Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Legend", a British gangster movie set in the 60s, shows off Tom Hardy in an "identical twins" role

Legend”, directed by Brian Helgeland, purports to be a British mafia movie, set in London in the 1960s, with all its innocence, given the Beatles, and the like. It’s based on the book “The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins” by John Pearson.

Tom Hardy plays both identical twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray. We’ve seen this idea before, in 2001 when Nicholas Cage played twin screenwriter brothers in “Adaptation” by Spike Jonze.

In this film, the two identical twins are very different people and usually are dressed differently. As the film opens,  Reggie helps Ronnie get out of a prison-like mental hospital. Indeed, the film has some dialogue that panders to psychiatric theories popular in the 60s.  Reggie is an ex-boxer, and now a figure in the underworld.  He is sane enough to be able to run the criminal business, whereas Ronnie is too psychopathic. That alone is a bit of an irony. Emily Browning plays Reggie’s eventual wife, Frances Shea, and provides narration for the for. “The world isn’t bad or good, it just is”, she says, near the end. Also, “Do you like being a gangster?”  As the DVD “making of” featurette says, you can be a hero of a film and still be a bad person to the rest of the world. But was “the Godfather” really evil?

The film appeared in the fall and wasn’t in theaters long, so it wasn’t terribly connecting for American audiences.  And it’s long, at 131 minutes.

The official site is here. It’s odd that Universal itself, rather than Focus Features, is the official distributor; Working Title and Studio Canal also produced what is still a big and expensive arthouse film, showing off Tom Hardy.

Wikipedia attribution link for photo of Thames River by Diliff, under CCSA 3.0

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister": a wealthy lesbian (secretly) challenges mores in early 19th Century England

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” (2010), directed by James Kent, tells the biographical story of one of history’s first lesbians, who would write about her experience. The movie is set all the way back in the early 19th Century in “Regency” (or pre-Victorian) England.

The title of the film refers to her 4-million word diaries, the most personal parts of which were written in a kind of manually encrypted code, anticipating the issues of cybersecurity today (even for Apple). The complete story of her life and of the many controversies in the way of getting her memoirs finally published in Britain is told in a BBC hour-long TV documentary included on the DVD, reviewed today on my TV Reviews blog.

But most of the actual substance of the film shows how much difficulty she had getting along with her family. Maxine Peake plays Anne, and she is constantly fighting off overtures from others to get her betrothed.  She also deals with psychological loss, right off the bat, when an early lover Marianna (Anna Madeley) accepts an arranged marriage with portly Charles Lawton (Michael Culkin), feeling “jealous” and wanting to believe that the relationship means something.  I know the feeling from my young adulthood.  Later, she “marries” (in 1833 terms) Ann Walker (Christine Bottomley), who still challenges her sometimes, about on insisting on questioning why the world is “the way it is” when it can’t be changed – circular reasoning.  Lister will inherit her Uncle Lister’s (Alan David) land estate, as he left no male heirs, and become a shrewd and independent business woman in the British coal industry.

The film certainly conveys a sense of how old-fashioned family values works:  everybody has to try to get married, so that everybody will find a partner. 

The film also challenges the more conventional view of 19th Century England as in the movies of novels by George Elliot and Jane Austen, both of whom had to deal with the social restrictions on the roles of (straight) women. 
The DVD is distributed by a company called “2 Entertain” which sounds like a variation of “Entertainment One”. The film was produced by the BBC, and the DVD had unusually longwinded anti-piracy warnings.  The film can be watched on Amazon for $4.99.

For a gay short film, try “The Golden Pin”, directed by Cuong Ngo (link).  A white college swimmer Ryan (Ben Bela Bohm) dates a Vietnamese teammate Long (Kris Duangphung). But the Asian man has family pressures to marry and have children because he is the only surviving son, and his father was the only family member to survive the American-ledn Vietnam War. A family heirloom helps solve the issue.  If there was mandatory depilation for the swimmers, it was limited to the torsos, fortunately.

Wikipedia attribution link for English countryside picture by Diliff under CCSA 3.0. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

"The Barkley Marathons": extreme sports in the Tennessee mountains

The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young” (2014), directed by Annita Ilkis and Timothy James Kane, is a lively documentary about extreme sports, particularly an ultra-marathon event  held near Warburg, TN, in the Cumberland mountains (not too far from Oak Ridge) every spring.

The event comprises running five 20-mile loops in an area within 60 consecutive hours, It was inspired by the escape of James Earl Ray, who had assassinated Martin Luther King.  One of the loops negotiates a tunnel underneath Brushy Mountain state penitentiary (reminding me of North Carolina’s “Road to Nowhere”).

People camp out as they accumulate for the event, and they are mostly young to middle-aged men, often slender in appearance. The documentary follows three of the men in the last loop, as one wins the race in 52 hours, and another finishes just before 60 hours.  They have to wait to leave at an arbitrary time announced by blowing a conch shell one hour before the start, which may be in the middle of the night.

Some of the men get badly cut up during the runs by the plant vines on the trails.

The official site is here (Gravitas Venturas).  It can be viewed on Netflix Instant Play or on iTunes.  Oddly, some of the film was shot in other states besides TN, especially PA.

A good supplement is Tom Foreman’s book “My Year of Running Dangerously” (Books blog, Feb. 1, 2016).  I think I've mentioned Minnesota filmmaker Shane Nelson's little documentary on extreme sports, "A Film in Three Parts" from IFPMSP, shown at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis in 2002.
Picture: Scenery in Oak Ridge, my visit, July 2013.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Allegiant": in the third "Divergent Series" movie, the kids get initiated into the remaining outside world

Allegiant” (2016), the third film of  "The Divergent Series," based on the novel by Veronica Roth and directed by Robert Schwentke, opens up the geography of its world a bit following the first two films, and that was welcome and offered some interesting ideas in an otherwise somewhat tiresome sci-fi concept. There is a tagline “The Truth Lies Beyond”.

This time, the “kids” scale The Wall, the kind that Donald Trump wants to build.  But it may be more like the Berlin Wall, to keep people in Chicago, than to keep immigrants out.  What they find is a devastated world, bleeding with mine waste, looking extraterrestrial.  It’s hard to give a comparison; maybe Titan could look a bit like it.

But the kids get “rescued” and processed in a modern city where they are first “decontaminated”.  Although only Tris (Shailene Woodley) is shown going through all the steps, the implications are onerous for the men:  one of the steps is a total body wax that would remove differential body hair, at least for a while.  There is hardly just material for the hashtag “#ivcritic”; I’m reminded of a scene in “The Andromeda Strain” (1970) where one of the male subjects steps into a photoflash chamber described by physician-author Michael Crichton, and then is subjected to humiliating “body analysis” before being allowed into a top secret chamber.

The young men, most of all boyfriend Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller) and “Erudite” Caleb (Ansel Elgort) more or less recover, and Caleb especially settles in to perfecting some “remote viewing” virtual reality software to track everyone else.  The kids are befriended by the fascist dictator David (Jeff Daniels), and given a trip to the super city “Providence” (not Rhode Island).  I wanted to see more details as to how the city is laid out, what it would be like to live there in luxury.
David rationalizes having implemented the factions in Chicago, and wants to bring them back.  He also has a mumbo-jumbo apology for the genetic engineering of the past that had produced them;  he wanted to restore some sort of genetic equality.  It’s hard to make much more of the political ideology of the film.

