“Disintegration” is what happens to fallen angels when on terra

Disintegration” (2007), by  Roger MacLeod and James Wright, is a bizarre little horror film about the angels in the Bible, the Nephilim who allegedly tried to corrupt the world before Noah (2014), as in the Book of Enoch, according to the prologue.

Justin Ridgeway makes the graduate student protagonist (Charles Wilcox III) appealing enough at first.  He is supposed to be a “professional student” gradually disowned from his Georgia family for not carrying his weight in the world.  Sounds familiar?

The plot indeed seems manufactured.  Both grandpa and dad have conveniently died, apparently by suicide, when cutting him off. Charles even tried to shoot himself and wound up with nothing more than tinnitus in his right ear.  The DVD seems low volume is places, as if to simulate the deafness.

There is a religion professor Dr, Nelson (James Wright) who expects Charles to track down the truth about the Nephilim, which is that they’re back, and Charles is “one of them”.  And the Scholars Foundation seems determined both to protect the Nephilim and carry out their mission.

I think that the idea that an “angel” or an ET could walk among us and know even know that he is alien (like Sean Walker, Jason Ritter’s hero character in “The Event’) is fascinating (Clark Kent gets told he is an alien in the first episode of  “Smallville” by adoptive dad.)  Such a character needs to remain a good person, not go down the path of James Holmes.

The Nephilim can be female, and can be black. There is plenty of casting diversity in this one.

The bare-bones Netflix DVD from York has no individual scenes.  And the picture is reduced in size for no apparent reason.

(Posted: Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Hurry Sundown”, Otto Preminger’s 1967 melodrama, examined race relations and even draft dodging

Having been reminded of this film by yesterday’s movie with an accidentally similar title, I did rent Otto Preminger’s 1967 melodrama “Hurry Sundown” on Amazon today.

There is something about these older big expansive films in historical settings (the biggest of all is “Giant” in 1954 by George Stevens, which I saw in Dallas in the 1980s at the Inwood) that I miss today.

The film was released in February 1967 when I as starting my third semester of graduate school at the University of Kansas.  I sometimes made it to the Varsity or Granada in downtown Lawrence (Mike Nichols’s and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” in black and white) but I don’t remember seeing this one.

The specific issue that got my attention is that a lead character, Henry Warren (Michael Caine, looking out of his usual character) is described as a draft dodger, as he tries to swing a land deal in post World War II Georgia (the film is said to have been shot near Baton Rouge, LA). His rival is a cousin Rad McDowell (John Phillip Law) who has returned unharmed from WWII combat in Europe.  The script (the movie runs 2-1/2 hours) doesn’t tell us exactly how he got out of the draft (like CO, or a fake medical excuse).  There is an early conversation in a car where Rad says that how one experiences European capital cities (like Paris) depends on one’s point of view.  Later Rad tells his own kids that cousin Henry has no conscience.

Henry has a story marriage with Julie (Jane Fonda), who is more protective of her autistic son. Henry blames the mother’s side of the family for his “defective” kid.  But it was common in earlier generations to look at autism or mental disabilities through a moral lens.

Rad has his sons (who figure in the climax) and wife played by Faye Dunaway. Burgess Meredith plays the bigoted judge, and George Kennedy the corrupt sheriff.

People in this generation indeed had different moral postulates, especially about race.  Rad wants to partner with a black sharecropper family  (Reve and Rose Scott, played by Robert Hooks and Beah Richards) to develop his land and refuses to sell.  Rad would have learned better racial attitudes being in the Army. True, Truman would integrate the military in 1948 (as in the HBO film), but there had been proposals when the war began, in 1941.  All of this is prelude to the debate over “don’t ask don’t tell” to erupt a half century later.  Times do change, and so do moral postulates.

The film foreshadows its tragic conclusion by showing blasting on the land to clear irrigation ditches.

