“Hearststone”: brooding drama about gay teens in rural Iceland recalls my own history of upward affiliation

Heartstone” (“Hjartasteinn”, 2016) by Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson, broods as it presents a somewhat tragic friendship between two teenage boys growing up in if fishing villag.    (Dyrhoaey) in Iceland.  It reminds me of the novella and 1972 film “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles.

Christian (Blaer Henrikkson) is the outgoing, bigger, more mature, and strong boy, already setting up sleepovers as he starts to date a girl in a nearby family, even as his parents’ marriage teeters,  Thor (Baldur Einarrson) admires him, and feels Christian is inviting a certain degree of intimacy.  There is a scene early with a mild form of body joking.

Thor, as shown, still seems preprubescent; his voice really hasn’t changed yet.  In European countries, the age of consent is usually lower than in the U.S., so this may seem more acceptable in Europe than with some American viewers.

The tensions grow as the film develops, as summer yields to fall and the snow flurries of approaching winter.  There is a spectacular shot of sheep being corralled from a distance, against the coastal mountains, almost as if from a Thomas Hardy novel, but it leads to farm aid outdoor camping encounters among the two families, and finally a rappelling scene where Thor retrieves some eaglet eggs along some cliffs, and almost has an accident. In the meantime, Thor experiences the familiar (to me) tensions of a gay teen admiring, through upward affiliation, a straight boy whom everybody expects to get married (traditionally) and have his own family.  It is such déjà vu.

Instead, Christian breaks, and admits to his girl friend that he may be gay himself. Like Thor, he could have to face the homophobia of a small village. Maybe it’s better to move to the big city, Reykjavik.

The film then skirts with tragedy for a climax, and it may be too much of a spoiler to state it.

Icelandic fishing village (Wiki).

The film shows very little if any modern technology; the story seems like it could be set in the 1950s.  There are lots of scenes involving animals:  “free fish”, unusual insects and arthropods (one that chews off its legs to free itself), and birds and nests.

Name:  “Heartstone”
Director, writer:  Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson
Released:  2016; DVD on 2017/10/10
Format:  2.35:1     Language: Icelandic, subtitles
When and how viewed:  Vimeo screener from distributor, 2017/9/30
Length:  129
Rating:  NA (prob. R;, maybe NC-17 some complete nudity; in no way pornographic, but dramatic and artistic, but intended for adults)
Companies:  Breaking Glass Pictures
Link:  Broadway

(Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2017 at 1 PM 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)

“I, Olga Hepnarova”: In the 1970s, a bullied Czeck woman becomes a terrorist

I, Olga Hepnarova”, directed by Tomas Weinrab and Petr Kazda, is  brutal-to-watch account of a terror incident in Prague on July 10, 1973, which happens to be my 30th birthday.

Olga (Michalina Olszanska) is a 20-something woman who grew up in a “good home” in Communist Czechoslovakia, but was repeatedly bullied for non-conformity (not available to men). She wanders through psychiatric facilities and a dorm-based job before dropping out and plotting her revenge. The black-and-white film has two explicit lesbian scenes early and middle.

She writes a brief paper “manifesto” where she plans revenge.  A little more than an hour into the film, she drives a truck onto a sidewalk, as the camera shows the people falling to the side. This anticipates several terror attacks that have happened in the past two years, not all of them Islamist (the one in Times Square was not).  She asks for the death penalty and her hanging body, viewed, is shown at the end.  She uses the German word Prugelknabs, for victims of bullying.

Her rhetoric hits on an existential point, that when a “random” civilian gets in the crosshairs of a terrorist, that person pays personally as there is no way to undo this.  Imagine that idea in conjunction with Pulse in Orlando.  Terrorists view all civilians as conscripted combatants, if as a result of karma.

This is an unpleasant film to watch.  But some audiences will want to see documentary accounts of wha made someone like James Holmes go mad.

There is some discussion of mental illness and schizophrenia.  In some ways, Olga reminds me of a couple of female patients at NIH during my stay there in the fall of 1962.  There is an early scene where she tells a therapist that she doesn’t like people or find much value in ordinary interpersonal relations.

Modern Prague (Wiki).

