Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"The Other Woman": A younger version of Madoff breaks some of the "rules for sleeping around"

The Other Woman” (Fox, directed by Nick Cassavetes) gives us a middle aged corporate philanderer Mark King (Danish actor Nicholaj Coster-Waldau), who has affairs with at least two other women behind the back of his stay-at-home Long Island wife Kate (Leslie Mann), one of whom is another assertive lawyer Carly (Cameron Diaz – yes, that’s female) who visits Kate King by mistake.  The other is a model, Amber (Kate Upton), who seems a bit peripheral to the real plot, but basically a playboy kitten.  (Because of the big budget, Fox fought hard for a PG-13 rating, which the smaller similar film about to mentioned didn’t have to.)

The trouble for Mark is that he broke some of the “10 Rules for Sleeping Around” (April 24).  In fact, this glitzy big-studio comedy seems to be a continuation of the low-budget farce I reviewed last week.  Kate’s brother Phil (Taylor Kinney) is a moderately likeable sidekick here, but this film has no “fratboy” character to run around naked – that is, no “attractive” males (for a gay audience).  This comedy is truly the majoritarian hetero corporate version of “10 Rules”.  There is a pooch who works with Cameron Diaz (even to relieving himself on the apartment floor of Carly’s 10-million Trump pad).  But compared to the low-budget comedy, this dog seems more professional, less spontaneous. Note: both comedies use some well-placed farts as sound effects. 
Working as an actor can mean letting your body be altered, and that may well befit your character.  The three women plot to ruin Mark both physically and financially.  They put Nair in his shampoo, and estrogen in his juice.  OK, some of his scalp hair comes out, but it doesn’t stay lost.  His breasts increase; but it seems like the writer (Melissa Stack) could have figured out a way to increase the utter humiliation, by having him lose all his body hair, too, permanently. (He gets to keep the scant wad in the center of his chest.)  Let him feel feminine.  That’s what “No-no” is all about.  By comparison with "The 40 Year Old Virgin" he was experienced, but no more. 
Instead, the movie (after a jaunt to the Bahamas, source of the first Bond movie with the “three blind mice”) arranges for Mark to be brought down as a younger Bernie Madoff.  Indeed, he is ruined.

The official site is here

I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse, on a rainy weeknight, and it was almost sold out. 

Don't confuse this with the Italian film by the same name when translated, reviewed here Feb. 24, 2010.  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"The Wise Kids": coming of age (and out) as a graduating senior in a southern baptist church

The Wise Kids” (2012, directed by Stephen Cone) puts together the processes of evangelical religion (specifically, here, in a youth group in a Southern Baptist Church near Savannah, GA) and coming of age, particularly for gay men.  The result is gentler than what one might expect; but the title tells you that these are pretty level-headed kids.  The film could be compared with the musical (but ironically titled) “Southern Baptist Sissies” reviewed here Feb. 19.  There’s a play that I could compare the film, popular in many church youth groups, “Wise Guys” (review, drama blog, May 15, 2011, so far never made into a commercial film as far as I know, and that seems surprising).
The film opens as the high schoolers (mostly graduating seniors) are preparing a play about the Crucifixion. There is some clumsiness with the props, but soon we get to know some of the characters, most of all aspiring film student Tim (Tyler Ross) who wants to go to the New School in New York City. 
There’s an odd reprise of the Crucifixion, which may be Tim’s dream, where the actor playing Christ bleeds, perhaps from elaborate makeup.  The film does show how hand-straps could be used to simulate the nails.
The film is slow-paced and considerate.  The youth minister is trying to date one of the less attractive young women in the congregation, and finds he is not up to physical intimacy and will come to terms with his own sexuality. But Tim (does he belong to the “Timo Club”) barrels along, with a lot of momentum, getting everyone to rejoice with him when he gets into film school.  There is a scene on the beach where there is a gentle confrontation with his younger brother over sexuality (the brother doesn’t want him photographing him).  But later there is a dance (I’m not sure where) with some dirty dancing.  The film ends with the kids home for Christmas from their first year of college.

The official site (Wolfe) is here
The film is available on Netflix instant.  The script talks about Savannah, but imdb says the film was shot largely in Charleston, SC (not far away). 
Wikipedia attribution link for Savannah overview. I made one visit, in March 1990.  Savannah (Mercer House) was also the site of Clint Eastwood’s 1997 film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (WB) with John Cusack and Kevin Spacey, a mystery with a gay subplot. Remember the line, “New York is boring”.  Cusack is a visiting NY journalist who works on a murder of a closeted gay man he has befriended.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

20-year old gay "teen" in Quebec tells his story in the (metaphorical) "I Killed My Mother"

Fortunately. the film title “I Killed My Mother” (2009, “J’ai tue ma mere”) is a metaphor, and nothing more. The film is a debut by the 20-year old director (then) French Canadian director Xavier Dolan, and the film is an 95-minute autobiographical sketch of his stormy relationship with his single mom  (Anne Dorval) as an emerging and rather assertive gay teenager, and his mother’s gradual realization of what that would mean.  At one point late in the film she says, “You won’t have any children”.  Xavier (naming his doppleganger Hubert) says that gays do have children or often wind up raising them (OPC – other people’s children), but it’s a big deal if he is an only child.
The father (Pierre Chagnon) had split from the family years ago because he couldn’t measure up to fatherhood.  (Okay, the Family Research Council is going to have fun with this.)  Hubert stirs things up by turning in an essay in language class with the film title, and people becoming concerned that metaphor and thought experiment could become reality.  In the mean time, Hubert gets closer to the lanky boyfriend Antonin (Francois Amaud). 
Mom and dad meet and decide to put Hubert into a boarding school in the country.  Hubert resists, but goes and finds another boyfriend Eric (Niels Schneider).  At this point, it’s important to note that all three gay teens are presented as attractive, smart, reasonably clean cut, and even charismatic.  Bur Hubert gets beat up (a scene that gets played down), and runs away.  When the headmaster calls the mom, she turns about-face and scolds him over the phone and begins to realize she must be there for her son.
Hubert has left a note saying that he will be “in his kingdom”, which sounds ominous of course.  The ending of the film, in reduced aspect ratio, shows some nature-centered images, but we are left with some reassurances that even here, “heaven” is just a metaphor, too.
Dolan sprinkles his film with black and white shots of himself talking to provide some narration. Technically, the photography seems a bit diffuse, and could use a little more light, definition and brighter color in some indoor scenes – with one great exception, the painting party scene, where Hubert and Antonin pretend to be “Pollock” (the biography of that painter was a major film from Sony in 2000, starring Ed Harris). The pacing of the script (which he says he wrote at 16), and transitions points could use some work.  Possibly the help of an experienced screenwriter could help pull this film off more effectively.


