“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)

“Theater of War”: documentary about staging Brecht’s “Mother Courage” and a meditation on war and political systems

Theater of War” (2008, directed by John W. Walter), attracted my attention since it depicts Meryl Streep’s role in a 2006 production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and her Children”  (1939). Streep got a lot of attention for her criticism of Donald Trump’s narcissistic behaviors at the Golden Globes Sunday night – although whether Trump really mocked a disabled person (which he denies) is a matter of factual dispute, given how you interpret his body language in a particular speech during the primaries.

That particular play (“Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder”) depicts a mother who tries to profit from businesses created by the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) but loses all three children to the war.

The film gives us a biography of Brecht , including his escape from Nazi Germany shortly after Hitler took power (first through Denmark, eventually through Russia), arriving in Los Angeles in 1941.  But  (like Trumbo) he would wind up interrogated by the House Unamerican Activities Committee which really believed that Hollywood “propaganda” could be exploited by the Soviet Union to support communism.  But, ironically, with the whole “Russian-hacker-gate” and the 2016 election, we’re seeing a lot of theories of propaganda being born out.  The film adds a lot of history, such as FDR’s speech presenting the damage to war torn Germany after WWII as “punishment” for the German people for putting Hitler into power.

Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) appears as the playwright converting Bertold’s work to a new adaptation at the Delacorte Theater in New York City in 2006.  (Actor Kevin Kline also appears.)  Kushner relates his concern over the draft as a teenager during Vietnam, but he was young enough to escape it before Nixon ended it.  The film shows many Vietnam-era anti-war protests.  Kushner notes how easily the state can manipulate young men into sacrificing themselves, exploiting their sense of fungibility until they belong to a group or mass movement. Gradually, it gets into the philosophy of Marxism, and the idea that without a communal context for society, wickedness tends to prevail over virtue when people act at just the self-interest level.  I don’t necessarily agree with this, but the film really shows where this point of view comes from. There is the idea that you can live through being treated unfairly if you belong to “the group”, and a whole theory about how under capitalism, workers surrender power when they “sell” their labor.  There is mention a scene in the play where a soldier is flayed, even more brutal than the tortures in the film reviewed yesterday.  There is also presentation about how theater has power.

The music score includes Charles Ives’s “The Unanswered Question“.

Name: “Theater of War” (incorporates “Mother Courage”)
Director, writer:  John Walter (Bertolt Brecht)
Released:  2008
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/1/12
Length:  95
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, January 13, 2017 at 12:30 AM EST)

“Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party”: Why the “progressives” put Dinesh in jail, but now “I’m free!”


Name: Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party
Director, writer:  Dinesh D’Souza, Bruce Schooley
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2016/9/7
Length 90
Rating NA
Companies: Pure Flix
Link: official

Dinesh D’Souza (along with co-director Bruce Schooley) makes his latest conservative missive “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” entertaining.  “Who are these Democrats?”

He starts off with a concert in Dallas, about to play an adaptation of the Star Spangled Banner. There is a concert pianist, thin and with specs, who looks intentionally made up to look like classical composer-pianist Timo Andres;  you have to look twice to make sure this is mistaken identity.  The performance returns to end the movie, and ends loudly. (Andres likes music pieces to end quietly, a point Dinesh is too sinful to notice.)   And in the epilogue, Dinesh tells his prison English class to vote Republican, and notes he won’t be allowed to vote anymore.

Then Dinesh entertains us by recreating his experience in jail, where he, literally, went “back to the bay”. This must have taken some doing to recreate for a movie;  it’s rather like Reid Ewing’s filming a little libertarian mockumentary “I’m Free” right in the Los Angeles County courthouse (in 2012) – except that Reid is three decades younger and better looking.   Already, Dinesh seems to be having fun with our mental images of much younger, popular and politically edgy male celebrities.


Dinesh got sent to prison for violating a “Campaign Finance Reform” act, by giving too much money to a conservative candidate of his choice, apparently in other people’s names.  There was a time, in 2005, when conservative papers (like The Washington Times) noted that some political bloggers were running afoul of the Campaign Finance Law but it blew over legally (my account of this). Dinesh claims he drew the attention of the fibbies (but not John Grisham’s goons) due to the “success” of his earlier movie “Obama’s America”.

