“Long Shot”: How Major League Baseball and some silly reality TV prevent a wrongful conviction

Long Shot” (2017), a “long short” (39 min) by Jacob LaMendola, tells the story about how a wrongful conviction was prevented, using baseball and reality television, in 2003.

In August, 2003, Juan Catalan was suddenly arrested by LAPD for the drive-by shooting of a 16 year old girl not too far from Dodger Stadium. A witness identified him from a police sketch but could only have seen him in dim light. Yet witness ID-ing often creates probable cause and can sometimes support convictions.

But Juan maintained he was at a baseball game in Dodger Stadium, where the Atlanta Braves scored seven runs in the top of the ninth to win 11-4.  Because the visiting team was mounting the long tie-breaking rally, no walk-off win ending the game suddenly could occur. Some of the telecast is shown in the film. The length of the rally may have helped Juan, as it prolonged the footage of an HBO reality show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gave defense attorneys a change to find him in the stands very shortly before the shooting.

The HBo episode involved a hooker’s stopping somone in the carpool lane of an LA Freeway when the ordinary lanes were blocked.

Prosecutors try hard to cling to their eyewitness theory until the end.

Wikipedia attribution link for Dodger Stadium picture.

I was an extra in a filming of a scene for WB’s “Major League 3” in November 1997, held at the Minneapolis Metrodome, now torn down and replaced by Target Field.  I got to hold up my “Do Ask Do Tell” book cover and a shot of it lasting ¼ second or so may have gotten into the film.  They fed us hotdog dinners.

The picture above is mine from a 2012 trip, actually in San Diego.

Name:  “Long Shot”
Director, writer:  Jacob LaMendola
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Netflix instant play, 2017/10/10
Length:  39
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  official (subscription)

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 at 7 PM EDT)

“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”: slow, stage-like back-story of “Deep Throat” whistleblower on Watergate

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”, directed by Peter Landesman, and based on the autobiography of Mark Felt and John D. O’Connor (by this name, as well as “A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being ‘Deep Throat”, and the Struggle for Honor in Washington”.

Mark Felt was the FBI special agent who became the whistleblower who broke open the Watergate scandal.  Felt did not reveal his role publicly until a Vanity Fair article by O’Connor in 2005.

The film is slow-paced and studious, mostly indoors (actually the studios in Atlanta were used), often darkly lit, the furniture plain. It is rather like a stage play. Felt (Liam Neeson), shortly after the Watergate breakin in June 1972, becomes aware that the White House is interfering with the independence of the FBI, particularly in scenes with acting director Patrick Gray (Martom Csokas.  A few weeks before the 1972 election, he makes the famous (“Deep Throat“, as named after the infamous porno film, which I actually saw on Times Square in 1975) pay phone call to Bob Woodward (Julian Morris).  There’s no effect on the landslide in 1972, because Nixon is able to paint the protesters as essentially pinko radicals.

But after the election, moving into 1973, things unravel pretty quickly.  The film telescopes the final months of Nixon’s presidency, which I personally remember well because I was going through a major transition in my own life, having “come out” a second time.  I would start a new job at NBC that would lead to my moving into Greenwich Village the Monday after Nixon’s resignation.

Diane Lane plays Mark’s wife Audrey, and yet you get the feeling that their marriage has become an afterthought.  The script does mention all the scandals underneath J. Edgar Hoover, whose passing is honored early in the film (early 1972).  The script probably just barely hints at the idea that Hoover was likely homosexual himself.

The film never depicts Nixon with an actor, or even Carl Bernstein.

The film is not quite as eventful as “All the President’s Men” (1976, Warner Brothers) by Alan J. Pakula, based on the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

Name: “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”
Director, writer:  Peter Landesman, Mark Felt, John O’Connor
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/10/6, late, small audience
Length: 105
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics, Endurance Media, Playtone
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 10:30 AM EDT)

“Kidnap”: a rather silly thriller invoking female vigilantism about a dangerous topic

Kidnap”, by Luis Prieto (written by Knate Lee), by its title suggests a very grave topic of something that can be a personal crisis.  If you get kidnapped, others may have to bargain for your life (or for a family member’s or a child).  Ron Howard’s 1996 film “Ransom” with Mel Gibson(Touchstone) is memorable for this. So is the 2009 French film “Rapt” (or “Abduction”) by Lucas Belvaux) dealing with this issue for a business executive.  With family members of intelligence agents, consider Pierre Morel’s “Taken” (2008)

But this new film plays like a combo of near gothic horror and typical crowd-pleasing chase female vigilante movie for the summer.

Halle Berry plays Karla Dawson, a divorced mom in a custody battle, who has a real job as a waitress in New Orleans, and who has little economic leverage to keep the kid. She’s takes her little boy Frankie (Sage Correa) to an amusement park, showing a Fire Ball like the one that broke in Ohio recently. When she gets a cell phone call about custody, she momentarily loses track of her little boy (despite calling him), and the boy is taken.