The film can be viewed on Netflix (or DVD rented), distributor was Kino. 
Wikipedia attribution link for language map of Quebec; blue is French. (Author Piotron; Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 license)  The French in Canada is much harder (and probably more idiomatic)  for my ear to follow than it is in films from France.  In this film, the characters talk explosively fast; I've gotten spoiled by German and Dutch (and Flemish) where the pronunciation is so slow, deliberate and clear.  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

"The Last Passenger" is a UK thriller in the genre of "runaway train" movies

The Last Passenger” gives us an image from film-noir thriller territory:  a runaway passenger training, piercing the night with its headlights, heading its passengers toward doom.
I’ve actually covered this scenario before a couple times on my “cf” (Films on major challenges to freedom) as with “Unstoppable” on Nov. 13, 2010.  I’ve also covered the issue of trains being contaminated or threatened with devices as in “Source Code” (April 2, 2011) and  “The Cassandra Crossing” (March 3, 2010), as well as History Channel’s “Glow Train” (June 24, 2008).  I vaguely remember seeing the 1985 “Runaway Train” in Dallas (from the Cannon Group, with Jon Voigt, directed by Andrey Konchalovsky). And don't forget Disney's "The Great Locomotive Chase" in the 1950s.  More distant in subject matter are "Night Train" and "Transsiberian". 

This British film, by Omid Nooshin, puts a few passengers on a commuter train, and lets them deal with the gradual realization that the train is out of control and speeding toward apocalypse.  The engineer seems to be unreachable, and may be a terrorist.  Or maybe the terrorist is one of the passengers.  During the course of the film, the passengers try all kinds of tricks to decouple the cars that model railroaders would know well. 
The central character is a doctor, Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott), with his son.  There is a “cigarette smoking man” (Iddo Goldberg) and a bizarre geek-bookworm (David Shofield), and a train guard (Samuel Geker-Kawie).

The film is shot 2.35:1, which may be unnecessary given the limited set of the film; but the outdoor shots of the train, especially once it is in two parts and barrels through a station on fire, are striking.  I don’t see how it could hit a car or the mouth of a tunnel and stay on track.

The film, from Cohen Media Group, is showing at only one theater in the DC area, in the Fair Oaks area of Fairfax County at a Regal.  The crowd Saturday afternoon was sparse.  But this seems like typical FilmfestDC material.

The official site is here. 

The music score, by Liam Bates, echoes Stravinsky (quoting “The Firebird” and “The Rite of Spring”) and the closing credits offer an impressive tone poem as a concert work that could stand on its own.   It ends abruptly, like "Rite of Sprin" but then provides one dying arpeggio, pianissimo, to wind down and end quietly after all.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"The Verdict": drama from Belgium about the integrity of the criminal justice system

The Belgian film “The Verdict” (“Het Vonnis”, by Jan Verheyen), indeed provides courtroom drama about vigilantism and taking the law into one’s own hands.

Luc Segers (Koen de Bouw), a rising business man in Brussels, with his wife and daughter, stop at a gas station at night.  The wife is murdered in a robbery gone bad, a scene particularly brutal, by Kenny de Groot (Hendrik Aerts), and the daughter his killed by a car when she runs into the nearby road.  Luc is put into a coma by the attacker but recovers fully. 

Luc identifies Kenny in a photo and the police trace him to an auto repair shop, and arrest him. He has a long rap sheet.  But a procedural error forces the government to drop all charges.  Luc gets an illegal weapon and executes Kenny at the shot, with a scene shown only  in flashback from the trial that follows.  Luc goes for the strategy of “irresistible impulse” to try to get acquitted.  The entire European model for justice is put on trial.

We learn that Kenny was given up by his well-off parents to a foster home because as a child he wet the bed too much.  He didn’t get he life “he deserved”.  The whole film turns into a meditation on why bad things happen.

I saw the film as the Avalon in Washington, on a large curved screen (2.35:1), as part of Filmfest DC.  The auditorium was about half sold.

The official site (Eyeworks films) is here.  I don’t know if there is a US distributor yet, but it looks like the sort of film that could come from Music Box, Cohen Media, Sony, or even Strand.  This is a big budget, very professionally produced film from Flanders sources.

The film is in Dutch, which sounds so close the English that you almost don’t need the subtitles.
I have to say that the mood of the film is relentless. There is no “Timo Descamps” to cheer things up.  The outdoor scenery of Gent (a bigger city than I thought) is quite impressive.
There was another film in 1982 called “The Verdict”, by Sidney Lumet, where a lawyer takes a medical marijuana case to trial, with Paul Newman.  I recall seeing it in Dallas. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Antwerp (I was there in May 2001).

April 28: additional thought: 

I would say that Luc should have been convicted, but there is no way Denny could be a "victim".  Sometimes two wrongs make a right, but both wrongs must be separately punished.  Everybody loses.  Otherwise there is only forgiveness. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

"The Broken Tower": A biography of poet Hart Crane, acted and directed by James Franco

James Franco directs, writes (using Paul Mariani’s book) and acts the subject role of American poet Harold Hart Crane in the biography “The Broken Tower”, a title of one of Crane’ssmaller  works.

I recall in that lost semester in the fall of 1961 at William and Mary, when we read T. S. Elliot “The Love Song of J. Afred Prufrock” and wrote themes about it, that the instructor (an Austalian chap who I think was gay) mentioned Crane.  Maybe we did read something in that class.
Crane (1899-1932) is best known for “The Bridge” and “White Buildings” and a concept called “the logic of metaphor”.

The film, shot largely in black and white, depicts the pain of his life, split into little episodes called “Voyages”, traveling between Cleveland, New York, Cuba, Mexico and Paris.  He had often worked as a copyeditor for advertisers but found adjusting to the discipline of the workplace difficult.  He found that it created a conflict with his getting his writing projects done.  He tended to depend on the generosity of friends, especially when living in New York, including Brooklyn Heights.  That was a common practice among people in the East Village when I was living in New York City from 1974-1978.

