“Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President”

Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President” is a rather entertaining British documentary about the Trump family, narrated by Matt Frei, directed by Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice.

The most interesting part of the film may be the beginning, the narrative of grandfather Friedrich Trump, who came to the US from Bavaria after a crisis as a teen and started building businesses in lower Manhattan in the 1890s. They were generally restaurants, bars, and brothels. He moved out west, to Seattle, and followed the gold rush to the Yukon in Canada.  At one point, he shipped a hotel down the river like a toy and put it back together when it broke apart in the river current in Whitehorse.

After some failures he tried to go back to Bavaria and was refused citizenship because of draft evasion. Sound familiar?  He wound up back in New York.

His son Fred Trump would take after him and build a real estate empire, mostly houses, in Queens. There’s a reference to Coney Island and maybe one of my favorite spots from twenty years ago, the Seaside Courts for paddleball. Donald would be the fourth child and second son, and was always getting in trouble, and would thrive in military school. But the older brother would “fail”, becoming a pilot and then succumbing to the bottle, and Donald would wind up with the real estate empire.

The grandfather showed a real pioneering work ethic (I’m reminded of the entrepreneurialism in Lagos, Nigeria recently depicted on an Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”) but with the father Fred and then Donald it turned more into manipulative and aggressive dealing to see what they could get away with. Is that raw capitalism?

The film races through Donald’s career, briefly covering his bankruptcy in the late 90s.  It covers his marriages, to Ivanka and later to immigrant Melania.

The end of the film talks about Donald’s attitude about “winners” and “losers” and his somewhat disturbing belief in what sounds like eugenics. Trump seems to believe that better genes equates to existential personal moral superiority (which the Nazis also claimed).  He did get in trouble early in his own career for redlining black applicants for apartments, marking their paperwork with “C” for colored.  But in my own experience, one time renting an apartment in Arlington VA in 1971, I encountered the same kind of talk from a rental agent, and again when moving to Dallas at the beginning of 1979.

The Netflix version runs 48 minutes, but imdb lists the length as 65.  Maybe the longer version covers more about the 2016 election.

Wiki picture of Whitehorse in autumn.

Name:  “Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President
Director, writer:  Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice
Released:  2017
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length:  65 / 48
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Guardian, independent  (both reviews here rather concerned about the tone of the film on race and genetics)

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 at 8:30 PM EDT)

ELIAN: the controversy over returning a little boy to Castro’s Cuba in 2000

ELIAN” (2017), directed by Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell, tells the biographical story of Elian Gonzalez, now 23, who became the topic of an international controversy over immigration from Cuba late in the Clinton administration.

The film starts with the amateur boatlift in November 1999 of Elian’s mother and boyfriend, when the mother drowns (not being able to swim), and 5-year-old Elian is rescued (almost as if he were Moses) and brought to Miami.

The film gives a quick history of the rise of Fidel Castro and the expropriation of the wealthy, who fled to Florida in the late 50s.  It covers the Bay of Pigs but oddly omits mention of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  But the film covers the political effects of the anti-communist “right wing” in Miami on the Cuban issues, to the point that it sometimes could lead to political violence on both sides, with rather zombie-like behavior from crowds. It doesn’t directly mention the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, which led for calls for people to host asylum seekers in some southern states.

The film returns to the narrative of Elian. Back in Cuba, Elian’s father starts the legal process to get Elian back, and soon a public legal battle erupts between the dad and the “extended family” in Miami.  Attorney General Janet Reno gets involved (the film mentions Reno’s role in Waco in 1993) with her determination to apply the law literatlly.   In a rogue video, Elian gives some evidence of wanting to go back. But later he records an indoor video saying he wants to stay in the U.S.

Eventually the courts decide to return Elian to Cuba and considerable controversy happens, with demonstrations, after the “shock force” INS raid necessary for Elian’s repatriation. The scenes in the film get pretty violent.  I don’t recall this from the news accounts.

The film maintains that the Elian incident helped Florida go for Bush, after the recounts.  But the film also brings up the fiasco with the chads in Palm Beach County.

Elian, as a grown man, is dedicated “to the people” and to modern communism, not to differentiating himself from others for his own sake (however articulate and charismatic his personal manner seems). Yet he was made what he is today in Miami, the film says. At the end, he addresses Cuban youth. “The American dream” was not for him;  a future Cuban revolution may be so.