After this autobiographical intro, Dinesh layers his storytelling back to the 1820s, to trace (like for an essay question on an American history final exam) the evil history of the Democratic Party (some will call it “revisionist history”), starting with Andrew Jackson.  That president aggressively expropriated native American lands, leading eventually to the development of the reservation system (and today’s casinos).  I got familiar with this personally while living in Minnesota from 1997-2003.  This part of the film has many well-acted skits, with realistic 19th century settings set up in Tennessee for actual filming. The Republican party emerges to oppose slavery and to treat natives fairly.  In one scene, Davy Crocket (as from Walt Disney’s two films with Fess Parker) argues for natives in one scene (see Aug. 27 – my own recent trip to Cumberland Gap, although settler Daniel Boone is the relevant figure).   The film briefly covers the Civil War and Lincoln Assassination, Ted Turner style (like the 1995 movie “Gettysburg”)  It then goes into how the Democrats sabotaged Reconstruction, and supported the Ku Klux Klan, and the resulting lynchings (which this film re-enacts on camera).  All of this history could go into the late Gode Davis’s still not completed film “American Lynching” (my connection to it ).

Dinesh makes a certain jump in a fuzzy account of how the Democratic Party became “progressive” in the 20th Century.  Actually, he could have hit Woodrow Wilson even harder – as Wilson reinitiated sedition laws to jail those who even criticized the military draft.  The modern Democratic Party is thought to have emerged with FDR and the New Deal.   Dinesh points out that by then the idea of “progressivism” was coming to mean state management of everything.  Democrats actually accepted Mussolini-style fascism at first (bachelors were taxed), and some were enticed by communism and the forced expropriation of Bolshevism. Dinesh traces its reluctant but begrudging support of the Civil Rights movement, where LBJ accepted the Civil Rights Act in 1965 to guarantee the loyalty of the “Negro” vote.  LBJ was a racist under the covers, and often spoke contemptuously of “negros”.

But then the Democratic Party moved on to capture the Labor Movement, with the Daly political machine in Chicago becoming the most notorious prize.

Dinesh finally gets to the history of Hilly and Billy, claiming that they want to steal the whole country, with effectively a four-term presidency.  But this seems to be very little a film about Hillary Clinton.  The most effective part of Dinesh’s narrative is the opening (in jail) and his somewhat revisionist American history.

Dinesh does mention a few things Hillary wants to “give” ordinary working Americans without explaining how to pay for them, like mandatory paid family (or maybe just maternal) leave.

There was a fair audience last night at Regal Ballston Common in Arlington, and one older man actually applauded.

(Published: Thursday, September 8, 2016 at 1 PM)



“In the Name of Honor” provides surprising (and tragic) examples of how honor killings of young women happen


Name: In the Name of Honor
Director, writer:  Pawel Gura
Released:  2015
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play
Length 73
Rating NA
Companies: Rat-Pac
Link: Think Progress

In the Name of Honor”, by Pawel Gula, probably dispels the most superficial idea of honor killing, that it primarily happens to women who are victims of rape in primitive societies.  That happens, and it certainly sounds like “blaming the victim”.

Gula’s film presents three episodes, the first in his native India.  Couples may not marry among different castes, and may not marry within the same village or gotras, as that is viewed as incest.  Police back off if the family of the murdered daughter doesn’t want to intervene. The fathers are said to have chosen “pride” over “life”.  Still, you can wonder what is behind these longstanding “customs” that seem to define the individuals only in terms of the group to which they are forced to belong.

The second part presents a woman in Jordan who lost her leg in a shootout after she tried to refuse an arranged marriage. The journalist Lima Nabeed supplements the tragic story.  She finally winds up in a kind of protective custody for a while, and police prosecution is difficult, even in this more modern Muslim country.

The third portion takes place in the occupied West Bank of Palestine.  A Christian father explains why he murdered (now with regret) his 23-year-old daughter. The narrative seems to move in and out of a stage play in which the daughter had acted.  There is controversy in Palestine as to whether drama should deal with real issues, or ignore them in a kind of sterile comedy.  Somehow the acting out went viral, led to real world consequences, which then recycled back into the drama.  This is a bit parallel with something that happened with one of my “screenplays” when I was substitute teaching (link ).

It seems that the film is also known as “The Price of Honor”.

The film has an epilogue in a “Protection House” back in India.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Jericho
By Tamar Hayardeni (Tamarah) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23024414

(Published: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 at 10:30 PM EDT)