Oscar nominated documentary shorts for 2018: about racial profiling, disability, drug addiction, and compassion

The 2018 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts are playing at the Landmark West End in Washington DC this week, and so far this weekend shows have sold out.  I attended the 4 PM screening yesterday, exiting to find two inches of snow even in Foggy Bottom. There was a brief five-minute intermission after the first three films, and the presentation ended at about 7:10 PM.

The most important film in my view was the last one, “Knife Skills”, by Thomas Lennon, 39 minutes. This film chronicles the training of the staff and opening of one of the nation’s proudest French restaurants, in Cleveland, Ohio: Edwins, on Shaker Square. What is so remarkable is that the owner, Brandon Chrostowski, is eager to staff his restaurants with people who have gotten out of prison.  He sends 120 people after release through his cooking school (the Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute), but only a fraction make the cut.  How many entrepreneurs want to do this?   All the more, his wife has a new baby. In one scene, he cries.

The film resonated with me personally somewhat.  I spent summers as a boy near Oberlin, and often went into Cleveland in the 50s and 60s, particularly to Indians’s baseball games in the old stadium (especially when the Senators were in town).   Today my own relational ties are in the middle part of the state, and I have some knowledge of “small” business there.  I can also remember an announced field trip to a French restaurant (in Washington) for French class in ninth grade.

The longest film has a curious title “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405”, by Frank Stiefel (40 min), shown third.  The film starts out as if to be about Carmageddon, or maybe the recent wildfires, and in 2012 I stayed in the Angelino on the 405.  But soon the film moves indoors, to tell us the story of a sculptor, Mindy Alper, who has a lifelong mental health struggle, and who speaks very slowly.  She talks about her meds early on, and says she often throws up. But once we get into seeing her work, with the fascinating paper mache objects – animals and aliens – the film picks up.

Another film concerning medications is “Heroin(e)”, by Elaine McMillion Sheldon (39 minutes, shown fourth), from Netflix. It is set in Huntington, W Va, on the Ohio river, a town in which I spent a night myself in August 2016.  It starts out by telling us that this is a blue collar town, where people have “real jobs” and get hurt at work. That’s where the opioid problem gets started.  The film focuses on a sympathetic but firm lady judge in drug court – and she does send some people back to jail or to the general criminal court system – and to an EMS worker helping rescue people from overdoes, a mission of compassion.

The second film was “Edith+Eddie”, (Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright, 29 minutes, Kartemquin Films).  At age 95, Eddie, a widower and white, marries a black woman, Edith, also 95, who has lived in the same house in Alexandria, Virginia for years. Unfortunately, Edith, who may have mild dementia, has been placed into conservatorship by her adult kids, and the guardian seems unsympathetic to “Loving”.  She is forced to move to Florida, and in grief, Eddie soon collapses and passes away in intensive care. The film was interesting to me due to the long-winded experience I had with my own mother, who passed away (in Arlington) at the end of 2010 at age 97 after a two-year decline.

The first film, “Traffic Stop”, from HBO, directed by Kate Davis. An African-American math teacher Breaion King gets pulled over in a routine speeding stop in Austin, TX and winds up getting brutally handcuffed and arrested after a series of mistakes by both sides.  The film contrasts her classroom grade school teaching scenes with her panic at the arrest, reconstructed from police videocam. This does seem like an argument about police profiling.

I’ll share also the 2-minute “Traffic Jam” by Reid Ewing (2012), that looks like it may gave been filmed near the 405 and 110.  I’d love to see some of Reid’s other short films (“It’s Free”, etc) re-appear.

(Pictures: Kentucky, but near Huntington, mine, Aug 2018; Cleveland, mine, Aug. 2012)

(Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 11:15 PM EST)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Something Like Summer”: an LGB version of “Terms of Endearment” and even “Love Story”?


Something Like Summer” (2017), directed by David Berry, is another film from Blue Seraph Productions with appealing young adult cis gay male characters (following “Judas Kiss” and “The Dark Place”). It is based on an interesting source, a novel by Jay Bell, a screenplay adapted by Carlos Pedrazza. Bell’s novel is said to be one of a series of related novels with a closed group of characters and has certain popularity.

