Jun 20 Tues 8pm Sparkling Polish Gem at Soho International Film Fest: The Eccentrics (On the Sunny Side of the Street)

Freedom through music
An unobtrusive comedy much better than the simple description in the Soho International Film Festival program at Village East Cinema at 2nd Ave and 12th st, The Eccentrics: On the Sunny Side of the Street is an intelligent Polish mix of amusing social commentary, spy mystery, and political satire which is also a fine philosophical celebration of upbeat, soulful swing as a come together refuge from atrocious politics, in this case the wooden and dangerous absurdities of Communism in the fifties in beleaguered Poland.

This very accomplished film is a delicate, many petaled rose of good humor, satirical intelligence and unexpected takes on what would be in lesser hands a straightforward tale, but after a brief slow start when the underlying deadly seriousness of the Polish war and postwar experience is quickly established, every scene is made interesting by a skilfully provocative script by Wlodzimierz Kowalewski (it’s his original novel) and effortless acting by all.

A wholly interesting and amusing standout shouldn’t be blushing unseen on the festival program at Village East Cinema (189 2nd Avenue), where it will be run once at 8pm-10pm on Tuesday, June 20, and we advise anyone with a taste for worldly wit and emotional teasing of the most sophisticated yet pointed kind, the most achieved in Polish comedy that has been seen in Manhattan for years, should make sure to catch it.

For that will be the only chance here to catch what is the current cap from 2015 to director Janusz Majewski’s body of work which is widely admired in Poland and abroad. The Eccentrics unreels a deadpan saga where every scene is a pleasing turn and interesting surprise, from the unexpected bonding of official and suspect just returned from London exile over a piano which leads to the suspiciously easy recruitment of good players for his big band renditions of American Patrol and many other top tunes, to the romantic denouement where the uphill seduction by our hero of his personally challenging lead singer (“I won’t tell! – the less you know the more you’ll care!” is her reply to his post success inquiry as to her past life) crumbles catastrophically, revealing that it is political machinations behind the scenes which fill the story with intriguing off kilter interruptions.

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Outstanding Documentary: The Ruins of Lifta Evokes Human Cost of Israeli-Palestinian Beginning

Held over at Lincoln Plaza cinema after strong reviews

Rated 100 at Rotten Tomatoes, praise from Times and Voice

Where the Holocaust and the Palestinian Exile meet

After a well attended release in Manhattan, the new documentary The Ruins of Lifta has been held over for another week, which seems especially timely as the funeral of the most arms oriented yet peacemaking president of Israel, Shimon Peres, proceeds.

Here is our review of this remarkable film:

The Ruins of Lifta – Where the Holocaust and Nakba Meet: An unusually rich and understanding exploration of the painful past and threatened future of Lifta, the last ruins standing of the 1948 forced removal of 700,000 Arabs from over 800 villages to make way for an independent Israel, personalized in a moving face-to-face meeting of two good people on either side of al-Nakba (“the catastrophe”)

Sins of the past and present
Deep humanitarianism is the style of this well constructed, caring and penetrating documentary about the two sides of Israel’s first but still festering war atrocity, the Palestinian Nakba (national disaster) of forced exile of 700,000 Arabs from as many as 800 villages in Israel’s 1948 war of independence, with its iron fist policy against return, as New York filmmakers Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky follow Daum in his personal odyssey to escape his Orthodox Jewish family’s one sided views and visit Israel to explore for himself the true character of Palestinians and their experience in the ongoing dispute since 2005 over The Ruins of Lifta, a vivid model of the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since Lifta is the only one of the evacuated Arab villages whose ruins have not yet been replaced with Israeli settlement, whose crumbling walls with stones quarried and built by the hands of its Arab inhabitants and holes blasted in its roofs to prevent return still stand as mute witness to political violence long ago and since which has left so many torn from their ancestral homes and still yearning to go back, a predicament here personalized by Menachem’s meetings with the poetic and dignified Lifta refugee Yacoub Adeh who leads the Palestinian movement to at least preserve Lifta as a memorial and defend it from an Israeli plan to develop the historically significant valley, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, though only if the Israeli government agrees not to develop it, and in the person to person rapprochement Menachem achieves in the moving climax to their film, when he introduces his friend and Holocaust survivor the lively 85 year old Dascha Rittenberg from Manhattan to Jacoub and both clash over whether one great anguish justifies another, but as they tread the paths of Lifta’s ruins together, eventually agree that peace would be served by making Lifta a memorial to a past where many Jews and Arabs once lived in harmony and an inspiration to a shared future, a small but meaningful victory for the notably humane spirit of Daum, whose equally distinguished preceding documentary Hiding and Seeking was on a similar theme of broadening the views of his two sons by taking them to Poland to visit the families of the farmers who hid Jews during World War II at the risk of their own lives, and to see young Christian Poles renovating Jewish cemeteries, both films a gentle but penetratingly effective counter to Israel’s policy of enforced enroachment on Palestinian territory, with yet another expansion in the news this week.- AL


Press and PR:

The Ruins of Lifta will be premiering on Friday, September 23, 2016 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, New York (and in Los Angeles a month later, in Laemmle Theatres on October 28, 2016)

The mega-narratives underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are pitted against each other by a Holocaust survivor and a Nakba refugee who meet in the haunting ruins of Lifta, the only Arab village emptied in 1948 that has not been completely destroyed or repopulated by Jews.

Trailer: The Ruins of Lifta – Trailer


attendnyc-sep-16-16-lifta-less-ruinedLifta is the only Arab village abandoned in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that has not been completely destroyed or repopulated by Jews. Its ruins are now threatened by an Israeli development plan that would convert it into an upscale Jewish neighborhood. Discovering that his parents’ Holocaust experiences may have distorted his views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Menachem–the filmmaker and an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn–sets out to establish a personal relationship with a Palestinian. He meets Yacoub, who was expelled from Lifta and now leads the struggle to save the haunting ruins of his village from Israeli plans to build luxury villas on the site. Learning that Lifta was once a place where Jews and Arabs got along, Menachem joins Yacoub’s campaign in the hopes that Lifta can serve as a place of reflection and reconciliation. This sets up a climactic encounter between a Holocaust survivor and a Nakba refugee amidst the ruins of Lifta.

Menachem, Dasha and Yacoub:  Human contact - the only way political narratives and emotions can be brought together in mutual understanding

Menachem, Dasha and Yacoub: Human contact – the only way political narratives and emotions can be brought together in mutual understanding

“Lifta’s Ruins succeeds as a personally honest and politically provocative documentary. It makes me think of the wonderful line that Jean Renoir speaks in his film Rules of the Game, ‘There’s only one terrible thing in this world, that everyone has his reasons.’” – Annette Insdorf, Columbia University Film Professor, author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust

“A personal, self-questioning encounter with the myths of history that measures the abyss between Palestinians and Jews, and between the two contending nations and peace; “a site of memory” whose history has for too long been erased; a profoundly searching and moving inquiry into the collective and personal past of Arabs and Jews; an ethical testimony marked by visual beauty and emotional poignancy, and a place where the ongoing tragedy, of Israel/Palestine continues to be reenacted.” – Marc Kaminsky, author of Shadow Traffic

“A painful, powerful and problematic film that dares to go into the ruins of a Palestinian village strategically situated on the road to Jerusalem and the conflicting claims of memories that divide Jews and Palestinians. It boldly believes that the commonality of our collective humanity can heal wounds and bridge divisions, a message that is all the more urgent because it is all the more absent in the world today.” – Michael Berenbaum, author After Tragedy and Triumph

“To the great credit of its creators, The Ruins of Lifta offers no pat dialogue-based solution to the crises of the region.” – George Robinson, The Jewish Week

“A vital study of loss and memory. Grounded in the art of listening, ‘The Ruins of Lifta’ builds a powerful, personal, political conversation between Palestinians and Israelis looking to live differently. The result is necessary viewing.” – Diana Clarke, Village Voice

“An achingly poignant documentary that investigates a debate in which dueling narratives collide.” – Daniel M. Gold, The New York Times

Built by the hands of those who lived in Lifta before 1948, many of the houses were substantial investments in time and place whose memories are as real as ever in the minds of those who fled

“By turns inspiring and dispiriting, ‘The Ruins of Lifta’ offers a muscular example of the ability of documentaries to make the political intensely personal.” – Ella Taylor, NPR

“To the great credit of its creators, ‘The Ruins of Lifta’ offers no pat dialogue-based solution to the crises of the region. Guardedly hopeful.” – George Robinson, The Jewish Week

“Provocative…allows the ambiguity to surface through interviews that reflect a range of heartfelt experiences and interpretations…visually stunning and packs an emotional wallop.” – Simi Horwitz, Film Journal International

Yacoub Odeh, Dasha and Menachem walk the path of peace in the deserted village

Yacoub Odeh, Dasha Rittenberg and Menachem Daum walk the path of the deserted village

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Wonder Filled World of Air Travel: An IMAX Celebration

A Twin Otter seaplane landing on water over a shallow reef in the Maldives (Click twice to enlarge fully)

A Twin Otter seaplane landing on water over a shallow reef in the Maldives (Click twice to enlarge fully)

National Geographic Praises Flight Technology With Stunning Pictorial

Reminder of All that Airplanes have Brought, including World Shopping and Families back for Thanksgiving

But Isn’t This Poignant Last Look at Earth at its Peak?

With its Smithsonian premiere tomorrow in Washington, New Yorkers will also now have a chance to catch probably the most resolutely positive documentary on air travel and its benefits ever made.

High technology:  A huge GE Jet engine suspended in a factory of the company which financed the film. (Click twice to enlarge fully)

High technology: A huge GE Jet engine suspended in a factory of the company which financed the film. (Click twice to enlarge fully)

Living in the Age of Airplanes is a 47 minute IMAX, HD 4K digital, Dolby extravaganza of superb shots of the major scenic spots of the world, together with other benefits of the invention of the airplane, such as the flowers and myriad other household goods from half way round the world in every living room, which cranky passengers squeezed into narrow, unforgiving seats in late arriving aircraft never think of anymore.

Hail to the Airplane: Tourists thrill to an approaching plane landing over their heads on St Maartens.

Actually, the gifts of the airplane in this National Geographic special have never looked so good even to those who have actually visited them in person, but no matter. The aim of this all-too-brief, 48 min documentary is to remind us just what a remarkable transformation of human existence has been wrought in a blink of time’s eye by aviation, and it succeeds triumphantly. If anything, it is far too short.

Tourists walking on the sight seeing bridge at Brazil’s extensive Iguazu Falls (click to expand to very large size)

Covering all seven continents, from Iguazu Falls, the gigantic Brazilian set of waterfalls 1.7 miles long stretching into Argentina, to the Maldive Islands, where some brilliant shots are taken amid fish under the clear water as the floats of a seaplane take off from the surface overhead.

The filmmakers are undeterred by remoteness or time. They manage to get a rare visit to the South Pole with cinematographer Doug Allan, the Polar wildlife specialist who had spent 30 summers in Antarctica but never reached the Pole, which demands perfect weather to coincide in three airports.

The DC-3 can land on skids in Antartica, but weather has to be fine in three airports to get you to the South Pole itself.

The DC-3 can land on skids in Antartica, but weather has to be fine in three airports to get you to the South Pole itself.

What they find there, on top of the two mile thick ice sheet, is a decorative pole and other ceremonial trappings from 12 nations that signed the Antarctic Treaty, in force since 1961. The marker is a barber pole with a mirrored sphere on top, and it now lies several hundred feet from true 90° south, since the ice cap shifts 30 feet every year, and moving the pole and the ring of national flags would be too much trouble. (The US station with its record size neutrino hunting IceCube particle detector is discreetly in the background).

Now you’ve got there, you may reflect that the Pole is 300 feet farther south. (Click twice to fully enlarge)

But many of the visuals are stunning, new shots of familiar locations and lesser known ones by cinematographer Andrew Waruszewski using the very cinematic, new digital camera Alexa and often accompanied by the overwhelming music typical of IMAX presentations as if vast natural beauty doesn’t speak for itself. Even the platform stretching over the Grand Canyon lends itself to emphasizing the grandeur of the chasm below.

The platform at the Grand Canyon is called the Skywalk (click to enlarge)

But the point the movie makes best is its basic theme, just how immense an acceleration of human life aviation has brought so quickly.

The timeline is, if you think about it, astonishing. For almost 200,000 years we walked at three miles an hour and most humans traveled less than 20 miles from their birthplace. The wheel arrived 5000 years ago, but the steam engine powered the wheel only 175 years ago, when we were still as separated by time and distance as the ancient Egyptians. On screen the map of the USA is lit up by glowing rail connections which networked the entire country by the end of the 19th Century.

Are you thinking of how overweight your neighbor is, or looking out of the window at more land than your ancestors saw in a lifetime? (Click twice for full size)

Then in only a century of aviation, and sixty years of the jet age, the entire globe is lit up with planes like fireflies – 100,000 takeoffs every day, 250,000 people in the sky at any one time. The cliches praising this transformation are all very true: Aviation is now “the lifeblood of the modern world”. The airport is “portal to the planet”. Now “it’s walking distance to almost anywhere”. “What once demanded migration is now a vacation.”

Somehow the pyramids don’t seem as evocative of the secrets of the past when Mum and kids are towed past on camels (Click twice to enlarge)

The film conveys the sense of wonderful mastery conveyed by this change, without delving into its other consequences. Some may privately feel that the Sphinx loses her mystery when a camel carrying Mum and children comes into view, and others worry about global warming and global disease, not to mention the original sin introduced by aviation, the civilian mass deaths of bombing. But this is a feel good trip to things we experience now without a second thought, but are really marvels of life in the age of the airplane.

“Since we were all born into a world with airplanes, it’s hard to imagine that jet travel itself is only 60 years old, just a tick on the timeline of human history,” says director Terwilliger. “Yet practically overnight, our perception of crossing continents and oceans at 500 mph has turned from fascination to frustration. I want to reignite people’s wonder for one of the most extraordinary aspects of the modern world.”

In this huge hangar in Amsterdam, flowers from Kenya will arrive and be sent to Alaska via another hub to reach an Alaska living room in a day, with ten days of fresh bloom left.

Plane passion

One reason may be that almost everyone important involved has access to what is now the best benefit of all, the freedom and adventure of flying small planes, for which they feel a personal passion. Funded by GE as the main sponsor, Terwilliger visited 18 countries over several years for this film, a dedication to the topic that arose first from his childhood awe at the performance of the Blue Angels. He made a 2008 film about this team of Navy jet pilots, Flying Full Circle, in which he himself flew in an F-18 Hornet. Filled with enthusiasm Terwilliger soloed at 19 and got his private pilot license a year later, and his first feature film in 2005 was One Six Right, which told of a day in the life of the local Van Nuys airport on Los Angeles.

The Maldives don’t have an airport but one of these pretty seaplanes can get you there directly.

Harrison Ford, also a keen pilot, narrates the film’s expertly written voice over, which compresses great historical trends as skilfully as Eugene Weber (the UCLA professor whose peerless history of Western society, Western Tradition, is still running on CUNY TV). The star keeps a small fleet of airplanes in a Santa Monica hanger, including a Bell 407 helicopter which he has flown to rescue Wyoming hikers. At 72 recently he had to crash land his vintage plane on a golf course, but survived with a gash to the head.

Not so wonderful: Harrison Ford’s engine failure after takeoff recently landed him on a golf course with a nasty gash in his forehead.

The composer, James Horner, who also pilots his own plane, contributes an appropriately stirring score which is only occasionally intrusive (he won two Oscars for Titanic, for the score and a song, ‘My Heart Will Go On’, and the album was the largest-selling instrumental score ever, at 10 million in the US and 27 million worldwide).

The airplane can take you to see the elephants in East Africa, but did anyone ask the elephants if we are welcome?

Living in the Age of Airplanes will be showing from Friday at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, the National Geographic Leroy R. & Rose W. Grumman Dome Theater (Garden City, NY), and the New York Hall of Science in Queens. If busy New Yorkers can be persuaded to lift their eyes from their phones long enough to get their whole family there, it will give them a new appreciation of all that the airplane has brought to our lives, and perhaps inspire them to transcend the inconvenience of modern air travel and visit faraway places themselves before they all are submerged by the banality of mass tourism, or ultimately sink beneath the ocean rise of global warming.

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SLOMO – Office Man Breaks Away to Skate Forever

SLOMO – 17 min of how to break away from office and BMW and find fulfillment in slow skating along Pacific Beachcover

Here’s an amusing and possibly inspiring short found on freemoviescinema, a site we recommend for innumerable finds like this.

SLOMO – Successful neurologist turns to simple life of beach rollerblading

Here’s the description:

Depressed and frustrated with his life, Dr. John Kitchin abandons his career as a neurologist and moves to Pacific Beach. There, he undergoes a radical transformation into SLOMO, trading his lab coat for a pair of rollerblades and his IRA for a taste of divinity. The most decorated festival short documentary of 2013.

Josh hails from Ann Arbor, where he earned a degree in Screenwriting from the University of Michigan. He’s since worked as a copywriter, a cab driver, and a carpenter. SLOMO is his first documentary.

Not much to add. One could say that the hero appears to be a little bit of a simpleton, but he has certainly found his Nirvana on this planet.

Of course, he has pared down to survive and couldn’t do that unless he had slaved in the galley as a neurologist first.

Typical male rationalization we’d say in the theory he offers to explain the pleasure he finds in his endless rolling along. He refers to a possible neurological delight in the response of the inner ear to acceleration, which doesn’t make much sense since he is not accelerating at all 99% of the time! But that as he says himself is what he chooses to believe, and therefore believes!

In fact his specialty is precisely that – not accelerating at all but maintaining a slow but very prolonged glide without kicking.

Directed by Joshua Izenberg. Starring: John Kitchin

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Over the Air TV Bonus: Golden Oldies Galore

Overflowing cornucopia for cord cutters using antennae

All the free, well crafted entertaining movies you might wish to see (again)

Step aside Netflix, IFC, TCM – celluloid cascade glittering with stars, Oscars – free

What do you think spies are: priests, saints, martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors, too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.

Tired of too much good and bad TV, too many cable channels, and movies which cater to the pre-adolescent set with weak plots, overwhelming special effects and coke fueled direction? The sanest way to keep up with the basic offerings of TV aside from sports channels may be to cut the cord and revert to over the air TV, which has offered all the basic channels – 2,4,5,7,9,11, 13, 25, 64 – in crystal clear digital form ever since the digital switchover in 2008. Additionally, the channels are multiplexed, offering more than one broadcast program on the same channels, including program guides.

Movie Mississippi

One overlooked benefit of cutting the cord to cable TV, apart from the savings of up to $30 a month, or $360 a year, or as much as six times that if subscribing to many cable offerings, is that the multiplexed space provides room for three and possibly more first rate movie channels featuring all the golden oldies you never saw or wish to see again.

I Walk The Line (1970) features Gregory Peck succumbing to Tuesday Weld

On 5-2 is M! MoviestvNetwork (WNYWDT2), which boasts classics such as Untamed (1955, a Boer War romance with a straight backed Tyrone Power and an overwrought Susan Hayward), The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1966, with a dour Richard Burton spying in East Germany), A Blueprint for Murder (1963, Joseph Cotten finds out if Jean Peters really poisoned relatives), The Last Hurrah (1968, an aging Spencer Tracy hangs on to rule as a mayor in New England town), I Walk The Line (1970, married sheriff Gregory Peck tempted by teenage daughter of moonshiner Tuesday Weld), Evel Knievel (1971, George Hamilton with Sue Lyon), Hatari (1962, John Wayne and Red Buttons with Elsa Martinelli capture and pet wild animals in Kenya), North to Alaska (1960, John Wayne brings back French girl to Stewart Granger and Ernie Kovacs in Alaska, fellow gold rush prospectors), Moscow on the Hudson (1984, Robin Williams as Russian musician seeks asylum in New York)… to select just from the 24 hours current while this post is written.

