Thursday, July 31, 2014

British thriller "Kill List" (2011), with its "Wicker" ending, is suddenly relevant because of Ukraine

The British horror thriller from 2011 by Ben Wheatley, “Kill List”, while genre, may seem suddenly relevant as a lead character Jay (Neil Maskell) has returned from a disastrous experience as a mercenary in Kiev, Ukraine.  We don’t know which side he fought on, but one could suspect it was Vladimir Putin’s cause.  He and his partner Gal (Michael Smiley) work as hit men in present day Britain.  That may seem like an odd occupation.  Yet, the filmmakers won’t you to bond with the pair and Jay’s wife Shei (Myanna Buring).  They don’t seem to be radical Islamists or jihadists or terrorists in the usual sense.  What is going on?  Well, they seem to be running out of money.  Shei holds a house party, where Gal and a mystery woman, Fiona (Emma Fryer), “the human resources manager” (but probably working as a contractor herself, helping companies with severance and layoffs) attends with Gal, who has a new job, actually series of jobs.  Fiona (rather like “Tovina” in my own screenplay) carves a mystery clue in the bathroom.

The men go on the assignments (rather like jobs from a temp agency).  The first target is “The Priest”.  That’s brutal enough.  (The sequence starts at 37 minutes into the film.)  Soon they move on to “The Librarian” who has a collection of unspecified evil content.  It isn’t hard to guess that this is probably child pornography, and that the priest had been a pedophile.  Maybe that sounds a bit homophobic.  (The dispatch of “The Collector” – to recall a 1964 British film – is particularly graphic and violent; I also recalled the 1993 British horror film “Boxing Helena”.)  After some complications with the “contract”, they go on to the third target, an “M.P.”  Back in the bad old days of 1962 when I was a patient at NIH, that abbreviation meant “mental patient” (not complementary, and no one believed “it’s nothing to be ashamed of”).  Now it means “Member of Parliament”.  But this MP is special, in that he is involved in a human sacrifice cult.  Jay will be drawn into it, stripped and tested.  But the ending, deviating from previous examples like “The Wicker Man” (both films) may surprise the viewer. The viewer might also recall “Eyes Wide Shut”. 
In the extras on the DVD, Wheatley talks about the issue of having the audience identify with characters who do awful things for a living.    

The official site is here (from IFC).

This film does offer a bit more substance than the typical “serial killer” thriller. The tag team seems to have been assigned to hit other "real bad guys" that John Walsh would go after.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"I Origins" by Mike Cahill: evidence of reincarnation through the eyes

Mike Cahill’s “I Origins” puts together several ideas and plot threads, just as his “Another Earth” (July 31, 2011) had.  And it is slow to get going, but the payoffs do come toward the end.

Michael Pitt (“Dreamers”, “Funny Games”) plays Ian Gray, an appealing microbiology grad student at NYU with a fetish for people’s eyes.  He works with assistant Karen (Brit Marling) trying to prove that eyes evolve naturally and weren’t magically “created” by God (so we play the creationism and intelligent design issue).  At a Halloween party in 2005, he meets Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisby),  and becomes passionately in love with her over some seeming psychic coincidences (started by the photography).  (As far as taking pictures of people’s eyes, he says, “that’s just something I do.”  Not everybody in a bar thinks that is OK.)  They plan to marry.  He brings her to the lab, where she meets Karen, and then some improbable accidents occur, leading to her tragic death in an apartment building elevator. 

Seven years later, Ian is an accomplished researcher and has married Karen (but why weren’t they lovers first?)  and had a little boy who might be autistic. They discover a database of iris and retinal scans that suggests that newborn babies match corresponding scans of people who have died recently  That takes them on a road trip, first to Idaho, and then (for Ian alone) to India,  as Ian looks for the little gril who might be the reincarnation of his lost lover.  Karen goes along with it.  I did wonder about a young girl’s willingness to accompany a young adult male stranger.  At the end, after seeming to fail a test, the little girl shows that she may indeed remember a fragment of Sofi’s former life.

Fox Searchlight offers a featurette, “A Window to the Soul”.

The official site is here. from Fox Searchlight.   

What should we make of the premise?  Suppose people started getting reincarnated quickly and we could find out who the new hosts are?  Suppose people really could remember much larger portions of their previous lives?  I could take this further, asking to suppose the idea you could wake up and experience some else’s body (a younger person), even if only temporarily?  Maybe micro black holes could provide the conduit. 

I saw this late Tuesday at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA before a small gathering. 

The film could be compared to the mystery “Eyes of Laura Mars”, directed by Irvin Kershner, in 1978 (Columbia). 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remake "10 Rules" with a big studio budget, throw in a mommy blog, and you get a "Sex Tape"

I actually saw “Sex Tape”, the new situation comedy by Jake Kasdan (story and screenplay by Kate Angelo) by accident.  I went to Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA and bought a ticket for a different (sci-fi) movie and got into a conversation about the lightning storm in Venice, CA and whether any actors were injured.  The ticket seller got distracted, I think, and gave me the auditorium number for this film (thinking he had sold this film because of the conversation), and I didn’t bother to check the placard as I entered. So I was in the wrong auditorium, by count of one.  Moreover, the movie started at the same time.  I didn’t know it was wrong until the Columbia Pictures Statue of Liberty logo showed up. Trademark matters. The title of the film doesn’t appear for several minutes, but when it does, it’s in big red letters, on black.

The basic set up is this:  Annie (Cameron Diaz) wants to do a deal with an LA media company where she sells her mommy blog for millions, and is, at the same time, happily married to Jay (Jason Segel), with two kids.  But wait, their relationship is really passionate, befitting what social conservatives view as the ideal for marital sex and passion, as in the Song of Solomon (mentioned before in the Washington Times).  For fun, they make a sex tape.  Jay accidentally uploads it from his iPad through Apple’s iCloud to all of his social media friends and, unfortunately, the company Annie is selling her “Christian” blog to. 
The movie becomes pure situation comedy, almost an “I Love Lucy” on steroids.  There’s a sequence inside the home of the media magnate where Jay is chased by a guard dog.  This idea seems similar to a kinder, gentler chase dog-on-man chase of Reid Ewing in “10 Rules for Sleeping Around” (April 24). I wondered how the dog was trained to work with Segel.  In fact, the concept of the movie sort of resembles the wacky “10 Rules”, but with a big budget and major legacy Hollywood studio behind it.
The movie is so much a situation comedy that the intimate scenes have no erotic appeal at all (whatever the R rating).  Segel’s body, with a freckled but absolutely hairless chest, seems soft, his looks unfocused.  He’s only 33 now.  Diaz is about 8 years older, so you expect this with her.  There’s a borrowing from “American Pie” when Annie uses the clippers on Jay (in a most intimate place) in a late scene.
The topic of “mommy blog” and why they make so much money gets introduced early, and the movie rather lets it lie fallow, to go for comedy.  Now I think that the story of  Heather Armstrong, and the original of the now accepted English language verb “to dooce would make a good film.  (See TV blog, May 12, 2008.)  Remember the story of how she got fired for what she wrote on her blog, before the blog made her and her family millionaires in Mormon Utah.
There’s also some important points about security.  Jay is able to erase the mailman’s iPad by hacking from the Cloud.  That’s scary.  And he has to fight off a blackmail attempt by an obnoxious, fat tween whose voice hasn’t even changed.

