Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Ground Zero": zombie thriller gets its pandemic viruses mixed up

Ground Zero”, by Channing Lowe (2010), might well have been titled “Patient Zero”.  The B-movie assumes that syndicates control the disposal of corpses who die of pandemic viruses, an idea not funny now given the Ebola virus and recent media coverage about ISIS terror threats (and the supposed “laptop of doom”).  Actually, the virus named in the movie is an “H3N” something --- that is, bird flu.

A third the way into the 85-minute movie, the tag team discovers that the main lab pandemic victim is not dead.  Instead he turns into a zombie who attacks the big fat burly team member.  Soon, that person has a tummy ache, and soon is projectile-vomiting blood (worse than in “Carnage”), to the point that he bleeds out and drops dead.  (That does sound like Ebola.)   Then he becomes a zombie.

None of this gets taken seriously given the dangers in the world.

The film offers Mike Langer, D. L. Walker, Chris Harvey and Sahna Foley as a tough female co-conspirator. 
The DVD comes from”Shockorama”.  The outdoor scenes are wintry the credits say filming was in Utah.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Plus One" ("+1"): time-lapse body-snatching en masse at an Atlanta Bollywood party

 “Plus One”(officially titled “+1” or even “Plus 1”), directed by Dennis Iliadis, is another exercise in the “another me” or “body snatcher” concept, with the bonus that this time, dozens of young adults at a Bollywood party in Atlanta find out they have doubles.   What happens if the Braves are playing at home at nearby Turner Field? Furthermore, the doubles are copies of themselves from a time warp fifteen minutes before, and the time interval is constantly being compressed.  So this sounds like an exercise in partial differential equations (maybe for an open book exam in grad school) or maybe general relativity.

The main protagonists are David (Rhys Wakefield), who wants to mend romantic fences with fencing partner Jill (Ashley Hinshaw), and David’s roomie Pal Teddy (Logan Miller), who looks appropriately soft and hairless in bod and needs to get laid to prove his manliness.  A bizarre meteor lands near their home (or frat house), rather like the orb from “Under the Dome”.  All kinds of bizarre plasma balls burn around the electric transformers, as the power goes off and comes back on.  The film treats us to the light shows after the kids start their wild party.
The doubles try to kill the originals. If the doubles are just time-lapse copies, I don’t know what sense this makes.  What might be more interesting would be doubles from the distant past, as if someone could stay forever young by having a digital double from a wormhole.  If you’re 71 like me, would you like to suddenly have your 21-year-old body back?

The official site is here  IFC Midnight films, first released in Sept. 2013.  The aspect ratio is a full 2.35:1, which a Bollywood “musical” needs.  The film is available on Netflix instant play. Some reviewers compare this film to Shane Caruth's "Primer".  
Picture: from Meteor Crater museum near Odessa, TX (mine). 

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Love Is Strange": after being together for four decades, a male couple makes it legal

Love Is Strange” indeed – and life is a little unpredictable. That’s the moral of the new dramedy by Ira Sachs celebrating gay marriage in New York, shortly after it became legal.
The couple is a 71-year-old artist Ben (John Lithgow, from “The Langoliers”) and music teacher George (Afred Molina).   My first reaction is to give them credit for being intimate and faithful for forty years, in a world not always hospitable.

The film offers a quiet outdoor wedding scene, but soon George is seated before the bishop in a Catholic school being fired for behaving in public in a way that contradicts the teachings of The Church.   He is even lectured when he took the job that he would never express his own opinions about anything in public, in challenge to the Vatican.  I’ve had a little bit of a situation like this that I call “conflict of interest”.

The couple has to sell its co-op apartment in Manhattan (and co-ops are not as favorable as condos – I had a friend in the late 1970s who owned one, so I heard all about it).  The couple has to split up and stay with relatives separately, creating all kinds of complications.

There are some interesting scenes where George has to make do with giving music lessons, teaching Chopin.  Indeed, the Berceuse (and some of the other salon music) gets a little flowery and overly pretty as background music.

But it is the living circumstances of Ben that get more of the attention in the story. Ben moves in with his nephew and family and shares a room and bunk bed with a teen Joey (Charlie Tahan), who gets unnerved when his friend Vlad (Eric Tabach) poses for a PG rated painting.  Both teens sound like winners, but Joey gets in trouble for some books in French that have disappeared from the school library.  

The film moves along with these domestic complications – playing on the idea that relatives and friends have an inherent responsibility to shelter one another with “radical hospitality” in hard times.   Ben starts having serious medical issues with the stress, however, which can lead to a sudden resolution.

The film has one scene in Julius’s, a famous gay bar in Greenwich Village.  I recognized the sports photo gallery in the background and have sat at that bar, or eaten burgers at the bar, countless times myself.

The official site is here. (Sony Pictures Classics).
I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA., before a small audience early Friday night, mostly older couples, including a few same-sex.  

By the way, I hope Joey gets cleared, by the school principal and by his father.  He really should get to go to France.  I had a chance to in ninth grade and didn't, and regretted it ever since.  I don't see that Joey did anything wrong.
Pictures:  Julius's in Nov. 2004;  NYC Pride 2014 (both pictures mine) 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Devil's Pass" recycles "The Dyatlov Pass Incident" of 1959 in the Urals

Devil’s Pass”, directed by Renny Harlin, is a road horror film based on “found footage” of “The Dyatlov Pass Incident” that occurred in 1959 in the Ural Mountains in Russia when nine ski hikers were found dead with no clear explanation of what trauma had caused their demise.

Five college students from Oregon travel to Russia to recreate the scene and make a documentary film about the incident.  It may not be too much of a spoiler to suggest that the conclusion of the film sets up a recursive plot loop.  

The film sets up a road horror setup. The kids, all appealing, get into things traveling by train and then mixing with the townspeople, and hitch a ride.  They hike up to camp near the location of the incident in the Ural Mountains. 

They settle in, and notice odd things, like mysterious footprints.  Night comes, and the most adventurous of the group, the blond Andy Thatcher (Ryan Hawley) is about to make love in the tent.  (Andy as a character was particularly enthusiastic about the physical challenges of the adventure; but hiking the entire Appalachian Trail isn't quite enough experience for this.)  There are blasts, and then an avalanche.  A rather complicated sequence follows, including their am underground door they find, the Russian military chasing them, and then the tunnel maze inside.  The special effects get interesting, and the plot gets into things like teleportation, time travel, undead vampires, and the previous Soviet experiments into these areas, which Putin would probably carry on. In the end, we wonder if these nice kids are the same reincarnated party.

