Friday, October 31, 2014

"You and the Night": a young couple hosts an orgy -- transition to the afterlife?

The new French film by Yann Gonzalez, “You and the Night” (“Les rencontres d’apres minuit”, literally, “the encounters after midnight”) is a bit of a metaphorical set piece, almost like a ballet to the music of M83. 

A young husband and wife, Matthias and Ali (Niels Schnieder and Kate Moran) and their transvestite maid Udo (Nicolas Maury) invite four guests into their chateau for a night-long bisexual orgy of sorts.  The guests are “The Stud” (Eric Cantona), “The Star” (Fabienne Babe), “The Slut” (Julie Bremond), and “The Teen” (Alain Fabian-Delon).  You wonder how the young couple can afford such a palatial property.

What follows seems rather haphazard for a while, as they “interact” in psychedelic surroundings, and tell their life stories, rather obliquely.  The movie moves outside, to the beach particularly, and then tyo a movie theater, where they watch themselves.  A tragedy ensues for one of the hosts.  At dawn, the remaining attendees are treated to a wintry scene of pristine beauty, under a rather odd rising sun.  Have they all passed into the afterlife?  Is this their “last night” – for all of them?  I wonder.  The outdoor part of the film was shot in the Loire Valley, which usually would not have winter weather like this. 

The director has an interesting eye for masculinity.  The “stud” is your leather-bar bear, but the other two young men are indeed soft-skinned, and we have the “drag queen” too. 
The DVD includes an odd short film by the director, “We Will Never Be Alone Again” (“Nous ne serons plus jamais seuls”), ten minutes, in somewhat grainy black and white, with a reduced aspect ratio.  A number of teens enjoy dirty dancing at a party (not shown particularly clearly), and then walk out into the dawn in a rather bleak landscape, but all in love. 

The official site is here, from Sedna films with DVD from Strand Releasing.  Sedna is the name of a planetoid beyond Pluto, and it seems like a fitting name for the production company. The film was a hit at Cannes.  It can also be rented from Amazon online.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"In the Cut": Jane Campion's film of Susanna Moore's police "love triangle" in NYC comes across as implausible

In the Cut” (2003), a French-produced (English language) police thriller set in New York City, seems a bit cynical now when viewed on DVD.  It comes from director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) and a novel by Susanna Moore.  The film presents a high school English teacher Frannie Avery, socializing inappropriately with a student in a bar, when they witness some explicit behavior.   Soon, Frannie is getting visits from a detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) about a murder of a young woman in a courtyard near her apartment.  Soon, her own sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) meets a grisly end too, as Fannnie finds the dismembered corpse.
There follows the improbable spectacle of Frannie’s having a “relationship” with Malloy, yet afraid of him as she thinks there is reason to suspect him of the murders.  Some of the scenes are quite grisly and others show a rather unbelievable amount of passion given the circumstances.

The official site for the DVD is still out there, here  (Sony Screen Gems). The film can be rented on YouTube for $2.99.  I was still living in Minneapolis in early 2003 and I’m surprised I missed it.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"St. Vincent": a grizzled veteran steps up to what he has to do, for others

The little dramatic comedy “St. Vincent” starts with a shot of a grizzled old man (Bill Murray) smoking, in bed.  This is a character who is definitely not wholesome eye candy.  Gradually we learn of his struggles:  he was a Vietnam era hero, who bounced around, and now bets at Belmont trying to catch up with his debts (the “debt collector” is played by Terrence Howard from “Hustle and Flow”).  His wife is in assisted living on a locked Alzheimer’s wing, and he lives in a messy Brooklyn rowhouse with a selfish cat that doesn’t particularly love him.  (A pooch woudn’t fit in here.)
One day, a neighbor’s moving van knocks down a tree, damaging his antique car and property.  He meets the neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single-mom nurse with a little boy  Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) in a custody battle after a messy divorce.  The interaction that follows practically compels Vincent to “babysit” for the boy most of the time, and play grandfather.  Yes, he gets paid for it, and needs the money.

Vincent is the personification of street smarts, which he tries to teach Oliver, who is more likely to see someone like Mark Zuckerberg as a role model if only he gets the chance.   His Catholic school teacher (Chris O’Dowd) will do the best he can.

The screenwriting (by director Theodore Melfi) piles on one catastrophe after another upon the major characters, which is what movie pundits say agents look for in screenplays.  I rather disagree, and it gives the movie a hysterical quality – but after all, this is supposed to be a tragic-comedy. 
I could say that this is a film about moral dilemma, about stepping up to do for others what you have to do. Sometimes, you "must".  That idea occurs at the end, where Vincent is made a “saint or orphaned children” in a Catholic school ceremony.  It seems like we forget that a lot of moral debate centers around making real sacrifices for others when we have to.  For example, a lot of people who don’t have their own children wind up taking care of “OPC” (other people’s children), a point that can stir some resentment in me because I did not see myself as competitive enough to become a father.  There is a line where Vincent says that some people are too self-absorbed to have children (a thought in Phillip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle”).  Maggie mentions that Oliver is adopted because as a wife she hadn't been able to have her own children.  I play this card in the short story that ends my DADT-III book, the story being called “The Ocelot the Way He Is”, where family responsibility is imposed at the same time the world faces a calamity, but the protagonist (“me”) has gotten “what he wants” anyway. 

The script mentions Sheepshead Bay a lot, but seems to be film in locations near the Verrazano Bridge. But Sheepshead was one of my favorite subway destinations within NYC when I lived there 1974-1978. 

The official site is here.  The Weinstein brothers were executive producers.

I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.  There was a fair daytime crowd, which applauded the movie at the end. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Sheepshead Bay bridge, Brooklyn. 


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Sundays and Cybele": 1962 French tragedy based in unfounded suspicion of a man befriending an orphan girl

Sundays and Cybele” is a tragic New Wave drama, filmed in black-and-white Cinemascope in 1962 by Serge Bourguigon, based on the novel Bernard Eschasseriaux, “Les dimanches de la ville D’Avray” (“Sundays in Ville d’Avray”, a Paris suburb).
The central character is a former pilot Pierre (Hardy Kruger), who is shown doing bombing missions over Vietnam in the late 1950s.  At the time, it was called French Indochina, before the United States took over the responsibility for defending Vietnam from communism, which would provide a major episode in my own life (the draft).  He has reason to believe that, in the fog of war, he has killed a Vietnamese child, and the guilt destroys him when he returns home.  Years later, the deaths of civilians from bombings would become a main point of protests against the US war in Vietnam, especially the bombing, most of all under Nixon.
Pierrre has a low-key girl friend Madeleine (Nicole Courcei), and is not getting far in the relationship.  He  comes out of himself when he sees a little girl Cybele (Patricia Gozzi) being left at an orphanage by a disinterested father.  He starts seeing the girl every Sunday and pretends to be her father.  She says that when she is 18, she will marry him (he is 18 years older). 
Madeleine finds out about the “relationship” and tells a real suitor, a doctor Bernard (Andre Ourmansky), who becomes suspicious of Pierre’s intentions and tells police. 
A climactic a tragic encounter occurs in the woods at night, after Pierre climbs a tower to find a toy (with a little echo of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”). Police shoot him, and then the girl screams the famous line that ends the film, “I am nobody”.
The DVD from the Criterion collection (the film originally belonged to Sony and Columbia) contains a modern interview with the director, now in his 80s but very articulate.  He says he wanted to keep the classical music score (including Bach, Albinoni, and Respighi, with original music by Maurice Jarre) non-conspicuous, but I thought I heard the theme from the Liszt “ad nos” at one point.