In the end, the kids return to save the city.  The most successful kid is probably Peter, who waits to be rescued at the end.  A supporting character is Johnanna, Octavia Spencer, right out of her better known roles on ABC.

I thought about Caleb’s viewing software, compared to what I propose in my screenplay “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany”.  I propose some special glasses (like those in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” (1995)) to enable people to read the “backstories” of their peers, and then some special electrodes, only available with surgery, made less intrusive, as an adjunct to “telepathy”.

Summit’s site is here.  The final film is to be called “Ascendant”, released in the summer of 2017 (story ).
I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse, before a fair late Easter Sunday afternoon audience.
The film was shot in Georgia.  A recent anti-gay “religious freedom” bill passed there has raised objections from movie studios.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Miracles from Heaven": overly melodramatic film about a little girl's recovery from a rare disgestive disorder

Miracles from Heaven” (2016), directed by Patricia Riggen, is manipulative as Christian films go. There is a brief NDE near the end for the 10 year old girl Anna Bean (Kylie Rogers), and one shot is one of the best I’ve ever seen in films on this subject.  There is a lagoon with unusual colors for the plants, especially violets, and that comports with science:  it shows the plant-life you might expect on a watery world near a sun considerably smaller than our own Sun (and M-star). (Somehow the title reminds me of  "Pennies from Heaven" (1979).

The film is based on the non-fiction book by Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner), concerning a Texas family with a girl having a rare, possibly genetic, intestinal motility disorder  that makes it impossible for her to digest food.  (Book review in my Book review blog, April 21, 2015.)  It seems to have developed over a period of a few months with constant vomiting and severe pain and bloating.  The girl would be “cured” by an accident, where she falls into a hollow tree (leading to the near-death); the shock of the accident seems to reset her parasympathetic nervous system and make her intestines work again.  The film does an amazing job with makeup showing the girl's bloating, and then its sudden disappearance when she recovers from the accident.
The film somewhat sensationalizes the desperate emotions within the family, and the need to get other people to “break the rules” to help the daughter, particularly when they travel to Boston without an appointment to see a specialist with rare treatment protocols.  One wonders why the treatment can’t be available locally.

The movie does immerse the audience in the middle of a close-knit family and its surrounding church fellowship of faith.  Dad Kevin (Martin Henderson) runs a stable business and is already going into debt for his business, to provide a bigger rural life for his family. There is a tendency, over time, for the lives of people in this community to cross over and present needs or demand to someone like me, who seems interpersonally and emotionally aloof and disengaged from “real needs” that lead people like Christy to become so combative for the benefit of their own kids. The writing seems over the top, but that is a common belief in Christian film, that you have to go to great lengths to create impossible odds to create rooting interest from the audience.

I experience belief and faith on a strictly personal level.  It is not something that comes from joining up with something or just being around like-minded people.
But I did have the experience of growing up as a sickly child, vomiting in class in second grade on time, an even that scarred me for a long time.  I outgrew it by adulthood.

The official site is here. (Columbia, Tri-Star and Affirm; Sony used all its trademarks).  I saw the film before a fair Saturday afternoon audience (with small kids) at Regal Ballston Comon.

The film, while set in Texas, was apparently filmed largely in Georgia – and movie studios are opposing efforts to undermine ordinances to prevent LGBT discrimination. But the “middle section” on location n Boston has impressive shots of the city, which I visited myself in August.

On an important business matter, the Wall Street Journal reports Saturday, p. A3, the American for Prosperity is targeting state tax breaks for major films, story by Erich Schwartzel, and Cameron McWhirter.

In another matter, Robert De Niro, founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, has pulled the documentary "Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe" (Andrew Wakefield) from the 2016 festival, according to a New York Times story by Stephanie Goodman Sunday March 27, 2016 on p. A17. The article discusses the publication and retraction of a Lancet article involved.

Friday, March 25, 2016

"Containment": going into "deep time" over securing nuclear wastes

Containment”, by Peter Galison and Rob Moss, previewed at the DC Environmental Film Festival tonight, at American University School of Communications.

The film concerns the issue of storing nuclear wastes, in a manner that future generations (at least 400)  thousands of years into the future (“deep time”) won’t disturb.  The film often shows animation of how such a toxic area should be marked, with black and white spires and stone canyons.
Much of the film concerns the three nuclear facilities along the Savannah River, in Georgia and South Carolina, one of which produces plutonium.  The biggest focus in the film concerns the WIPP facility near Carlsbad, NM, (over a large salt deposit) as well as the abortive project at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

There is also a synopsis of the dislocation of the population around Fukushima after the March 2011 tsunami, which is shown.

The film did not go into the issue of policing up nuclear waste overseas, especially former Soviet republics, which can be a source of radioactive material for terrorists.  The relevant film is the 45-minute drama “The Last Best Chance” (2005), produced by Nuclear Threat Institute, with the help of Sam Nunn. Richard Lugar and Tom Brokaw, a fictional scenario with expert commentary and panel discussion (DCD) afterward.  The concern over security of nuclear raw materials was heightened after weaknesses in Belgium (and a possible extortion plot) were reported right after the conventional attacks in Brussels on March 22, Washington Post story by Steve Mufson p. A8 March 26 here.  The New York Times has an even stronger front page  story Saturday by Alissa Rubin and Martin Schreuer.

The official site is here  (Redacted Films and Sundance).

There was a QA with one of the directors.  I asked about Taylor Wilson’s plan to encourage utilities to install “small” fission reactors (Ted talk) to strengthen the power grid from failures or terror attack, and the answer was that newer designs for reactors may indeed produce much less problem with waste than in the past.  Fusion, of course, produces no waste, and the possibility of its use might be less than three decades away.  Wilson discusses the Fukushima disaster here, and the reading material would supplement the film
When I ran a chapter of “Understanding” (Dan Fry's group) in NYC in the 1970s, one of the members ran a caravan around the country opposing all nuclear power.  I saw her focus as one-sided.

The film should not be confused with a horror film of the same name directed by Neil McEnery-West.
The main film was preceded by a short film, sponsored by Subaru, about making all National Parks litter free, with a great grandson of Theodore Roosevelt speaking, and filmed in Yosemite (about 4 minutes).

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"My Beautiful Broken Brain": a filmmaker documents her recovery from a cerebral aneurysm, and her heightened sense of a new reality

My Beautiful Broken Brain” (2014), by Sophie Robinson and Lotje Sodderland, depicts the recovery of a young woman in London from a sudden ruptured brain aneurysm or cerebral hemorrhage (effective the opposite of a stroke), probably caused by a congenital abnormality in a blood vessel, that could happen to anyone.  The patient (Sodderland) had already been a writer and filmmaker, who then takes to documenting her recovery in an auto-documentary. She says the film was “born of necessity.”

She says she went to be normally, woke up with the world’s worst headache.  After vomiting and diarrhea and losing consciousness, she somehow woke up again and was able to get an ambulance.
She would have major surgery after barely surviving.

The film details her slow recovery, where she says her sense of reality was altered – the film makes a couple of references to David Lynch, especially “Eraserhead”.  She could speak and communicate, but would have to learn the other parts of linguistic skills.   She would even learn to spee-read.
She would also run the risk of seizures.

She eventually goes on a holiday in the foothills of the Alps in France.  She asks, “Is damage to the brain the same as damage to the self?” She also discusses “being defined by things you can no longer do.” And “It takes a long time to get used to my new brain. I don’t need to return to my old life.”  Then , “The story will have an end, the experience probably won’t.”