Still another interesting point gets made about door-to-door selling and fundraising, which is used as a ruse to try to get the iPads back in one scene.  It used to be much more acceptable with people to answer unsolicited calls than it is now.  It gets harder for some people to make a living for that reason. 
The official site (from Tumblr) is here (Sony and Columbia).
The late Monday night audience at Angelika was larger than expected.  We all got to miss the Washington Nationals’s ninth inning meltdown in Miami.  What a bizarre evening.

Update: Sept. 6

The hack on the Apple iCloud, with "involuntary porn" publishing of nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and others has led to mention of this movie.  See "BillBoushka" blog Sept. 1, 2014, Internet Safety blog Sept. 1, 2014, and COPA blog, Sept. 4, 2014. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

"The Path: Afterlife", sold by the Monroe Institute in Virginia, gives a comprehensive overview of the afterlife through interviews

The Path: Afterlife”  (71 minutes, directed by Michael Habernig, 2009), presents a series of twelve experts (each speaking several times) in the area of the afterlife, insofar as physics and spiritual practice, outside of established religion, views is.  The film is offered by the Monroe Institute. 
The film starts with F. Holmes “Skip” Atwater and physicist Tom Campbell, posing the question, of whether it’s “light’s out” at end of life, or whether “the thing that I knew is me” continues.  There is a metaphor that we’re on a train for a median 75 years together, learning to become one (like in the movie “Snowpiercer”, June 30). 
Most of the interviews appear to have been done on the campus of Monroe Institute, on Roberts Mountain, on the slope of the Blue Ridge, 20 miles SW of Charlottesville, VA.  Many of them are taken in winter.  Despite its southerly location, the institute is inland and high, so heavy snow is common and looks quite beautiful in the film.
One nurse reports tending to a music composer as he passed away, and hearing his music telepathically.
The wife or caregiver of a man dying of Alzheimer’s (diagnosed seven years before) notes that he nodded as he sensed the afterworld, and that life experiences came back.  He got a reprieve before he finally passed away.  (I had reviewed a film on music therapy for dementia patients, “Alive Inside”, here on July 26.) 
A woman talked about transferring “reiki”, or universal life energy, to someone nearing end of life. 

One woman reports the near death experience after a lightning strike. I think ti was this person who also reported seeing hundreds of winged angels.  I personally think there is no reason an angel needs to show lift or go airborne.  

The general consensus was that in the “afterlife” the soul remembers the high or important points of the life just lived, but gradually forgets more details as it moves on.  This was compared to the idea of waking up remembering a dream in detail but gradually forgetting it as “real life” takes over.  (There are a few dreams, including some that are intimate, where I still remember the details and “what it was like”.) 

There was also talk of the idea of the “soul family” where when a soul is reincarnated, it volunteers for a certain kind of life in order to learn a needed lesson.  A soul will volunteer to be born to a certain mother and then develop cancer, or live in abject poverty, so that it learns compassion.  Of course, most people are born into poverty. There were startling assertions here about souls volunteering to experience negative things for the common good.  You could agree to be murdered, or to be a murderer (the latter makes no sense to me morally).  You could agree to be betrayed or to betray (sort of a backdoor theme of the indie gay film "Judas Kiss"). It isn't essential that every "individual soul" learn every "lesson", but among all the members of a "soul family" all the lessons must be experienced, hence the astral "volunteering"..  Inequality is understood as unavoidable, but something remedied with love and connectedness, not just with legalism.  Of course, agreeing to any negative experience in advance seems to negate the idea of free will (which means unpredictability), a necessary part of countering entropy/
A few of the speakers described something like “The Core” in Eben Alexander’s book.  One describes it as like an endless spiral staircase (like in “Vertigo”).  Perhaps it could be like a subway tunnel.

The film takes a very strong position against suicide, and says that 15% of the adult population sometimes has suicidal thoughts.  Willingness to deal with personal adversity and accept interdependence with others is seen as essential to "civilizing" the universe; random adversity is unavoidable. .
The film distinguishes between “belief” (especially as understood in Christianity and other faiths) and "knowledge", which comes only from living through an experience.  Belief is presented as a trap. Is faith a matter of belief or knowledge?  
The official site is here,  from the “Path Series” from Path 11.

 I would expect to have certain karma problems in the afterlife.  I feel repelled by the idea of intimacy with people who are too much less than "perfect".  My own having what is arguably a slight physical "disability" (and indeed ambiguous in my case) did not make me more "compassionate"; it made me more attached to personal meritocracy.   Life is not a miracle when it engages my "emotional body" (a term in the film).   Intellectually, I think that life, culminating in free will, is nature's way of managing entropy.  Living things age because of entropy, so they must reproduce.  The idea of a cycle of physical life and then spiritual life for any agent of Will would seem to sustain the Universe, from the viewpoint of cosmology.   

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"A Most Wanted Man": John Le Carre's book provides Philip Seymour Hoffman's last performance, with a riveting takedown of a terror plot in Hamburg

A Most Wanted Man”, from Dutch director Anton Corbijn, based on John le Carre’s novel, will seem timely, perhaps ex post facto, in view of Russia’s recent misbehavior as well as the Boston Marathon attacks.  The film starts out, with a widescreen image of a shore dock, with a brief explanation of how Mohammed Atta planed a lot of 9-11 while living in Hamburg, Germany, and how the Germans are determined not to let the city be used this way again. Note the indefinite article in the book title.  

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is now dedicated, plays a CIA operative Gunter Bachmann, who operates a snoop team to catch terrorists with practices illegal for German police, although Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) would have his own methods.  Hoffmann, chain-smoking and pot-bellied, is quite effective in the role, even if breathless.
An illegal Chechen immigrant, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dpbrygin) shows up, housed by a Muslim woman (Derya Alabora), and is debriefed by a human rights attorney (Rachel McAdams) about what to do with his late father’s “bad money” which he has inherited.  Indeed, inherited wealth, if based on crime, is bad karma) and some people think all inherited wealth is immoral.  Issa decides to turn it over Faisal Abdullah, a Muslim cleric (Homayoun Ershadi) who will turn it over to approved charities.  But  Faisal wants to funnel money to a shipping company that is actually a front for terrorism, and the authorities are onto it.
Issa has been tortured, with his back totally covered with scars.  When he is asked to shave his beard to help with a getaway, he exhibits some sense of physical humiliation.
Helping out behind the scenes is a banker played by Willem Dafoe.  The authorities are tracking every conversation and every computer keystroke, in NSA fashion.  I never though a scene with signing a piece of financial paperwork could generate so much suspense.  But the arrest that follows is bold and shocking, and a double-cross.
I saw this at the AMC Shirlington Sunday, before a rather ample audience.
The official site is here.  The film is a typical Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions collaboration.
I’ve been in Hamburg once, the first night on my first European trip in July 1972. I stayed in a hostel called the Hotel Phoenix.