There’s a scene about an hour into the film where Crane has dinner with a lawyer who says, “You have shown you can write. But what good does that do you?”  Crane is begging for an entry level job as a stock boy. “I can’t do anything else” Crane says, and then makes an angry wisecrack about being expected to sell toothpaste.  (Donald Trump started out “The Apprentice” by having his fledglings sell lemonade.)  The lawyer says “but every man must make his mark on the world”, I guess by hucksterizing other people’s stuff.  I remember being told in a 2002 interview myself “We give you the words.”  No you don’t. 

The lawyer mentions that his mother will die, and that he should spend his inheritance wisely.  But then Crane gets a letter saying his father had mortgage debts and that Crane will get nothing.  These were the early years of the Great Depression.   That eventually leads to Crane’s suicide by jumping off a ship into the ocean.  Drowning would be a horrible way to go. (Sebastian Junger had explained that in a chapter of his book “The Perfect Storm”.)

The film as a few scenes where Crane reads aloud or recites his poems.  Often the camera stops and goes black and moves then to another scene.

Crane was gay, and just semi-closeted, in a world where homosexuality doesn’t seem to have been as controversial as it would become later (during the years of McCarthyism).  He did have a relationship with one woman, though. In the film, he looks handsome, with his mustache, and smooth, and sometimes surprisingly assertive.

Today, it is common for young artists (gay or not) to be able to make a living with their craft, because of technology.  I was in the situation where I did support myself as an “individual contributor” in information technology, which created its own universe of issues.  With advancing Internet technology, when I finally wrote a book, I did not need to “male money” from my art to become known for it.  That is a very double-edged matter indeed.  But this opportunity was not possible in Crane’s time.  He did associate with writers, like O’Neill, more established than he was.  

Having inherited an estate and being at age 70, I also perceive another connection to Crane's situation.  I realize I am "lucky" and wonder if I could pursue my art if I had to use it to provide for other people. This is about a lot more than marriage. 

This film, distributed by Focus World, is said to have been a “student” film by Franco as he earned an MFA. 

The film can be rented from Netflix on DVD or instant play. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"10 Rules for Sleeping Around": a farce about a frat boy and his dog

10 Rules for Sleeping Around” (2013, directed by Leslie Greif)  is like an operatic farce, and also like a 50s situation comedy.  It starts with a few NYC yuppies talking about the “rules” for open relationships, women (Wendy McLennon-Covey and Tammin Sursok) and men  (Jesse Bradford ["Swimfan"] and Bryan Callen) separate at first.  The “rules” are spelled out in the closing credits, in fact.

We’re also introduced to a media magnate, a Michael McKean, who talks about how to produce a best selling book (don’t preach the way I do in my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books), and plans a big Hamptons party, complete with security guards armed with tasers to keep the undesirables out.

The people start arriving, but then we see college frat-boy Hugh (apparently Mr. Fields’s son) running around naked, chased by a pooch who seems to really like lean men.  That part is in fact played by Reid Ewing, who starts out by chasing cougars before his dog gets involved.  Reid provides a lot of the situation comedy, escaping detection, all of which gets pretty physical.  I wondered if that was his dog in real life, because they seemed so “close”.  Remember, for “Modern Family” Reid had produced a video “Imagine Me Naked”, and that wish is certainly satisfied here, as he looks like a high-end teen when compared visually to the other "older" male characters at the party.  Reid, at an interview on premier night, says he was invited to “write” his own part (as to the actual action) for the film. His best line is the mindless "Why me?" 
As for the plot, it doesn’t matter too much.  The cougar is married, as are some of the guys, but in time the “jealousy” is complicated by bisexuality and drag.  What started out as ordinary heterosexual romp (like Gossip Girl) gradually gets gay, especially with the help of Mr. Fields.  Is this supposed to be a “Rocky Picture Horror Show”?

The official site (Screen Media and ThinkFactory) isn’t much, link
The film premiered at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood in 2013.  (I’ve never been in it, but I’ve driven past it enough times.)  It’s available on Amazon Instant Play for $3.99 rental.  I would recommend the $4.99 HD rental if your computer supports it and you really care about makeup details. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine": a play about the American civil rights leader is produced by Palestinians touring the West Bank

Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine” (directed by Connie Field) depicts a Palestinian production of a play “Passages of Martin Luther King” by Clayborn Carson, who travels with an American gospel choir and troupe throughout the West Bank in 2011.  
The group visits a number of cities, including Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Ramallah, and Nablus. The group often sees the obvious injustice to individual Palestinian families, as Israelis apparently seize their property, often without compensation, for settlements.  One many is forced to tear down his own home.  Another is separated from his farmland by the Wall.  During the tour, a particular Israeli involved in the production is assassinated.
The film is in three parts, and has occasional scenes from the play in front of audiences, as well as rehearsals, including gospel singing (sometimes in the spirit of "Say Amen, Somebody" [1982]). .
Is there a parallel between Civil Rights in the United States and the Israeli-Palestinain conflict?  If so, it is not very direct.

On the property issue, I've still seen televised interviews with Israeli families in West Bank settlements, where fathers tell their sons that this ancestral land is theirs as a "chosen people".  The film makes the point that Christianity defuses the idea of a "chosen people" since salvation is for all people/ 
I saw the film at the Geothe-Institut in Washington DC as part of Filmfest-DC Tuesday night. Field did a QA after the showing.
On my International Blog (Dec. 23, 2012 and May 20, 2013) I’ve described the work of George Meek on this problem. Meek has presented his work in a special program at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA and later at the Arlington County Library.   The appropriate organization is the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine.

The official website (Clarity Films) is here and a DVD is available.  Some film festivals have been unwilling to show if because of the politically explosive message for the Middle East.     

Martin Luther King once said, “If you don’t have anything worth dying for, find something.” 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Interior. Leather Bar": documentary about "finishing" the notorious film "Cruising" from 1980

The small feature (almost exactly one hour) “Interior. Leather Bar”, directed by James Franco and Travis Matthews, documents the effort (in 2012) to reconstruct the 40 lost “X-rated” minutes of explicit footage from the 1980 film “Cruising”, by William Friedkin.