But this film, set around Austin, TX, longer (115 minutes), seems kindler and gentler than the other two, as presents itself in the beginning as a musical, as the lead character Benjamin Bentley (Grant Davis) sings at a stage event, framing his own life.  One day he gets into a bike collision with old friend Tim Wyman (Davi Santos), who is in the process of coming out, while raised by a strict, Mexican-American (but “European” ancestry) Catholic family.  After a very minor injury to Tim, they become closer and are on the verge of starting a relationship, which gets challenged by Tim’s family.  Tim is a promising artist, and is starting to develop a following for his paintings.

Then Tim meets an airline flight attendant Jace Holden (Ben Baur), who draws him into another competing relationship, with Jace living in a nicely furnished mobile home with a cuddly feline, Sam.

Think now, the inevitable possibilities for jealousy exist. Furthermore, there can be a wedding ceremony.

The film starts to span time, which amounts to twelve years (communicated through various little signs). There’s a hint of the passage of time (and growing a little older) in the first airplane scene where it appears that Ben now has minimal chest hair.

And there can be unexpected medical tragedy, which is sudden and shocking, and which has nothing to do with HIV.  Cerebral aneurysm is a very bad scene;  it has happened twice in workplaces in my career.

The plot of the film reminds me of James L. Brooks “Terms of Endearment” (1983), where the plot takes a shocking medical turn two-thirds the way through the movie, or even the classic “Love Story” (1970) with Ryan O’Neal.

There was a QA, with Rayceen Parvis hosting (and with a mandatory love-in).  Producer Tom Ly and actor Ben Baur were there.  Ly spoke about the challenges of crowdfunding independent LGBT film.

QA 1

QA 2

Facts:

Name:  “Something Like Summer
Director, writer:  David Berry, Jay Bell (novel)
Released:  2017
Format:  1.78:1  Digital video
When and how viewed:  HRC Washington DC Reel Affirmations event, sold out
Length:  115
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Blue Seraph
Link:  official
Stars:  3-1/2 out of 5  ***&_

(Posted: Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 9 Am EST)

Picture:  downtown Austin TX, Nov. 2011, my trip.

“I, Tonya”, black comedy about a sports scandal in the 1990s

I, Tonya”, 2017, by Craig Gillespie, gives us a witty biography of figure-skating star Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), set up as kind of black comedy with Mafia overtones. The filmmaking style reminds me of the Coen Brothers.

The film sets up the stories with interviews of the various players, shot in minimal aspect 1.37:1, where as the entire biography as acted unfolds in fill wide screen.  Funniest is Tonya’s mother(Allison Janey) interviewed in present day on oxygen with a pet parrot pecking her.

But mom strong-armed a local rink in Portland OR to getting her 4 year old skating lessons in 1977. Tonya grew up as an aggressive lady getting what she wanted, and married an equally combative young man  Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).  Despite some rather stark domestic violence (with some warning foreshadowing of what would follow) Tonya and Jeff become an effective tag team.  Jeff fantasizes he can help Tonya get the recognition she craves in Olympics and other events and smooches with Mafia types.  At first, they talk about a pre-Internet mail fraud scheme for returning threats.

We know the rest. Competitor skater Nancy Kerrigan is “kneecapped” in a locker are at a Detroit rink in January 1994.  Kerrigan would amazingly recover in time to compete.  Tonya would be prosecuted along with her husband and wind up banned from skating for life, an existential end. So she would do something else, become a female boxer.

I remember the media hype in early 1994, “Why me?  Why anybody?”  But at the time my own public policy attention was tuned to gays in the military.  A new Pentagon policy would be announced under Bill Clinton’s new rules.  I was paying attention at the time to Keith Meinhold, Tracy Thorne and Joe Steffan, not to people like Tonya.

There was other funky stuff in the media then, like, well, Lorena Bobbitt (whose marital relationship was wilder than Tonya’s and could make for Coen Brothers stuff).

Toward the end the film makes a brief allusion to the beginnings of the O.J. trial.

The female boxing scenes reminds of the fact that my first ISP (in 1997), called virtualnetspace, had a big client from Britain showcasing female bodybuilders.

Portland, OR sports scene (wiki).