Name: “Hurry Sundown”
Director, writer:  Otto Preminger
Released:  1967/2
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon Instant 3.99
Length:  144
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Paramount
Link:  Ebert

(Posted: Friday, May 19, 2017 at 8:45 PM EDT)

“Sundown”: the kind of spring-break comedy I get emails about (asking me if I want to write another one)

Sundown” (directed Fernando Lebrija) is another stereotyped teen spring break comedy, the kind that I get emails about asking if I a screenplay to submit in this genre. It offers the novelty of a setting in the Mexican coastal resort of Puerto Vallarta, for rich people.

Logan (a handsome Devon Werkheiser) and his best friend Blake (Sean Marquette) will be the tag team. Blake seems like a younger Seth Rogen, as if the producers wanted another comedy that would see if they could anger North Korea into another hack (which apparently just happened).

Logan’s dad (John Michael Higgins), having raised him in some LA Valley suburb, often pesters Logan during Logan’s home disco mixing sessions, as Logan seems to aspire to be a disco electronics music composer. That’s not bad. Dad wants Logan to take care of the house while parents go away, and gives him grandfather’s metal Rolex watch, worth thousands.

One cardinal rule, it seems to me, is that you don’t give a teen boy a metal band wrist watch before he gets through puberty, should his wrists become hairy and the watch grabby. In these days of DuoSkin maybe that won’t matter.

Logan and Blake sneak out by airliner (no electronics ban yet) to Puerto Vallarta for heterosexual circuit parties. That’s not before they get some weed from Eugene (Reid Ewing, who gets more of a part in the closing credits). Once there, the taxi driver (quite reckless on a two-lane road) almost takes the watch for barter. Logan gets involved with a call girl Gaby (Camilla Belle), and wakes up from the drugs to find the watch gone. I know the feeling. That’s not until a scene where she vomits into his mouth trying to kiss him.

The rest of the comedy is about getting the watch back, sort of (the viewer’s hook for the screenwriter), and dealing with the Mexican mafia, which is hardly of MS-13 caliber, but it does play to the hustling mentality of the poor when dealing with guest rich white people. Logan will wind up rescuing Gaby from a pimp (remember “Hustle and Flow”: indeed, it’s hard our here for a pimp). Then Logan has to return and make up with his dad.

The film has been criticized for the casting of Gaby, as if an affront to Mexico. The film seems especially deadpan given the current political debates over immigration and asylum.

Logan and Blake endure a lot, including some drag paintball makeup on their bodies, maybe simulating the DuoSkin.

In the film’s “middle”, there is a rather offensive cock fight, which Logan has to get himself out of.  It seems rather cruel to animals. But a backstory chapter in my novel draft “Tribunal and Rapture” (later morphed into “Angel’s Brother”) depicts a cock fight in Florida in giving the background of one of the characters (a “retired” FBI agent). It was good for me to be reminded of that scene.

Somehow this film reminds me of the little 2001 comedy “The Mexican” with Brad Pitt about a cursed gun. It has no connection to “Hurry Sundown” (1967), a film, which because of reference to the draft, I probably need to see.

Wikipedia picture of Puerto Vallarta beach (not as pretty as San Sebastian, Spain, for my money.)

Name:  “Sundown”
Director, writer:  Fernando Lebrija
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon Instant $3.99 (also on Netflix Instant)
Length:  104
Rating:  R
Companies:  Lionsgate, Pantelion, Netflix
Link:  Indiewire

(Posted: Friday, May 19, at 12:30 AM EDT)

“Carlito’s Way” seems like a stereotyped Mafia movie in today’s world; great shoot-out scene at end

Carlito’s Way” (1993) is a big-budget gangster movie from Brian de Palma.  But it’s not quite as engaging as the “Godfather” epics of the 1970s or maybe either some of de Palma’s earlier films (like “Dressed to Kill” (1980) or some comparable films by Scorsese (“Scarface”).  It’s long and bloated at 144 minutes.

