“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”: “Lobster” director plays again on our unspoken fantasies to build horror

The Killing of a Sacred Deer” opens with a beating heart, encased in a chest cracked open like “The Lobster” (May 22, 2016).  Then we see a surgeon take off his gloves and dispose of them.  We see his sleek hands (a line later used a few times in the script written with Efthymis Flippou), and that at least his forearms are still softly haired, as if the ultimate future of infection control were not yet in place.

I’m introducing the latest quirky horror comedy (or satire) from Yorgos Lanthimos, and it has a plot concept that feints of ephebophilia, and then plays on male fetish obsessions that have been frankly significant in my own life to build a plot and a rather horrific and tragic climax.

The music score, with Schubert, Bach, and especially Lygeti, underlines the urgency for the characters, but maybe it could have added Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (“Songs of the Death of Children”).

Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is the heart surgeon and cardiologist in a Cincinnati hospital. (The city looks sharp in the film, especially in multiple scenes across the Ohio river from Covington, KY.)  In his past, he once lost a patient at age 46 apparently during some routine bypass surgery. That deceased patient’s verbal teenage son, Martin (Barry Keoghan) starts showing up in Murphy’s life, mostly by self-invitation.

Murphy has built an impressive family in his palatial home, with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and gender fluid son Bob (Sonny Suljic) and teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy). At first, the daughter teases Martin about his lack of body hair (some teens would normally have more) and Martin pretends to be ill and shows up at Murphy’s office for a physical. There is a scene with a stress test, with eight leads, where Martin asks what would happen if he were hairy, and Murphy admits he would have to be chest-shaved, and that it could take a little while to grow back.  Murphy even gets into mention of “hormones” (reminding me of my own Ft. Eustis days). Martin even asks to see Murphy’s chest.  There’s also, as I recall, an odd line about replacing a grabby metal wristwatch with leather. Martin acts as if he believed the world had some sort of fascist conspiracy to eliminate less desirable men (like the Nazis did) as if this could be eroticized. For a little while, the film has you wondering if indeed Murphy is falling into an illegal relationship with the teen boy.

But at midpoint, the film takes a surprising twist. Bob, and then Kim, develop a kind of guillain- barre syndrome, with intermittent and then persistent leg paralysis, when medical tests can find nothing wrong. In a particularly arresting scene Martin threatens Murphy by suggesting that he (Martin) is causing the syndrome with some supernatural curse.

I’m not sure that the conclusion, which involves some vengeful violence against Martin and then a lottery to find the “deer” is necessarily all that convincing.  Some critics will say that Stephen gets his wish, to play god again. That’s a problem with setting up an erotic premise like this:  it is hard to find somewhere to go.

Wiki picture of downtown Cincinnati.  My visits: 1992, 2012.

Wiki picture of a Holter Monitor on a young adult male, underscoring Martin’s concerns.

Picture: Mt Vernon, Ohio, 2012, my trip.

Somehow the title and tone of this film reminds me of “The Killing of Sister George” (1968, Palomar, dir. Robert Aldrich, with Beryl Reid.) I;m also reminded of Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Universal) with Steve Carell as hapless.

Name: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director, writer:  Yorgos Lanthimos, wr with Efthymis Flippou
Released:  2017/10/27
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/10/29 fair crowd
Length:  116
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24, Film4, Hanway
Link:  distributor

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at 8:30 PN EDT)


“Stopping Traffic”: The emotion on the sex trafficking issue is there, but with no legal controversy details (like Backpage v. Section 230)

Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking”, directed by Sadhvi Siddali Shree (or Siddhayatan Tirth), comes across as a propaganda piece about sex trafficking, and pleas for people to join “a movement” so to speak, but it doesn’t get into the specifics very much on how really to deal with it very much,

The director says she is a female monk, from India, and I guess that’s interesting. At the end of the film there are about ten things that can be done.  One is punishing the customers (we do that with prostitution and certainly with child pornography already)m another is to “volunteer”, but what a “volunteer” would do specifically I’m not sure.

There are many personal testimonials, including a middle-aged man from Australia who says he was abused as a boy but the consequences for him personally didn’t mount up until he had grown and had to deal with why this had happened.

The film also does describe the horrors of kidnapping children abroad in various countries, including Thailand and Mexico, and raising them in the sex-slave culture where they never learn anything else.