Name: I, Olga Hepnarova
Director, writer:  Tomas Weinrab and Petr Kazda
Released:  2016
Format:  1.81:1, black and white, Czech
When and how viewed:  complimentary Vimeo private screener from distributor, 2017/7/22; DVD available 7/25
Length:  104
Rating:  R
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  Strand, Movietimes

(Posted: Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 1 PM)

“Crossing the Line: A Cautionary Bullying Tale” – novel uses Shakespeare to suggest how a horrific school attack could arise as retaliation for bullying

Crossing the Line: A Cautionary Bullying Tale”, by Alan Eisenberg, is a novel portraying an apocalyptic school bombing and shooting, something worse than anything that has happened yet, and it throws in the kitchen sink as to the compounding of consequences for people’s actions.  The book starts with a screenplay-like depiction (labeled the Prologue) of the 911 call.  The author’s Foreword warns that the book is intense.

It is set at a fictitious Lincoln High School in the fictitious town of Berryville, Kansas (there is a Berryton, and there is a Berryville VA), and traces the lives of several teenagers in forty chapters named after them (by first name – each kid has multiple chapters).

The final attack comprises shrapnel bombs in backpacks, detonated by cell phone, supplemented by rifle attack, all set up by a particularly disturbed kid who calls himself Anarchy and describes what he will do in a “manifesto” and blog with few visitors. The attack is stopped (before the cops can get there) by another kid, who had brought a handgun to campus to defend himself, so the conclusion does reinforce the NRA’s idea that the “only defense to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, something we heard after Sandy Hook and Aurora.  The attack is timed to happen at an assembly after a funeral for a girl, Jessie, who had committed suicide after bullying.

At this point, it’s well to note that Anarchy had been bullied for not living up to the expectations of others as a “man”.  There is a hint that he may be transgender and even possibly less physically developed.  The character Jessie is also “behind” other girls physically (breast size gets mentioned, almost the way Donald Trump talked about it in front of Billy Bush in October 2016), and her former friend Sandi now sees her as a drag.  There are lines to the effect that she needs to be put in her place (I’ve used the word “right-sizing” for this idea).  On page 150, Jessie is characterized as “an introverted know-it-all who spent all her time studying and had no interest in school or the people there.”  The kids seem to believe that intrinsic worth is related to physical development (consistent with cis-gender) and want to see a world where everyone is put in some sort of well-ordered sequence by this norm.  The word for it is “body fascism” – this time, in the heterosexual world.  This is part of a world-view that seems to believe might is right, and survival of the fittest.  This sounds almost like what Vladimir Putin (let alone Donald Trump) believes.  It sounds like the heart of “alt-right” social values.  In the mind of Anarchy, the only way to mean anything and get noticed is to counter-attack (and that doesn’t mean with chess pieces).

The kids develop an elaborate plan to bully Jessie on social media, setting up fake profiles, even hacking a friend’s router and making it appear that the activity came from a fake ip-address.  Jessie is 15, so the end result would include statutory rape and distribution of child pornography, as well as contributing to delinquency f minors, all legal points that come up toward the end.  Other family members have lives ruined and at least one teen winds up labeled a sex offender for life.

Worse, Anarchy gets his instructions for his weaponizing from the Internet.  The book would sound like an argument for Donald Trump to shut down social media as a national security matter in addition to his travel bans.  (I discussed that grim possibility in conjunction with citizen journalism before the election, but Trump’s activities on Twitter took a twist I didn’t expect.)

The consequences are so horrible that teachers pull Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (many film versions – 1968 is the best) from circulation.  At one point, Jessie says that Juliet should become “a cutter”.  The book even speculates about what her last moment would be like, and it is not the usual NDE.

The text reads like a movie script.  The writing style is simple and straightforward.

The obvious comparisons are Gus Van Sant’s film “Elephant” (2003, set in Portland OR, which I saw at the Avalon in Washington DC; one of the assailants is a likeable pianist and utters a chilling line about “picking off kids”.   Another instructive comparison is the ABC miniseries “American Crime“, the second season, where Connor Jessup plays a bullied yet charismatic gay teen who finally retaliates and then takes his sentence.

With someone who behaves like Donald Trump now as president, how will kids learn any other values ot behave by?

The names of the three “parts” are descriptive: “Season of our Discontent” (Richard III”); “We know what we are but know not what we may be” (“Hamlet”); “Done ti Death by Slanderous Tongue” (“Much Ado About Nothing”).  Indeed, this book is like a super tragedy, but most of the characters don’t have the redeeming qualities found in Shakespeare.

In ninth grade (1958), I got caught up in a counter-bullying incident after a student had an epilepsy episode in class.  Very regrettable to this day.  I guess I could have wound up at an alternative school but it blew over.