Name:  “I, Tonya”
Director, writer:  Craig Gillespie
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1 (interviews 1.37:1)
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax, 2018/2/15 late
Length:  120
Rating:  R
Companies:  Clubhouse, Neon Films (DVD is from Universal Focus)
Link:  official
Stars:  4/5  ****-   3 Oscar nominations

(Posted: Friday, February 16, 2018 at 11 AM)

“Seeing Allred”: Gloria Allred fights for women and then gays, and she may have someting on Trump

Seeing Allred”, directed by Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain, gives us a complete history, a lot it in Gloria Allred’s own words (she is now 75, two years older than me) of her activism for women and sometimes other groups.

Much of the film focuses on the litigation against Bill Cosby, where she represents many plaintiffs. Sje also helped represent the Goldman family in the O. J. Simpson case in the 1990s.

But the film also traces the culture of intimidation, where women are silenced from speaking about rape.

Allred tells the story of her own rape, before Roe v. Wade, and her illegal abortion, from which she almost died.

Gradually, the film starts taking up LGBT rights. The early 1993 battle over gays in the military is mentioned, along with the early versions of the fights over gay marriage and adoption. Gloria seems to believe that homophobia is and indirect part of the way straight men control women and assert a claim to have a right to children by them anytime they demand.

Gloria assists clients in testifying before both Nevada and California legislatures on removing statues of limitations on rape prosecutions. “The privilege of being listened to” becomes an issue in one hearing. She also demands that a college become an activist as a way of giving back.

The last part of the film traces the 2016 election, through watching Election Night returns, and then the Inauguration protests and the Women’s March the next day. At one point at the March Allred turns back a fundamentalist homophobe (with a free speech meme) who doesn’t even realize that Trump has no specific objection to gay marriage. She has pointed out, however, that Donald Trump rejected a transgender Miss Universe contestant.

The last part of the film also deals with women who accuse Donald Trump of sexual harassment. The film makes it look like these cases could blow the presidency wide open.

Women’s March 2017/1/21 scene (wiki).

Name:  “Seeing Allred”
Director, writer:  Roberta Grossman, Sophie Saltrain
Released:  2018
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Netflix instant, 2018/2/14
Length:  96
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  LA Times
Stars:  4-1/2 out of 5

(Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 11:30 PM EST)

“Do Not Resist”: the militarization of civilian police departments

On Monday night, at a late hour (11:00 PM), giving me time to rewatch Shaun in a compelling episode of “The Good Doctor”, PBS POV aired the 2016 documentary “Do Not Resist”, by Craig Atkinson, concerning the gradual militarization of local police departments, despite the Posse Comitatus rule.

The film’s beginning and end shows up close the energetic and sometimes violent demonstrations in Ferguson MO, the second segment after prosecutors said that white police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown.  In the film’s middle, there is a live enactment of major police action in the rural black community in Richland County, S.C.

A major centerpiece of the film shows James Comey lecturing a meeting of the International Federation of Police Officers in Orlando, FL.   At one point he says, “Violence is your tool, master it.” Dave Grossman also speaks, and police officers are expected to read his books on the psychology of violence.

Grossman at one point says that parents have to comfort their kids that monsters in the closet aren’t real. (This came up in the “Slender Man” trial, which ABC recently covered on 20-20, “Out of the Woods”).  But “We’ve all lied. Monsters are real.”   Rand Paul and Claire McCaskill also speak.

There is examination of the weapons police departments get.  Why do they need bayonets?  I remember “Fix bayonets” in drill and ceremony in my own Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

And there are plenty of peaceful demonstration scenes.  “Hands up, don’t shoot”.

There is also a sequence where a female police officer drives a patrol car in Marina Del Ray CA and show how facial recognition works.  There was mention of the concept of pre-crime profiling, with mothers being told that their male sons had a 50% chance of becoming criminals. The film “Minority Report” (2002) comes to mind, but was not explicitly mentioned; but “Terminator” was named. “I’ll be back.”

After the 72 minute film, the director, who is quite handsome, did a brief QA.

Then PBS showed two short films:

One is “A Conversation with My Black Son” (5 min) by Geeta Gambhir and Blair Foster. The parents warn their small child not to question police officers when approached and indicate the color of his skin will matter.