I have known two people whose spouses had sudden aneurysms in early middle age.  And they are very sudden.  One woman passed out suddenly at a church coffee reception.  

The film is offered as a Netflix release online.

The official site is here.   The phrase “broken brain” has also been used in the context of schizophrenia.
The background score sometimes uses piano music by Bela Bartok.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Creative Control": a story idea using avatars controlled by smart phones, but it could work with dreams and telepathy

Creative Control” (2015) is a curious sci-fi high tech comedy, with some ideas close to my own experience. It is directed by Benjamin Dickinson, the young man (maybe a little under 30) who also stars as its protagonist, David.  The film is written with Micah Bloomberg.

The subject matter of the film, shot mostly in black and white Cinemascope (the “Hud” effect) is avatars created for the viewer by “Augmented Reality” eyeglasses, and these creatures are presented in subdued flesh-toned technicolor.  The ideas behind the film did occur in James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009), but the curious connection is to the virtual reality eyeglasses of Kathryn Bigelow’s ambitious thriller “Strange Days” (1995), set in the period leading up to Y2K.

David works for a company called Augmenta, and seems to be its chief creative director and programmer.  There’s a lot of talk about how these v.r. tools will make real money for the stock market, but David gradually, and then more quickly, gets drawn into the world of “fantasy sex” with the female avatars, which interferes with his relationship with his girl friend, Juliette (Nora Zehettner). He seems buddy with other men, including his boss (Dan Gill), with whom he seems to feel some mildly homoerotic interests.  But he’s more or less on the heterosexual side of the Kinsey scale when it comes to fantasy.

The fantasies are presented with a lot of interesting classical music, mostly Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, but there is one sequence where the slow movement of the Schubert Piano Trio, a dominating part of the film.

The film script says, at one point, that the company is in Brooklyn’s  Bed Stuy, and a lot of the outdoor scenes looked like the area.

There’s a critical conversation with the girl friend, over dinner, over ethics, which makes both of them seem like hypocrites. Yes, the company is dependent on a hard-to-get rare earth metal that is controlled by China, which is the kind of problem Donald Trump says he will handle for American business if elected.  There is also some diffuse guilt that they can live well off the sweat of poorer parts of the world. That’s what drives the anger of the white working class that Donald Trump is appealing to.  I wondered if the timing of the theatrical release was intended to coincide with the critical GOP primaries. The writers seem to want to make arguments about free trade issues several times in the film.

David, as are several other males, is presented himself is quite attractive and vigorous.  We gradually see more of him, the great shaggy legs, but later, curiously, a “thmooth” chest.  He might want to become just a tad tighter in the abs.

The company also promotes a product called “Phantelic”, which seems to be a kind of e-cigarette with aphrodisiac properties.

The idea that you could have a real experience with a computer avatar makes more sense in the world of dreams.  Indeed, in my own dreams, it is possible to experience “what it would be like” to be intimate with specific persons.  In my experience, I can’t really control who the person is, or exactly what the person “does” in the dream – so I don’t have quite complete “creative control” of the experience, but would I want it?  You could imagine a screenplay where these persons learn of this connection to me through telepathy or remote viewing, leading to all kinds of conflicts in an alternate world.  In fact, that idea (which the Monroe Institute espouses) gets mentioned by one of the supporting characters who decides to go to the Amazon to live off the grid for a while – but practice his psychic powers.

The official site is here  (Magnolia, Amazon Studios, Ghost Robot, Greencard Pictures, and “Mathematic”).  The picture claims that it is “about virtually everything.”
I saw the film at Landmark E Street in Washington DC, only two in the audience, late afternoon, after visiting cherry blossoms.

Pictures: Mine (DC, Brooklyn)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"Remember": A man with dementia goes on an arranged road trip to avenge the concentration camps

Remember” (2015), directed by Atom Egoyan, combines eldercare with Holocaust survivorship and vengeance.  It’s a natural enough premise for a film.  My question is whether a man with dementia, Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) really could follow the handwritten instructions from fellow Auschwitz survivor Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau), for the road trip, starting in New York,  dealing with buying a weapon in Cleveland, then using busses, motels, taxis, and Canadian border agents as well as he does.

The aim is to avenge their nemesis at the concentration camp before he can die honorably.  As the film progresses, it gathers steam.  By the time Zev encounters the neo-Nazi cop in Wyoming (the sequence is shot in Alberta, near a shale mine) we’re ready to see someone go down.  And indeed there is a surprise at the end.

Zev has some lingering music talent, playing Moskowski on the piano (I love the B Minor concerto), as well as some Mendelssohn (the slow movement of the first piano concerto) and eventually some Wagner, Tristan, with all the chromaticism transcribed for piano. The setting for the climax at the log estate on Lake Tahoe is indeed spectacular.

Henry Czerny plays the 50-something son, well off, who has still had to put dad in assisted living (where they lock the Alzheimer's unit).

The official site is here  (A24, E-One and Serendipity).
I saw the film at Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA, a personal 9 PM showing, on a day with a lot of bad world news.

Picture: Cleveland, my visit, 2012

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Out in the Dark": gay love affair between an Israeli and a Palestinian challenged by religious politics

Out in the Dark” (2012, directed by Michael Mayer, written with Yael Shafrir) presents a love story between an Israeli and a Palestinian.  This idea has been done before (like the 1975 novel “An Affair of Strangers” by John Crosby), but here it is a gay male relationship.

The moral questions – how to escape evil -- abound. Of course, individual human relationships ought to trump over group political and religious conflicts (the peace dividend, as Jimmy Carter calls it); but they don’t, because we are beholden to our origins.  And we ponder how religion is the justification for more killing than any other human practice.

The Israeli is attractive young lawyer Roy Schaffer (Michael Aloni), whose “looks” even seem “Gentile”.  He is well connected to power circles, and this helps somewhat.  The Palestinian is a psychology graduate student Nimr (or Nimer) Mashrawi (Nicholas Jacob), who comes from the West Bank (Ramallah is mentioned, and is one the area’s most troubled cities), and who doesn’t seem particularly religious or observant, and seems to want religion to moderate and get out of the way of living.  But his family is very demanding of loyalty, as we find out. He has a student visa.

Nimr’s brother gets in trouble and is killed.  This, as well as some drug activity in the family, draws attention of security forces, who then revoke Nimr’s visa, demanding that he spy for them.  Israeli security, despite official support for LGBT rights, is not afraid to use blackmail of LGBT Palestinians to get its way.

This sets up a tragic confrontation, where Roy must risk his own career (and his father’s “Israeli mafia”  connections) to help Nimr escape to the “safety” of France or Belgium.  I think the story of this movie gives some hint as to why the Muslim immigrant communities in those countries are so disenfranchised and angry.  Nimr, a gentle person with no inclination to violence at all, will be forced to survive in this environment.  This movie certainly invites a sequel, perhaps set in post 11/13 Paris or even Molenbeek.

This film is intense and painful to watch (and earns at least four out of five stars).  Some of us should be grateful we don’t live there.

Official site is here (Breaking Glass Pictures).

The film is available on Netflix DVD (offering a few short deleted scenes and ten minutes of interviews), or Amazon.

Wikipedia attribution link, unknown Palestinian author, for photo of Ramallah on the West Bank. Public Domain,

For a nice 15 minute short film, try "Lloyd Neck" (2008), by Benedict Cambell, in Sundance, link.  The younger sister of a gay high school track athlete finds out that her favorite idol is in fact her brother's boy friend, before she really understands what sexuality means. Set on Long Island.

