Monday, November 30, 2015

"3-1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets": HBO airs docudrama about Florida stand-your-ground case, over "loud music"

3-1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets”, directed by Marc Silver, reconstructs the circumstances and then the courtroom trial of the shooting of teenager Jordan Davis on Black Friday, November 23, 2012, outside a gas station in Jacksonville, FL, by Michael Dunn, 45, a software developer. The incident occurred when Dunn objected to loud rap music.  The details are on Wikipedia here.

The film reconstructs the courtroom trial (with many of the real people) and probably uses some real footage.  The courtroom drama gets into the Florida “stand your ground” law, which allows the use of a weapon when there is a “perceived threat” and removes the “duty to retreat”.

The jury hung on the first degree murder charge, but convicted Dunn of attempted second-degree murder for firing additional shots into the car at the other teens.  At a retrial on the first degree murder charge, Dunn was convicted.  During sentencing, Judge Healy told Dunn that his life was over.

Ironically, as the film is all shot on location, it makes Jacksonville look like a beautiful place.

The film won an award at Sundance for social impact.

HBO’s site for the film is here. The film (Candescent and Participant Media)  had a small theatrical release in July and first aired on HBO in late November and is available on HBO Go.
Picture: northern FL from a plane, my trip, July 2015.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Soaked in Bleach: docudrama recreates Tom Grant (private eye) investigation the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994

The docudrama “Soaked in Bleach” (2015), directed by Benjamin Statler, examines the death (at age 27) of Kurt Cobain, guitarist and rock singer and cofounder of Nirvana, through the eyes of private investigator Tom Grant, who had been hired by wife Courtney Love.

Grant makes it clear that as a private investigator (aka Magnum PI) his job is to find the truth, not necessarily to represent the adversarial interests of the party who hired him, should subsequent legal complications occur. Grant had been hired a few days before Cobain’s death when an electrician found him dead.  Cobain’s death had been ruled a suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but drugs were an issue (as they had been with an earlier “accidental” overdose and illness).

Tyler Brian plays Curt in the acted scenes (photographed in sepia), and Sarah Scott plays Courtney. Daniel Roebuck plays the earlier version of Tom Grant.  Ryan Aigner plays himself.  And Pat Asanti SGT, Kirkland.

According to Grant, there were many copycat suicides by young adults or teens after Cobain’s death.  There is a lot of attention to the writing style in the suicide note, and to the level of drugs in Cobain’s body, which might have made shooting himself impossible.  An FBI  profiler called this scenario a potential perfect crime, Hitchcock-like, that happens all the time. The film maintains that criminal investigation of the case should be re-opened, even after 20 years, and that Courtney had an enormous potential financial gain from his death compared to ending the marriage.

The official site is here (Daredevil films).  The aspect ratio is a generous 2.35:1.

The film can be viewed on Netflix or Amazon., or for $3.99 on YouTube.

Wikipedia attribution link of Seattle picture by Adbar, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike License.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"Drown": homophobic bullying in the Australian surf lifesaving set nearly leads to tragedy

Drown” (2015), by Dean Francis, is an intensive, and brief (96 minutes) sun-scorched Australian drama film about anti-gay bullying within the surf lifesaving competitions world, which probably most of us know little about.
Len (Matt Levett) is upended when newcomer Phil (Jack Matthews) wins a competition, and then is seen publicly showing “public displays of affection” with another man.  After an awards dinner, Len attacks Phil, who turns the other cheek.  When Phil wins still another competition, Len arranges a hazing party on the beach (with another companion) where Len contemplates how to “humiliate” Phil and starts to realize that he (Len) gets his own homoerotic pleasure from contemplating the abasement.  Then a concept from old pirate movies – burying the victim from the neck down and waiting for the tide, emerges, with nearly tragic results.

Much of the story is told in flashbacks, particularly of some disco dance scenes where the boundaries of attraction even for straight men seem to be explored.

The film doesn’t go into areas where the lifesaving might really be useful, for example, rescuing victims of shark bites or even box jellyfish attacks.
The official site is here.  It will have a theatrical release in Australia in early 2016, but Strand Releasing will make the film available on DVD om Dec. 15, 2015.
I reviewed the film from a Vimeo screener from Strand.

Friday, November 27, 2015

"Born This Way" documents severe anti-LGBT persecution in Cameroon

Born This Way” (2013) is a hard-hitting  documentary by Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann, concerning vitriolic discrimination against homosexual or LGBT persons in Cameroon (or Cameroun), a nation in West Africa adjacent to Nigeria.  Wikipedia has a factual summary of the situation here.

The documentary presents a number of young adults, particularly women.  In some communities, people do make other people’s “private lives” very much their business, and tend to create witch-hunts worse than anything in the US under McCarthyism.  The climate seems as bad as reported in Nigeria, Uganda, and (more recently) Russia.

Toward the end of the film, at a trial, the prosecutor makes a nonsensical equation of homosexuality with pedophilia.

But earlier,  defense attorney Alice Nkom tries to argue with a prosecutor who says something like, “how dare you put yourself above God and Jesus” and then invokes the Biblical command of “Be fruitful and multiply”.  So while on the surface the “homophobia” seems driven by the ideology of the Christian religious right (not by Islam here), the film also shows how people in economically poorer cultures place the future of the family or community above the individual, and see procreation as a  mandatory responsibility of everyone.  This gets to be morphed into an idea where some men believe they have the right to access to all women.

One gay man has moved several times, and reports getting handwritten notes, “You think you can run, we will find you.” Later the man talks, ironically, about the loss of family relationships.

And a lesbian has a counseling session with a Catholic nun who empathizes with her, but says that dealing with what society demands from her (babies) is still her responsibility.  But the nun does say that women should ever respond to provocations from men.

I wondered about the title of the film, because using it implies that discrimination or persecution for sexual orientation might be morally justifiable if it could be “chosen.”  Yet the young gay man says “You don’t choose it, it’s something within you,”  and “with women, it’s not me.”

The film shows a lot of the squalor in both Yaounde and Ambam. There is some oddly breathtaking tropical scenery along rural roads, leading to villages with low standards of living. Imagine the challenges for churches or non-profits wanting to send volunteers there.
In the closing credits, the film notes that Cedric and Gertrude live in the United States and won political asylum.  It mentions two more who are seeking asylum.

I reviewed the film from a 55-minute screener on Vimeo supplied to me by KCETLink in Burbank. CA.  IMDB lists the film as 82 minutes, so I am not sure if the entire film is now being shown or will be issued on DVD.  The film will be shown on Dec. 9  on Direct TV Channel 375 and Dish Network Channel 9410.  Again, I wish this were on normal cable or FIOS channels from Xfinity or Verizon FIOS. The film will be shown at the Los Angeles Public Library (“It’s Free”) on December 6 at the Mark Tapper Auditorium. The film does not seem to appear on Netflix or Amazon yet, but I hope it will soon.

The film was popular at Outfest.

The official Facebook site is here. The distributor seems to be “Everyone Matters”.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

"Mockingjay" has gotten pretty predictable and humdrum in Part 2 as the "Hunger Games" franchise ends, still making money

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 2” is a clumsy title for a film, since this was a “two part film” for Suzanne Collins’s third book in the “Hunger Games” series, just as the Harry Potter series ended with a two-part film.  And the material seems more routine now, something we expect from a cable miniseries. As with Part 1, Francis Lawrence directs.