The second is “Mother’s Day”,  7 min., going to visit mom in a Corona CA prison.

Name: Do Not Resist
Director, writer:  Craig Atkinson
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2018/2/12 PBS POV
Length:  72
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS POV, Passion River Films
Link:  official PBS
Stars:  4/5   ****_

(Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2017 at 12:30 PM EST)

“A Fantastic Woman” makes the heroine’s transgender experience almost incidental to the tragic love story

Sebastian Lelio’s dramatic mystery “A Fantastic Woman” (2017, “Una mujer fantastica”, Chile, in Spanish with subtitles) is up for best foreign language film, and indeed it will keep you from lounging back into your seat.  The story works even if Maria is a cis female woman.  This time, we’ll, maybe “he’s a boy” still.

Orlando (Francisco Reyes), owner of a clothing company (although not of the “Phantom Thread” couture) and apparently separated from his wife, meets the singer Maria (Daniela Vega) at a nightclub. Soon she is moving in.

You’re not quite sure what Orlando likes. They undress, and the film is ambiguous as to what Orlando “knows” before sex.  But in the middle of the night, with her in bed, he becomes ill. He tries to walk and falls down the stairs. Marina drives him to the hospital, where he soon dies of an aneurysm (not clear if it is brain or aortic). The hospital staff and then detectives treat her badly, as is she might be a suspect for his going down the stairs. And his family doesn’t want her around, like for the funeral. Only the dog, Diabla, understands her and she scheme to keep her. Animals (and this include cats) know a lot more about us than we realize.

There is a scene where the police force her to undergo a physical examination. Her chest is more muscle than breast, and there is a faint visual hint of past waxing or laser work in the middle. You don’t really see if the sexual reassignment is complete. But you come away with thinking Orlando must have been passionate about her, even if he didn’t “know” when he took her home. He seems to have remained fully heterosexual.

The film opens with a shot of Iguazu Falls, between Brazil and Argentina; but the possibility of a honeymoon there plays only a minor role in the story.

The film is shot widescreen and is extremely well photographed, with many impressive shots of Santiago as well as the Falls.

The music score, composed by Nani Garcia and Matthew Herbert, offered a lot of feathery impressionistic passage work for a chamber group. In a final scene, Marina returns to singing, this time the moving Largo from Handel’s Xerxes.

There was an episode in the ABC series “Mistresses” in 2016 where a woman says to a transgender man, “I would never date a trans person” and the man orders her out.

Santiago scene, wiki

Iguazu Falls, wiki.

Name:  “A Fantastic Woman”
Director, writer:  Sebastian Lelio
Released:  2017   (Spanish)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Alamo Drafthouse, One Loudoun, 2019/2/11
Length:  100
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics
Link:  official 
Stars:  4/5  ****-

(Posted: Monday, February 12, 2018 at 9:30 PM EST)

“Must We Defend Nazis?” seems to skim the surface of the hate-speech debate

Must We Defend Nazis?:  Why the First Amendment Should Not Protect Hate Speech and White Supremacy”, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (2018) seems to be a slightly condense reissue of the older “Must We Defend Nazis? Hate Speech, Pornography, and the New First Amendment” (1997) by the same authors.

The book largely focuses on racist hate speech, even though there are other groups that can be targeted, and indeed Nazi Germany’s targeting was based on religion first (Judaism does not define a race; most practitioners are white). So that sets up one problem outright:  Does race need special attention today as the object of hate speech?

Then, we have to define what we mean by hate speech.  The book is focused on the fact that U.S. criminal law maintains content neutrality which permits hate speech, whereas other democratic countries have stronger laws against hate speech per se. That’s not totally correct. Some speech in he US is illegal based on content, such as obscenity, child pornography, or terrorist recruiting. And there has been at least one Supreme Court case in the U.S. Bauharnais v. Illinois (1952) that allows the concept of group libel even in criminal law, but it has not had much effect.  And some tort law in the U.S., such as “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” would seem to allow the concept of group hate speech in civil cases.