Second picture should be Valley Stream, LI from the LIE, March 2013 (after Sandy).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot": Paying your dues with conflict journalism is not SNL material

Comedy set in war zones usually doesn’t work for me (although “Mash” did back in 1970). But you can get serious with “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (2016), directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requa, written by Robert Carlock, adapted from the book “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Kim Barker.  I don’t know whether the title of the book was inspired by Kathryn Bigelow.

Tina Fey, well known for comedy on SNL, stars as photojournalist Kim Baker (last name change).  Back in 2003, the cable news reporter is invited to pay her dues as a conflict reporter because she is childless and unmarried.  But that’s how you become credible big time is to take the risk.  Bob Woodruff did it.

Once there, she is shocked to live in such primitive quarters, almost like a soldier, but soon comes to love the job, and even the wild parties.  She befriends Australian journalist Tanya (Margot Robbie) and Scot Iain (Martin Freeman) and deals with the antics of the Marine commander (Billy Bob Thornton). Photographer Tall Brian (Nicholas Braun) is cute and gets it in a party.

Eventually business concerns will lead to incentives to pull her back, but this is when she has an opportunity to step up, and manipulate an Afghan businessman into swinging a deal to release a kidnapped journalist.  When she returns, she meets, on a farm in New York State, with another ex-Marine (Evan Jonigkeit) who lost both legs to an IED, after he was reassigned because of her work.

I saw the film today in the largest auditorium in the AMC Shirlington, before a nearly sold-out crowd, in an auditorium that does use the entire curved screen space, but the film is shot in regular 1.85:1.   The film was shot in New Mexico and Morocco as a substitute for the real location.

The official site (Paramount) is here.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

"Eye in the Sky": most intense military drone film yet, and a terrible dilemma in Kenya

Eye in the Sky” is easily the most intense film on the subject of drone combat (and the moral implications including “cowardice”) to appear yet.  Directed by Gavin Hood and written by Guy Hibbert, the “indie” film has big promotion for larger art-house theaters. Hood plays one of the British military officers in the film.

The basic premise is that British intelligence has located a female terror suspect in Kenya, with her husband in a shantytown house.  It has drones looking like roaches and birds, powered by cell phones operated by local spies, to gather precise intelligence for a police raid from the Kenyan police.  But when intelligence shows that a suicide bombing is being planned, possibly again in a shopping mall, the orders move up to do a strike. With the help of US Air Force drones managed from Nevada, it uses very intricate systems to carry out strikes.  The technology is quite fascinating, especially facial recognition processing.  How often are you sure you recognize someone you’ve met only once before?

Helen Mirren plays Colonel Powell, who directs the effort from a military base near London.  Her son (Bob Chappell) is on her staff, and often questions her judgment.  She is caught in a legal and political bind, as a small child sets up a bread stand near the house.  There are legal standards for the risk of civilian “collateral damage” that is permissible, but the political stakes are high:  if a terror attack is prevented, no one knows, but the world knows Muslim children were killed by western drone power. Understandably, this sort of situation leads to “strong man” thinking by political aspirants like Donald Trump. It was Trump who started his reality show with selling lemonade, just as the little girl in the burqa sells tasty bread, the simplest capitalism.  And the local spy using the phone knows how to play the street market system.

The screenplay offers a lot of back and forth between British and US commanders and politicians (one of them played by the late Alan Rickman), some reached by cell phone all of the world.  One of the politicians is speaking in Singapore and is ill from food poisoning, nearing vomiting as he gets the call Another is playing ping pong with teenagers in Beijing. There’s a lot of suspense in this at first, but over 80 minutes of this it wears thin, until the strikes come.  And tragedy cannot be prevented

The official site is here (Bleecker Street and E-One).

The film was shot on location near Capetown, South Africa. However, some long shots actually taken around Nairobi appear to have been used.

I saw the film late Saturday afternoon at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA, before a nearly sold out crowd.

Wikipedia attribution link for Nairobi picture by author “123”,  under CCAA 4.0 International Relationships.

Friday, March 18, 2016

"Kawa": Drama from New Zealand looks at a gay Maori man playing family to placate cultural traditions

Kawa” (2010), directed by Katie Wolfe, is a somewhat formulaic drama film about a married gay man dealing with the tensions and expectations of his family.  Set near Auckland, New Zealand, it is based on the novel “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” (an alternated title for the movie, too) by NZ author Witi Ihimaera.  That’s also the name of a somewhat nebulous piece for piano and orchestra by Manuel de Falla, not one of my favorites.

Kawariki (Calvin Tuteao) is a middle-aged business man of Maori (mixed) ancestry, working for his father’s (George Henare) unspecified business, which he is expected to take over when dad retires. Also, as expected, he’s married with kids, with wife Anabelle (Nathalie Boltt) and two appealing kids: a little girl Miranda (as in “The Tempest”, Miarama Jane-Devantier) and potentially gifted teenage son Sebastian (Pana Hema Taylor).

He also lives a secret life, visiting baths and has a (white) boy friend Chris (Dean O’Gorman).  One night, after a disagreement, Chris tracks him down on the beach at the family estate at night, a scene with stunning moonlight beauty. After a fight, they kiss, and Kawa’s mom Grace (Vicky Haughton) is profoundly offended and orders him out of the house.

Recently, his marriage has been failing, partly over lack of passion.  When things come to a head, mother wants to keep the fiction that he had fallen for another woman, because that would not insult the family as much as would his openly being gay. His wife vomits when she is told (I thought of a similar scene in “Making Love” (1982) where the wife handles under a desk and asks about “passion”).  Kawa is quizzed about how he could have brought children into the world living such a subterfuge. But his the family patriarch screams about Kawa’s “selfish choice” and rejection of “what he was born to be.”  Dad is giving away his moral vision: adherence to sexual mores (sex only within one marriage) confers the right an power of the father, through procreation, to determine who his children will be.  That’s hardly a power any couple really has in nature;  what could have prevented the random chance of having a son with a profound disability instead?

When Miranda nearly drowns on the beach in the moonlight and Kawa rescues her, the family starts to heal.

The official site is here  (Wolfe, which releases some meaty LGBT drama films).  The film is rather brief and compact, at 77 minutes.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA photo of Auckland.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Knight of Cups": Malick presents a dream-like montage for a screenwriters life; a kind of heterosexual "Judas Kiss"

Knight of Cups” is another experimental, visionary, and sometimes psychedelic modern day film by Terrence Malick, who seems determined to make a heterosexual version of “Judas Kiss”.

The film has an overlay of inspiration: the 1676 allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan, as well as the “Hymn of the Pearl” and the “Acts of Thomas” from the Catholic apocrypha (not part of the standard New Testament).

In modern Los Angeles, vagabond screenwriter Rick sometimes fails at assigned contracts but still somehow gets hired to write other movies.  I don’t think I could use him to write my “DADT Epiphany”.  He seems to look for energy in his personal life, where he has affairs with six women, each with a different backstory.  Do his past lost love affairs generate the plots of the screenplays he finally gets written?

Rick is played by Christian Bale, who looks lean and a little grizzled.  In an early scene, he deals with an earthquake while in his modern garden apartment somewhere in the Valley. He is not quite as handsome as his character in “The Big Short” (Dec. 23, 2015);  the hair on his arms and legs seems diminished, but there are plenty of scenes where women go after his body. Rick seems to like to be seduced or attacked by aggressive females. Ben Kingsley provides the voice for his stream of conciousness.