It’s not surprising that Kaitniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her compadres (most of all, Peeta, Josh Hutcherson) bring down the fascist state run by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who by now must seem like a caricature of Vladimir Putin – except that he is old and feeble.  Panem, with its symmetrical concrete building courts, may echo a mixture of ancient Rome and North Korea.  The people have access to holographic 3-D television, but not much else: no social networks, no blogging, no smart phones, no self-expression.  So China may be a good model.  Well, not exactly, because some cities in China look really sharp. The post-apocalypse alternate world of this series has grown stale, and simply is not as interesting as what is shown in the Potter series, or, or course, Tolkien.
I would expect the four extra Dominions in Clive Barker’s Imajica, to become a TV series, to look interesting, in a way comparable to the planets of Dune or, for that matter, Star Wars.  That would make for a two-part film (comparable in length to the third novel of Hunger) if a company like Lionsgate or Summit wanted to do it. Some series do continue to work, even if this one got a bit worn out. Sequels (unfortunately) are seen as a risk-free way for studios to make profits.
A lot of the scenery in this last film is underground, in a “Metro” or subway, and there are even some mutants.  At the end, the rebels trick Snow, leveraging his power to assemble all the people in the City in one location.  (Imagine this being done even in any large city in China, let alone New York or London.)  That rendez-vous is a public square, not benign like Cleveland’s.

As usual, rebels can be as oppressive as the politicians they replace, and Julianne Moore’s character is ready to prove that.  Kaitniss provides a predictable answer.

The music score by James Newton Howard presents us with a complete 12-minute 3-movement symphony during the lengthy closing credits.  There is a lush slow first movement, a fierce scherzo (hinting at hip-hop, though tonal) and a quiet epilogue, with the music ending quietly on a dissonant minor chord, leaving some questions open.  The orchestral style resembles Eduard Tubin or (in the Epilogue) even Arnold Bax. As with the case of Hans Zimmer’s closing music for “Inception”, this music deserves to be played in a concert on its own terms.

The movie itself ends with a pastoral epilogue, restarting a family that includes the cat.  The film is apparently the last ever for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I saw the film at Bethesda Arc Light Thanksgiving Day, before a fair crowd (I had seen Part 1 there).

The official site from Lionsgate is here.

By the way, I’ve found a couple of YouTube trailers for a hypothetical film of Arthur C. Clare’s “Rendez-vous with Rama”.  Will Lionsgate or Summit really get around to doing this? The material fits this studio’s culture the closest of all major movie studios. People are making their own trailers because they want the film.  How about getting them together?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"The Pearl Button": tragic history of indigenous peoples in Chile placed in metaphor with how alien civilizations could treat us

The Pearl Button” (“El boton de nacar”), by Patricio Guzman, in 80 minutes of stunning scenery (deserving Imax 3-D) is a metaphor, connecting the evolution of life (as having come from space), to conquest and oppression within this planet’s peoples.

The film starts with a closeup of quartz from the Atacama Desert in Chile, noting water was found within it, despite having been found in the driest place on Earth.  The mineral is believed to have come from space, and the Guzman writes that our life was seeded from space. At many points, Guzman shows us the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, along with various space photos, including a quasar that contains billions as much water as Earth, and an artists rendition of a habitable planet around one of the Gliese red dwarf stars, speculating that for the “strong” to conquer the “weak” is the tragic norm for behavior in the universe.

Guzman maps to his cosmology an essay of the tragic history of the indigenous peoples in Chile, particularly Patagonia, again presented as almost an alien landscape.  The peoples had experienced their culture, very strange to us, for millennia, until the Spaniards came, and then the British.  Some tribes were herded into reservations, like on Dawson Island, and “civilized”, only to die of European diseases (probably smallpox) against which they had never built up immunity.  This history, like North America, is what gives Stephen Hawking reason to believe a visit from aliens might not turn out well for us – and it also provides another example of low-tech biological warfare and extermination. One particular native, Jemmy Button (wiki) was taken to Britain and given the chance to become a gentleman, of sorts, for the price of a pearl button, and then returned to Patagonia, a ruined man.

Later, the pattern of exploitation continued, with Allende around 1979, with various kinds of torture and exterminations. The film gives a narrative of the discovery of a woman’s body when it washed back to shore. (A pearl button is found on the remains of another.)  Commentary by at least one man interviewed said that this sort of murder, where the remains of the person are removed so that the person’s individual life can never be remembered, presents an unusual moral challenge to everyone that must be borne collectively by a whole family or community.

 The movie sounds timely today given the brutality of ISIS, but tends to show that there are many similar example of slaughtering to power in history.

The narrative tone of the film reminds one of Werner Herzog’s films. The style of Peter Weir ("The Last Wave", 1977, about aborigine culture in Australia) comes to mind.

The official site is here from Kino Lorber.  The film was shot in Chile but the post-production and financing is from France. The film is in Spanish and in native languages (for interviews) with subtitles.

I saw the film at the Landmark West End in Washington DC before a fair weekday audience.

Wikipedia Commons attribution link for first image:  ALMA Prototype-Antennas at the ALMA Test Facility" by ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) - ESO. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Other picture: near the West End Cinema.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Brooklyn": sweet romantic story about an Irish immigrant girl in the 50s is popular with the public

Brooklyn” (directed by John Crowley) is a sweet period romance based on the novel by Colm Toibin.  “Summer of ‘42” flashed into my mind, but this little story seems to start right when people were settling down to post-war life.

I remember my earliest trips to New York as a kid.  Back in the early 50s (the time of Bobby Thompson’s home run), traffic lights didn’t have amber (the movie misses that detail).   Trains were everywhere. You could take the B&O to Jersey City (from Washington) on a stream engine as well as the regular Pennsylvania (electric).  I have some fond memories of fascination with the Long Island Rail Road and the idea of self-propelled passenger cars.  And both Ebbets Field and Polo Grounds hosted baseball, as well as Yankee Stadium.  I wasn't that ware then of Brooklyn's identity as NYC's most populous borough, as almost a separate city.

My mother’s side of the family has some ties to Northern Ireland, with no interest in the religious politics of the past.  So this film matched my earliest childhood chronologically.

It starts in Eire, or Ireland, where Ellis (Saoirse Ronan), a tad homely, deals with the slow (now 1952) recovery of postwar life, with the ending of ration books.  Soon she gets the chance to sail to the US to live with distant family in Brooklyn, with an entry-level job.  The voyage itself was almost like a military indoctrination, to bossy roommates and to seasickness.  The family wonders how she can leave caring for mom to her sister.

Life even in a group home in Brooklyn (and we don’t see that much of the borough) was socially controlled and regimented.  At work, she first works in retail and is told she must make customers feel welcome (not merely try to do it).  But a generous priest finances her into accounting school at night, and we learn of her slightly Asperger-like fascination with numbers and tabulators (later to become computers).  Still, she falls in love with a young man Tony (Emory Cohen) from an Italian family, who wants to start a home construction business on Long Island, whose suburbs are beginning to boom.

When her sister dies suddenly, leaving her mom alone back in Ireland, she has to return, resolve her homesickness, and fight off a competitive suitor.  But she has already decided on her future life, somewhat secretly.

The official site is here  (Fox Searchlight).