The film presents both male and female victims. In rural Afghanistan, even under the Taliban, despite external anti-gay Muslim culture, young boys are abused in a secret culture that says “girls are for procreation, boys are for fun.”  To its credit, the film is in no way homophobic;  this is about underage exploitation, not sexual orientation (much like the NBC series “To Catch a Predator”).

The film has live shots in many places, but particularly Thailand, Mexico, and Texas.  It presents the idea that Houston particularly is a center of sex trafficking.

There would have been an opportunity to look at specific legal controversies, especially with the Backpage.com website, which never gets mentioned.   The US House and Senate have drafted bills, with the House’s more threatening, that would weaken Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (also part of the previously named Communications Decency Act) which treats service providers as utilities rather than as publishers of user-generated content, thereby absolving service providers of any downstream liability for user-generated content.  Without such downstream exposure protections, providers presumably could not take the risk of allowing user-generated content, although a “knowlingly” standard, such as with child pornography today, could be a good compromise. There is also a difference, operationally, between, say, an ad-seeking website like Backpage or Craigslist, and a shared hosting company like Blue Host; the risks would be very different. The film never goes near this. But most issue-oriented advocacy films try to recruit public interest and stay at simpler intellectual levels.

Other coordinated posts on Backpage problem:  Mine on news blog, mine on House Bill, Senate Bill

Ashton Kutcher testimony (“Real men don’t buy girls” — why isn’t “a+k” in the film?

Thailand scene 1 (Wiki, rice paddies?)

Bangkok scene 2 (Wiki)

Name: Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking
Director, writer:  Siddhayatan Tirth
Released: 2017
Format:  1.85:1  much of film in Spanish with subtitles
When and how viewed:  AMC Hoffman Center, 2017/10/3, only person in audience
Length:  79
Rating:  NA
Companies:  independent by individual owner, Siddhayatan Tirth
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

Audrie and Daisy: the outcomes of two cyberbullying cases

Audrie and Daisy”, directed by Benni Cohen and Jon Shenk, hits the subject of cyberbullying hard, especially for female victims of sexual assault, and especially underage, largely by presenting two tragic biographical narratives.

The story of Audry Pott, in Saratoga CA (a San Jose suburb) is wrapped around the narrative of Daisy Coleman in Maryville MO, which provides a long middle section for the movie.

In all cases the assailants are aggressive white teenage boys, some of them football players, all carrying out what seem like primal biological instincts that I don’t personally feel.

Audrie, apparently when drunk, endures body desecration at a party, the details of which need not be repeated here.  Cyberbullying in chat rooms will follow her for being a victim.  Later she will commit suicide at home, hanging herself behind a closed bedroom door when her mother is in the house.  At the end of the film, the juvenile offenders are processed by the criminal justice system but given light sentences.

One of her friends, Delaney Henderson, a surfing enthusiast, will talk on the beach about a similar experience, and say her family had decided to switch coasts and move to Florida to get away from the meanness.

Daisy’s family had moved to Maryville (north of KCMO, a city I know too well) after dad was killed in an auto accident in Albany, MO.  One night, some boys got her, at 14, and another 13 year old girl drunk, and then had sex with the girls (legally way underage).  She may have been on the verge of alcohol poisoning.  Detectives detained and questioned the boys, but eventually were charged only with misdemeanor offences.  The prosecutor said that the sex was consensual, which does not make sense if she was underage (does Missouri have a Romeo and Juliet law?)

Some interesting sidebars come across.  In Missouri, police say that Apple had deleted all footage of the incident, and that it was not recoverable..  Apple president Tim Cook is very serious about privacy;  delete means delete.  Not so, the police said, with Android.  Later Anonymous gets involved, blasting police allowing the “blaming the victim” result.  Daisy’s brother comes to her defense, and is shown working out in his bedroom at home with a sign “Endure” on the wall.

Finally, after the dust settles, a baseball coach, providing Army-style character guidance, counsels his team on how they should behave around young women and especially with victims of sexual assault. Could MLB use the footage?

Countering cyberbullying was supposed to be one of Melania Trump’s initiatives. It’s disturbing that the permissive atmosphere of ungated user generated content may depend so much on this kind of activity for “support”.  Bad karma.