The character Cybele (or Francoise) might be compared to Eppie in "Silas Marner", the George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) novel I read in tenth grade, where Silas, the miserly weaver, befriends a child.  The film would seem to have a lesson for Russia (and former satellite countries) that have horrific orphan crises, where kids brought up in them become criminals.  Yet the leadership (Putin) believe that the kids have to be protected from "foreign" and "western" (and especially LGBT) parents. 
The film won “Best foreign language film” in 1962. It was released in November (right after the Cuban Missile Crisis) when I was a patient at NIH, and the tragic story reflects the paranoia of the times. 

Wikipedia attribution link for drawing of Sorbonne 

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Citizenfour", latest documentary by Laura Poitras, makes Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald into movie stars; how did she get this made?

Citizenfour” is a stunning “filmed as is” docudrama of the meetings between Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras (the director) as well as later Ewen MacAskill, in June 2013 in a hotel in Hong Kong.
The film was produced by HBO, Praxis and Participant media, and distributed theatrically by Radius TWC.  The aspect ratio (1.66:1) is slightly less the usual, suggesting television-intended, and the sound doesn’t seem to have full Dolby, given the conditions under which the film was shot.
As the film opens, we see a long corridor or tunnel, with the pencil-point of light at the end.  Poitras narrates, and describes how she is on a government watch list herself with DHS (wiki ).  The tunnel comes to an end and opens up on Hong Kong.
We also have an early scene with Glenn Greenwald lounging at his Brazil home, preparing to go on a mystery mission before the encounter.  We glimpse his hairy body and the camera often dawdles on his dog, which dearly loves him.  His male partner, David Miranda, will appear at the end when he is detained because of Glenn’s reporting for the Guardian.

I don’t know how Poitras pulled all this off, but the camera goes all over the world, to Rio and Brasilia, to Russia (for Snowden’s “resting place” with his girl friend), and to Berlin, where Poitras lives, and also to Brussels, where the EU challenges the US NSA, as well as to NSA facilities in Utah and in Britain.

But Edward  Snowden is the charismatic star of the film. About half of the 114 minute length is taken showing Snowden’s articulate explanations of how NSA snooping works (illegally), as her lounges around in the Hong Kong hotel in informal garb.  The camera lingers on his soft face, that has some minor skin irritation, and sometimes on his smooth, almost hairless arms and upper chest.  The intimacy of this movie is plainly shocking.  When Greenwald and Poitras first meet him, they don't know who he is or who he works for.  He was a kid born in North Carolina.  

A lot of time is taken, also, in showing computer chat between Snowden and Poitras after he leaves Hong Kong (and winds up in Russia).  Julian Assange appears, helping arrange his asylum from his own perch in the Ecuadoran embassy in London.  It’s ironic that Putin has helped Snowden, who  is motivated by liberty interests of all people, when Putin has behaved like a dictator since, with respect to the anti-gay propaganda law (indeed ironic given Greenwald’s participation) and obviously with his “invasion” of Ukraine and duplicitous behavior on the Malaysian plane crash,
The film explains, toward the end, that the “illegality” of the government’s actions is not an affirmative defense in a trail for espionage.  It also goes into how we have co-mingled liberty with a notion of privacy that no longer exists anyway, given social media and the Internet. 

Snowden explains how "metadata gathering" works pretty clearly.  At on point he left me wondering of the NSA could snoop on cloud backups -- of computer files never sent or published anywhere.  Just yesterday, Carbonite on one of my computers suddenly got itself uninstalled.  It sent me a chilling thought half way through the movie.

There is a lot of embedded CNN coverage. 

The official site is here (TWC).  The title of the film is usually spelled as one word and is most correctly written in capitals ("CITIZENFOUR").   Some sources may spell it as two words ("Citizen Four").  
I saw the film on a Monday afternoon (delayed in getting to it by a busy weekend in New York) at Landmark’s E Street Cinema in Washington, and the weekday audience almost half-filled the large Auditorium 1.

I don't usually give star-count ratings, but this one deserves five stars if any film does.  

Wikipedia attribution link for Hong Kong NASA photo.

Update: Nov. 23, 2014

I've reviewed Glenn Greenwald's book "No Place to Hide" on my Book Reviews blog Nov. 22, 2014. There's a lot of material on "what journalism is" as well as a detailed account of the 10-day meeting with Edward Snowden in the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"I Am David": a boy escapes a Stalinist concentration camp in the early 1950s

I Am David”, a 2003 by Paul Feig, based on the book by Anne Holm (with alternate title “North to Freedom”) is to be commended for presenting Stalin’s concentration camps after WWII (instead of Hitler’s).  In 1952, David (Ben Tibber) escapes a labor camp in Bulgaria with the help of his mentor Johannes (Jim Caviezel), who gets killed as a result.  With only a compass, David must navigate, often hitchhiking, all the way to Denmark to deliver a secret letter, but really will get reunited with his mother.

Along the way he meets a lot of interesting characters, and in one scene rescues a girl from a burning barn.

The film shows lots of flashbacks to the camp in sepia tones. 

The painter who takes him across the border from Italy into Switzerland says to him that he is a man of few words (but a lot to say), which could mean that someday he can be a man “of great power” if he wants to be. 

David is rather rough when he plays with the woman's cat. 
The film was developed by Walden Media and Lionsgate but shown largely in “independent” theaters.  I’m surprised that I missed it during my last months living in Minneapolis. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

"In a Dark Place" is a setting of the Henry James novella "The Turn of the Screw"; so is a Britten opera

In a Dark Place” (2006), directed by Domato Rotunno, is, on the surface, a gothic, ghost-story horror film shot mostly outdoors on a wintry estate in Luxembourg.  But it is based on the 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James (text), which had also inspired the 1954 chamber opera by Benjamin Britten. 
Sexual exploitation, leading to demons in the mind, drives the story.  In the beginning, Anna Veigh (Leelee Sobieski) is called into the meeting with the headmaster (Thomas Sanne) of a private school where she teaches art.  He accuses her of trying to be an “art therapist” but starts making inappropriate advances while firing her.  But then, inexplicably, he arranges her to take a live-in position at an estate, Bly House, where she will raise two children Miles (Christian Olson) and Flora (Gabrielle Adam).  Is this so she keeps quiet about his own abuses?
Soon, though, a menace grows,  She learns that Miles has been expelled from school, and eventually that he may have been sexually abused.  Around the estate she starts seeing faces, ghosts.  A long sequence of incidents occurs, that tests whether the ghosts are real, in her own mind, or whether she is becoming one herself. 