Name:  “ELIAN
Director, writer:  Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1, much footage is cropped
When and how viewed:  CNN, 2017/8/24
Length:  107
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  CNN, Gravitas Venturas
Link:  CNN

(Posted: Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 at 12:15 AM EDT)

“Kept Boy”: gay dramedy about a Hollywood sugar daddy breaks out into some bigger issues

Kept Boy” (2017), directed by George Bamber and written by David Ozanich, starts out as if it could be just a silly, facetious comedy about younger gay men living off of rich but aging sugar daddies in Tinseltown. Indeed, there are prior example-setters, like “The Houseboy” (2011) and “The Mudge Boy” (2007).  But the film, however compact at 89 minutes, gets into other areas, international and scope, and turns serious and pertinent as it progresses.

Dennis Racine, played by British actor Jon Paul Phillips, dropped out of college in LA a decade ago and essentially became a houseboy of now 50-something TV producer Farleigh Nock (German actor Thure Reifenstein).  Thure produces a reality TV show about fashion and interior decoration, and probably hasn’t taken Blogtyrant’s advice to heart on how he could increase his fan base and ratings by nice blogging.  Having undergone angioplasty, he denies his health problems. He faces being cut off by investors, who like Nate Berkus better.  (Nate’s show, which I liked, is no longer on, and Nate lost his male partner Fernando to the 2004 tsunami that hit Sri Lanka – a catastrophe depicted in the 2012 film “The Impossible”.)  Complicating the question as to whether Thure can “afford” Dennis any more is the fact that Dennis approaches his 30th birthday.  And another boyfriend Jasper (Greg Audino, who becomes the most likable character in the story) could take Dennis’s place.

Dennis may, in fact, be showing his age and preparing to go downhill fast.  He smokes electronic cigarettes, which probably have nicotine. His body is just too smooth, especially in the legs.

The movie takes an interesting plot turn at midpoint (again, interesting from Hauge’s theories on how all good screenplays are structured) as the characters visit the coastal resort city of Cartagena, Colombia.  They run into a closeted gay drug lord who creates some complications in protecting his own empire. If you look at a map, you see that Cartagena is not too far from Venezuela, and is facing bigtime refugee and asylum issues, brought on by Communism.  Maybe another movie?  A friend of mine visited Cartagena last year, before his very recent passing as I learned about from Facebook. I’m also reminded of the 2001 film “Collateral Damage” whose release was held up by 9/11.

The DVD will be available August 8, 2017 from Breaking Glass Pictures (theatrical was TLA).  Expect more than just the usual happy ending;  tragedy happens.  There’s a lot more material under the covers that one could explore. I can remember once being counseled (at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s) that I ought to be open to being sponged off of.

Picture: Mine, manga doll in a bar last night

Name:  “Kept Boy”
Director, writer:  George Bamber, David Ozanich
Released:  2017
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  2017/2/23, complimentary private Vimeo screener
Length:  89
Rating:  NA (probably R, a few explicit gay scenes)
Companies:  Breaking Glass Pictures, TLA Releasing
Link:  announcement

(Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT)

“Abacus: Small Enough to Fail”: how New York State targeted a local immigrant cash “off the books” economy

Okay, there ought to be a moral impulse to start small businesses, especially financial institutions that can work intimately with the members of local communities.  Such was the case with Abacus Federal Savings Bank founded in Chinatown in New York City in 1984.

In 2012, prosecutors in Manhattan indicted the bank and 19 former employees for fraud regarding mortgages sold to Fannie Mae, maintaining that the bank did not properly report the risks of some consumers.

That’s the background of the new documentary film “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” by Steve James.

The film takes us through the courtroom drama of the trial and jury deliberations, which almost hung. The customers tended to work with cash and “under the table” through their own social capital a lot more, so it was harder to prove resources.  In some cases “off the books” transactions didn’t get reported to the IRS.  One employee was fired and plead guilty to fraud, but the others, as well as the company, were finally acquitted.  The company maintains it did not underwrite subprime mortgages. But this was the only financial institution actually prosecuted in any connection with the 2008 financial crisis.

It was rather interesting to hear testimony about the physical placement of workers on the bank floor, as if that could add to evidence of collusion.  I was once a witness to workplace litigation where that issue was raised in a deposition.

I’ve also heard that Fannie Mae used to be a very difficult place to work in the I.T. area, especially in the 1990s.

