“Presenting Princess Shaw”: how a mashup artist helps an amateur YouTube singer become a star

Presenting Princess Shaw”, directed by Ido Haar, starts with a text tagline to the effect that user-generated content on the Internet gives potential voices to all so that ordinary people don’t have to bow down to the powerful.

Yet, we are left to wonder, what makes some artists popular and viral and eventually powerful.

The film presents a nurse, Samantha Montgomery, who built her art entertaining residents at assisted living centers in New Orleans where she works.  She writes her own songs and does a reasonable job of recording them and putting them up on her YouTube channel.  The film shows us plenty of everyday life in the Ninth Ward, years after Hurricane Katrina.

In the Negev region of Israel, Ophir Kutiel builds mixages and mashups of the works of many artists, often unbeknownst to them.  This practice, creating what is called derivative works in copyright law, is sometimes legally controversial and unclear, but very much supported by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The end result is that “Princecess Shaw” very much earns her “right of publicity”.

The film shows a lot of the tech work behind mixing, which I ought to learn in order to edit my own YouTube videos on my own autobiographical material (with Final Cut Pro).  So I guess this documentary gives me a kick in the pants.  Music is recorded and mixed in different ways, including being entered directly onto a tablet rather than through a Midi.

There is an interesting soliloquy (vertical cell phone video) where Samantha talks about being alone after a visit to distant family.  It sounds like personal growth, Rosenfels community stuff.

There’s a video with a telltale title, “Give It Up”.  Lose it.

Finally, Samantha goes to Tel Aviv and meets Ophir to put on a major show. She sings while Ophir does keyboard.

PBS did a brief director interview after the film. The director talked about passive self-promotion on the web and being found.

The POV short film was “Driven” from “Story Corps”, by Wendell Scott, in animation, about an African-American amateur race driver in the segregated South.

Negev scene.

Name:  “Presenting Princess Shaw
Director, writer:  Ido Haar
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/7/17
Length:  90 (81 on PBS)
Rating:  PG-13
Companies: Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media, PBS POV
Link:  official PBS

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017, at 11:45 PM EDT

“Moscow Never Sleeps”: a great opportunity to “see” Moscow

Moscow Never Sleeps” is a new film by Irish director Johnny O’Reilly, who says he spent a dozen years living in Moscow as Putin gradually consolidated power. He thinks the city is fascinating, and it is still rarely visited by Americans because of fear of hostility and maybe arrest.

O’Reilly’s film is in Robert Altman style, presenting intersecting stories of the everyday lives of a few characters.  American films like this might include “Short Cuts” (1993), or Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” (1999), although this film is shorter at 100 minutes.

It starts in an operating room where an old sot Valeriey (Yuriy Sotyanov) refuses coronary bypass surgery and insists on going back to his pub crawls despite having only a few weeks to live this way. There is an oligarchy businessman Anton (Aleksey Serebryakov) who seeks the freedom of part-time life in New York, doing his deals from afar where Putin can’t get to him. But most of the rest of the stories involve mundane things.  A son puts his mom into assisted living, where she has to deal with loss of privacy and dignity, and wonders why mom didn’t help grandma more.  The mom returns home for a visit (unusual in real life).  A young woman reenters the lives of rivals and seeks personal revenge.  This film has parallel two drink poisoning scenes.

The people are not all that likable, and are not doing particularly well in Russia’s grubby, hierarchal economy based on right-sizing. But the film gives us a wealth of long shots of Moscow, including drone aerials (this was a trick, to get past authorities), with views of long ring expressways.  There are long cityscapes of ornate low-rise apartments, giving way to highrises, with islands of skyscrapers in the distance.  The effect is that of a city on another planet, an alien world. The events in the story center around Moscow City Day, which is the first Saturday in September. It’s still warm (24 C) but won’t be for long.  The film indeed provides a practical way to see Moscow without the risk and expense of going there.

I do recall films like “Gorky Park” (where some of this new film was shot) and “Moscow on the Hudson” from the 80s.

Wikipedia link for Evolution Tower.

Director QA

1  (my question about the 2013 anti-gay propaganda law)



Name: Moscow Never Sleeps
Director, writer:  Johnny O’Reilly
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1   in Russian, with subtitles
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, Washington, 2017/7/1, sold out
Length:  100
Rating:  NA (R)
Companies:  Snapshot films
Link:  official site

(Posted: Sunday, July 2, 2017 at 3 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)

“Extremis”, end-of-life care; “Conflict”, photographers explain their calling in filming war


Today, two more major documentaries on Netflix.

Extremis”, by Dan Krauss, 24 minutes, f/8 filmworks, records in real time the agonizing end-of-life decisions for several patients at end of life (I think in Chicago).  One is a homeless man, and two are African-American women surrounded by family, and one is a 38-year-old white woman.

The film is shot in Highland Hospital (Rochester, NY). It starts with a doctor trying to get a patient to write down what bothers her because she can’t talk over intubation. As the film progresses, the cases involve whether to keep patients intubated with breathing tubes.  Patients might linger for six months, into a vegetative state, or might live a day or two breathing on their own with family around them (in two cases).