What follows is rather silly escapism. She loses her phone, and chases after the kidnappers who are in a no-license sedan around the Louisiana I-10 freeway interchanges, which I last visited in 2006.  The police are incompetent, and eventually the film leads us to a climax at the kidnappers’ safe house in the bayou.  The villains are a white couple, (Lew Temple and Chris McGinn) with the woman Margo particularly chilling as a monster.  The race roles are reversed here: the white people are the bad guys.   The scheme first starts out as a way to extort $10000 from a waitress who doesn’t have it (so that makes little sense), unless she could get it from the ex-husband (which means she loses custody and probably visitation).  But at the end we learn there is a sex trafficking ring of young boys deep in the woods.  The film was released (probably coincidentally) the same week that the Senate introduced the SESTA anit-trafficking bill, weakening Section 230 downstream liability protections for Internet providers, so this could have an indirect effect on future “free speech”.

As overwrought as the car chases and other conflict scenes are, they seem to conform to a certain idea in screenwriting aimed at selling movie tickets and achieving popularity:  make the circumstances of the heroine as dire as possible, even with a twist at the very end.  And maintain political correctness at all times, please.

Name:  “Kidnap
Director, writer:  Luis Prieto, Knate Lee
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/8/4, afternoon, small audience
Length:  94
Rating:  R
Companies:  Aviron, Relativity Media, Rogue, Di Bonaventura
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 11:30 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)

“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)

“Baby Driver”: Ansel Elgort plays the good kid caught in a life with the mob

Edgar Wright, the young British curator of the Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy (remember the 2013 pub crawl to “The World’s End”), has put himself into the action black comedy about exploitation of youth, “Baby Driver”.

Ansel Elgort plays Baby, the good kid chased into a life with the mob after a family tragedy, who puts his teenage reflexes into driving fast cars into chases and escapes.  Even carjacks an old lady but gives her the purse back, and shoots out of a situation at the end only when he has to.

Yes, a 22-year-old has better reflexes when driving than a 73-year-old.  Maybe not the best judgment on risk. But Baby has no choice but to take risks to protect others, like a real man.

Kevin Spacey plays the boss Doc, looking more decrepit and withered than ever.  After Baby is willing go to back to delivering Pizzas while taking care of a crippled and deaf stepfather, Doc threatens Baby back into the life of crime.

Baby will rescue a waitress girl friend and turn himself in when he has to, and it’s not too much of a spoiler to admit he will be a model prisoner for five years.

The film presents plans of some pretty brutal stuff, including very personalized hostage taking in a post office heist (remember the bank robbery in “Heat”), which I would not survive if it happened to me.  The film makes pretty effective use of the Atlanta backdrop.  I wonder if I-85 is back open.

As I walked into the AMC Shirlington last night, my smartphone beeped that Nationals player Trea Turner had a fractured wrist, on a day the Nats bullpen had blown a lead.  I thought, Ansel Elgort certainly is built like a baseball player, especially a pitcher.  How many young actors are capable of playing professional sports? And, no, I can’t wake up tomorrow morning in his 23-year-old body.  That violates the laws of physics.  Thou shalt not covet.

I think I vaguely remember seeing the 1956 classic film “Baby Doll” on television in the 1990s, Elia Kazan’s tale of a virgin in the south fought over by two men,, with Carroll Baker.

Name:  “Baby Driver”
Director, writer:  Edgar Wright
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  AMC Shirlington, 2017/6/29, fair crowd, late
Length:  113
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Tri-Star
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, June 30, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

“Heli”: a young factory worker in Mexico protects his sister after she accidentally draw him into a drug ring

Heli” is a gut-punching dramatic film about involuntary family responsibility in the third world, specifically rural Mexico in an area overrun by drug cartels. The film (in Spanish with subtitles) is directed and written by Amat Escalante, with other writers Gabriel Reyes, Zumurt Cavusgolu, and Ayhan Ergusel. The film was shot in 2013 and has shown in Cannes and Sundance and is now becoming available on DVD from Strand Releasing (June 27).

Heli (Armando Espitia) is a an slender, appealing young man, about 20 with wife Sabrina (like the 1955 film name, Linda Gonzalez), 12 year old sister Estela (Andrea Vergara), and father (Ramon Alvarez). Dad works at the local auto assembly plant, which looks very modern (and perhaps tried to take American jobs – to Donald Trump’s consternation) and Heli has been working the night shift for some time. Estetla has a boy friend Belo (Juan Eduardo Palacios) who seems to be going through paramilitary training (maybe from a drug cartel) where he is forced to roll in his own chunky vomit.

Belo stores drugs in the family’s house, and when Heli finds them, he destroys them by throwing them into a well. But soon the house is raided, we think by police but they may be drug dealers disguised as troops. Dad is shot, and the rest of the family, as well as Belo, are captured.

The film’s middle section has one of the most graphic torture scenes ever filmed I’m recalling New Line’s “Rendition”, where Jake Gyllenhaal’s character witnesses “my first torture”) in which Belo’s private parts are set on fire, as if to imply permanent castration and epilation, and affront to “the virtue of maleness”. But soon Belo dies and his corpse is hung from a bridge in a public lynching.