Gary Busey makes a better Buddy Holly than Buddy himself

On 7-3 LAFF WABCDT3 may have something to suit your more child centered side occasionally, since it carries 250 harmless comedies, though it is mostly cluttered with 1000 sitcoms the likes of the Drew Carey Show and the Empty Nest. At this moment the current weekday 24 hours offers the Mike Myers comedy So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993), wherein a multimedia poet falls for a San Francisco butcher who may have killed her husband with him next, Freaky Friday (1977), with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster exchanging personalities for a day, Father Hood (1993) with Patrick Swayze as a small time crook busing his children around the country with newswoman Halle Berry in pursuit, Life with Mikey (1993) with Michael J. Fox, My Father the Hero (1994) with Gerard Deperdieu, The Absent Minded Professor (1961) with Fred MacMurray creating a glop which makes things bounce skyhigh, Jack (1996), where Robin Williams’ 10 year old body ages at four times the normal rate, and Blame it on the Bellboy (1992) with Dudley Moore mixing up the mail in a hotel in Venice.

You never heard of it before, but Blame It On The Bellboy (1992) with Dudley Moore might be amusing, judging from this photo

On 11-3 THIS-TV (WPIXDT3) has Sleeper (1973, Woody Allen wakes up after 200 years in deep freeze), The Last Waltz (1978 Band’s last concert),The Buddy Holly Story (1978, with a young Gary Busey!), La Bamba (1987, Ritchie Valens played by Lou Diamond Philips), The Englishman Who Went Up The Hill and Came Down A Mountain (1995, Hugh Grant maps a small Welsh village in 1917 and falls for local beauty Tara Fitzgerald), Jack and Sarah (1995, high strung yuppie Richard Grant meets bubbly nanny Samantha Mathis after wife dies, mother Judy Dench clashes), Ulee’s Gold (1997, Florida beekeeper Peter Fonda searches for wife of jailed son against thugs looking for stolen loot). All these and more within a day, as we write this.

Good Neighbor Sam (1964, Jack Lemmon) features Jack in a difficult situation, especially when they put up billboards around town featuring him with the wrong wife!

On 41-4 there is GRIT TV (WXTVDT4) Grit movies focus on male action heroes Alan Ladd, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris in westerns, war and crime movies such as (today’s selection) Red Mountain (Alan Ladd as rebel captain rides West to join Quantrell’s Raiders but changes sides when he discovers the ugly truth – with Lizabeth Scott, 1951); Courage Under Fire (US Army officer Denzel Washington investigates chopper commander Meg Ryan’s worthiness for Medal of Honor; with Matt Damon, 1996); Rumble In The Bronx (Hong Kong police officer Jackie Chan in New York to attend the wedding of his uncle encounters diamond smuggler and his thugs – 1995); Tango & Cash (Narcotics cops Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell framed by a drug baron and jailed among lowlifes they put behind bars, 1989).

Irresistible in his white hat (can you see it?), Alan Ladd and Lizabeth Scott in Red Mountain

On 68-3 GET-TV (WFUTDT3) today is playing The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, Barbara Stanwyck with Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas fears exposure as the poisoner of her relatives), Duffy (1968, James Coburn, James Mason, James Fox involved in hijacking banker father’s yacht), Murderer’s Row (1966, Dean Martin plays Matt Helm, secret agent), The Inspector General (1949, Danny Kaye’s sublime comedy masterpiece), Good Neighbor Sam (1964, Jack Lemmon as San Francisco adman who poses as friend’s husband so wife can inherit $15 million), Meet John Doe (1941, Barbara Stanwyck reporter hires bum Gary Cooper to act as spokesman for masses), The Way We Were (1973, Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford as leftist and writer whose college romance extends through life), The Owl and the Pussycat (1970, George Segal struggling writer shares an apartment with some of the time call girl Barbara Streisand). All these within the same day too.

A difficult relationship: George Segal and Barbara Streisand forced together in The Owl and the-Pussycat (1970)

Get a Roamio if you can

So, now using over the air tv? A Roamio comes in handy, believe it or not. A little known fact is that the lowest in the pecking order of this charmingly named TIVO – there are three, $200, $400 and $600 when last we looked – scoops up and displays available over-the-air stations as handily as it does cable TV channels, delivering a nicely laid out schedule for each, despite their peculiar new numbering system. Its remote is also equipped with RF which is superhandy.

Beware – your Roamio will rapidly fill to bursting with golden oldies.

And in case you are a depressed urbanite who doesn’t immediately appreciate the special emotional value of fine old movies as an instant pick-me-up, B movies included, perhaps especially Bs, which are comfort food for the heart, read this delightful essay by Leon Wieseltier in the NYTimes Magazine: Letter of Recommendation: Turner Classic Movies.

Leon, you may not know, is the editor of the New Republic who resigned in disgust when its new pinhead owner, a boy billionaire from Facebook, took over and said he thought it needed to focus on its digital content.

What was wrong with that? Well, if you don’t know perhaps you need to linger over another Wieseltier rumination, also in the Times, his Jan 15 effort Among the Disrupted, in the Book Review.

Maybe a better schedule guide is found at locatetv, which offers, for example, Movietvnetwork M! on this page, Movietvnetwork M!

You can select other stations from the dropdown menu.

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“Second Opinion”: Expose of Laetrile Scandal at Sloan-Kettering in Seventies

Eric Merola’s Documentary Shows Pharma Politics Reversed Positive Studies

Public Spokesman/Idealist Ralph W. Moss Resisted Cover Up, Got Fired

Time Brought Justice for Both Sides but Not Yet for Laetrile

By Anthony Liversidge

One of science and medicine’s best buried political secrets has burst like Frankenstein out of its grave into the open this week with the release of Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering, a documentary directed by Eric Merola, which will be premiered with Q/A at Cinema Village (22 East 12 St) at 7pm Friday (Aug 29 2014).

The film beautifully dramatizes and clarifies one of the greatest scandals in the ongoing war between pharma and the alternative natural remedies it labels “quackery”, but which tend to look better and better in mainstream lab research.

Rather miraculously, Second Opinion manages to be riveting despite being essentially nothing more than the testimony of one talking head, the whistleblower in the affair, Ralph W. Moss.

Moss, luckily, has the lively charisma and intelligence to carry the film through seventy six minutes of revelation, aided by images and footage illustrating his story – their own research results that were denied by the poobahs of a great research hospital, their false testimony to the press and to Congress, and the family who backed him in his youthful decision not to lie to keep “the best job I ever had”.

Playing politics with science

The absorbing film dissects the fairly disgraceful attempt by the rulers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the great cancer research and treatment temple in Manhattan, to bury studies by one of their own, a very respected (pioneer of chemotherapy) scientist named Kanematsu Sugiura. His experiments with mice inconveniently showed that the much maligned “quack remedy” Laetrile actually had value, and should have been pursued with further research.

Instead, the research hospital’s administrators arranged to fold his study in a paper of their own (for the Journal of Surgical Oncology 10:89-123, 1978. C.C.Stock et al: Antitumor Tests of Amygdalin in Spontaneous Animal Tumor Systems) which denied that Laetrile had any value and suggested that Sugiura, a grand old man of science who had been with them for nearly sixty years, was mistaken. The further studies added saw his positive results vanish amid skulduggery – “a funny thing happened”, as the Dr Sugiera put it to the press – which mixed up groups of mice and swapped their feeding solutions.

The conclusion of their published paper was the opposite of the truth: Laetrile had nothing to offer. Or as MSK president (and director of Squibb pharmaceuticals) Lewis Thomas put it, testifying in July 1977 at Senator Kennedy’s hearing on Laetrile, the data showed that “Laetrile is without any effect at all.”

Public humiliation of an honest researcher

At the huge press conference mounted in June 1977 to satisfy outsiders on this point, video of which director Eric Merola has miraculously unearthed, the unfortunate Sugiura is seen both inclined to be loyal and politely agree with his employers, yet quietly refusing to renounce his own findings. “Of course, my results don’t agree, but I agree with what my institution says.”

But asked pointblank by reporters if he stood by his results, he replies, “Yes, I stick.”

He added, “I hope somebody will confirm my results later on.”

Meanwhile the preprints of the group paper in which his work was buried were placed by the PR staff behind a curtain so that reporters would use the misleading summary a young science writer at Sloan-Kettering Ralph W. Moss, 34, was forced to author.

The politics inside medical science

This is not quite as much of a blatant embarrassment as the just preceding Sloan-Kettering scandal of the seventies, where William Summerlin used a Magic Marker to darken mice in a bogus demonstration that he had transplanted skin successfully between them.

But this history of the top brass at Memorial Sloan Kettering caught red handed trying to suppress the good results of the ancient and gentle Dr Kanematsu Sugiura is educational for all who might think that the medical community, even today, welcomes studies indicating that natural remedies have potential, though these have accumulated into a small mountain of paper in the forty years since Laetrile was politically defeated.

None of this scientific trickery would have emerged into the light of day except for the integrity and bravery of a young whistleblower on the pr staff of the renowned hospital-research institute from 1974 to 1977. Ralph W. Moss, now 71, was a bright young Stanford Ph.D and classicist hired to master the arcane labyrinth of modern cancer research and translate it for the press. He had the distasteful assignment of blandly peddling the false impression favored by the brass that Dr Sugiura’s results were contradicted by tests at another institution. Being new to science and medical politics, and a young man of unusual integrity, he didn’t take kindly to the role of compromising the truth. Nor did his wife Martha, who said “They want somebody who is going to lie? That is not you!”

So Moss became a mole for truthseekers in the press. He slipped the papers of the esteemed Dr Sugiura that showed that Laetrile (actually the naturally occurring chemical amygdalin drawn from apricot and peach pits, and the kernels of bitter European almonds) was far from useless to the New York Times, but Jane Brody’s front page revelation of the affair (4 Cancer Centers Find No Proof of Therapy Value in Illegal Drug Mon Jul 21 1975) was the reverse of what Moss hoped for – not even mentioning Dr Sugiura (whom Brody didn’t interview, Moss noticed), denying that any positive results could be duplicated and crediting the research of notorious Laetrile enemy Daniel S. Martin at the Catholic Medical Center in Queens which supposedly proved Dr Sugiura wrong, but which was later shown to be based on faulty cancer assays.

Laetrile – a promising direction

As the film shows, Sugiura had in fact found the much maligned Laetrile did not cure but did work very well in slowing breast cancer, curbing new tumors, preventing pain in significantly many test mice, and stopping the deadly spread to the lungs (11 per cent suffered this compared to 89 per cent in one test). Their health and appearance was markedly improved. Moreover, there were two other scientists at Memorial Sloan Kettering who had got similar positive results for Laetrile. Franz Schmid found that even 40mg, a fiftieth of the dose (2000 mg per kilo of body weight) used by Sugiura, extended the life of the mice after they were given cancer by half. Elizabeth Stockert’s results also matched Sugiura’s, all confirmed by the five pathologists that counted lesions and tumors at Sloan-Kettering.

In fact, on July 2nd 1974 the top leaders of Sloan-Kettering (Lewis Thomas, Robert Good, Chester Stock and Lloyd Old) visited with the NCI and FDA in a large meeting to persuade them to allow clinical trials, and it was agreed to consider trials to treat cancer and relieve pain, and “the FDA will publicly endorse good research on amygdalin as in the public interest.”

Federal sun turns to wind and rain

But a later, bigger meeting at NCI on March 4th 1975, with higher ranking NCI officials, was attended by Daniel Martin of CMC, newly a national quackbuster and adamant opponent of Laetrile, and federal permission for trials was cancelled. To Moss’s bafflement, with the exception of Lloyd Old, the head of research, with no change in the science his top officials’ tune changed to “misrepresentations and egregious lies” claiming Laetrile had no virtue whatsoever. Chester Stock, director of the Sloan-Kettering’s Walker labs told the press “We have found Laetrile negative in all the animal systems we have tested.” It was at this point Moss realized there was a “cover-up”.

Only Lloyd Old responded to his concerns. As Moss sat in Old’s office, the head of research said to him “Do you want to know where we get all of our new ideas?” and took down a copy of the American Cancer Society’s Unproven Methods of Cancer Management which blacklisted Laetrile and other innovations as quackery. “This is the Bible!”

Moss says that “scientifically speaking, this was the most mind blowing moment of my life!” Later, he reports, Old handled his inner conflict by holidaying in Tahiti when Sloan-Kettering had its press conference, where as the film shows every one of its leaders present from Lewis Thomas down had to lie convincingly to 100 reporters and cameras, and did so with great acting skill.

After Brody’s failure to present the correct science a doubly disenchanted Moss sent the research in mid 1975 to the main Laetrile lobbying group, but they turned out to have too many members from the extreme right wing John Birch Society, which didn’t help gain traction. So Moss turned to a small left wing group, Science For The People, run by physician-activist named Alec Pruchnicki, and formed the secretly authored Second Opinion movement, to produce an underground sheet for employees at Sloan-Kettering to write anonymously about work issues, which became a must read for all managers on the day it was distributed.

Six months after the press conference held by Sloan-Kettering Moss wrote a 30,000 word monograph correcting the deceptions of his top brass. He decided to hold a press conference about it at the New York Hilton, with the head of Science for the People and others to speak. When assigned by his boss at the research center to spy on it, he confessed that he was the lead speaker. Next day, he described what had really happened with Laetrile research at Sloane-Kettering, a devastating account of corporate deceit in reporting scientific research. “Laetrile in fact is better than all the known anti-cancer drugs. All told, there were 20 positive experiments between 1972 and 1977”. Ultimately, he blamed “the profit system” for the scandal.

The brouhaha and the allegations of cover up landed on the front page of the New York Post, and his boss, Gerald Delaney, finally fired him when he came in on Monday, for “betraying the trust placed in him as a member of the public affairs department of this cancer center,” as he told the New York Times. Meanwhile the papers and statements from Second Opinion were “irresponsible and totally incorrect”.

Moss felt devastated by what seemed “so unfair” – that “an institution ostensibly devoted to seeking scientific truth” should behave in this way. Sloan-Kettering padlocked his filing cabinet and two armed guards told him never to enter the building again. But his wife says she was proud to be his wife, and Sugiura sent him a letter congratulating him on the accuracy of his report.

In the end, all the men who sold out science at the renowned institution have passed away, and as Moss notes, all of them died of cancer.

Ralph Moss as cancer reporter

The public is fortunate that Moss was kicked out from what he has described as perhaps “the best job I ever had”. The radical classicist went on to carve out a prominent place in cancer research information as perhaps its best consultant and writer. He described the notorious but soon forgotten Sloan-Kettering affair in a chapter of his 1980 book on The Cancer Industry and has now returned to the topic in a new book devoted to the battle, Doctored Results, published in February. He has become an unusually useful and widely respected source, publishing 12 books on cancer research and treatment and building a 35 year record of researching the best available treatment for all major types of cancer, and currently writing the Moss Reports, impartially assessing conventional and unconventional research and experience for over 200 cancer diagnoses.

His writing and editing has appeared in publications on both sides of the battle to reform medicine, from JAMA and the Lancet to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, including a monthly column on the “War on Cancer” for the Townsend Letter. He has even been back to lecture as an honoree at Sloan-Kettering, as well as many other medical centers here and abroad, with a slew of awards and honors around the world. He was invited by Harold Varmus who was then director of the NIH, in 1994 to sit on the NIH Alternative Medicine Advisory Council and help found the Office of Alternative Medicine, although this unfortunately has failed to live up to its ambitious charter since.

Why this movie matters

To revisit this storm in a fine china teapot may seem irrelevant forty years later, when Laetrile has been replaced in interest by numerous other plant substances. Especially in the last twenty years, peer reviewed studies in major centers around the world (even by institutions as deeply established as the Mayo Clinic) have shown that substances as common as green tea, resveratrol, curcumin (in turmeric) and the ubiquitous plant flavonoid quercetin might well have or even provably do have beneficial effects in humans in regard to cancer and other major ailments. But mainstream medicine is still not enthusiastic about using them: evidently, the same system flaws are at work.

Whether viewers of this unusual documentary will get its real message seems uncertain, since it spends little time on who’s to blame, and what should be done about a medical cancer research system clearly still in the pocket of big pharma. On this there is but the one telling quote that comes at the end. “Nobody is going to pay $70,000 for a new cancer drug if they can buy Laetrile for 75 cents.” – William W. Vodra, Former Associate Chief Counsel for Drugs, FDA.

The film’s bottom line message is that Memorial Sloan-Kettering should correct the record, and Laetrile should be revisited and properly assessed. Unlike chemotherapy it is not toxic, by the way, contrary to the impression given by Wikipedia. Raw (not roast, marzipan is made in Europe from roast bitter almonds) apricot kernels in huge amounts (more than sixty, say, at 0.5 mg each)) are toxic and even fatal to take orally (the enzymes release cyanide from the molecule) but purified Laetrile itself (amygdalin, C(20)H(27)NO(11)) is perfectly safe in reasonable amounts to take orally, one gram per day, say, in a human. (Given the way cyanide works, nothing much will happen to you if you eat fewer than sixty apricot pits at once, since the body is able to detoxify them in lesser amounts).

Whether current Sloan-Kettering executives will be prepared to take responsibiity for their predecessors misleading the press and public seems highly improbable given that the forces that made them do so are still in place and more powerful than ever. But the crying need to have clinical trials for Laetrile is well established by this careful account of a political crime against good science. As Moss says “to this day, if there are any better agents that have been proven as effective at preventing the spread of cancer they are unknown to me.”

Merola’s Corrective Moviemaking

This is Merola’s second major documentary of this kind, factually supporting pioneers in medical research against unscientific repression of their results. He made the excellent movie about Burzynski, Burzynski! , the Polish anti-cancer pioneer, in 2010, illuminating the excesses of the FDA in persecuting that independent researcher regardless of his promising and now officially validated results in countering brain cancer, something established medicine is largely unable to do. This important movie can be seen free at the Dr. Mercola site A full transcript is available at Burzynski! transcript A part II was completed and released in March this year, see Burzynski Movie. In June the FDA acknowledged the safety and efficacy of Burzynski’s “antineoplastons” and allowed Phase III trials.

Here is the trailer, which is worth watching:

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Emoticon :) – Livia de Paolis’s Italianate Look at Intimacy’s New e-Hurdles

Indie opening Friday is Challenge From Woman Director/Writer/Star

Social Media Rule Teen Life and Love, But Do They Serve Them Well?

Adults Worry, But Have their Own Communication Problems

A new woman director, Livia de Paolis, writes, directs and plays the simpatico an absorbing look at the way social media are changing the culture of intimacy

A new woman director, Livia de Paolis, writes, directs and plays the simpatico lead in an absorbing look at the way social media are changing the culture of intimacy

Indie screenings by debut directors in New York City, which has its share, have to compete with as many as 20 commercial movies and documentaries previews a week, which are superficially more polished but by nature less honest. It is that unvarnished frankness and sincerity which makes new works an unexpected joy if they are pulled off with skill and dispatch.

That is the case with Livia de Paolis’s cleverly titled Emoticon which screened last night at the Core Club, in advance of its release in Cinema Village on Friday. Viewers were mostly cast and friends, the latter with the obligation to spread the word in a week swamped for the media by the Book Expo at Javits.

The attractive director/lead and her man in Emoticon chat intimately off-line before the Core Club screening

Social media and early intimacy

A well worked out script seamlessly edited by Vanessa Abbott maintains a lively pace throughout this well executed study of what it views as a significant problem of contemporary society – the effect of social media on superficially sophisticated but essentially naive kids, with Facebook and the rest dominating communication amid the age old stresses of handling the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Negotiating the stepping stones of group popularity and acceptance by the opposite sex over the roaring chasm of possible rejection is notoriously slippery in American schools, where family backgrounds and social status can vary wildly compared with, say, English boarding schools. Emoticon portrays the new world of New York City kids where the limited means of messaging via text, Twitter and Facebook, which struggle to convey complex emotions through emoticons, and overshare experience in the often public and shallow form of selfies and video, have taken over much personal communication among teens and young adults.