The film is in eight named segments, six of them corresponding to the different women, played by stars including Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, and Isabel Lucas.  Wes Bentley plays his vagabond brother.  Antonio Banderas is the hermit.

The film focuses on the posh surreal beauty of a smog-free LA, alongside some ugliness (skid row); it sometimes wonders into the desert, and then even to Las Vegas, for other inspiring visual effects.
There is an interesting shot of a model railroad with race tracks, densely laid out, and very interesting.  I don’t know where it is, probably in Vegas.  There’s also a bizarre scene showing jellyfish sex.

Instead of an original score (like in “Tree of Life”), Malick uses a huge repertoire of classical music, especially from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt, as well as Vaughn Williams, Debussy ("soft and dreamy," my piano teacher used to say), and Gorecki.

While Bale is effective, it struck me that Timo Descamps (who stars in “Judas”) would have carried a role like this, and Timo has an LA picture from Facebook that fits the mood of the film, here.  You could say that Bale's character is rather like a straight version of Shane Lyons (maybe 20 years later), now coming to terms with his character after serial adventures.  The last chapter of the film is called "Freedom" following "Death".  ("The High Priestess" was the name of a NYC friend's cat one time.)

The official site is here (FilmNation and Broad Green).

I saw the film at Landmark E Street in downtown DC, before a fair weekday audience, the first day after the Metro was back. By total chance, I met a young man in the lobby who was very familiar with both Malick and yesterday’s “Battle Royale”.

Pictures are mine (first three from 2012 trip to CA, NV).

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Battle Royale": Game-oriented elimination contest among kids seen controversial in this manga-like film, but the basic idea happens in other popular films

One of the most controversial films of all time may be “Battle Royale” (2000), from Japan, directed by Kinji Fukasaku, based on the novel by Koushun Takami.  The book also generate comics, or manga series.

The film has been called the Japanese “Hunger Games”.  The film places a group of teenagers on an Island six miles square, to fight each other off until only one survives.  The “game” in the story is influenced by previous games, and by past connections among the characters, and by hacking.  The story is also structured by plot-mapping to a previous basketball game, but only an extended director’s cut shows all the flashbacks and epilogues. Some screenwriters consider the use of a past sports event as a map for a future battle an interesting technique, and apparently the film is sometimes taught.

The film has a prologue in which a male student discovers his father’s suicide, and where a controversial teacher resigns.  A year later, a class, believing it was handpicked for a special field trip, finds itself going through a long tunnel, to an island, where the teacher explains the students will be pitted against one another until only one survives.   Besides the teacher, a gleeful woman explains the deadly tracking collars the students must wear.  Various game-like manga characters are used to illustrate the situation in animation. The government has passed this "BR" law to collar spoiled and rebellious youth.
The film is quite violent, giving counts of how many remain to be eliminated.  The concept is at first so brash and so shocking that the film, while a tremendous success in Japan, was banned in many countries, and did not start appearing in the US in film festivals until 2011.  It would probably attract an audience at midnight showings.

The music score includes a great deal of romantic classical music, including the "Dies Irae" from Verdi's Requiem in the opening scenes.  The music and glorious cinematography (although in standard aspect) contradict the B-movie plot idea -- although the actual writing and structuring are quite professional.

The concept seems particularly vile, but similar ideas are found in other popular films and TV series, including (besides Hunger), The 100, Lord of the Flies, and even The Matrix.

Of particular concern is the attitude of the teacher Kitano, as a disciplinarian.  Why would a culture just eliminate a lot of a future generation?   Perhaps we can think back to the way the Vietnam era draft, with deferments, worked in the U.S. for clues. Or consider "rank and yank" culture in the workplace.

The official site is here (Toei).  The film is available on instant play on Netflix (without all the basketball material, which is actually critical to the integrity ot the concept) and Amazon.  A director’s cut DVD would be desirable. The distributor identifies the film as available in 3-D,
Picture: a piece of the model “rama” world for my own layered screenplay “DADT Epiphany”.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Embrace of the Serpent": two explorers in South America are guided by the same shaman, three decades apart; a "mission" double-connects them

Embrace of the Serpent” (“El abrazo de la serpiente”, 2015), directed by Ciro Guerra, is a fascinating and surreal historical adventure, nominated for best foreign language film, representing Colombia, and shot in black and white Cinemascope (mostly), near the border with Brazil.
There’s a scene near the end where a jaguar kills a serpent, protecting the humans around, and it struck me that the look of the jungle and particularly the pointed mountains was what a feline would see, with his black and white vision.  This is the natural world.

The story connects two historical explorers with a shaman, over 30 years, as both look for the last of the yakruna, a sacred plant, while reeling from the effects of colonialism and rubber farming.
The first explorer is Theo Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet), who arrives in 1909.  The shaman Karamakate (Nilbio Torres as young, Antonio Bolivar later, as old) advises him not to fish under the rains come, and not to have sex in most circumstances with locals.  In 1940, Richard Evans Schulte (Brionne Davis) arrives and goes on a similar quest.

What connects the two stories is their experiences at a mission in the jungle.  Theo encounters a Catholic prelate who looks like the old Schulte.  Evans encounters a leader who resembles the young Theo, almost as if to suggest parallel lives or reincarnation. I was wondering if I would see some of the personal intimacy that I talked about with “The Mission in Belize at Double Head Cabbage” (Drama blog, Nov. 4, 2012). Instead, I see religious rituals, self-flagellation, and various masks, and battles over paganism.  Still, the idea of a “mission” connecting the two journeys creates suspense.
Almost at the end, the shaman invokes a colorful psychedelic show in the mind of Evans, with recreation of the big bang, I guess (remember the light show of “2001: A Space Odyssey”).

Evans carries a wind-up record player, where he can play old 78s in the jungle, and the music from Haydn’s “The Creation” is quite effective emotionally (sounding like Beethoven).

This is a fascinating film, bordering on the sci-fi genre.

 The official site (Oscilloscope) is here.

I saw this film at Landmark E Street, before a fair weekday audience.

Monday, March 14, 2016

"10 Cloverfield Lane": Why is an Imax movie filmed mostly inside a "Doomsday Prepper's" bunker? The guy is for real, though.

10 Cloverfield Lane”, directed by Dan Trachtenberg, from “Bad Robot” indeed is pretty much a “Cloverfield II” (see my “cf” blog, Jan. 18, 2008). The tagline “Monsters come in many forms” is pretty much a spoiler, if that matters. The earlier film has been original in being shot at street level with handheld cameras. Not this time.

As the movie opens, a young woman (and, apparently, a nurse) Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) puts down her car keys and engagement ring on a counter in a posh apartment on the Mississippi River in New Orleans.  The TV plays a story about massive unexplained power failures in the southeast, that haven’t yet reached Louisiana.

She takes her phone and races west, and then north of Lake Charles into the woods at night, trying desperately to reach her fiancĂ©e (voice over by Bradley Cooper).  Suddenly, she finds her car catapulted into a ditch and rolling over in a high impact collision as the opening titles play.

Then she wakes up in a storm cellar. Soon, her captor Howard (John Goodman) is telling her he is a doomsday prepper, and that he had rescued her from a major terrorist attack.  It is unsafe to go outside, as everything is contaminated, by nuclear or chemical fallout.  This is more than just an NRA survivalist Second Amendment setting on steroids.
It’s odd that a major studio (Paramount) Imax movie spends so much screen time in an underground bunker, although it opens up a little, as Howard’s quarters are reasonably nice and interesting.  Potty breaks are rationed, as is food, a year’s supply. A young man, Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr,) is staying there, too.