 I saw the film at the newly remodeled AMC Shirlington in Arlington before a fair crowd for a Monday night.   The film looks right in the 1.85:1 format because there isn’t a lot of attention to physical settings (other than on the Irish beach scenes). The theater has some unexpected issues with noise from nearby auditoriums.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Victoria": in Hitchcock-style continuous-take thriller from Germany, a female pianist sinks into a criminal mess after a (heterosexual) flirt in a (gay) bar

Victoria”, directed by Sebastian Schipper based on a story he wrote with Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eile Frederik-Schultz, kept me glue to the screen in morbid fascination, identifying with a female protagonist from Spain (Laia Costa) whose life goes into a spiral over three hours after wee-morning hours flirt in a bar.

The film is noteworthy because it is shot as one continuous take (like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope”), this time for 130 minutes, Cinemascope.  The continuous shooting does not allow the camera to adjust to different background depths, to the Berlin streets in the background often look out of focus in the dawn light. A standard aspect ratio actually would have been more appropriate, with even more attention to close-ups – Hitchcock again, because this is definitely a “Hitchcock genre” film.  The shooting script is reported to have only skeleton dialogue, as actors improvised in some scenes (especially Victoria herself).
The film opens in a disco, with the dance floor fogged over, a common bar practice to provide some illusion of privacy and reduce the possible effects of voyeuristic photography by gawkers on the edges.  There is some dirty dancing among men, so this may be a gay or mixed bar.  (I wondered if it could be the Connection Disco, which I visited in 1999, having a horrific little museum downstairs.)

 I wondered if there were after hours, or what the closing times would be in Europe.  Nevertheless, straight people come in (even sometimes using homophobic language), and one of these is Victoria.

 Now, I have a little problem with the premise that she has moved and is running a shop without speaking German.  Much of the film turns out to be in English (which disqualified it from some awards at the Berlin festival).  Sometimes there are no subtitles, and you have the feeling that German and English are so much alike that they are almost interchangeable (that’s even more true of English and Dutch).  However, language would be more an issue for a romance-language speaker.

Victoria flirts with Sonne (Frederick Lau), who seems to have a few buddies, like Boxer, Blinker, and Fuss.  Sonne brags that he is going to buy and run the bar.  She follows them outside and isn’t put off when they fake at stealing a car.  She invites him back to her pad and tells her backstory, of having wanted to be a concert pianist, and plays a portion of the Liszt Mephisto Waltz.  And she is really good (the piano music seems superimposed, despite the continuous take).

And she is pleasant and off-the-wall, and non-judgmental.  She seems unphased as she realizes they have a plan and appointment for a pre-dawn bank robbery.  All this for love.   The criminals seem to rationalize their behavior as revolutionary and inevitable because of the gap between rich and poor, and even talk about how you can get “less time” if you get caught.  The welfare state doesn’t stop crime.

Needless to say, given the wat the world is now , she could have walked into much worse – like a terror plot (most of the actors in the recent attacks in France and found in raids in France and Belgium seem to be nationals and white).  No telling where this activity from common European street criminals could go – not only shootings but maybe WMD’s.  The movie is accidentally timely for this reason.  She isn’t exactly like Patty Hearst, as she wasn’t taken, but she quickly takes on Stockholm-syndrome behaviors.  The robbery goes very wrong and the cops come and the shootouts happen.  She and Sonne wind up doing a home invasion in a nearby apartment and kidnapping a baby as cover, while Victoria pleads with the young mother that she isn’t a bad person, just someone who made one mistake. She suddenly seems very afraid of the unthinkable  prospect of prison.  It’s interesting that Sonne keeps going, our not realizing he is mortally shot, until they’re in the Westin.  And at the very end, she may get away with the money (to raise a baby), but she could hardly walk the streets long and not get caught.  Could she get the money back across to Spain and not attract attention.  Probably not any more.

There was one bald character who seemed to change appearance – chest hair and a buzz cut in later scenes, but none earlier in the bar – not possible with a continuous take.  Or were there two similar skinhead characters?

I guess the moral of the story is, straight women need to be careful about the men they pick up in gay bars.

The official site is here from Adopt Film, which specializes in European foreign language thrillers.  Production companies included MonkeyBoy and RadicalFilm.

I saw this before a light crowd at Landmark’s Bethesda Row late Sunday night (second week).  The theater is easier to get to now as all the construction nearby on Woodmont is completed and all streets are open.

The film has no connection to the 1982 MGM comedy “Victor Victoria” from Blake Edwards with Julie Andrews and James Garner, and a rat that spoils a meal at a Paris restaurant.

Picture: Artwork from South Africa near Bethesda parking garage.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Free Birds": animated film does for turkeys what "Babe" did for piglets

On Saturday night, November 21, NBC, instead of its usual Saturday night mystery on Dateline, aired a 3-D “kids’ movie”, “Free Birds”, an animated animal buddy 2013 movie from director Jimmy Hayward, and Relativity Media (that is, “I am Rogue”).   (How many of us find it practical to have 3-D TV at home?)

The premise of the film is that two turkeys travel back in time to Plymouth to prevent the settlers or Pilgrims from having turkey for their first Thanksgiving, and change history, for all future generations of turkeys.

But there is a social layering, too.  Reggie (Owen Wilson) is a domesticated turkey who gets pardoned by the President at Camp David, but is bullied by his peers as a coward.  He’s kidnapped by a wild turkey Jake (Woody Harrelson) who takes him to a time machine and journey back to 1621.

 The time machine is called “STEVE” (George Takei) as if to refer to the founder of Apple.

The best animation is probably the material showing the Massachusetts coastal settlement in the 1620s.  It looks pretty real.  There are other interesting scenes, such as when domestic turkeys are urged to eat their food and get fattened up, recalling similar scenes in the 1995 Australian film “Babe” about a piglet.

The poultry industry is not pretty. And poultry processing can be a brutal, dangerous place for hourly (usually non-union) workers, mostly in the South. And we depend on them.

The title of the film recalled to me Reid Ewing’s short,  “Free Fish,” except that here the word “free” means what it says, not “without cost”.  I'm also reminded if the libertarianesque "Happy Feet" franchise.

The official site is here

The film can be rented on YouTube for $2.99.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"Secret in Their Eyes": police mystery based on a terror suspect, with a backstory and rather transparent plot twist

Secret in Their Eyes”, directed and written by Billy Ray (who had written “Captain Phillips” and “Hunger Games”) is a remake of a 2009 Argentine film “El secreto de sus ojos” by Juan Jose Campanella, in turn based on the Argentine novel “La pregunta de sus ojos” (“The Question in their Eyes”) by Eduardo Sacheri.

The backstory begins in 2002 in Los Angeles, when the daughter of FBI Agent Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts) is brutally murdered. Fellow agent Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and DA Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) have to deal with the fact that the main suspect Marzin (Joe Cole) was an anti-terrorism informant in the post 9-11 world (Alfred Molina plays another DA who won’t budge). In 2015, Ray returns, supposedly with a new lead, and Jess is cool about it.  But there is indeed a twisted ending, where Jess took the law into her own hand.

The presentation of the story is interesting. It’s often hard to distinguish between present day and 2002, except by slight aging of the characters (some gray in Ray’s beard), and by faithfulness to the appearance of office PC's and cell phones in 2002.  There are a couple of interesting sequences, one at a racetrack, and a backstory sequence at Dodger Stadium during a baseball game.  The movie has a backstory subplot involving a bar near the stadium and the history of the Dodger’s move to LA (from Brooklyn) in 1958 (they played in the oddly-configured Coliseum until 1962).

The script does play up the public concern about possible WMD attacks in LA in 2002.  It also presents the suspect as talented in drawing comics, however violent -- with characters that might present steganographic clues for future crimes.  There's a mid-film confrontation with the suspect conducted by the FBI agents that gets quite graphic as to language.

