Friday, February 28, 2014

"Visitors" seem to be abductees, put into trances, rescued from a dying or obliterated Earth

Godfrey Reggio’s “Visitors”, which has been introduced to the public in a preview compiled by Stephen Soderbergh, is indeed rather simple in technical concept.  The film comprises about 75 long takes, black-and-white, and dogme-style, in slow motion of various persons, objects, buildings, nature scenes, and scenery, even on the Moon, with a triple-time brooding score by Philip Glass.  The comparison to Reggio’s “Koyaanisqatsi” (“Life out of Balance”) in 1982 is obvious, as it is also to perhaps Robert Fricke’s “Samsara” (Sept. 22, 2012). 
The black-and-white Cinemascope (like “Hud”) is really effective here.  We focus on the strange beauty around us, reduced to shades and tones we had never noticed, as in a scene in a Louisiana swamp where the white of the leaves along the water snarls us.  We become changed merely by assimilating something like this.
But I do have to get to a theory about the “point”.  The film opens with a take of a female gorilla from the Bronx Zoo.  Soon we see a shot of the lunar surface, and then of some plain but hollow abandoned highrise buildings (I think it’s in Brooklyn), and then the people, first one at a time, and then ensemble.  Despite the diversity (all races and ages and genders) there is a disturbing uniformity to their expression.  Soon we see eye and facial movements, like being suppressed trying to speak.  We see some odd finger exercises; maybe some of them were pianists.  Later, in a particular ensemble scene, a little more individuality leaks out.  We see one man with total alopecia (of his head), but then the camera lets us enjoy some robust physical attractiveness, for a moment.

All throughout, we are peppered with images of waste, particularly involving amusement parks (probably Coney Island, as well as the site of the 1964 World’s Fair hear Citi Field in Flushing, Queens).  We see landfills, and abandoned factory spaces.  Near the end, we see Earth (with a splash of blue) from the Moon, and then it is wiped out.

So I certainly have my theory.  The “visitors” are abductees, taken to another world since ours is to be destroyed.  They are not just the observers, they are also watched, like in a zoo or model space on “Twilight Zone”.  Maybe there is a hint of “Planet of the Apes”.  The visitors are, in my parlance, “The Proles”.  The premise may be that of the NatGeo film  “Evacuate Earth” (cf blog, Aug. 30, 2013). Several of my own novel manuscripts present the destruction of the world, rescue of the chosen by angels, and “amusement tents” for the masses, that in turn eventually fall into ruin.  I have thought of all of this before.
The official site (Cinedigm) is here

I saw this at the early evening show at Landmark E Street in Washington DC tonight, and I expected a sellout. Instead, the crowd was sparse, in the large auditorium #1.  Don't confuse "Visitors" with "Visions" which is scheduled for release as a horror film in 2014.  

Picture:  lunar surface, Virginia Air and Space Museum in Hampton Second, Japan's maglev train. Third, my layout.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"And the OSCAR Goes To", from CNN and TCM, documentary gives the history of the Oscars

On Thursday night, February 27, 2014, CNN Films aired a special documentary preparatory for the Oscars on March 2, “And the OSCAR Goes to …”, by Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, narrated by Anjelica Huston.  The film was produced by Turner Classic Movies (site ).
The documentary goes back to the very first ceremony, with only twelve awards, won by “Wings” (Feb. 9, 2012).  That was the only silent film to win Best Picture, and that was the only year that "Best Title Editing" was a category.  "The Jazz Singer" was a sound film that year, but not eligible for some reason.  
A particularly difficult time occurred in the 1950s with McCarthyism, and the blacklisting of actors, directors and even writers if they were believed to sympathize with Communism.  
The documentary interviewed Stephen Spielberg, who explained why he filmed most of “Schindler’s List” in black and white.
There was a scene from the quirky 1999 drama “American Beauty”.
Jason Reitman (“Juno”) often talked, and said that you can’t make a good movie from a weak screenplay. 

Jared Leto ("Artifcat", Jan. 26) appeared with long hair, beard, buttoned up, fully male, and recovered from playing Rayon -- how does someone in his 40s look 25? 