People beyond their twenties who grew up without these questionable blessings might suspect as the film appears to do that they handicap the process of understanding and being understood, even if they enhance it by enabling short messages when apart more frequently, and instantly conveying imaginative and playful responses. Understanding in adult relationships is hard enough to master, after all. Fenced within the limits of e-messaging what hope is there that teens with iPhones and Mac Airs can master the complexities of intimacy during their self conscious high school years fraught with the social demands of popularity and fitting in?

Warmth works wonders

This is the challenging theme of Emoticon:), shown last year in Los Angeles and now come to New York. Rome born and raised Livia de Paolis the philosophy graduate director and script writer (with Sarah Nerboso) examines the question with an Italianate eye, suggesting that Italy still has a decade or two to catch up with the US move to on-screen social life and “cool” instead of warmth. She plays the lead role of Elena Gallenti, a single anthropology graduate student in her early thirties trying to research a thesis on “modern means of communication”. Part of the problem is the character’s own awkwardness, pointed to by her PhD advisor (Carol Kane): “How come you want to do a thesis on communication when you can’t even communicate with me?!”

Professionally at home in front of a camera de Paolis exerts an warmth and emotional fluency that carries the story smoothly past the initially self conscious acting of Michael Cristofer as her sullen older man to her growing interest, after the predictable initial rebuff, in the lives and problems of his teen son and daughter, which seem more relevant to her (and her thesis) than his at 64.

Miles and Allison, the two younger leads chat at the after party at the Core screening room

A second stand out screen presence is the young guitar playing son, played by Miles Chandler, as Luke Nevins whose impetuous seduction by blonde fellow teen Jackie (Allison “Allie” Gallerani, also a vivid presence in a film full of lively performances) leads to belated frantic concern over the possibility of pregnancy (learned about the next day in her Google search!). The crisis is resolved by Elena’s friendly intervention – she leads the naive youth to a pharmacist and gets him a morning after pill to give to Jackie.

Complications between her and her stiff older consort are a tad more difficult to negotiate, however, and even less suitable to social media, when she gets pregnant and he is not enthusiastic about the prospect of late fatherhood.

Remember the letter?

There are no dull moments in this big screen-little screen saga which pits old versus new, grown up (supposedly) versus teen, and face to face versus screen, comparing social skills born of experience against those born of raw passion routed through e-messaging but handicapped by its limits, not only missing the subtle signals of body language but complicated by inherent lack of privacy and quiet reflection. Raising a host of questions at every turn, the drama inevitably concludes with no real answer, except as one of the final lines says it best: “Let’s turn off the camera and live in the moment.”

The personal charisma and sincerity of the director-lead attracts the camera’s focus whenever she appears, which is most of the time, and imbues the action with the feel of a genuine search for knowledge and enlightenment about an issue central to personal fulfillment in society today.

Can we survive the threat to intimacy posed by the dominance of e-messaging in relationships, which not so long ago bloomed and deepened so well with the help of the handwritten letter as the sole record of what we wanted to say heart to heart – carefully considered missives in slow paced exchange, sincere and confidently private? Can multiple online chats and video do even better, perhaps, in some ways, or are they inevitably poor substitutes which only anticipate and perhaps even slow real sharing and acceptance?

The film raises these questions provocatively without wholly answering them – just as they are as yet unanswered in real life.

NY Premiere Screening at the Core Club
A Film by Livia de Paolis
EMOTICON 😉 NYC Premiere Screening
With Director/Co-Writer/Actor Livia de Paolis and Actors Miles Chandler, and Michael Cristofer in attendance

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The Bad Seed (1956): Evil within innocence poses universal conundrum

Twists and electric denouement drive old fashioned play script

Theme is hidden sociopathy, and nature versus nurture

Live acted credits at the end are special bonus

Rhoda and Lerpy, the maintenance man: it takes one to know one

The Bad Seed is disquieting, but comfortably so, as befits a “classic” rerun on PBS from TCM from time to time. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy in 1956, it’s a well produced and professionally acted old fashioned stage drama, based on a 1954 play by Maxwell Anderson, and includes many of the original Broadway cast. It’s also a must see, since it started a whole genre in devilish babes.

You can't judge a human by the cover

You can’t judge a human by the cover

Anderson adapted it from a novel from William March which was published the same year, only a month before the novelist’s death, and before he could enjoy the huge critical and commercial success of this work, which addressed one of the great concerns of human life: to what extent is heartless psychopathy inherited, and how often is it hidden under the skin of child or adult and unrecognized by others?

The movie’s initially routine development soon twists and turns as the devilish nature of Rhoda Penmark, a seemingly happy eight year old with doll-like charm, emerges to confound all the nice and conventionally well intentioned people that surround her, including her mother, who has mentally buried a dark childhood secret of her own.

The unfolding of her little treasure’s psychopathy generates enough tension and twists as the story develops to redeem what would otherwise be a too predictable melodrama better left to the stage or page. The innate evil hidden under cute, pigtailed innocence emerges soon enough as psychopathic acquisitiveness, wreaking murder more than once as well as havoc on the good, sensitive and conventionally nice people that surround her.

Taken them off Rhoda – they’re a giveaway!

Rhoda is played by Patti McCormick, who was nominated for an Oscar for her acting, which she said she enjoyed. She does seem older, although Bosley Crowther went too far at the time saying that she could stand next to Marilyn Monroe. The victims of her cruel greed include especially her mother, Christine (Nancy Kelly), who is weepily concerned with the feelings of others to an inordinate degree, and so horrified at her child’s murderous greed that she eventually tries to end both their lives.

Even Mummy has to look really closely to see what is inside a child

There is a special satisfaction in watching a well crafted story develop as its various plot elements dovetail nicely, one of them being a running debate on whether nastiness is the fruit of bad influences and upbringing or breeding ie results from genes and cannot be revised. Convinced that the latter is true, the mother assumes all the guilt of her dangerous offspring As the story stands, she must be right, since she undoubtedly gave her baby the best possible modeling for treating others with kindness and consideration. We are taken back to the days when an evilly psychopathic nature was recognized for what it was confidently taken to be, an internal state rooted in devilish genes, and twisting a soul beyond reform through punishment or reeducation.

It’s only a play. folks – but watch out for its real life counterparts

Stay with the film till past the end, when the standard approach of the credits as lines of text is replaced by the brief personal appearances and smiles of each the Broadway actors involved, a notion which is rounded off with a nice visual joke. This scene will appear on the PBS copy, which will also feature the electrifying end done by the director to satisfy the Hays Code (the novel and the play ended less dramatically, with Rhoda free to go on with her appalling career).


Why so popular? because we all know someone sociopathic, we just didn’t know before

Directed by
Mervyn LeRoy
Writing Credits
John Lee Mahin … (screenplay)

Maxwell Anderson … (play)

William March – novel.
Cast (in credits order) complete, awaiting verification
Nancy Kelly – Christine Penmark
Patty McCormack – Rhoda Penmark
Henry Jones – Leroy Jessup
Eileen Heckart – Hortense Daigle
Evelyn Varden – Monica Breedlove
William Hopper – Col. Kenneth Penmark
Paul Fix – Richard Bravo
Jesse White – Emory Wages
Gage Clarke – Reginald ‘Reggie’ Tasker
Joan Croydon – Claudia Fern (as Joan Croyden)
Frank Cady – Henry Daigle

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The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) – Anthony Hopkins’ Easy Five Star Charm

There is more satisfaction in the small victories Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro achieves every day than his ultimate triumph over the tough racing challenge he sets himself

One wouldn’t suspect it from the title or the first scenes but you will find yourself viewing a perfect film if you choose this unassuming classic, partly because Anthony Hopkins’ performance is pitch perfect as the amiable old sod who gets it into his head that he wants to win the world speed record on the Bonneville, Utah salt flats on a modest though classic motor bike from yesteryear called an Indian (hence the title).

What makes the experience of this well directed, well shot and well scripted film achieve the heights of philosophy and emotion is that Hopkins makes friends everywhere he goes, with an easy charm that comes from his ability to connect to the core of every human being he meets, however different they may be, by treating them as family from the word go.

With a succession of equally accessible supporting actors ranging from a transvestite motel clerk, Tina, who helps him clear customs, and Fernando the used car dealer who lets him repair his bike in the dealership garage (along with tuning up all the cars in the lot) to the Native American who gives him a charm for his prostate and Ada the older but still lively owner of a car dump in the desert who hosts him overnight in her bed, this uplifting movie is a perfect evocation of what we all know or should know in our souls, which is that we are indeed family, members of the family of man, and that that cliche holds the essential truth of all philosophies and religions in one vessel, the chalice of love for your fellow man.

In the hands of a lesser actor and director this simple theme wouldn’t amount to much in terms of story, since all that happens in the 127 minutes it will hold your attention at every moment is that aging New Zealander and bike engineering wiz Hopkins, ailing with a dicky heart and not a lot of stamina, embarks on a delusional bid to get the equally middle aged 1920 motorbike he loves tinkering with in his garage in a suburb far far down under to America, aiming to win the speed record for that particular machine ie run it at over 200 mph at the serious risk of his life and limb.

This danger is something which he ignores completely and, with his matchless charm and common touch, persuades everyone else he comes into contact with to ignore also – even the men whose job it is to see that entrants who compete in the official timing races are competent and their machines well equipped for the speed runs with such things as parachutes and efficient brakes, which Hopkins and his beloved bike sorely lack.

The gentle saga of how he gets to America, charms everyone he meets into helping him, and is finally allowed to compete despite never even having heard that he had to fill in forms and apply months before the test runs, is one of the finer pieces of laid back story telling in cinema history.

It is doubly satisfying because Hopkins’ acting tour-de-force is complemented by a director who knows how to portray both character and context with both a well written script and a fine feeling for telling us all we need to know without wasting a moment in exaggeration or repetition, and because the theme is so uplifting – that someone who has the goodwill and understanding of a saint can and will sooth and win over people everywhere he goes.

Teaching as it pleases, this is one of those rare principled movies that inspires as it entertains, and at every showing is slowly but surely making the world a better place. Pleasing has never been a problem. The film immediate became the highest grossing movie in New Zealand and won over critics and audiences worldwide. Why was it so well done? It is based on a true story about the Invercargill, New Zealand speed bike racer Burt Munro which the director had already treated in a documentary, and which held his attention for twenty years. Moreover, as Anthony Hopkins has explained it was a breeze for him to play Burt Munro because his philosophy of life was much the same as the hero’s.

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“Wolf of Wall Street” – Powerful Performance, Predictable Script

Story is redundant and overblown, first half a slog

Vivid DiCaprio presence overcomes routine story of scamming and orgiastic excess

Blatant sex, obscenity laden dialogue, but only Leo moves drama

Come on, Leo - you should kinow that if you lose your money, you lose your woman...: Left to right: Margot Robbie is Naomi Lapaglia and Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures.

Come on, Leo – you should kinow that if you lose your money, you lose your woman…: Left to right: Margot Robbie is Naomi Lapaglia and Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures.

The interest of Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street may depend on how familiar you are with the simplicities of low level pump and dump Wall Street boiler room scamming of the early nineties, whose scoundrel heroes somehow – despite their giveaway Long Island accents announcing their ignorance and lack of real Wall Street smarts – managed to flog penny stocks over the phone to their hardworking peers slaving away in real blue or white collar jobs, by appealing to the fond American belief that only luck separates the poor from millionaires.

If you feel you know all the basics already you may find the first half of this film a tedious and overlong setting up of the second half, in which there is finally some drama as the film plunges you into an over the top portrayal of the excesses and the loud mouth braggadocio and boastful exploitation of drugs and women, fast cars, large houses, pools and yachts that went with the proceeds of their cheating, with arrest and exposure looming as the authorities finally investigate.

It is hard to know who to root for, however, since there is something winning about the dedicated energy and guiltless charm with which DiCaprio (as former Wall Street penny stock flogger Jordan Belfort) revels in his exploitation of suckers, whose personal losses are ignored in the story, and his group’s arrest and convictions happened in real life long before the bigger fish of more recent global scams, whose bubble burst in 2008 and brought down much of the middle class in most major Western economies with them, yet who were bailed out by the Feds and left reaping higher bonuses than ever.

Leo DiCaprio enlivens The Wolf of Wall Street

Too long delayed by a tedious set up, the more lively scenes building to climax and denouement – seen one office/mansion/yacht orgy, seen ’em all? – may seem too predictable too, noisy and fast paced though the action becomes from moment to moment. The saving grace is DiCaprio, who is luckily on screen all the time, and there is something electric and riveting about his tour de force throughout. High energy throughout, it is a virtuoso performance of true Oscar nomination quality, and a sad injustice if the lack of flair in the dialogue and the drama means he will lose.

Some memorable moments

Not that there are not one or two memorable moments, such as the lunch where the naive Leo DiCaprio sits high above Manhattan, the wealthy city spread out before him in a top of the WTC view, to be told by an older mentor that he should throttle his snake at least twice a day to keep his voice relaxed enough to sell convincingly over the phone. Then there is a nice scene aboard his yacht later on where his chortling self admiration at being on top of the financial garbage heap is interrupted by an FBI agent who has him in his sights, and tells him so in amiable velvet glove over iron fist fashion, only to be met with a not so subtle bribe offer which for a minute we believe he is going to take.

At that point however the somewhat dreary been-there-seen-that recitation of familiar get rich quick misbehavior involving naked playmates and endless lines of white powder and even Quaaludes (though admittedly the glimpses we get of salesmen crowding round cheering on pumping copulation in the office and naked Playmate worthy beauties on the yachts take such images one step further than previous portrayals on screen) which will bore anyone who doesn’t need one and a half hours to get the idea, is transformed into a cat and mouse game where the drama at least is juiced by the interest of seeing how and why he is finally caught and imprisoned, as his difficulties both business and marital mount.

Drugs defeat the best and the worst

An extended sequence where both Leo and his long time partner are overcome by an overdose of Quaaludes which destroy their ability to do almost anything but crawl on the floor while trying to save themselves from giving too much away to the Federal investigation is memorable, for sure. But in general the script simply lacks some new way of presenting the modern Wall Street drugs and sex, decline and downfall story except as vicarious thrills which act more as a titillating sales pitch to the audience than a cautionary tale.

Bullying and nastiness thread through the story, underlying the hysteria of outlandish gain. The introductory credits are run as a dwarf is tossed through a paper screen, warning of the banal extremes to come. One or two vivid humiliations pass by and spice up the tale. A nerdy salesman caught wasting time polishing his pet goldfish’s bowl suffers his outraged boss lifting the little red fish above a gaping mouth and swallowing the pet. A presumably willing (because paid) girl is head shaven, her beautiful tresses falling to the office floor in front of inattentive salesman busily celebrating some coup. But such telling touches are rare, and are not pursued. The film’s tone remains on the inarticulate loudmouth, obscenity laden level throughout.

Naked ladies from aging directors

Martin a Dirty Old Director? Surely not!

One wonders whether given Stanley Kubrick’s stumble with Eyes Wide Shut into the naked ladies in high heels trope in his dotage if this is Scorcese’s example of how aging American directors turn into dirty old men who imagine that sexual window shopping has any dramatic tension or plot value in a narrative. One can sympathize with more sophisticated viewers who are complaining loudly on the Web that this film for all its accurate picture of minor league financial and social thuggery is a three hour bore that needed a lot more script development before Scorcese, 71, applied his undoubted directorial talent into realizing it so vividly on the screen.

On the other hand there is sufficient satirical fun in the second half to help redeem it at least in part, even if voice overs registering the thoughts of Leo and a Swiss banker as they meet to discuss him parking his loot beyond the reach of the Feds seems a little SNL in style for a major motion picture. Viewers need to relax their expectations if they are familiar with the basic material from print and other better screenings of Wall St high jinks both fiction and documentary (Margin Call, Inside Job, The Bank, even Assault on Wall Street). Without a sense of that tolerant humor this film will be a long slog indeed. Though never dull, ultimately it is too often redundant depiction of outrages we can imagine as well for ourselves, a waste of very fine acting by diCaprio, and of still masterful directing by Scorcese.

But the performance of DiCaprio will stick in their minds and vibrate for days afterwards, whatever they make of the film as a whole.

Skip it if you know what minor crookery, yelling and orgies look like, unless you have three hours to confirm what you already know well portrayed by Leo and Marty, who both do a fine job with an under edited script

Skip it if you know what minor crookery, yelling and orgies look like, unless you have three hours to confirm what you already know well portrayed by Leo and Marty, who both do a fine job with an under edited script

The Wolf of Wall Street

Opens on Wednesday.

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Terence Winter, based on the book by Jordan Belfort; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; production design by Bob Shaw; costumes by Sandy Powell; produced by Mr. Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland and Emma Tillinger Koskoff; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 3 hours.

WITH: Leonardo DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort), Jonah Hill (Donnie Azoff), Margot Robbie (Naomi), Matthew McConaughey (Mark Hanna), Kyle Chandler (Patrick Denham), Rob Reiner (Max Belfort), Jon Favreau (Manny Riskin), Cristin Milioti (Teresa) and Jean Dujardin (Jean-Jacques Saurel).

Great pics, video at http://www.thewolfofwallstreet.com/

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Lech Walesa’s Superb Man of Hope

A film selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, Andrzej Wajda’s Lech Walesa: Man of Hope will be shown at MOMA on Dec 8 (private invitation).

So was Lech Walesa a flawed hero or Poland’s savior? We shall see

Walesa. Man of Hope (Polish: Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei) (Polish pronunciation: [vaˈwɛ̃sa]) is a 2013 biopic directed by Andrzej Wajda, starring Robert Więckiewicz as Lech Wałęsa. As Andrzej Wajda conceded at Kraków’s Off Plus Camera Film Festival in April 2012, he foresees trouble coming his way once the film is released.[6] The film has been selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.[7]


Lech Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in 1970’s local demonstrations.[8] While he keeps the bloody aftermath in mind he concentrates on day-to-day duties. Yet ten years later a new uprising takes place and he happens to become an unexpected and charismatic leader of Polish dockworkers.[9] This is the beginning of a new movement that successfully stands up to the communistic regime. Wałęsa is pushed into representing the working population of Poland. The Soviet Union, hitherto regarded as too fearsome to mess with, has to cut them slack. The Polish example of solidarity triggers hope all over Eastern Europe and causes a domino effect. People in Eastern Germany follow the Polish example, eventually start demonstrating for freedom and then achieve the German reunification by a peaceful revolution. The Soviet Union dissolves as does Yugoslavia. While Europe is reshaped Poland remains stable and peaceful. Yet a huge variety of political parties unfolds and Poland is at the brink of becoming as ungovernable as the late Weimar Republic. Lech Wałęsa answers the calling and is elected the first president of the new Polish democracy. But now people start to think that Wałęsa has it too good.[2] Suchlike propelled they start to seek for ways to diminish him until they finally accomplish to dig deep enough to disclose equivocal decisions he made when he still was an electrician who temporarily felt overstrained while carrying all the hopes and expectations his country had heaped on him.

In April 2011, Andrzej Wajda told The Guardian he intended to make a film just in order to “shine new light on Lech Wałęsa.”[10] Author Janusz Głowacki was quoted having said the film, “is not just going to be romanticism. There will be irony, too. Don’t worry.”

Director Andrzej Wajda declared in a press conference the Nobel laureate and former president of Poland had condoned the project.[11] He also stated he considered the making of this film his so far hardest professional challenge.[12] Still, he couldn’t help but realise the categorical imperative, and consequently quoted the famous slogan of his friend Lech Wałęsa: “Nie chcem, ale muszem” (“I don’t want to, but I have to”).[13]

Monica Bellucci was at a time supposed to play Oriana Fallaci but finally Maria Rosaria Omaggio got the role.[3] Andrzej Wajda was reported having said his tight budget had influenced his choice.[12]

FROM IMDB (Who knew? Shipworker Walesa became a supporting actor! Have to check that … Role in Man of Iron was himself.)