The official site is here (STX).

I saw the film before a light Saturday afternoon crowd at Angelia Mosaic in Fairfax VA.  The film was shot on location in LA, but used post-production facilities in both London and Mexico City. The concept of the film reminds me vaguely of "Vanilla Sky" (2001) and "Open Your Eyes" ("Abre los ojos", 1997).  Spain and South America seem to contribute a lot of these plot threads.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"By the Sea": This is what Brad and Angelina came up with?

So a husband-wife team puts out its best on it:  “By the Sea”, written and directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt with hubbie Brad Pitt. And it’s a little interesting that Angelina comes up with a tale of a troubled marriage of two privileged people.  This can’t be real, can it?

 Brad plays Roland, a novelist with one successful book and now writer’s block.  Since this is the early 1970s, he still works on a manual typewriter. Angelina plays Vanessa, a former dancer, without a whole lot of mystery or backstory or identity of her own.  They rent a palatial hotel room on the French Gold Coast (actually filmed in Malta).  Next door is another shaky couple, Francois and Lea (Melvil Poupard ad Melanie Laurent), and a key peephole between the two suites for convenient spying. Pitt is now 52 but looks much younger.  This is one of those movies where grown men lounge around with open shirts but almost no chest hair.

So you expect something like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” combined with “Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice”.  That’s more or less what you get.  Is this about jealousy, or just voyeurism?  It shifts back and forth.  But it seems like there is nothing more mysterious in the backstories than women unable to make babies with their husbands.

I thought, I went through my own tribulations during college years (the William and Mary Expulsion) because I essentially announced I would never be capable of the kind of procreative passion attempted in the movie.  Once my life cycled far enough to create some moral irony, as with my getting drafted and “serving without serving” in the Army anyway, I wrote it up, by hand, and then typed it – becoming a 1972 novel manuscript “The Proles”.  Roland writes up the fall’s experiences as his second novel – like me, using his own narrative, because he’s engaged in it, but not so much in the lives of other people.

Now Roland’s behavior gets ragged enough, with the drinking at a local tavern, enough to vomit when he gets back “home”, just before marital sex.

I saw the film at the remodeled AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA, which has just re-opened.  I saw it in a larger auditorium, not selling well (I couldn’t get into “Brooklyn”).  The theater no longer opens curtains to enlarge the screen for cinemascope, which is instead created with vertical cropping.  The photography seemed to lack definition and focus, and contrast, at least in the projection in this theater.

Another note on Brad Pitt, for "To Whom It May Concern" (and "You Know Who You Are").  Brad Pitt may be OK, but I've never revered him as a "god" because of his looks.  Even for his performance in "Babel".  It's true, conservative writer David Skinner lauded Brad in mock in a June 1999 issue of The Weekly Standard, "Notes on the Hairless Man", still online, here. All we know is what Agelina Jolie Pitt likes.

The official site is here. The film is released under Universal’s brand (but with an older trade dress for the world globe), although it is arthouse stuff, so I’m surprised that Focus isn’t the distributor.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Results": stylistic romantic comedy about the fitness world in Texas

Results” (directed and written by Andrew Bujalski) is a genre romantic comedy, with some silly characters and dialogue, centered around the personal fitness business in Texas.   But some people with too much money really are that silly.  And the film did relatively well at Sundance and SXSW in 2015.

Danny (Kevin Corrigan) is an ungainly rich man looking for some superficial self-improvement. He really hasn't figured out what to do with his money, which he doesn't seemed to have earned by his own labor.  He walks into a fitness club in Austin, TX.  He winds up in a strange romantic battle with the club’s owner Trevor (Guy Pearce) and the top trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders), with their lives uncoiling around one another.

The early scenes make a lot of the pretense of discipline imposed on customers.  There’s a military-style pushup class going on when Danny walks in. Soon, Kat is asking Danny to email her selfies showing her everything he puts in his fat little body. It’s that intrusive.

There is a conversation where Kat asks how Danny got rich.  “Did you invent a website or something like that?   On, your wife did.”  Another little oddity is that this fictitious health spa in Austin takes cash and PayPal but apparently not credit cards. I've actually seen a couple non-profits do that.
The film does a little road trip to west Texas toward the end.  I thought about the 80s dramedy “Waltz Across Texas”.

The characters tend to hide their past divorces and offspring.

The official site is here (Magnolia Pictures).

The DVD has a short “Getting Results with Shecky and Raymond”, with a most centralizing feline.  The interviews are quite lengthy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Where Was God?" Christian film gives testimonials from survivors of the 2013 Moore, OK tornado, but doesn't say why they weren't better prepared

Where Was God? Stories of Hope After the Storm”, directed by Travis Palmer, presents testimonials of Moore, Oklahoma residents who survive the EF-5 tornado on May 20, 2013., with maximum winds of 210 mph. A tornado slightly to the north along I-40 about ten days later may have reached 300 mph.

The film does show the storm in progress, even from inside one or two homes as it approached.

There is a great deal of attention to the destruction of an elementary school, and how teachers risked themselves to throw themselves over students.  (Thankfully, I was never put in the position of physically protecting students when I worked as a substitute teacher, although discipline became an issue sometimes.)  Likewise, there were plenty of tales of radical hospitality, as some young men go door-to-door looking for linens for now homeless kids.

As the film progresses, it gets into the area of intense faith, with people who live with more risk that I am used to.  But I wondered, what about the lack of storm shelters?  Why wasn’t the school evacuated, since there were plenty of warnings.  Did the school have an adequate storm shelter? I also wondered if the people had adequate homeowner’s insurance.  Did the system really work for them?

 The film seemed largely unconcerned about that. It does cover the fact that a generous company helped clear the land of the leveled homes, saving the homeowners about $4000 a piece.

The film also did not cover how far the rebuilding has gone. (The TV blog covers an “Extreme Makeover” episode of rebuilding Joplin MO on January 13, 2012, and Greensburg, KS April 25, 2009.)

National Geographic has a stunning article by Simon Worrall asking why Moore wasn’t better prepared, link here. Moore is directly south of Oklahoma City on I-35, and in one of the most tornado-prone spots in the nation.
I do live in an area less susceptible to extreme weather events than most, but global warming could change that.  And the mid-Atlantic can have big tornadoes (most recently in 2001 in College Park, MD and 2002 in La Plata, MD).   The East Coast could even sustain a tsunami from the Canary Islands (if a particular volcano collapses).  Anyone can suddenly become homeless and have to deal with a shelter if the immediate circumstances are dire enough, whether because of nature or an enemy (the latter is getting a lot of attention lately).

The official site is here (Behold Motion Pictures).

The film is available on Netflix Instant Play.
I do have pictures of Tuscaloosa, AL today, after a 2011 tornado, and Tupelo, MS, shortly after the 2014 tornado.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"My All American": the football career of Texas Longhorn player Freddie Steinmark, who died of bone cancer at age 22

My All American” (2015), directed by Angelo Pizzo, is a straightforward and moving biography of Texas Longhorns college football player Freddie Joe Steinmark (Finn Wittrock, very much a look-alike).  It is based on the book by Jim Dent “Freddie Steinmark: Faith, Family and Football”, published in 2015 by the University of Texas Press.
The film is framed as backstory of a 2010 interview at UT in Austin;  and the backstory ends when Freddie, one leg suddenly amputated at the hip when osteogenic sarcoma was found in his left femur, walks out into the Cotton Bowl on New Years’ Day 1970, a few days after he had played as a safety in the “game of the century” where Texas defeated Arkansas 15-14, Dec. 6, 1969.  Freddie had been limping with knee pain but playing anyway.  He had been taken out during the game when he had incurred a holding penalty, but contributed a key defensive play at the end of the game (in front of President Nixon).
I recall hearing people talk about Steinmark at work during my first job at RCA in 1970.  Steinmark would die in June 1971, at age 22, as his cancer is one of the most aggressive of pediatric tumors (although today modern chemotherapy has improved survival and amputation is no longer always done).  His story inspired Nixon’s support for a War on Cancer bill in 1971.