The original film caused quite a controversy.  It starred Al Pacino as undercover cop Steve Burns going underground to catch a serial killer praying on gay men in leather bars.  I recall seeing it in far north Dallas that year, playing at just one theater (an AMC).  I seem to recall it was rated “X” (or NC-17) and I think it included some of the lost footage.  The “R” version (available from Netlfix) runs 102 minutes, and I think this film ran over two hours.  IMDB lists it as shot in the unusually narrow (even for 1980) “1.37:1” aspect ratio.  It was not a problem to show the film in Dallas, even though at the time there were problems with police harassment and false arrests for public lewdness in the gay bars – one acquittal stopped that.  The film was distributed by United Artists, and I don’t recall if UA had become part of MGM yet.
The new documentary starts with Travis Matthews talking about his intentions with other actors, and mentioning his concerns with the implications of today’s political climate – he thought that legalization of gay marriage would result in an expectation that gay men actually get married and committed (Jonathan Rauch used to argue that in the 1990s).  At the time of filming, Proposition 8 was still big news. The early scenes of the film show the actors driving around in LA in cool, perfect spring weather.  It makes you want to be there, now, maybe in West Hollywood, maybe like in Venice.

In the middle part, some of the explicit sex (yes, NC-17) starts.  Then there is more discussion of the filmmaking, and of the attitudes of the actors.  Some of them are straight.  One has a chat with his wife, another with his agent on why he wants to be in this. Travis tells the actors to make eye contact the way people did in the 1980s, before they could be distracted by cell phones.  They pretend to use poppers.  This film appeared shortly before AIDS was becoming known.  Some explicit stuff returns at the end.
James Franco talks about his own attitude, saying he was brought up in a world with the narrow-minded views of the straight world.  I hadn’t been aware of his interest in gay cinema.  I remember his role as a hiker having to cut off his own arm!

It’s interesting to see a film about filmmaking, and how the roles affect the actors and production crew.  I did see women among the camera staff and makeup.
The film is distributed by Strand Releasing, and can be rented “legally” on YouTube for $3.99, or from Netflix.  Strand has tended to distribute eclectic foreign films in more recent years, but it used to be the most visible distributor of LGBT film (before Breaking Glass, TLA, Ariztical, and Wolfe).  The official site is here
I kept wanting to hear the song “Crash” from “Judas Kiss” as I watched this film.  It struck me, in retrospect, how clean cut the “college boys” were in that film (even with one of the principal actors well known as a porn star), compared to the scene here.
Washington DC has temporarily “lost” the Eagle (to a real estate lease ending), which has to make do with parties in other places.  I do recall seeing a barber chair at the Eagle, but I didn’t see one in the film.
I got an email recently from the Saint with some pictures from the final Roseland “Black Party” in NYC. I think the Saint should make a 70-minute film of the part, put it into the festivals and sell a DVD.

Monday, April 21, 2014

"Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust": from Charlie Chaplin (and earlier) to Steven Spielberg

Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust” (2004, directed by Daniel Anker) is most interesting in its presentation of the early days of the issue. 
In the 1930s, the production code prevented Hollywood studios from presenting any country in an unfavorable light politically, because Hollywood wanted to be able to sell its films overseas.  Warner Brothers broke the ice slightly with “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and MGM followed with “The Mortal Storm”, which did not specifically mention Jews. Nevertheless, MGM got what it wished for, a ban on all its films in Germany.

Charley Chaplain broke the ice because he was rich enough to produce his own film with “The Great Dictator” (1940), in which he shows a caricature of Hitler holding a translucent globe of the world and tossing it in the air like a beach toy. 

The war and early post war years were marked by the way the US government tried to enlist Hollywood to send the right message, to support the war effort.  After the war, the government sponsored a tour by some of Hollywood executives of the concentration camps. Film was seen as the ultimate medium to communicate a political or moral message, but it would be a long time before artists and filmmakers could say what they wanted (like I expect to).

Over the years, the treatment of the Holocaust, and the nature to show it as an absolute evil, became more intense.  The documentary discusses many important films, including “The Diary of Anne Frank” (or “Dairy of a Young Girl”), “Judgment at Nuremberg” (which was first a TV series), the miniseries “Holocaust” (which persuaded Germany to end the statute of limitations on war crimes), “Sophie’s Choice” (with the bloodless horror of the “choice” scene which I remember seeing in Dallas), and “Schindler’s List”. 


The film (distributed by Koch Lorber) can be viewed on Netflix Instant Play. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"The Railway Man": when does the individual inherit the moral compass of his country? When should he be forgiven?

The Railway Man”, by Jonathan Teplitzky, is about a couple of important themes:  one of them is personal forgiveness, and the other is, when does one have personal responsibility for crimes one is ordered to commit, or that fit into the culture of a war?  When does international or group politics map down to the morality of the individual?  Is this just about “sin” or is it about good and evil?

The situation seems almost obvious. And so does the reference to "war crimes", but this problem is more personal and subtle. 
Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) has survived an imprisonment by the Japs during WWII building a railroad in the jungle from Bangkok, where he was tortured (the younger self played by Jeremy Irvine), particularly by one specific officer Nagase (Tanroh Ishida) after getting caught making a radio to listen to Allied broadcasts of the progress of the war.  A couple decades later (it seems to be the 1970s) his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman) has encountered Nagase and persuades Eric to travel to Thailand to confront his former torturer (Hiroyuki Sanada).

The backstory scenes are brutal and difficult to watch.  The scenes of the crude railroad, for train lovers, are rather interesting. 

An interesting but disturbing aspect of the script was the younger Nagase character's insistence that it is essential to preserve one's honor by dying or giving up one's life rather than by being captured by an enemy. 
The film was produced by Scottish and Australian sources, and the backstory was shot in Queensland; the present day near Edinburgh.  Practically the whole kitchen sink of film companies are involved in this “independent” film:  The Weinstein Company, Lionsgate, and Village Roadshow Pictures, normally connected to Warner Brothers.

I saw this at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA late Easter Sunday afternoon.

The official site is here.
The film is based on the autobiographical memoir by Eric Lomax, who passed away in 2012.  
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957, David Lean, Columbia), a famous film with a somewhat similar concept, gets mentioned once.
Compare also to "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" (1983, Nagisa Oshmia) which I remember seeing at the Galleria in Dallas.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Transcendence" seems like the prequel for "Revolution"

Transcendence” (directed by Wally Pfister, from Warner Brothers and Alcon, 119 minutes), as a titling word, means the “singularity” or point at which consciousness capable of will (that is, possibly, free will, with knowledge of good and evil and their inevitable consequences for self and for others) emerges, or, conversely, where consciousness actually directs the replication of molecules.  In astrophysics, a “singularity” may exist at the center of a black hole.  The notion seems similar.