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were shown accepting their award for “Good Will Hunting”, which Matt still insists is on his old hard drive.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

“Khodorkovsky”: why did he return to Russia and face certain prison at the hands of Putin?

Khodorkovsky” (2011) is a riveting documentary telling the story of the fall of one of the richest men in post-Soviet Russia.  The film, directed by Cyril Tuschi, looks splendid, in full wide-screen with many shots in Moscow, Israel, Siberia (including the prison where he now lives), and sharp animation recreating his life and his arrest.

The film explains how Russian “oligarchs” were created after the fall of the Soviet Union.  Russia did not have a real currency in the usual sense, the film says, so it wound up giving away wealth rather arbitrarily.  How did this process work in China? 

He was warned by Vladimir Putin that he faced arrest if he returned to Russia, but he did so anyway. He says that he felt controlled by his wealth.  Being that rich is inconsistent with being free. 
The film contains many interviews with his grown son, living in Massachusetts, who says he cannot return to Russia either.  And other Putin expatriates around the world are interviewed.

The film also makes reference to the polonium poisoning of Litvinenko (Jan. 21) in London.  Even living abroad, it isn’t safe for Putin’s enemies.
The official site from Kino Lorber is here.
The Lantos Foundation has a film “Miklail Khodorkovsjy: The Man Who Believed He Could Change Russia” on YouTube (20 min).

The arresting chamber orchestra score, which sounds familiar, was composed by Martin Fruhmorgen. 

The Kino feature (long at 116 minutes) can be viewed on Netflix instant play. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Frozen Angels": an examination of surrogate parenting and implications for eugenics

I’m a little surprised with myself that I missed the PBS POV film “Frozen Angels” back in 2005, now available from Netlfix.  This is a thorough look at surrogate parenting and the eugenics implied by the capability.  The film, which offers only an old-style 4:3 aspect ratio, is directed by Erick Black and Frauke Sandig. The film examines the practice around Los Angeles, especially in “The Valley” and then around Long Beach.
As the documentary (produced partly by ITVS, Umbrella Films and German company ZDF) opens, an attractive young white woman is interviewed by an African-American woman to become a surrogate mother for a white couple.  It gets personal.  Later, the woman says she had never thought about some issues, like whether she would offer surrogacy for a gay male couple. She also says she does not think of herself as the mother.
Later the documentary shows some other processes: women with difficult conceiving do have in vitro fertilization from their husbands, and then eggs are examined for genetic issues and only the most desirable future baby is chosen and planted into the surrogate mother.
The film then goes toward the moral implications.  At one time (around 1930), American legislators complained that the Germans were “ahead of us” in that area.  We know what happened.  Now, we fight governments with forced eugenics (or even ethnic cleansing) programs, but we allow private citizens to practice it through a back door. 
The film even mentions experiments at Case Western Reserve (Cleveland) to give humans an extra chromosome for desirable traits.  We could create a new “species” that cannot have children with the natural one.  We could have “engineered” and “natural” people.  It’s pretty easy to imagine the science fiction scripts. 
There’s also another personal question.  If we can make superhuman (as with “powers”), how do we feel personally about relationships with “ordinary people”.
The music was “Children of Kings” composed and performed by Jorg Seibold.


The film ends with some impressive shots of Long Beach at night, and a chopper right out of Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts”.   


Update: Feb. 26

The FDA is considering long term testing of a procedure where an ovum of a mother with certain genetic diseases in mitochondrial DNA could be modified with the DNA from another mother and then replanted.   Is this "Brave New World"?  CNN has a story of the "3-parent babies" here. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Omar", by Hany Abu-Assad: double lives on the West Bank, and Hitchcock-like twiists