Steinmark was smaller than average for a football player, but his Catholic family (especially father, who had a baseball career precluded by a bad knee injury) near Denver pushed him into sport early.  He had wanted to play for Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish, but got a scholarship at the University of Texas and was viewed as unusually gifted in making the right movements for a defensive safety.  His roommate would lose a brother to the War in Vietnam, which informs the viewer of the moral politics of the time (as it also shows one scene with an anti-war demonstration).

In the film, Steinmark is shown as baby-faced and smooth-skinned, and mysteriously the same transformation (“thmooth”) applies also to Aaron Eckhart, whose appearance is a little shocking.

The early parts of the film do communicate a time (the 1950s) and Spartan mentality where boys and young men were expected to prove they were fit to join in collective pursuits to protect women and children by playing football, as a paradigm for battle.  It did not matter than boys got hurt or had concussions.

The official site is here (Clarius and Anthem). 

I saw the film at a late afternoon performance at Regal Potomac Yard in Alexandria, and was the only person in the audience, a show just for me (and just $5 Tuesday pricing for seniors).  Picture: Austin TX, my trip, Nov. 2011.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"The 33": Mine survival disaster drama in Chile in 2010, overshadowed by spectacular Atacama scenery outside

"The 33: The World Was Watching" (or "Los 33") is a survival drama, directed by Patricia Riggen, about the miners trapped for over 60 days in 2010 in a mine in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
The narrative is relatively simple.  At first, the government is unwilling to get involved, and the mining company seems willing to walk away from its obligations.  In fact, the film says at the end that the miners were never given special compensation.  A kind-hearted mining official (Rodrigo Santaro) convinces everyone to try and when the first drilling attempt fails he convinces his boss (Antonio Banderas) to “aim to miss”.  At about 15 days, the drill has broken through and can send supplies down to miners.  But it takes three countries and almost 50 more days to build a shaft and elevator that can bring the miners out. The film generates some real suspense toward the end, as the first miner (a new dad) comes up.

The music score was composed by the late James Horner, and is not particularly effective (although there is a scene quoting Bellini).  The film shows some incidents among the miners, but does not generate the tension and interest that larger films (“Titanic”) can.  Some of the problem comes from filming widescreen in a confined space (as with the beginning of “Room”, Nov. 3).  The film also included news clips from Brian Williams and Anderson Cooper.

The “indoor” scenes seem to have been filmed inside salt mines in Nemocon, Colombia, but the aerial shots, especially at the opening, show stunning vistas of the Atacama (and around Copiapo), one of the driest areas on earth.

The official site is here (Warner Brothers, Alcon, and Phoenix Pictures).

Wikipedia attribution link for photo of mine in Atacama by Tennen-Gas, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike.

I labeled the film under "coal mine issues" available on my blog, but I believe this was actually a copper mine. We can ponder the moral legitimacy of depending on the labor of people who work this way.

The film reminds me of a 1989 TV film "Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure", about saving an infant who had fallen into an oil well shaft in Midland, TX in 1987.  I was on vacation in Utah and watched some of the rescue on television in a motel room. The film showed the new technology of waterjet cutting.  There is a scene where the rescuers have to accept the idea of injuring her more (which they can fix surgically) to get her out at all.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Trumbo" made screenwriting a real family business, to fight the Blacklist

The biographical drama “Trumbo”, directed by Jay Roach, based on the book by Bruce Cook, is a live-action version of the 2009 “American Masters” documentary by Peter Askin, reviewed here Sept. 2, 2009.

Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was the most famous Hollywood screenwriter affected by the anti-Communist blacklist that developed after the “Hollywood 10” were grilled by the House Un-American Activities Committee and jailed for “contempt of Congress”, in the post World War II Red Scare that became McCarthyism (like the film “Tall Gunner Joe”, by Jud Taylor, 1977).

The film says that Trumbo had joined the Communist Party during the Depression, and believed this was OK because the US and Soviet Union had been allies against Nazi Germany, until the politics suddenly changed after the War ended. There is a line early  (right after the fibbies visit his ranch and subpoena him)  where Trumbo tells his daughter (Meghan Wolfe) that communism is nothing more than a kind of personalized radical hospitality.

What seems remarkable is how easily the public was manipulated by propaganda, which included hacks and columnists in Hollywood like Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) who, in this gatekeeper-controlled pre-Internet world, flaunts her power to destroy people in her writings.
The lawyers had expected to get him off with the Supreme Court, which is scuttled when a liberal justice dies.  In prison, he experiences being a prole.  There is talk in the film about being both rich and leftist at the same time.

After he gets out, he uses the underground black-market to get working again, writing hack B-movie scripts for Frank King (John Goodman). Screenwriting and storytelling, on a manual typewriter even used from a bathtub with scissors and tape, becomes a real “job skill”, like programming, rather than something that is “creative” as I would understand it.  He doesn’t tell his own story (like I do).  He writes what others want.  The National Writers Union would applaud.

Finally, Otto Preminger (Christian Berket, “Exodus”) and Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman, “Spartacus”) are so impressed that they break the Blacklist and use his name.  (His “Roman Holiday” has already won Oscars secretly.)  I recall that “Spartacus” has a marginally homoerotic scene at the end. Hollywood spectacles in the 1950s, augmented by Cinemascope, accounted for a lot of chest shaving. Little did I . know as a kid.

When Trumbo accepts an Oscar at the end, he notes that McCarthyism was a systemic societal problem, not any one person’s fault.  People reacted to media the way they thought they had do, based on their own circumstances and personal life narratives.  Is that how I should react to my November 1961 from William and Mary for admitting “latent homosexuality”?
Trumbo would live to age 70, but his wife Cleo (Diana Lane) would make it to 94 and accept many more posthumous awards.

The official site is here  (Bleecker Street, a company named after a street in the West Village that houses Le Poisson Rouge, one of my favorite venues).

I saw this film (124 minutes) later Friday afternoon, Nov. 13, at Angelika Mosaic.  Just before the show started, a tweet about the Paris attacks popped up on my cellphone, before silencing it.  As I left  2-1/2 hours later, the public seemed unaware of what was going on in the news overseas. France had just had its second 9/11. If the world ends, many of us are too sinful to notice.

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Spotlight": how the Boston Globe dug out the Catholic priests' abuse scandal in 2001

At the Boston Globe, and maybe most newspapers, a “Spotlight” was a long-term investigative reporting project requiring much effort and risk in news gathering (especially interviewing) before a sensational story went to press.

So it was at this paper, even after acquisition by the New York Times, as it sought to keep its own local New England identity.  There’s even a scene at Fenway Park in this movie directed by Tom McCarthy (written with Josh Singer), but the Green Monster somehow doesn’t get shown (it should have been).