The film is based on novels by former judge Edwin Torres, who says he wrote out his novels in longhand.  (So did J. K. Rowling when she began writing as a welfare mom.) The first screenplay was supposedly a “turkey”. The final adaptation is by David Koeep.

Carlito Brigante is played by a younger and mustachioed Al Pacino.  From Puerto Rico, he’d like to have the suave whiteness and social acceptability of a Geraldo Rivera or maybe (in today’s world) Josh Garcia.  His rather evil lawyer Dave Kleinfeld, a younger Sean Penn (who shaved back his hairline for the part) gets him out of prison on a technicality before a doubting judge in an opening scene, and Carlito promises to go straight (not literally). Fat chance.

Gradually his associates and girlfriends and Kleinfeld drag him back into the Mafia, with many scenes in the bay around Rikers Island.  Kleinfeld is a cokehead, with one scene where be nearly vomits in the bay, as if to invoke Roman Polanski.

Other characters in line are Benny (John Leguizamo) and Gail (Penelope Ann Miller).

When the revengeful elements of the plot send Kleinfeld to the hospital, Carliot pays him a sympathy visit and gives him a lesson in self-defense.  It doesn’t do any good.  (Torres says that Kleinfeld, murdered by a police imposter in the hospital, survives in the novels.)

The film has a famous shootout in Grand Central station (rather like the bank shootout in the 1996 film “Heat”, also with Pacino)  One problem is that I think that the Amtrak train south leaves from Penn Station, which I have been in enough times.

The metaphor at the end, for slipping into Paradise (based on entering a billboard) is a nice rendering of how the afterlife might start.

The movie starts in black-and-white with the final shooting, and returns in color.  There is an alternative universe ending where Carlito wore a bullet proof vest.

The script has lots of topical references, like to “Walk on the Wild Side” and in being “Watergated” (maybe now that’s “Russiagated”).

The Mahler-esque score was composed by Patrick Doyle.

Name:  “Carlito’s Way”
Director, writer:  Brian de Palma
Released:  1993
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 34 min “making of” included
Length:  144
Rating:  R
Companies:  Universal
Link:  Blu-Ray

(Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)

“Forever Pure”: a nationalistic Israeli soccer team creates controversy by recruiting two Muslim players from Chechnya

Forever Pure”, directed by Maya Zinshtein, is a docudrama about religious identity politics in professional sports.

Specifically, the somewhat right wing and nationalist Beitar Jerusalem football club recruits two young adult Muslim football players from Chechnya.  The players were recruited by a billionaire Russian oligarch.  Disruption and riots follow.

The film shows some familial intimacy for the two players, who “look” white.  They do observe their prayer rituals.

The film also looks into the competitive nature of Israeli football, which is really what we call soccer.  It seems to be more popular with working class people.

The film aired on PBS Independent Lens on May 15, 2017.  It attracted my attention incidentally because Chechnya has become the focus of a local anti-gay Holocaust recently, with the Russian government looking the other way and pretending gays don’t exist.  Provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos wrote about this in an aggressive piece on his own site.  The Tsarnaev brothers also came from Chechnya (Vanity Fair story).

Picture: DC United game that I attended, 2014.

Name:  “Forever Pure”
Director, writer:  Maya Zinshtein
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS Independent Lens, 2017/5/15
Length:  85
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS, Dickin’ and Divin’
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2017 at 12 noon EDT)

“The Discovery”: a mad scientist develops TV to look at the afterlife and finds it a strange loop

The Discovery”, directed by Charlie McDowell, and produced by Endgame and Protagonist,  is Netflix’s proudest release for this spring, a science fiction film about layers of reality that seems inspired a bit by Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”, and some ideas (for the straight world) borrowed from the gay time paradox film “Judas Kiss”.  But it doesn’t have the visual sweep of either of these films.