Name:  “Audrie & Daisy
Director, writer:  Benni Cohen and Jon Shenk
Released: 2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play 2017/7/30
Length: 98
Rating: NA
Companies: Netflix
Link:  subscription

(Posted: Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 12 N EDT)

Milo’s “Dangerous”

I had to read “Dangerous”, by provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos (aka Milo Hanrahan, aka Milo Andreas Wagner as a previous pen name) off my Kindle. The first print run (apparently 100,000(?) copies, self-published under the trademark “Dangerous Books”) sold out before Amazon could ship to me, so I forked out an additional $2.99 to get it now. I hope others will buy my “Do Ask, Do Tell” series on Kindle. In the meantime, I’ll just wait for my hardcover copy when it gets printed in a second run.

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself already. There is a lot of commonality between what Milo says and what I say in three books, even if the organization and expressive style is very different. But this is almost like a “Do Ask, Do Tell V” book (the first three are mine, and then a sketched out a IV online in 2016 here).

Remember, Simon and Schuster had cancelled trade publication of his book after the “scandal” Feb. 20 over supposed advocacy of “pedophilia.” In fact, the correct term is probably ephebophilia, or perhaps hebephilia. There is a curious parallel to an incident in my life regarding Google-finding materials on my own website when I was working as a substitute teacher in late 2005, which I’ve discussed on these blogs before. The new version of this book contains Milo’s explanation of this matter in the introduction. I am certainly convinced that Milo said or did nothing to suggest approval of illegal sexual activities with minors, although the age of consent varies among western countries and even among states in the U.S. (and in some states, like California, it is still as high as 18).

I didn’t find a table of contents on the Kindle, so it’s a little clumsy to verify, but there seem to be twelve chapters. The first ten are based on “Why (Identity Group n) Hates Me”. The last two are based on who does like his message (like GamerGate).

This may seem like a self-indulgent way of presenting one’s argument. I am reminded of how Gustav Mahler titled each of the last five movements if his massive Symphony #3 “What (X) Tells Me”. I’m also reminded of Pastor Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002), where the minister argues “It’s not about you.” But for Milo it is. But given the history of violent reactions of foreign-organized protestors at some of Milo’s events (his “Dangerous Faggot” tours), which he discusses toward the end of the book, it seems appropriate.

I’d like to note the comparison of they way Milo organizes his material to how I did I started the first DADT book with an autobiographical narrative, in time sequence filled with ironies, motivated by the debate on gays in the military and how it had intersected into my life. Then I switched over to topical discussion as my issues fanned out. The second book was a series of topical essays, focused mostly on two themes: a “Bill of Rights II” in the context of 9/11. Book 3 reiterated the autobiographical narrative and added some topical fiction pieces. But, yes, a lot of this was “about me”. But my scope was always expanding into more areas.

So, I’ve always been concerned with the central question, of how someone who is “different” aka “special” should behave in the face of collective social pressures (to conform to the norms of the peer group and to “carry one’s weight” or share of the common risk). That concern can be discerned from Milo’s material. My driving and organizing principle was “personal responsibility” but I had to constantly enlarge upon what that means. It involves a lot more than facing the direct consequences of one’s choices. Dealing with stuff that happens “to me” has to start with “me” (so, it matters if people “hate” me). But I realize this can become “dangerous” (Milo’s wordmark) if overdone, and invite political authoritarianism, which is exactly what is testing America and western Europe right now. So, in a broader sense, “the people” matters too. My father always used to say, “The majority has rights, too.”

The end result is that Milo’s book, if moderate in length, seems monumental. In reviewing his list of “enemies” (and, by the way, I was told in my college years that “you have a tendency to make enemies”) he covers a wide range of important incidents.

The list of people he encounters comes across like Chaucer characters (indeed “A Canterbury Tale” is one of my own favorite classic films). He covers Shaun King, the civil rights activist claiming to be “black”. He gives a reasonable defense of the police in Ferguson MO in considering Michael Brown’s behavior (“Why Black Lives Matter Hates Me”). He goes into some detail over how he got banned from Twitter (Breitbart account) over supposedly encouraging retribution against (the remade) “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones, where he says he was set up, (Indeed, “Why Twitter Hates Me”. He gives a curious defense of Martin Shkreli in the HIV drug fiasco (and Shkreli has since been prosecuted on other matters).