The 1976 prologue seemed unnecessary to me, but as the main story opens in mid 2001, the staff (the most conspicuous reporter is the agile crewcut Mike Rezendez (Mark Ruffalo), apparently in late bachelorhood in a small expensive apartment in Back Bay.  A new senior editor Marty Baron (Live Schreiber), having worked in Miami,  arrives, and the staff (including Walter, played by Michael Keaton and Sacha, played by Rachel McAdams) is worried about cuts and layoffs.  Already, conventional newspapers are feeling the competitive pressure of “it’s free” on the Internet, even from writers like me (and in 2001, I was actually attracting a lot of visitors with my own low-tech operation).  Marty is at first ambiguous, and wonders how the newspaper can dedicate so many man-hours to a “spotlight” before it produces results.  But when he learns that the group wants to investigate the apparent cover-up of sexual abuse of minors (mostly not always boys) by Catholic priests  by the local diocese and the entire Catholic church up to the Vatican, he’s “in” and even pushes the project.

The film, shot in ordinary aspect with a lot of close-ups and indoor newsrooms (set up on Toronto, but with a lot of location neighborhood shots in Boston) is quite talky, without a lot of personal motion.  It seems like it could be a stage play.  The legal maneuvers, concerning whether the newspaper is really suing the church, or what paper files really are public records (in a day before it was common to post them online) get a little hard to follow.  But eventually the news team finds that close to 100 priests in Boston were involved, and that the problem is worldwide.  The story breaks on January 6, 2002.  The film has a brief hiatus to show the 9/11 attacks on a television.  (As a historical fact, there was a major arrest in a hotel in downtown Boston on 9/12/2001, shown on CNN, but since forgotten .)

The film does mention the issue concerning the requirement that priests be celibate as contributing the the likelihood of abuse.  The Vatican (pre-Francis) is so prone to moralizing about "openness to procreation" and (in the past) to calling homosexuality an objective disorder, and yet look at what it has to deal with.  The film explains how unethical priests use the power of religion or "faith" to groom minors, who have no chance of understanding what is going on until at least the early teen years.  The film also notes the Globe's initial resistance to the story because so much of Boston's readership is Catholic (and so loyal to the Pope, for example), a barrier that Baron helped overcome despite his initial concern for the bottom line. Baron also pushes the idea that the journalists have to get everything exactly right before going to press.
The film shows cell phone and Internet (mostly PC) technology as it really looked in 2001.

The official site is here (Open Road, and Participant Media) and encourages the visitor to uncover the scandal for herself.  The filmmakers express an interest in continuing to explore controversial issues.

I saw the film as one of two sneaks Thursday at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA, the later show, not that well attended, but I’m told the 7 PM sold out.  The film is getting Oscar buzz.

First picture: My visit to Boston, Aug, 2015, at night.  I did drive the Big Dig.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"To Live": epic film in 1994 by Zhang Yimou shows Moaist ideology unfold with depiction of the Great Leap Forward and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

To Live” (1994, “Huozhe” or "Lifetimes") is an epic film directed by Zhang Yimou, based on the 1993 novel by Yu Hua. It is one of the most hardhitting films ever on presenting the soul of hyper-communist ideology, as a system of personal morality that is inherited from the common good.  I could mention a North Korean film “The Flower Girl”, a repetitious screed and dirge that I saw at Washington Square Methodist Church in Greenwich Village in 1974, shortly after moving into the city, about children who sacrifice to get medicine for their mother.  No, this film has real drama, on it its own terms.

The protagonist is Xu Fugui (Ge You), a rich man’s son (the character name means literally “Lucky and rich”)  who eventually marries Xu Jiazhen (Li Gong).  The story starts in the 1940s, right after Japan leaves, where Fugui loses his “immorally inherited wealth” to compulsive gambling.  The movie goes through the “Great Leap Forward” in 1958 and finally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.  Early in the film, Fugui gets kidnapped and conscripted into a troupe that does a bizarre puppet show, that is later found to be counterrevolutionary. There are many pedestrian scenes that seem laughable to some western audiences, such as when one of his kids spits hot chili sauce into another kid’s eyes.  There are scenes that make much of the activities of daily life in the country.  Some viewers will enjoy the “parts unknown” look of the food. No wonder my father used to preach about "learning to work" and "formation of proper habits".

A harrowing hospital childbirth sequence near the end shows the failure if medicine in Maoist China,

In the early 1970s, there were plenty of left-wing elements in the US that subscribed to Maoist ideology, claiming that Soviet communism wasn’t true communism because it allowed too much privilege.  I can remember a candidate from the People’s Party of New Jersey saying that back in 1972.   The “” site lists the original “Sixteen Points” of 1966, here.

The music score contains native Chinese music, some of which ends up in the triumphal close of Puccini’s “Turandot”.

The film was briefly released by Samuel Goldwyn and is in the MGM DVD catalogue (from Netflix). I think I saw this at the Shirlington Theater in Arlington VA in the middle 1990s but rented it again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Spectre": Indeed, the writing is on the wall for the world's intelligence services

Spectre,” the very latest of MGM’s James Bond 007 franchise and directed by Sam Mendes, seems to take us back to the premise of the first film, “Dr. No”, and even the Three Blind Mice.  Well, this time, the theme song is “Writing’s on the Wall”.

I can recall the fascination with the early Ian Fleming novels, once reading one on a bus to Pittsburgh to visit a fellow grad student around 1966, and seeing that first movie in the Arcade in Cleveland.  At the time, SMERSH was the KGB, but popular lore had it that the group was just about being bad for its own sake, and in that first film, terrible things were done to Bond in “No’s” lair.  Now, Spectre is the ultimate terrorist organization, that seems to transcend ideology (even radical Islam) for its own sake.

British secret service is about to disband 007 as the movie starts, after a spectacular prologue in smoggy Mexico City.  In fact, I spent Labor Day weekend there in 1974, just after starting a new job with NBC in New York, and preparing to move into the City, to find myself.  I watched an inauguration, and stood in front of the government buildings in the movie.

Bond – an overpolished Daniel Craig – goes against his boss and recruits "Q"   to his own cause.  Now "Q" is (as in Skyfall) played by Ben Whishaw, the ultimate ethical hacker and super geek, with a certain physicality nonetheless, through all the natty dressing. He looks and acts like a cross between pianist-composer Timo Andres and post-teen nuclear scientist Taylor Wilson (it is that sort of person that the movie wants to present), and is, after Bond himself, the hero at the end..  And throw in the teen medical researcher Jack Andraka, too, who wants to inject nanobots into all of us so we can catch cancers early and treat them painlessly.  Here, "Q" injects the nanobots into Bond’s forearm, rather like an early flu shot based on “chicken man”.  But the nanobots allow "Q" to track Bond around the world.  (They can also track medical vital signs – and remember the series “Jake 2.0” on UPN).  "Q" says he has two cats to support (not dogs, or human or cetacean children).  "M" is played by an aging Ralph Fiennes (and Judy Dench makes a cameo video.)

Bond hustles to Rome and encounters the fascist group in a bizarre meeting in an old Catholic building.  A care chase ensues.  Then he picks up Madeleine Swann (as if named after the character in “Vertigo”, lyed by Lea Seydoux) on a mountaintop in Austria, and learns of her connection to his own “adoptive” parents which leads in turn to the point of Spectre (with its octopus symbol) is to hack any government and attack any city to force all the world’s intelligence agencies to pay it ransom.  The villain Blofeld is played by Christof Walz, whose legs are balding but not a cause for shame.  Blofeld is pretty much a caricature of Vladimir Putin. His nerve center is in a lonely spot in the mountains of Morocco, south of Tangier.  The movie indeed gives us a feel of “Parts Unknown” without Anthony Bourdain to sample the food.