Name: “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
Director, writer:  Steve James
Released:  2016
Format:  1.66:1
When and how viewed: Landmark E St, 2017/7/5, afternoon
Length:  88
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS Frontline, ITVS
Link:   NYTimes reviewofficial

(Posted: Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

“Dalya’s Other Country”: a Syrian refugee family assimilates well in Los Angeles

On Monday, June 26, 2017, PBS POV aired the documentary “Dalya’s Other Country” (74 min), directed by Julia Meltzer (Journeyman Pictures).

In 2012, Dalya, as a teenage girl, came to Los Angeles from Aleppo with an older brother and mother Rudayna.

The family assimilates rather well, and the director afterward says that is one of the main points of the film, to show a family that makes it.

Dalya struggles to get into college.  Her older brother adapts as a technology person, speaking perfect English and assimilating as a westernized young man while practicing prayers and diet a home. Rydayna resents her husband’s polygamy.  Her husband comes to visit and live in LA for a while, before going back to Turkey.  At one point, the husband gives an interesting account of the Muslim account of the afterlife (which happens at the end of time).

There is discussion of the wearing of the hijab, and the increasing hostility being stirred up by Donald Trump’s populist campaign.  Dayla turns 18 on Nov. 7, 2017 and votes on Nov. 8 (I guess having become a citizen).

The feature was followed by the short film “From Damascus to Chicago” (12 min), by Colleen Cassingham and Alex Lederman.   A Syrian refugee family, with DHS supervision and a faith-based group assisting, accommodates to life in Chicago.  The daughters learn ballet.  But the father develops a lymphoma and has total-body radiation but goes into remission and seems to be doing well at the end.

Name:  “Dayla’s Other Country
Director, writer:  Julia Meltzer
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/6/26
Length:  74
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS POV, Journeyman Pictures
Link:  PBS

 

(Posted: Monday, June 26, 2017 at 11:15 PM EDT)

“Fire at Sea”: documentary of mass migration to Italy from Africa at a Mediterranean island, Lampedusa

Fire at Sea” (“Fuoco Ammare”, directed by Gianfranco Rosi) is a compelling is somewhat loosely structured two-hour docudrama portraying life on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, actually closer to Africa than to Italy, of which it is legally a part – as the military, medical people, and ordinary townspeople deal with the nightly arrival of migrants from Africa.

Many of the migrants arrive seriously ill from exposure to diesel fuel on the boats, which mixed with sea water and can produce disfiguring chemical burns.  Most of the burn victims are women (and children), because they tend to sit in the lower portions of the boats as the men surround them to “protect” them.

The migrants describe having come from as far away as Nigeria (through Niger), fleeing Boko Haram, and then being chased out of Libya.

The Italian Navy patrols the waters and does take their distress calls.  The townspeople are used to being expected to help them.

A major subplot of the film concerns the 12 year old boy Samuele, who enjoys playing with his slingshot.  His dad wants him to learn to be more helpful to other people, including the migrants.  For example, Samuele gets seasick when he walks on the pontoon, but his father lectures him about toughening his stomach.  At one point he has an exam with a doctor who simply finds hypochondria and anxiety, as well as a “lazy eye” which is slowly improving. In a climactic scene near the end, Samuele goes out into the woods alone at night to encounter a bluebird in the bush.

The DVD contains a brief commentary by the director in English, a QA at the New York Film Festival, and a 30-minute interview with Dr. Pietro Bartolo, who describes some changes to the film before the Berlin Silver Bear festival (to make the people seem more sympathetic), and then describes the medical horrors of the boatlift.  One pregnant woman’s water broke, and she could not deliver the baby for two days, but the baby girl turned out OK. Bartolo says that Europe needs migrants, and he believes these migrants pose no security threat and take the jobs White Europeans don’t want or can’t do.  He comments on white Europe’s low birthrate and aging population, and economic need for immigrants.

Lampedusa picture, wiki.

Name:  “Fire at Sea”
Director, writer:  Gianfranco Rosi
Released:  2016/2
Format:  1.85:1, in Italian with subtitles
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/4/12
Length:  116; extras 46
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

“Ovarian Psycos”: women of color organize bike rides in East Los Angeles to improve civic values in their community

The documentary “Ovarian Psycos”, by Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle, aired on PBS Independent Lens on Monday March 28, 2017. Slightly condensed from its 72 minutes.

The film covers the efforts of Latino women in East Los Angeles to motivate other residents in their neighborhood to care more about their homes by organizing informal (non-competitive) bicycle rides through the area.

Some of the women came from the most troubled areas in Central America, like El Salvador.