The official Facebook is here. The 2013 film has distribution by IFC, and was made in the UK and Russia.   The DVD includes a “making of” bonus. 
The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99.   

Wikipedia attribution for map of Urals. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"FrackNation": Phelim McAleer takes on "Gasland"

Irish freelance journalist Phelim McAleer, along with Ann McElhinny and Magdalena Segieda, made the 77-minute “FrackNation” as an answer to “Gasland” (March 5, 2013 on this blog).  I don’t recall a documentary which focuses so much on a feud with another documentary filmmaker with an opposing viewpoint on an issue.  This 2013 film was financed with Kickstarter, whereas the former film allegedly had celebrity support.
An early scene in this film sets up the essential confrontation.  McAleer shows up at a QA for the earlier film by Josh Fox, who quickly asks McAleer do identify himself, as if there were something inherently wrong with a freelance journalist (let alone blogger) from overseas questioning his work.
McAleer spends a lot of time in the film in Dimock Township, PA, in the far northeast of the state, northwest of the Poconos.  
McAleer maintains that finding methane in ground water (and the trick of setting tap water on fire) does not mean that fracking caused the problem.

McAleer says that Fox fought a legal battle with him, forcing YouTube to take down (under DMCA Safe Harbor)  a video criticizing Fox with what Fox claims is copyright infringement.   This sort of thing has happened before with other issues, such as “HIV denial”. 

McAleer does explain the process of fracking (that is, hydraulic fracturing), and shows some examples of successful fracking operations.  Usually, a small plot of land is leveled to place the well.   It’s nothing like “mountaintop removal”.

McAleer gives examples of natural methane emissions in various other states, including in Barry Springs, NY, and in Louisiana. 

In the second half of the film, he explains how natural gas is a very important export from Russia, and how Vladimir Putin would love to see the environmental movement shut down fracking in the US.  He explores the dependence of former Soviet countries, especially Poland, on Russian gas. That has become a bigger issue (because of the Ukraine) since this film was first released.

The filmmaker has several more confrontations.  A lawyer tries to seize his film physically.  He has a confrontation with the Sautner family outside their Dimrock property, when state police are called.  Toward the end McAleer is exluded from another QA given by Fox at a museum in Los Angeles. 

McAleer doesn’t provide a convincing answer to the proliferation of small earthquakes in areas near fracking (especially most recently in Oklahoma). He presents a hydroelectric power station in talking about the quake problem.  But he does make a convincing case that solar energy alone cannot carry the nation, because solar panels depend on rare earth metals that are dirty to refine and come mainly from China.  

We’ve already seen the political battle over dependence on foreign oil (with the Middle East), and the US is breaking free of that with the “Pickens Plan” of natural gas.  (I remember the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and the gas lines.)  We have a dangerous dependence on China in the raw materials for the solar industry, and on many non-western countries in our ability to make large transformers to run our power grid (or replace them in case of big damage from space weather – and that would make another good independent documentary which McAleer could try to make).

The official site is here  (Magnet pictures). Note that HBO wants to make a sequl to “Gasland”.

I watched the film on Netflix instant play   The title could be split into two words, “Frack Nation”. 

Picture: Mine, near Reading, PA, 2007. The last time that I visited the "Land of the Endless Mountains" was 1992.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Another Me" plays the doppelganger game, this time with a female, in Wales

Another Me”, by Isabel Coixet, is the third film on the doppelganger idea that I’ve seen this year, and for me, the concept is somewhat limited in potential.
Sophie Turner plays Fay, the teen growing up in Wales, whose life is challenged when her father (Rhys Ifans) is struck apparently with ALS   In a drama class, she has a role in a student production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, with drama coach played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  She is getting the attention of a rapidly maturing boyfriend, Gregg Sulkin. But she is troubled by seeing apparitions. She has the impression that some invisible ghost is impersonating her.
Her dad tells her a family secret, that she had a stillborn twin sister.  Well, maybe she wasn’t quite stillborn.  That part is rather clumsily handled.  Fay cuts her hand, leading to a scar, to make sure she will look different from any twin.  That turns out to be important.

The film was shot in both Wales and Spain (for the indoors scenes).  It’s interesting that the distribution is by “Fox International” rather than “Fox Searchlight”, as well as Fortissimo Films.

I think I recall an odd use of the sign "Dress for success" from John Molloy's 1970s book as a prop. 
I saw the film, almost alone, at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington this evening.  The Courthouse has been picking up some of the independent films that have always gone to the Shirlington.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Rich Hill" documents the lives of three disadvantaged teens in rural Missouri

Rich Hill” is another film showing a time-lapse history of people.  This time, it’s three teen boys living in the western Missouri town by that name, growing up in impoverished families.  The film is co-directed by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo (cousins, with parents who grew up I that town.  
Andrew is just 13 as the movie starts, maybe 15 at the end, and is clearly the most intact of the group.  In fact, he is smart, athletic (getting on the football team), works out, and seems to be the stabilizer in his family.  He will turn out as well as Mason in “Boyhood”, one thinks.  One problem is that his family moves often, once to Thayer (on the Arkansas border 200 miles away).  Great arm wrestling match near the end!
The other two kids, Harley (15) and Appachey (13) are much more troubled, both with truancy and behavioral problems.  Harley has been abused.   Both kids smoke.  You see them haggling over having the change to buy junk food, when the family has to make cash last two weeks on food stamps.  There's a confrontation between Harley and the school principal;  Harley doesn't understand why he needs an education when he has his family. 
The official site for the film is here

I saw this before a small audience Monday night at the West End Cinema in Washington DC.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Missouri.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"The Kill Team": In the military, like in real life, sometimes we have to pay for the crimes of others

The Kill Team”, directed by Dan Krauss, tells the story of an US Army infantry unit deployed in Southern Iraq, which started, under the leadership of a rogue NCO named Gibbs, committing war crimes against individual Afghan males, for “sport”.  The story is told through the eyes of one soldier, Adam Winfield, raised by a loving family in Florida.  Winfield objected to what was going on, and started communicating by email with his father, Christopher Winfield, back home. 

The father’s attempts to communicate with Army brass, mostly at Ft. Lewis, WA, came to naught. Eventually the NCO, after making various threats about snitches, set up a situation where Winfield, along with other unit members, could not avoid being implicated in a kill.

Several members of the unit were charged with murder.  The Army plea bargained with Winfield.  First, it tried to offer a plea of cowardice, because he did not do what was legally required (stop the murder) out of fear.  Eventually it was plead as manslaughter.  Winfield got three years in prison and a bad conduct discharge.