There’s a curious line where Bond comments on voyeurs who really don’t step up and get involved in things in life themselves.

Official site is here. Curiously, the end credits mentioned that some filming was done in Syria (as well as Morocco).  I don't see how this was possible given what is going on.
I saw the film in Imax at AMC Tysons Corner before a relatively small weekday audience.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Mexico City government buildings, by Mannheim Reinhard Jahn (Germnay), under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Concert in Greenwich Village offers mini-short film festival, some middle Eastern culture

Le Poisson Rouge, on Bleecker Street, hosted a concert by the Composers’ Concordance as part of the Eclectic Virtuosi Series.  The presentation include a mini-film-festival, of three short films shot to music that had already been composed.   The nearly sold-out audience Sunday evening had a significant international and midEast component given the politically sensitive films shown.

Solo violinist Tim Fain led the concert and performed live in all films.

The most important film was “Beirut Is a House of Many Rooms” (21 min, official site), directed by Mary Harron and John C. Walsh, featuring Hadi Eldebek-oud,  soundtrack mastered by Sheldon Steiger, music by Randall Woolf.

I don’t recall seeing the streets of Beirut, with also vivid aerial shots of the coast, in a film before. It needs to be seen in a large theater.

Hadi’s main thought was, when you return home, it isn’t the same. Hadi was present for the showing (seated at the next table and I met him) but chose not to come on stage for public recognation.

There is no YouTube for the film, but there is a 1972 British Pathe video "Beirut Scenes" with no sound.

In the new film, Hadi says that the religious and sectarian violence will never destroy the city.

One could compare the film to "Incendies", reviewed here May 5, 2011.

The first film was “Al’ Airi Lepo Svirie” ("But Aari Is Nice") Serbian, 10 min), directed by Carmen Kordas, music by Milica Paranosic.  There were many abstract Islam-related images, including shawls, and a fence enclosing people.

The second film was “Natural” by Gene Pritsker. This consisted of footage in eastern woodlands (a bit overexposed).  There is no relation to Barry Levinson's 1984 baseball film "The Natural" with Robert Redford. .

Tim Fain has a short film on YouTube “Resonance: A Jump VR Video", produced as an example of a new Google “Virtual Reality” series. My "drama and music" blog has a coordinated post today wth a link to his site which offers a purchase option to get the full experience.

I’ll mention that the new World Trade Center observation deck has a short film “See Forever” that you watch before going onto the deck. You have to pay separate to rent the telescopic viewers.

You also have to pay for a selfie to be taken.  

Sunday, November 08, 2015

"All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records": recollections of my own days of collection classical music LP's and CD's

All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records” (2015), directed by Colin Hanks, is virtually a history of the retail record industry from 1960, through the eyes of one once-powerful company, that finally folded into bankruptcy at the end of 2006.  The owners tried to placate customers at the last remaining store in Sacramento CA with the sign of the movie title, and the bankruptcy people overlaid it with “going out of business.”

The company was founded by Russ Solomon in 1960, as he took over a little record retail section in a Tower drug store.  The informal management style led to quick success with LP’s, expansion on the West Coast, to Japan, to the East Coast, and eventually to Europe and the rest of Asia, even Latin America.  The company did very well with the development of compact discs in the 1980s, which raised the price of a typical retail object to about $16.  Popular lore thinks that the company was destroyed by Napster and the Internet, but one big factor was the unwillingness of the music industry to sell “singles” as CD’s, which is how people started downloading music P2P when “it’s free”.  The company also had taken on enormous debt. It is true that today's young adults don't seem interested in building "collections" of classical (or pop) records as did people of my generation.  But cloud collections of "mpeg" and documenting pdf's are possible, but those can be downloaded from Amazon.
The movie features commentary by Russ Solomon himself, his wife and son, Heidi Colter, Chris Cornell and David Geffen.

I recall the Tower Records store near the George Washington University in Washington DC in the 1990s, and it had an enormous selection of classical as well as pop.

Musicians like to work there, some saying this was the only place they could get a job.  I was an avid classical record buyer in the early 1960s (to the consternation of my father), and in Washington DC at the time, the best prices were at Record Sales at 12th and G.  I once asked about a job there myself.

The official Facebook is here  (Gravitas Ventures).
I saw the film at Landmark E Street on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

"Who Am I?" German thriller about a hacker's backstory

Who Am I?  - Kein System ist sicher” (or “WHOAMI - No System Is Safe”, 2015), directed by Barab bo Odar and written with Jantje Friese”, was offered Friday night as part of a small film festival “Film Neu”  at Landmark E Street in Washington DC. It was shown in one of the larger auditoriums, over half full at the late showing. There had been a QA after the earlier show. 

A computer hacker, Benjamin (Tom Schilling) has found three of his companions dead in a hotel room in Berlin.  Soon in custody, he is telling his back story to a sympathetic therapist Marie (Hannah Herzsprung) whom he has himself hacked.  He wants to start life over under witness protection. 

But is his backstory real, and were his companions (especially Max {Elyas M’Barek) who had a little but of an erotic fixation on him) real, or just fantasies? His whole narrative, cleverly filmed around Berlin (and possibly Denmark, around the channel crossing) to look like TRON, comes across like “Jacob’s Ladder”.  His family is troubled – his mother had committed suicide and his grandmother has Alzheimer’s.  He has emulated superheroes and wanted to become one of them, so he would be the super hacker.  He was better even his “script kiddie” buddies. 
Much of the hacking involves physical access to facilities, including the German equivalent of the FBI, and using various devices and thumb drives, rather than simply connecting to inadequately protected servers through the Internet.  Indeed, much of the threat to infrastructure (including the power grids, as in Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” which I will soon review) would involve physical intrusions.  (In fact, the film presents several brief hacking-produced power outages, but they might not be brief if from real enemies.)  The film often refers to “dark web” and similar ideas without clear ideas as to what they mean. 

The film was shot 2.35:1 but for some reason Landmark fit it within the regular screen and didn’t take full advantage of the screen space (as if prepared to show short films of varying aspects in one presentation).
The official site is here.
The film was labeled as Sony and Columbia, but if distributed soon in the US will probably carry the Sony Pictures Classics brand. 
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Berlin, by Thomas Wolf, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike license.  I visited the city and the Brandenburg Gate area in May 1999.  Last picture is a storefront in downtown DC near the theater. 

Thursday, November 05, 2015

"Burnt" keeps Bradley very manly as a chef fighting for good reviews

Manly Bradley Cooper, now 40, keeps his manly stance in an occupation not noted for machismo, in the dramedy “Burnt”, directed by John Wells, based on a story by Michael Kalesniko about chef Adam Jones.

Adam’s recent life is compromised by drug use and reckless behavior (and some mob ties), but he moves to London to open a gourmet restaurant, and pushes his staff beyond perfection to try to earn the three Michelin stars. I think the idea of user ratings on Yelp and similar sites gets mentioned, too.    
Things get messy when hoodlums show up to collect old debts, and they get interesting when we learn of past gay affairs (Daniel Bruhl) as well as straight.  What gets burnt is literally both the food, sometimes, and his own back.

The film, like others in the genre, offers its fair share of visual “food porn”, especially the gratuitous antipastos.