Omar”, by Hany Abu-Assad, is another film about double lives on the West Bank.  Actually, it is a well-crafted thriller with plot twists toward the end that seem inspired by Hitchcock (perhaps “Saboteur”). 
As the film opens, Omar (Adam Bakri) is trying to climb “The Wall” like SpideMan, and getting shot at.  Soon, we see his family life in a crowded West Bank town, where everyone has to go through checkpoints to go to work.  He routinely risks the wall to see his girlfriend Nadja (Lee Lubany). Omar is lean, agile, and handsome.
Soon Omar and some of his pals show their solidarity by shooting an Israeli soldier as snipers.  It’s one of who friends who fires the bullet.  But Omar (after many foot chases through the crowded Nablus streets) is captured.  After some extreme rendition (resembling the film of that name, as well as “Midnight Express”) and jail, Omar agrees to play double agent, with the fatherly intelligence chief Rami (Waleed Zuaiter).  His loyalty to his friends, his cause, his girl friend, family and everything else will be tested in constant double crosses.  Part of the plot involves a pregnancy, and another part involves his level of skill with weapons.  The final scene will please the NRA.
I saw this film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA before a substantial late Sunday crowd
The official site from Adopt Films and The Match Factory is here.

The film certainly demonstrates the confiscation of Palestinian lives because the Israelis see all of them as enemies.  The work of George Meek and the IFPB has been documented on my International Issues blog Dec. 23, 2012 and May 20, 2013.   

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Separation Wall. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"If You Build It": The virtues of learning construction skills hands-on in high school

Do more of us need to learn hands-on manual labor skills, that my own father used to preach about?
In “If You Build It”, shop teacher Matt Miller has moved from Michigan down to Bertie County, the town of Windsor, NC (on the coast plain.  He and Asian-American teacher Emily Pilloton set up Studio H, which gives high school students year-long construction projects, that go from architectural drawings to actual building.  The kids build a chicken coop, and then a farmer’s market shed for the town.

The film, by Patrick Creadon, stresses the importance of small local business to the area economy.  A farmer’s market shed encourages local production of vegetables in a town with only one grocery store.  The town is at low altitude, in a swamp, and prone to flooding and the local economy (dependent on poultry) vulnerable to when big companies pull out. 

The kids keep working on the building in the summer, and it opens in the early fall.  The school district refuses the two teachers for their time on this project.

Matt, who is quite handsome, describes his experience in Detroit, building a starter home for a homeless family, requiring only payment of utilities.  But the family fails to pay that and is evicted.  The home eventually is abandoned, like so many in Detroit, and disintegrates into ruin, especially inside.
Matt says that helping people requires more than giving them things or building things for them.  They should have their own sweat equity in what they build.
I remember “industrial arts” class in seventh grade, which was paired with science.  I was not particularly good in shop (got a C). We worked with wood, plastic, wrought iron, and copper sheets (pictures above). I recall an incident where the shop teacher had an emergency appendectomy -- that was a big deal in the 1950s.  The idea of learning "practical skills" figures into my upcoming short story "Expedition".    
The film also pays heed to architecture and design and the building of wood models.  I had a friend in my college days who was an architecture student at Princeton.  I recall that "The Fountainhead" was about a non-conformist architect (this "other" Ayn Rand novel became a movie in 1949).  A good part of the plot of "The Elephant Man" in 1980 involved making a model of a cathedral.  
The official site is here.  The distributor is Long Shot Factory.  I saw the film at Landmark E Street before a fair Saturday afternoon crowd.
“Berties county” is a perfect example of the demise of rural America.
How does this movie relate to Habitat for Humanity?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Winter's Tale": suspended animation is not reincarnation, even for Moses

Winter’s Tale” is indeed what high school English teachers call a “fairy tale”.  It’s a fantasy novel by Mark Helprin, and a two-hour Valentine’s Day film by Akiva Goldsman.
It’s also a film in two parts, in 1916 and 2014, with a prologue in 1895.  A baby Peter Lake is placed in a boat called “City of Justice” like Moses, in New York harbor.