The film is about two kinds of issues: one is the nature of consciousness and its attachment to a particular physical body and whether that is malleable (which artificial intelligence overcomes), and the danger of overdependence on technology and computers.  In fact, the film could be viewed almost as a prequel to the NBC series “Revolution” where Will Caster (played by Johnny Depp, although I kept thinking of the “Days” character Will Horton, one of the strongest in daytime television) corresponds to Aaron Pittman, played by Zak Orth in the NBC series. The film begins with a prelude set five years later, when there is no more Internet and apparently no electricity, and the world has become “smaller”.

In the mainline of the story, a terrorist group attacks all five artificial intelligence companies and centers in the US and shuts down four of them.  Only Caster’s remains.  But then Caster is shot by a hit man, and quickly develops radiation sickness, as the bullet contained polonium.  This group means business.  (Well, so did the People’s Party of New Jersey in 1972, and so did Patty Hearst’s kidnappers.) 

Caster’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and cohort Max (Paul Bettany) get the idea to go whole hog and upload Will’s brain onto their supercomputer.  (Such an idea had been proposed in Omni Magazine back in the 1990’s.)  That part of the film starts to get a little hokey.  Soon, the philosophical question as to whether Will, as the same person, is still “alive” surfaces.  Will’s image starts appearing on computer screens as he talks, and eventually a new body appears.  How? Well, nanites (or nanobots), of course, just as in “Rvolution”.  The special effects with them in the second half of the movie, as they assemble themselves into new objects gets pretty silly. 

There are other notable members in the cast, such as Morgan Freeman (as always), and Cillian Murphy. 
Will becomes so omnipresent and God-like that the only way to stop him is to turn off the Internet, and that turns off the power grid, maybe for good.

The official site is here.

I saw the film at the Loudoun One Alamo Draft House, with sensational sound and projection (the theater is properly configured at 2.35:1).  The theater chain is strict on cell phone and no talking policies.  It advertised that it will soon have special screenings for the New York Film Critics of independent film.
There was a short film with professor Michio Kaku discussing artificial intelligence.

As an extra business matter, I’ll mention Rick Sincere’s blog post April 15 “Should Virginia taxpayers subsidize the film industry?”,link

But “Transcendence” was filmed in New Mexico (not even Louisiana, the favorite these days).  But the outdoor scenes (with all the solar panels) needed to resembled the Mojave Desert.

The film may have some predecessors with old horror films from the 50s, such as "The Disembodied" and especially "Donovan's Brain" (1953) with Lew Ayres.

Update: April 22

See related review of Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man: How to Live Forever" on the TV blog today. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia": riveting biography of one of America's most iconic gay writers

The biography and documentary “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia”, directed by Nicholas D. Wrathall, as shown Friday evening by Filmfest DC at the Goethe-Institut in Washington, before a sold-out audience.

It is a gripping documentary (83 minutes) of the controversial writer and occasional politician (1925-2012).
The centerpiece of the film is some excerpts from his televised debate with William F. Buckley of National Review, around 1968, the time of the Chicago riots at the Democratic National Convention (the subject of the film “Medium Cool”, which attracted attention when I was in the Army, as most of “us” related to it.)  Buckley insists on defending individualism and a capitalist culture that encourages wealth, and says you can’t have innovation and progress (good for everybody) without it. Vidal notes that inequality that the capitalism feeds on can stretch society to the breaking point.  If you didn’t deserve the wealth you got only by exploitation, it may be taken away from you some day by force, called revolution. He seemed to see 9/11 in those terms, and actually communicated with OKC number Timothy McVeigh.

That is somewhat the point of my own new “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book, as emphasized in the press release that Xlibris just wrote (my main blog, April 11).  If so, there must be moral consequences for the individual, especially someone who is different or “divergent” like either Gore Vidal or myself, I would argue.  If I acquire recognition or wealth that I didn’t “earn”, I might innovate, but at some point I will be called upon to give back – which might include matters beyond money or time, even emotion (openness to previously unwanted relationships) and purpose.  If I don’t, I could wind up watching my back.
The early part of the documentary covers Vidal’s WWII Army service, which took place in the Aluetians. It doesn’t mention his discreet gay affair in the Army at first, but presents his first novel “Williwaw”, written about age 19, about a storm and a naval crew with a plot a bit like the opera “Billy Budd”.  His 1948 novel “The City and the Pillar” (1948) presenting male homosexuality explicitly (apparently in the merchant marine) caused such a furor that the New York Times refused to review his works. Nevertheless, Vidal quickly became so well established that he was able to make a good living from Hollywood and live with a male companion,  Howard Austen, which he said was platonic.  He did have some relationships with women, like Joanne Woodward.
Austin was always onstage, with political and historical criticisms.  His long list of historical novels included Burr and Lincoln, and he maintained that Lincoln would do anything to keep the Union and make it into the modern capitalistic empire.  He said that Truman maintained the military draft after WWII when he didn’t have to.  He campaigned to run for the Senate in California himself in 1982, against Jerry Brown.  After 9/11, he considers George W. Bush and the necons to have created a police step. He would meet with Gorbachev himself in Venice. 
Vidal once said, "Don't have children, just have grandchildren."
The film shows Vidal's home on the Italian Riviera. He says that writers (like journalists) have to keep a certain distance from which they can look at and report the truth about the world. Yet that very distance can keep them from "giving back" in person when it is really necessary. 
One could make a comparison of Vidal to Norman Mailer. Was it Buckley who asked, "Why does Norman Mailer refuse to admit to being the woman he is?"  He also knew Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. 
Vidal talks with great acumen and detail.  Some say he uses aphorisms instead of analysis, but his speech style to me resembles the insightful and precise "feminine subjective" analysis of Paul Rosenfels, founded of the Ninth Street Center in the East Village in the 70s.  I wonder if Vidal ever visited it. I could mention here that there is a DVD, "The Paul Rosenfels Video Anthology", about an hour excerpted from talk groups in the early 1980's. (See Book Reviews blog, April 12, 2006).   
The official Facebook for the biography is here

The picture above is that of the office building near Gallery Place housing the Family Research Council. It was taken with the iPhone, and I experimented with the BW editing. I will have to find out how to use this tool and get into to the Cloud or the pictures moved easily.    

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"The Fast and the Furious" showed a younger Paul Walker in his passion

I rented “The Fast and the Furious”  (2001, directed by Rob Cohen) recently, after Paul Walker’s accidental passing, as this film, shot when he was about 28 and looked very youthful, shows him playing at his passions.

The story is a bit contrived. Vin Diesel plays Dominic Torettp, an LAPD officer under suspicion after a bunch of truck-jackings and electronics robberies (in the days before cell phones were so vulnerable).  Paul Walker plays Brian O’Conner, hired to work undercover.  There is a subplot in which Brian falls for Dominc’s sister (Jordana Brewster). 