The music in Britten’s opera was interesting in that it bordered on using twelve-tone technique.   As with “Peter Grimes” and “Billy Budd”, Britten was seen as willing to skirt the topic of homosexuality in a time that it was taboo.  In the movie, there is a violin passage that seems to come from Britten.
I await the DVD for Jody Wheeler’s “The Dark Place” on Dec. 2.  I don’t know whether the story is based on the James novella, but it sounds as if it is.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"The Skeleton Twins": the Duplass Brothers give us a dramedy with a disturbing and unconvincing back story

The Skeleton Twins” (directed by Craig Johnson) starts with an image of Milo (a hairy-chested Bill Hader) reclining in his bathtub, and then we see the redness of hemoglobin in the water.  Then we see Maggie (Kristen Wiig), whom we will learn soon is his fraternal twin sister, assembling the sleeping pills she will take, when she gets a cell phone call that her brother is in the hospital.  It was only the loud music of Milo’s LA apartment that attracted help in time.  We’ll say now that this film is a wannabe romantic comedy, and does not go the course of “Wristcutters: a Love Story”.  Milo will wear wrist bandages and covers for the rest of the movie.
Milo and Maggie must have a lot of genes in common: they’re both unstable, and both attracted to men.  Maggie invites Milo to come stay with her in upstate New York while he recovers.
Milo has work problems.  He says he is an actor, but he can’t get work without an agent.  I’ve heard that one before. Maggie encourages him to get a menial job doing yard and brush removal work.  He’s not very good at it;  his movements are slow, he doesn’t gather enough brush in one swoop, and, well, he’s lazy; he’s god to “learn to work”, as my father would have put it.  Later, Milo has trouble on a rope-climbing attraction. But it's fall, not too cold, and there will be a Halloween party. Suffice it to say, it doesn't help "politically" that the Duplass Brothers present a stereotyped gay male character as physically lazy or indifferent; I had some of those problems myself as a kid, but that is by no means "normal" in the gay male community today. 
Some of the movie is about Maggie’s own stumbling marriage, and Milo wonders if he can be a good “gay uncle”.  Maggie sees a buff-and-tattooed swimming instructor Billy (Boyd Holbrook) on the side and goes nowhere.  But the subplot that got my attention, and that strains credibility, is Milo’s relationship with former high school English teacher Rich (Ty Burrell, from “Modern Family”). 
About two decades before, Rich had a “relationship” with Milo, when Milo was only 15, the age of a high school sophomore.  So the question now is, why is Milo still “attracted” to him. Let’s add that the incident was handled “quietly”;  Rich resigned and was not prosecuted.  He rebuilt his life and has a wife and son.  He is trying to get a romantic comedy screenplay sold, and Milo even promises to get it to an agent (which, remember, Milo doesn’t have). 
One way this could have happened is that the teenager could have set it up and acted as the “aggressor”.  This idea sounds shocking, but it was behind the screenplay “The Sub” that I wrote and posted on my own site, and that caused so much consternation when I was subbing (back in 2005).  
There is a hint of that in “The Zero Theorem” (Sept. 23), when the precocious character Bob seems to be luring Leth, and Leth eventually gets in trouble for it.  But in this film, Milo has little charisma and it’s not credible that he would or could have done that as a teen.  You would think that Rich would stay as far away from Milo (and likely legal troubles, even twenty years later) as possible.  For many people, this topic isn’t funny.
The official site is here.  The film is produced by The Duplass Brothers (Jay and Mark) and isn’t exactly up to the credibility of “The Puffy Chair”.  The tagline is “Family is a cruel joke.”  The film was produced and distributed by the partnership of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions (which supplies the trailer above).  Lionsgate uses its new Wagnerian introduction.
I saw the film before a small audience at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington.  
The film has no relation to “The Skeleton Key” (2005, Iain Softley, Universal), a gothic thriller near New Orleans involving a hospice nurse.  

Picture: mountains near West Point, NY, my visit, 2011.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"The Blue Room": A stylish French mystery that reverses the "omniscient observer" role

The Blue Room” (“La chambre bleue”), by Mathieu Amalric, purports to be a spoof of 1940’s mystery film making.  Shot in dogme and the old “1.33:1” aspect ratio, but garish in boudoir colors, and with a film noir music score Gregoire Hetzel (with melodramatic use of a Bach-Busoni Chaconne on the piano) it seems a bit manipulative and fluffy, if brief at 76 minutes.
Julien Gahyde (Amalric himself) and Esther Despierre (Stephanie Cleau) carry on a passionate love affair in a “blue room” in a resort near the coast.  But that is a flashback, as both are in the French courts system, being interrogated and going to trial.  The movie plays a trick in not telling the viewer what they’re in trouble over at first, a rather inverted reverse of the (literary agent's) omniscient observer problem, where the reader or viewer often knows things the protagonist characters don’t (because in much fiction, one character has to “discover” what another lead character knows, as in my own novel).  That is, here, the characters know more than the viewer; usually, the viewer knows more than any one character.  
It becomes pretty obvious, though.  Each of the couple’s legal spouses have shown up dead.  That’s the trouble.  We get a graphic description of how Nicolas died of digitalis poisoning.  Are the couple in cahoots, or did Julien fall for a “femme fatale” and is he going to go down for what he didn’t do? So perhaps on my comment on "observation": maybe Julien doesn't know as much as he should. But he's the storyteller, right?  
The official site is here (IFC and Sundance Selects).  I saw the film at the West End in Washington before a surprising weekday crowd, in the smallest auditorium.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Lourdes, which I visited in 2001. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Felony", an Aussie thriller, is a Shakespearian moral tragedy and lesson in bike safety

The new Australian film “Felony” by Matthew Saville is like a Shakespearian triple tragedy (maybe it does follow one of the plays), as moral corruption finally undoes not just one but three Sydney police officers.  The film was produced in part with Roadshow Pictures, that is Village Roadshow, which usually works with Warner Brothers for films shot in the US.  The film is comparable to “The Judge” (Oct. 16) and I think more intense.
After taking a bullet in his vest and narrowly escaping serious wounding, police officer Malcolm Toohey (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote the screenplay) has a few beers and even talks his way past a DUI checkpoint.  (I’ve encountered only one of these in the past five years or so, on a Friday night on Lee Highway in Merrifield VA.)   But as he drives down a lightly traveled street (and in Australia they drive on the left, like in Britain) he meets a kid (Alex Haddad) on a bicycle going against traffic (wrong way) and feels a bump against his left side view mirror.  He looks behind and sees the kid down.