But in 1916 Peter (Colin Farrell) has become a petty thief, who has perhaps made the wrong connections with a local gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).  It seems as thought Pearly has connections with the Devil (Will Smith), and is concerned about the sliver of good in Peter – he might actually be an angel able to perform miracles.   All of this is demonstrated allegorical in scenes where Peter adopts a white horse that can fly.  Peter tries to burglarize a rich man’s home, but when he meets a young woman, Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay), afflicted with tuberculosis, he falls in love and loses all of his wrongful impulses.  This all sounds like pure George Gilder.  As a handyman, he actually helps maintain the house (William Hurt is the foreman) when the furnace almost explodes.  Eventually, after some more plotting, Beverly dies in his arms.  The henchmen catch up with him and thrown him in the river to drown.

But he “wakes up” a hundred years later, encountering one of the principals in the past (Eva Marie Saint) and helps save another young woman, to perform his miracle and become a star.
Some of the critics have called this process “reincarnation”.  Well, it isn’t that exactly.  Lake has been in suspended animation for almost a century, and resumes life at the same age he was before or slightly older, looking to be about 30.  The concept is more like what happens between the two halves of my unpublished 1969 novel “The Proles”, where a few characters’ souls are stored on a computer (a quantum computer, maybe) for fourteen years, to be awakened right after a nuclear war has erupted.  I’ve even proposed another twist, that they could have been awakened at various times before and “died”, not knowing what they had done – but that would seem to violate the law of karma.
The official site (from Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow Pictures) is here

The music was interesting.  Beverly plays a piano reduction of the finale of the Brahms Violin Concerto (remember that the same music, in its original setting, had played during the credits of "There Will Be Blood" in late 2007);  later the Masquerade Suite of Khachaturian is used, as well as the Waltz from the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, the last of which is omitted from the credits.  
 I saw the film at the Regal in Arlington, small auditorium (but the film is cropped at 2.35:1), small crowd late.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

"The Artist and the Model": Occupied France, sculpture, banned books, and the Mahler Ninth, in black and white

The Artist and the Model” is a Spanish-made film by Fernando Trueba (“El artista y la modeleo”) but in French.  
In 1943, in the Nazi-occupied Vichy France, in Provence, Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort) lives away from the war, eyeing it at a distance, piddling with his sculptures and paintings but coming to the end of his life. He has lost passion for his wife (Claudia Cardinale).  One day she finds a young Spanish woman Merce (Aida Folch) bathing on the property.   She is a refugee from the war.  Cros starts using her is a model for his work, in a long sequence of scenes with considerable artistic nudity. 
The film is shot in black-and-white, with great definition, and in full 2.35:1 anamorphic, creating a “Hud” effect.  The camera uses the space, as it places the model and the sculptor at a same distance between them as he works, often with a workbench or other objects between them.  
One day a Nazi soldier arrives, investigating, looking for an American who may have parachuted.  He talks about books that have been banned in Germany, like Proust, and the reading habits of soldiers.  It all gets esoteric.  But Marc starts becoming evasive, and fears this wonderful period in his life may come to an end.  This sequence ties the film to similar ideas in “The Book Thief” (Nov. 17, 2013).  
Indeed it does.  His time may be up.  It is Merce whose life gets restarted at the end.  The movie ends with the conclusion of the Adagio finale, in D-flat, of the Mahler Ninth.  Oddly, Cohen Media group used this music to introduce a couple of the films on the previews on the DVD, which includes an interview with the director. 
The official site is here
This film played for a week at the West End in Washington DC last fall (and maybe the AMC Shirlington) but I missed it then.  The DVD came out quickly.  It was also a success at the San Sebastian (Spain) film festival.  
“The Statement” (Feb. 6) also deals with the “Occupied France” issue. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Us Now", British documentary on the Internet commons, comports with Frontline's "Generation Like".

Ivo Gormley’s one hour documentary “Us Now”, shot in London in 2009, traces the online activities of some ordinary adults as they use the web to procure and offer services in innovative ways.  This is not about self-broadcast or self-promotion; it is about life and cooperation. 
As the film opens, a young man arrives in London (I think this is Giles Andrews) from the US to stay in a home and sleep on a couch he had reserved through “Couch Surfing”  (link ).   Maybe this concept supplements the old idea of youth hostels, popular for students traveling in Europe.  (Yes, I’ve seen both “Hostel” horror movies.)