Generally, hate speech laws abroad define hate speech as any public speech (whether a social media posting or a yard or automobile sign on a property) that tends to promote hatred against a protected group, especially according to race, religion, ethnicity, and sometimes sexual orientation or gender identity, and sometimes a disability.  The group animus is a broader concept in the U.S., where usually there has to be an imminent threat of lawless action (like incitement to riot). This understanding is a slippery slope that can create serious problems for Internet service or social media companies, book publishers and movie distributors. With speech content issues, social context and probable interpretation by the public means everything, and we’ll come back to this later, as the book seems to miss one big point.

A big question would be whether racist speech and especially neo-Nazi speech in the US should get more scrutiny than other “hate speech”.  I understand and somewhat sympathize with their argugment that US history (slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, police profiling) make “blacks” especially vulnerable to group oppression in some contexts.  I am rather shocked, given all the progress (having a black president in Obama) that the “whitelash” with the Trump election and alleged Russian meddling seems so severe, much worse than I would have imagined in the middle of 2016.  I do not like to get into a debate as to whether the white supremacy movement (as in Charlottesville) should be condemned more than the violent side of Antifa;  that’s like arguing about whether Hitler was worse than Stalin, Pol Pot, and now Kim Jong Un.  In fact, we should remember that in the 1950s Communism was much more feared “officially” than any resurgence of Nazism, although a tacit political balance allowed the overt racism (and KKK) in the South through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. (That’s an idea in the “How Democracies Die” book that I’ll take up soon.)

When we talk about which groups should get more attention for past oppression, we have to remember that sexual harassment (especially by those with power in the workplace, mostly by heterosexual men against women) is now a sudden and major controversy that can also mediate free speech debates.

The book, to its credit, makes the point that “equality” and “free speech” (content neutrality) have tension between them, which cannot be resolved conclusively by any moral “theorem”;  axioms of choice must exist.  For example, because I have some money (some inherited, a lot saved after being earned  legitimately in the technology workplace for decades with conservative personal investments and little personal debt), and because I am a white male, arguably I have more leverage to have my speech listened to than the average African -American. (I talk about this in my 2014 DADT III book.) I could, however, speculate as to whether I have been discriminated against as a member of the LGBTQ community. My own history would make that claim a dubious one in my case, not necessarily in other LGBTQ people’s stories. It is true, as the authors claim, there is no systematic oppression of whites as compared to non-whites (“people of color”) that I would have had to face.  The authors (like on p. 34) make the point that some balance needs to be struck between “First Amendment free speech fundamentalism” and “legal realism”.  They also try to defuse the idea that “more speech” is the answer to edgy speech perceived (often incorrectly) as “group hatred”.  The ACLU particularly, is caught in the middle, as may also be the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The book seems particularly insulted by the existentialism of some of the libertarian right, which denounces trends  of promoting group-based victimization as somehow justifying personal character weakness.

It’s well to remember that the private sector generally has strong policies against hate speech, as usually understood by its stakeholders.  Books submitted to self-publishing companies generally go through “content review” to make sure they don’t constitute hate speech. Even twenty years ago, you would hear stories of people fired from jobs (“dooced”) for racial remarks in the workplace (in one case in Minneapolis, on a slip of paper).  Very recently, very large tech companies (starting with Cloudflare against Daily Stormer) have started to refuse to do business with entities perceived as hate groups (especially neo-Nazi);  Twitter said it would purge users who belonged to supremacist groups, as if it could spy on them. The advent of personal websites and social media created a novel conflict of interest risk, as I have shown in previous blog posts (and argued in DADT III):  a person with direct reports in the workplace might be considered prejudiced against certain groups by social media comments or self-published remarks uncovered by search engines.

Let me come back to the point the authors perhaps barely hint at in the closing chapter. The “offensiveness” of an item of speech can depend on the identity of the speaker and of public knowledge of the speaker’s circumstances.  There has been a problem with “meta-speech”, where satirical impersonations of the speech of others is not properly understood by some listeners, resulting in takedowns by social media companies (“Facebook jail”). Also, particularly on the far Left, “resistance” has sometimes focused on the idea that a person’s public mention of a controversy means that the issue is still unsettled, especially if the speaker did not have to put his own personal “skin in the game”. This gets to be elaborated to the point that the mere (intellectually motivated but emotionally aloof) mention of some ideas is viewed as recirculating “hate speech”. This observation is related to notions like “gratuitous speech” and “implicit content”, the latter of which got mentioned in the 2007 COPA trial.