As a purely bicycle safety issue, it’s important to remember that auto side view mirrors have gotten bigger and could strike cyclists.  The kid was also going the wrong way, which increases risk of not being seen in time.  Malcolm stops and calls in the accident but, in the time before the cops and ambulance arrives, straightens his side view mirror and starts to cover up the wreck.
Soon his boss Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson, from “In the Bedroom”) joins him in rationalizing the cover-up.  Dr. Phil would have a field day analyzing this (and I except him and his son to see this film).  Malcolm has to field questions like, "How does it feel to be a hailed a hero?"  But the youngster in the group, Jim Melic (Jai Courtney) starts noticing troubling inconsistencies in the story and the prods Carl to take the crash seriously.  The boy is in a coma, and will either die or become a vegetable.  Jim starts to have a relationship (platonic) with the boy’s mother.  But the character is interesting. Jim, with his short-cropped perfect hair, and EDS suit, form-fitted to a wrestler’s body, is made to look like the perfect man, a James Bond or Clark Kent type.
He keeps his suit on while doing a lot of hacking and gumshoeing on the computer to investigate the accident on his own.  Once in a while, his collar is left open at the neck, to reveal thick chest hair.  His “images” on Google are not always as perfect, and that’s the price of making a living as an actor.
It’s a bit of a spoiler to explain how Jim and Carl get taken down.  More medical tragedy follows, and probably prison time for maybe all three.  

Had the officer not covered up the hit, I’m not sure what would have happened in court.  Involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide?  Well, the boy was going the wrong way and may have accidentally veered too close himself.  The boy might be at fault.  That’s a good question for auto insurance claims adjusters who may see this movie.  When driving, the law in most states says you must stay three feet away from cyclists (if passing them in the same lane) to avoid this kind of tragedy, but the cyclist could suddenly lunge.  I like the idea of dedicated bicycle lanes, and I think that cyclists should obey the same laws as cars, including honoring traffic lights and stop signs.  It’s dangerous to have to pass the same cyclist more than once because he ran lights.  Cyclists should also be expected to stop in situations where it would be difficult for drivers to see them (as when they right-turn across bike lanes).  The biggest objection to wrong-way cycling is side-street turners won’t see them in time.  I’ve had a couple or narrow “wrong way” misses myself, at least one with a kid I know and who is normally very responsible, and in college now. 

The Facebook site is here  (Benaroya, Village Roadshow Pictures, and Gravitas Ventures). I labeled this as "courtroom drama" to link it with the "Judge" movie;  the story should have wound up in court and probably will after the fact. I would give it at least four stars out of five.  It will be in the Oscar race. The brooding music score by Bryony Marks is impressive. 

On bicycle-driver safety, there's one other idea to remember, "dooring".  Read this bike safety guide
The film is available on Amazon instant play and at the West End Cinema in Washington DC. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Abel Ferrara's "4:44 Last Day on Earth": what it would be like if you knew exactly when the world would end

4:44 Last Day on Earth” (2011, directed by Abel Ferrara) is a somewhat brief apocalyptic drama, showing what the last day of life on Earth might be like if we knew that the world would come to an end suddenly.

Willem Dafoe plays Cisco, a second-tier actor, holed up in a modest Manhattan apartment in an older neighborhood with Skye (Shanyn Leigh), having some tender intimacies, dealing with familial and neighbor relationships, while pundits ranging from Al Gore to the Dalai Lama pontificate about our sins as a people, and news commentators try to stay on the air as long as possible.  One of them says “it doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you have.”  Skye comforts herself with her abstract painting (in blues and purples, as if she were a Jackson Pollock), and Cisco keeps loaning his Internet rig access to people wanting to connect with family all of the world. 

The cause of the catastrophe is said to be an opening of the ozone layer, although it’s hard to see how that would cause a mass extinction at a specific, predicted time.   AL Gore blames human activity and pollution.   Some people wonder if “they’re wrong.” Two hours before the end, there is a fireworks show.  Nevertheless, about an hour before the end (about an hour into this 85-minute film), northern lights (aurora borealis) start to appear, and winds pick up, and a bizarre haze settles in.  The Internet, and the power, start to go out about three minutes before the end.  As the film ends, the screen turns white, which it remains as the credits roll (printed in black, like on typical paper). 

The official site for the film is here (IFC). The film can be rented on YouTube but it's unusually pricey. 
Some disaster newscasts have speculated that a gamma ray burst could cause extinction of human life.  Some gamma rays may travel slighter slower than light and such an event might be predictable shortly after a supernova, but the closest star to us capable of such an outburst upon explosion is at least 8000 light years away, and most such stars are near the centers of galaxies.  Gamma ray bursts vary in content and strength, and can destroy the ozone layer, or cause most of the oxygen in the atmosphere to be consumed by nitrogen.  They may happen once every ten million years or so, but someday a future civilization might have to deal with one (Wikipedia article  )

Another idea could be the sudden loss of the Earth’s magnetic field, or a sudden pole shift, like in the novel “The HAB Theory” by Allan W. Eckert (1976), which I don’t recall being filmed. 
I can imagine a film, possibly an extended short (call it “Overnight”), where someone knows that this is his last day.  He finishes his self-publication on the computer, locks up the house, gets taken by van to a termination center.  He goes to a dinner and reception and then retires to a cabin-like room in a hotel.  He watches his life in a media center, and has one last chance to post online.  Then gradually, his access to media is taken away, and his own stuff is taken down.  The room darkens.  He has a last snack and last drink of water in the room alone, and lies down and dies.  Someone comes for the body, to haul it away for cremation. But then “he” wakes up in a similar room, and the windows open to show a community on another  planet.  The media comes back on, and he sees only the briefest summary of his previous life.  He is invited to a meeting, no food or drink, and finds out he is part of a “family of souls”.  He will be engaged “where he is”,  until he learns what kind of life he will lead next time to balance his karma.  In the very last scene, we learn Earth is approached by a death star, a brown dwarf.

Wikipedia attribution link for supernova picture 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Mysteries of the Unseen World" from NatGeo: 3-D science class for middle schoolers

The National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian, the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater, is showing “Mysteries of the Unseen World”, directed by Louie Schwartzberg, in 3-D, from National Geographic.

The documentary focuses on things that are too small, too big, or happen too quickly or too slowly to be “seen” in a normal way.
Back in the 1950s, Disney created a sensation with “time-lapse photography” showing how flowers bloom.  The same concept could show how a baby matures into adulthood and how a handsome young adult ultimately, imperceptibly at first, ripens and matures and then frankly ages.
Much of the film concerned a typical family in a high-rise apartment, which appeared to be located in New Orleans. 