In explaining why mainstream gays hate him (he thinks, I’m not sure they do) he takes up the case of writer Chadwick Moore. He delves into the moral dualism of male homosexuality in a way that reminds me of George Gilder (“Men and Marriage”, 1986), considering it somehow unnatural as counter to procreation – yet, he says, gay men usually are thinner, smarter, richer and more successful than straight married men, partly because they (the straights) are weighted down with a family to support or wives to pamper and cook for them. He sees gay marriage as illogical – needing the idea of traditional marriage, with all its self-surrender (“the two become one flesh”, etc) in order to have something to stand apart from. I know the feeling and covered the same sentiments in my own books – equality cuts both ways, when you don’t have dependents.

Ironically, he worships himself and certain other gay men as shamans or perhaps angels. (If you could be immortal, you wouldn’t need to reproduce – there is a jellyfish that actually does this by going through regression, as in “The Curious Life of Benjamin Button”. Unfortunately, the teenage Clark Kent in “Smallville” is presented as straight (not sure what kind of kids he could rather). Psychologists call his style of relating to people personally as “upward affiliation”. That was an issue when I was a patient at NIH in the later part of 1962, where I was diagnosed as “schizoid”. I just didn’t get much of intimacy with others (anticipation of the “family bed”) unless the partner would be perfect enough. But I was seen as possibly indicative of a dangerous trend accompanying the newly nerdy science and bookishness of the Cold War era – a slipping back into a perception that a personal level some people would no longer matter if they didn’t stay perfect enough. What had we just fought World War II about two decades before? Body fascism?

But the early chapters do present a convincing read on why Milo feels so repelled by the authoritarianism of the far Left, and its trying to pimp victimhood and draw everyone into identity politics, demanding loyalty to political leadership to speak for them as marginalized minorities. Milo particularly explains the idea of “intersectionalism” or “intersectionality”, a concept that author Benita Roth took for granted in her book on ACT UP which I reviewed here June 14.

Indeed, the Left often wants to suppress clear and objective independent speech from its own constituent individuals, because the Left fears that brining up complete arguments just gives fuel to its enemies and rationalizes “oppression” against less competitive individuals. I share this concern myself (as I outlined particularly in Chapter 3 of my own DADT-3 book). In this regard, Milo minces no words in reaffirming “fat shaming”, that obesity is unhealthful as aesthetically ugly (or is beauty if the eyes of the beholder – like in that 1970 song “everything’s beautiful in its own way” – although the early Nixon-laden 1970s were also a time when machete jokes about beer bellies were socially acceptable sometimes). I’ll add that I had named Chapter 2 of my DADT-3 book “The Virtue of Maleness”, a notion many would find oppressive (like to “trannies” or “gender fluid” people). Milo almost comes to making my point, that in the past many people saw open male homosexuality as a distraction for other men from trying to father children at all – which is one reason why Russia passed its anti-gay propaganda law in 2013.

In developing the duality of his own attitude toward his own homosexuality, Milo mentions one of his favorite authors, books, and films: “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde.  I rather like the idea of seeing more in a fixed image of one of my own “idols”.  I read it myself in 12th Grade for a book report (as I also read H. G. Wells’s “Meanwhile” and Nevil Shute’s “In the Wet“).

One of the last chapters is why “Muslims Hate Me” and this chapter is the darkest one. He indeed sees all Islam as radical Islam, and sees Islam as by definition political and seeking to impose itself on non-Muslims. He gives particular attention to the assassination of the staff of Charlie Hebdo (in January 2015, ten months before the 11/13 Paris attacks) and views the Jyllens-Posten Cartoon Controversy the same way as free speech advocate Flemming Rose (“The Tyranny of Silence”), as dealing with a consciously and deliberately combative culture that sees enemies everywhere.  Milo points out that Charlie Hebdo  (don’t confuse with l’Hebdo, which has stopped) had been a relatively small publication, so radical Islam was willing to put it in the  limelight (“Je suis Charlie“) by attacking it, which sounds like an self-defeating irony to a western person.  Think about North Korea (“The Interview“) the same way.

Milo denies he is part of the “alt-right”, no less a leader of it, and denies any belief in racial superiority of any group. (He dates black men, he says.) He gets into the misuse of the “Pepe the Frog” meme.  He denies that he is a libertarian, but he seems like a “moralistic libertarian” to me, somewhat like Charles Murray (who has also been the target of attacks at speaking engagements). He considers “troll” a desirable label, and his advice to young men is to become hot. We’re seeing personal attitudes privately held in the gay male community for decades going public online, and suddenly perceived as hurtful.