Soon, we’re following other activities, like soccer games of a team Ebbsfleet United, owned by its fans, and Zopa, a bank where everyone is a “manager”.  (Actually, many banks used to inflate the titles of their employees anyway.)
Other efforts get mentioned, such as “Slice the Pie”, a vehicle for funding new music albums, “The People Speak” and “Directionless”. The obvious comparison would come from Kickstarter or crowdfunding sites. 

The new paradigm pretty much eliminates political parties and their fiefdoms, something Jesse Ventura has long wanted to do in the U.S.
All of this puts some obligation on the participants.  If you help the couch surfers (and use the service), you have to keep your home or flat presentable.  Not everyone has time to do that.  In the US, there’s an adhoc service where people can let others rent their cars while they travel by air.  And it’s possible to rent your home short term – a lot of people do this with beach properties, and is that what timeshares have always been about?  And think about how Zipcar works, taking up more urban parking spaces all the time.  I personally love the idea of bike share. 
There is, indeed, a new idea that we can do well ourselves by doing good (outside the corporate state), and that value is found in whether something helps other people, not just in short term profits or numbers.  Are “likes” the new barter?  Not exactly, because we can get caught up in counting those, too.

The film (official site) comes from Banyak and IndieFix.  I watched it on Amazon Instant; it was free to Prime subscribers.     
The film could be compared to the PBS Frontline report “Generation Like” (reviewed on the TV blog Feb. 19), and the book by Glenn Reynolds, “An Army of Davids” (reviewed on the Book review blog Feb. 19), as well as Rohit Bhargava’s “Likeonomics” (Books blog, Dec. 19, 2012). 

Wikipedia attribution link for Twickenham Stadium, rugby, London. Looks like quidditch. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Southern Baptist Sissies": Dogme-style film of a stage play clashes evangelical Christianity with gay identity

Southern Baptist Sissies” is making the LGBT festival circuit (I don’t see it on schedule for the DC area yet).  It’s pretty easy to guess the subject matter from the title
First, the format of the film, directed by Del Shores, is noteworthy.  It is filmed right off a stage (the Marka Theater in West Hollywood), with the story set in Dallas, TX.  (I’m surprised they didn’t stay in Texas to film it, perhaps in Austin.) There are references to streets (Cedar Springs) and bars (Moby Dick) in Dallas --- meaningful to me because I lived there from 1979-1988 (although some of the clubs have moved around and switched names in recent years).  The stage sets rotate among a “Calvary Baptist Church”, which gets turned into a dance club, a dinner theater, and various other gatherings as the stagecraft possesses. 
The technique is the same as what Lars Van Trier used for “Dogville” a few years back, and the shooting style is called Dogme, although some of the rules are broken (for example, here the aspect is a full 2.35:1).  The scenes seem to be shot in long continuous takes, without much editing, as is common with Dogme.
Apparently, there is an original stage play of the same name, and I think it was written by Del Shores.  I don’t know where it played.  The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas could have provided a venue for the Buckle of the Bible Belt. 

The script, broken into two “Acts” (and long – the film runs almost 140 minutes) creates counterpoint between the charismatic young hero Mark (film producer Emerson Collins, 29,  who is incredibly satisfying to the eye – lean, strong and smooth-chested), the fundamentalist pastor (Newell Alexander), the older “fag” Peanut (Leslie Jordan, who reminds me of Toby Jones or even the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), the would-be reluctant boyfriend TJ (Luke Stratt-McClure) and the tragic Andrew (Matthew Scott Montgomery).  Collins very much dominates the whole play and film with his presence, sort of the way Tom Welling dominates Smallville. 
There’s plenty of theology spinkled throughout.  One idea is that missionaries are necessary to get people on other parts of the world saved.  Another comes from Andrew’s mother, who noticed that he wasn’t interested in girls and wasn’t going to get grandchildren through him.  That sort of says it all.
Mark has some great lines, like “I’m so interdependent that when I die, someone else’s life will flash before my eyes”.  Yet, the whole modern moral issue seems to be about balancing independence with interdependence.
The word “sissy”, of course a pejorative, almost like (as George Gilder once wrote) “dilettante”, suggests a man who doesn’t carry his share of the common burdens of protecting the community or guaranteeing its future.  (The “f” word occurs sometimes in the play.)   In the days that we had a male-only military draft (long before the formal “don’t ask, don’t tell”) we thought of physical cowardice when we contemplated the word.  That concept is less important in an individualistic society than it used to be, but that’s how things are seen in less democratic parts of the world (like Russia and much of Africa).  Of course politicians abuse it.  There’s something inconsistent about this idea in Christianity, though, in another sense:  early Christians expected the “End” soon, and would not have worried about their future with procreation.  In fact, people expecting the Rapture or tribulations could think the same way.  The people “left behind” would have no future anyway.  It was Paul who said “It is better to marry than to burn.” 