The documentary is quite riveting. Various other soldiers are interviewed.  Only one, Justin Stoner, was not charged.  But Justin is shown as having been tortured by his own men, his hairless chest battered, his back tattooed.  Stoner says that the men are trained to kill, “so why do you get mad when we do it?”

The film shows the corpses of the Afghani victims, and that is quite graphic.

Technically, the idea that Winfield shares responsibility for the crimes is correct according to military law.  It does sound like the Army is blaming its soldiers for the failure of leadership.  There is, in war, the idea that a person has to share the responsibility for the wrongdoing of others in his unit.   If you think about it, that happens in life in general.  Without grace and salvation, we pay for each other’s crimes, no matter how right we are.

It's disturbing to consider the cowardice argument when you remember that we had a male-only draft until 1973, during the Vietnam era.  There were some incidents in Vietnam, like the Lt. Calley massacre.
The crimes (which happened in 2009  -- as part of "Obama's War", with court martial in 2010) do have the potential to provide fodder for radical Islam, claiming that America is murdering its people and must pay with its own civilians.  That is very serious now given the recent attention to ISIS (or ISIL) and its vengeful savagery.

The official site is here, distributed by Oscilloscope.  I saw the film at Landmark E Street cinema early Sunday evening before a small audience.

Wikipedia attribution link infantry training at Ft. Lewis.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"Lagerfeld Confidential": interview biography of the controversial gay fashion designer

Lagerfeld Confidential” (2007, directed by Rodolphe Marconi) is an interview documentary about the life and career of controversial gay German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who conducts his career in Paris.
He says that the fashion industry is not supposed to be fair, and doesn’t appeal to people who care about social justice.  He also, toward the end, explains his atheism.
He also, when asks, talks about his homosexuality, which was no big deal in his family. He did fit some of the stereotypes of his era. 
Several major stars or public figures, including Nicole Kidman, Brad Kroening, and Princess Caroline of Monaco, appear.
The male models are always slender, tender-skinned, without chest hair, although often with limb hair. 

The Netflix DVD has twelve more brief interview “outtakes”. 

The film does not pay much heed to some of the other controversies, such as use of animal furs.  

The official site  is here  (Pretty Pictures, although US distribution was from Koch Lorber).  

Friday, August 22, 2014

"If I Stay": a love story between two musicians, through the recollection of a near death experience after an auto accident

If I Stay” (directed by R. J Cutler) has two stories, in parallel, both significant.

Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a gifted teen cellist, who learned the gift ogf music early in in a loving family in Portland, OR.  Dad (Joshua Leonard) is an English teacher. (My own father used to ask, why would a “man” want to teach English?)   As the movie opens, she says that Beethoven went deaf at 26 and became a composer, although actually Beethoven had composed a lot already.  He noticed his hearing loss while composing the Second Symphony.
She meets a boy friend, Adam (lanky British actor Jamie Blackley, who -- in both looks and body language -- rather resembles Reid Ewing, speaking “American” here), who writes songs and plays in a boy band, and is a very nice kid.  Mia gets invited to audition for Julliard at a studio in San Francisco (the school is in NYC).  There is an episode where Adam gets jealous when she hasn’t told him immediately about the audition.  I thought about the entire WB series “Everwood”, where Gregory Smith played a gifted piano prodigy being raised by a single widower dad in Colorado with a sister, and who skips a Julliard audition because of a conflict with his dad over his keeping a pregnancy he caused away from him.  Maybe this movie will provide some closure for “Everwood”, I thought.  She actually makes the audition and plays the Saint-Seans Cello Concerto.   (The Beethoven Cello Sonata #3 is used in the score, too.)
The other story is the family tragedy.  Twenty minutes into the movie, the family gets almost wiped out when an oncoming panel truck loses control on snowy roads and collides head on.  Her parents and little brother die, and she lies in a coma.  He immediately starts an out-of-body (or near-death) experience watching her care, and begins to reignite her love for Adam, despite the fight, as she watches him desperately try to be at her side.  Most of their love story and the audition sequence is told in flashbacks from the OBE.  She has to face the fact that “If I Stay” I may be a paraplegic.  Toward the end, the light of heaven appears, as Adam presents her letter of acceptance into Juilliard.
The official site is here.  The film is a welcome collaboration of New Line Cinema and MGM, which is trying to become reborn itself.
I saw the film at Regal Ballston, in a small auditorium.  There was a fair Friday afternoon gathering. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Portland with snow. The film was actually shot in Vancouver, with just some shots of downtown Portland.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Goodbye World": The power grid goes down to a cyberattack launched by cell phone spam, and some of the principals gather in a California communal home

Goodbye World”, directed by Dennis Hennelly, is less credible a Luddite threat than it is a post-apocalyptic soap opera that pits collectivism against and Ayn Rand style survivalism, which is no longer really individualistic. The title also invokes the title of every first program in every java programming class, “Hello world”. 
The film, set in the California coast mountains around the Bay Area, puts together an unlikely group of young adults to try to live together after the apocalypse.

The actual deed bears mention.  A cell phone malware virus sends a text “Goodbye World” as spam to every cell phone in the world, repeatedly.  The malware contains a payload that, when activated, causes the entire US power grid to self-destruct over a few hours.  Now, I don’t think this is technically possible, so the film doesn’t have the “warning value” that it might. 

James (a handsome Adrian Granier) owns the compound and has prepared himself well to live off the grid, as he quotes Thoreau at the beginning of the film, with his wife Lily (Kerry Bishe).  Benji (Mark Webber) lives in a hut on the property, having spent time in jail and then taught at a left wing school before moving to the woods.  Laura (Gaby Hoffmann) had been denied a job at a non-profit because of a soap-opera-like scandal (resembling “Days of our Lives” right now).   Nick (Ben McKenzie, from “The O.C.”) and his wife Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) also arrive.  Nick and James seem to have some business connection to the property, with some conflict. Finally, Lev (Scott Mescudi) also has hitchhiked there, after not taking his own life when the virus attack hits.

The power goes out gradually, as does the Internet. Then, there are too many coincidences to belive.  Lev had been hired to write the virus code to spam “Goodye World”.  He didn’t know about the power grid malware, but came to suspect it later.  After the power grid failed, he began to feel smug that he had been involved.  And Lily, just to prove she could do it, had apparently hacked into the server that contained that secondary malware. 

Some soldiers arrive, and James, while Lily quotes the obscure Third Amendment about quartering of soldiers, refuses to let the stay.  So the soldiers stay below in what seems to be a loosely organized intentional community.  James has stored medicines and food seed, and the soldiers eventually try to demand, in communist fashion, that they share it.  I’m not sure I buy the film’s denouement.
There is an odd and prescient reference to Ebola virus, and some other inevitable epigrams, like “No justice, just us.”  A caricature of President Obama appears on a rabbi-ear battery-powered TV, looping in speech, saying “We are a serious people”, which turns out to be a code to tell authorities to install martial law. 