The “too small” portion showed how rain drops bounce as perfect spheres, progressively smaller, when they hit puddles.  It also showed the appearance of very small animals like mites and rotifers.  It traced the development of the compound microscope, which we all used in biology class in high school, and of the electron microscope.
But the most interesting sight in the film might be a 200-mile hypothetical elevator to space, ridden by a space-shuttle-like device, with views of Earth from the elevation of an orbiter, but with ordinary people as paying passengers.
The official site is here (NatGeo).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Whiplash": Miles Teller carries the film as an athletic drummer

Whiplash” (directed by Damien Chazelle) is a confrontation between two strong characters:  19 year old conservatory student Andrew (Miles Teller, who dominates the film), and the sharp-tongued band class leader Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) who barks at his students like a Marine drill sergeant.  I never thought of a music college as like the military.

I also never realized there was so much skill involved in playing drums, which becomes a bit of an athletic activity.  Fletcher keeps setting up “contests” with other drummers, especially Ryan (Austin Stowell), and frankly acts like a bully.  A few times, he utters lines about gay pride that are a bit short of homophobic, but they shock us when we hear them now.  In fact, Andrew has a girl friend Nicole (Melissa Benoist) whom he ditches in one coffee shop scene because, well, she isn’t going to be good enough for him when he has to strive for such perfection in his own life craft. I know the feeling.
There is a critical sequence where the kids take a bus out to suburban New Jersey to a concert.  When the bus gets a flat tire, Andrew rents a car (not sure how he does this under 25) and wrecks it, talking on the cell phone as he drives, and crawls out after the car rolls over and still gets to the concert, all bloodied. Not sure how the other kids got there.
A critical plot point concerns a band member’s losing his printed score and not having memorized the music (the title “Whiplash” refers to one of the items they play).  I wondered, why doesn’t he use iPads for the score?
I’m not sure I buy Fletcher’s quasi-redemption or Andrew’s conquest in the final performance.
The official site is here (Sony Pictures Classics).  This film was a major hit at the 2014 Sundance. 

There is another YouTube clip where Miles Teller (himself a musician) drums with The Roots on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on NBC.  I would wonder if he has performed with The Metropolis Ensemble. 

The film takes places in New York and New Jersey, but all the indoor scenes were filmed in LA, as was the one outdoor crash sequence.  This film does not have the New York State trademark for indie film.
I saw the film before a fair Friday night audience at the AMC Shirlington. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"The Judge" provides extensive courtroom drama, but doesn't always follow the law

The Judge”, the new drama film by David Dobkin from Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow (which often used to produce big dramatic pictures together), is set in southern Indiana.  There are low ranges and hills around Brown County State Park, around Nashville, which I remember visiting in 1970 when on a long travel assignment with my first job with RCA. (Bloomington and Indiana University are nearby.)  It gets hilly around the rivers, even as the prairie drops in elevation.  

 The film, however, was filmed in Massachusetts, which makes the rustic setting look more mountainous than it can be.  I like to see outdoor scenes shot where they really are supposed to happen.  Around 2000, I made a friend,  a law student at Southern Illinois University, originally from Evansville, IN, and I understand that he is now a prosecutor in the area.  All of this came back to me as I watched the film. The film also has two tornado siren scenes and some effective windstorms.  

Robert J. Downey, Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a hot-shot defense lawyer in Chicago, whose reputation is to get guilty clients off.  Downey bounces through the film with the body language of a 25-year old (even though he is almost 50).  The movie starts with a rather embarrassing encounter in a men’s room (cats urinate to mark their terrirtory), before it opens up.  While in court, Palmer gets a cell phone call that his mother in a southern Indiana town has passed.  He has to ask for a continuance.

He goes down there and immediately meets his dad Joseph (Robert Duvall, 83) still on the bench as a county judge prolific in his cases and uncompromising with defendants, and two brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), who had lost a chance for a baseball pitching career to a mysterious accident and is now overweight, and Dale (Jeremy Strong), who likes to play at making movies but seems somewhat autistic and protected.  The first night, Joseph goets out for groceries.  The next day, after a humorous exchange about driving skills when parking by backing in, Hank notices some damage and blood on the grille of his dad’s Cadillac.  He goes back to the airport, and as his plane leaves, gets another cell phone call that his dad has been arrested for a hit-and-run death of a pedestrian.

So Hank now gets to defend another maybe-guilty client, his dad, taking over from a listless county lawyer (Dax Shepard), who vomits outside the courthouse before every hearing, opposing a sharp prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton), who wants to go for first degree murder, claiming that the judge targeted a nasty former defendant who had gotten off easy on a technicality, after a happenstance angry encounter at the convenience store.  There are some problems with the legal scenarios:  this sounds more like second degree murder, not first;  and the sentencing would not happen at the same time as conviction. So the “courtroom drama” is not as realistic as it should be.
There is another subplot, involving the judge’s legacy, and his keeping his cancer and chemotherapy secret.  There is a harrowing scene where Hank has to, rather suddenly, take care of his dad’s vomit and profuse diarrhea. 

There's a scene late where the prosecutor says is that the law is the only way to make people equal.  True.  I can recall a meeting in Boston with another friend in the movie business who thought that "courtroom drama" was the best way to translate my first book into film, but that isn't the path that I followed.

The story does remind us that senior citizens can suddenly go very wrong, with tragic and perhaps shameful results. 
The official site is here.

I saw this film at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington before a substantial Wednesday night audience.

Picture: Near Brown County State Park, Aug. 2012, my strip.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda" documents Putin's recent anti-gay law with interviews

Tonight, HRC and Reel Affirmations hosted a screening of “Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda”, directed by Michael Lucas (who did the QA) and Scott Stern.

The film, 78 minutes, presents many interviews with LGBT people in Russia, many of them by Lucas, some anti-gay average citizens, and at least one anti-gay politician who was partly behind the 2013 law, which presents an dissemination of information of “non traditional sexual lifestyles” in front of minors.  Sometimes the law is characterized as prohibiting publish speech, discoverable by minors, suggesting that gay relationships were equivalent to heterosexual marriage, or that gay people were equal to “normal” people.  Therefore, arguing for your own equality is a crime.
The film could be compared to the BBC-HBO fifty minute film “Dispatches: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia” by Ben Steele, reviewed on my TV blog Feb. 9, 2014.  That later film has created a sensation by its depiction of anti-gay vigilantism that the law seems to excuse or even encourage.  As well as ABC’s report “Moscow Is Burning” about the now closed Central Station disco in Moscow, reviewed Feb. 15. 2014 on that blog. But this newer film is much “quieter”.
During the QA, Lucas said that Russian authorities might not find the film objectionable, as it is a documentary, and lets some Russians state their anti-gay views with a straight face.
The interviews to hit the tendency of Russian culture to associate homosexuality with pedophilia.  But moreover, it takes the position that Russians have lost a lot if individual freedom since about 2000 as Putin consolidates power.  Aa the economy stagnates, Vladimir Putin looks for scapegoats, and finds LGBT an easy mark.  The film also takes the position that Russians tend to believe that homosexuality is a cultural import from the West, and they’re supposed to hate the West as part of Russian nationalism.  Since the fall of the former Soviet Union at the end of 1991, religion has become stronger in Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church has reinforced anti-gay ideas.