Capital Hospice writes that it is important for family members to stay at the bedside of loved ones even when they are unconscious while passing away naturally.  There is more indirect evidence than ever that the soul gradually stays around before merging into an afterlife.  I’m not sure I could say I complied with that.


Conflict” (35 min, Ridflix), directed by Nick Fitzhugh, seems to be a “mini-mini-series” of reports from six conflict journalists about their work.   There is some interchangeability between the concept of “journalist” and “photographer”.

The strongest statement may come from Peter Moeller, who goes first, reporting from South Sudan.  Moeller says it is ironic that one the world’s youngest nations has the same hyperindividualistic position on self-defense (and “take care of your own first”) as the world’s leading democracy.  He says he is a conflict photographer and not a combat journalist for its own sake. He says that journalism should be service, and should be personal.  His message to his subject is “let me represent you.”  That sounds like something said in a sermon by youth at a local Presbyterian church here in northern Virginia back in 2012, almost the same speech.  (That church actually has an indirect ministry in that country.)  He also says that war is quiet, that it slowly eats lives away.

The next journalist is Jiao Silva, from South Africa, who reports first on the post-Apartheid violence in Johannesberg  (“Jo-berg”) and then from Kandahar in Afghanistan.  If I follow right, he is the person who loses both legs in combat and walks out in the last scene, long pants, on prosthetics.

The next journalist, Donna Ferrato, reports on domestic violence from New York City.  She gets into situations where she needs to intervene physically.  She encounters husbands who think they “own” their wives.  So some of the rest of us think we’re better than that.

There follows Nicole Tung, who, based in NYC, travels to Syria and crosses illegally from Turkey.  She loses two male reporter friends, the second of whom is beheaded publicly by ISIS.

Robin Hammond reports on the internal violence in the Congo, which, as Anthony Bourdain had explained in a CNN “Parts Unknown”, is indirectly a result of colonialism.  He notes the unfairness of life, and says “ignorance is not an alibi for inaction”, a aphorism that motivates his work.  He thinks he really makes a difference.

But Eros Hoagland, reporting from Mexico and Central America, sees his own profession as a bit of a spectator sport, that could get him killed.  He says, “we fear wolves because we never see them.” True, he rails against corruption in Central America as the reason why drug cartels run the countries.  But he says, if you want to help people, become a doctor and go overseas to poor countries.  I’m reminded of the doctors (and even one journalist) who got Ebola in Liberia and fortunately all recovered with intensive care back in the US or in Britain.

YouTube  preview link is here but disables embedding.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Syria-Turkey border by Kevorkmail, CCSA 3.0.

(Published: Friday, September 16, 2016 at 10:15 PM EDT)

“The Bucket List”: you don’t want your last months to get ugly


Name: “The Bucket List”
Director, writer:  Rob Reiner, Justin Zackhin
Released:  2007
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  DVD, Netflix
Length 99
Rating PG-13
Companies: Warner Brothers
Link: Facebook

As I get older, and notice more problems (like eye floaters) I realize (at 73) that my independence could come to an end suddenly.  So the idea of getting certain things done – like reaching certain places by car – seems important to me.  On my birthday, I actually started a trip to Grandfather Mountain and Brown Mountain, NC.

I finally broke down and rented the 2007 dramedy “The Bucket List” by Rob Reiner.  Jack Nicholson (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest“) and Morgan Freeman (“Se7en” and plans for “Rendezvous with Rama”) play two terminally ill lung cancer patients (Edward and Carter) forced to room together in a hospital.  Edward has been a hospital CEO and breaks down in a meeting, coughing up blood, after defending his policy of no private rooms. (At the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, in the new tower finished in 2004, all rooms are private.)  Both have to deal with chemotherapy and the violent vomiting that ensues. (Remember Roman Polanski’s”Carnage“, 2011?) Then both go into remission. (Since this film is nine years old, hopefully side effects now are a lot more manageable.)

They have become friends, and Carter (to the chagrin of his wife) has handwritten his bucket list.  (I remember those handwritten notes on sheets of paper when I was hospitalized for a hip fracture in Minneapolis in 1998, and recovered from surgery).


The men have three months of feeling well, so they make an abbreviated tour of “Seven Wonders of the World” (the 1956 Lowell Thomas Cinerama film that I remember seeing as a boy at the Warner theater in downtown Washington).  In fact, when I and my cousin made film strips of drawings back in 1954, I think that was one of my cousin’s “films”.  (I wonder if they’re still in his attic.)  In “Bucket List”, they do make it to “The Great Wall” (an upcoming big Universal film with a casting controversy over diversity), the Pyramids, the North Pole, Everest, and do some skydiving, and road racing.

The film spends too much time in hospital rooms and the scenery that it offers is impressive- when it offers it.  Maybe that’s the point. End-of-life decline can be ugly to watch.  It’s interesting that Reiner chose to shoot the film in standard aspect.