The official Facebook site for the film is here. The film is distributed by Phase 4 (which likes apocalyptic sci-fi)) and Samuel Goldwyn (which likes social messages).
The film can be rented on YouTube for $9.99.  I watched it with my Netflix subscription. 
The setting of the film reminds me that a power substation near San Jose, CA was mysteriously attacked by gunfire in April 2013 but very little power disruption resulted.  The case is still unsolved.  

The film will obviously be compared to NBC's "Revolution" series.  Note that the power goes out but individual electronics still work for people who have generators or solar power.  
Picture: Mono Lake, CA, my trip, 2012  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"After the Dark" (aka "The Philosophers"): a thought experiment on what we value in human life

After the Dark”, also titled “The Philosophers”  (indeed, after Haydn’s 22nd Symphony, and directed by John Huddles) is interesting for its layered approach to storytelling, which is necessary for a film that wants to explore moral questions in a didactic manner.

On the last day of an college senior philosophy class in an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia (with American and western students), the professor “Mr. Zimit” (James D’Arcy) poses a problem, as a group thought experiment.  A nuclear war erupts, and there is room and oxygen and food for just ten kids to survive in a bunker for a year, after which they can try to repopulate the Earth.

The film takes place in part in Jakakarta (with some on-location shots) and in the classroom, but then it dramatizes three episodes of what happens in the shelter (and in surrounding desert, with mushroom clouds).  

For the first exercise, each student draws a card giving an occupation.  The kids have to decide which skills are more essential, deciding survival on utilitarian terms.  The “poet who has just been published” is the first to be shot, because in this Maoist world he is worthless.   The kids have to pay the consequences for not getting the escape code from Zimit.

In the second part, the cards contain a second qualifier, which might change the perception of who should live.  One man says he is gay but has the equipment to reproduce if he has to.  He gets picked but once inside the bunker, refuses to deny who he is.  The difficulty in having pregnancy encourages women to have as many partners as possible, but one girl refuses.   I thought about the utilitarian treatment of the military draft in the 1960s with its student deferments, which I took advantage of.

In the third part, two of the more charismatic kids – Petra (Sophie Lowe) and James (Rhys Wakefield) challenge the Darwinian approach and insist on a tack that is more libertarian.  All the kids can stay in a bunker, which will be farther away.   They can canoe in the South Pacific to the site.  Inside, everyone is welcome.  There is music with a harp, and the poet reads his newest work.   When the come out, they have the final payoff. 

A tough part of the moral problem in this film is how we appreciate people as individuals.  We tend often not to value everyone for what they can do, but to view them as not worthy to be among us. 
The small group scenarios, however, emphasize that social mores do change, away from individualism, in tribal arrangements where external factors threaten long time group society.  Reproduction can be viewed as a moral responsibility. 
After I moved to Minneapolis in 1997, with my new "Do Ask, Do Tell" book in hand, I first encountered graduating seniors who had majored in philosophy. One, at Hamline University in St. Paul,, help set up mmy speech on the book, which got onto cable on the Liberty Show in 1998.  

The official site is here (from the Olive Branch and Phase 4 films). 

The film can be rented from Netflix.  

This movie could be compared to "Exam" (Jan. 14, 2012).

Picture: Oak Ridge, TN (my trip 2013).  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"What If Being Friends Has Its Benefits": Another movie about friends in a love triangle

What If  ... Being Friends Has Its Benefits” (by Michael Dowse) is a new romantic comedy, based in Toronto, with post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe, now 25, as a rather rudderless young man, about to negotiate a love triangle.  The film is rather like a heterosexual counterpart to “Heartbeats”, reviewed Aug. 17.

Wallace (Radcliffe’s character) has dropped out of medical school over losing a relationship, which sounds stupid.  He meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) when her boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall) has a silly kitchen accident and goes to the emergency room.  They feel attracted, but agree to be "just friends".

Ben recovers, and will travel Europe a lot, starting out in Dublin, where he will head up a team to negotiate an international copyright law treaty.  This sounds a lot like TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is controversial.  One problem is that, particularly overseas, legacy companies want to force service providers to take much more potential downstream liability for copyright infringements in user generated content.  The movie never gets around to going there.  Chantry, however, has a potentially challenging opportunity in Taipei.  The film, while using Toronto and Dublin locations effectively, satisfies itself with animation to portray Taipei – using metaphorical birds carried over from fantasies earlier in the story.

There’s another couple in the story – Adam Driver is rather overbearing as the handsome Allan (a head taller than Wallace), and at one point, there is a prank to see if Wallace and Chantry will become more than just friends when forced to camp out on the shores of Lake Ontario overnight.

Radcliffe is definitely a grown man now – and was starting to look such in the last three Potter movies.
It's interesting that Wallace's sister expects him to babysit for his nephew.  
I can relate to friendship as a euphemism for a crush, past personal experience, way back.  

The official site is here (CBS Films and E-One).

I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington before a scant audience. 

Wikipedia attribution link for CN Tower picture, visited it in July 1982. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

"Alien Abduction": a found-footage reenactment, based on the Brown Mountain Lights in the North Carolina Blue Ridge

Alien Abduction” sounds like a rather obvious name for a low-budget found-footage thriller, and this little gem from Matty Beckerman, his first directorial effort, keeps your eyes peeled.  The film is encapsulated as a video camcorder journal kept by “autistic” (probably Asperger) kid Riley Morris (Riley Polanski) of his family vacation on Brown Mountain, NC.
Now this area, near Boone, is actually a low foothill ridge (less than 3000 feet) that builds up to the higher Blue Ridge along the Parkway, leading to well-known Grandfather Mountain (almost 6000 feet). But this film is predicated on the folklore of the Brown Mountain Lights, a series of ghost lights that reportedly often appear in the area, which also reports abductions.

As dad (Peter Holden) drives a road near the Parkway, he notices he is almost out of gas.  The GPS starts acting odd, and dead crows fall out of the sky.  They approach a tunnel, which they find filled with wrecked vehicles (an idea known from Stephen King’s “The Stand”).  The family investigates, there is a struggle and Dad seems to be taken away.  The rest of the family tries to escape and winds up at a cabin inhabited by Second-Amendment survivalist (Jeff Bowser), who expects the kids to know how to use rifles to protect the homestead.  It gets breached, and the  likeable older brother (Corey Eid) is taken – and appears to be decapitated.  These are not nice aliens.  The rest of the kids escape to the road, find the tunnel, and then a police car, when they are all abducted into a tunnel of light.  The footage shows the inside of the UFO as a fuzzy space of lights, and the vivisections of people are hinted.