I can certainly imagine this book as a documentary movie, although it might take a strident course like some of Steve Bannon’s Citizens United films.  By comparison, my own narrative seems even more personal and ironic, but indeed filled with instructive twists.  But I would be interested in working on a documentary about gay conservatives if someone wanted to film Milo’s book (and not yet do mine). There is a 2004 documentary “Gay Republicans” (legacy review).

Author: Milo Yiannopoulos
Title, Subtitle: Dangerous
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0692893449
Publication: self; 288 pages, endnotes, 12 chapters
Link: Milo’s site

(Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Strange Ones”: a man and a boy present a mystery as they travel through a wilderness

The Strange Ones”, directed by Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein, based on Wolkstein’ s short story, is another road gay mystery film, a little bit like yesterday’s.  It is actually based on a 2011 14-minute short film by the same name centered around the mysterious couple’s stay at a motel and around a swimming pool (same directors and writers, different actors).  The film has a moody, enigmatic presentation (underscored by the brooding music score by Rob Lowry) that reminds one of Jorge Ameer and even sometimes David Lynch.

The film introduces a muscular, bearded 20-something man Nick (Alex Pettyfer, from “Magic Mike”) taking a middle-school aged (maybe 13) boy Sam (James Freedson-Jackson) on a road trip around the Catskills in upstate New York.  Nick claims they are brothers, but as the film progresses we begin to suspect that this is an abusive, legally inappropriate relationship.  There are some off hints of the supernatural: Sam always takes on the first name (telepathically) of people he meets in new situations, and Nick seems to be able to make objects (like cups of black coffee) disappear.

They meet Kelly (Emily Althaus) at the motel, before going camping.  Nick tries to teach Nick how to use a rifle before a tragic encounter with other hunters and a cave ensues.  Sam escapes and winds up stumbling into a rehab camp for male juvenile delinquents.

The movie has lots of flashbacks as to what happened in Sam’s family, and it isn’t good.  The flashbacks aren’t always clearly delineated and can confuse the narrative (which, in a couple of police and hospital scenes, becomes quite explicit and disturbing).  Only the black tabby cat in the original family home really knows what happened, and when she sets out into the country to look for Sam (which a cat might do) the threads of story come together.  The cat turns out to be an important character. If only animals could testify in court.

Nick is indeed troubling.  His forearm tattoos are genuinely disfiguring.  Sam is remarkable for his articulations.  He can tell Kelly that his “brother” (who at one time had been a “babysitter”) doesn’t “get hard” with women and that makes him  “gay”.  But otherwise he is so macho, so cis.  The old man (Gne Jones) in charge of the juvenile camp is frank, and several more responsible teens (Tobias Campbelll) seem to be running the place.

2011 Short trailer


I took the liberty of using my own 2012 picture form Whiteface (actually in the Adirondacks) for art work for the review.

Name:  “The Strange Ones”
Director, writer:  Christopher Radcliff, Lauren Wolkstein
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Baltimore Film Festival, MICA Brown Hall, 2017/5/6
Length: 81  (short film in 2011 was 14)
Rating:  NA (would be R)
Companies:  Adastra, Stay Gold
Link:  FB

(Posted: Saturday, May 6, 2017 at 11:15 AM EDT

“Weiner”: somewhat uneventful documentary showing controversial NYC politician in real time

The documentary “Weiner” (2016), directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, starts with Democratic New York City congressman Anthony Weiner arguing passionately for fireman at the 9/11 site.  But soon he would resign (after 2011) after  sexting scandals.  Wikipedia gives his narrative biography here.

Most of the film follows him in real time during his 2013 race for mayor, when he would lose the primary, winning only 5% of the vote.

He is often shown working out, cycling, or lounging in the apartmen with wife Huma (2016), with his conspicuously hairless body.

He says that politicians have a greater than usual need to be recognized publicly and to remain in the limelight, and draw attention to themselves.  He says that for many politicians this makes stable marriages very difficult.   I think writers can also have a need for public recognition, but the mode of recognition is more subtle.

On Oct. 28, 2016, FBI director Comey announcted that some emails from Hillary Clinton’s server, apparently duplicates, were found on a laptop associated with Anthony Weiner (story )  Some accounts also mention that the police investigation involves possible sexting of an underage girl.  The film was made too early to get into this.  But Comey’s announcement, as we know, through a big curve into the election.