The film has what you would expect, plenty of car chases and drag races and shotgun shootouts, with a race to beat an approaching freight train.  The DVD even starts with a disclaimer from Paul not to imitate the stunts.

The film has a brief epilogue in Baja where Diesel’s character previews his next life. Most of the film is shot around Long Beach.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Heaven Is for Real": through the eyes of a pastor's 5-year-old son

Heaven Is for Real” (directed by Randall Wallace, book by Todd Burpo) has the narrative style of a “Christian Film” (distributed by TriStar, which usually handles these films for Sony) and somewhat weaker acting and characters than the recent “God’s Not Dead”.  But some of the points are interesting. 

The basic situation is that when Todd’s 4-year-old son Colton nearly dies of a burst appendix, he sees visions of Heaven and can narrate things about family history he couldn’t possibly know.  And his narrative matches that of another child in India whose painting of Jesus matches exactly what he says he saw.  For one thing, Todd saw his unborn (and later miscarried) sister, as a small child. He says that everyone is young.  Todd makes the remark that even Einstein predicted that in the afterlife time would not behave as it does for us. It's significant that the surgeons say that Colton never flatlined, so his brain never went completely out, as did Eben Alexander as he describes in his book (on Book reviews, March 30, 2013). 
The scenes in Heaven are rather brief and typical, although there is an emphasis on flowers and plants with blue and violet colors, which is what you might see on another planet around a red dwarf star.  The painting of Jesus (by the child) makes him look attractive, with a neat beard, some visible chest hair, but youthful skin.  The odd thought is that he would have been viewed as attractive in the gay community.
Todd owns a contracting business in Nebraska (the film was shot in Manitoba), and has a closely knit family life, as do other members of the small Methodist church.  He serves in the volunteer fire department, too. 

When Todd starts preaching about his son’s heaven visions, some members feel driven away.  Divisions occur in the church, and Todd is about to be asked to leave. He is in deep financial trouble with medical bills (no health insurance?) and the friendly banker wants to help him out, but he is too proud to accept.

The official site is here

Todd Burpo is played by Greg Kinnear, and his wife by Kelly Reilly. Connor Corum plays Colton. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Nebraska scene. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"The English Teacher": a writer gets his play produced by his former high school, but with changes

The English Teacher” (2013, directed by Craig Zisk) was most interesting, for me, at least because it presents the problem if a writer, Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano) getting his play produced.  This time, it’s by his former high school English teacher Miss Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore), still a spinster at 45 because she is a bit too judgmental of the men she meets.  Jason, at one point later, will compare himself to Jack Kerouac on Facebook.  

The earliest scenes, where Ms. Sinclair teaches “The Tale of Two Cities,” and shows her breeding with “Little Women” and “Our Town” are rather interesting.  There is even mention of “Iceman Cometh” – a man walks into a bar.   

Jason has come back to his hometown in the Poconos of PA when she meets Linda, who at first maces him at a bank ATM when she mistakes him for a robber.  She reads his NYU thesis play “The Chrysalis” and loves it, and sells the school on producing it, talking out of the corner of her mouth as to the cost and whether to subdue or tone down some of the more adult scenes.  “This isn’t Broadway” the assistant principal says, with an allusion to “Wicked”. Authors don’t like their plots to be changed, and the school doesn’t even tell him before he signs the contract. Pretty soon, the rewriting has to become a joint effort. After all, at the ending everybody kills themselves. 

Pretty soon the film starts running off the tracks, because it is a comedy, when Jason and Linda become intimate in empty classroom after Jason is upset over an encounter of his disapproving father (Greg Kinnear) who wanted him just to go to law school.

I’m not very convinced that some of this could happen in many schools today, given the heightened security.  Could Jason have walked into the school to push a play under the door?

The official site is here.

When the play “ends”, the audience calls for “author”.  But what writer wants to bow for what he didn’t write?

In the end, the kids get to try writing a new end to the Dickens novel.
When I substitute taught, I got to do theater several times.  I saw some real talent.  I’ve seen it with youth at a couple of local churches, too.

On this DVD, the deleted scene is important.  It is essentially a short silent (but garishly technicolored and customed) short film that tells the story of "The Chrysalis" including the troubling ending, which seems right. It bears the same relation to this film that the inner short film of "Judas Kiss" does to the feature (June 5, 2012). 
In the end, Jason writes for children.  That’s another irony. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Watermark" (directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky) is a visual spectacle like "Manufactured Landscapes"

Watermark” (directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky) perhaps should have been an Imax film.  There is relatively little verbal narration, and the stunning scenery tells the story of how man is dependent on water and is changing the planet to dangerous levels.  But the film also points out that Earth has had a lot of ice ages and snowball periods, and in the grand scheme of things, mankind’s tenure on a warming Earth has been very brief indeed.

The film opens in the high plains of west Texas with discussion of the Ogallala Aquifer, which has about nine Lake Erie’s worth of water, of which we have already consumed a third.  The film explains how Los Angeles got its aqueduct and water supply at the expense of rural communities like Lone Pine. 
But the most fascinating scenes are overseas, especially in China.  Not only is the dam project overwhelming, but the fishing complex, spread out over square miles in a kind of floating shantytown the size of many Venices, is something I’ve never seen, as is the seafood – lots of mollusks eaten with chopsticks, no “free fish” here.  Likewise overpowering is the leather tanning factory in Bangladesh with the squalor it leaves, and the ritual washing of millions of people in the Ganges in India. 
There is a sequence in northern British Columbia, with a scenic river gorge ending the film, but also a dry landscape looking like Mars. 
There is also an Oceanside development in southern California that rather looks like the Palm Islands in Dubai, which strike me as a bizarre place to live.  What happens if the sea level rises?
The official site is here

I saw the film at Landmark E Street in Washington DC, before a small Monday evening gathering .

Wikipedia attribution link for Dubai’s “Universe”

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Joe": Nicholas Cage plays an ex-con seeking redemption from a teenage boy who takes care of all the adults who failed him

I recall a symposium at the Cato Institute in Washington where the speaker encouraged people to have more children because, he felt, the widely touted challenge of being a parent is overstated.  How children turn out is largely a matter of genetics, the argued.