The film covers the intention of Putin's regime to take children away from same-sex couples, which "will happen".  They would be put into orphanages.  Yet most kids who grow up in Russian orphanages turn out to become criminals, it was said in the QA. 
Still, there is such obvious circularity in their views.  Putin has also made a lot of Russia’s low birthrate.  It’s pretty obvious that he thinks that gay men and women, if allowed to speak, will encourage others to have fewer children by the examples they set.  There is also a degree of fascism in the views now (even though Stalin-style communism was vehemently anti-gay, and ironically Russia actually dropped its sodomy law in 1993).  There is an idea that you should be fit to carry on society, or else, accept subservience or perish (which is pretty much what Nazi Germany believed).
In the QA, I asked a question about how asylum was working out from Russia and other countries, as the press has been vague on this sensitive point.  The discussion went into several areas. Lucas mentioned that Israel has to make sure that people trying to emigrate from Palestine and claiming to be gay aren’t terrorists.  He also made an interesting point about ISIS:  that in Britain, many of the young men recruited to go fight in Syria and now Iraq were bullied as kids because they were redheads. 

A couple of asylees were in the audience.  One person from the DC Center (link) pointed out that you can be a member of a persecuted social group to apply for asylum without proving you are gay.  As I noted on my LGBT blog Oct. 3 and Sept. 29, 2014, the question of how LGBT refugees are supported while here has been little covered by the media – but they can’t work for six months.  Back in 1980, there was pressure in Dallas for LGBT people to house gay Cuban refugees, and that caused a lot of controversy (especially with the local Catholic Charities).   That kind of appeal hasn’t been made this time, and would be politically controversial with regards to overall immigration policy --- very much, morally double-edged.

The official site is here  (Breaking Glass Pictures, in Philadelphia).  There's more video from the QA here

The film could well be compare to documentaries about anti-gay measures in some other countries, as with "God Loves Uganda" (Oct. 2013) and "The World's Worst Place to Be Gay", as well as accounts of Nazi policy as in "Paragraph 175" (2000), and "The Consequence" (1977) and even "The Hidden Fuhrer: Debating the Enigma of Hitler's Sexuality" (2004) based on Lothar Machtan's controversial book, 

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Men, Women and Children": Jason Reitman shows how his characters all stumble around living on the Internet

Men, Women and Children”, Jason Reitman’s latest film, tells its non-visual, indoor story (the film was made near Austin, TX) as a series of encounters between the adult and high school teen characters, all caused by their interactions in social media.  The result is a bit slow. 
Reitman encompasses the film with a rather silly meditation, as narrated by Emma Watson (who also narrates the early part of the film) of the Vogager, launched in 1977, leaving the Solar System now, leaving behind Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”, where all human interactions, including now cyberspace, occur.
As the film opens, Don Truby (Adam Sandler) finds his own home computer unusable because of malware, and starts looking at porn on his son’s homework computer. The 15-year-old son Chris (Travis Tope) is venturesome enough, very much discovering young women in the real world.  The mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) very much watches the kids’ Internet access, using the latest monitoring tools.  Eventually she will destroy her daughter’s website, which went over the top as she tried to win an acting contest.  In another family, Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort) quits the football team, stranding all his buddies, saying that football is meaningless.  You see, he has read Carl Sagan on line.  He wants to get good at some computer game.  His relationship with his dad (Dean Norris) has become strained ever since his mother left.   Tim gets into a fight and gets counseling.  You wish he could turn out like “Mason” in “Boyhood”.  (This film reminded me to see the PBS Frontline film "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis", on the TV blog Oct. 14.) 
A lot of the film shows relationships building and dying in chat sessions (or with texts).  People get blocked from sending texts, and blocked from seeing others’ Facebook pages  (like  here  ).  I simply have never used social media for really “social” purposes this way (at least to date someone).  I use it mostly for publication and circulation of news.  The issue of one girl's racy website barely touches on the conflicts that can occur from web publishing.  Teenagers known to me generally don’t use social media with this sort of aggression. 

The official site is here. The film is formally distributed by Paramount.  But this first week it is showing in only one theater in DC, Landmark, which specializes in independent film.  (In the past Paramount has used its Vantage or Classics brands more often than it does now.)   The title can also be spelled “Men, Women & Children”. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"Pride": Solidarity between the LGBT community and mine workers in "The Iron Lady's" Britain, not overplayed

Pride”, by Matthew Warchus, certainly provides lilt, as it is practically a full fledge British musical and comedy about political solidarity leading to an unusual episode of gay history.  The film starts at Gay Pride in London in 1984, when some gay activists circulate the idea of helping raise money for the coal miners striking in Wales.  Conservative Margaret Thatcher, “The Iron Lady” (Jan. 26, 2012) was the common enemy to be faced.  In fact, in the prelude to the film, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” gets sung to lyrics about solidarity, Fred Waring style. (I remember the real anthem in mixed chorus in middle school.)
Now, I personally am not a fan of linking “gay equality” to “socialism” (which some props in the film do), nor do I personally like to be recruited to pimp to raise money for “other people’s causes”.  Stepping back from this, I understand the need for unity of sorts.  I marched in parades and demonstrations a lot more in the past.   But I’ve never belonged to a union, and I’ve never done without my own wages for the good of others.  In fact, in my world, there was a tendency for singles to work for less and lowball the market. 

Much of the story is told through the eyes of a fictitious and very likeable, even charismatic, participant, Joe (George McKay), who, at 20, can’t legally be in bars, where he often shows in the film’s many disco scenes that offer wonderful 80s music (which I miss in discos today).  In one scene, his mother confronts him with the circular argument that he will have to live in secret (without a family), and she seems unaware of the logical flaw.  Other activists seem to have been real, including Mark (Ben Schnetzer).  Bill Nighy plays Cliff, a union official who eventually says he’s gay.

Of course, the film covers the issue of the public perception of the union’s accepting the participation of a gay group (GLSM, or Gays and Lesbians in Solidarity with Miners), driven into the dirt by conservative tabloids.  Mark comes up with the idea that if you’re called a name, you own it. “Pervert” becomes part of the group’s trademark.

The miners eventually lose and go back to work in March 1985, but return for Pride March in 1985 at the end of the film.  Joe has dropped out of school for his activism (a sacrifice), and on his 21st birthday, has to figure out how to resume his own life.

The film brings up AIDS about half-way through, first with an embedded TV report.  It wasn’t until April 1984 that HIV (or HTLV-III) was announced as the cause of AIDS.  There is a line about taking the test, but here was no antibody test until well into 1985.  Mark, according to the credits, dies of AIDS, but another character, one of the first to be diagnosed as HIV+, is still alive today. There always were long-term non-progressors, even before modern medications.