The footage parachutes to Earth, to be found by the Air Force.

The closing credits takes up over 10 minutes of this 84-minute film, and presents two epilogues.  The father is found near a town bridge, grizzled but intact, a year later by police.  Then there are little interviews, in thumbnail black and white, of townspeople, who talk about abductions, and mention electromagnetic pulse effects in small areas associated with the lights, which seem to damage electronics nearby.  (I recall that the novel “One Second After” is set in this area of North Carolina.)

I traveled through the Smokies in July of 2013, but to the south, near Mount Mitchell (over 6700 feet).  I haven’t been in the Boone area since 1972.  I may go there again soon, having seen this film, but I’ll have to be careful with my laptop computer and phones (which don’t work in the movie) if I’m in the area, if this is true.  Another curious area in the mountains is the “Road to Nowhere” with a dead-end tunnel (mystery film review July 14, 2012)

The film is available on Netflix instant play.  I don’t recall it in theaters;  it may have played at the West End.  It definitely would get an audience with a bigger release. 

The filmmakers paired with National Geographic to offer a little short film about the Brown Mountain Lights (wiki).

The official site is here  (IFC, Exclusive Media, and Freestyle).  Yekra offers a deal for bloggers or social media users to get a cut of streaming sales;  I don’t know how this works, but will look into it.  Probably subscription rentals wouldn’t count.  Could be a useful tool for indie filmmakers, the other side of Kickstarter.
My own script “Titanium” has a Texas journalist looking for an abducted fiancĂ© near a small town (after he has cheated on her);  from an assortment of characters, he learns that an alien invasion and “rite of passage” is going to happen, and it does in the last fifteen minutes of the film.   I think it would be interesting to show in film the probable media reaction to a real unquestionable public alien landing (and abductions). 
North Carolina is a big film state, with studios and a film school in Wilmington (on the coast). 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Heartbeats": French-Canadian Xavier Dolan's second feature, at 21, a bisexual love triangle

Heartbeats” (2010) is the second bisexual dramedy from French Canadian Xavier Dolan, this film made at age 21.  The French title “Les amours imaginaries” would be more descriptive – I wish distributors didn’t change the titles when translating them.  “Fantasies” might be closer.

This film present, is garish saturation, a 3-way love triangle between Marie (Monia Chokri), Francis (Xavier Dolan in his own film) and lanky, blond, mop-headed Nickolas (Niels Schneider), the most visible of the trio.  The film is supposed to mimic new wave, although any reference to “In Praise of Love” is hard to see.  The music offers, besides Bach on unaccompanied cello and the quiet opening of Wagner’s Parsifal,  some pop music from the 60s, especially “Bang Bang” (Cher, 1966; I remember hearing thisi song all the time in the dorm at the University of Kansas;the film uses it again in the closing credits soundtrack -- and this music itself requotes Bach!).  Dolan’s camera loves to linger on textural details – like outdoors in the early Canadian autumn, on trees not quite bare yet; and indoors, on young adult male flesh, not nude, but showing the signs of early virility and contrast – the hairy legs, the tender chests, and the like.   This is a world of emerging adults who are yet to be tested by anything like real hardships. 

People communicate by typewritten and handwritten letters, sometimes with poetry.   When I experienced my “second coming”, I remember getting a couple of embarrassing hand-written letters from older men in the mail at my own suburban apartment.

The official Canadian site is here   (IFC and Alliance Atlantis).

The film can be rented on YouTube legally for $2.99.  I watched it from a Netflix DVD.
A film that came back to mind was "Four Friends" (1981, Orion), by Arthur Penn, which I remember from my days in Dallas. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Quebec City picture   (My visits, 1977 and Aug. 1993).  (Author is Bruns, Creative Commons Share Alike 2.5 Canadian license.) 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"TransSiberian by Private Train": documentary of Russia's famous train, stunning and politically correct (for Putin)

The documentary “TransSiberian: Dream of a Lifetime: The Epic Private Train Journey on the World’s Most Famous Railway”, directed by Michael Altenhenne (short title “TransSiberian by Private Train”), from Lernidee Erlenisreaisen, provides a spectacular 40 minute high-definition account of the luxury train journey.  No, this isn’t “Murder on the Orient Express”.  The route of this train starts in Moscow and goes all the way to Beijing.

The guests or well-off Europeans, especially from Spain and Germany.  The guests stay in some interesting hotels, as on Lake Baikal, or in yurts in Mongolia. The guests are often invited to participate in folk singing or dancing at stops. 

The tone of the documentary is soothing, and intended to make Russia “look good” (and so Mongolia and China).  The documentary was filmed in 2011, before the recent run of provocative and aggressive behavior by Russia. 

The countryside in Mongolia has an extraterrestrial aspect to it, as if out of the Third Dominion inClive Barker’s “Imajica”.  The train itself has passenger cars of many colors, and the little rural villages look quaint but the wooden buildings sometimes are brightly painted.
Wikipedia attribution link for Baikal “free fish” market picture 

There is a mystery film called “TransSiberian” reviewed here Aug. 16, 2008. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

"The Giver": a post-apocalyptic, restricted black-and-white "intentional community" nurtures a Christ-like young man who can save it

The Giver”, a South African film directed by Phillip Noyce (based on the novel by Lois Lowry), is yet another Dystopian struggle, with people’s lives greatly reduced in scale after some kind of purification. In this film, “The Ruin” has been followed by the establishment of a ring of planned communities on tops of plateaus, surrounded by clouds (rather life the “heaven” scenario if “Astral City”).  The greatest Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) usually appears at will as a hologram.
The sociology and politics of the communities takes on inequality head on.  No one is allowed personal freedom;  everyone is raised in an “assigned family” after being born by an “assigned mother”.  The people, to borrow a colloquial term from my own psychiatric period at NIH in 1962, have been “dulled”.  They see only black and white, and take mandatory drugs to hinder normal emotions.  The politics is a mixture of extreme communism and fascism (because children who don’t develop well enough are sent to “The Elsewhere”) – although, unlike the case with North Korea, the people live pretty well materially.  The commune looks rather modern, if sterile, and is climate controlled.