Name: Weiner
Director, writer:  Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/1/6
Length:  95
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sundance Selects, IFC
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 at 11:45 PM EST)

“Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers: American Sons, American Murderers”: special crime documentary from ABC News

ABC News (and ABC Studies aka Walt Disney) aired a special two-hour documentary film Thursday night, January 5, 2017, “Truth and Lies:  The Menendez Brothers: American Sons, American Murderers”, best link.  Although produced by a news organization, the documentary has the style and feel of independently produced crime documentary or criminal justice issue-oriented films (like Andrew Jenks).

Wikipedia has a summary of the lives of Joseph Lyle Menendez and Erik who murdered their parents in their Beverly Hills home by shotgun on the evening of Sunday, August 2, 1989 and told police that they had returned home and found their parents dead, apparently from a mob hit.  Police were suspicious from the outset, as the brothers lived lavishly until their arrest in 1990, as their case came apart after Erik told his girlfried.

The documentary treats this as a “bad family”.  The father was a self-made Hollywood businessman (the family first lived in Princeton, NJ) who had escaped Castro’s Cuba.  His values were that winning means everything.  That sounds a bit like Donald Trump and his father Fred.  But Donald, as far as we can tell, raised good kids. Hillary Clinton even admitted that  (I’d rather see the eldest son be president than Donald himself.)

But the Menendez parents did their homework for their kids, who didn’t learn to answer for their own performance or acts.  Seriously, through local churches, I’ve met well-off families and their high-performing high school and college kids, and I’ve never encountered anything like this with any family that I know.  Dad managed to get Lyle into Princeton, but Lyle cheated and got suspended.

Both brothers excelled at one thing: tennis.  The documentary also reports that Erik played chess fairly well, something I had never heard in my own circles (since I have played in USCF tournaments and gone to clubs at various points in my life).   Erik also became a male model (there are shirtless pictures with a nearly hairless chest), and when asked Erik denies being gay. But then the brothers started doing silly residential burglaries of other wealth homes.  They would get suspended sentences and “therapy” and dad made restitution.  Again, I’ve never run into anything like this.

Something else very curious is reported:  One of Erik’s past friends, Craig Cignarelli, wrote a 66-page screenplay describing a perfect murder, as reported in the Los Angeles Times in 1990 here.     This is interesting in that a fiction screenplay someone writes about a crime is viewed as predictive of what the writer might have a future propensity to actually do.  To some extent this crosses into the fiction-libel problem (Bindrim v. Mitchell, 1979, California, and other cases such as a  story in Penthouse).  My legacy blog has a class link on fiction and libel here.  As I’ve related, I got into trouble when I was substitute teaching over a fiction screenplay I had written and posted for a short film (30 min) in which a substitute teacher allows himself to be seduced by a slightly underage charismatic student, because the protagonist resembled me too much.

The documentary shows many interview clips in 1994 where a younger Barbara Walters interviews the brothers after their conviction.  The film also shows the brothers today, serving life sentences, in separate California prisons.  They have aged.  Erik has gotten married while in prison.

The film also covers the two trials, with Court TV broadcasting the first trial, and the claim that the brothers (mainly Erik) were abused, even sexually, by dad.

Wikipedia picture of Beverly Hills, CA at night.  (Was there in 2012 myself.)

(Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017 at 11 AM EST)

“Who Took Johnny?” points to a cover-up of an underground sex trafficking ring with rich customers across the world

Name: Who Took Johnny?
Director, writer: David Bellinson, et al
Released: 2014
Format: 1.78:1, sometimes 1.37:1 for old footage
When and how viewed:  Netfix instant, 2016/12/20 (also available Amazon)
Length:  80
Rating:  NA  (would be R)
Companies: FilmBuff, Rumur
Link:  official

Who Took Johnny?” (2014), directed and written by a trio (David Bellinson, Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley), examines the cold case of the apparent kidnapping of 12-year old paperboy Johnny Gosch  on his route in the early Sunday morning of September 5, 1982 in West Des Moines, Iowa.

The fact pattern is quite complex and it’s well go give the Wikipedia summary reference.

At first, the parents have difficulty getting local police to believe this is not a runaway.  But in time at least two other tween paperboys disappeared.  Johnny would have his picture displayed on a milk carton on space offered by a local dairy.