Wikipedia attribution link for Hamburg picture here

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Alive Inside": A group called "Music and Memory" promotes the use of music delivered by iPod to awaken people with dementia and Alzheimer's

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory”, directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, presents the opportunity to help people with dementia and memory loss with recorded music, which they listen to through earphones from iPods.
The film focuses on the organization “Music and Memory” (or “Music & Memory”, link as trademarked), founded by Dan Cohen, which works mostly with nursing homes and assisted living centers to provide the music therapy.  To help a particular patient, one must first find out something about the person’s past, from family members if possible, and then select music that the person is likely to respond to.  People often become much more alert and responsive during the music.

The areas of the brain that facilitate music are “deep” and among the last to be affected specifically by Alzheimer’s. 

The film presented several patients (many of them at a nursing home in Stony Brook, Long Island). Some of them seemed “child like”.  I would be hard for an introverted person like me to want to communicate with them.  One was a WWII veteran (he would have to be about 88), who had been exposed to radiation during the atomic bomb tests during the Manhattan Project (one test is shown) and who lost all his hair as a result.  Another was a much younger man with multiple sclerosis (which affects women more frequently than men, generally).

It’s common for assisted living centers to hire musicians and entertainers to give shows, which provides social activities for residents.  But “Music and Memory” therapy is personalized and is normally experienced in a private space.  But both processes could offer opportunities for income for musicians.
Some nursing homes may fear legal issues with copyright.  The way the iTunes license works is that once the 99 cents is paid for a copy of a song, it may be copied on multiple iPods for all the patients in a particular place.
The film did present the problem of population demographics.  As the population ages, more people have dementia, and probably about 70% will be women, because women live longer than men.  Dementia increases because medicine can prevent people from dying of other things (cancer and heart disease) for more years, so a moral test of the value of human life is created.  People have fewer children than they used to have, for a variety of reasons, including the economy and personal individualistic values.  The result is that the practical burden of caring for people with dementia (including Alzheimer’s) increases rapidly.   This is not a problem that we, as a society, were particularly aware of until 10-15 years ago.  Nursing homes did not exist until after WWII, and then exploded as an industry.  About half of all patients in them have no visitors.
The music presented in the film was interesting. It included material from “Jersey Boys” and Frankie Valli (Yesterday’s review), as well as the Haydn Piano Sonata #53 in E Minor, which a former piano teacher enjoys in the movie. (She also enjoys the opening of the Rachmaninoff "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini", without the 18th Variation.)  I actually sightread this piece about the time of my junior year in high school.

The official site is here (Bond-360 as distributor).  It would be logical to ask if PBS (POV) or CNN Films would pick these up for showing on television. 

I saw the 75-minute film at Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC.  There was an extensive “Q and A” with both Rossato-Bennett and Cohen.  A few members of the audience became emotional.  One question pointed out that this could not work without tremendous volunteer effort with labor hours from individuals, probably arranged through faith-based groups. 

On the other hand, if the therapy is shown to work “medically”, there could be justification for hiring people to work in the music therapy area, and sometimes justification for insurance reimbursement.
The pamphlet requests some rather specific efforts from potential volunteers, including promoting iPod donation drives, initiating a school service project, becoming an “ambassador”, or managing an online fundraiser.  (I didn’t see any mention of Kickstarter in the credits for the film.)   I don’t like to be “recruited” or to gather people for specific causes (least of all, for politicians), but there are circumstances where a project like this can create synergy with other things that I do. 
I do have a large vinyl classical record collection and CD collection.  It would be possible to search for specific items to put on the iPod, when provided a list.  A late friend had an even bigger collection, under the control of an estate trustee, and I think that the recordings are in the Fall Church and Fairfax County  (VA) public school systems somewhere.    Again, his library was so complete that it would be possible to find almost anything.

My own mother died at age 97 in Capital Hospice in Arlington VA in December 2010.  The last music that she heard was the Schumann Symphony #2 through the intercom.
 A correlated project would be Maria Shriver's "The Alzheimer's Project", on the TV Blog May 10, 2009.  On this blog, particularly relevant are "Nebraska" (Nov. 23, 2013) and "Gen Silent" (Aug. 26, 2013), about LGBT eldercare. Sept. 24, 2012.    

Update: July 28

An obvious question is whether musicians would be less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer's.  Hopefully that's true, but composer Aaron Copland had some dementia symptoms in his 70s, even though he could conduct "Appalachian Spring' his whole lofe.  PBS covered this in it's American Experience film "The Forgetting", link. I'll have to check whether I've actually seen this program -- it rings a bell.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Jersey Boys": Clint Eastwood's distanced treatment keeps the Broadway jutebox musical cool

I’m not necessarily in a hurry to see movie adaptations of Broadway hits that I have seen on stage, but since Clint Eastwood directs “Jersey Boys”, I gave it a whirl. I had seen the stage version of the jutebox musical at the National Theater in Washington DC Jan 5, 2012, and it is reviewed on that date on my Drama and Music Reviews Blog.
The movie is presented in “Rashomon” style – that is, each of the four major characters (the four young men who made up “The Four Seasons”) narrating their own perspective in “mockumentary” style (familiar from “Modern Family”).  There’s more emphasis on the drama – their conflicts among themselves and with other businesses, leading them to owe money to the Mafia.  The musical numbers start to get performed in the second half, after all the songs have been written.
John Lloyd Young seems diminutive was Frankie Valli (he even gets a bit of a belly); Vincent Piazza plays Tommy, whose personal habits made him a problem to live with; Erich Bergen plays Bob Gaudio, and Michael Lomenda is Nick Massi.  Christopher Walken is the articulate but conniving mob boss, Gyp DiCarlo, who has the four young men at his estate (which appears to be in California) in a near final confrontation. The original boss who makes the contract, Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) seems to fit in, but then comes the loanshark Norman Waxman (Donnie Kehr) with a debt out of the woodwork.