In “Joe” (directed by David Gordon Green, based on the novel by Larry Brown), Gary (Tye Sheirdan), a fifteen year old, goes to work for ex-con Joe (Nicholas Cage) on a gang that poisons trees in the Texas Hill Country so they can be cleared out later (it’s a protectionist scam run by the lumber industry).  As the film opens, we meet Tye’s horrific father (Gary Poulter, who drank himself to death in Austin shortly after making the film), in a confrontation.  Soon, we see that Gary, who never gets to go to school so he can make something of himself in an ordinary sense and who normally would be placed with Child Protective Services, takes care of all the adults in his life who have failed him.  He’s nothing less than an angel.  At home, he protects his mother and autistic sister how has gotten no professional attention. The philosophical or moral question, why minors should be expected to raise siblings whom they did not themselves bring into the world, is barely visited.  As the film progresses into treacherous situations, it becomes apparent that Joe, still an ex-con, is more redeemable than dad.  This seems like New Testament stuff.

The characters are so downtrodden, so earthy, that we wonder if this is how “white trash” in the deep South really has to live.

Compare this film to "Mud" and even "Hud". 
Tye Sheridan says that the original script intended that his character to be a smoker, but that was cut back, although the adults are chain smoking most of the time.

The distribution is another joint venture by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, with this official site

I saw this at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA late on a Sunday afternoon before a small crowd.  It was interesting that there were no previews.  The show started with AMC’s old “outdoor theater on another planet” trademark video, and then right to Lionsgate’s Wagnerian outburst.

Pictures: new Bastrop, TX, after 2011 wildfire, my trip in Nov. 2011. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Under the Skin": The UK from a female extraterrestrial's point of view; recalling "Death Watch"

Under the Skin” (2013, Jonathan Glazer, UK, 108 minutes, rated “R, based on a novel by Michel Faber), as a movie title, is a metaphor indeed, and it may  well apply to lead Scarlet Johansson’s character as the “Seductress”, particularly at the film’s denouement.  Perhaps there is a racial image, too, but what came to my mind was the 1980 series “V”, where the aliens look like insects underneath. But why couldn’t an alien really look and act like just like us, and be lovable, maybe with some extra “powers”, like Smallville’s teen Clark Kent.  People say that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg must be an alien, and that programming skills gave him world conquest. Maybe an angel would seem like an alien to us.  Or maybe he or she could just be stronger and live longer, like in NBC’s “The Event”. But this film is no “Friday’s Aliens”.
The film starts with some bizarre abstract images with neutron stars and gamma rays, and cagy chamber music by Mica Levi, with themes that come from Karol Szymanowski and Eduard Tubin.  The film gradually steers us to landscapes in northern Scotland, and we see Seductress picking up her first hitchhiker.
Now there is a progression in outcomes for each “victim”, which helps give the story a plot.  The first man is led to her rural apartment. As he disrobes, we see an almost perfect young adult male, with hairy arms and shaggy legs but a hairless chest, almost suggesting he’s still a budding teenager.  He’s invited to approach and wades into liquid.  That’s an image from the “nighthikes” in my own screenplays, to be discussed in more detail soon on another blog.  He seems to dissolve.

  There is a family by the coast, where the man drowns and leaves a crying baby alone, abandoned.  She doesn’t care.  She then goes to Glasgow, to a lively disco (well filmed), and picks up a slender man, and brings him back.  He seems to have the “right amount of hair on his chest” to survive a while.  Underwater we see transformations and regressions to earlier forms of man, and then into alien jellyfish.  And “it’s free”. 
The next “victim” will have neurofibromatosis (that is, the disease from David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man”), and we wonder if he could be an earlier victim, transformed. Seductress is quite kind to him, playing down human society's obsession with lookism.   At this point, the outcomes start to vary and lead the movie forward.

Film4 offers a 20-minute supplementary short “Keeping It Alien”.

Glazer says that the movie presents the alien’s viewpoint.

The official site is here.

The film is distributed by A24, which seems to aim for the young adult audience, but was produced with Film4.  How will the UK Lottery and all that fare if Scotland breaks away this year?  I’d rather see it stay part of the UK and get paid off.  The film also is said to have taken ten years to make, and at one point Brad Pitt was almost cast.

After the disjointed hypermodern chamber music, by the end credits time I was ready for something like "Crash" from "Judas Kiss" (itself sic-fi).  It ddin't quite come out, but I was waiting for it.

I saw the film before a small crowd Saturday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA. 
Let me mention another classic Scottish film for comparison, "Death Watch" (1979), by Bertrand Tavernier, where a young man has a camera planted in his eye to follow a terminally ill woman.  It was also filmed in Glasgow, which I would visit myself in Nov. 1982. I saw that at the Inwood Theater on Lovers Lane in Dallas, Tx and was blown away by it!  Here's a synopsis.  
SpaceRip has today’s short film, “Was Mars Earth-Like?” about NSAS’s Maven (link).  It’s clear that if a planet doesn’t have a strong magnetic field of its own, it’s much more vulnerable to atmosphere loss over time. 

Just remember, "In Heaven, everything is fine."

Wikipedia attribution link for Glasgow picture. Second picture, mine, near Sugarloaf, MD.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Almodovar's "Talk to Her": caregiving by men goes to the root

Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” (“Hable con ella”, 2002) is another layered movie setting up tempting and tragic paradoxes.  In this case, two men befriend one another through the experience of caring for or loving a (different) comatose woman.

The film opens with a dance scene, embedded at a theater where Marco meets Benigno (Javier Camara), a male nurse, whose girl friend Alicia (Leonor Watling) is in the act.  But they will meet again at a clinic, where both women lie in vegetative state. 

Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is a travel journalist who has also become enamored to a female bullfighter Lydia (Rosaria Flores), at one point killing a snake in her home.  But soon she is gravely injured at a fight.
Alicia has become comatose because of a traffic accident, and is missing periods, which may mean she was pregnant.  This eventually leads to legal complications for Benigno. 

There are lots of flashbacks, as when a shrink interviews the nurse, about his taking care of his mom, and then over his virginity/ 
There is a dream sequence, a short silent film in black and white ("Hotel Youkai No. 15"), where a Lilliputian man enters the vagina of a woman.  But it’s not clear who is experiencing the dream.  Maybe all four major characters are sharing a transformative, telepathic experience. But it certainly makes the male look like the expendable sex. 

Compare this film to "Rust and Bone" (Dec. 30, 2012). 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Hidden Universe 3D": Maybe the best look at Mars, and the similar Atacama Desert ever; the choice between music and astrophysics as a career

An Australian outfit called December Media (and MacGillivray Freeman)  offers an IMAX 3D film at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, “Hidden Universe 3D”, 37 min, depicting the construction and use of a Very Large Telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile.  The documentary says that the hardware is installed at 16000 feet elevation. 