Overview (1)
Date of Birth 29 September 1943 , Popowo, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland
Mini Bio (1)

Lech Walesa was born on September 29, 1943 in Popowo, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland. He is an actor, known for Man of Iron (1981), Moonwalker (1988) and Bajland (2000). He has been married to Miroslawa Danuta Golos since September 8, 1969. They have eight children.
Spouse (1)
Miroslawa Danuta Golos (08 September 1969 – present) (8 children)
Trivia (3)
In phonetic English, his surname is pronounced vah-WENTZ-ah.
President of Poland (1990-1995) Nobel Peace Prize in 1983
He and his wife have 8 children, four sons: Bogdan (b. 1970), Slawomir (b. 1972), Przemyslaw (b. 1974), Jaroslaw (b. 1976), and four daughters: Magdalena (b. 1979), Anna (b. 1980), Maria Wiktoria (b. 1982), Brygida (b. 1985).

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Slammin’ Salmon: Fast fun, though knocked by Times

Unremittingly hectic, high energy laughs

Slammin’ Salmon – fast enough for them to lose the ring he planned to have hidden in her dessert

There is never a dull moment in Slammin’ Salmon (2009), which lack of respite is probably its only weakness. Steel yourself, if you can, for a set of high voltage slapstick routines played at peak level all the way, with no let up in frantic intensity, and you’ll enjoy a smart, charged comedy.

The kinetic performers are a talented bunch who will rivet your gaze throughout as they work through their over the top sketches with barely a pause in the express train momentum. Just be prepared for unrelenting, exhaustive stimulation, with many of their electrified shenanigans burning into your neurons to revisit for a day or two afterwards. But you liked A Fish Called Wanda, didn’t you?

The group’s fearless exaggeration goes well into cartoon territory but is generally carried off with panache and flair enough to get away with what would otherwise – as in one toilet level case – sink into deja vu of the tiresome kind, as New York Times reviewer NEIL GENZLINGER complained, possibly with jaded resistance to contrived mirth..

This undemanding and consistently diverting little movie will certainly give you a charge if you can stand the pace. With well executed invention and frequent wit director and cast pull it all off with a great flourish.


All the polished slapstick you could desire, but stil the Times critic was a grouch.

Directed by Kevin Heffernan; written by Broken Lizard; director of photography, Robert Barocci; edited by Brad Katz; music by Nathan Barr; production designer, Erich W. Schultz; produced by Peter Lengyel and Richard Perello; released by Anchor Bay Films. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.

WITH: Michael Clarke Duncan (Cleon “Slammin’ ” Salmon), Jay Chandrasekhar (Nuts), Steve Lemme (Connor), Paul Soter (Donnie), Erik Stolhanske (Guy), Cobie Smulders (Tara), April Bowlby (Mia) and Morgan Fairchild (Herself).

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Lincoln Center Shows LGBT NewFest

Announces the LineUp for LGBT NewFest/Outfest

Included: Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?

Concussion Stacie Passon, 2012 USA | 97 minutes Opening Night! New York Premiere! Filmmaker in person for Q&A! From executive producer Rose Troche and writer-director Stacie Passon, this funny, sexy and compelling mix of Belle De Jour and The Stepford Wives follows suburban lesbian housewife Abby (Robin Weigert, Deadwood, The Sessions) through an erotic epiphany after suffering a head injury. In the immediate aftermath, she questions whether her picture-perfect family life is enough and decides to revive her career and renovate a loft in New York City. But the space quickly transforms itself into a convenient location for an unexpected sexual reawakening. Concussion had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Tickets are $50 and include admission to the Opening Night party. Series: NewFest 2013 Venue: Walter Reade Theater

Stacie Passon, 2012
USA | 97 minutes
Opening Night!
New York Premiere! Filmmaker in person for Q&A!
From executive producer Rose Troche and writer-director Stacie Passon, this funny, sexy and compelling mix of Belle De Jour and The Stepford Wives follows suburban lesbian housewife Abby (Robin Weigert, Deadwood, The Sessions) through an erotic epiphany after suffering a head injury. In the immediate aftermath, she questions whether her picture-perfect family life is enough and decides to revive her career and renovate a loft in New York City. But the space quickly transforms itself into a convenient location for an unexpected sexual reawakening. Concussion had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Tickets are $50 and include admission to the Opening Night party.
Series: NewFest 2013
Venue: Walter Reade Theater

A circular has arrived from The Film Society of Lincoln Center, detailing the line up of films in the 2013 NewFest coming up September 6th to 11th sponsored by HBO. For the third time the 25 year old (since 1987) annual New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival has partnered with the Film Society and its screenings and panels will be at the Walter Reade Theater and the JCC (what that? – Ed.). A third partner is Outfest, the LA based LGBT media arts organization, which worked on the program and which will merge with NewFest to form a national organization next year.

The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With My Pants On Drew Denny, 2012 USA | 95 minutes New York Premiere! Filmmaker in person for Q&A! Free-spirited young lesbian Andy (writer-director Drew Denny) and her reserved childhood friend Liv (Sarah Hagan, Freaks and Geeks) are traveling across the Southwest to scatter Andy’s father’s ashes. Starting out building campfires, drinking, snuggling, and reminiscing about the good old days, tensions arise as the trip progresses, forcing the duo to examine the core of their relationship. Are they friends or something more? Denny’s autobiographical comedy about connection, the open road and, yes, how to have fun with your pants on, is a joyride of sweet twists and turns. Screening with: Wini + George Benjamin Monie | USA | 2013 | 12m A young misunderstood boy and a kind-hearted bag lady bond over dolls and the wonder of life. Series: NewFest 2013 Venue: Walter Reade Theater

The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With My Pants On
Drew Denny, 2012
USA | 95 minutes
New York Premiere! Filmmaker in person for Q&A!
Free-spirited young lesbian Andy (writer-director Drew Denny) and her reserved childhood friend Liv (Sarah Hagan, Freaks and Geeks) are traveling across the Southwest to scatter Andy’s father’s ashes. Starting out building campfires, drinking, snuggling, and reminiscing about the good old days, tensions arise as the trip progresses, forcing the duo to examine the core of their relationship. Are they friends or something more? Denny’s autobiographical comedy about connection, the open road and, yes, how to have fun with your pants on, is a joyride of sweet twists and turns.
Screening with:
Wini + George
Benjamin Monie | USA | 2013 | 12m
A young misunderstood boy and a kind-hearted bag lady bond over dolls and the wonder of life.
Series: NewFest 2013
Venue: Walter Reade Theater

Among the list of 15 narrative features, 4 documentaries and 31 shorts and other events is Concussion, by Stacy Passon, which will open the event, and Test, by Chris Mason Johnson, which will close it. Concussion made waves at Sundance with its story of a happy lesbian suburban housewife becoming a high class call girl. Test is set in gay boom town San Francisco in the 80s, and shows a young dancer navigating his role at a modern dance company and developing a relationship with a fellow dancer.

Among the more provocative titles are The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With My Pants On, and the clever Who’s Afraid of Vagina WOlf? Prices are $13 ($8 for members of Newfest or the Film Society) and ticket info is at www.FilmLinc.com
[spoiler title=”Click for the entire program” open=”0″ style=”1″] ====================================================

NewFest In Partnership with Outfest and the Film Society of Lincoln Center
announce lineup for the 25th Anniversary of NewFest,
the New York LGBT Film Festival
September 6th-11th, 2013

Opening Night: Stacie Passon’s Concussion
Closing Night: Chris Mason Johnson’s Test
James Franco, Travis Mathews, Rose Troche, Stacie Passon,
Malgoska Szumowska among those set
to show their latest work at Film Society of Lincoln Center

New York, NY (August 13, 2013) — The 25th annual NewFest, New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Film Festival will run from Friday, September 6th through Wednesday, September 11th
, with a lineup of 15 narrative features, 4 documentaries, 31 shorts and other special events. For the third time in NewFest’s history, the festival is in partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and screenings and panels will take place at Manhattan’s film mecca, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater and the JCC in Manhattan.

Dennis Lim, Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Director of Cinematheque Programming, said, “The Film Society is delighted to welcome back NewFest and to continue our collaboration with Outfest. LGBT cinema has come a long way since this storied festival’s first edition, but as this year’s program suggests, it is no less vital today, and perhaps more diverse than ever.”

“There’s a lot to celebrate this year,” says Steve Mendelsohn, Co-Chair of NewFest’s Board of Directors. “It’s our 25th anniversary, and the recent Supreme Court victory over DOMA has everybody excited. The world has changed since 1987 and we are proud that NewFest has played a role in bringing so many important stories to audiences for a quarter of a century.”

LA-based LGBT media arts organization Outfest programmed and will help run this year’s event. Outfest and NewFest will form an official national organization next year.

Kicking off the festival is the New York premiere of Stacie Passon’s debut feature Concussion, produced by Rose Troche and starring Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff and Johnathan Tchaikovsky. A Sundance Film Festival favorite, Concussion explores a suburban lesbian’s erotic reawakening from happy housewife to high-class call girl. Closing the event will be the New York Premiere of Chris Mason Johnson’s acclaimed Test, winner of the Grand Jury Prize For Outstanding U.S. Narrative and Outstanding Screenwriting at 2013 Outfest Los Angeles. Set in the gay Mecca of San Francisco in the 80’s, Test portrays this uniquely exciting and harrowing era as young Frankie (real-life dancer Scott Marlowe) navigates his role in a modern dance company and his evolving relationship with fellow dancer Todd (the hunky Matthew Risch).

“This year’s line-up represents the maturity of LGBT storytelling with films like Concussion and Pit Stop that depict sophisticated relationships in unique settings,” said Kirsten Schaffer, Executive Director of Outfest. “as well as a strong International slate and a handful of films that push boundaries in form and content.”

James Franco is involved in two productions. He co-directed Interior. Leather Bar. with Travis Mathews, in which the two reimagine the 40 minutes of censored footage from the controversial 1980 S&M thriller Cruising, directed by William Friedkin. Franco also produced Kink, a documentary directed by Christina Voros about five San Francisco-based BDSM workers who are employed at the kink.com studios.

A handpicked selection of some of the best international LGBT films will also be shown, including the 2013 Teddy Award winner for Best Feature In the Name Of…, directed by Malgoska Szumowska and the US premiere of You and the Night, the libidinous 2013 Cannes debut from M83 bandmate Yann Gonzalez, who Variety proclaimed “may be the next Almodovar or Ozon”.

NewFest is sponsored by HBO.

Tickets on sale now to members of NewFest and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Tickets will go on sale to the General Public on Wednesday, August 21 at Noon. Tickets are $13; $8 for members of NewFest and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Special prices apply to the Opening and Closing Night screenings. Visit www.FilmLinc.com for complete information.

Complete Lineup (in alphabetical order)
Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023 (between

Dir/Scr: Stacie Passon, 2012, USA, 97 min.
From executive producer Rose Troche and writer-director Stacie Passon, this funny, sexy and compelling mix of Belle de Jour and The Stepford Wives follows suburban lesbian housewife Abby (Robin Weigert, “Deadwood”, The Sessions) through an erotic epiphany after suffering a head injury. In the immediate aftermath, she questions whether her picture-perfect family life is enough and decides to revive her career and renovate a loft in New York City. But the space quickly transforms itself into a convenient location for an unexpected sexual reawakening. CONCUSSION had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Looking back as moving forward, this selection of recent works and telling discoveries assembles a queer menagerie of experimentalists and pop icons, like Pet Shop Boys, Lil’ Kim and Kristen (“call me KStew”) Stewart. From flickering Super 8 and scratched 16mm to grainy VHS, HD video and plasma monitors, the cutting edge never felt so queerly expanded.

Dir: Stephan Lacant, Scr: Stephan Lacant, Karsten Dahlem, 2013, Germany, subtitled, 100 min.
In his gripping and erotic feature debut, German director Stephan Lacant chronicles the pleasures and pitfalls of a tumultuous love affair between police officer Marc (Hanno Koffler, Summer Storm) and his training partner, Kay. At first Marc brushes off his attraction to his colleague as a fluke, but his feelings become evident the more time he spends away from his pregnant girlfriend Bettina, inside motel rooms and in remote corners of the forest with Kay. Free Fall, which had its world premiere at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival, explores the excitement of forbidden love as well as the consequences of secrecy and repression.

Dir: Gary Entin, Scr: Edmund Entin, 2012, USA, 83 min.
Russell (Cameron Deane Stewart, Pitch Perfect) is your average closeted high school teen looking for love. Enter Kevin (Justin Deeley, “90210”), the school’s hunkiest football jock. Things get complicated when both Kevin and Russell do things they don’t want to in order to hide who they are. Russell seeks advice from the Geography Club, actually a secret GSA filled with a hilarious collection of misfits. As the closet grows harder to maintain, Russell has to decide whether or not to come out – even if it means losing Kevin. Smart, assured and stylish, with supporting performances by Ana Gasteyer (“SNL”), Alex Newell (“Glee”), Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray), the debut feature from the Entin twins represents a big (and very hot) step forward in the gay-teen comedy genre.

Dir/Scr: Cory Krueckeberg, 2013, USA, 91 min.
College boy Doc (Tanner Cohen, Were the World Mine) is obsessed with a well-known NYC go-go boy (Matthew Camp). He befriends his hunky crush with the intention of shooting a documentary about what it’s like to live in his skin. But as they grow closer, flirtation blurs the line between subject and filmmaker until a steamy night together solidifies deeper feelings. Cory Krueckeberg’s explicit directorial debut explores the thrill and danger of getting exactly what you wished for.
Q-RATING – Explicit Sexuality

Dir/Scr: Doug Spearman, 2013, USA, 110 min.
Handsome, reckless Pip gets drugged and robbed at an orgy. Danny, his sexy but sensible ex-boyfriend, is an actor taking a private investigator class—he’s up for a part on a cop show. There’s still a strong sexual and emotional tension between them that builds as they investigate a series of robberies and murders at the sex parties of rich and powerful gay men. With the help of Jimmy, a seen-it-all PI, they play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a ruthless killer, finding plenty of laughs along the way. In his debut feature, writer-director Doug Spearman, a 2009 Outfest Screenwriting Lab fellow for the Hot Guys With Guns screenplay, deftly balances action (both kinds) and witty comedy.

Dir: Travis Mathews, James Franco, Scr: Travis Mathews, 2012, USA, 60 min.
To avoid an X rating, 40 minutes of footage was cut from the controversial 1980 gay slasher movie Cruising. In a provocative reimagining of this censored material, directors Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love) and James Franco create an explicit and steamy documentary film-within-a-film about gay sex and masculinity. As the straight lead Val prepares to assume the Al Pacino position, he is forced to confront his own sexual boundaries and discomforts, which flare as he pushes deeper into this iconic gay interior. The film had its world premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Q-RATING – Explicit Sexuality

Dir: Malgoska Szumowska, Scr: Malgoska Szumowska, Michal Englert, 2013, Poland, subtitled, 102 min.
Father Adam is the talk of the small Polish town he’s assigned to. Handsome, strong and unfazed by a violent group of local teens, he’s idolized and occasionally hit on by local men and women alike. It’s only when the brooding and beautiful Lukasz, an orphan and accused arsonist, falls into his arms one hot summer day, that Father Adam feels the sudden pang of repressed desire. Soon his feelings of lust give way to love, setting off suspicion within the tight-knit, conservative community. Shot in glowing, golden sunlight and set within the sprawling fields and forests of Poland, Malgoska Szumowska’s sumptuous drama (2013 Teddy Award winner for Best Feature Film) teems with sensuality and tension.

Dir: Christina Voros, Scr: Christina Voros, Ian Olds, 2012, USA, 79 min.
KINK takes us into the painful but oh-so-pleasurable world of five San Francisco–based BDSM workers as they choke, spank and scream their way through just another day at the kink.com studios. Produced by James Franco and directed with frank allure by Christina Voros, the film not only humanizes the bondage and sadomasochism industry, it also uncovers a professional world in ways the uninitiated would never expect. So strap in (or strap on!) and enjoy this wild and surprisingly sweet dungeon-based feature, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Q-RATING – Explicit Sexual Content

Dir: Antonio Hens, Scr: Abel González Melo, Antonio Hens, 2012, Cuba, subtitled, 94 min.
Reinier works as a callboy in order to support his wife and child, but he ends up gambling most of his money away. Sex with men is strictly business until he befriends a cute soccer player named Yosvani, who works for his girlfriend’s father, a corrupt debt collector. When Reinier’s gambling habit gets him in serious trouble, Yosvani tries to convince Reinier to run away with him. Set in the bustling streets of Cuba, The Last Match offers a visceral romance ripe with unexpected turns and dangerous temptations.

Dir/Scr: Mark Thiedeman, 2013, USA, 73 min.
For two small-town teenagers in love, this is that one last summer they will spend together before going their separate ways. Baseball star Luke knows that the intelligent Jonah will go off to college in the fall, and over the course of the next few months these boyfriends will lose themselves in nature, bicycle rides and each other while they still can. With echoes of Terrence Malick, writer-director Mark Thiedeman offers up a debut feature that balances haunting beauty with adolescent passion.

Dir: Gilitte Leung, Scr: Gilitte Leung, Hedy Yau, 2012, China, subtitled, 92 min.
Aggie might be in love with her roommate Dennis. They’ve been friends since primary school and have lived in the same Hong Kong flat for years. But here’s the rub: Aggie’s a lesbian and Dennis is gay. The two have never been interested in the opposite sex. But love is complicated in Gilitte Leung’s dazzling Chinese romance, especially when Dennis gets wind of how Aggie feels. Suddenly, a loving relationship doesn’t look so bad, even if Dennis’ friends think he’s losing his mind.

Dir: Jeff Roy; 2012, USA, 74 min.
Maya, a successful transgender Muslim woman, has not yet undergone the sexual reassignment surgery that her family has told her they will not accept. When she decides to journey to Thailand to take the final step, Maya will have to deal with both the physical effects of the surgery and her conflict over her own devout beliefs on her path to achieving the freedom to be who she truly is. Director Jeff Roy’s accomplished debut documentary follows Maya on her inspiring, uplifting and surprisingly funny journey.

Dir/Scr: Drew Denny, 2012, USA, 95 min.
Free-spirited young lesbian Andy (writer-director Drew Denny) and her reserved childhood friend Liv (Sarah Hagan, “Freaks and Geeks”) are traveling across the Southwest to disperse Andy’s father’s ashes. Starting out building campfires, drinking, snuggling and reminiscing about the good old days, tensions arise as the trip progresses, forcing them to examine the core of their relationship. Are they friends or something more? Denny’s autobiographical comedy about connection, the open road and, yes, how to have fun with your pants on, is a joyride of sweet twists and turns.

Dir: Michael Mayer, Scr: Michael Mayer, Yael Shafrir, 2012, Israel/Palestine/USA, subtitled, 96 min
Nimr (Nicholas Jacob), a handsome Palestinian psychology student, is in the closet at home. But while in Tel Aviv taking a class he meets Roy (Michael Aloni), a dashing Israeli attorney, and quickly falls in love. But Israeli security strips Nimr of his visa, trying to blackmail him into becoming an informant, and when his brother finds out he’s gay, Nimr is thrown out of his family home. Nimr and Roy are left to fight desperately against ruthless enemies for the chance to be together.