At “high school graduation” Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, who has his own “sea legs” back after acting in “The Signal”) waits anxiously for an assignment.  It turns out he is honored to become the Receiver of Memories, and warned that, unlike everyone else, he will have to bear great pain without flinching, rather like boys in ancient Sparta.  (He was depicted as younger in the book than in the movie.)  Every day, he bikes to the edge of the plateau to a hut (called “The Annex”, with a full library inside) where he takes lessons from an old sage, “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges).  The lessons consist of the Giver’s holding his wrists (or body), and letting Jonas “remote view” world history.  Perhaps there is a little bit of homoeroticism here;  Jonas will develop emotion and the ability to really love anyone appropriately. This is not easy, as he has to deal with bad stuff (He remote-views a scene from the Vietnam War and learns what conflict is.)  When he returns to the commune, he develops some feelings or normal post-teen heterosexual romance for Fiona (Odeya Rush). When he learns that the weakest babies are eliminated, he wants to save one of them and raise it.  By now, he has learned that if he can slide to the plain below, and run or bike far enough, he will reach an “edge of memories” which turns out to ne a device we’ve seen in films like “The Corridor”, “The Wall”, and Stephen King’s CBS series “Under the Dome”.  A snowsled (“Rosebud” from “Citizen Kane”) appears at critical points in the story as a metaphor.  In the end, Jonas, practically a Christlike figure, almost a Clark Kent,  is prepared to be a very attentive single father, dedicated to a baby who is not his.  The conclusion also reminds one of how “Sound of Music” ends, but this time the music comes from One Republic.  In the middle of the film, there is actually a piano lesson in the basement of the library, with a hologram of a teen girl who had tried to act as Receiver and “failed”.  Taylor Swift plays the part of the "failed" Rosemary. 
The film (in 2.35:1) looks great, and uses various hues and color saturation and plans to show the gradual development of color vision, and even show what some kinds of color blindness would be like.  

The community seems to have been set up in South Africa, but other portions of the film were shot in the South African bush, Utah (the Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Mountains) and New York. 

The official site is here. This is one of The Weinstein Company’s largest films (first pairing with Walden Media).   
I saw this film Friday afternoon before a small audience at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA.

Picture: My own dystopian community, for my own screenplay, “Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted”.  More details to come.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"The Hundred-Foot Journey": too bloated and saccharine for the subject matter, but nice food porn

The Hundred-Foot Journey”, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, based on a novel by Robert Marais, adapted screenplay by Steven Knight, is a big budget effort (with Disney, Amblin, Dreamworks, producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey), in a film that resembles Hallstrom’s 2000 film “Chocolat” for Miramax.  The film is long and lacks tension;  a foreign film in Hindi and French would have been more to the point.
The film starts with a long prologue (“Act 1”) where a family from Mumbai is driven out by politically-motivated violence, then moves to Britain, which doesn’t work out well.  Finally, it decides to move to France.  It’s up to the charismatic young cook Hassan (Manish Dayal) to support his pa (Om Puri) in getting into the country.

In a new town in the Provence area of southern France, they are met with resistance from a conventional 5-star restaurant across the street, with matron (Madame Mallory) Helen Mirren running the show. She buys up all the truffles and mushrooms on opening day for Papa.  But after one of her employees, out of misplaced French nationalism on Bastille Day, torches some of the restaurant, resulting in burned hands for Hassan, she fires the employee and starts to take heart for her competition, even taking Hassan under her own wing.
The last "act" of the film (in the three-part screenplay structure accepted as industry standard) takes place largely in Paris, where the restaurants have formed an alliance. 
Some heterosexual romance involving Hassan and the competition helps.  There are interesting little points along the way, such as when Mallory detects a wild mushroom as poisonous (you can’t safely eat the mushrooms that grow in your yard after a heavy rain) or when she tests Hassan with his omelet. There is plenty of "food porn" before the camera. 

The closing credits play some chamber music by A.H. Rahman, which rather sounds like the Metropolis Ensemble in NYC.  The credits say that some of the film was shot in New York State, and the Provence scenery looks a bit artificial, although there is a nice shot of the Lyon bullet train. 

The official site is here  (Dreamworks).
I saw the film late Thursday afternoon at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax, VA, before a fair crowd for a weekday.  The film showed in Auditorium 1, which has a curved screen.
Wikipedia attribution link for Toulouse street  I was there in 2001.  That’s the closest I’ve gotten to Provence. Second picture is "food porn" (eat your vegetables!) at the Arlington, VA county fair last weekend.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"About Alex" does recall "The Big Chill": I didn't have much empathy for Alex, or for the "author" this time

I was motivated to see “About Alex” (directed by Jesse Zwick), because one of the characters (Ben, played by Nate Parker) is established as an A-list author in the traditional book publishing world (able to get advances, as required for membership in Author’s Guild) but now has writer’s block.  I don’t relate to getting into that hissy fit, because I set my own content for what I write.  That’s both positive and negative. 
The film is said to be a remake of “The Big Chill” (1983, by Lawrence Kasdan, for Columbia), which I did like when I saw it in Dallas (I think at Northpark).  I could compare it more distantly to “The Ice Storm” (Ang Lee, for Fox) and which I do remember seeing with a new friend at the Landmark Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis shortly after moving there in late 1997.
Zwick’s film is different from Kasdan’s in that Alex (Jason Ritter) has survived his suicide attempt. In fact, the movie starts with that nonsense, where Alex tweets and throws his smart phone in the bathtub.  The rest of the movie is all 1970s – I don’t recall seeing a cell phone or computer in the country house the former roommates gather at in upstate New York, in East Durham, south of Albany).  The tragic ending of the life of Robin Williams was a complete coincidence; it had nothing to do with my seeing the movie.
The friends pair off over the weekend, with nighttime bedroom liaisons audible through the thin walls in the house.  They take turns watching Alex, who prances around with his relatively hairless wrists taped. Ritter looks a little pudgy.  It’s hard to accept him in a role like this, having gotten used to him as a “Clark Kent like” hero in the NBC series “The Event” (where he doesn’t know he is actually an extraterrestrial alien who will never age).    Max Minghella is the most attractive of the remaining characters, as Isaac (an aspiring investment banker).

Toward the end of the film there is a confrontation between Alex and Ben which suggests that Alex had a crush on him, or expected some kind of attention from Ben.  His penultimate tweet reads “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man”.  I’m not sure what to make of that. There’s a brief flashback of the kids together a decade before in college. 

The official site is here  from Screen Media.  I saw the film this afternoon at the West End Cinema in Washington DC, and the audience count was two.  