A problem then that gets related to this is the “heckler’s veto”.  For example, there has been a case whether College Republicans have to pay increased security costs when a provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos is scheduled to speak, even though his speech (if read carefully, like his book), actually is not racist.  The far Left, as well as sometimes the alt-right, can use the collective grievances of their base groups to maintain an illusion of hate speech from others whom they see as artificially “elite”.  Appeals to “personal responsibility” along with official “neutrality” are sometimes seen as actually intended but indirect enmity.   There is a good question of legal principal as to whether speakers (especially those without direct “skin in the game”) should bear the (legal or indemnifying) responsibility for causing themselves or those associated with themselves to be targeted by enemies (most of all, foreign enemies – look at the Sony hack case in 2014).  The recent ruling in Washington state is a step in the right direction (pun), I hope. On the other hand, restriction of some individual speakers could be seen by some (especially on the Left) as encouraging more solidarity (individuals could be forced to join groups to be heard at all) and promoting more equality (even forced group-oriented charity or supervised community engagement).

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz criticized this book in this op-ed.

I must say, carrying this book around on the Metro got some quizzical looks from people.  And, whatever the original circumstances of the placement of various Confederate military statues in southern cities, to focus on their presence now as “hate speech” and “oppression” seems rather a stretch.  You have to remember history.

Author: Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
Title, Subtitle: “Must We Defend Nazis: Why the First Amendment Should Not Protect Hate Speech and White Supremacy”
publication date 2018
ISBN 978-1-4798-5783-8 paper
Publication: New York University, 8 chapters, 164 pages
Link: Publisher

(Posted: Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 8 PM EST)

“The 15:17 to Paris”: the three American heroes at the Thalys Train Attack star in their own film on their own book

Clint Eastwood’s new film, “The 15:17 to Paris”, based on the collaborative autobiographical book by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Jeffrey Stein, “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes”, adopted for screen by Blyskal, tells the story of the 2015 Thalys Train Attack from the viewpoint of the three soldiers, who act in the film.  This itself is remarkable.  All three now are recognized as film professionals in Hollywood. Wikipedia documents Skarlatos as an Army National Guard soldier and Stone as a former airman.  Stone was somewhat injured in the attack, but more seriously wounded in a civilian incident in California in 2015, but fully recovered from both.

The film starts by showing Ayoub El Khazzani (Ray Corasani) boarding the train due to leave Amsterdam station at 15:17 and preparing his weapon and soon the attack starts. The film then shifts to the backstories of the three friends who wrote the book and who played the most critical roles in stopping the attack. At first, I was not sure that this presentation style would be particularly effective, because the attack seemed to proceed so quickly. But the violent section, near the end of the film, depicts the time that it took the three young men (and a few other passengers from France and Britain, one badly wounded) to stop the attack runs about fifteen minutes, until the train reaches a station in northern France and the police arrive.

The three young men were boyhood friends in Sacramento, CA, in a Christian parochial school.  The movie has a prescient scene where a history teacher asks everyone if they would know what to do in a real emergency. The film shows the practical problems of enforcing discipline for teachers and principal (something I had issues with when I worked as a substitute teacher in a public school system from 2004-2007). The film tends to emphasize the problems of Stone the most, raised by a divorced mom and he seems to have serious hyperactivity and ADHD.  But he does a generous heart and likes to help and rescue people. The film skips ten years.  He is shown overweight (Jeffrey would have had to regain the weight to make the film) and works out to shape up. He joins the Air Force with the idea of becoming the equivalent of a green beret, but “fails” some of the vision test. He winds up in medic training, and disturbs Air Force instructors with unusual reactions when there is a false alarm at an Air Force base in Houston. But, ironically, it turns out that his emphatic instincts may have saved everyone later on the train.