Dir: Yen Tan; Scr: Yen Tan, David Lowery, 2013, USA, 80 min.
The modest lives of two rugged Texans intertwine in Yen Tan’s refreshingly grounded, quietly sexy Pit Stop. A 2009 Outfest Screenwriting Lab project that blossomed into a 2013 Sundance darling, Tan’s yarn moves through a blue-collar town and observes how a handsome contractor named Gabe (Bill Heck), spends time with his ex-wife Shannon (Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color) and their daughter. Across town, Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) ignores his flagging relationship with a much younger man and sits vigil at the bedside of an ailing ex. When Ernesto and Gabe meet unexpectedly one day at a local gas station, a connection forms that has the potential to alter both of their lives for good. In his touching follow-up to CIAO, writer-director Yen Tan provides an evocative glimpse into the everyday lives of two Southern men seeking love and affection over aching solitude. As far from the beaten path as its protagonists, this dreamy feature is a different kind of love story with depth, clarity and no shortage of sexual tension. Heck and DeAnda were both awarded Grand Jury Award for Best Actor at 2013 Outfest Los Angeles.

Dir: Scott Gracheff , 2013, USA, 90 min.
On this 12th anniversary of 9/11, we present Scott Gracheff’s documentary, which pays tribute to one of the gay heroes of that day – Mark Bingham. We know the story of Bingham’s heroism on flight United 93, and we know about the international Bingham Cup rugby tournament that honors him, but this film introduces us to the man behind the legend. Featuring extensive interviews with Bingham’s mother, friends, family and classmates, the film gives us a richer view of Bingham, from his teen metal-head period to his rambunctious college years through coming out and embracing the world with enthusiasm before his tragic demise.

Dir/Scr: Chris Mason Johnson, 2013, USA, 90 min.
This sexy, funny, poignant new film from Chris Mason Johnson (The New Twenty) won two 2013 Outfest Los Angeles Grand Jury Prizes for its portrayal of a Frankie (Scott Marlowe), a sexy young dancer in 1985 San Francisco, enjoying big city life and the erotic freedom that comes with it. But when he’s not onstage performing (in a series of stunning dance sequences) or bringing new friends up to his apartment, Frankie debates whether or not he should take the brand-new HIV test. Mixing unforgettable characters, sharp writing and dazzling choreography, this exuberant period piece calls to mind Parting Glances and other classics of queer cinema.

Dir: Marta Cunningham, 2013, USA, 83 min.
When an eighth grade boy is shot twice at point-blank range by his Valentine crush, many, including the jurors, are quick to blame the victim rather than the aggressor. With a remarkable degree of clarity, Marta Cunningham’s riveting documentary investigates the roots of LGBT discrimination and bullying as well as the inherent legal flaws that keep true justice from being served.

Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? Anna Margarita Albelo, 2013 USA | 83 minutes New York Premiere! Filmmaker in person for Q&A! In this eccentric all-female comedy, charismatic filmmaker Anna faces a midlife crisis. She’s just turned 40, has neither job nor girlfriend, and lives in her friend’s garage. For the past few years, she’s had no goals and no idea how to get what she wants. Just when she’s about to throw in the towel, she meets the enchanting Katia (Janina Gavankar, The L Word, True Blood), who becomes her muse and sets her on a path of self-discovery, creativity, and redemption. Vagina Wolf also stars Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) and Carrie Preston (True Blood, The Good Wife). Winner of Grand Jury Award for Best Actress at 2013 Outfest Los Angeles. Series: NewFest 2013 Venue: Walter Reade Theater

Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?
Anna Margarita Albelo, 2013
USA | 83 minutes
New York Premiere! Filmmaker in person for Q&A!
In this eccentric all-female comedy, charismatic filmmaker Anna faces a midlife crisis. She’s just turned 40, has neither job nor girlfriend, and lives in her friend’s garage. For the past few years, she’s had no goals and no idea how to get what she wants. Just when she’s about to throw in the towel, she meets the enchanting Katia (Janina Gavankar, The L Word, True Blood), who becomes her muse and sets her on a path of self-discovery, creativity, and redemption. Vagina Wolf also stars Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) and Carrie Preston (True Blood, The Good Wife). Winner of Grand Jury Award for Best Actress at 2013 Outfest Los Angeles.
Series: NewFest 2013
Venue: Walter Reade Theater

Dir: Anna Margarita Albelo, Scr: Anna Margarita Albelo, Michael Urban, 2013, USA, 83 min.
In this eccentric all-female comedy, charismatic filmmaker Anna faces a midlife crisis. She’s just turned 40, has neither job nor girlfriend, and lives in her friend’s garage. For the past few years, she’s had no goals and no idea how to get what she wants. Just when she’s about to throw in the towel, she meets the enchanting Katia (Janina Gavankar, “The L Word,” “True Blood”) who becomes her muse and sets her on a path of self-discovery, creativity and redemption. Vagina Wolf also stars Guinevere Turner (GO FISH) and Carrie Preston (“True Blood,” “The Good Wife”). Turner won Grand Jury Award for Best Actress at 2013 Outfest Los Angeles.

Dir/Scr: Yann Gonzalez, 2013, France, 91 min.
A mysterious young couple and their horny transvestite maid throw an orgy and invite four strange participants: “Slut”, “Stud”, “Teen” and “Star”. As the pansexual soirée progresses, the guests’ private lives (and private parts) emerge via bawdy flashbacks and naughty John Hughes-ian monologues. If you’ve been yearning for a dark and outrageous French sex romp since Francois Ozon went respectable, or love Almodovar, Cocteau, and Araki, director Yann Gonzalez’s edgy, sensuous and surprisingly poetic Cannes debut will fulfill your every desire. Featuring an alluring score by M83 and starring Niels Schneider (Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats), Alain Fabien Delon (son of the legendary actor), and Beatrice Dalle as “The Commissioner”, this is one party you won’t want to miss!
Q-RATING – Explicit Sexuality

NewFest also features three LGBT shorts programs – two at Film Society and one at JCC – along with a showcase of queer experimental film and video:

NewFest shorts programs provide a humorous, incisive and downright sexy look into stories of queer identity, love and misadventures from all across the globe.

NewFest shorts programs provide a humorous, incisive and downright sexy look into stories of queer identity, love and misadventures from all across the globe.

NewFest shorts programs provide a humorous, incisive and downright sexy look into stories of queer Jewish identity, love and misadventures from all across the globe.

About NewFest
NewFest is dedicated to bringing together filmmakers and audiences to build a community that passionately supports giving visibility and voice to a wide range of representations of the LGBT experience. We are committed to nurturing emerging LGBT and allied filmmakers. We support those artists who are willing to take risks in telling the stories that fully reflect the diversity and complexity of our lives. And with our newly formed partnership with Outfest, we will become the first national LGBT media arts organization – extending our reach to an even wider audience. For more information, visit NewFest.org.

About Outfest
Founded by UCLA students in 1982, Outfest is the leading organization that promotes equality by creating, sharing and protecting LGBT stories on the screen. Outfest builds community by connecting diverse populations to discover, discuss and celebrate stories of LGBT lives. For over three decades, Outfest has showcased thousands of films from around the world to audiences of nearly a million, educated and mentored hundreds of emerging filmmakers and protected more than 20,000 LGBT films and videos. For more information, visit outfest.org.

About Film Society
Founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center works to recognize established and emerging filmmakers, support important new work, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility and understanding of the moving image. Film Society produces the renowned New York Film Festival, a curated selection of the year’s most significant new film work, and presents or collaborates on other annual New York City festivals including Dance on Camera, Film Comment Selects, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, LatinBeat, New Directors/New Films, NewFest, New York African Film Festival, New York Asian Film Festival, New York Jewish Film Festival, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, Rendez-vous With French Cinema, and Spanish Cinema Now. In addition to publishing the award-winning Film Comment Magazine, Film Society recognizes an artist’s unique achievement in film with the prestigious “Chaplin Award.” The Film Society’s state-of-the-art Walter Reade Theater and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, located at Lincoln Center, provide a home for year round programs and the New York City film community.

The Film Society receives generous, year-round support from Royal Bank of Canada, Jaeger-LeCoultre, American Airlines, The New York Times, Stonehenge Partners, Stella Artois, illy café, the Kobal Collection, Trump International Hotel & Tower New York, the National Endowment for the Arts and New York State Council on the Arts. For more information, visit www.filmlinc.com and follow @filmlinc on Twitter.

For Media specific inquiries, please contact:
John Wildman, (212) 875-5419

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Slow and Gentle “Women Workers War”

Women With Heart Occupy Factory in Italy

Cool, Involving Study of Resistance, Female Version

Regaining Humanity in Work in 21st Century Capitalism

Women at War: Rosa Emilia Giancola looks out from the occupied factory

A social documentary with philosophical resonance and global implications, The Women Workers War by Massimo Ferrari won the prize for best documentary at the recent Workers Unite Film Festival (May 10-17) at the 12th St and University Place Cinema Village in Manhattan.

The thoughtful movie is an unsensational and sympathetically probing account of a long factory occupation by eighteen women workers in Italy, who held out for a record 550 days after they were summarily laid off, with no sign of wages due, by telegram from a remote owner.

Their determined blockade took place amid a gathering business slowdown in Italy which is still with us. What the film reveals is that this traditionally warmhearted family nation now finds itself in the same predicament as the US, taken over by extreme capitalism, where owners and executives pay themselves millions while workers can’t count on a living wage, and are viewed as deserving of no more consideration that robots.

Women Workers War Director Massimo Ferrari talks in Cinema Village foyer after screening

Director Massimo Ferrari is an experienced film maker who started an independent TV production company MaGa with Gaia Capurso after they served as director and executive producer respectively at Cinecitta.

Ferrari begins his coverage after the occupation has begun. He focuses the story on two unusual women. One is Rosa Emilia Giancola, the factory worker who led her 28 colleagues at the Tacconi Sud factory in Latina in occupying the factory, and who kept a diary of the occupation on Facebook to rally morale and outside support. Rosa’s writings are carried on screen through the film, as her politics develops.

Women Reclaiming Their Lives

The second leading role is played by a businesswoman, Margherita Dogliani, who owns a biscuit factory in Carrara. Having earlier become aware of the limited lives of her workers, she has already adopted a different and kinder entrepreneurial model herself, and travels to visit Rosa and join her in sisterly idealism.

Superficially undramatic, even languid, the film imposes on the viewer some of the torpor and frustration suffered by the participants in the actual event. But to the patient it will also yield a deeply moving account of the political enlightenment experienced by, and the spiritual teaching offered by, the women it portrays.

Only as a starting point is this the story of a practical holdout against a selfish factory owner who jumps ship, leaving them stranded and unpaid. It quickly becomes a vivid contrast between their generous life philosophy, and their suffering at the hands of the mean and morally sterile 21st Century global capitalism which is taking over Italy and the world.

The flowering of their human spirit has been curtailed by investors and managers who care nothing for the welfare of workers they depend on, as they focus exclusively on the bottom line. The working women of Italy are a forgotten class, it seems, often unable to give their families the time they deserve, while slaving in factories for owners who do not acknowledge their existence in a country which does not acknowledge their contribution to prosperity.

Rosa asks us if Berlusconi would like to join the party at Tacconi Sud

Occupying the factory gives them for the first time in their lives the perspective to think things through, and the women of Tacconi Sud come to realize their unjust treatment is part of a wider issue that takes in all of Italy, to whom they become a symbol of oppression and rebellion.

“Something which has definitively enriched us and which is really meaningful for our occupation is the time we spent here in silence” says Rosa, silhouetted against the daylight view of the landscape outside the the relatively plush quarters of the Executive Director, which she will inhabit with her friends from January 19, 2011 for eighteen months.

Idle machinery stares back – what is missing?

The fluorescent lit machinery and sawdust ridden floors of the sheds empty of the workers who gave them life and meaning stare back at the camera as if to emphasize her point. Strident sirens mark the beginning and end of imaginary shifts, wailing their alarms to the ghosts of production past.

Something is fundamentally missing, she realizes, and it is not the absence of workers on the production line. At first she concludes it is simply the absence of a leader to take them to a better place – a vacuum of of “entrepreneurship, of plan, of logic,” as she puts it. This is why “there is nothing anymore – no future anymore”.

But eventually she comes to see it as a national emptiness. The business culture of Italy has abandoned centuries of social integration to relegate female line workers and other low level employees to a meager existence where they are little more than robots, serving the demands of their jobs without time even to share their lives with their co-workers on the factory floor.

The Berlusconi Crowd

Hard work and skills in making tents may not get you to Berlusconi’s parties

There is no doubt who Rosa holds to blame. What did the owner do with his “sinking ship?” she asks. “He took the only lifeboat and escaped”. The behavior seems to her typical of the owner class in general, about which she now has no illusions.

She tells the TV cameras, “this is my paycheck of 1051 Euros. Well. since we want to know what our work is worth the question is, what would this mean at Berlusconi’s party? Just to be touched, or what else? Just to know, because honestly I have never seen 7000 euros at once!”

Meanwhile, in the midst of economic downturn Berlusconi is quoted saying that as far as he can see, “people in Italy are well off.” The restaurants are full, he points out, and the hotels fully booked for the holidays. Where is the crisis?

Back at the factory, what is striking is how mild the purpose of the women is at the beginning. They only want to influence the owner to live up to his obligation, “hoping that our action will combat our employer’s conceit and negligence and possibly to remind him of his duty as a decent person.”

Decline of the West?

Only later do they focus on a more practical objective, aiming for the completed bankruptcy which will bring them the money they are owed, and with luck its sale to some other owner who will bring it – and them – back to life. Whether this will happen in the end is the cliffhanger in the movie, though it is not a very high cliff.

Their complaints may seem old hat to American viewers, since more extreme capitalist injustice in the US has been widely covered in PBS documentaries since the debacle of 2008. The neglect of Italian women workers as people may seem nothing compared to the growing chasm between rich and poor, the ruthless erasure of the middle class, the destruction of cities by moving production overseas, and huge expansion of poverty in the US.

But in Italy where economic disruption has been slower to gather force, the moral dimension is still alive in the hearts of these women. How long will it last? Will they break through the bubble of the elite? are questions that keep us watching.

The trailer to the movie can be viewed here.

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Fine CBS Sunday Morning Look At Poitier

“In the Heat of the Night” Slap Back Moment Saluted

Poitier Reveals He Had It Written Into Contract

An Actor Who Could not Relinguish His Dignity

A man of dignity in every role

CBS News this Sunday morning (May 12 2013) reminds us of one of the great moments in American filmmaking, in In The Heat of the Night, when Poitier, as the detective Virgil Tibbs, is suddenly slapped by a wealthy white plantation owner who finds his line of questioning uppity.

In a high point of movie acting Poitier quickly slaps him back, a dramatic gesture which entered the history of the culture of racism in America as symbolic of a new era in which black Americans were determined to reclaim their dignity and self respect after the century of abuse which followed a Civil War which supposedly liberated them from exploitation.

Poitier explains that the striking and dramatic move was his own idea, and that he had it written into the contract that it would never be cut from showings of the movie anywhere. The interview shows that it arose from a sense of dignity and self respect which Poitier was never able or willing to diminish in his acting, and which led him to turn down roles such as Othello which might put him as a role model in a bad light.

Take Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia homicide detective who reluctantly helps a small town police chief in Mississippi, played by Rod Steiger, solve a murder, in “In the Heat of the Night.”

But before signing on to play the role, Poitier asked the movie studio for a major script change to one scene in which his character is slapped:

“I said, ‘If he slaps me, I’m going to slap him back. You will put on paper that the studio agrees that the film will be shown nowhere in the world, with me standing there taking the slap from the man.’ ”

“God, you had this written into the contract?” Stahl said.

“That’s right, written into the contract,” he replied.

“And of course it is one of those great, great moments in all of film, when you slap him back.”

“Yes, I knew that I would have been insulting every black person in the world [if I hadn’t],” Poitier said.

One critic noted that the slap represented “the repressed wrath of the black man for his American bondage.”

…. Even at the beginning of his career, he was insisting that he portray men who were upright, well-educated, and often of stronger character than the whites around him.

“Well, that was my responsibility in terms of my value,” Poitier said. “If the screen does not make room for me in the structure of their screenplay, I’ll step out. I’ll step back. I’d step back. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.”

Now Poitier has extended this self expression into writing a novel which in a blend of science fiction and

At age 86, after a lifetime of accolades, Poitier has written a novel, called “Montaro Caine.”

He spent years writing in long hand and on the computer. “Wow, it took me a very long time.”

It’s two genres mixed together: mystery and science fiction. For Sidney Poitier, the novel is a chance to reflect on life and all its meanings.

“I was not intending to make an impression on the people who would read the book,” he explained. “I was finding release for myself within myself. I was looking for who I am at this point in my life.”

“Did you find out?” Stahl asked.

“Somewhat, yes.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m a good person,” Poitier replied.

One of the most charming aspects of the interview is the obvious fact that Leslie Stahl simply likes him a lot for what he is and says.

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Beijing Bicycle: Talk Less, Say More

Modern China Shows How A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Beijing Bicycle – so much conveyed with so few words

PBS showed Beijing Bicycle last Saturday night in Manhattan, a film about life in modern Beijing where a country boy comes to the big city and starts work as a bike messenger, only to have his means of transport and work equipment stolen.

The film has one aspect which is particularly worth noting.

The bike is bought in a market by a member of a gang of youths who force him to share it when he fights to get it back but has no money to give the new owner back the price he paid for it.

The hero’s struggle with the gang to get even that level of ownership reasserted involves literally hanging on to the bike frame when they try to prise it away from him, and other physical encounters, which follow on extended arguments from the gang as to why he should give it back to them, rather than vice versa.

But what makes the film remarkable is how much is not said. Much of the time the hero is wordless, expressing what he has to say in gesture or simply silence Only when they lose patience at one point and try to separate him from the precious instrument by force does he break out into loud screams of despair.

This is a film in which actual words (in Chinese, substitled) are kept to a minimum, and it is one of the most effective demonstrations of how in film making body language can be far more powerful in conveying emotion and drama that the spoken word.

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Highland Park: Difference a Windfall Makes

First time director smooths over his own story of broke town’s lottery win

Switch from malaise to spending riches should enliven tale of civic hope renewed

But drama drives in the slow lane throughout

Conflict in Highland Park is smooth edged despite a good basic storyline

Built around a script with two good ideas, Highland Park follows the sudden change in fortune of a small town gutted by the financial crisis, when a group of residents wins big ($250 million) on the lottery. Led by Danny Glover, they decide to devote much of it to rescuing their sinking schools and other public facilities.

By the time the win happens 20 minutes into the film, however, first time director (and co script writer) Andrew Meieran has established a lackluster pace which never really speeds up despite the intrinsic interest of seeing how big money changes small lives.

For those who wonder why the execution doesn’t seem to have the same power as the inspiration for the movie, one problem may be the ill chosen music which backgrounds what would otherwise be dramatic developments. Instead the placid soundtrack levels the mood rather than highlighting the tension. In tune with this tone deafness is the reassuringly relaxed voice level used by the actors at all times, which results in a kind of lethargy overwhelming any plot turn which might otherwise generate drama.

In these ways the movie shows how important sound is in the making of any movie, whether we are conscious of it or not. Meieran apparently is not and this lack destroys much interest that might otherwise be generated in his work. Even when a major surprise raises the stakes and sparks renewed interest, his resolutely tepid tone soon returns us to torpor.

The secomd major plot turn is sufficiently intriguing it should survive almost any mishandling, even Meieran’s knack for smoothing over conflict, and it does But this may be only because deflation if not depression is appropriate for the untoward turn of events that forces everyone to face a very different future from the one they first dream of.

Seldom have a collection of personable actors with at least modest star quality – they include Danny Glover, Rockmond Dunbar, Kimberly Elise and Naturi Naughton – been reduced to such blandness. Even the confrontations can seem more like friendly chats.

The story itself ends with a whimper with nothing concrete achieved but new resolution felt by our group of civic heroes to change the world as they planned. The post credit postscript – a single F-word voiced over by one of the actors – is a match to the rest of the film, unimaginative and redundant.

Nonetheless this bland exercise is otherwise technically proficient and may have enough story interest to please viewers looking for some quietly relaxing entertainment, as long as they don’t expect clever words, colored in characters or dramatic sparks. As an inspiring story of setbacks overcome it doesn’t rise very high off the ground, but it glides along smoothly throughout.