Picture: southern part of Adirondack Park along I-87, my trip in 2012 (north of Albany).  The theater gives away postcards of the movie art. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"All the Light in the Sky": the life of a mid-list actress, living within her means, but in Malibu

All the Light in the Sky” (2012), directed by Joe Swanberg, is a nice little dramedy about how a middle-aged B-list actress lives within her means.  That is Marie, 45, played by Jane Adams, who has a nice little condo on Malibu Beach.  Now, I know a couple people there (though I haven’t visited them there) who have survived the wildfires, and probably face mudslides, earthquakes and tsunamis.  I think one of them took in some other people after one of the fires to set up a situation like “The Ice Storm.”  That idea would make a good movie script but Swanberg seems less interested in any such bombast.  This is indeed, a very quiet film.

Alice welcomes her 25-year-old niece Faye (Sophia Takal) for the weekend.  While Alice loses her chances for bigger roles to Kristen Wiig, Alice still looks forward to the possibility of getting in a vampire movie.  Alice is trying to improve her lot by supporting a solar engineer on a project that could lead to a film.  There is a metaphor here:  Alice’s living within her own means corresponds to the Earth’s, facing climate change.  
Each woman, however, tries some experiments with a couple of other men.  The all seem past peak;  the only visually appealing male comes through a Skype screen, asking Faye to show intimate parts.  

The film showed how people of “mid-level” competitive ability have to sell themselves to do the bidding of others to get work.  Faye isn’t sure she is really pursuing her own dreams. 

The chamber music score sounds familiar, and is played by the Orange Mighty Trio,  from Minneapolis according to Facebook (not Orange County).

The official Facebook site is here  (Factory 25 is the distributor).

The film can be rented on Amazon Instant Play and iTunes.

Wikipedia attribution link for Malibu Beach picture.   

Monday, August 11, 2014

James Cameron starts a new career in "Deepsea Challenge 3D" as the explorer himself, in real "parts unknown"

Big-scale film director James Cameron, 61, produced his autobiographical adventure “Deepsea Challenge 3D” (directed by John Bruno, Ray Quint and Andrew Wright), partly to document his own career transition to explorer. He has a devoted wife and five children, and he says that pursuing his own goals is a way to set a good example for his kids, using somewhat libertarian thinking. Cameron looks lean and fit in this film as a man entering his seventh decade, ready for a military-like naval adventure.

The endgame was to dive in a special sub, built around a “sphere” to house Cameron at the end, to a depth of 36000 feet, in the New Britain channel, off the New Guinea coast, north of Australia. 

Cameron finds no obvious organisms at this depth. Few animals except tubeworms can live at depths much over one mile.  Cameron does take some bottom samples to look for bacteria.  The area of land in these deep trenches has an area about that of North America.

Cameron does show some sea cucumbers and a new jellyfish, but no "box jellyfish" (July 13 and July 16). 
Cameron mentions his earlier big films, “The Abyss” (1989) and “Titanic” (1997) and shows some more footage of the Titanic.

He also introduces much of the Australian crew working for him. A few crew men are played by actors (Lachlan Woods and Frank Lotito). The people do have to work in very close quarters, like in the Navy in a submarine.  There are many scenes around Sydney harbor early in the film, which had considerable Australian financing.

Later, there are impressive scenes of the volcanoes of New Guinea; major villages were destroyed (I'm not sure which community was shown, as there have been so many eruptions; children were playing in the ruins.)  Cameron says that the landscapes inspired the design of planet Pandora in "Avatar".

Just before the closing credits, Cameron shows images of the Moon, Mars, and Jupiter, as if to suggest he would like to go.  Pretty soon, it will be appropriate to consider what kind of person could move to Mars to start a settlement, live there permanently, and never return. I think Titan is interesting. 

The official site is here,  from National Geographic.  The distributor seems to be “Disruptive LA”.

I saw this in a small auditorium at Regal Ballston Monday night.  It seemed to be a performance just for me.
Wikipedia attribution link for tubeworm picture.

This is a good place to mention the 1998 science fiction film “Sphere” by Barry Levinson, based on a novel by Michael Crichton, about a relic alien submarine discovered in the abyss, perhaps recalling Cameron’s own film. 

Tonight, the media is covering heavily the death of actor Robin Williams, at 63.  More about that on my TV blog.

"Calvary": A formerly married Irish priest (with family) pays for the sins of his peers

Calvary” (directed by John Michael McDonagh), as a movie title, refers to the Christian concept, not to the military one (which the poster image almost confers).  Indeed, it’s about something heavy:  we sometimes wind up having to pay for the sins of others. 
The first image of the script is Father James (Brendan Gleeson) in a confessional box, close-up even though the movie is full wide-screen.  The first words come from the confessor, Jack (Chris O’Dowd), saying that he first tasted male semen at seven years old.  We know that  this is a film at least indirectly about the Roman Catholic priests’ scandal.  Jack threatens  James, announcing he will kill James the following Sunday precisely because he is innocent, but perhaps morally smug. He will share the price of the guilt of his peers.

The film opens up, showing us the Irish coast, as James prepares the last week of his life.

James himself has a troubled daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly); he had become a priest and taken the vows of abstinence (let alone future celibacy) after his wife died.  He live simply, with few possessions.  The film has one chapter for each day of the week, as  James mixes with the townspeople, even in bars.  Things happen.  The little wooden church is torched.  His dog, who dearly loves him, is killed, his throat found slit.  Finally, the execution must come on the beach, the following Sunday, and James does not avoid it or flinch.  And Jack is quite happy to turn himself end and spend the rest of his life in prison.  Because of the abuse, his life otherwise has no meaning.  This is a curious view of justice.

The official site is here , from Fox Searchlight.

I saw this film late Sunday at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA.  There was a small audience, but a young couple nearby really seemed to enjoy the film.  

First picture: a county fair; last two, fro, Ireland, 1990s, Mother's estate, her visit in 1980s (I think they are Northern Ireland).  