The Discovery of the mad scientist Thomas Harbor, played by Robert Redford with all of his conservative charisma, is that the Afterlife of people after brain death has been recorded.  (There is some record of this sort of thing like in Eben Alexander’s book “Proof of Heaven”).  In a guarded mansion on Newport Beach, Rhode Island, Harbor carries out his work, with a machine than can render paranormal experiences on a 50s-like black and white TV, shaking, and no Philco Halo Light.

The film opens with a broadcast interview (with Mary Steenburgen), where a production assistant commits suicide on camera.  Pretty soon Thomas’s son Will (Jason Segel) and a soutmate Isla (Rooney Mara, of course) take a ferry to the place, where they are escorted by Will’s long-haired, chain-smoking brother Toby (Jesse Plemons).

In the mansion there is a whole “family” of subjects, in orange uniforms, rather like a cult in a horror film. As the film progresses (the details of the plot, in Wikipedia, are lengthy and somewhat convoluted, as in a Nolan film) bad family secrets crawl out of the metalwork like blobs.  The equipment is 50s stuff, with electrodes and mesh that would threaten a male subject’s chest hair (and there’s plenty of the stringy stuff attached to pates, too).  In time, the controversy seems to be, are the visions just dreams (like “Inception”) or are they really alternative reality paths in parallel universes that your consciousness jumps into when you die.  “The end is only the beginning” and maybe everyone really is a strange loop.

Indeed, the film will take some twists as Will and Isla fall in love, that only quantum paradox keeps from becoming tragic.

I think there are more interesting ideas to try, like merging together into group consciousness, for future redistribution (like in my “Angel’s Brother”).

It’s interesting that Netflix picked this up, because the Sundance film would seem to be capable of attracting a theatrical audience in chains like Landmark or Angelika.

Name:  “The Discovery”
Director, writer:  Charlie McDowell
Released:  2017/3/31
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play
Length:  102
Rating:  NA (PG-13)
Companies:  Endgame, Protagonist, Netflix
Link:  Facebook, Netflix (requires logon and subscription)

Picture: Bridge near Newport, my visit, Aug. 2015

(Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

“Handsome Devil”: a boarding school friendship about “coming out” and gay men in sports

The last scene of “Handsome Devil” (John Butler’s film set in Ireland) shows one of the hero teen athletes Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) kicks a field goal to win a rugby game.  I thought, it would be nice so show the scoreboard one more time, so American audiences know how many points it scores (three, as in US football).

I thought about Mark Bingham, the gay rugby player who was one of the heroes on Flight 93 during the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.

The film, however, set in a boarding school, sets up the roommate problem that schools have gradually learned to deal with.

When Ned (Fionn O’Shea) arrives with his guitar and loner personality, brought by his wealthy parents who want to hurry back to Dubai, the school assigns him a room with Conor.  To protect Conor’s sense of modesty, they build a “Berlin Wall” in the middle of the room.

The kids have to deal with a challenging English teacher Dan Sherry (Andrew Scott), himself closeted, who gives Ned the final inevitable epigram, “Never speak in a borrowed voice.”  That all starts with the first theme, which Ned has to read in class despite some plagiarism.

But as the film progresses and the roomies build a rocky friendship, we learn that Conor has his own past that he is trying to hide by “going straight”.

Off course, those familiar with my own narrative (in my 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell  I” book“) know that my 1961 William and Mary expulsion started with a roommate issue.  Charles Moskos, the Northwestern University sociology professor who more or less invented the phrase “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military (US) in 1993, later wrote about the issue of matching gay roommates in colleges. The concerns over privacy in the military and other environments (like firehouses) has dwindled greatly with the generations born in the 1980s and later. Of course, big league sports in the US are adapting to expectations of non-discrimination, including MLB and the NFL.

But the film presents another irony in sports:  when does the team come first, and when does the individual?  I remember how Troy McClain “took one for the team” in an early episode in 2004 of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”.