Made in 2011 it is scheduled for release this year, with the kind of urgency or lack of it that matches its screen action.

[spoiler title=”Credits (expand by clicking tab)” open=”0″ style=”1″]===========================

Directed by
Andrew Meieran

Writing credits
Christopher Keyser (written by) and
Andrew Meieran (written by)


Billy Burke … Lloyd Howard

Parker Posey … Shirley Paine

Danny Glover … Ed

Deborah Ann Woll … Lilly

Michelle Forbes … Sylvia Howard

Bob Gunton … Bert

Kimberly Elise … Toni

Bo Derek … Destiny

John Carroll Lynch … Rory

Rockmond Dunbar … Shaun

Naturi Naughton … Char

Blake Clark … Hal

Claude Rains … Senator Paine (archive footage)

Eric Ladin … Jessie

Vernee Watson-Johnson … May

Haaz Sleiman … Ali Rasheed

Jordan Trovillion … Caroline

Will Clarke … Club Waiter

Lauren Mae Shafer … Young Reporter

Taylor Groothuis … Jessica

Sarab Kamoo … Harriet

Peter Carey … Councilman Brice

Stephanie Koenig … Eileen
Madge Levinson … Merna

Michael Mili … Reporter

Tiren Jhames … Doug Coolidge

Victor Pytko … Reporter
Rusty Mewha … Cider Mill Clerk

Penny Gibbs … Bar Patron

Richard ‘Rick’ Bobier … Reporter
Bill Lumbert … Bowler

Danny Ray Cook … Construction Worker

John Dickerson … News 12 Photographer
Lynch R. Travis … the Butcher
Bill Finn … Reporter
Courtney Benjamin … Theatre Actor #1
Julia Glander … Claire
Christina Benjamin … Theatre actor #2
Michael Maurice … Gompers
Michael Marx … Reporter
Rhonda Freya English … Atilla the Nurse
Marco Ruggeri … Valet Driver
Max Bassett … Stateroom Security
Pamela Croydon … Bowler, Church Parishoner
Mark Rollings … Lottery Announcer (voice)
Jack Aizik … Jordan
Michael Saunders … Reporter
Jovan Donahue … Construction Worker 2
Yancey Fuqua … Store Clerk
Arnold Agee … College Student (uncredited)
Morris Lee Sullivan … Cider Mill Customer (uncredited)

Produced by
Shira Auerhahn …. associate producer
Craig Chapman …. producer
Anne Clements …. producer
Andrew Meieran …. producer
Linden D. Nelson …. co-executive producer
Chris Panizzon …. producer
Devon Schneider …. line producer
Anthony P. Wenson …. co-executive producer

Original Music by
Jane Antonia Cornish

Cinematography by
Daniel Moder

Film Editing by
Dan Schalk

Casting by
Deborah Aquila
Jennifer L. Smith
Tricia Wood

Production Design by
Robert Pearson

Art Direction by
Timmy Hills

Set Decoration by
Beth DeSort

Costume Design by
Deborah Everton

Makeup Department
Emilie Cockels …. key hair stylist
Lauri Cuppetilli …. makeup department head
Louise Holoday …. makeup artist
Jon Lieckfelt …. additional hair stylist
Jeannette Moriarty …. assistant hair stylist
John Tarro …. hair department head

Production Management
Carla Bowen …. production supervisor
Samantha Housman …. post-production supervisor
Lynnette M. Myers …. production manager
Louise Runge …. post-production supervisor

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Christy Busby …. first assistant director

Art Department
Curtis Akin …. property master
Jax Baker …. art department coordinator
Sean Clouser …. construction coordinator
Brian Cockerham …. leadman
Ryan D. Compton …. lead welder
Jason C. Endres …. set dresser (as Jason Endres)
Karri Farris …. set decorations buyer
Amy Graham …. assistant property master
Lora Grujic …. art department production assistant
Doug Kolbicz …. props assistant
Nicholas LaVelle …. set dresser
Vikki M. Magdich …. construction assistant
Aferdita Redmond …. scenic artist
Maria Lucia Safi …. assistant to the production designer
Amy Williams …. buyer

Sound Department
David Barber …. dialogue editor
David Barber …. sound re-recording mixer
David Barber …. supervising sound editor
Richard Bullock Jr. …. boom operator
Will Hansen …. production sound mixer
David Holmes …. sound mixer: additional photography
David Kitchens …. sound supervisor
Michael Luce …. boom operator
Mike Pipgras …. foley editor
Mike Pipgras …. sound effects editor
Ben Zarai …. sound re-recording mixer
Ben Zarai …. supervising sound editor

Special Effects by
Todd Litke …. special effects foreman
Dean Tyrrell …. special effects coordinator

Visual Effects by
Chris Faczek …. visual effects artist
Matt McElroy …. visual effects coordinator
Ben Smith …. visual effects artist
Mark Velazquez …. digital compositor

Ele Bardha …. stunt driver
Isaac Ellis …. utility stunts (as Isaac remy Laurent)
Peter Malota …. stunt coordinator
Danny Ray Cook …. stunts

Camera and Electrical Department
Gary Brock …. key grip
Wallace Michael Chrouch …. still photographer
Carlos Doerr …. first assistant camera: “a” camera
Stephen Early …. first assistant camera: second unit
William Eichler …. steadicam operator
Kevin Fannon …. electrician
Cale Finot …. camera operator
Eric Forand …. chief lighting technician
Erik Gonzales …. assistant chief lighting technician
Jay Hardie …. assistant camera
Ian Henderson …. additional second assistant camera
Mark Karavite …. steadicam operator
Michael Kohnhorst …. director of photography: second unit
Eric Pickett …. video assist operator
R. Dustin Sanchez …. set lighting technician
Creig Symons …. electrician
Jeff Urbanowicz …. electrician
Matt Wallach …. dit red camera

Casting Department
Terri Douglas …. adr voice casting
Patty Majorczak-Connolly …. adr voice casting
Kathy Mooney …. local casting: Detroit
Janet Pound …. local casting: Detroit
Mark Sussman …. adr voice casting

Costume and Wardrobe Department
Gina G. Aller …. key set costumer
Fran Allgood …. costume supervisor
Melanie Hocking …. set costumer

Editorial Department
Luke Guidici …. on-line editor
Michael Lafuente …. digital intermediate technical director
Michael Mintz …. digital film colorist
Jon Pehlke …. digital intermediate editor
Rob Randall …. colorist: dailies

Music Department
James T. Hill …. music scoring mixer
Matthew Janszen …. conductor
Andrea von Foerster …. music supervisor
Laura Webb …. music supervisor (2011)

Transportation Department
James A Brandon …. driver
Collin Butrum …. picture car coordinator
Collin Butrum …. transportation coordinator
Lance Cherniet …. transportation coordinator (Los Angeles)
Kurt Knudsen …. transportation: re-shoots
Jack Jay Reece …. transportation captain: LA
David Schmidt …. transportation captain
William Searles …. driver: fueler
Alex Strand …. production van driver
Pamela Summers …. driver

Other crew
Angela K. Barnes …. first assistant accountant
Jake Beemer …. production assistant
David H. Bollman …. technical advisor: taxidermist
Susan Boyajian …. voice actor
Erika Canchola …. production attorney
My-Ishia Cason-Brown …. stand-in
Amber Fritz …. production assistant
Ian Hartshorn …. payroll accountant
Justin Kelly …. creative consultant
Dave Krieger …. location manager
Tiffany Lanier …. production coordinator
Christine Mahaney …. head animal trainer
Shena Mullins …. production assistant
Debbie Pearl …. animal coordinator
Tara Plizga …. production secretary
Elsa Ramo …. production attorney
Bridget Reddeman …. assistant location manager
Jacquelyn Ryan …. production assistant
Christine Santiago Drake …. production assistant (as Christine Santiago)
Steven Schlick …. location assistant/scout
Elizabeth Spix …. production assistant
Carmen Tabanyi …. script supervisor: LA unit
Carolyn Tolley …. script supervisor
Brandon T. Williams …. production assistant
John C. Wise …. production assistant
Jennifer K. Zapinski …. assistant location manager

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Richard D. Zanuck, Hollywood’s Ideal Producer?

New TCM Bio Presents Zanuck as Honest, Earnest, Supportive, Imaginative

Spielberg, Depp, Lansing, Eastwood Praise Him as Star Enabler

Roster of His 80s Movies Reads Like Gold Seam in Hollywood Mine

Actress Eva Green, producer Richard D. Zanuck and actress Bella Heathcote arrive at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Dark Shadows” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on May 7, 2012, in Hollywood. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

In a few days a well made documentary on Richard D. Zanuck, Don’t Say No Till I Finish Talking, will be shown at the Turner Classic Movies Festival in Los Angeles, and it will be broadcast on May 8. Fans of documentaries on filmmakers and filmmaking can expect an accomplished PBS level treatment of a Hollywood star producer which goes through his life chronologically with the assist of actors and other luminaries who dealt with Zanuck over the sixty years of his long career, which ended with an unexpected heart attack last year at the age of 77 (a star athlete in his youth, Zanuck had kept himself in athletic shape ever since).

Gifted Producer

What isn’t standard is what the documentary suggests quite convincingly about Zanuck’s good character as a professional. Despite being born to the Hollywood purple Zanuck became one of the most gifted producers around, a man with few enemies who could manage the remarkable balancing act of keeping both sides of movie production happy at the same time – the bean counters and the creative team. He chose strong scripts and visionary directors and ruthlessly protected them from the suits. When Steven Spielberg’s Jaws ran into overbudget problems he told Universal executives, “If I see one Learjet land at Martha’s Vineyard, I’ll stop production.”

As Sherry Lansing, one of Zanuck’s admiring Hollywood colleagues tells the camera, both the suits and the directors loved to work with Zanuck because he seemed to both to have their interests at heart, a difficult trick in Hollywood where so many people are involved in a successful movie that it often seems a miracle that anything worthwhile ever gets made. As Zanuck himself remarks, “Being in the film business is like being in a war in many respects. But rough as it’s been I have been able to get through it and still feel pretty good about myself.”

Zanuck got the Hollywood blockbuster rolling with Jaws, fending off the accountants who worried about the budget overrun

Good to have around

He was a hands on producer but directors really liked having Richard Zanuck on the set, and so did actors. Johnny Depp says that simply a Good morning from Zanuck visiting his trailer was enough to fill him with confidence and carry him through the day. Steven Spielberg met Zanuck at the start of his career when one of his scripts was taken up by the producer, and though he was too wet behind the ears for Zanuck to give him the direction of the movie, enjoyed a real interview with him in which he was treated seriously and asked about his ideas.

Spielberg actually agreed that it was too early for him to direct but tells us he appreciated being fully respected by Zanuck, unlike every producer he had met till then (“They couldn’t wait to see your back.”) Zanuck later said he never met anyone who knew more about film making at such an early stage (Spielberg returned the compliment at the time of his death, saying in a statement that “he taught me everything I know about producing.”). Clint Eastwood also began his directing career in partnership with Zanuck, and he tells us that Zanuck was an ideal support. “He always knew when to offer help, and when to leave you alone.”

Don’t Say No Until I Finish Talking (a play on the title of his father Darryl Zanuck’s 1971 biography Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking) makes it clear that Zanuck had real empathy for and the imagination to help in the creative process he oversaw, and many of the films in his glittering list of successes probably would not have been made without his participation.

Driving Miss Daisy’s small scale standoff between Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy involved race, class, friendship and even love

A movie that Zanuck loved

The shining example is Driving Miss Daisy (1989), a fine little stage play brought to screen by Bruce Beresford, where sentiment blends into a truly moving study of friendship and ultimately even love across class and race barriers. The script involving a dignified black chauffeur and his elderly white lady employer who learns to make him the guardian of her vulnerable soul had got nowhere in Hollywood where its theme marked it as a hot potato until Zanuck and his third wife Lili came along.

His maverick belief in the movie was so strong that Zanuck, coproducing with Lili, found himself financing early production even before he was able to line up money from Europe. His faith was vindicated by an emotionally literate gem that won him his Oscar for his producing talent, which placed him at the top of his field almost from the beginning. Yet he had to fight for most of the really good ideas he enabled, as the title of the documentary reflects.

Not that the door wasn’t opened for him by his father. Zanuck was born into Hollywood royalty since his father Darryl was founder and kingpin of a major studio (20 Century Fox) who let him sit in on production sets in his adolescence, and one day when Zanuck senior was casting around for whom to put in charge of the studio while he stayed in Paris, the city whose civilization (and women) he preferred, he asked Richard for a list of prospects. Zanuck junior, aged 28, presented him with a piece of paper on which he had written one word: “Me.”

Zanuck’s first production was Compulsion, (1959), which featured Orson Welles as the trial lawyer who tries to get Leopold and Loeb off the death penalty by pleading that capital punishment is wrong

At the top at 28

His father agreed, since the 28 year old Zanuck’s career had already got off to a good start at age 24 with Compulsion, his first try at producing in 1959 which drew on the Leopold and Loeb murder trial and featured Orson Welles in its second half as the attorney who saves the deadly couple from the hangman with an impassioned speech against the death penalty. Under the direction of Richard Fleischer the three main actors won an award at the Cannes Film festival.

After two years at Fox Zanuck scored a resounding hit with the Sound of Music which won the 1965 Best Picture Oscar, though only after he was forced to shutter the commissary and executive office building and work from a bungalow to avoid bankruptcy.

But then he ran into trouble by continuing to greenlight musical extravaganzas in that fine but out of date fashion. A lethargic Doctor Doolittle (1967) lost money and so did Hello Dolly (1969), even though Gene Kelly directed Barbara Streisand to win three Academy awards and be nominated for another four.

As a result despite 150 Oscars for hits such as Planet of the Apes (1968), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) MASH (1970) and The French Connection (1971 Best Picture Oscar) Zanuck’s time at Fox ended abruptly when he suffered the Oedipal shock of being fired by his father in 1970 at the instigation of the board. Six months later, the board fired his father too – just as his son warned.

Sun after the storm

After a stint of a year at Warner finding out he couldn’t stand being a studio exec separated from the process of filming he started a partnership with fellow Fox/Warner alumna David Brown (husband of Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan already famous for Sex and the Single Girl in 1962). Brown and Zanuck had collaborated at Fox on The Exorcist (1973) and Blazing Saddles (1974), and their partnership now studded Zanuck’s belt with jewels – the Oscar winning The Sting (1973) with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg’s Sugarland Express (1974) and the surprise summer hit and first blockbuster Jaws (1975), followed by Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict (1982) and Ron Howard’s Cocoon (1985).

Zanuck and wife Lili hold Oscars in 1990 as co-producers of Daisy

His most famous success, Driving Miss Daisy (1989) came next, a year after the partnership with Brown terminated, and it won Zanuck the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as three others among nine nominations, the only time that a son has matched a father with Best Picture. The film cost $5 million and made $100 million.

Taking up Burton

That string of seminal titles proved a career peak. Zanuck got through the nineties with films like Deep Impact (1998) which were apparently respectable but didn’t win the same cultural attention. Since then he has been closely tied to director Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands) in a series of blockbuster fantasies ranging from a remake of Planet of the Apes (2001) through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) Sweeney Todd (2007) and Alice in Wonderland (2010 and now at $1 billion plus the thirteenth highest grossing film in history) to Dark Shadows (2012) a horror vampire comedy with Johnny Depp, Zanuck’s last production.

Glossing over difficulties

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, the 90 min documentary is in all major aspects (script, production and direction) created by Laurent Bouzereau, who makes TCM’s A Night at the Movies documentary specials, and who has authored or coauthored 11 books on cinema. With a tone more admiring than worshipful its praise rings true even though difficulties such as the elder Zanuck’s well known philandering and emotional distance which disturbed his son’s otherwise gilded childhood are not mentioned.

Laurent Bouzereau

Laurent Bouzereau

Nor are the professional pitfalls detailed that Zanuck himself admits make the business “like being in a war”, which presumably includes the split with David Brown. What he once called his “execution” by his father ie his termination as studio chief at Fox is briefly treated. But for all its glossing over of the painful bits which attend every life the message that Zanuck for all his intensity, determination and competence was one of the most supportive guys to have around sounds realistic.

The documentary’s world premiere will be at the 2013 TCM Classic Film festival in Hollywood April 25-28, then broadcast on Wednesday May 8 at 8pm on the (commercial free during performance) TCM (followed by Driving Miss Daisy, Cocoon and Compulsion). Among those who were eager to talk about him for the film were Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Tim Burton (“He’s always had that youthful enthusiasm”), Ron Howard, William Friedkin, Morgan Freeman, Tim Burton’s domestic partner actress Helena Bonham Carter CBE (“He’s a gambler. I think he could also trust his instincts. That’s what so extraordinary about him. He has such a big heart.”), Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alfred Uhry, Lawrence Gordon, Carl Gottlieb, Sherry Lansing and Tom Rothman, as well as his third and last wife, Lili Fini Zanuck and his sons producers Dean and Harrison Zanuck.

Thanks for the tribute

Richard D. Zanuck, creative producer, intensely attentive to the end

As it happened it was three days before his death that Zanuck first saw anything of the film, and he was shown the final cut. He wrote a thankyou letter to its director that afternoon. Modestly surprised by the comments of his friends and associates, he said, he felt that it truly showed him as he was, and it would be cherished by him and his family.

Viewers, says TCM, will see the same cut – not a frame has been changed. They will probably feel with Spielberg and Burton and everybody quoted in this film that Richard Zanuck well deserved this inspiring tribute – one that should lead many to a more enlightened idea of how to treat others in their Hollywood campaigns and any other business wars.

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Django Unchained*****:Gunfighting Ex-Slave Wreaks Bloody, Fiery Vengeance

Jamie Foxx Survives Torture, Rescues Wife, Blows Up The Plantation

Bounty Hunter Christoph Waltz Charms, Fascinates as Respectful Enabler

Tarantino’s Tale of Just Retribution Typically Marked by Ultra Violence

Gripping Tour de Force – So Why Did It Lose Top Oscar?

Django Unchained won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Quentin Tarantino, and has now (updated Mar 30) racked up over $422 million globally, well ahead of Inglourious Basterds ($322 million). But Django missed out on the Best Picture award, which went to the more conventionally fashioned Argo, apparently because in the present political context Academy members were reluctant to endorse the film’s several episodes of ultraviolence.

There were other, more subtle reasons that some found it unpalatable, such as director Spike Lee’s distaste for a story that celebrated black Western heroism at last but only if enabled by a white partner. But Tarantino’s characteristic moments of savagery and sadism seem to have been the main reason for the Academy rejecting this outstanding movie for the top slot despite its energy and originality.

Certainly with Oscar night and its competitive injections of glamor and notoriety over, Django now seems the freshest and most exciting piece of film making among the nominees, well deserving of Best Picture for its straightforward story line, its dynamite stick tension, and its character infused conflict.

The lively script is executed with the flair and originality for which Tarantino won global fame in 1994 with his celebrated Pulp Fiction, a $107 million success which only confirmed the cinematic talent of his Reservoir Dogs ($2.8 million) two years earlier.

By comparison Argo (which won Best Picture) and former front runner Zero Dark Thirty (almost won, but stumbled on political controversy) may have deserved their accolades as polished but predictable jobs by talented professionals, but hardly the Oscar win when judged in terms of thrillseeking enjoyment or artistic texture. But both these rivals appealed to post 9/11 patriotism and Ben Affleck (director of Argo) is evidently more a favorite son in Hollywood than Tarantino, still the enfant terrible at 50.

Neither film has as much originality of theme or treatment as Django despite Affleck winning the best adapted screenplay award for a script which he said was the heart of his directing. Argo’s salute of Hollywood production expertise as helping to get some American hostages out of Iran intact probably tipped it over the top to win Best Picture.