The musical number that stays in mind is “Sherry”.  But “Who Loves You”, “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” all carry some social traction. 
Eastwood’s direction is cool and non-interventionist. Following his own libertarian leanings, he does not try to moralize on the boys’ behavior, or the gay promoter who makes a comparison to Liberace as “extravagant”. Eastwood's son Kyle composed some of the original music orchestral background.  
The official site is here. Warner Brothers presented its trademark (along with GK Films) in black and white.  The film makes the 1950s world look attractive with its muted colors.  People seemed to live better than we thought. 

There’s an early auto accident scene that physics teachers will like.  The closing scene, where the men, quite weathered by age, meet and sing in 1990 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York City.  The museum in Cleveland wouldn’t open until 1995. 
I saw the film in a small auditorium at Regal in Arlington, and it still attracts an audience, even on a weekday. 
Pictures:  Hoboken, NJ (mine, 2013;  the opening of the film is set in Belleville, near Newark; then outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on a Sunday night, 2012, with me.    

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Purification": Joseph Ciminera takes a proud "self-made" man through Purgatory, forcing him to "change" and give up his personal contempt for ordinary people

I do have a friend, a salaried professional himself, who sometimes speaks of “The Purification” as a natural result of our having “too much freedom” and too many goodies at the hidden expense to others, inviting revolution.   So the title “Purification” popping up on Netflix Instant Play (recently, from 2012) intrigued me.  It turns out it’s a rather curious horror tale about one’s first day in the AfterLife, and he doesn’t realize he’s dead.  He’s in a kind of purgatory and has 24 hours to “change” before his final disposition for all time.
There are other previous films to compare it to:  not just “Jacob’s Ladder” and even “Astral City”, but also “Wristcutters: A Lover Story”, which is a closer approximation. The near death experience in the Christian film "The Perfect Wave" (and the short "A Glimpse of Eternity", July 13 and 16) comes to mind, but here it doesn't look like the protagonist can go back.  
I was also curious that the budget for director-actor Joseph Ciminera had been just $5000, according to imdb.  He didn’t need Kickstarter, probably.  That a filmmaker can do this much on that budget would impress me, because I have similar concerns for my own project.  (Remember Shane Caruth in Dallas had made “Primer” for $7000.) 
Ciminera plays Bret Fitzpatrick, a tall, thin and balding but reasonably attractive man about 40, a “self-made” real estate tycoon with 72 properties on Long Island.  But his delinquent brother has inherited his late mother’s little Cape Cod house and is letting it slip into foreclosure.  As the film opens, Bret is serving a hapless single mom (with a special needs kid) an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent in one of his garden apartment buildings so common in the area.  (I was just in Great Neck myself recently, with memories of “North By Northwest”).  The opening of the film manipulates us with an existential question:  where is real virtue to be found here – in “personal responsibility” (paying your bills, not having kids until you can support them), or in kindness that takes circumstances and unequal fortunes into account.  It is the latter that perturbs my friend, that a “purification” could make the lucky pay the world back.
Soon Bret finds his car has been towed, because he parked in violation of a sign put up by his own property company.  He has a critical meeting back in Manhattan, and needs to get back.  Talking on the cell phone, he steps in front of an oncoming car.
He seems to escape, jump out of the way just in time, dropping just his cell phone.  Or did he?  Because now life becomes plain weird. Things don’t work.  Not just his cell phone stopped, but pay phones don’t.  He tries to get a taxi, and finds the taxi company workers at break or asleep.  He meets and sees various characters, apparently from his past.  With each one, he has a quick flashback showing what’s wrong with the person.  Most people seem to be undesirable and reckless, but the flashbacks seem to show him that most of these losers never had a chance to become more than they were.  They were unlucky.  And, because of his own pride, associating with them is beneath him.  He learns he has contempt for ordinary people.
He tracks down his own brother, languishing in a closet in mom’s house after freebasing coke.  He lectures the brother, who is supposed to be older but whose face looks younger, on personal responsibility (even as libertarians understand it).  His life turns into a merry-go-round of dead ends (including an attempt to recover his towed car, where the elevator leads him into hyperspace, and a scene where he gets over limit with a bartender, while overhearing plans for murder).  He has odd phone calls with a stand-in for his therapist, after noticing a tumor on his chest.  He finally visits his brother again.  We see the brother’s shaved chest (I don’t know if that was supposed to mean something) and then the brother makes a revelation that gives away the fact that they are both dead.
So, how do you “change” while in Purgatory?  I like that image near the end, of a turnpike with toll booths, and Bret walking past them. He doesn’t need EZPass.

The official site is here (Vanguard and Wordlwide).  The tagline is “Unclean souls roam the Earth”.  Did I miss this film when it came out?  Did it play at the West End in DC, maybe? 

 Picture: Great Neck, NY (my photo, June 30, 2014). 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Wish You Were Here" is a quirky Aussie thriller about a missing tourist -- and a warning

Wish You Were Here” (2012) is an Australian thriller, disturbing in some ways, about a vacationer who disappears.  The title seems a bit off base given the plot, but gets attention now because it sounds similar to the title of Zach Braff’s recent film (July 20).

The film also sets up the “four friends” scenario.  Two young men and young women are vacationing in Southeast Asia (Cambodia according to filming locations).  One of the men, Jeremy King (Anthony Starr) goes missing. He is an independent entrepreneur who runs “Amway-style” operations and who might be too close to drugs, sex trafficking, and the Vietnamese mafia.  His friend Dave Flannery (Joel Edgerton), wife Alice (Felicity Price) and her sister Steph (Teresa Palmer), also Jeremy’s girl friend, return to Sydney to return to their lives, deal with possible grief, and help the police investigate. 

Tensions mount quickly, especially with Dave’s marriage.  The problem with the plot setup is that Dave already knows what happened.  The back story of events that led to Jeremy’s brutal murder unfolds at the director’s convenience, but other than conversation, there’s no direct connection to events “now”.  The film amounts as a warning to tourists in “third world” countries, as to how easily it is to get into trouble, particularly when the countries have corrupt police.  The advisory could easily apply to volunteers who work in countries like this.  Dave thought that what he was doing (going near the line in seeking more female companionship, and maybe a “high”) was OK because “everybody does it”, but he crossed the moral and probably legal line.  Remember, as Ashton Kutcher often says, “Real men don’t buy girls.” 

As far as "vacationing" in SE Asia, I remember that just a half century ago, men were drafted to die there. Remember the movie "The Killing Feilds"? (1984).  I was also reminded of Di Caprio's movie in 2000, "The Beach".
My screenplay for “Titanium” (treatment link) presents a technology reporter whose fiancĂ©e has disappeared while jogging.  Police become suspicious because the reporter had another girl friend.  But in my story, the protagonist does not know what really happened, and suspects supernatural occurrences – and needs that to be true to clear himself.  Yet, he becomes more interested in the mystery than just in saving himself, which might be perceived as a weakness in believability or rooting interest for the character.