But over time, it becomes apparent that Johnny was probably abducted into a child sex ring with wealthy customers with secret lives as pedophiles, sometimes involved in child pornography.  The film says that about 0.5% of men are inclined to attraction to minors, possibly by genetics or unusual environmental influences beyond their control. This can include wealthy people in positions of power to run coverups.

One of the main witnesses is Paul Bonacci, who admitted later he was in the car that took Johnny.  Bonacci served prison time and had multiple personality disorder (perhaps similar to schizophrenia) that was attributed to early childhood abuse.  But eventually he was released and actually got married (to a woman).

In 1997, the mother (Noreen) would testify that Johnny paid her a mystery visit in 1997 with a companion and asked her to keep quiet, and then disappeared.

A British company and the Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, MD tried to produce and distribute a documentary about missing children and sex trafficking in 1993, to be called “Conspiracy of Silence”, and the film was itself silenced.

The film also traces a role for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children  founded in 1984.  In recent years, the agency has maintained a database of digital images with watermarks that can be scanned matched to images on the Internet (now, even when backed up in cloud accounts, as well as in email attachments or on social media posts) for known illegal images of child pornography.  The film shows some apparent pictures of Johnny in captivity, but they were not of sufficient quality for digital matching to work.  But the mother insists they are images of him.

The film takes on sudden irony now because, shortly after the 2016 presidential election, there was an incident (typical news story) in Washington DC where the Comet Ping Pong Pizza was attacked by a vigilante (quickly arrested) who, somewhat gullible and in hard times himself, had believed a fake news story about a trafficking ring in that and possibly other nearby businesses.

The case should not be confused with a case in Minnesota, of Jacob Wetterling, who disappeared in 1989, and the case was resolved by confession recently (NBC story).

(Posted: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 9:45 PM EST)

“King Cobra”: James Franco acts creepy in a gay murder mystery involving a porn business dispute


Name: King Cobra
Director, writer:  Justin Kelly, book by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway; James Franco produced
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon Prime instant video ($6.99 HD rent) was at Reel Affirmations closing night in DC; may have limited theatrical release
Length 92
Rating Not given, but would probably be NC-17; a legitimate art film and dramatic issue-oriented narrative for grown ups.
Companies: IFC
Link: official site

King Cobra”, directed and written by Justin Kelly, is a true story based on the book “Cobra Killer: Gay Porn Murder and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice” by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway.

The true story is controversial because it eventually provides a biography of actor Sean Paul Lockhart, who played the rule “Chris” in “Judas Kiss” (2011), and Sean’s tangential or accidental involvement in a bizarre murder over a rivalry in the gay porn business.

Partly because I am probably just two degrees of separation from the actor personally, I have to stick to facts, which are well summarized on imdb here.   Harlow (played by Keegan Allen) and Joe (played by James Franco, in probably his creepiest role ever) are serving life terms in Pennsylvania for the murder of rival producer Stephen (Christian Slater), which the film shows near the end, as happening when Harlow visits Stephen and feints seducing Stephen.  That’s the way to die, when your last memory is erotic.  The murder scene actually seems a little bit motivated by Hitchcock, especially “Psycho”.  Lockhart, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, had no prior knowledge of the murder plot and, although held by police briefly, was never charged and helped convict the other two men (as in imdb story).  The movie ends happily for Sean as his adult film career resumes.

The story involves a couple of interesting legal points.  When Stephen grooms Sean into the porn industry, he gives Sean the stage name of Brent Corrigan, and then trademarks the name. When Sean wants to go out and work on his own, Stephen litigates for trademark infringement.  Yes, in some industries “stage name” of a performer is very important for the business model to work, and performers and artists need to know this.  Sean, however, threatens to tell everyone that Stephen had filmed him slightly before Seann turned 18.  In addition, there’s already a nosey neighbor suspicious of the speculative possibility of child pornography next door.

Sean and Stephen seem about to reconcile, when two other producers (whose story is shown in parallel in the early part of the movie), Joe and Harlow, want to hire Sean as “Brent Corrigan”, setting up the rivalry that provides a motive for murder.

The film is now available on Amazon Instant video.  I missed it at the Reel Affirmations film festival last weekend because of a schedule conflict with a piano concert.

Sean does not play himself; rather Garrett Clayton takes the lead rule with a lot of charisma (but he is just too smooth, even his legs, in the opening scene, hinting at one of the plot twists).

The film should not be confused with a 1999 horror film of the same name about a real snake from Lionsgate/Trademark (which I saw in Minnesota).