Author: Alan Eisenberg
Title, Subtitle: “Crossing the Line: A Cautionary Bullying Tale”
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-1542848152:
Publication: Bullying Recovery LLC; 343 pages, paper, 40 chapters, 3 parts (complimentary review copy sent to me)
Link: publisher

First picture: Campanile tower at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, my 2006 photo.  I earned an M.A. in math there in 1968 (just before my own getting drafted).

(Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 5:15 PM)

“Closet Monster”: Connor Jessup plays a gay teen coming of age, with the help of a playmate hamster

Name:  “Closet Monster
Director, writer:  Stephen Dunn
Released:  2016
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  Private screener from Strand, 2016/12/24; DVD available Jan 10, 2017
Length:  89
Rating:  R
Companies:  Strand
Link:  Strand, Fortissimo

Closet Monster” (written and directed by Stephen Dunn) gives us an appealing gay teen Oscar (Connor Jessup), in a coming out story, looking back into the past through the eyes of his talking pet hamster Buffy (voice of Isabella Rossellini).

On the present day level.  The kid, growing up in Newfoundland, faces the tests of artistic, creative teens forced to focus on the practicalities of an adaptive daily world.  His boss at a hardware store (looking more or less like a Home Depot) tells him he is the least competent employee when letting him go, after earlier goading him on how to sell other people’s work.  He applies to various art schools.

And he deals with a homophobic father (Aaron Abrams), in a second marriage, a father himself drifting into abuse and probably alcohol.  And Oscar has his first trials with parties and the drug trips that follow.

But the back story shows a young boy, listening to the talking hamster (rather like Cleo, the talking dog on the 50s sitcom “The People’s Choice”), and asking his dad about a gay bashing he sees reported on the news on TV.  And his father tells him to watch growing his hair too long.

Some lonesome sequences near the end have some stunning coastal sequences, of the Labrador coast, as if as a young man he could settle into a final isolation in some mystery ashram, rather perplexing.  But earlier Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) has become an engaging companion in his coming out.

The film seems to have been shot maybe three years ago, as Connor Jessup looks a little “younger” in most scenes than he does in the ABC series “American Crime”.  His body seems to be moving into full adulthood as the film progresses.  He’s pretty handy and he bikes a lot.  Given all the popularity of trans issues in the media recently, it’s well to remember that both Oscar and Wilder are conventionally “male-identified” young adults with conventionally male ideals of individual competitiveness, even physically.

Some of the dream effects remind me of David Cronenberg’s film “Spider” (2002).

Look at the Wikipedia (attribution) link for Newfoundland picture by Auden Mulroney, CCSA 2.0.   I’ve only set foot there once (In Gander at the airport in 1970 on a refueling stop),  It’s an important setting in Anthony Hyde’s 1985 Cold War novel “The Red Fox”

“Newtown”: documentary focuses on the families affected by the mass shooting


Name: Newtown
Director, writer:  Kim A. Snyder
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Fathom event at Regal Ballston Common (from NYC) 2016/11/02
Length 80
Rating NA
Companies: PBS Independent Lens, Abamorama
Link: official;   PBS aired 2017/4/3

Tonight, “Newtown” was screened by Fathom events, with a panel discussion from New York by Chris Cuomo afterward. The entire event was called “Newtown: A Conversation”.

The film, directed by Kim A. Snyder and produced by Maria Cuomo Cole, focuses on the families of the children and teachers and staff shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 by Adam Lanza.

The film spends little time on tracing Lanza’s actions or background, although it shows the inside of the house after his mother’s body was found. It does trace the way parents gradually found out what was happening to their own kids throughout that day, and then traces five families afterward.  At the end, one of the dads takes up skydiving in a closing shot for the film.

The film includes some testimony about assault weapons and the tendency of bullets to tumble, something I remember from my own Army service.  Some homeowners (as in a case in Oklahoma in March 2017) might be able to defend themselves from a huge home invasion if they own them.  Gun control admittedly may put more weapons in the hands of criminals (as in Europe with terrorists) and leave average people more vulnerable to very determined attacks.  But gun control will prevent some domestic crime and rampages such as this one.  Different policy choices put different people at risk.

At one point, a father says that Lanza was not excessively bullied.  There is coverage of the effects on siblings of the victims.

The film uses background music from up to 13 composers, supervised by Fil Eisler.

Hollywood Life has an article here.