Name:  “Handsome Devil
Director, writer:  John Butler
Released:  2016; DVD on 2017/6/2
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Vimeo private screener from distributor, 2017/5/11
Length:  95
Rating:  NA (PG-13?)
Companies:  Breaking Glass Pictures
Link:  Official Twitter

(Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT)

“Beach Rats”: working class gay teen boy comes of age in Brooklyn, but may stumble into creating a tragedy

Beach Rats” (2017), directed by Eliza Hittman, makes the case that some young cis-male men are indeed bisexual, or at least ambiguous.

The protagonist is the rather smooth Frankie (Harris Dickinson), who lives near the beach apparently in Coney Island (Brooklyn) and helps take care of a father dying of cancer. He has a girl  friend Simone (Madeleine Weinstein) and gets intimate with her, but has some trouble performing.  In the mean time, he sneaks down to the basement and connects with older gay men on a webcam.

In time he meets peers (the “rats”) closer to his own age, who want to meet up on the beach, maybe for sex, maybe to trade and smoke weed.  Frankie demonstrates his street smarts in various ways, like the way he uses pawn shops to get cash. He does demonstrate some sense, as I recall, in asking about condoms.  As the film progresses, one of the other men only slightly older than him becomes a target.  A robbery on the beach may leave the other young man drowned, and the movie ends with Frankie not knowing if he has been party to murder.

The story reminds me of the real life case of Justin Berry, whom Kurt Eichenwald wrote about in the New York Times in 2005. The real story did not end so tragically, as far as I know.  Older men who contact underage teens through webcams may be breaking the law (depending on age of consent) or may run afoul of federal child pornography laws.

The film has a handball sports scene near a boardwalk.  I remember a place called Seaside Courts on the Coney Island boardwalk, with paddleball courts, which created a small personal sequence for me in 1989-1990.  It is north of the aquarium.  I don’t know if it is still there, as I was last in the area in 2004.

The film won best director at Sundance. Apparently it was shot in super 16, but looks quite crisp.

I saw the film at the Maryland Film Festival in the third floor auditorium of the newly renovated Parkway Theater in Baltimore, on North Ave. and Charles Street.

Name:  “Beach Rats
Director, writer:  Eliza Hittman
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1 (16 mm)
When and how viewed:  2017/5/7, Parkway Theater, Baltimore, Maryland Film Festival, sold out
Length:  98
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Neon
Link:  Lincoln Center

(Published: Wednesday, May 10, 2107 at 6:15 PM EDT)

“Risk”: Laura Poitras tailgates Julian Assange, with riveting results

Risk” (2017) is the latest historical and biographical film about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. Director Laura Poitras provides amazing “live” coverage of events in Assange’s life starting in 2011, when he sits in a home in Norfolk, England with journalist Sarah Harrison and talks to a man about leaked State Department cables.  Assange says “It is not my problem, but I don’t want it to become your problem.”

One of the most revealing monologues comes at almost the end, when Assange is asked whether he engaged or indulged in his style of journalism to gain “power”.  He says that his garden is the whole world, and the only way for him to be effective as a person is to act globally.  That is how I feel about my own writing.

Assange also pontificates, a bit earlier, on taking risks, especially when you need to be able to take someone else’s bullets and survive them.

Early on, the film presents another major associate, Jacob Appelbaum, rather handsome (despite the gratuitous upper arm tattoo), and explains his work with the Tor Project.  The film makes the interesting point, however indirectly, that refugees and asylum seekers (in the U.S. or any western country) would need access to TOR to communicate safely with relatives back home, an issue that potential hosts would need to heed.  There are scenes where Appelbaum appears in Cairo, and later in Tunis, training Arab spring activists to use TOR, as authoritarian regimes quickly turn against political change, especially in the Muslim world.