Saturday, August 09, 2014

"Into the Storm": Imagine "Twister" in mockumentary style, like "Cloverfield"

Into the Storm”, directed by Steven Quale, may recall “Twister” (1996. Jan De Bont), but the film combines comic mockumentary and dogme film, with close-up cameras, managed by high school kids and “professional” storm chasers, with real spectacle and tragedy.  The film was shot in standard aspect rather than full anamorphic, which would have been appropriate.  3-D would have worked for this film.  But the filmmakers wanted a “Cloverfield” effect.
The film is shot in Michigan (part of Detroit’s renaissance) but is set in Oklahoma, in the heart of tornado alley, and it is not OK this time.  The people know the storm is coming. But a high school vice principal (Richard Armitage) tries his best to get the graduation done anyway, and a group of storm trackers, in a military tank, are determined to get footage in the eye of a big tornado, at whatever risk because of monetary promises from a tabloid.  The film shows wall clouds descending and dropping tornadoes, small but violent.  At one time there are up to five funnels, and one of them becomes a firenado after hitting a gas explosion (taking one photographer for a horrible death).  Then the tornadoes merge and become a massive mile-wide F5, with an eye inside. (One of the chasers gets his "near death experience: inside the eye.)  The storm comes through with several rounds in the same area.
Two of the most appealing characters are the principals two sons, Donnie, 17 (Max Deacon), a junior, and Trey, 15 (Nathan Kress), a sophomore.  The principal is a single dad, having been widowed in some sort of tragedy (cancer), and he has raised smart kids.  Donnie does a lot of mockumentary early.  Oddly, he already has chest hair, as of he could get into a bar underage illegally.  He and a girlfriend (Alycia Carey) go to an old mill for a separate video project and will have to be rescued.  Trey sticks closer to dad but  gets drawn into the world of the stormchasers.
The official site is here.  It’s good to see New Line Cinema more active again, this time with Village Roadshow Pictures. The music score by Brian Tyler offered a well-organized concert overture, ending violently, complete with sonata form,, for the closing credits.  
I saw this at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA on a Saturday night, before a nearly sold out crowd, in a smaller auditorium. 
Picture: Arbuckle Mountains, Oklahoma, 2011, my image. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

"Unaccompanied Minors": the title sounds like current events, but its' actually a family Christmas romp

Unaccompanied Minors”, a 2006 Christmas comedy by Paul Feig for Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow Pictures, filmed in Utah.  The title may sound pertinent now, given the recent crisis in “unaccompanied minors” coming from Central America, but the movie has nothing to do with politics and is a rather silly romp. 
At Hoover Airport, Spencer (Dylan Christopher) is implored to watch his little sister Katherine (Dominque Saldana) by their mother, as they change planes.  Interesting, kids are taught to be responsible for siblings that someone else decided to have.  That does speak to family values.  A blizzard comes (like in one of the “Airport” movies) and the unaccompanied kids are herded down to the basement by security.  This movie doesn’t make TSA employment look inviting.  The kids find new ways to have fun and form a new kind of family (worthy of ABC’s series).  Katherine gets her visit with Santa Claus.
There are a couple of extra scenes on the DVD: “Charlie’s Dance Hall” amd “Guards in the Hall”

The film can be rented on YouTube for $2.99.  

Thursday, August 07, 2014

"Cropsey": a mystery documentary, inspired by "Blair", looks at Andre Rand and child abductions in Staten Island over years

Cropsey” is a 2009 documentary by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman, brief (84 min), examining the “urban legend” of a bogeyman child abductor on Staten Island.  The film starts out as if it were going to be a “fact or fiction” or even “found footage” type of film in the “Blair Witch” vein, before it settles into a documentary of the prosecution and conviction of Andre Rand (Frank Rushan)

The early part of the film focuses on the character of Staten Island (Richmond), the least populated borough and southernmost part of New York City and even New York State.  It used to be very rural, and was a viewed as a “dumping ground”.  I think residents would resent that characterization.  There is a woody area and closed down mental hospital in the center of the Island that is a source of urban legends of mean child snatchers.  After the film was made, Staten Island was hit very hard by Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012. 

The documentary quickly mentions young reporter Geraldo Rivera’s coverage of the Willowbrook state school on State Island in 1972.  This all happened about the time I had moved from DC to New Jersey to start working for Univac, and I recall the TV coverage.  Later, Rivera would cover the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and I recall corresponding with him about it by letter and getting a postcard back.  The film reproduces shocking footage from the inside of Willowbrook.

Later it uses reports by David Novarro.  The film often uses shots that recall the much bigger film "Shutter Island".

The film traces the long-winded cases of Jennifer Schweiger, and then of Holly Ann Hughes, as well of many others for whom there was insufficient evidence. Rand would play games with the filmmakers about given interviews from jail (Riker’s Island and then Sing Sing).  The filmmakers travel to Pennsylvania to interview a minister who sheltered Rand for a while. 
Rand’s motives, beyond simply sexual, seemed to have been related to an ideology in which he believed he was purging the world of “imperfect” children who weren’t “wanted” (including one with Down’s Syndrome).  The film is quite poker-faced in depicting this “eugenics” idea.  It also mentions a satanic cult, the Church of the Process.  I recall hearing about this from a friend when living in New York City, sometime around 1978, but I had thought it was on Long Island rather than Staten Island.  It also mentions another big asylum, Pilgrim, where Rand’s mother had been kept.

The official site is here. The film, shown at Tribeca, produced by “Antidote” and “Ghost Robot” has been distributed by Cinema Purgatorio and Breaking Glass.  

Pictures: My visit to Staten Island, March 2013.  

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

"Alban Berg": BBC has an old documentary about an important early 20th Century pioneer of atonal music

There is on YouTube a biography documentary “Alban Berg”, directed by Barrie Gavin, for the BCC, posted by Misha Horenstein. I’m not sure when the original documentary was filmed (in 4:3 aspect) but it appears to be old, possibly originally shot in the 1950s. 

Alban Berg was the first major disciple of Arnold Schoenberg (Anton Webern was the other) to follow the “twelve-tone technique” for much of his work.  Use of the technique produces music that, while atonal, is hyperchromatic and often sounds amazingly lush and post-romantic.  Berg’s output was much smaller than Schoenberg’s, partly because he worked slowly.  Berg was sensitive and concerned about humanitarian issues, although in a somewhat detached way, which he tried to approach through art and composition rather than direct involvement with people. That sounds a bit like me!  He did marry.

The film has a lot of scenic stills as backgrounds, but some interviews, especially with French conductor and composer Pierre Boulez.  The film presents major excerpts from several of his most important works, starting with the Altenberg Lieder (based on postcard pictures), and then the Chamber Concerto (showing about five minutes of a performance from the woodwind-centered part of the work), before moving on to the first opera, Wozzeck.  I saw this opera at the Met in the fall of 1974 shortly after moving to NYC.  The film presents the orchestral interlude near the end, with film clips of the horrible history going on at the time, climaxing with scenes from the concentration camps that would come.  The film talks about Nazi rejection of music, and his correspondence with Furtwangler and Schoenberg.  By the time of the composition of the Lyric Suite for String Quartet, Berg had mastered the twelve-tone technique. The film goes on to present an excerpt from “Lulu” with animation, about a woman who reacted to the violence put on her with her own.  Then it presents the conclusion of the Violin Concerto, which Berg wrote as a requiem for the death of Alma Mahler.

The film runs about 55 minutes.  See also discussion of the two operas on the "drama" blog June 7, 2008