Why Tarantino lost

As an imaginative movie experience, however, Django’s story easily outdoes both with its colorful characters and roller coaster cycles of interpersonal tension infused with incipient violence frequently realized. In this typical Tarantino revenge fantasy Jamie Foxx is an ex-slave gunfighter in the hostile territory of the antebellum Deep South who outsmarts and outguns powerful and vicious white slave owners in partnership with a friendly bounty hunter, the charmingly civil Christoph Waltz (Supporting Actor Oscar).

As usual Tarantino presses all the right buttons in terms of drama with this tale of freeing a slave who then wreaks vengeance on the worst of his masters by developing unmatchable skill with his sixgun, a vengeance executed under the mantle of law as a bounty hunter in his partnership with Waltz, a German who is masquerading as a dentist, complete with an enormous tooth mounted on top of his horse drawn wagon to advertise his skills. The hollow artifact actually serves as a safe for his reward money.

Tarantino typically tightens the screws at every turn with the threat of violence which very often breaks out with fatalities all round, and the sustained but impersonal threat of discovery that permeates Argo can’t compete in level of tension and excitement, though that film’s final scenes of near discovery at the airport and the car chase of the plane racing down the runway to take off are thrilling, however much they bend history.

Plunging the viewer into a quietly bubbling cauldron of personal conflict and lethal danger from the start, Django proves once again that Tarantino’s method will grip your attention throughout, even though you must suspend belief during his psychopathically sadistic dips into the lurid personal hell that was slavery according to his exaggerated account.

One indication that this time Tarantino’s way of spicing his drama with violent excess goes too far is that his one comic scene looks likes an insert from another movie, possibly Blazing Saddles. In this misfit comic cul de sac a gang of Regulators (the forerunners of the KKK) on horseback find they cannot see very well through the holes cut into their sheets. Suddenly the film’s consistent tension is broken for what plays like a scene from Saturday Night Live.

Otherwise however the absorbing story moves smoothly forward with continual surprises until the ultimately too predictable final sequence of extreme mayhem.

At that climactic point every actor facing Foxx’s sixgun is cut down with blood bags bursting all over, and the black hero finally deals deadly justice to the black Quisling who has acted against his own race for years in loyal service to the suavely villainous plantation owner Candie (Leonard di Caprio).

This evil turncoat is Stephen, strikingly made up in voodoo zombie style and acted with a baleful obsequiousness by Samuel L. Jackson. He earns our special loathing when he exposes Waltz and Foxx as confidence tricksters at their moment of near victory in stealing away Foxx’s enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the household.

Finally this omnious butler gets his just deserts, shot in the knees and burned up in the fiery explosion which destroys the plantation mansion owned by his fallen boss, diCaprio, already despatched in the gunfight which initiates this extended half hour showdown.

Sociopathic extremes

If that sounds like an excessive body count be advised that frequent moments of extreme savagery are scattered throughout the film as if Tarantino finds hyperviolence cathartic. One particularly repellent scene of what is labeled a ‘Mandingo’ fight inside an elite smoking club has a black fighter, egged on by Candie, eyegouging and literally hammering to death a screaming fellow black whom he has already subdued.

Whether such horrors ever actually took place is ruled out by historians who say that valuable slaves would not be sacrificed in deadly contests unless the bets were very large, and there is no such record. Nor were female slaves who offended thrown into covered holes which grew into furnaces as they baked in the hot Southern sun, another conceit of Tarantino (this torture is suffered by Broomhilda until she is removed in honor of the guests to serve at table and speak the German she learn in happier childhood days to Waltz).

At various points a terrified slave is literally torn apart by dogs, Broomhilda is mercilessly lashed, and Jamie Foxx is suspended upside down and seriously panicked at the threat of real castration, which is only diverted at the last moment.

All in all in his last three films – all lethal revenge fantasies – Tarantino still seems unwilling to dramatize his scripts without his trademark, way over the top violence which he justifies in interviews as telling it like it is or was, and/or redeemed by the label ‘art’, as in the purposeful aestheticization of violence most recently taken up in cinema by Peckinpah, Kubrick (Clockwork Orange), David Lynch (Blue Velvet) and others which reached its previous peak with Tarantino’s own Kill Bill.

In this movement the actual pain and suffering depicted is designed to be overlooked as the mind is occupied by the beauty and stylish execution of the horrid scene, as in bullfighting, say, but the truth nonetheless seems to be that here Tarantino goes overboard past the point of historical or artistic justification. As Italian composer Ennio Morricone who provided music for his earlier films but begged off on this one, saying Tarantino failed to relate his music to the story appropriately, said quite simply, “too much blood”.

White European Occupies High Moral Ground

Some black politicians have also objected to the fact that Jamie Foxx’s liberation to pursue his and his wife”s oppressors is dependent on an enlightened bounty hunter from Europe. The now charming Christoph Waltz who was hypnotic as the Nazi SS villain in Inglourious Basterds (Oscar)n leaves viewers hungry for more with another tour de force, achieving a wholesale transformation into bearded good humor and straight talking respect for blacks in an era (1852) where as drawn by Tarantino oppression hardly begins to describe their fate. When he knowingly sacrifices his own life to despatch their enemy, played with devilish cool throughout by Leonardo di Caprio, he achieves a level of moral virtue never allowed Jamie Foxx, who heroism is confined to racial retribution and the role of wife savior.

What may have helped lose Tarantino the ultimate victory at the Oscars was that small plot defect, that his fable is more a tribute to imagined white enlightenment more than black male empowerment and racial vindication. Spike Lee has made this very objection, which is compounded at the end as the story descends into visual gore and wholesale destruction, satisfying in simpleminded terms of scorched earth revenge but offering no path back to civilization.

What is needed is for Jamie Foxx to hang up his guns and start a family farm, or somesuch sign of redemption, so that our black hero may regain the high ground in moral and civic example, which is after all what the end of slavery and oppression is all about. But he is left on the level of primitive total vengeance enabled by a white superior in a way which Spike Lee and other blacks have understandably found offensive.

Feeding fantasies of retribution

No doubt Tarantino thinks all this is no more than deserved fantasy retribution for blacks who after all are still suffering severe racist bias and injustice in a modern America that imprisons them much more readily than whites and still seems more interested in holding blacks back economically than giving them opportunity and scope for their productive talents. He has also said that the violence is “cathartic” and anyway it is all just “fantasy”, and he is tired of answering questions about his predilection.

But the problem remains that simply on the level of good story let alone art there is no question that Tarantino is too fond of destruction and bloody murder as a way of injecting drama and resolving conflict, whether for its entertainment value, or as he claims, his only way of drawing sufficient attention to man’s inhumanity to man. He is an unmatched story teller on screen and his episodes of ultraviolence go beyond heightening the emotional stakes to where they interrupt the narrative by scorching our sensibilities rather than dialing them up.

Inhumanity leaking into reality?

One hopes that in the aftermath of the resistance aroused by Django he will move on now to a more mature style where the excitement of the threat of deadly force doesn’t have to go over the top into psychopathic realization and the outcome doesn’t always have to utterly extinguish the foe to meet the threat.

Like all apologists for fantasy violence Tarantino denies that movies can actually corrupt audiences and model their behavior in real life but some report that the cultural effect can be seen in the fact that laughter and cheers from the audience are said to now often accompany killing and pain on screen.

In artistic terms, moreover, there are richer and more subtle ways to plot life’s conflicts and their resolution on screen. Extreme sadism needlessly shocks and offends while blocking off better narrative pathways to the transcendence sought by audiences frustrated by modern reality.

With Tarantino’s overflowing energy, fertile imagination and mastery of the skills involved in presenting action films with emotional and political content one can but hope that Django’s mixed reception augurs a phase where he begins to turn down the volume on violence and let a little mature restraint into his incendiary story telling, so that those who appreciate his remarkable talent don’t have to be sickened by exposure to extremes of sadism which neither politics, history, drama or realism can justify.

All this is said without denying that Tarantino’s prolific vision results in more gripping elemental and imaginative human drama placed within the context of superficially civil society that any rival in Hollywood today. And one can imagine that his honest reply might be, “I am not making chick movies, people!”

Let me strangle you personally

But of course the real issue is whether Tarantino’s patented method of cranking up the tension with excruciating dire threat which works so well for him now on the extreme edge would work as mightily if dialed down, or whether the modern audience is simply too jaded as standards of restraint have shifted in society that it would weaken his dramas too much.

And Tarantino might lack inspiration without going so far into horror and fear, which he seems to have a personal yen to explore farther than makes sense for other creative directors. One example of him breaking the boundaries in this regard is still memorable. By his own account he persuaded the female star of Inglorious Bastards to let him personally strangle her for real at the end of the film until her face reflected the genuine experience (see 24th minute at The Graham Norton Show).

Actors: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Michael Parks, Don Johnson
Directors: Quentin Tarantino
Writers: Quentin Tarantino
Music: Elayna Boynton
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Editing: Fred Raskin
Producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, James W. Skotchdopole, Michael Shamberg, Pilar Savone
165 Mins Dec 25 2012 US release.

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St. Michael Had a Rooster****: Moving Study of the Vanity of Revolution

1972 movie of artistic distinction conveys emotional lesson brilliantly if inadvertently

Silliness of theoretical idealism as lived out by hapless ice-cream salesman

Marxist or anarchist, lack of pragmatism marks hopelessness of adherent’s action

This adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel The Divine and the Human is remarkable for its sketch of the vain effort to change the world of the protagonist, a dreamer with leadership talent, at least in a small way, but no idea how to do it on a scale large enough to make any difference whatsoever. Of course, it is at once also a study of the impenetrable remoteness of power from the daily reality of those who yearn for change but have no leverage in what they say or do. As a romantic idealist and leader of a tiny group of anarchists, Giulio Manieri (Giulio Brogi) is superb, if discouragingly effective in portraying this fable of ineffectual idealism, where even death is too small a sacrifice to be noticed by those to whom it is addressed.

Selected for the Quinzaine des Realisateurs in the 1972 Cannes Film Festival.[3]


Giulio Brogi – Giulio Manieri; Cinzia Bruno – Minister’s Daughter; Lorenzo Piani – Guelfi; Renato Scarpa – Battistrada; Daniele Dublino – The Prison Guard; Vittorio Fanfoni – Ruffini

Lina Nerli Taviani – Costume Designer, Paolo Taviani – Director, Vittorio Taviani – Director, Roberto Perpignani – Editor, Benedetto Ghiglia – Composer (Music Score), Gianni Sbarra – Production Designer, Mario Masini – Cinematographer, Giuliani de Negri – Producer, Paolo Taviani – Screenwriter, Vittorio Taviani – Screenwriter

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/st-michael-had-a-rooster#ixzz29BvMjGNH

Actors: Giulio Brogi, Daniele Dublino, Renato Cestiè, Vito Cipolla, Virgina Ciuffini
Directors: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani
Writers: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, Leo Tolstoy
Producers: Giuliani G. De Negri
Format: Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: Italian
Subtitles: English


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Owning Mahowny****1/2: Bank Dweeb On Gambling Roller Coaster

Mild bank guy embezzles and bets a streak which nearly saves him

Hoffman plays lead as determinedly obsessed though meek mannered

PBS tonight in NYC (Oct 7 2012) blessed us with this well made cliff hanger, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman as the spit image of the wretch in The Office who when he and his desk is sent to the basement burns the place down. This time around he is a quietly dorky bank officer in Toronto with a gambling compulsion who bets himself into a corner, which he tries to escape by betting ever bigger at the tables in Atlantic City and finally Las Vegas. But contrary to initial expectations the losing streak turns and he accumulates a mountain of winnings, which leads into an even more tense tangle of complications as casinos compete behind the scenes for his business and Minnie Driver as his faithful teller girlfriend Belinda is torn by hopes and fears misled by his secretiveness.

Will the whole house of cards collapse or will he emerge triumphant, the dweeb who takes the bank? Worth every minute of this nail biting joyride to find out. With the quiet pacing and everyday personal exchanges of Fargo, and a similar undercurrent of lethal danger beneath the placid surface, Mahowny maintains a low profile as he baffles and
outplays the organizations commercial and criminal that unwittingly fund and enable his multiplying escapade until his run of huge luck ends, and the elastic of concealment is stretched too thin as his embezzlement tops $10 million, and it breaks. John Hurt is comic as Victor Foss the casino boss in Atlantic City who plots various tricks to ensure Mahowny loses there rather than in Las Vegas.

Owning Mahowny 2003: Directed By: Richard Kwietniowski
Written By: Gary Stephen Ross, Maurice Chauvet

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The Cold Light of Day****: Pedophile Killer Baited With Child

Fortunately not the 2012 dog, but the 1996 Richard E. Grant thriller

Cliched yet also imaginatively disturbing star vehicle suffused with hypnotic cool of British lead

More original than it seems at first, this quirky thriller features Richard E. Grant’s hypnotic, edge of lunacy blue eyed gaze throughout as he enriches standard rogue-cop-seeks-killer fare with his own unique brand of star shine as detective Victor Marek. Grant’s (Withnail and I) patented mixture of Englishman-clipped syllables and bottled up intensity is focused throughout on capturing a hospital teaching pediatrician secretly intent on slitting the throats of blonde tots, but Grant veers into a lunacy of his own by the end of the increasingly gripping story.

The continuity girl was apparently asleep at the switch at many junctures of the story from which nuts and bolts fall throughout but this shouldn’t prevent you from going along with this cliffhanger, where Grant is a cop who is sure that his colleagues in a rural province of Eastern Europe got the wrong man, after the suspect confesses and hangs himself in his cell.

When his boss uses the false success to gain a political position our hero resigns from the force and sets himself up in a rural gas station with a housekeeper and her blonde child, with the idea of entrapping the real killer whose black limousine has traveled the route every time a dead child has been found.

Does the killer fall for the bait? Does the child attend to warnings always to report any interaction with a stranger? Does the mother fall into bed with him? Does she welcome his plan once she finds out about it? Does he become so obsessed with setting his high risk trap that his scheme spins out of control? Do a bunch of child molesting killer, armed with a hand puppet, at work in a forest behind the house, where the mother is seducing the cop cliches add up to a successful retread of a familiar theme?

Well worth staying with The Cold Light of Day to find out, and savor the Hitchockian touches along the way, such as the drawn out moment when the hands of the pediatrician are pressing the exposed stomach (just above the panties) of a young girl before the camera pulls back to expose the hospital bed setting.

Sadly, this now rare movie is unknown to American audiences judging from Rotten Tomatoes, which knows only the 2012 Bruce Willis dud. The exemplary Movies – TV Guide”/a> has full data though.

The Cold Light of Day 1996: Year: 1996 Netherlands 100 min PolyGram Video
Richard E. Grant: Victor Marek Lynsey Baxter: Milena Tatour Perdita Weeks: Anna Tatour Simon Cadell: Vladimir Kozant James Laurenson: Pavel Novak Heathcote Williams: Stephen Nuslauer Thom Hoffman: Alexi Berka Gerard Thoolan: Jan Pastorek Roger Sloman: Ludek Dittmayer Elizabeth McKechnie: Eva Pastorek Joanna Dickens: Old Lady at Gas Station Jade Hope: Jana Katsler Vladimir Kulhavy: Martin Wittman Boudewijn de Groot: Dog Owner Robert Cavanagh: Policeman at Caves Natasa Hanusova: Desk Policewoman Marta Hrachovinova: Schoolteacher
Nina Jirankova: Headmaster Nela Boudova: Policewoman with Pictures Amber Taylor: Lady at Antiques Shop
Rudolf van den Berg: Director Doug Magee: Writer – based on the novel “Das Versprechen” by Friedrich Durrenmatt Haig Balian: Producer Chris Brouwer: Producer Igor Luther: Cinematographer Kant Pan: Editor Stefan Truyman: Musical Composer Yves Elegeert: Musical Composer Zdenek Fleming: Art Director Linda Bogers: Costumes Karen Lindsay Stewart: Casting Roberto van Eijden: Sound
Jeremy Child: Sound Derrick Bosch: Make Up Libuse Barlova: Make Up Dick Naostepad: Make Up

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Pie In The Sky*: Romance Without Chemistry

Tiresome tale of unappealing couple who take years to get together while he pursues silly vocation as traffic copter reporter

Neither wit nor imagination are discernible in this lumpen, silly and uninspired effort at portraying a dull romance from conception to consummation, that is, over too many years starting from the birth of the male to the final get together somewhere long after our own interest in the result is reduced to zero by wooden dialogue, an uninteresting story line and a total lack of attractive quality in either partner except perhaps a vacuous wholesomeness which only makes one wish they would suffer a false arrest for child molestation.

Quite what the director/writer had in mind to entertain the public is a mystery for it seems entirely absent from the screen. One major problem is that both leads are without visible star quality or mutual chemistry. Anne Heche the heroine (she of latter day fame as Ellen Degeneres’ consort) is more odd than charming in feature, and utterly vacuous in behavior. Even when she dances on the edge of an underpass, risking a fall under the trucks roaring past below if her high heels slip an inch the wrong way and the hero fails to catch her, she seems more a cliche of rashness than breakout sassy.

Possibly the movie’s fatal flaw is simply her narrow face, if not her real life lesbianism publicized in 2000 with her time with Ellen Degeneres, but her heterosexual appeal would launch very few ships in our book. Is that response unredeemingly subjective? Who knows? Judge for yourself. Whether that is so or not, director Bryan Gordon is also the scriptwriter and has to take full responsibility for this tediously unimaginative time waster, which gives few lines of any interest to two actors who can’t fill the screen on their own as the screenplay plods on.

Pie In The Sky 1996 Director – Bryan Gordon
Screenplay – Bryan Gordon Josh Charles as Charlie Dunlap Anne Heche as Amy John Goodman as Alan Davenport Christine Lahti Ruby Executive Producer – Steven Einhorn Producer – Allan Mindel Producer


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Bowfinger*****: Steve and Eddie’s Fun Movie

Don’t miss Bowfinger, a fine fun comedy about movie making.

Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy join to concoct the most fun since forever as they run with the theme of making a great movie from the world’s silliest sci fi script with no money, a cast of beginners, kidnapped wetbacks and a lead role played by a star who has no idea the camera is hidden in the bushes recording his “acting” as he is accosted by enough weird strangers to make him believe his mind is going, in fact a star who has no idea he is in a movie at all.

Martin as the fastest talking producer without credentials or honesty but with enough chutzpah to sell you the studio lot from a bar across the street is in his element as he shepherds his star struck crew through what they imagine to be one scene after another of their hokey space aliens fantasy and runs through every tawdry cliche of Hollywood game playing and turning it into comic gold, including the ancient art of winning leading female roles by seducing the key players.

Enough to show once again what a huge gap there has been in the Oscars ever since they cancelled the one for Comedy, leaving most of the brilliance generated in the movie realm shut out of the global recognition it deserves, if only for the sake of rescuing humanity from the mess it creates when humor is barred from recognition as the truly greatest and highest plane of story telling.

***** BOWFINGER 1999: Directed by Frank Oz; written by Steve Martin; director of photography, Ueli Steiger; edited by Richard Pearson; music by David Newman; production designer, Jackson Degovia; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 97 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Steve Martin (Bobby Bowfinger), Eddie Murphy (Kit Ramsey/Jiff Ramsey), Heather Graham (Daisy), Christine Baranski (Carol), Jamie Kennedy (Dave), Robert Downey Jr. (Jerry Renfro), Terence Stamp (Terry Stricter) and Adam Alexi-Malle (Afrim).

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Palmetto****: Beauty Lures Drifter Into Kidnap Scam

Unfairly jailed reporter get suckered again by a kidnap scheme that goes awry

Woody Harrelson stars in Palmetto as a newly freed reporter who had wound up in jail for two years for trying to uncover city hall corruption in a small harbor town, and now emerges resentful, broke, and ready for suckerdom.