There are a lot hymns in the soundtrack by Joe Patrick Ward, including “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling”, near the climax of the film. That hymn had been used to great effect in “The Trip to Bountiful” by Ben Masterson, with Geraldine Paige, set in south Texas, which I saw at the Inwood in Dallas in 1985 (Island and Embassy Picture).  It’s being remade now.
The official Facebook (for “Sissie”) is here. I reviewed from a private Vimeo Screener.  I believe that the distribution will come from Breaking Glass Pictures. 

When I lived in Dallas, and my parents came, my father wanted to visit the First Baptist Church (my picture above from 2011, call it the First Southern Baptist Church) on Ervay on downtown Dallas.  Wally Amos Criswell would give 45-minute sermons.  One Sunday night in 1980 he gave a sermon on homosexuality, which he found "bewildering." 

Hope Reel Affirmations picks up and shows this in DC.  It is a “West End” kind of film.  Sorry, I don’t know the little indie theaters in NYC as well as I should. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"No Place on Earth": hiding in a cave in the Ukraine from the Nazis during the Holocasut

Cave explorer Chris Nicola, who goes spelunking around the world on all his vacations from his job in New York City, discovered artifacts in the unusual gypsum caves in western Ukraine.
This led to the discovery of a maze of caves where Ukrainian Jews hid from the Nazis during Wordl War II, for over eighteen months.
The film, by Janet Tobias, originally for the History Channel, is “No Place on Earth”.  Most of the 82 minutes of this film happen above ground, much of it in the flat countryside and villages. It tells the story, somewhat following the pattern of Herman Wouk’s “War and Remembrance”.  In 1939, the Soviet Union and Hitler make a pact on Poland after Hitler’s invasion, but by 1941 the Nazis have broken it, and roll into the Ukraine (from Poland).  They tell the Jews that the will put them in a “paradise ghetto” (like Theresienstadt) and appoint local police to watch the hated minority.  But the Jews realize they cannot survive for long, and begin to hide in the caves.  The Germans find them in one of the caves, and even carry out a hideous event with local officials, where the Jews fake their own deaths.  Many of them survive this way, and find deeper caves.  Obviously, they have to forage at night and have some cooperation with very local peasants to survive.
The two main families were Stermer and Wexler.  Nicola found one of the survivors living close to him in the Bronx. 

The official site (Magnolia Pictures) is here. I believe that this played at the West End Cinema and Landmark Theaters both in DC, but I missed it and watched it on Netflix.  The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99. 
The Ukraine has, of course, become a flashpoint for domestic unrest in recent months. 
The film could be compared to a “long short”, “Cavedigger”, reviewed here Feb. 3, 2014. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Kiev after WWI. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Zaytoun": a Palestinian boy helps a downed Israeli fighter pilot escape from the PLO in 1982 war

There have been a lot of films recently about social injustices around the world, but the British-Israeli thriller “Zaytoun”, directed by Eran Riklia and written by Nader Rizq, a Palestinian-American, probes the 1982 war in Lebanon for an adventure coming out of conflict. The word refers to a Palestinian farming cooperative in the olive tree business.
Yoni (Stephen Dorff), an Isareli fighter pilot, is shot down over Beirut and captured by the PLO. 
Whimsically, a Palestinian boy Fahed (Abdallah El Alak), who has lost his dad to an air attack, has pretended to shoot down a fighter at the same time; we don’t know if his rifle shot really worked.  They meet at the PLO hangout; in one altercation, Yoni has minor injuries and winds up in an infirmary.  Their hostility breaks, and soon Fahed agrees to help Yoni escape if Yoni will lead Fahed to his dad’s home in Palestine. 