The DVD has extras – the song “Say” by John Mayer, and a short (by screenwriter Justin Zackham) on what it is like for anyone to write out a “bucket list”.

(Published: Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, at 1:30 PM EDT)

“The Fundamentals of Caring”: making comedy out of dire personal need


Name: The Fundamentals of Caring
Director, writer:  Rob Burnett
Released:  2016/6/24
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Netflix instant, 2016/7/13
Length 97
Rating PG-13
Companies: Netflix Red Envelope, Roadside Attractions(?)
Link: Netflix (subscription required to view)

When Ben Benjamin (Paul Rudd, “The Object of My Affection”) completes a six-week caregiving certificate, his teacher (Donna Biscoe) repeats a couple of inevitable epigrams:  You can’t care for someone else until you’ve taken care of yourself, and you have a right to be yourself, too (or something like that).   That’s how the dramedy “The Fundamentals of Caring” (2016) directed by Rob Burnett, a Netflix original film, based on the novel “The Revised Fundamentals of Caring” by Jonathan Evison, begins.  Note that the title world is “caring” and not specifically “caregiving”, which is less inclusive.

Ben has lost his son in an unspecified tragedy, and a process server keeps trying to contact him with divorce papers from his wife. He takes his first job caring for a most personable young man, Trevor (Craig Roberts) who remains paralyzed from what seems like a congenital problem, and his life expectancy is low.


Ben soon comes up with the idea of taking Trevor on a road trip, where he can feel more like a man for once in his life (at least be able to stand up for a piss).  The “object” will be the world’s deepest pit.  Now, the actual pit scene at the end seems to be filmed at a quarry in Cartersville, GA (a city I visited for one day in 1998 to visit with Sharon Harris of Advocates for Self-Government, while on my own road trip, when living in Minneapolis).

The movie script, however, says the boy lives in Seattle, and sometimes shows some far away shots of mountains in Montana or Utah.  So a copper mine pit at Bingham Canyon or in Butte MT (which I visited in 1981) would have been logical destinations.

OK, let’s get back  to the human side.  They go looking for “Roadside Attractions” (a term used in the script, but not named as a distributor of the film), and start staying in some one-floor motels.  Ben, to be a decent human being, gives a ride to another lost young woman (Selena Gomez), who comes along, and that gives a chance for some romance for Trevor (feels good for some viewers, but maybe not that funny for me). Then to really prove his eusociality, empathy and connectedness to other people. Ben goes over the edge when finding a pregnant woman, Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) with a disabled car beside the road “.  I had my own situation like this recently (story ),  and it’s rather  uncanny that this happens in a comedy movie right after it “happens to me”.  Trevor insists that the crew take her along for the ride to protect her since she’s pregnant (just getting her car towed won’t cut it morally).  What’s funny about it, the possibility or an “instant family?  Well, Ben will get to prove that he can deliver a baby he didn’t make later.

Frederick Weller (“The Business of Strangers”, and “Stonewall” (1996 film) is rather chilling as an auto dealer who had abandoned Trevor pver Trevor’s disability.

The was a documentary “Care” about caregivers at AFI-Docs but I did not see it, and I’ll try to find the video.

By Kolopreshttp://www.toddtrigsted.com/trigsted_photo.htm, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2237031

(Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 6 PM EDT)

“Me Before You”: a female caregiver falls in love with a disabled man, but is this just manipulative?


Name: Me Before You
Director, writer:  Thea Sharrock, Jojo Moyes (novel)
Released:  2016/6/3
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, late 2016/6/19, small audience
Length 105
Rating PG-13
Companies: MGM, New Line Cinema (UK)
Link: site

Me Before You”, directed by Thea Sharrock, and based on the novel Jojo Moyes, sounds like it’s supposed to sell reassurance, that someone suddenly disabled can find real love anyway.  It’s a notion that some in the writing world have tried to push on me, but that’s a long discussion.

In modern day rural Britain, Lou Clarke (Emilia Clarke) lives at home, struggling to make ends me, with a fit but buffoonish boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis). As with many formulaic screenplays, everything is going wrong, as she loses a job in a failing restaurant.  But she finds a no-experience-needed job as a caregiver (so far, reminding me of “Like Sunday, Like Rain”, June 2, where a young woman takes a job as a nanny).  But this time the subject is a formerly athletic young man Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), who had been struck by a motorcycle and paralyzed from neck down.  He still has his mind, his wit, and his wealthy mother is the boss.

In fact, there is already a male caregiver, so this is a little interesting what the point is.  Eventually, yes, she will fall in love with him.  There is the inevitable tragedy, and a windfall at the end for her.

Traynor actually looks good in the film, not the way a real quadriplegic would look.  The disabled community has been critical of casting an able-bodied actor (Hollywood Reporter story by Rebecca Sun ).

But I’m reminded of my own tendency in the past to cherry-pick, to make sure that anybody I was “interested” in was really perfect enough physically, because I wasn’t.  My capacity for feeling romance was always predicated on “upward affiliation”, the antithesis of what happens in this film (or the film yesterday).

(Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2016 at 10:15 PM EDT)