The official site is here  (E-one films).The film is available on Netflix Instant play and can be rented on YouTube for $3.99.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Singapore's crowded family life shows in Chen's "Ilo Ilo", set during the 1997 financial crisis

Singapore, an independent and prosperous city-state near the Equator on the Malay Peninsula, got a lot of billing in the 90s for its apparent social conservatism and family values, and the new film from Anthony Chen, “Ilo Ilo” demonstrates it well.
Teck (Chen Tian Wen) and Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) raise a somewhat spoiled and bratty 10-year-old son Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) in a high rise in Singapore, near the harbor. The 1997 Asian financial crisis has ensued, and Teck will soon lose his job as a salesman (his industrial glass product seems suspect anyway).  Leng works as an administrator for a shipping company, and her duties often include typing layoff notices.  They’ve hired Terry (Angeli Bayani) as their “maid”, apparently before they realized how bad the crisis is.  Jiale doesn’t get along with Terry, whose duties apparently include serving as a nanny (quite intimately). The name of the film is based on the area of the Philippines that Terry comes form.  Leng keeps her passport.
The tone of the film is set early when Leng’s coworkers object to her suddenly taking time off from work to run home to tend to a problem with Jiale, while her coworkers have to pick up the slack.  “Wait until you have kids,” she says.  That seems to feed into the debate today on paid parental leave in this country. Apparently Singapore does require that employers provide paid maternity leave, link.  Family life in Sinagpore seems based on forced intimacy.
Financial difficulties mount.  Next door, a man jumps from the highrise with a thud.  Teck loses most of the family’s savings in the stock market.  Leng gest swindled by one of these “get rich” seminar operators.  They’ll have to send Terry back.  Leng is pregnant with a second child, vomiting on camera once. Jiale's behavior at school is egregious enough to get him publicly caned in front of a school assembly. 
The end of the film shows us the birth of the second baby.  Life – and procreation – must go on.
The film shows a modest amount of outdoor Singapore, like the Metro and the harbor area.  I know one person who vacationed there in 1998. I also know someone who worked in Kuala Lumpur in IT for a long time.
The official site is here (Film Movement).
I saw the film at the new Angelika Pop-Up (link) at Union Market in NE Washington DC, about a half mile walk from the NoMa Red Line Station and a half-mile from the planned streetcar line on H St NE (closer to one mile from Union Station), and near Gallaudet University and Gonzaga High School.  I bought the only ticket for the 5 PM show, so it seemed to be just for me. Concessions (compared to all other Angelika properties, which seem to have cafes – especially Fairfax VA and Dallas – both of which I have visited).  The theater says it will build a larger space on the second floor of the warehouse next door, and close this temporary space.  I would wonder about the wisdom of placing a new theater here unless the neighborhood builds more condos and apartments very nearby, or Union Market soon generates more retail traffic.  There was plenty of street parking and a lot, although I used Metro and walked.  It has been said that this new spaces is inspired by a “pop-up” on Houston St in New York City (June 30 review).

The show offered an animated short film, from “DC Shorts”, called “Marking the Distance”, a PBS POV film about a woman who has brain surgery and loses her short term memory to a subsequent stoke.” 

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Interview with the Assassin": a riveting "fact or fiction" docudrama about a possible second gunman on the Grassy Knoll, shooting JFK

Recent documentaries about the Kennedy assassination have tended to support the “Oswald alone” theory, but I found a riveting film by Neil Burger back from 2002 on Netflix, “Interview with the Assassin”.  I’m surprised I missed it at first, when I was still living in Minneapolis.
The film starts out with Ron Kobeleski (Dylan Haggerty) setting up interview in a home in Santa Barbara CA with a neighbor Walter Ohlinger (Raymond J. Barry), who will quickly say that he was the “second gunman” on the Grassy Knoll in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.  He is dying of cancer and wants to talk.  (This is around the year 2000, in October.)   You think that this is a direct documentary film and it is a while before you become convinced that it must be acted after all.
Ron doesn’t have the press credentials of a “real reporter” and his wife chides him about getting a “real job” to support the family (sounds like Zach Braff’s character in the previous movie).  But Ron takes the bait, and follows Walter around the country, tracking down a mystery figure John Seymour (Darrell Sandeen) who he says hired him in 1962 to do the assassination. He also finds Walter’s ex-wife, who gives a rather interesting perspective. 
The road trip leads them first to Seymour’s son (Jack Tate), apparently in Virginia Beach (I recognize the streets), and then to Bethesda Naval Medical Center, the skyscraper across Wisconsin Ave. from NIH, where Seymour is a patient.  Seymour dies while Walter “interrogates” him. 
Walter has displayed some unbelievable ruses, including fake press passes, and smuggling guns on to planes (although this is pre 9/11).  His history of arrests and mental illness surfaces.  Nevertheless, Ron’s family gets threatening visitors and phone calls, suggesting there is something to this, that he might be on to the “real” conspiracy.
The film builds up to an encounter in Washington DC, where Walter gets Ron in to a personal appearance of the President (still Clinton), and in a complicated sequence, Ron thinks he prevents another assassination.  Back home in California, Walter comes to Ron’s home, and Ron kills him in self-defense.  At this point, the filmmaking has used the “Paranormal Activity” technique of using footage in home security cameras.  Ron winds up being convicted of murder, and the final notes in the film make Ron’s conviction seem like part of the conspiracy.

The film can be rented on YouTube for $1.99, or from Netflix. The style reminds me of the Dateline presentation of a "snuff" case ("The Devil's Cinema") with a Canadian filmmaker, rerun recently and discussed on the TV blog Ju,y 19.       

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Wish I Was Here": Zack Braff as a struggling actor and stay-at-home dad, in Jewish life in LA; it starts out funny but sags a bit