The main characters in the documentary are narrator Maranda Richardson, astronomer Dr. Greg Poole, and an astrophysicist, Jonathan Whitmore, probably the most interesting. Whitmore, a slender, balding young man, is first shown playing the piano – music never identified but it sounds like a slow movement from a Clementi sonata.  He says he had to make a decision between music and science, particularly astronomy and cosmology.

The movie treats us to probably the most impressive 3-D photography from Mars yet, with a tremendous shot of the gigantic Martian Grand Canyon (apparently about twice as deep as its counterpart in Arizona).  It shows a lot of the scenery of the Atacama, with a lot of fingerlike formations.  It shows a little of Chilean village life below the plateau, as if Anthony Bourdain were about to show up. Then it shows us various shots of the Milky Way, and then the myriads of galaxies beyond.  It shows us a few famous nebulae, including the Crab.  The nebula has a diameter of 11 light years and is about 6500 light years away, with a neutron star in the center, left from a supernova.  Had it been much closer to Earth, could it have sent a gamma ray burst upon us, destroying all civilization and maybe all life?
The official Facebook is here
The film also has impressive pictures of the Sun, without mention of solar storms or coronal mass ejections. 

Pictures: From the Air and Space Museum. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg": quaint 60s French musical on DVD

I recall hearing about “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (“Les parapluies de Cherbourg”) during my troubled college days, but it’s only recently that this popular French-language musical (with its famous “Love” theme song) by Jacques Demy has rentable on DVD (Kino as the distributor).  It was intended as part of a trilogy, with the story interlocked with “Lola” (before) and “The Young Girls of Rochefort”.  The music was composed by Michel Legrand. The singing is almost continuous, like an opera.  
The film is structured in three parts, with Part I, "The Departure", Part II “The Absence” and Part III “The Return”, bringing to my mind the program of Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Piano Sonata #26 (unfortunately not heard in the film).
The film is also known for its garish Technicolor, particularly the reds and pinks of the indoor scenes, and colorful signs outdoors, especially at night.  Occasionally, the port and railroad tracks of Normandy around 1960, a more grimy reality, are shown with great visual effect. The opening shot, of umbrellas with huge rain drops splattering them (almost like methane drops on Titan) above stone pavement is quite remarkable. 
The story is that of a love rectangle.  Genevieve (Catherine Denevue) and her mother struggle selling umbrellas in the coastal town, and Genevieve is madly in love with an auto mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), who cares for an ailing godmother.  Suddenly, Guy is conscripted into the French foreign legion to control rebellion in Algeria (which brings up the subject of another classic film. “The Battle of Algiers” (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo), which I saw at the Landmark E Street in Washington shortly after the theater opened in early 2005.)   They make love right before he leaves, and she gets pregnant.
But there are other opportunities in the story for each one of them.  The movie has a conclusion that sort of parallels “Splendor in the Grass” without the same degree of regret. Also (in comparison to that movie), Guy doesn't care that another man will raise his child. (In "Days of our Lives", Will would never let that happen.)   The first wedding scene is rather grand, with some organ music, a little trace of "Prince and the Showgirl". 

There's a little short film "Excerpt from Agnes Varda's "The World of Jacques Demy".  The short mentions the Algiers war as politically important at the time, and even now because of African reaction and resentment of colonialism. 

Picture: Bayeux France in 2011, pretty much as it looked when I was there in 1999 and lost my rent car keys at the William the Conqueror museum,  Wikipedia attribution link. Bayeux Tapestry link on same page. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier": super-heroes can be store digitally on computers and reconstructed, and even Putin knows this.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Anthony and Joe Russo) seems a bit stereotyped as a Marvel comic book movie, and a less inventive sequel to “The First Avenger” in 2011.  But there are some good ideas here. 
The most interesting is probably the way the film depicts a 1940’s “villain” or Russian Winter Soldier Bucky (Sebastian Stan) from Hydra, apparently Russia’s new KGB, which has infiltrated Shield.  His consciousness had been digitized on a 1970’s era computer that looks rather like a Univac 1110 that I once ran benchmarks on.  Apparently that’s how Shield (aka the NSA and CIA) and Hydra generate superheros.  It would be nice to be preserved, and brought back as a perfect young male repeatedly.  That concept is something that I had explored with my own 1969 novel manuscript “The Proles” when I was in the Army, in the second half of the novel.  The film is not very specific as to how this works.

Shield has built a high rise fortress near the Pentagon, violating DC’s height limits.  The stuff underground, and that can rise into the air or sail down the Potomac is pretty impressive. 

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, the superhero, and apparently he had to sacrifice his chest hair for this role this time.  His face looks a bit aged from his days as one of the “Fantastic Four”.  Scarlet Johansson (who else?) plays the Black Widow, and Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury.  Robert Redford plays Alexander Pierce, the head of SHIELD, and apparently corrupted by HYDRA.  He conducts meetings with others transported in cylindrical holograms. 

Emily Van Kamp plays a Shield agent, and she is rather like her character in ABC's "Revenge".  Is Nolan nearby?
The film was shot partially around Cleveland.  The downtown scenes may be around Public Square, or along Euclid, near the new stadium.  The CGI work putting the Washington DC background across the river is pretty accurate.  The indoor scenes seem to have been filmed in Melbourne, Australia.

The writing is a bit wooden, with one liners like “soldiers have to trust one another”.  They call that “unit cohesion”.  But the script mentions some scary possibilities, like dirty bombs in Moscow in retaliation for a threatened EMP strike on Chicago.  Maybe we had better take Putin as a real threat to our own homeland security.  The idea of a “Russian soldier” seems prescient, and was written up before Putin started his aggression in the Ukraine (but the current crisis there is mentioned at least once, as if the writers suspected it would happen). 

The music score by Henry Jackman is impressive, with wide melodic leaps in the brass, echoing mid to late Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.  The closing credits give us a full  symphonic poem, with two visual epilogues telling us what to expect next.  The conclusion is abrupt and loud. 

The official site is here.

 I saw the film in a larger auditorium at the AMC Courthouse, in 3D and EDS.  I think that sometimes the closeup scenes allowed detail in the background to look a little fuzzy.  AMC has a new trademark film, with little red cartoon characters like Stephen King’s Langoliers, on a space station with an attitude.