In time, the complications come.  Michelle tries to “escape” and sees a desperate woman trying to bang her way in.  We become convinced that Howard is for real, and not just a sex pervert kidnapping women (like in the 1964 movie “The Collector”, or  1993’s “Boxing Helena”, or in “The Room” for that matter).  Conflict with the young man comes, when Howard says “I accept your apology” and takes action.

The denouement comes, and the director’s vision of the aliens is interesting, if a little overblown.
I was wondering, isn’t it more interesting to conceive a movie where the protagonist wakes up after being abducted, on a space station?  By that’s my own scenario in “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany”.

One thing about the power outage.  If it had been caused by an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) blast (a likely alien weapon), most cars would not start at all, although some older cars with no electronic ignition would work.
One aspect of the plot is that for much of her stay, Michelle doesn't know if the disaster outside is real or a ploy by Howard.  In my own "Epiphany", the protagonist (me) is not sure if he is even alive, at a job interview, on a space station, or was abducted by aliens.  Gradually he sneaks in some Internet connectivity and figures out what is happening.  (There will be Facebook on Titan, after all -- just a 69 minute delay.)

The official site is here.

I saw the film Monday afternoon in a large screen at Regal Ballston Common, scant audience.

Picture: Mine, early 2006, N,O, canal after Katrina

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dramatic shorts: "Zero", "Staccato", "The Wish Horse", "Courting Lewis Baker", "Chasing the Sun": lots of substance

Today I saw the five dramatic short films at the DC Indie film festival.  Most of these had a lot more substance than you normally encounter in shorts. There was a QA afterwards.

The last three films were shown in 35-mm format, in full 2.35 anamorphic wide screen.   The first two were shown as digital projection.  The second of these required vertical cropping to fit the 2.35 format, making the entire image smaller, in a film where detail mattered.

The longest film was “Zero”, 29 minutes, sci-fi, directed by David Victori, with big time executive producers including Ridley Scott (“Scottfree”) and Michael Fassbinder, as well as Google and Youtube, shown fourth in the presentation (full screen). The film is set in modern Los Angeles but was post-processed in Spain, and is in English (as were all films today). The story starts with a widower father Joe (Ryan Eggold) trying to get his emotionally disturbed son Aaron (Felix Avita) to leave for school.  Joe will get fired if he is late for work one more time.  Aaron likes to play with a model train set and some other toys. A babysitter is on the way. And Joe leaves.  When he reaches downtown LA, suddenly the Earth’s gravitational field fails, and objects float as in space (the individual objects don’t lose their own internal structure; this is not “The Big Rip”).  After a minute or so, gravity returns and the objects fall back down.  This will happen two more times in the film as shown now.

The official site is here  and it is a YouTube series.  The film shown had four parts (each around 7 minutes), and it appears that Victori intends to add more “episodes”.  The format resembles “The Power Inside” (TV blog, Sept. 13, 2013).

The boy eventually encounters a vagabond man who caused the auto accident that killed his mother.  A second event occurs, as the media starts covering of what some people believe could be The Rapture (and one thinks of the outstanding HBO series “The Leftovers” (TV blog, Dec. 8, 2015). The third “going up” occurs at the end when dad rescues the boy (after giving CPR), and the suggestion is maybe the boy will be reunited with the mother in some sort of heaven (hollow or not) or afterlife.

Although there was a major feature “Gravity” (Oct. 4, 2013), there are relatively few sci-fi films that really tackle the science.  Morgan Freeman has being trying to make “Rendez-vous with Rama”.

The second longest is “Staccato”, 22 minutes, by Peter McQuinn, shown second (cropped) is an unusual combo: gay period piece, and with a plot detailed enough to need to be an 80-minute feature.
In late 19th Century Ireland, Thomas Croydon (Carey Grainger), around age 21, has inherited an estate (“Falgirth”), with his mother (Marian Rose) concerned about his maturity.  But he is a gifted pianist, and plans a recital of Chopin, John Field and Schubert.  He has hired a gardener Sean (Kevin O’Malley) about his age, much less cultured, but to whom he is sexually attracted.  A secret relationship has ensued.

The gardener gets called away to visit his dying mother.  He has also been sending her money, he thinks, but finds out that the money had been embezzled by another employee at the estate. (I think that idea happens in a George Elliot novel.)  The gardener shows up at the recital.

Here the story telling gets choppy, which would get fixed in a feature film.
The film implies that in the future, the gardener will stab Thomas while mounting him in bed as revenge.  Wow!  But earlier there is an oddity.  A couple scenes imply that the gardener has ample chest hair, but in the first bedroom scene where Thomas undresses his lover, the chest is hairless, implying Thomas had shaved him before.  That would certainly make interesting film.  This movie reminds a little of Jorge Ameer’s work.  Facebook page is here.

The director was at the QA and noted that period pieces have an advantage that the music is all public domain.

The remaining three films deal with more traditional “family values”, especially abandonment of children by parents.

The Wish Horse” (2014), 19 minutes, directed by Lisa Ford, is set on a farm in the Finger Lakes area of New York State, last presented.  As the movie opens, a single mom Thea (Judith Baribeau) tries to give a birthday party for six year old Kitty (Aliya Iosilevich).  Kitty plays with toys in an odd fashion, putting dolls together to make hybrid creatures. At a neighboring farm, a foal is born, giving some hope. Gradually, we realize that mom is mentally ill and unable to raise the children.  Older brother Russell ({Pierce Rasmussen), about 14, is realizing he will have to “raise” his sister even if he runs away.  Child Protective Services is nowhere to be seen.  Ford was at the QA and seemed to emphasize that the film was about Russell’s realizing his family responsibility without having chosen it.  Facebook site.

Courting Lewis Baker” (2015), 15 minutes, directed by Richard T. Fields, presented third,  is set in Washington DC, and presents a young man (Tob I Ameru) meeting his estranged father (Caleb Jackson).  He is coming to realize that the absence of his father has crippled his ability to form stable relationships with women beyond one night stands.  The director talked about the emotional damage in the black community due to absent fathers, which fails to provide role models as to how even to build adult relationships that can result in stable marriages.

Chasing the Sun” (2015, by Jeremy Mackie), 13 minutes), shown first, presents a brother Caleb (Jesse Keeter) driving his impoverished adult sister Celeste (Samara Lerman) to locate the mother, who had abandoned them, in Olympia Washington, on a road trip.  There is an intriguing hippie girl (Madelaine Anderson) speaking for the mom.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Documentary shorts ("Freak the Language" and "The Interior") at DC Independent Film Festival

Today, I visited the DC Independent Film Festival being held at the Naval Heritage Center  near the National Archives (among other locations).  The stadium Burke auditorium is spacious and has an ample, curved screen.  The program I selected was documentary shorts, “On the Poetic Side”.

The longest film was “Freak the Language” (2015, 28 min), directed by Lee Quinby and Sam Hampton, presenting the work and world of African-American (in the sense of Obama) poet David Mills.  The poet lives and works in Queens, NYC, with many outdoor scenes near the Triborough Bridge, or along the Flushing subway line.  The film has a lot of scenes where he seems to be teaching college English, or at booksigning party events, reading some of his poems, which often have some pretty strong language.  But in one sequence he reads the famous Love Chapter from Corinthians as the camera shows everyday life in a Latino neighborhood in Queens.