The film becomes a road adventure, with the spectacular scenery of the arid mountains in Lebanon.  At one point, Fahed nearly releases a mine. 

The soundtrack has some music by John Travolta from “Saturday Night Fever”, specifically “Staying Alive”, which itself became a cosmetically controversial Travolta film in 1985.

Strand Releasing’s site for the film is here.  I watched it from a private Vimeo screener.  The DVD becomes available Feb. 18.   

The European distributor is Pathe.

The concept of the story reminds me of a novel from the late 70s, "An Affair of Strangers", by John Croshy, advertised heavily when it came out;  I don't recall a movie of it.
Wikipedia attribution link for NASA image of Lebanon from space. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Blood Brother": Rocky Braat's odyssey as a volunteer at an children's hostel in India, and it gets up close and personal

Lower income people living together experience much more intimacy than a lot of us are used to. But Rocky Braat is completely at home in their world, in this case in rural India, as he moves and dedicates himself to helping, in an up close and personal way, children infected with HIV and living in a rural hostel. That is the subject matter of the documentary "Blood Brother".  
Rocky was raised in Ohio, apparently around Cleveland (maybe the Elyria or Oberlin area), largely by grandparents after his parents broke up.  As a young man (the film does not give his birthdate or age but he appears to be in his early 20s) he lives a while in New York, Pittsburgh, and back around Cleveland – the film doesn’t specify what he does as a job. He makes a "passage to India", at first as a "tourist".  But (apparently there, but maybe first back home in Ohio) somehow he has found a faith-based group (Lutheran?; the name sounds Dutch, and I think I heard about a group that sponsored this kind of work from the Minnesota AIDS Project when I lived in Minneapolis) and it offers him a chance to work as a “volunteer” coordinator overseas, helping kids with AIDS, apparently infected with HIV at birth. The location is in a flat rural area near Chennai, India, in the southeastern part of the country.   
On a trip back home, Rocky convinces friend Steve Hoover to come with him on a return trip, and Hoover does so and directs the film.  The storyline of the film aims Rocky toward an eventual wedding with a local Indian woman he meets in the village, but the film gives little of the course of their courtship or relationship.
Hoover narrates the film, but much of the film shows Rocky talking to the camera, or otherwise describing his experience.  Rocky says that he was viewed as “borderline retarded” in early grades and tracked as a “sped” (special education, which I know about from my own course as a substitute teacher a few years ago).  But his whole life he has displayed his “street smarts”, which one time Donald Trump made into an “Apprentice” contest in a charity fund raising event.  Rocky displays unusual social empathy with others, and always communicates clearly, even if always idiomatically. His style of speech and expression in the film remind one of Reid Ewing (whom he resembles physically) in the (Igigi Studios) “Reid-ing” mockumentary videos (May 13, 2013)
AIDS in India has not gotten the attention that it has from Africa.  But India, for all its rural poverty and caste system, is a more stable place for volunteers than much of Africa.  Imagine volunteers trying to do this in the Central African Republic, or Somalia.  In fact, about a decade ago, two gay men from a local Presbyterian church volunteered covertly in Kenya (not Uganda) on a somewhat similar faith mission. (I guess I divert here:  Kenya was the site of a recent terror attack but over time it has been viewed as more civilized;  Prince William and Kate spent time there.) 
What seems most striking to me is how close-up and hands-on Rocky’s work is.  He is in constant horseplay with the kids.  He gives them medical treatment, as an “amateur”, becoming almost like a nurse.  In one scene, he saws off a ring from a swollen finger while simultaneously removing an insect from a child’s middle ear with a Q-tip covered with epoxy.  Later, he nurses a boy covered with ugly sores and worms coming out of his mouth – the boy recovers.  Rocky is encouraged to take an HIV test himself before marrying.  The main risk would have been from a needlestick, which never happens, but the film never gives the result of the test.