The film also covered the problems of nutrition – the need for food distribution and healthier foods to counteract Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

One of the rides is whimsically called “clitoral”.

I am reminded of the musical work “A Little Breeze” (“Eine Brise”) for 111 cyclists by Mauricio Kagel.  That’s been performed in the streets of Greenwich Village in NYC, not sure about Los Angeles.

Name:  “Ovarian Psycos”
Director, writer:  Joanna Sokolowski, Kate Trumbull-LaValle
Released:  2016/3 at SIFF, 2017 PBS
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS Independent Lens, 2017/3/27
Length:  72 or 56
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS
Link:  official

(Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)

“Bwoy”: A married gay man reinvents himself by connecting with a younger man in a poor, homophobic country

Bwoy”, directed  and written by John C. Young, is a suspenseful tale, centered around online chat and Skype sex, and the need for men to allow themselves to become vulnerable in order to help others.

Brad (Anthony Rapp), introduces himself to us with his chat comments through a mobile app mapped to a large desktop in his bedroom.  He is 42 years old, blondish, still youthful (sometimes he says he is 39) and says he wants to be a “daddy” to a young man.  Pretty soon he hooks up to Yenny (Jimmy Brooks) in Jamaica.  Besides providing the opening setting for the first James Bond film “Dr. No” (:Three Blind Mice”), Jamaica is known for its homophobic culture.

It gets pretty graphic, but pretty soon Brad is sending him increasing amounts of money, even allowing one session of emotional blackmail.

But gradually, we learn the circumstances of his life in upstate New York.  He works for credit card company as a primary bill collector (that’s not the same as a collection agency, which I worked for in 2003, and the script makes that clear).  He’s married to an attentive black woman Marcia (De’Adre Aziza), who would seem to be intervening less than expected. A few years back, he lost his young son to a swimming pool accident.  And he seems to have lost his license to practice medicine. So he is scraping by on the contingent job market.

Two thirds into the 85-minute movie, at the point of no return, it seems as though Yenny gets murdered on Skype, right before Brad’s watch.  Brad will need to make a dangerous rescue journey, borrowing even more money and getting more deeply into his own debt, to redeem himself as a human being.

This is a movie about risk taking and about exploitation, and about the moral responsibilities that come with privilege. It’s interesting that the movie, screened at Human Rights Campaign in Washington by Reel Affirmations, was also sponsored by DC Center Global, which assists asylum seekers.  Right now, unlike the case with refugees, there seems to be no way to host asylum seekers with the normal legal supervision that would mitigate risk; the entire ability to help them seems to ride on social capital.

Randy Shulman authors an interview with Anthony Rapp on Metro Weekly.

James Bond Beach wiki picture.

Director QA:

1

2

 

Name:  “Bwoy”
Director, writer:  John C. Young
Released:  2017 (DVD April 4)
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  HRC event for Reel Affirmations and DC Center Global, 2017/3/24, well attended
Length:  85
Rating:  NA  (“R”)
Companies:  Breaking Glass
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, March 25, 2017, at 1:45 PM EDT)

“All of Me”: Women feed migrants leaning from a train in Mexico, strictly out of faith

All of Me” (“Llevate mis amores” or “Take my Love”), by Arturo Gonzales Villasenor (Mexico, 2014, in Spanish), pretty much inverts the parable of the Rich Young Ruler.

A group of women at Patronas, Mexico, labor on homemade woodstoves to cook meals and gather water for migrants, who reach for it from the traveling freight train called “The Beast”. They’ve done it since 1995.   Most of the migrants come all the way from Central America. Some have stopped out of fear of getting in trouble with the law, but the group still goes on, 7 days a week.

Most of the film, besides showing the harrowing food pickup, comprises interviews with the women.  At the film’s midpoint, one of them relates an incident where a boy mangled his foot falling under a wheel. Although they stopped his bleeding, the women found no one would treat him until someone paid for his care. (Sound familiar?)  Eventually, the Red Cross took him to a hospital where the foot was amputated and a prosthesis provided.

The women, and a few men, describe the limited economic opportunities of agricultural and manual labor.  One of the men got a factory job, hazardous work welding inside pipes, and was still always in debt. One of the women is shown cleaning a pig sty, in front of farm animals who (like “Babe”) don’t yet know they will be eaten.

One woman’s daughter was about to go to college and wanted to become a journalist, but had to face the idea that if the local gangs didn’t like what she wrote, they would come after her and her family.

There are some night scenes, toward the end, in stark black and white, almost recalling the Holocaust.