The film is quite entertaining, and never gets too lost in political correctness (which I had "feared" going to see it).  The Welsh scenery (some of it in winter, and some of it with shots of bridges and superhighways from air, people driving "the wrong way") is spectacular in wide screen.  Only one or two lines mentions the economic importance of coal; the pollution issue and working conditions (I think those are big problems) are never addressed.   I could compare this, however, to "Coal Miner's Daughter" (1981, by Michael Apted, where Sissy Spacek plays Loretta Lynn), "Matewan" by John Sayles, and various films about mountaintop removal reviewed on this blog.   

I've been in London twice, 1982 and 2001.  That's not enough times.  In 1982, I visited a gay bar in Soho and witnessed a fight (one of only two in my lifetime in a gay bar), and then went to a downstairs disco.  
The official site is here   (CBS Films, Pathe, Calamity, and BBC Films).  The film opened in mid-September but release was expanded this weekend.  I saw it at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA before a large Sunday afternoon audience (at least 2/3 full in a large auditorium).  And a new restaurant across the street, True Food Kitchen, has long lines.  And the new Ted’s Bulletin is busy, too. 

Wikipedia attribution link for view of Hyde Park, where I stayed in 1982 some nights.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Kill the Messenger", the story of Gary Webb and his "Dark Alliance" series, lays out problems with journalistic integrity, and intelligence services (Michael Cuesta)

Kill the Messenger” is an important film for journalists, even (or especially) those who enter the field as amateurs or wind up there. 
It is based on the book by Nick Schou, which is in turn drawn from the book and newspaper series by the subject, Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), “Dark Alliance”.  It is written by Peter Landesman, and directed by Michael Cuesta, who had directed “L.I.E.” (“Long Island Expressway”) which I had seen in Minneapolis on the evening of September 11, 2001, for a screening.  I director was forced to stay in town three days by the events, and I met him in a downbar bar “afterparty” afterwards.  I had a conversation with Cuesta about some liberty issues (DADT and other matters like national security) in the wake of 9/11 as it had just happened, and I wonder if that stuck with him.
Gary Webb’s series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News exposed the role of the CIA in funding the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s who smuggled drug back into the US, most of all the ghettos in Los Angeles.  The film starts out in documentary fashion with Richard Nixon’s saying that drug use is a national security problem as much as the Soviets, followed up by Ford, Carter, and especially Ronald Reagan, capping off with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program that got traction in the late 1980s.  But Reagan saw stopping the Cubans and left-wing influence in Central America as instrumental to winning the Cold War, but Congress didn’t want to give him the money, when he was cutting social programs so much (including allegedly underfunding AIDS research) and busting unions.  So Reagan, the story goes, turned to both Oliver North and the CIA.  Scott Herhold has a retrospective article in the San Jose Mercury News about the case here.  The paper took down the series, but it’s available elsewhere, like here  (on a “Niue” domain). 

After the introduction, the film presents an early interaction between Webb and his female editor, where Webb talks about civil asset forfeiture (a big action item for the Libertarian Party in the late 1990s). The Washington Post has a stunning story (Oct. 12) about police abuse of civil forfeiture, which can happen without proof that a crime has actually been committed, here.  
The film shows Webb’s building up his contacts, and visiting a drug kingpin in a jail in Nicaragua.  His own teenage son Ian (Lucas Hedges, another rising teen acting star who dominated “The Zero Theorem” [Sept. 23]) is the first to find the series online (in the 1996 Internet). At first, the major newspapers act as if the San Jose Mercury News doesn’t matter, as it is viewed as a smaller local rag (like The Washington Times).  But soon, after pressure – including CIA dirty tricks -- from the underlings of the Clinton administration, they are claiming that Webb can’t produce his sources for fact checking, and publishing stories casting doubt his account.  Webb’s protests that the CIA “is what it is” fall on deaf ears.  Nevertheless, he says that he never really did cay that the CIA deliberately turned poor people in the ghettos of LA and other cities into drug addicts to give the rebels income. 

The epilogue of the film shows former CIA director Deutsch admitting the CIA involvement in 1998 testimony, at a time when the country was kept distracted by Bill Clinton’s scandal with Monica Lewinsky.

The film also mentions Honduras, now (along with El Salvador) one of the two Central American countries contributing the most to the illegal child immigration problem in 2014.  At least two churches with whom I interact have sent youth-and-adult groups to Central America for mission work.  The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC has supported a mission in Nacascolo, itself the subject of a slide show that almost amounts to a short film.  Nicaragua would sound like a less than safe destination today.  And Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington sends groups to Belize to work on missions in the summer, although Belize is a much more stable place, apparently.  And one other group (in Ohio) has sent relatives (as engineering college graduates) to work in Guatemala.  Still another church sent a small number of young adults to Kenya. The idea of sending people overseas to volunteer is becoming all the more dangerous, both because of violence and political instability , and, recently, infectious disease.  This is becoming a new subject for film.

Also, on the subject of journalistic integrity, it's well to mention that in 1996 a Tacoma, WA newspaper removed a lesbian reporter from her job (and assigned her to copyediting) because ot thought her public gay rights activities compromised her "objectivity" as a reporter.   The state supreme court upheld the action at the time.

My "cf" (Films on threats to freedom, from Profile) blog has a review of a film on danger to journalists in the line of duty March 3, 2009,

The official site is here (Focus Features).

I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA, before a fair audience Saturday afternoon.  I expected the crowd to be bigger. 

Wikipedia attribution link for San Jose Mercury News headquarters  (by CoolCaesar, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 license).  

Update: Jan. 16, 2015
Facebook comment on the movie and Webb's experience by Philip Chandler.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Retreat", UK horror film from 2011, seems applicable now to pandemic fears as Ebola-like disease goes airborne

It seems interesting that Sony, Samuel Goldwyn, and Magnolia Pictures (Magnet) all have their hands in the Welsh horror film “Retreat”, which seems timely now given the worldwide explosion of Ebola virus.  The premise of the film reminds one of the “28 Days Later” movies.  The film, released in October 2011, is directed by Carl Tibbetts. 
A nice young couple, architect Martin (Cillian Murphy) and journalist wife Kate (Candie Newton) rent a cottage on an offshore island from Doug (Jimmy Yuill), to get away from it all (and repair their relationship after a miscarriage).  But a fall extra-tropical storm hits and the generator fails, and help is slow in coming.  Then a soldier Jack (Jamie Bell) is found washed up on the shore.  When they bring him in, Martin finds a gun, which he tries to hide. When Jack recovers enough, he tells them that the whole world is engulfed by what sounds like an airborne version of Ebola (it’s called ”R1N16”).  Jack insists that the house be sealed, and starts to behave aggressively.  We get an idea of his temperament from some well-placed tattoos. 
Is he to be believed?   Perhaps the occasional sound of aircraft above should be fair warning. Well, this may be a movie where “not all ends well”, in fact very little.  They say civil liberties mean nothing if “everybody’s dead”.  Would the government really kill civilians to “spare the rest of the world”?
There is a scene where Martin has asthma attacks (playing into the Enterovirus 68 idea, belatedly), but when he starts bleeding out, that is evidence that he’s got the virus.  The soldier says that the government used him as a “lab rat”.
The official site is here