Rocky lives in a one-level rural house, without utilities, even running water.  He says that he does not want to be viewed as the “White King”.  Physically, he does stand out in this environment.  But in many parts of India, especially the cities and among the wealthier companies, he would not be noticeable, because people of British and mixed descent make a large part of the population.

Rocky’s life would sit in stark contrast to mine (however Asperger-like or schizoid I am), which has been largely sheltered, for decades in the rarified world of work as an individual contributor in information technology.  I was 180 degrees opposite of him, on the dark side of the Moon, living in my own world, without the need for long term closeness with others.  I was in a line of work where probably that is better.  I was not aware of the demands of intimacy that most people face until I retried.  Much of the latter part of my new “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book will deal with this. Before moving to India, Rocky sells all his possessions, or gives them away;  for me, "collections" have always provided a second life. 

The film doesn’t deal directly with gay rights or “moral”  or religious questions (after all, the protagonist marries a woman in the end), but it is easy to see why the attitude in cultures where people are forced to live together in forced intimacy, because of poverty and lack of infrastructure or past colonialism or despotism, become hostile.  They have to “trust” each other in close confines.  Of course, we know from the military gay ban issue, that becomes a loaded and deceptive impression.

The film does make the point that the ability to care for other people seems like it's own moral prerequisite for getting into other things.  This counters the yuppie quasi-libertarian view that responsibility for kids or the less able waits until you have children, by choice.  But then, that point creates its own potential contradictions.  
The official blog for the film, here  (from Cinedigm -- "Visitors") is important, “How I got over my fear of HIV/AIDS”.  Braat spells his name as "Rocky Bratt" (Anglicized) in the blog. IMDB implies that Braat now works in production or cinematorgraphy for PBS Independent Lens or POV.

The music score includes a suite for unaccompanied cello by Wytold, called "Do You Know?"  I met Wytold at the Phiillips Gallery at a performance of the ballet "Angels, Demons and Savages" Feb. 14, 2013, reviewed on the Drama Blog.  The credits also mention Verdi.
A local church arranged a trip for its young people to Belize (Central America) in 2012, and I reviewed a “short film” that the group made on the “Drama Blog”, Nov. 4. 2012.  The short film showed a flow of connection and intimacy similar to what is in this feature film.  It did open my eyes at the time. Another church group made a similar trip to Nacascolo, Nicaragua and made a photo album.

The DVD (Netflix) of this film has many short extras, as follows: “Christmas”, “Kids”, “Suji and Johnny”, “Super 8 footage with music” (very long), “Swing Fail”, “Tea 1 and 2”. 

 Wikipedia attribution link for NASA photo of Chennai area. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Big Sur": a fluffy follow-up on "On the Road", and Jack Kerouac is more down-to-earth than me

Big Sur”, by Michael Polish, might be conceived of as an “On the Road II” (April 7, 2013), but it is a film based on a meta-book by Jack Kerouac (Jean-Marc Barr), in which he makes trips to a cabin in the woods on the California coast owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards) in August 1960, and writes a book about the process of writing a book.  I’ve done that myself (some of my “Do Ask, Do Tell” book chapters do this, as did Thomas Carlye's notorious "Sartor Resartus").  This was in an era of typewritters, wood fireplaces (even in Summer) and cigarettes. 
Jack has to deal with his own addictions to substances, something that doesn’t peak my own interest. He gravitates to a relationship with the mistress Billie (Kase Bosworth) of his best friend Neal Cassidy (Josh Lucas).  Balthazar Getty (from “Lost Highway”) appears as Michael McClure. 
The film has a lot of other worldly shots of the Milky Way and coastline, and a couple of shots of the Golden Gate Bridge that remind one of a similar scene in “Vertigo”.
There’s also an outdoor hot tub scene that reminds me of “Old Joy” and even “Ice Men”. 
The film played at the West End Cinema in Washington in November 2013 and is on DVD (from Ketchup) now. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Bixby Bridge picture.