As for Zack Braff’s new dramedy, “Wish I Was Here”, the first thing to say is that it was funded by Kickstarter, at least in part.  A long list of donors appears in the credits. Apparently the screenplay he wrote with his brother Adam didn’t get enough investor money.  Kickstarter funding does sound precarious.  (Actor Timo Descamps pimps Kicsktarter in this YouTube video. I don’t know how this bodes for me yet.)  The film has major distribution from Focus (that’s Universal).
And let’s get to the title.  I think use of the subjunctive mood would make the title sound better (that is, “Wish I Were Here”).  In fact, there is a mystery film from 2012 “Wish You Were Here”, which sounds familiar, and which I just added to my Netflix queue because I don’t recall seeing it.
Back around 2005, a filmmaker’s magazine presented Zack Braff as a ‘quadruple threat” because he does so many things.  That particular magazine had some racy pictures of a couple of other men unbuttoning Braff.  In fact, in this new film, Braff, now 38, starts to look more grizzled (though still lean) than need be.
This two-hour film looks big, and has some extraneous special effects.  It starts with aerial robots chasing Braff and others (his kids) through the eucalyptus woods around LA. There are a few other scenes like this, which are not well connected to the story.  They are just rem-sleep dreams of Aidan (Braff), somewhat based on the fantasies of his Asperger brother, Noah (Josh Gad), who really does put robot-stuff on, as do Aidan’s kids.  
The story setup is simple.  Aidan is struggling to build his career as an actor, and lets his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) play provider for the family.  OK, he’s a stay-at-home dad.  He’s desperate enough to show up at casting calls where the request specifically went for African-Americans.  His brother, previously an app developer, lives alone in a hut on the Venice Beach (a lot of interesting people do), and has become “just a blogger”.  So did I.  Their dad Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) has been paying for the kids’ tuition in a private Jewish school, and has to stop when he is diagnosed widespread cancer.  So Aidan takes to homeschooling his precocious kids, which does not generate very much material. 
The movie starts the countdown to the end of Gabe’s life, and the attempt to get the distant brother Noah to get back into the family.  It also shows Jewish life in LA, and presents a comical rabbi who will not give Aidan any slack when it comes to morality.  (I love the word “No!” when shouted.)  There’s an interesting subplot where Sarah has to deal with sexual harassment at work from a cubicle-mate.  I actually heard about a couple of incidents like this in my working career.  Aidan gets called upon to demonstrate is potential for manly assertiveness.
The site from Focus is here. Okay, “Life is an occasion, rise to it.”

Although funny in many spots, I didn’t find the movie as engaging as “Garden State”.  Some of the “feel good” lines toward the end sounded a bit artificial.  I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA, Saturday afternoon, before a fair crowd.  (It will probably play better  in wealthier suburbs in Maryland, including around Baltimore, than in VA.)  The movie is sharply photographed on location around LA (some of it in Venice), in perfect late fall beach weather without smog, and has a full digital stereo sound track; but I didn’t see “Dolby Digital” (or Atmos) get any mention in the credits.  That was odd.

 So my take on the film: a "B". 


Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Boyhood": IFC-s decade-long project showing a boy growing into a young man, all in Texas

Boyhood”, by Richard Linklater and actually produced in part by IFC (not just distributed), is the second major film to show change or development over a person’s life deliberately.  The obvious comparison would be to Richard Apted’s “56 Up” (Feb. 17, 2013). But this film show’s Mason’s development from age 5 to 18 in one continuous stream.  The changes are so gradual as to seem imperceptible'  In most films, this would have presented problems in casting different actors, but here Ellar Coltrane, now 19, was committed to actint the entire film from about age 6, probably a first time in film history.  At about age 14, shortly before a critical 15th birthday party scene, Mason starts sounding more like an adult.  His voice has changed;  he has grown taller and is suddenly lean, and he becomes oddly and charismatic and even compelling.  (Of course, one can say that something similar happens with the kids who play in the Harry Potter movies:  Daniel Radcliffe is appealing enough playing chess with big pieces at age 11, but is a grown young man at the end of 7-film series;  similarly for Emma Watson and Rupert Grint.)  It's fortunate for the filmmaker that the real-life actor did grow up to be so attractive.  Curiously, as an older teen, her never appears in shorts. 
The film was shot over twelve years, on location in Texas (Apted had worked in Britain), with different actors for the kid, while the major players, biological father Ethan Hawke (now 44) and mother Patricia Arquette (now 46, and well known from David Lynch’s world) age in place.  Hawke has the advantage of being lean himself, which keeps him looking young.  Ellar Coltrane, now 19 and himself born in Austin, TX, is “brilliant” as the grown teen from about age 15 on. 
I haven’t been a parent.  I’ve interacted with teens and young adults in several sequences in my life.  One of these occurred after I moved to Minneapolis in 1997 after the publication of my first book, when I interacted with college students at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota.  Later, after coming back to Virginia, I’ve seen the same process at a couple local churches.  A lot changes as a teen grows from age 12 to 19, for example.  And it’s very insidious, a little at a time.  If you’re not a family member, you notice more, as you would in three hours as a film.  (This movie matches “Transformers IV” at 166 minutes.)  Some kids are quite mature, even at 12, however.   The brain is not fully mature until age 25 or so, physicians say.  In some sports (like baseball), maximum strength doesn’t occur until about age 28.  Mason has a way to go.
As a teen, from about 15 on, and especially as he develops his interest in photography, Mason’s speech and expressive style becomes more pointed.  He talks more in metaphors, and uses street language effectively.

He deploys both gentleness and self-determination, with some allowance for ambiguity.  You see this kind of speech in “Modern Family” on ABC, and Reid Ewing mastered it in his three short films on being “free” (especially the last one).  The language is a little more informal and loose than what I have been accustomed to in my own personal interaction with college-age and high-school age students.  Maybe they are a little more cautious around me. 

Much of the “plot’, however, concerns mom’s two divorces, her finishing graduate school and becoming a community college professor, and her moving the kids to Houston and then back to San Marcos, in the Hill Country.  At the beginning, the first divorce has happened.  Ethan Hawke plays an attentive dad, teaching Mason to bowl (“boomers don’t count”, which sounds like “self-publishing doesn’t count”), camp, and then takes him and sister to see a Houston Astros baseball game at Minute Maid Park.  The Astros actually win (over the Milwaukee Brewers) on a homer.   (At one time, it had been [“Ask Why?] Enron Field, remember?  I had been to a game in the old Astrodome.)
Mom’s second marriage is with  a Houston psychology professor (Marco Perella), who becomes a nightmare stepfather and abuses both the kids and her, with what starts out as simply an authoritarian parental style (jumping on the chores, for example).  The film pays a lot of heed for the need for parents, especially fathers, to maintain obedience and order, and how they sometimes get lost and go overboard in the process.  That is something I never learned to deal with, and that showed when I worked as a substitute teacher.  With some situations, you needed more experience functioning in a familial social hierarchy than I have.
Lorelei Linklater plays the older sister, Samantha, from childhood until college age (in parallel to her brother).  It’s interesting the film focuses primarily on Mason, however.  Could a separate film with a female protagonist be envisioned?

The official site is here on Tumblr. 