Imagine what it would be like to work in his kitchen – the constant energy level required.

Professional chef Gordon Ramsay talks about the film and compares it to his professional kitchen (with its military discipline and “air-traffic control”) in London.

The official site (The Weinstein Company) is here.

I saw this at Regal Potomac Yards, before a small weekday audience. That theater needs more modern concessions.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

"Disgrace": Major morality tale (and prize-winning novel) of post-apartheid South Africa has a grand look on the wide screen

Disgrace” (2008), directed by Steve Jacobs and based on the 1999 novel by J. M. Coetzee and starring an articulate, flamboyant John Malkovich is, I hope, not what “Being John Malkovich” (a  satire) is all about.  It deals with morality, both on a personal level and how that in turn mixes with post-apartheid politics in South Africa.  It’s visually spectacular, much of it filmed in a valley west of Capetown, and has the look of a “modern western”.

As a college professor, David Lurie (Malkovich) uses the life and writings of Lord Byron to talk about impulse control, purpose, and darkness of the heart. But he has his own problems, with all too robust heterosexuality, finally raping a student Melanie (Antoinette Engel).  He is called before a disciplinary board of the university and simply wants to plead guilty, but they want a confession from his heart.  He winds up essentially fired, banished and disgraced, and flees to his daughter Lucy’s (Jessica Haines) ranch in the East Cape (although the filming was in the Western Cape).  The look of the place reminds me of the Australian drogheda  “The Thorn Birds”.

Shortly after he arrives, the ranch sustains a home-invasion robbery and attack by three youths, part of the post-apartheid crime picture in South Africa.  One of the attackers forces Lurie into a bathroom and tries to set him on fire, and Lurie puts out the flames with the toilet water but sustains significant burns.  He recovers physically.  But one of the attackers is related to Petrus (Erik Ebouaney) , connected to Lucy’s farm business.  David must eventually become contrite and ask for forgiveness from the former student’s family.  In parallel, Lucy became pregnant in the attack, and will have the baby. Much as with the film yesterday, a woman must (or wants to) raise a child she did not consent to having.

The film can be rented from Amazon or YouTube for $3.99, and is on Netflix DVD (Image).  The film was produced with Australian financing.

The music by Michael Partos (vocal with chamber) is rather like Vaughn Williams. That's important because Lurie is also a musician and would-be composer.  There is one excerpt of Verdi, and one of Mozart.

The DVD has lots of interviews and a “Behind the Scenes” featurette. The principals of the film say that it is about many things, and that, despite the introductory material on morality as personal responsibility, much of the film and novel deals with the morality of resilience, of dealing with external forces (often from past injustices) that you cannot stop from visiting your door.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Western Cape by Andres de Wet, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike license. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

"Room": child raised in confinement by a kidnapped mother, then sees his world open up

Room” (2015), directed by Lenny Abrahamson (DGC) and based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, transfers to screen a story told from the eyes of a little boy Jack (Jacob Tremblay) raised in the confied space of a garden shack room by a single mom (Brie Larson), whom we learn gradually (from sounded effects at first) had been kidnapped and impregnated by a horrible man Old Nick (Sean Bridgers).

The first third of the film was very difficult for a non-parent like me to watch, with the degree of forced intimacy and rationalization of this confining environment.  Here, the movie seems like a stage play, and would seem more real in standard than in the wide aspect ratio in which it is shot.

But when Ma comes up with an escape plan, by faking Jack’s death, the film becomes quite riveting in the middle section, before settling in to the somewhat tiresome extended family dynamics (with roles from Joan Allen and William H. Macy)  toward the end.  They also deal with the press, which tries to ask around the idea that Jack was the child of forcible rape. Nick does get caught and presumably go to prison (hopefully for life), but his capture isn't shown.

The film is set in Akron, Ohio but it appears to have been shot around Toronto (in late fall, before snow).  When Ma and Jack, after rescue, are in the hospital, there is a grand shot of a composite of the Toronto skyline with the Cuyahoga River canyon in Cleveland, somehow put together with CGI.

Official site is here (with A24, a company that likes risky subject matter, as the US distributor), and Irish and Canadian production financing and facilities.

Even though the story is fictional, it reminds one of the horrific case in Cleveland of Ariel Castro (Time story ).

I saw the film late Tuesday at Angelika Mosaic in Faifax VA before a small audience. Agelika has been showing a 2-minute short "commercial" of "The St. Bernard Project" by Toyota, a volunteer project to help residents in New Orleans return to the Lower Ninth Ward, here.

The film has nothing in common with Wiseau’s spoof “The Room”, reviewed here June 5, 2010.

Picture: Oberlin, Ohio, along Rt. 58, my trip, 2012.  I spent summers as a boy around Oberlin and am familiar with most of the state and the entire area around Cleveland.

Monday, November 02, 2015

"Diverted: TWA 514": short documentary about a 1974 plane crash in the Virginia Blue Ridge that changed aviation safety

ABC affiliate WJLA (in Washington DC) has aired the short film (28 minutes) “Diverted: TWA 514”, to tell the story of a plane crash on December 1, 1974 in an early winter storm (of rain changing to snow and 50 mph winds) on Mt. Weather, a ridge between US 50 (near Upperville, VA) and State Route 7 (near Berryville), reaching about 1750 feet elevation.  Farther south, maybe about 30 miles, the Blue Ridge gets much higher (over 4000 feet). FEMA’s emergency operations center (which could supposedly house key government officials) is on Route 601, a miniature “Skyline Drive” along the ridge.   The crash happened about a half mile from that facility (which can be seen from air in the film).  There is said to be a small memorial on the road, but I have never noticed it, and I drove the highway (by coincidence) as recently as Oct. 13, 2015.  There is a YouTube video that shows it.

The film is different from others about plane crashes that may be connected to terrorism (such as “TWA Flight 800” in 1996, reviewed Jan. 4, 2014 on my “cf” blog, where it is unclear if it is due to hostility, or the very recent crash in Egypt or a Russian plane  or the 1988 crash over Scotland, or, for that matter, the Malaysian plane that disappeared [TV blog, Oct. 8, 2014}, or another plane shot down over Ukraine).  In this case, the crash was completely due to poor communication between flight crew and air traffic control over terminology.  Changes were made as a result of this crash.  
The plane from Indianapolis and Columbus had been intended to land at National (long before it would be renamed Reagan) and was diverted because of weather.  Pilots at that time often dangerously crossed the Mt. Weather ridge at dangerously low altitudes.

One relative of a survivor interviewed in the film expresses offense at the idea that the news reports had said “no one of importance” had been on the plane.  TWA was quite late in informing passengers at National that a crash had happened.

The official site is here  The 2015 film is directed by Jay Korff.  WJLA’s site is here.

At the time, I had just moved into New York City (as of Sept. 1974) and started a new job with NBC (in information technology). I would have been on the way home by train that night.  I have taken one private plane lesson (from Redbird Airport in Dallas, in 1982m flying about as far as Waco), and flown twice with friends in private planes (once in 1970 from Trenton NJ to Downingtown PA, and then in 1990 from Manassas VA to over the Blue Ridge --- the high central section – and back.  We stayed up around 10000 feet when over the mountain ridge.

Wikipedia attribution link for Mount Weather property as taken by a FEMA employee (public domain).  Much of the property can be seen from 601 but obviously cars can’t stop for pictures. Other pictures here are mine in the area from that Oct 13 day trip.  A related topic would be the bunker under the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs W Va, which I visited in 1997.