This is a real food bank.  I’m reminded, of course, of Community Assistance (like at Mount Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington VA or the Arlington Food Assistance Center near Shirlington).  Volunteering in these activities is safe.  Volunteering along an illegal migrant rail route is only for men and women “of faith”, which others don’t have a right to define for them.  There is no debate.

All of this, of course, Donald Trump wants to stop.  So why can’t Mexico get its own house in order?  It’s the rich and the poor, as always.

Much of the film is within sight of Mount Popocapetel, the highest volcano in the country.  A high school friend climbed it in 1962 and almost dies on it.

Name:  “All of Me
Director, writer:  Arturo Gonzales Villasenor
Released:  2014; 2016 US theatrical; DVD pre-book 2017/3/14, DVD street date 2017/4/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Complimentary Vimeo Screener from Strand
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

“Logan” does his Run, in a comics film that, after the fact, pans the alt-right

After reading the (libertarian) Foundation for Economic Education op-ed “’Logan’ eviscerates War and Demographic Planning” by Dan Sanchez, I “gave in” and saw a late show of the Marvel film last night. Yes, even Anderson Cooper like the “X-men” franchise.

Sanchez summarizes the plot pretty well, and I’m not sure all of his parallels hold.  But it’s true, that the “corporate state” (Transigen) had created the mutants as weapons and now regards them as threats the way the all-right views both Hispanic and Muslim migrants.

Hugh Jackman(now 48) looks grizzled, and maybe ready to return from exile or retirement.  The plot of this 135-minute bash concerns Logan’s road trip to rescue his 12-year-old daughter Laura (Dafne Keen) with Wolverine-like powers.

Structurally, the film is a bit like my “Tribunal and Rapture” manuscript, a long road trip (finally leading to planetary evacuation on a spaceship) by a retired FBI agent, who finds he has some subtle powers of his own – I finally decided that this sort of story works better for me when told through the eyes of the younger heroes, whose “powers” aren’t usually obvious and whose appearance is wholesome (even if that idea betrays my own erotic prejudices).

The film journeys into Oklahoma, then sidetracks to Reno (I wanted to see Taylor Wilson make a cameo and pitch his plans to save the power grids), before getting to North Dakota, with some scenery that resembles the Teddy Roosevelt badlands – but actually a lot of the film is shot in New Mexico, with mountains in the background.  The mixture of old and new technologies is interesting (like the winch and pulley in the North Dakota scene.  The mutants, by blowing liquid nitrogen breath, can freeze opponents’ limbs and break then off.  So heads, arms and legs roll in this film. (In Dallas, Joe Bob would have said “check it out.”)

To appreciate the film, you have to know some of the pre-history, of characters like Trask, with their pre-occupation with the alt-right notion of “demographic winter” and the idea that “majority” people don’t have enough kids now.  (That’s why Vladimir Putin allows the persecution of gays.)  I’m reminded of Representative Steve King’s (T-IA) doubled-down comments that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” (story).

Patrick Stewart seems to impersonate me (as he usually does) as Charles, and Boyd Holbrook is notable as Pierce.

I’m reminded of another escapist adventure, “Logan’s Run” (1976), set around the Zale Building on Stemmons Freeway in Dallas, a building in which I worked in the 1980s, where you wonder how the twenty year-olds know think they can eliminate the thirties without facing the same fate themselves soon.

I guess that “Logan”, directed by James Mangold with story by him, was largely developed before Donald Trump won the election, but it seems well conceived as a response to the growing appearance of the alt-right during the 2016 campaigns.  The distributor, Fox, is probably closer to Ayn Rand-style conservatism.

The show opens with a “short film” (“Deadpool: No Good Deed“) about a Logan-like man challenged by a nearby mugging and a telephone booth, in the City.  I’m reminded of Joel Schulmacher’s “Phone Booth” (2002), and even of Timo Descamps and his “Phone Call” or even “Like It Rough” videos.  the 20 Century Fix fanfare then follows, along with TSG and Marvel, before the “feature” starts.  This sort of reminds me also of Dimension Films’s “Grindhouse” in 2007 (embedded double feature and connecting short).  The two short stories in my “Do Ask Do Tell III” book (2014) could be presented this way in film.

Name:  “Logan
Director, writer: James Mangold
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1 and Imax
When and how viewed:  2017/3/14 Regal Ballston Quarter, late, low crowd after snowstorm
Length:  137 including short
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Marvel, TSG
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 11 AM)