The film makes great use of Texas scenery, ranging from Houston, to downtown Austin, to the Hill Country, to a concluding sequence near Big Bend.  I think they are walking through the St. Elena Canyon in one scene.  I wasn’t aware of a big UT branch at El Paso.  I lived in Dallas from 1979 to 1988 and traveled all over the entire state and know every site.  The discussion of selection of college roommates by computer was interesting. I did not have the benefit of such a system in 1961. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Minute Maid Park. Note the birm in center field.  The top picture is downtown Austin, Nov, 2011 (my trip);  the other is McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe mountams, mine, 1984. 
I saw the film at Landmark E Street, before a sold-out audience in the large auditorium Friday night.  It had opened in New York and LA one week early.  It should be on a lot more screens soon.  It is rated R, although I think it really could have been PG-13. 
This film will be noticed at Oscar time.  I would love to have seen what Roger Ebert would have said about this film. This is a bit like an 80s movie ("Terms of Endearment"), even with the progressive technology (like the early iMac) being shown.  I'm also reminded of "Lone Star" and even "Waltz Across Texas".    The gradual pacing here reminds me also of John Sayles.  

It's a good question to ask Ellar Coltrane, what is it like to grow up as another character, who seems so much part of the self.  The same question gets posed to Lorelei, too.

Update: Jan. 16, 2015

The film won Best Dramatic Picture at the Golden Globes and is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

"A Coffee in Berlin": simple black and white film about a young man, smooth, who drifts

A Coffee in Berlin” (or “Oh Boy”), by Jan Ole Gerster, is an intentionally simple film, intended to make you feel you are really at the movies.  Shot on location in Berlin in black and white, and with a mono soundtrack, you’re left with a feeling that you’re watching this young man stumble through young adulthood.  He won’t commit himself to anything, so why should you?

Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling) takes his father’s allowance, but unbeknownst, has dropped out of college and squanders his time while living in a simple apartment.  He meets various characters, and then runs for them.  In one scene, he washes some meatballs given to him by a neighbor down the toilet. Clinically, he is apathetic. 

The actor looks attractive and young (the actor was 30), always dressed with a shirt well open at the neck with very tender skin.  You know that’s an invitation, and finally he’ll have a sexual confrontation toward the end with “the fat girl” whom he has derided.  He doesn’t really make contact with anyone or care until the end, when an old man tries to pick him up in a bar, and then collapses of a heart attack.  Niko tries to stay with him at the hospital but simply has to learn that he passed in the waiting room.

There’s a confrontation with his father on a golf course (again, in BW) in the middle of the film (after an ATM has confiscated his card, whereupon he plunders a coin box of a sleeping homeless man nearby).  I had a similar relation with my own father, who put me through college despite the earliest setback that I have covered earlier.  But I didn’t squander it.  I stayed in school.  I wanted to get farther with my music than I did.  But I didn’t hide anything.

I remember visiting Berlin in May 1969.  I took the night train East, to Krakow, to see Auschwitz the next day.  Actually, I had visited a place called the Connection Disco, that had a disturbing concentration camp exhibit downstairs.
The official site is here; the film has US distribution from Music Box. Don't confuse "Oh Boy" with "Old Boy" (a Korean film). Curiously, this film is offered free on YouTube by the producers.  
Wikipedia attribution link for rail station picture.  Second picture, mother's estate, actually in Ohio. 

I saw the film at Landmark E Street before a small audience Thursday afternoon.  Despite blocked signals, one cell phone went off, disrupting the mono sound effect.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"James Dean: Born Cool", a documentary of the charismatic actor

James Dean: Born Cool” is a 57-minute documentary about the famous actor made in 2001 by Denn Pietro and Denver Rochon. 
The documentary, just in 4:3 aspect ratio without modern hi-def (which the filmmaker says is simply because he used the technology of the time) has lots of stills and many brief interviews of descendants of the family as well as various movie people.  James went to live with his aunt and uncle (near Fairmount, Indiana) after his mother died of ovarian cancer, as the father wasn’t able to raise him alone.  He became an accomplished basketball player (without the advantage of height) and found acting his calling early in adulthood.  There’s a scene where he rehearses Hamlet.
Toward the end, the film present’s Dean’s experience in New York in the early 50s, as troubled. It mentions his appearance in a play called “The Immoralist”.  Dean is quoted as saying “being a man is harder than being an actor”.
The documentary does not get into his personal life or bisexuality (see the film “Joshua Tree” June 26).  He seems to have been very assertive and charismatic in person.  However the film does cover the accounts of the tragic racing car crash that ended his life at age 24.  

The film is available free on YouTube now, but a DVD is for sale (Whatantics Productions).  

Picture: Mother's estate: I think it's near Cleveland, Ohio (1940 or so).  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"A Glimpse of Eternity" by Ian McCormack provides one of the most detailed "near death experience" simulations in film, ever

I did watch the supplementary “featurette” (almost full length) film “A Glimpse of Eternity”, by Ian McCormack, provided to me at the theater showing of “The Perfect Wave” (reviewed July 13).  The film runs 54 minutes, and most of it is cropped to use only part of the full plasma screen (like a non-HD channel);  the last section, where McCormack “preaches” and prays (about nine minutes) is cropped at the old ratio of 4:3.

The film recreates the whole sequence where Ian, at 24, is stung by the box jellyfish, stumbles his way to the hospital, and has a near death experience.  Some of the footage from the film (Sunday) is used, but it is greatly expanded, especially the NDE sequence itself, and needs more description.

While still in the taxi, Ian started seeing himself as a boy, and hears a voice telling him not to go to sleep, or it will be over.  The poison causes a rapid sense of paralysis throughout most of his body, but it is remarkable that he can function well enough to hitchhike.  One man at the hotel thinks he is a drug addict (after seeing the forearm), but fortunately someone at the hotel has called for the ambulance.  As Ian is about to enter the NDE, he is asked if he can forgive the taxi driver and the other car driver.  That doesn’t seem remarkable, as it isn’t clear that they should have understood he had been stung.  Once in the NDE, Ian enters the Core, as noted before.  He is surrounded by darkness, and cannot feel his own body, which seems transparent. Eventually, he senses a presence of evil, rather like John Boorman’s “Zardoz” character, before the light suddenly appears.  (That’s not so different from Eben Alexander.)  He seems to be in a tunnel of light for a while, and then lands on a world that looks a but like New Zealand from “Lord of the Rings.” That compares to how Clive Barker describes Heaven in “Imajica”, as the First Dominion, and as a high rise city of condos hundreds of miles long, rather like a super Hong Kong. 

In terms of physics, all of this seems like being taken inside a black hole, and then deposited on another planet, similar to Earth, in another universe.  Since it’s 27000 light years to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, maybe he’s inside a micro black hole.   He is told that he is given another chance.   The thinks, he is unmarried and has no children, and wonders why he gets the chance, and then he remembers just his own mother’s love.  He might have stayed in The Core until Judgment Day.  (That sounds like the Muslim idea of afterlife, when people are judged only at the end of time.)  He must accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and attempt to save others when he returns to Earth.  The idea that God would order someone to believe and convert is scary, and runs counter to the “logic” of physics (even allowing for intelligent design, which has always sounded reasonable to me and could be supported by the Higgs Boson particle research results (“Particle Fever”, March 21, 2014). 