The film had opened with a shot of Belo and Estela in the back of a pickup truck, leading to the lynching, as a prologue before the opening titles, a story preview familiar from the films of Jorge Ameer.

Heli is spared with worst but still injured. He eventually talks to police and is in the position of being the sole protector of his younger sister as well as wife and baby. The sister has become pregnant. Heli’s injuries cause him to be inefficient working on the factory assembly line, and soon he gets fired. But, as in typical screenwriting, he must prevail.

A reasonable comparison could be made to Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film “Traffic“.

Guanajuato archeological site, near where film was shot (Wiki).

Name:  “Heli
Director, writer:  Amat Escanante
Released:  2013, 2017
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Strand private screener on Vimeo, 2017/6/22, DVD BluRay available 2017/6/27
Length:  105
Rating:  R
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  BluRay

Picture: Big Bend, mine (Thanksgiving 1979 Sierra Club camping trip, looking into Mexico).

(Posted: Friday, June 23, 2017 at 10:300 AM EDT)

“Carlito’s Way” seems like a stereotyped Mafia movie in today’s world; great shoot-out scene at end

Carlito’s Way” (1993) is a big-budget gangster movie from Brian de Palma.  But it’s not quite as engaging as the “Godfather” epics of the 1970s or maybe either some of de Palma’s earlier films (like “Dressed to Kill” (1980) or some comparable films by Scorsese (“Scarface”).  It’s long and bloated at 144 minutes.

The film is based on novels by former judge Edwin Torres, who says he wrote out his novels in longhand.  (So did J. K. Rowling when she began writing as a welfare mom.) The first screenplay was supposedly a “turkey”. The final adaptation is by David Koeep.

Carlito Brigante is played by a younger and mustachioed Al Pacino.  From Puerto Rico, he’d like to have the suave whiteness and social acceptability of a Geraldo Rivera or maybe (in today’s world) Josh Garcia.  His rather evil lawyer Dave Kleinfeld, a younger Sean Penn (who shaved back his hairline for the part) gets him out of prison on a technicality before a doubting judge in an opening scene, and Carlito promises to go straight (not literally). Fat chance.

Gradually his associates and girlfriends and Kleinfeld drag him back into the Mafia, with many scenes in the bay around Rikers Island.  Kleinfeld is a cokehead, with one scene where be nearly vomits in the bay, as if to invoke Roman Polanski.

Other characters in line are Benny (John Leguizamo) and Gail (Penelope Ann Miller).

When the revengeful elements of the plot send Kleinfeld to the hospital, Carliot pays him a sympathy visit and gives him a lesson in self-defense.  It doesn’t do any good.  (Torres says that Kleinfeld, murdered by a police imposter in the hospital, survives in the novels.)

The film has a famous shootout in Grand Central station (rather like the bank shootout in the 1996 film “Heat”, also with Pacino)  One problem is that I think that the Amtrak train south leaves from Penn Station, which I have been in enough times.

The metaphor at the end, for slipping into Paradise (based on entering a billboard) is a nice rendering of how the afterlife might start.

The movie starts in black-and-white with the final shooting, and returns in color.  There is an alternative universe ending where Carlito wore a bullet proof vest.

The script has lots of topical references, like to “Walk on the Wild Side” and in being “Watergated” (maybe now that’s “Russiagated”).

The Mahler-esque score was composed by Patrick Doyle.

Name:  “Carlito’s Way”
Director, writer:  Brian de Palma
Released:  1993
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 34 min “making of” included
Length:  144
Rating:  R
Companies:  Universal
Link:  Blu-Ray

(Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)

“Sour Grapes”: Have you ever heard of wine counterfeiting?

I can remember a quiz question in ninth grade “Health and PE” about the difference between “sour grapes” and “sweet lemons” as rationalizations.

So, as a documentary movie title, “Sour Grapes”  (directed by Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwel) is indeed a metaphor.  (It’s not Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”).

The film starts by showing the mechanics of the wine tasting world – the events (and spittoons), the auctions, the “plantations” in Burgundy in France, and then northern California.  Then it talks about how rich people like wine collections, sort of the way I valued my classical music record collection as a teenager or young adult.  It’s a set of possessions that you become attached to, and bad for your spiritual growth (eg, against “Be Here Now”).

The main thrust of story is the massive fraud, on collectors and auction houses, perpetrated by businessman Rudy Kurniawan, from an established Indonesian family.

It got to the point that his Los Angeles home was filled with wine labeling and mixing gear to an extent that looked like hoarding.  All of this turns up with a sudden FBI raid.  And the prosecution, and ten-year prison sentence follow.

How Rudy got into this, rather reminds me of Bernie Madoff.  But Rudy had made up stories about living off of trusts and caring for an elderly mom.   It sounds too familiar.

I was intrigued by the subject matter by recalling “The Dark Place” (2014, see index), a mystery about a young gay man inheriting a wine estate in California.

(There are two other films on Amazon with this name.)

Name:  “Sour Grapes
Director, writer:  Reuben Atlas, Jerry Rothwell
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play, 2017/2/21
Length: 85
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Dogwolf, Met Film
Link:  official 

(Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 11 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)