Here this small screen star (Cheers) shows his serious acting chops as a resentful journalist in this gripping thriller which takes off from what seems at first a classic, cliched false kidnap scheme to extract money from a dying husband so his younger and pulchitrudinous wife can scarper with the lolly and the thief, but it turns out to trump that predictable format by several layers of development in what turns out to be a Chinese box of plotting to rival the Big Sleep, and like Chandler tying up all the twisted strands into a neat but large knot that may leave some viewers disentangling the true solution long after they finish the screening. Part of the responsibility may lie with the pen of James Hadley Chase, from whose book Just Another Sucker this was taken, but probably not. His thrillers are very much the down to earth kind, not given to vats of acid into which losers are lowered.

The distractions include Woody’s suitably rugged jawline and jail starved libido finding irresistible temptation in the luscious curves of the leading ladies who include superior intelligence among their outstanding charms, and much of the trouble he gets into is due to the nefarious machinations of these beauties along with their seductive tricks, such as Elizabeth Shue the bombshell wife stuffing horsd’oeuvres into that jawline with long fingers when breaking off a conversation with him at a party and then pointedly extracting her dress from her ass cheeks as she recedes.

While Woody’s Harry Barber is a bit of a soft eyed sucker too slow off the mark to catch up with the many double crosses that are thrown at him he does have some jailbird toughness about him which serves him well in the end, but the story skids off the rails into so many twists and turns in the final stretch that the final batch of threats to his welfare which include being suspended over the acid bath that ate a body in ten minutes previously test our suspension of disbelief to the utmost.

In all honesty, the end is a shambles of plot turns as rapid as a funfair roundabout and as difficult to follow. When the body of the kidnap victim turns out to look like a child one has never seen before and a victorious Barber turns out to be on the side of the cops after all, and then is handcuffed and put back in jail nonetheless, it is as if the fun ride has suddenly lost its flywheel in the Hitchcock manner and left its bearings to crash to a halt amid flying children and wooden horses.

But the movie with all its lurid sexual intensity and constant sense of imminent catastrophe for the unfortunate Barber is so well done throughout that the explosive end seems more witty and satisfying self satire than disappointment. This film noir is in color in both senses.

Palmetto 1998: Directed by Volker Schlondorff; written by E. Max Frye, based on the novel ”Just Another Sucker” by James Hadley Chase; director of photography, Thomas Kloss; edited by Peter Przygodda; music by Klaus Doldinger; production designer, Claire Jenora Bowin; produced by Matthias Wendlandt; released by Castle Rock Entertainment. Running time: 114 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Woody Harrelson (Harry Barber), Elisabeth Shue (Rhea Malroux), Gina Gershon (Nina), Rolf Hoppe (Felix Malroux), Michael Rapaport (Donnelly) and Chloe Sevigny (Odette).

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Bottle Rocket***1/2: Amiable Slacker Heists

Risky romp as three buddies charm their way through multiple heists

The slim but comic story line of cult charmer Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson’s first, before Rushmore) is a loose ramble along various buddy tropes centered on a slacker heist or three by a trio of amiable new young stars (Owen C. Wilson, who co-wrote the screenplay, his brother Luke, and Robert Musgrave) who carry the movie on their broad shoulders and invest it with a watchable casual humor and enough unexpected turns to keep us interested and amused throughout.

Boosted by energizing cameos by a dangerously energetic James Caan and the ever fresh and lovely Lumi Cavazos (Like Water For Chocolate) as Inaz, a motel chambermaid and Luke’s instant not-so-casual love. ***1/2

1996: Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Owen C. Wilson and Mr. Anderson; director of photography, Robert Yeoman; edited by David Moritz; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Polly Platt and Cynthia Hargrave; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 95 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Luke Wilson (Anthony Adams), Owen C. Wilson (Didgnan), Ned Dowd (Dr. Nichols), Robert Musgrave (Bob Mapplethorpe) and Lumi Cavazos (Inez).

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Cavedweller: Involving Female Drama

Absorbing study of a woman’s determination to win family reconciliation

Surprisingly, given its ad description, the misnamed Cavedweller is a story of a return to the scene of domestic abuse which the heroine had fled years earlier, when her husband had climaxed her life of escalating violence by trying to shoot her with a gun that with blessed relief proved empty of cartridges, so she was able to flee downstairs and away to a new life in Los Angeles with the musician that had seduced her and caused her husband’s lethal rage.

Her departure, misunderstood by the small church-focused community as selfish abandonment of her husband and two daughters, now all but guarantees general hostility on her return as well as her husband’s firearmed resentment.

The story turns out rather differently than one might expect, however. Yearning for the two daughters she left behind she travels with a third, the one she bore the musician, who has died in the ravine road car crash that opens the movie, to the rural town where she unearths her other now teen age daughters and finally her husband, who turns out to be dying, and no threat at all. He offers her a deal from his sickbed. She can stay and bring the two daughters he has left in the care of his mother back into the house if she will nurse him, so that he can die looking out a window at his field.

Rather than the external action drama one might expect with plenty of physical assault, screaming and couple mayhem, then, this movie is one of slow paced emotional change, more satisfying on a deeper level. The slight material of the script (from the Dorothy Allison novel, with fine screenplay by Anne Meredith, is simply a tale of rapprochement between all the members of this little family, which now coheres for the first time. From nothing more than that and the star quality of the heroine, who magnetizes the eye without any flash or sexual heat, but with a kind of sophisticated urban intelligence that hints of the life she has again left behind for her roots.

The director Lisa Cholodenko weaves an absorbing tale of a family of females moving from alienation to understanding as the barriers to communication slowly crumble. It is beautifully paced and while it is by nature essentially a chick fliok it operates on an adult and realistic plane which will involve appreciative males too as they watch the rebirth of love between four attractive females long pushed far apart by a man who was, he explains, frightened by the power of his love into vainly trying to break the object of it.

Such is her indomitable will that it triumphs over fear of him and a mountain of social disapproval that has accumulated over years, and all are one at the moment that the unfortunate and repentant husband dies.

Cavedweller 2004: Director: Lisa Cholodenko Writers: Dorothy Allison (novel), Anne Meredith (screenplay) Stars: Kyra Sedgwick, Aidan Quinn and Sherilyn Fenn.

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Bread and Roses: LA Wetbacks Fight Corporate Injustice

Idealistic union agitator leads wetback janitors to victory

Brit lefty director Ken Leach has been championing the downtrodden for 35 years (My Name Is Joe, Carla’s Song, Land and Freedom) and his Hollywood (his first in the service of the system) retelling of the 1990 strike of janitors in LA has the flavor of real life in pitting sympathetic characters in head to head conflict with power great and petty.

The meaning sought and brought home is political more than personal, but portrayed on the personal level – with all the consequences of poverty and powerlessness limned with the realism that evokes a genulne moral feeling in response.

The title “bread and roses” harks back to the strike for decent wages – bread – and social respect – roses – by the 30,000 textile mill workers of Lawrence, Massachusetts, who mounted the first multiethnic strike of men and women in American history in 1912, and won after two months of support from the townspeople.

This is the great drama of ruthless commerce and the lives of desperation it forces on those lacking privilege or sometimes even the money for basic necessities, the hard working oppressed on the very bottom rung of the economic ladder.

For the building janitors in this film without the courage to fight – or the foolhardiness, as it seems to many of them – the threat of their own economic death hovers, as these infinitely vulnerable people are urged to take group action by a middle class, youthful union agitator who has never suffered privation himself. This is a drama of life and death, where money rules fate and only the brave fight back.

The story is well crafted, but there is too little about the difficulties of fighting from the bottom of the pit, and how the poor wetbacks who cling to economic viability by cleaning the building of one of the richest law firms in Los Angeles must struggle to overcome their doubts and very real fears of unionizing.

The transition from passive acceptance to active resistance is shortchanged, even though the story is not complex and the ambitions of the janitors is modest. “I am simply asking for an increase for the work that I do!” says someone in the Janitors for Justice short video the rebel group watch, taking inspiration from the earlier success of the 1911 strike at Century City, Los Angeles.

“It is better to die fighting than on your knees…” sings the upbeat but plaintive band at a party. But fighting the gringo boss across the language barrier must be one of the steepest mountains to conquer in the history of labor relations. Wetbacks’ human dignity versus corporate might must have seemed like a losing battle in a status conscious city that judges by appearance and where as the film suggests at the outset the cleaners are all but invisible to the lawyers who inhabit the corridors they clean.

The film shows their characters have the depth and nuance of lives extending well beyond the story. This kind of tribute to the exploited is surely more relevant than ever emotionally as the depredations of capitalism hint at even greater excesses to come.

Adrienne Brody as Sam is charming but upright even though he has a rather unjust advantage in gaining the affections of sweet, young but quickthinking fighter heroine Maya (Pilar Padilla) who is a natural as she portrays an active moral awareness of social ills without bitterness or recrimination in her determination to set things right. She goes too far in a cleverly managed theft from a store till (she lures the cashier into the loo with a scream and locks him in) and her fingerprints match when she is arrested in the demonstration.

Appealing, involving, heart wrenching, though to a small extent sentimental and simplified to suit Hollywood, this is moving entertainment with a political punch.

For a misleading review see http://www.contactmusic.com/movie-review/breadroses

Bread and Roses 2000 Directed by Ken Loach; written by Paul Laverty; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Jonathan Morris; music by George Fenton; production designer, Martin Johnson; produced by Rebecca O’Brien; released by Lions Gate Films. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated R. With Pilar Padilla (Maya), Adrien Brody (Sam), Elpidia Carrillo (Rosa) and George Lopez (Perez).

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Jackie Mason On Campus

Jackie’s unique comic talent tickles Oxford Union crowd pink

The inimitable Jackie finds himself on stage at the Oxford Union where he elicits roars of laughter negotiating risky crevices between acceptable and dangerous humor about stereotypes of all kinds, including Jewish, to an audience of lean, good looking, appreciative and often Jewish students.

But Jackie proves as always that he can get away with social murder. There is something in his delivery that is always both funny and lovable, bridging the gaps he points out. The eccentricities of one culture or another are pointed up with a universality of comic perspective and a commonality of tone that instantly ameliorates any tribal fear and prejudice he might evoke in the audience. We are laughing with the objects of fun, not at them.

In evoking the irrationality of every aspect of behavior and thinking that he comments on, he counteracts any anxiety over the color of his material. He releases us from believing in what we feel or think without checking why or if we believe or feel it. We realize that it’s probably as irrational as the behavior he comments on, for we are, as he emphasizes, in his even handed dispensation of mild ridicule, all the same.

JACKIE MASON ON CAMPUS 1996 Executive Producer Jyll Rosenfeld Produced by Bruce Hyman Directed by Alasdair MacMillan 52 min

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Beneath Clouds – Australian Classic

Young couple bond across Down Under’s racial divide on road trip

Beneath Clouds ***** A classic movie, one of Australia’s greatest, Beneath Clouds is one of those rare scripts which includes long, silent expression as a big part of the dialogue, with the camera lingering on faces for us to read them directly, instead of having them explain via the verbal script – show, not tell, which is the secret to connecting audience with actor with their mirror neurons instead of their ears. There is real magic in Dannielle Hall’s round cheeked young face and golden plaits, on which the camera loves to gaze.

Beneath Clouds is a fine study of blind racism and budding first love, with long distance trucks and ramshackle cafés grubbying the purity and mythic power of the Aussie outback as telling backdrop.

This cultural traverse is built on the classic form of road trip as attempted escape to a better world, one punctuated with stops by hostile cops and other familiar dangers, but miraculously free of any taint of deja vu as a genuine bond emerges between two young people beset by the power and corruptions of a multi tribal adult world. And all of this adventure is bound together seamlessly by the long held notes of the steady score also composed by Ivan Sen as he wrote the screenplay for his striking directorial accomplishment.

Netflix streaming available. Free viewing (but with many inappropriate ads) at IMDB/Hulu http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi1631231001/

Release date: 2002 (initial release)
Director: Ivan Sen
Running time: 90 minutes
Screenplay: Ivan Sen
Cast: Damian Pitt, Kevin Pitt, Judy Duncan, Arthur Dignam, Simon Swan, More
Music: Ivan Sen, Alister Spence

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Gasland: Fracking Threatens New York City

(Being transferred)

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Benda Bilili: Congo cripples hit world stage

A musical triumph for unstoppable Kinhasa street band

Absorbing, joyful documentary celebrates independence, work and talent

Simple pleasures and sorrows of life at the bottom – and the top

(Being transferred)

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Up in the Air: Corporate executioner humbled by hook up

Road warrior George fires all in work and love, lives tether free

Hotel romance hooks him, disappoints, disarmed George wiser but bereft

We thought we knew in advance that Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air was simply a fast moving vehicle for muscular hearted, cartoon handsome George Clooney to win it all in love and war, starting with his leading role as Ryan Bingham the axe wielder who is hired to fire most of the humans he meets daily as a consulting corporate executioner, and so it proved at the beginning, at least.

Credits unroll against abstract designs formed by shots from an airliner window of the earth below, clouds above, and a blue heaven, showing us a world from a vantage point too remote for us to discern any people – George’s world, evidently. Soon we enter what seems to be the film’s thematic context, a world where anyone can get fired at a moment’s notice, impersonally, though camouflaged with appropriate double talk.

This has to be a timely and riveting theme, given the vanishing job market since 2009, when the film was released. One of the ugliest blots on modern US capitalism in the 21st Century is how impersonally, even viciously, many companies now deal with firing their people. Nowadays a large portion of humanity walks in fear that it will at a moments notice be unable to pay its rent and look after its family for lack of a weekly or monthly pay check.    

A riveting issue from many points of view, including that of the unemployed (misery loves company), the secret joy of watching others suffer (schadenfreude), the cliffhanger of seeing what happens next to the unemployed (will they commit suicide, as one does here off screen?), and the social immorality of suddenly firing an erstwhile loyal member of the group, where the victim is frog marched from the manager’s office to the door in case he takes his contact data or corporate secrets home with him.

Severing relations all over

And according to the film there are bosses so chickenhearted that they hire an interloper to do the dirty work for them, which means sitting face to face with the unfortunate and usually bewildered firee, which is George Clooney’s role here. So we can add the interest of the implied cliffhanger as we wait for something or someone to bring the hired gun his comeuppance, so we can get a double shot of the schadenfreude of watching others being fired.

In Up In The Air this table turning is brought on by a woman, of course. Two women, in fact. After this perfect set up for two hours of audience fun, the requisite hotel room high jinks are sparked by George finding his not so romantic doppelganger in the exquisitely eyefilling person of Vera Farmiga, as Alex. Seems that apart from Hollywood star level looks and bodies they have numberless frequent flier miles as the big thing in common, it being George’s prime ambition to accumulate so many that he will get VIP treatment including a special handshake from the airline’s most experienced pilot.

Add to this a boss who volunteers on the phone that he has been constipated for two weeks and you begin to wonder what age level the supposed humor in this supposed comedy-drama is aimed at. But don’t walk out yet, since all this is only the set up. Eventually it will turn out that the hollowness beneath the charm and the apparent lack of character traits other than simpleminded materialism is really whimpering loneliness hiding behind unrelenting denial, at least on George’s part, and eventually he will fall for Elizabeth hard and start revising his entire approach to life.

Sharks can’t be still

For now the focus has switched from firing and being fired to how Ryan can possibly be happy in his inhuman life style, divorced from home and family, living out of a suitcase, cruelly killing off strangers hopes by day and boarding passing ships in the night. But then he appears in front of a business group to expound his philosophy and we are almost sold on his alternative universe after all:

Ryan Bingham: How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.

A pretty good rationale, questioning whether it makes sense to stay at home at all, given the joys and freedoms from personal responsibility of the ever moving shark. But it is almost immediately contradicted by a telling scene where Ryan is (reluctantly) back home for a moment, and his attractive neighbor delivers a package she signed for. She turns him down for “getting together later” because she is “seeing someone”, but tells him, however, that it’s been longer than usual that she hasn’t seen him, and she signals that she missed him. She says this tentatively, evidently uncertain what he feels for her, or what she feels for him, or whether any feeling would be welcome. That is the price the shark pays, we see – no real friends, any real intimacy barred by his own denial.

The insanity of dealing impersonally with everybody even in emotionally fraught situations is underscored anew when a newcomer to the group, Natalie, a recent graduate of Cornell, comes up with the bright idea of doing all the firing by Skype.

This is the last thing Ryan wants, of course, so he is forced to come up with several very serious reasons why firing should be done in person. So now the two themes are wedded – can a firing be done impersonally by remote viewing, or does it have to be done in person, and by a man who seems to have been quite happy up till now to escape ignore personal considerations of any kind both for himself and for his victims.

Then we have the added amusement of the experienced fast traveler teaching the smart ingenue the ropes of fast luggage (small enough to stow in the cabin) and checkin (choose Asians to follow into the security portal.) He also teaches her to run a smooth firing interview, where her unrealistic encouragement of the unfortunate firee earns her an FU from a father of twins, who is then given hope by Ryan who says he gave up his own heart’s desire to become a fine chef when he was offered his first office salary, and always thinks of it with a pang of regert.

But soon enough the tables are turned by his young charge as she starts pointing out flaws in his philosophy, such as his goal of ten million flyer miles so that he can put his name on a plane and meet the chief pilot. “Men get such hardons from putting their names on things. You guys don’t grow up. It’s like you need to pee on everything.” says Natalie. She adds: ” If I had ten million miles I’d look up the best place I had never been and go there.”

Meanwhile, Ryan shows more and more emotional understanding of the terror he visits on others with their work – “this is what we do, he says, “we take people at their most fragile and we set them adrift.” He is soothing her after a black woman informs them calmly of her plan for the future – to jump off a bridge near her home. This is not an idle threat, it later turns out.

Yet at the same time there he is back preaching that relationships are the most burdensome possessions of all – and for some viewers, this must hit home, given the imbalance of so many marriages and live-in relationships. Many people do seem to view intimacy as a burden to be avoided. Ryan is not alone, and his rationale looks sensible enough on the face of it, if one is one of those people. But then, this may be a critique of American society today, where falsity in modes of self expression, falsity to one’s own individual spirit, is so often demanded by the roles in corporations and other large institutions of modern life, particularly in commerce, which covers so much of it. It may be that even in the context of what we view as real intimacy we are not able to connect at the fundamental level of mutual personal recognition as easily as less capitalist societies – at least, judging from their cinematic output!

Be that as it may, in this film, though, things now move to genuine confession, comforting and caregiving, and in no time the more adult couple formed by Ryan and his hotel conquest, Alex, have taken the young one in hand to cheer her up after a rude shock – her swain resigns in impersonal fashion by texting her

Women win again

Soon under a starlit sky, sitting together with their feet paddling in the water off the stern of a smart little cruiser, Ryan is revising his empty backpack philosophy and kissing his blonde with deeper attachment than mutual attraction conveyed. Real feeling is emerging all over….

But then Bam! a sudden wakeup call. Mr Unfeeling, having suddenly realized that baggage may not be so dispensable after all, rushes unannounced to the blonde’s address but she opens the door at the top of her brownstone steps with tots running up the stairs behind her and a male voice asking Who is it? Later on the phone she “explains” – “this is my real life.”

Suddenly, his life has turned to ashes – the ten million miles card they finally award him on a plane, with the chief pilot sitting down beside him; the smart address he has always given about getting rid of the backpack; the endless freedom from the dog, kids, and wife that greet others so warmly when they return in the evening; all that he suddently appreciates and longs for has slipped from his grasp.

Sent back into the air, he writes a terrific reference letter for the cute Natalie, who has fled the firing firm after finding out that the black woman who threatened to kill herself did indeed jump off a bridge. It gets her a ne job.

The final scene: Ryan is standing staring at the departure board in a huge terminal which fills the upper part of the screen. He relaxes his grip on his suitcase roller handle….
Ryan Bingham: [End of closing monologue] The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over.

Thus, true home values confirmed, women win! Don’t grow old alone!

Nicely done.

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