physical clues (especially a rogue Frisbee) unravels the conspiracy, which leads to Ben’s removing an implanted chip from the underside of his forearm, where William had been tattooed. 

Maybe the “solution” in this film is quite earthly, but the premise intrigues.  One of my own screenplays has the protagonist (me) awakening in a clinic room, soon to find he is on another world.  Is this a job interview, a prison, re-education, hospital, heaven, purgatory, or just another planet after an alien or angelic abduction?  In my story, the protagonist gets to turn the tables.

The film, from Mandeville, Scion and Inferno, was distributed by Sony on DVD.  I don’t know if it appeared in theaters (it could have been Sony Pictures Classics).  

The poster "Lazarus" is for a play at the Riverside Church, New York City. 

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

"Autism: The Musical": besides the actual show, a detailed look at the issue

Tricia Regan’s 2007 HBO documentary “Autism: The Musical” follows five autistic children (and then some others) over six months as they prepare a musical for public performance in a southern California school. (The film seems to be shot around Culver City and Venice, CA).  The kids are supposed to “write” the script, which is loosely about time-travel and moving about among different historical periods on one canvas, itself an interesting sci-fi concept that I have played with. In the final performance, some of the kids play various musical instruments, including cello (with a rehearsal of the theme from Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero”).  They perform in green T-shirts as a uniform, often singing in unison as a team. The effort was called the “Miracle Project Workshop”.

But the film also explores the reactions of the parents raising the kids, starting with Neal who was adopted from Russia, something not possible today.  In almost all cases, the kids suddenly lost function after starting to develop normally.

There are some sobering interviews.  One mother says that “these kids are not valued enough” by others in society.  She says that until they are valued, they won’t have the same rights as everybody else, and she specifically says that nothing will be done about mandatory vaccines.  This is an aside, but I think that medically there is probably no relation between vaccines and autism, and there are compelling public health reasons for vaccinations. The mother says that she hopes he outlives her child.

One of the boys says that he does not like it when “kids go into their own world. How are they going to make friends?”    

At least one parent is a single mother, the husband having left when the child was about eight.

The film starts out by pointing out that in 1980, only 1 child in 10,000 was diagnosed as autistic; now it is 1 in 150 (much more in boys).  But there is a question, have the diagnostic criteria changed?
A few of the children are higher functioning and said to have Asperger’s syndrome.  Some cases are so high in functioning that there is really no disability (other that what is imposed by the social demands of others).  And a few kids seem to outgrow it, as with Jmac (basketball) and Jake Barnett (university physics) as on my Books blog (March 8, 2008 and July 4, 2013)

The boy Henry (in the Stills family), originally consumed with specialize knowledge of Jurassic Park (and perhaps velociraptors) is said to have taken up karate. Wyatt as able to gradually mainstream in public schools.  Two of the teachers married. 

When I worked as a substitute teacher from 2004-2007, I sometimes found myself on special education assignments, even though I had not put that on my profile.  In a very few instances, the degree of intimacy needed was more than I was prepared for.  I punted.  My life had gone a separate course and not prepared me for this. 

The official site is here. The film was originally on cable and won some Emmy’s.
The DVD includes 35 minutes of deleted scenes. Accolades to New Video and Docurama for informing the viewer of the time taken by the scenes and the length of each scene; most rented videos don't do that.  The extra scenes show more interactions with the kids, some of it in Spanish.  There is one more vocal number. and a "Whole Children Whole Planet Expo."  Some kids are on a diary-free and gluten-free diet, which seems related to controlling autism sometimes. There is a clip on impulse control in autistic children. There is a clip on some teacher's accepting a mainstreamed student.  There is some bonding with younger instructional assistants or student teachers.  
I have two other recent "film" reviews on other blogs today.  There is a review of “The Poisoner’s Handbook” (PBS) on the TV blog January 7;  there is a review of “U.S. Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments” from the “Just the Facts Leaning Series” on my new Wordpress media blog here.
Picture: Disneyland, my trip, 2012.  