The film concurrently covers the release of Bradley Manning’s leak “Collateral Murder” in Iraq, and covers his court martial, and gender change to Chelsea Manning, and mentions her release from Leavenworth by President Obama just before the end of the film.  As a result particularly of this set of leaks, the US and UK governments start to close in on Assange.  There are accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, which may very well be a set-up.  A riveting sequence in the midpoint of the film shows Assange putting on macho-man gay leather drag (including contacts), and driving his motorcycle (left side in the UK) in bike lanes to the Ecuadorian embassy, where he get asylum in 2012.  The rest of the shots of him in the film must be taken in the embassy, even Lady Gaga’s visit.

Poitras herself goes global, interrupting her narrative to show Hong Kong and just a little bit of Edward Snowden (from “Citizenfour”).  Sarah accompanies Snowden to Moscow, where he seeks and is granted asylum from Putin.

The film then covers the leaks during the 2016 US presidential elections and how that probably helped Donald Trump (“I love WikiLeaks”) win the electoral vote.

The US Department of Justice announces it wants to consider prosecuting Assange for espionage and getting extradition from Ecuador.  Under the Trump administration (and in a scene showing FBI offices in New York City), Wikileaks is now painted as a foreign intelligence service (maybe especially for Russia and China) and less a legitimate journalistic group to “keep them honest”.

Laura Poitras says she herself faces constant legal restraints and disruptions in travel from the TSA, as have Appelbaum and perhaps Harrison.  Appelbaum faced sexual misconduct allegations which might well have been trumped up (pun).

Atlantic review is here.

Wikipedia on Sarah Harrison.

My own legacy review of “Collateral Murder” (2010).

Name:  “Risk”
Director, writer:  Laura Poitras
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark West End Cinema, Washington DC, 2017/5/8; theater was showing only this film at frequent intervals
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Madman, Showtime, First Look
Link:  FB

(Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

“Austerlitz” shows Nazi concentration camp tourism

Austerlitz”, by Sergei Loznitsa, provides a curious film concept. In a 94-minute exercise in trolling people in black and white, the filmmaker portrays tourists to visit the museum-exhibits of the Nazi Holocaust concentration camps Dachau and Sachsenhausen.

The first ten minutes of the film portrays nothing but a people-watch of tourists entering the gates near a sign reading “Arbeit macht frei”. We notice many are carrying phone headsets to listen to commentary. Then we do start hearing some tour guide content.  One of the most interesting is that the early camps were set up for intelligence purposes: to interrogate possible dissidents against Hitler, and even intercept plots to kill Hitler.  Only later did the Jews, as well as gypsies and homosexuals, become recognizable populations.

There is a chilling scene where a guide with a British accent explains how the victims were told to expect a shower, before getting gassed with Zytron.  One couple has a picture taken in front of a black crematorium.

As for the tourists, many are attractive, slender, young white males, ironically what you expect in a gay bar. You will see the same people, with recognizable T-shirts, based on companies or sports teams, more than once.

I was not aware of this massive level of tourism. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on a Tuesday morning in late May, 1999, having arrived on the night train to Krakow from Berlin, and then taking a taxi to the site (about $60 for the day).  I don’t recall that there was any crowd, maybe a few other tourists walking around at some distance from me.  I did visit rooms with shoes and skeleton remains, and dorms.  I walked along the notorious railroad tracks.  I don’t recall having a headset.

In the first chapter of my novel “Angel’s Brother”, a “part time” CIA agent, married and living a normal life of a history teacher in Texas, visits Birkenau the way I did, and in a light crowd, meets a mysterious college student and rides back with him.  Why both are there develops with the story.  There was one scene in the film of a young man off by himself, on a cell phone, sitting near a wall, who looked like the college student in my novel.  There may have been one other person from the US that I recognized, appearing twice with the camera going blurred the second time, a rather strange effect.

Wikipedia picture of Dachau.

Auschwitz-Birkenau visiting information.

Name:  “Austerlitz”
Director, writer:  Sergei Loznitsa
Released:  2016
Format: 1.85:1, black and white
When and how viewed:  MICA Brown in Baltimore, 2017/5/7, fair audience
Length:  94
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Imperativ, Deja-vu
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, May 8, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)