This seems to be his biography.  I could not find him on Wikipedia’s disambiguation page.

The second film, “The Interior” (2015, 24 min), directed by Jonathan Rattner, was the most original.  It depicted the life of 56 mushing dogs and four humans in a camp 120 miles north of Fairbanks, AK, in January, when there are 5 hours of daylight.  The daytime shots go out into primeval forests and show the beginnings of the Brooks Range.  The night-time shows the aurora borealis. But the most remarkable part of this film is how it presents the dogs, often talking to one another in howls, and how the world functions from the dog’s viewpoint, as a social animal, able to remain a center of attention from humans because of the dog’s loyalty to humans as the head of its pack.

The film should not be confused with “The Interior” by Trevor Juras (Canada), which I have not yet seen.

The third film is “Worley Mountain” (5 minutes, Facebook link ) by Allen Myers.  The film shows the harvesting of Christmas trees in late October at a camp that appears to be set in British Columbia.  Most stumps will actually grow back.

Wikipedia attribution link for Brooks Range picture, public domain.    Other picture, Bronx, mine (Oct. 2014).

Friday, March 11, 2016

"The Young Messiah": Age seven is just too young, later years would make more sense in this drama about Jesus's boyhood

The Young Messiah”, directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, co-written with his wife Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, and based on a historical novel by Anne Rice, tells the story of the young Jesus from his point of view.

But the entire film takes place when Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) is seven, not when he was twelve and impressed his teachers.
The story starts in the family is still in Egypt, and the boy seems to have attracted the attention of a demon, or “Satan” (Rory Keenan), when he is involved in an incident where an Egyptian teenager stumbles to his apparent death, and then Jesus stalks into his home and brings him back to life.  The family returns to Nazareth when Joseph has a dream telling him that Herod his died.  The idea that people could “communicate” telepathically through dreams often occurs in films of this area (as it does in “Avatar”).   The demon sometimes stalks him, almost like a pedophile or future ephebophile, while a very undead Herod (a gratuitously foppish Jonathan Bailey) also starts searching to eliminate a future political rival. Jesus performs some more healings along the way.

I think that the narrative of later years, before ministry, up to the temptations (by the same demon) would be more interesting. But this was a historical period when Godly miracles were the most people could really believe in.  The universe we know today makes God seem impersonal most of the time, but I think quantum theory predicts that rare interventions happen.

The film made me ponder the idea of documentary films about profoundly gifted teens and young adults, some of whom I’ve covered on my blogs.  The popular Smallville series, on WB and CWTV for ten years, follows this idea, especially in the first three seasons.

The film was shot in Italy with a largely British cast, and post-processed in Louisiana.

The official site is here  (Focus Features).  I saw the film in a large auditorium at Regal Ballston Common, the first in one of the big rooms there since the renovation with reclining seats.   The auditorium is still much larger than those at the AMC Courthouse or Shirlington, which makes sellouts less likely.  The practice by many theaters does reduce seating capacity and often means that for weekend showings you need to buy online in advance for popular films.  There were not many people there for the Friday afternoon showing.  The digital projection (full curved anamophic widescreen) is outstanding.

Picture: New Mexico, mine, 2011.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

"The Soft Skin": Early Truffaut black-and-white romance builds up to a bang at the end

The Soft Skin” (“La peau douce”), is a black-and-white progressive romantic mystery film by Francois Truffaut, from 1964.  It somewhat reminds one of Hitchcock, but is more character-driven and less situation-dependent.  It’s loosely based on a story by Jean-Louis Richard.
The story depicts a popular publisher, author and lecturer, married with a stable family, falling for another woman, gradually inspiring the jealousy of his wife who will blow him away with a shotgun in a Paris restaurant in the movie’s final scene.  The movie is witty and funny, playing on the heterosexual social norms of the early 60s, and the viewer enjoys the trip to ultimate catastrophe.

The publisher is Pierre Lachenay (Jean DeSailly), and as the movie opens he rushes to the airport for a flight to Lisbon, to lecture.  He talks the airline into lowering the stairs for him so he can get on the plane.  This would never be allowed today.  (I flew to Amsterdam from the US in 1999 and 2001, and both times flew to other cities immediately, using similar steps.)  The stewardess is Nicole (Francoise Dorleac).  There’s a lot of interesting hanky panky in the hotel immediately (with phone and telegraph technology the way it was in the 60s). And there’s interesting subject matter in the conversations..  Pierre talks about Balzac, how the 19th century writer bought his own publishing company and printer to have control of his own message (sounds like the forerunner of today’s controversies with self-published books).  A succeeding telegram is odd: It reads “Je vous aime” when the familiar “tu” would sound right (“Je t’aime”).  

The movie runs around France after he returns (including Reims) but eventually his middle-aged wife Franca (Nelly Benedetti) becomes more angered and the immature, soft-skinned (but nubile) competition.    

The witty music score by Georges Delerue helps maintain a sense of suspense and building menace. As for the title of the film, it's supposed to apply to "women", right?  Not so much any more. 
The DVD from the Criterion Collection and Janus Films includes a 10-minute short, “The Complexity of Influence” (2015), narrated by Kent Jones (director of “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, Dec. 16), explaining how Truffaut was influenced by everyone and was at one time someone of a bad boy.  

There follows a 30-minute short “Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock”, 1999, by Robert Fischer, which is similar to the Jones feature reviewed before.  The short talks about the difference between character and situational screenwriting, and then explains a lot of Hitchcock’s techniques particularly in “The Birds” (1963), where the idea is continuity of action (even from the viewpoint of one of the birds).  Finally, there is a “making of” short with some old interviews of Truffaut himself. 

Picture: construction tunnel in Washington DC (my shot) but very Truffaut-like. The director makes a lot of ordinary indoor and street scenes, without making the viewer "travel" to other places much, 

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

"Sand and Sorrow" is a graphic documentary about Darfur, with George Clooney narrating

Sand and Sorrow” (2007, directed by Paul Freedman) is a compelling HBO documentary about the history of Darfur, with emphasis on the treatment of the non-Arab tribes by the pro-Muslim Sudan government. George Clooney narrates.

The film focuses heavily on the attitude of the Bush administration.  A good history of the area since South Sudan became independent in 2011 is at this website.   Bush was quite careful in treating his relationship with Sudan, believing that intelligence from the area was critical to the long term response to 9/11.

The film is quite critical of the establishment press for not covering the dire situation of the tribes people as well as it could, not regarding the people as “mattering” as much as some other interests.

The film shows the refugee camps, massive rows of tents in the desert, with starvation.  It also describes the way the government of Sudan uses rape as an “essentialist” weapon, taking further advantage of local practices of genital mutilation.

Wikipedia attribution link for USAID photo of Darfur camps.

Monday, March 07, 2016

"Trapped": Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, documentary by Dawn Porter

Trapped” (2016), by Dawn Porter, documents the problem of “TRAP” laws, or “targeted regulations of abortion providers”  (plural is optional), aimed at shutting down all abortion clinics in states that have them. The film focuses particularly on some clinic owners in Alabama and Texas.  The Supreme Court  has just heard oral arguments on the Texas HB2 abortion law  In Wikipedia it is documented under Texas Senate Bill 5.