Monday, January 06, 2014

"Naked as We Came": gentle family about eldercare for a gay man's family, and about writing

Naked as We Came”, by Richard LeMay, brings together several issues in a gentle drama:  eldercare, same-sex relationships, family responsibility, and even ethics in authorship.
Laura (Karmine Alers) and younger brother (but barely adult) Elliot arrive at their dying mother Lilly’s (S. Lue McWilliams) Long Island estate. (No, this is not ABC’s “Revenge”.)   They have been running a family laundry business in New York City.  They find the groundskeeper Ted (Benjamin Weaver) has moved in and taken over the grounds, with the blessing of Lilly. 
Family tensions break out, but we learn that Ted is interesting indeed.  Elliot falls for him sexually, and Ted has written a novel.  It seems that he served in the Army in Iraq under “don’t ask don’t tell” with unclear outcome, and then that some members of the family appear as characters in the novel.  On the estate, he’s taught himself archery. Ted is certainly a master of social graces. 
Furthermore. Lilly smokes medical marijuana for cancer, and that can turn recreational. Everyone considers Elliot a bit of a baby.  Lilly says about his failed swimming lessons as a boy, “If you couldn’t win, you didn’t want to play.”  A monument to kibitzing.  Later, Ted talks about his failed piano lessons, and his desire to play drums. 
When someone is going to die, we don’t want them to die badly.  Lilly says she will go “as naked as we came”, because you can’t take it with you.  Maybe the outcome is as good as it can be.
The official site (Garden House Films and Soap) is here
I watched the 2013 film on Amazon instant play.  It didn’t need to be shot 2.35:1. 

Picture: Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy, my trip, March 2013.  

Sunday, January 05, 2014

"Things You Don't Tell": typical B-movie soap-opera stuff

I rented the B-movie “Things You Don’t Tell” out of a need to account for films titled with permutations and combinations of words involving asking and telling (see Sept. 15, 2013). 
This one seems a bit of a conventional contrivance, with chapters like “Don’t tell dad”. “Don’t tell the kids”, and “Don’t tell the shrink.” 
Set around Venice and Chatsworth, CA the film puts together different ploy threads and stereotyped characters the way a soap opera would.
Chris (Edward F. Villaume), married to Doris (Noel Thurman) with two small kids, but is seeing Samantha (Amanda Baumann), as if she were “Sami” in “Days of our Lives”.  She even has a boardwalk flower shop named after her.   When his wife’s brother, mentally unstable graphic artist Ted (Ryan Reyes) sees Chris and Sami at the beach, Chris makes them flee.  Sami is soon beaten up in a home invasion, and Chris and Doris start getting divorced.  But soon Doris is stalked herself, and takes the kids on the lam. (Curiously, it's Doris who looks like the Days character Sami.)  
There are some asides. Ted has a shrink, but he also has a more stable brother and business partner who is improperly trying to use his job at an auto machine to get his graphic novel published. 
Toward the end, the domestic plot twists stretch credibility, for me at least.

The title song "Only You" sounds quite familiar.

The official site is here
The 2006 film, directed by Alex Melli, comes from Anthem and Image.

I have a review of the documentary “TWA Flight 800” on my “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” blog January 4. 

Picture: Palm Springs, 2012 (mine). 

Saturday, January 04, 2014

"Original Sin" isn't always ancestral (but it does create "Body Heat")

The 2001 thriller “Original Sin” by Michael Cristofer, comes across as a weaker execution of “Body Heat” (1981, Lawrence Kasdan, one of the great suspense films of the 80’s), even though it is said to be a remake of Francois Truffaut film “Mississippi Mermaid” (1969) based on the novel “Waltz into Darkness” by Cornell Wollrich (aka William Irish or George Hopley). 
The film is a period piece, set in late 19th Century Cuba, under Spanish rule, long before the days of “The Lost City”.  Luis Vargas (Antonio Banderas) is an old style capitalist businessman who got rich on sugar cane and local labor.  He gets set up by a femme fatale Julia Russell (Angelina Jolie) almost arranged by others to be his bride.  The problem is that she is an imposter, Bonny Castle.

But the couple is passionate, and seems to be in love.  Luis learns of the deception from a letter.  Imagine how it would feel that someone you have a crush on is not who he or she seems to be (even in a gay context).  Another character, Walter Downs (Thomas Jane, most attractive) offers to work with him to disclose the ruse, but is really playing both sides of the issue, doubling as Billy. 

The movie is told in retrospect as Bonny is about to be executed, but she and Luis have one last trick up their sleeves, winding up in romantic Morocco.
The film (rented from Netflix) seems to be a bit of a manipulation, with plot tricks (and fake shootings) that seem clever but don’t matter a lot to us.  There’s even a “gay” scene where Luis kisses Walter, rather passionately, before “shooting” him.

The film, which MGM regards as a classic now, offers a great tile song, “You can’t walk away from love”. The film score includes piano music by Schumann, Chopin and Granados (effective), and some choral music by Berlioz.  Will MGM return as a major studio on its own? Maybe Oprah has something to say about this. 

So are women intrinsically responsible for “ancestral sin”?

First picture: National Harbor, 2013 (mine);  second, Panama, around 1987 (Mother's estate, mine now!)