I viewed it from a Netflix DVD.  The film can be rented from Sony on YouTube for $9.99.  The DVD has a "Making Of" featurette.  
Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Scottish uplands  I think the script mentioned Scotland rather than Wales (where it was actually filmed). 
I visited  Scotland by train in November 1982.   The film clocks at exactly 90 minutes, as if intended for TV, but it is also wide anamorphic. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

"Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back": PBS documentary feature preceded Ron Howard's blockbuster film

Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back” (1994) is a PBS-WGBH documentary directed by Noel Buckner and Rob Whittlesey, 82 min, is a good supplement to the acclaimed film by Ron Howard from Universal, simply “Apollo 13”, which I saw twice (once on a flight back from San Francisco in late 1995, with a passenger audience that cheers).  The film seems to be narrated by Will Lyman, who does the Frontline series. 

The crew comprised Lovell, Sweigert and Haise. The film points out that Jack Sweigert was the only bachelor.

Two days into the mission, as the compound craft approached the Moon, there was a cascading failure, leading to fire and explosion, and progressive loss of fuel and oxygen from the Commnd/ Service Module.  The crew had to cramp together in the Lunar Module until re-entry, which was accomplished by allowing a sling-shot around the Moon, allowing gravity and orbital mechanics to work naturally.

The documentary focuses a lot on the pressure on the computer workers back in Houston and also on Long Island.  It’s amazing how far technology had advanced in 1970, twenty years before the Internet.  Civilization has changed course, emphasizing communication, as the idea of putting “Man in Space” (almost a trademark of Dan Fry’s “Understanding” group in Arizona in the 1970s, which I sometimes attended) became more elusive.

When I was substitute teaching in the fall of 2004 at a middle school, the eighth graders watched the main Universal film “Apollo 13” (for science class) and had to write a paper suggesting how the accident might have been prevented.  One kid, as I recall, wrote a particularly lucid answer.

(The YouTube featurette above comes from NasaFlix.)
I watched the film on a Netflix rental. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Apollo 13 passing moon, here. Second picture is mine, the full Moon the day after a lunar eclipse.  The "ring" is an artifact of the photo. On a clear dry night you can see the mountain scenery on the Moon with the naked eye from a very "high" perch. 
I must say, I’m looking forward to Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

"Hector and the Search for Happiness" is indeed a feast for the eye, especially in Shanghai

Hector and the Search for Happiness”, by Peter Chelsom, plays out the idea of intellect vs. organic life for a psychiatrist, who has intellectual ideas about what happiness should be, but really can’t communicate it to his well-to-do London patients because he hasn’t really experienced it himself. The premise sounds rather like it came from Paul Rosenfels, who developed a complete theory of psychological polarity and then really lived it (see Books, April 12, 2006).  Somehow the concept of the movie reminds me of composer Hector Berlioz and his tone poem "Harold in Italy".  (Don't mix up the first names;  I did for a while.)  
Hector (Simon Pegg) first visits Shanghai, and the film really opens up here, with stunning views (in anamorphic wide screen) of the modern sci-fi city on both sides of the river, some of them from his hotel room, where he has hired a prostitute believing some sort of relationship can happen.  (He’s estranged from his wife, played by Rosamund Pike.)  Along the way, we see some real Chinese food porn, worthy of Anthony Bourdain (TV blog, Sept. 29, 2014).  But his misadventures lead to a confrontation with a biker in the poorer sections of Shanghai, again looking very realistic.
His next destination is a monastery in the Himalayas, filmed in India (and reminding one of a sequence near the end of the “Grand Budapest” movie). He’s shown taking a train, some of which could have included the high speed train from Beijing to Lhasa.  Then he moves on to the back country of South Africa, where he goes on safari and samples the low standard of living in the back country after meeting a White gay doctor (Barry Atsma) who runs a mission clinic (the movie was made before the Ebola crisis and there’s a scene that gently recalls Rocky Braat’s “Blood Brother”, Feb. 16, 2014 here).  But his street smarts are tested when he gets kidnapped by thugs and he talks them into releasing him.  Finally, he flies to LA, and samples the Santa Monica and Venice beaches.  And then back to London, his marriage, and his patients.
The official site is here from Relativity Media, with production resources from Canada (DGC), the UK and Germany, with the locations given above. 
I saw the film at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA before a fair weeknight audience.

Wikipedia attribution link for Shanghai picture.    

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Mix "Left Behind" with "Airport" and add Nicholas Cage (although I'll take Chad Michael Murray, even if God doesn't)

There’s a new “Left Behind” movie, with Nicholas Cage, whose energy for a remake is about like what he put in to “The Wicker Man”.  It is directed by V. Armstrong, and written by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim La Haye, only loosely based on the novels.  The 2000 film with Kirk Cameron was discussed here Jan. 24, 2011.  In fact, this movie seems like a merger with the old “Airport” franchise.
Cage plays an airline pilot Rayford Steele, with a religious wife (Lea Thompson) and energetic but secular-humanist daughter (Cassi Thomson).  Cage gets called in to fly to London the night of his daughter’s birthday.  The film spends at least thirty minutes in a verbose prologue, introducing a very likeable journalist, Buck Williams, played by Chad Michael Murray (“One Tree Hill”). 
After the flight takes off from JFK to London, the movie bifurcates, spinning a story in the airport cabin, while tracing the movements of his family members on Long Island.  There is some tension among the passengers, one a Muslim, another a dwarf, another grotesquely obese.  Buck seems to get first class and turns out to be the (non-believing) peacemaker.

There is a thud on the plane, and suddenly about a third of the passengers are gone, their clothes intact.  We don’t see them disappear.  The copilot disappears.  It’s a while before Steele knows that this is worldwide, and that this is indeed The Rapture of the Believers.
Like “The Remaining” (Sept. 24), the film shows the immediate aftermath of The Rapture, without much of a clue as to how society will settle out (in the series “The Leftovers”, it’s tree years later, and here there’s not enough time for a Guilty Remnant).  This one is different in that there are no corpses.  The theological point claimed is that God took away the Believers to protect them from the Tribulations, which will involve persecutions (like what happens now with ISIS in Syria and Iraq).  It’s a very group-centered (of family and tribe-centered) system that filters down to define personal morality necessary to survive and become relevant in such a world – and you wouldn’t want to be Left Behind after all.  Buck seems like a good enough person, and will have a lot to report on as a journalist.  Steele seems to get converted. 
The plot conclusion, where the daughter helps Steele crash land (after a mid-air collision) gets pretty silly.  Some of the scenery looks like the Rockaways. 

The official site is here for E-one and Freestyle Releasing.  I saw the film in a large Regal auditorium Tuesday afternoon with few spectators.