The film presents several clinics, following their closings and re-openings and moves.  Restrictions comprise mainly having to have full operating room facilities, requiring doctors to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals (which are hard to keep if they don’t really have to admit patients) and limiting their distance to schools.  One female owner says she lives off her 401K and can’t pay herself.

My own position, in my first DADT book, as that the right of a woman should continue to be constitutionally protected for at least the first trimester.  As a gay man, it is very unlikely that the issue can affect me directly.  At an intellectual level, I feel that the unborn would need to reach a certain point in development before his or her right overcomes the woman’s.  But in the 1990s, TRAP laws weren’t yet being tried much.

But I can see how the moral argument matters indirectly.  It is impossible for someone of childbearing age to engage in heterosexual sex and be absolutely sure a pregnancy won’t result.  The film documents a case in south Texas where a 13 year old girl became pregnant by statutory rape.  Although the man can be brought to justice, the girl will be forced to become a mother without her ability to consent (since she cannot overcome the practical hurdles to get an abortion, unless she travels to New Mexico). Such a possibility implies that women, under the law, do not have the absolute right to refuse to bear children (which is what some men want).  It is logical then to say this is why sex should happen only in legal marriage.  Until recently (when gay marriage became possible), such reasoning could imply that gay sex should be wrong because it doesn’t expose the participant to share in the same risk of procreation. A requirement that anyone bear that risk for the “benefit” of sexuality implies that anyone can wind up sharing the responsibility of raising a child with disabilities, so in a way such moral reasoning protects the value of people with disabilities.  As a practical matter, in today’s world, anyone can wind up with the filial responsibility of caring for a disabled parent.

Official site is here  (PBS Independent Lens and Trilogy Films).  I saw it before a fair audience at Landmark E Street Monday afternoon.  There was a QA Friday which I missed due to sellout.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

"Hate Crimes in the Heartland" documents the 1921 Tulsa attack on "Black Wall Street", and then a 2012 hate crime

Hate Crimes in the Heartland” (2015), directed by Rachel Lyon, is an hour-long documentary about the long and short history of racial violence in Tulsa, OK.

The film starts with a history of the May 31, 1921 race riot , which was instigated after the community mistakenly thought a black elevator operator had tried to assault a white woman. Wholesale arson and destruction of the area known as “Black Wall Street” followed, where African-Americans had built an unusually successful but segregated community right after World War I.

Flash forward to April, 2012 when Jacob England and Alvin Watts shot five black people, killing three of them, as “retaliation” for the death of England’s father (New York Times story ).

 The guilty plea was accepted for life without parole, in lieu of the prosecutor’s seeking the death penalty.

The film shows the de facto segregation today, and depicts the lack of economic opportunity in black neighborhoods, which look surprisingly run down (when compared, say, to Dallas, where I lived in the 1980s). Jesse Jackson often speaks.
The film also shows John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park and tower, in honor of one of Tulsa's famous black citizens.

I think that the late Gode Davis had interviewed some subjects regarding Tulsa for his unfinished film “American Lynching” (2003), as I recall from seeing some footage privately.

The official site is here  (Lioness Media Arts).  The film can be viewed on Netflix instant play or on Amazon.

The script does mention the incident in Rosewood, FL (a lynch mob attack in 1923) and John Singleton's 1997 Warner Brothers film titled such, starring Jon Voigt. .

Picture: Oklahoma City memorial, mine, 2005. I did visit Tulsa and ORU that trip, but didn't save pictures.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

"London Has Fallen": a repeat of what seems like an absurd franchise depicting gratuitous terror plots

London Has Fallen”, directed by Iranian Babak Najafi, certainly announces Millennium Pictures’s intention to use actors Aaron Eckhardt (as the president), Gerard Butler (as Secret Service agent Mike Banning) and Morgan Freeman as the Vice President in a formulaic, cash-cow “Has Fallen” trademarked franchise.  In fact, I thought “Fallen” has been the title of a few end-of-times novels.

The starts in an interesting enough manner.  There is a drone strike in Pakistan, setting up the thesis of “cowardly”, computer-game combat from 8000 miles away.  Then, after the credits, Mike Banning is typing his resignation letter on a home computer.

Then the British Prime Minister dies, right after heart surgery.  Soon we learn he was poisoned. An international funeral with all the world’s leaders follows.  A perfect setup for mass assassination.

As with the first film, the level of plotting required with people inside Scotland Yard and Britain’s homeland security is just preposterous -- although the UK and continental Europe face more risk from returning radicals than does the U.S. . (The film makes a point of saying that the City of London has been secured as a fortress.)  At first, the small arms bombings and shootings create a visual spectacle (and a bridge collapses into the Thames). Then a heat-seeking missile strikes down the President’s chopper, and he is kidnapped.  This sets up for, believe it or not, a scene with an intended YouTube beheading.  The good guys arrive just in time. No wonder Donald Trump talks about torture and committing his own war crimes. Alan Aboutboul provides an average performance as the villain Amir Barkawi.

The popular risk of a catastrophic attack, beyond what happened in Paris on 11/13, is really much more likely with true WMD’s, including radiological or EMP (which does not require nuclear detonation). That idea would make for much scarier film, and a much more effective warning.

The official site is here.

I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA before a small, indifferent Saturday afternoon audience.

The pre-show featured a short film about dating, “Serenade”.  I couldn’t find an exact match online.

Is it Brian and Karl’s film here?

Wikipedia attribution link for City of London financial center photo, by kloniwotski - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Friday, March 04, 2016

"The Wave": a town on a fjord faces a tsunami from an unpredictable rockslide

The Wave” (“Bolgen”, 2015), is a tsunami disaster rescue film set in a Norwegian fjord directed by Roar Uthaug.  It warns about what could happen at several locations in Norway at any time, and starts by documenting a deadly 1905 disaster, where a rockslide created a local 300-foot tsunami.

The location is the Akneset fjord and the resort town of Geiranger (said to be the site of the earlier disaster).  A geologist, Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) and his family are planning to move to a bigger town for him to take promotion. But for some years he has supervised a work crew, actually housed in civilian barracks, that watches instruments warning of earthquakes and rockslides.  They even go on even hikes (I call them “night-hikes”) and rappel into a gorge, very physical work.  The scene resembles one in a famous 50s horror film set on a mountain (“The Crawling Eye”).

Despite all the technology, it seems that a sudden catastrophe is very hard to anticipate.  It happens while Kristian is out, and teenage son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) is skateboarding in the basement of the resort hotel, with Walkman, unable to hear the sirens.  The catastrophe comes half way through the film, and much of the rest of the film concerns the family’s saving itself from drowning in a bomb shelter.

The film was Norway’s submission for best foreign language film. The official site is here (Magnolia Pictures).

I’ve covered some other films involving tsunamis on my “Films on Major Challenges to Freedom” blog under the label “tsunami”.  These include “The Impossible” (Dec. 21, 2012), about the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and the 1977 film “The Last Wave”, set in Australia, by Peter Weir, discussed Oct. 25 2011, where a tsunami is predicted by aborigine lore.

One of the biggest but little known threats to the US East Coast can come from the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands;  if it sustained a landslide, a several-hundred-foot tsunami could hit the US East Coast 12 hours later.

I spent a week in Norway at the end of July 1972, visiting Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik (and then Kiruna Sweden).

I saw the film Friday night, early, at Landmark E Street in Washington, before a nearly sold-out smaller auditorium.  The audience, mostly young adult, seemed to like the movie.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Sjjomen Fjord, by Knutsandvik, under CCSA 3.0 license.