Skarlatos (who “restrained” the suspect)  is shown serving in Afghanistan by Skype. He presents himself as an extremely stable person, and  with probably the most impressive physical appearance of the three.  I know a young man who looks (and behaves) a lot like him and is about 6-6 (“College Hunks” size) but who I believe is in grad school rather than playing pro sports (which is what you would expect from appearances).  In the film, Sadler, the African-American, seems to be the geekiest, going past any stereotypes.

In August 2015 the friends get together and sightsee Italy, with impressive photography of the Coliseum in Rome and then of Venice.  Then they go to Berlin and are shown the location of Hitler’s final bunker on a bicycle tour. Curiously, Berlin isn’t listed as a filming location (the indoor scenes were shot in Georgia) but some of the scenes looked like Berlin, which I visited in May 1999. They visit at least two bars.  The first seems familiar from my visit (it might be in Amsterdam), and the second is a wild disco.  In fact, in Berlin I visited two gay bars. One had a lounge where patrons were entertained by a friendly cat who would sit in their laps. The second was the Connection Disco, which had a mock concentration camp in the basement (which might seem in bad taste).  I remember meeting a graduate student there who had grown up in East Germany.

The young men apparently traveled to Amsterdam from Berlin without incident (I’ve done that flight myself – when I went in 1999 and 2001 I effectively had air passes rather than Eurailpass, which offers first class).  They then board the train in Amsterdam, and find the first class section. The film shows many shots of the Belgian or northern French countryside with windmills.  Then the event happens.

One detail is that Ayoub’s rifle jammed as Stone charged him (at least as the film shows it).  That seems incredibly lucky for Stone and all the passengers.  Apparently Ayoub claims (as a defendant waiting trial in France) that he only intended to rob passengers and was not a terrorist, but if he didn’t pay, how did he sneak onto the train and get past the conductor.?  Just hiding in the restroom?

In May, 2001, I took the Chunnel train (shown in Tom Cruise’s “Mission Impossible”, 1996) from Paris to London   I remember we did have to go through security to get on that train (months before 9/11). At the time, I recall that foot and mouth disease was a big controversy. When I returned back to the Continent, I took a different Chunnel train to Brussels station (shown in the film) , and I recall clowns performing in the station.  The Amsterdam station is interesting in that it is only about ten miles from the airport, and when you fly to Schiphol you take a double-decker orange and blue train to the station.

Again, it’s interesting that the three young men launched film careers after the incident. They would easily fit into casting of my screenplay “Epiphany” with material from my three DADT books, if it ever got “money” ($30 million would help – that’s what this film cost).

Amsterdam Central Station, wiki.

Name:  “The 15:17 to Paris”
Director, writer: Clint Eastwood, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler
Released:  2018/2/9
Format:  2.39:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax Va., 2018/2/10, Sat. afternoon, fair crowd
Length:  94
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow
Link:  official 
Stars: 4/5  ****-     ($30 million cost)

(Posted: Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 7:30 PM EST)

Oscar Nominated Shorts for 2018, live action: terror-related film in Kenya is the meatiest

Today, I saw the Oscar Nominated Short Films, Live Action, for 2018 at Landmark E Street in downtown Washington DC.  Official website is here. The set is distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

From my perspective, the most substantial film was the last, “Watu Wote” (“All of Us”, by Katja Benrath, sponsored in Germany, at the Hamburg Media School) filmed on location in Kenya and in Swahili and Somali with subtitles. The story is based on a real incident in December 2015.

In Nairobi, a Christian woman Ju (Adelyne Wairimu) boards a bus to a location near the Somali border to visit a sick relative. She asks if there is a police escort. There isn’t, and her worst fears come about when the bus is attacked in the open desert by terrorists from Al Shabaab.  Some of the terrorists start testing passengers for the ability to quote memorized passages from the Koran and look for “infidels”, believing this gets them to Paradise. But most of the Muslims on the bus defend the Christian woman. The film (2.35:1) is shot on location and gives a stunning look at the desert scenery as well as village life.  It is easy to imagine that it could have made as a feature.

Here is a Kenya military scene (Wiki).