McCormack says that he woke up in the morgue, just in time as the mortician was about to autopsy him.  Within hours, he had recovered completely, with no aftereffects, not even any marks or scars from the stings or hospital treatment.  This seems like a miracle.  Of course, he had been extremely strong and fit, and may have been better able to survive than almost anyone else. 

The link for the organization is here
The DVD says that it is not copy protected and that users are free to copy and share it.  This is a first in my experience, even among Christian films. 
The "demand for forgiveness" is troubling.  I can see "forgiving" the cab driver, for example.  And this is an accident, or at least, a wounding of a man for entering a wild animal's home space.  It's much more troubling to contemplate "forgiveness" when the end-of-life comes from violence, especially driven by indignation. Without the capacity for forgiving and to accept forgiveness, you wind up paying for someone else's crimes.  Sometimes we are all in the same boat. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Last Sentence": a Swedish newspaper editor uses his own free-speech voice to warn about Hiitler, while Sweden remains neutral in WWII

The Swedish film “The Last Sentence” (“Dom over dod man”), directed by Jan Troell, based on a book by Kenne Fant, uses some obscure WWII history to make important points about the influence of writing and speech.
Specifically, this black-and-white film (long at 126 minutes) tells the story of Swedish journalist and newspaper (Gothenburg, Sweden) editor Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen), who went his own way in his writings, insisting, during the 1930s, that Hitler was a threat to all mankind.  The politics were complicated, as Sweden wanted to (and did finally) remain officially neutral, while Russia fought a convoluted war with Finland.  The film has many newsreel footages of Hitler’s activities as well as of the Russia-Finnish war.  In fact, it is not impossible that Vladimir Putin could create issues along the Finnish border today.
Torgny wrote over 10000 articles, and made the newspaper effectively like a set of personal blogs, like mine.  The movie shows several scenes of newspaper hand typesetting as it was done then, to reinforce that point. There is a scene late in the film where a Swedish official quizzes him about the disruptive effect of his writings.  I wondered if that could apply to me.
The film shows a lot of his domestic life, with three loving dogs, and a troubled wife Puste (Ulla Skoog), who complains about his loss of marital sexual libido and throws scalding water on one of the dogs,.  He also has a mistress Maja (Pernilla August).  In the second half of the film, there are some silly, Macbeth-like scenes with the ghost of his dead mother.
The official site is here. I saw the film at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax, VA, the only theater in the DC area showing the film even though it comes from a large indie distributor.  This was late Monday night, after storms, and the audience was small. 

The music score is interesting.  The Sibelius "Valse Triste" is played a lot, as is the opening of Finlandia (in the Russo-Finnish war scenes), as well as some piano music by Sinding, and some strung music by Wiren (sounding like Bartok).

In 1999, I saw a direct Finnish import film at the University of Minnesota, about the Russo-Finnish war, “Ambush” (“Tar Rukajarven”), directed by OIlli Saarela. 
Wikipedia attribution link for scene outside Kiruna, Sweden (iron mining town in the Arctic).  I was there in August, 1972, shortly before "my second coming".  .

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"The Perfect Wave": Surfing, and a near-death experience after a sting by a ("free") box jellyfish

The Perfect Wave”, from director Bruce Macdonald, combines surfing and evangelical Christianity, an idea we’ve seen before (with “Soul Surfer”, for instance).  It gives the viewer a great wide screen world tour, from New Zealand, to Australia (including the outback), Bali, South Africa, and Mauritius.  And it give us a near death experience (as in “Heaven Is for Real”).  The film even has posters (in a family bedroom) of the “The Endless Summer” (Bruce Brown’s 1966 surfing adventure, which I actually saw while in graduate school in Lawrence, KS).
It is the true story of Ian McCormack, but moved up in time about thirty years, so it has cell phones and Skype.  As it opens, Ian’s parents, back home in New Zealand, pester him to be more helpful to his mother’s church causes, but at 24 he wants to leave home for a surfing adventure.  He even sells his car to pay for it.  There’s a flashback where as a boy he told his mother that he didn’t believe in all this religion.
Ian, played by Scott Eastwood, is extremely likeable.  He goes with a pal Craig.  He demonstrates his social skills in hitchhiking through the Australian outback, which I would not do.  In Bali, he meet Anabel (Rachel Hendrix) and seems to start a romance.  It seems, from camera appearances (perhaps carelessly edited) that she has even shaved his chest.   But then it breaks up.  Ian can go over the top with jealousy.

The recklessness (or indestructibility) continues with some bungee jumping in South Africa, before he catches a ride to Mauritius. At night, when surfing, he gets stung by a box jellyfish, or sea wasp.  This is a bizarre creature indeed (Wikipedia link ), almost alien.  Its venom is among the most poisonous in the world, neutralizing the body’s potassium and sometimes causing quick cardiac arrest.  It’s not included among Reid Ewing’s “Free Fish” (he showed the conventional one as gross enough, although he also played with a sting ray in that short film). 
Ian has trouble getting help from the locals getting to the hospital.  Actually, if he survived on his own as long as he does in the film, he probably would not “die” as shown.  But the film gives us a near-death experience, which is rather interesting.  He seems to wind up in “The Core” (as in Eben Alexander’s book “Proof of Heaven”, reviewed on the books blog, March 30, 2013).  But then some dark angels appear, and finally Jesus (James Burke-Dunmore) speaks to him, forgives him, and says he can go back, but he has to win others to Christ.  Now, I find the idea of having to agree to recruit others (for anything) to stay alive oneself rather threatening.  I don’t think that’s what would happen.
But part of the near death sequence comes from his mother’s prostate prayer in her home in New Zealand.  She learns that he is in trouble telepathically, which I do buy. 

Ian recovers immediately, rising from the bed after having been pronounced dead (like Lazarus) and is back to normal almost immediately, as if nothing had happened.  Medically, that wouldn’t happen.  Box jellyfish venom is very painful and recovery is long and capricious. (See TV blog review of Discovery Channel “Killer Jellyfish” Dec. 14, 2007). 

After the showing, at the AMC Hoffman Center in Alexandria, VA, a woman gave me a DVD of “A Glimpse of Eternity” by Ian McCormack and report on it soon.  McCormack also has a 2-hour YouTube video “Box Jellyfish Death: Miracle Story”.

The film was shown as wide-aspect (2.35:1) but had trouble fitting the screen, as a little bit of text was cropped in the credits.  The real McCormack speaks during the closing credits.
There was a small audience late Sunday afternoon.

The official site is here.  The distributor is Mission Pictures. I don’t know if this was a paid theater rental. 

Wikipedia attribution link for aerial view of Port Louis,  Mauritius  Author is Peter Kuchar, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike license.