The next most important film for me was “DeKalb Elementary” (shown first, directed by Reed Van Dyk, 21 min, USA), which could draw comparisons to “Newtown”.  In a Georgia elementary school, a fat bearded young man (Bo Mitchell) shows up at the reception area of a grade school and pulls out a rifle, acting like he might be a white supremacist terrorist. But the African-American receptionist (Tara Riggs) shows Christian love and actually reinforces his worthiness when he admits his mental illness, and talks him into surrendering to police.

My Nephew Emmett”, (shown third, 19 min) comes from NYU student filmmaker Kevin Wilson, Jr. The story is based on the murder of Emmett Till, 14, in August 1955, by white vigilantes who hunted him down at his great uncle’s (Mose Wright, played by L. B. Williams) home in rural Mississippi, for flirting with a white man’s wife. The home invasion occurs in the middle of the night and reminded me of “Blood Simple”.  The boy is taken and shot, although this case would have fit well into the late Gode Davis’s incomplete “American Lynching”. One problem: it’s late summer, but the trees are shown bare.

The Silent Child” (shown second, 21 min, UK. Directed Chris Overton.) shows a social worker (Rachel Shenton, who wrote the screenplay) assigned to help a deaf child Libby (Maisy Sly) about to enter school.  She wants to emphasize sign language and lip reading, but the family objects to taking the time.

The Eleven O’Clock”, shown fourth, 14 min, by Derin Seale (Australia) shows a psychiatric appointment where the doctor and patient argue about who is which. It spreads to the front office.

(Posted: Friday, February 9, 2018, at 8:30 PM EST)

Photo above: northern Mississippi, May 2014, my trip.

“Maze Runner: The Death Cure”: Dylan O’Brien returns from injury and commands the entire film

Maze Runner: The Death Cure” (directed Wes Ball), the third in the Maze franchise based on James Dashner’s novels (which have gone into the prequel area now) had a delayed release, due to the injury of its charismatic lead actor, Dylan O’Brien as the rebel leader Thomas. There some accounts of this on USAToday, Vanity Fair, and DenofGeek.

The film picks up with the idea that most of the world has been destroyed by a pandemic of the “Flare Virus” which seems to leave its victims scarred as if by severe Kaposi’s Sarcoma as well as turning into rabid zombies. But Thomas, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) are among the “immune”, as they leave an internment camp to rescue Minho (Ki Hong Lee), held in “the city” in a medical lab where his serum will be used for a cure.

The dystopian world as shown is quite devastated, looking as if there had been widespread war. I thought, this is what Trump may be risking for us with North Korea.

When the kids arrive at the City, they have to find their way around “The Wall” guarding it, which of course reminds me of Trump’s “Build that Wall”.  There is a system of tunnels and gangplanks. Thomas negotiates with another kid Gally (Will Poulter) to get him on his side. The City itself resembles what you would see in China, with highrise spires and politicized signs  — and curfew.  No gay bars around. No Facebook. It’s noteworthy that the screenplay had been finished before Trump’s election, yet it seems to anticipate the issues Trump bas pandered.

The plot gets dense, as the “Wicked” plot to save themselves by kidnapping “the immune” and draining them for cures.  Patricia Clarkson is venomous enough as mastermind Ava (women are villains here). The 140 minute film builds up to a catastrophic conclusion, where the city falls down in building pancakings like multiple 9/11’s and Thomas, although injured (as in real life) is rescued.   The plot, of course, reminds me of right wing calls for quarantine of AIDS patients and even al; gay men during the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

Then there is a Baxian epilogue on what looks like Hawaii (the film was largely shot in South Africa) where Thomas is setting himself up in an intentional community, well off the grid, camping out on the coast, and remembering the people who were lost.  Thomas will be an important person in this world that is starting over without technology.  That kind of future would not be for me.  It’s sad that some of the other kids, appealing as they are, didn’t make it.

Second video:  anybody notice something “wrong” right at the beginning?

Legacy reviews of two previous films in trilogy.

South African desert mountain scenery (wiki).

Name: Maze Runner: The Death Cure
Director, writer:  Wes Ball
Released:  2018 (orig 2017, delayed by injury to lead)
Format:  2.35:1, Imax
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards, late 2018/2/6, fair audience
Length:  141
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  official
Stars:  4 out of 5  ****-

(Posted: Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 12:30 PM EST)