Cuomo moderated with his usual analytic style.  One of the panel members was a black female police chief from Orlando who had responded to the Pulse attack.  The panel was overwhelming in its refutation of the NRA’s idea that a “good guy with a gun” can always stop a very determined enemy attacker.  Cuomo suggested that what is needed is not so much new policy as closing loopholes and enforcing existing policy.  I think that gun control (as usually proposed) typically does reduce most domestic crime (and suicide) but it might make the public more vulnerable to some kinds of terrorist attacks.

On the day of Newtown, I made a bit of a pilgrimage to a high school where I had substitute taught to see a performance (which was not cancelled).

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 at 11:15 PM EDT)

“Goat” dramatizes fraternity hazing on campus; does this still happen today?


Name: Goat
Director, writer:  Andrew Neel
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon Prime rental online; limited theatrical release (Angelika Pop Up in Washington DC)
Length 102
Rating R
Companies: Killer Films, Great Point Media, Paramount Vantage
Link: Facebook

The opening credit sequence of Andrew Neel’s new drama “Goat” shows repeatedly an array of shirtless college men, most with absolutely hairless chests, reeled together in some sort of ritual. It’s no secret that this is a movie about quasi-mandatory rites of passage.  I thought colleges were supposed to be doing away with fraternity hazing.  But this is only a movie, right?   James Franco produces and has a supporting role.  The film is based on a memoir by Brad Land.

At 19, Brad (Ben Schnetzer) has been robbed and rolled on a rural road after giving some “frat boys” a ride.  Still, when he goes away to college in Ohio, he wants to pledge to his older brother’s (Brett, played by Nick Jonas) fraternity

It’s no surprise that the movie piles on scatological indulgences, including beastiality with a real goat, being smeared with feces, drinking urine and vomiting.  After surviving “Hell Well”, the little freshmen are servants for the rest of the year.

The paradigm follows the military, of course, as the young men try to impose their own social pecking order, where men prove they deserve to “belong” and never “snitch”.  There are plenty of homophobic slurs, and it’s clear that the psychology behind them is not so much about the future procreation of the group, but about designating a slave underclass (“faggots”) to feel superior to.  The behavior roughly dramatizes some of the concerns about “unit cohesion” that aired during the debate on gays in the military (and “don’t ask don’t tell”) two decades ago.

One wonders why boys rush and want to belong.  The “Greek” world seeks to replace emerging individualism with a culture where men are fungible and need to prove themselves worthy by acting within and belonging to a warrior group first.  It sounds like a kind of “survival of the fittest”, to see who are unworthy of going on and providing another generation.  Even given the stated lesbians scenes, this seems to be about heterosexual futures.

When I started at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, I was harassed by football players and pledges even though I did not try to join a fraternity.  In fact, if very many geeky introverts opt out, it seems like the credibility of the whole hazing system is undermined. My father had talked about the idea that men had to prove themselves by “taking hazing” ad from my parents’ friends, I heard real horror tales of how things had been at Virginia colleges earlier in the 20th Century.

The straight men talk in one liners here, and in general that’s not how I find even the heterosexual world behaving on campus today when I have any interaction with it. The film goes way over the top.

The Greek system will be tested when Brad’s roommate collapses and dies of a heart attack on the track, as an indirect result of the hazing.  So will the whole system where no one “snitches”

The premise of the movie seems odd given today’s debate on the opposite process – media free zones and speech codes concerning micro-aggressions, and trigger warnings.

Jonas plays the stable brother.  I haven’t kept up with the Jonas Brothers as a former singing group.  Jonas was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as a teen and it seems controlled. This recent interview is very interesting.

(Published: Sunday, September 25, 2016 at 5 PM EDT)

DC Shorts: “Be Careful What You Wish For”, especially in post-Soviet “Subotika”


I got to one more DC Shorts program, “Be Careful What You Wish For”, a conservative adage.  It showed in a large auditorium at Landmark E Street.

The longest film shown was “Zero M2” or “Zero  Square Meters” (18 min, French) by Mathieu Landour.  An appealing young male graduate student (economics) arrives in Paris and looks for a flat to rent.  He finds a landlady willing to let him rent a room for a bargain basement price, and he doesn’t read the fine print on the lease.  So the room keeps shrinking.

The landlady, at one point, says she inherited the property, as if the inheritance came with strings (a “Dead Hand”) and social obligations.  So her goal is to increase the stock of affordable housing by shrinking the apartments into microtubules.

I wondered if this film could have been turned into a sci-fi story of being compressed into a black hole, and finding out what it would like to go into one.  If the black hole were really massive, you would be too sinful to notice,

Red Rover” (15 min, Australia), by Brooke Goldfinch, presents us with a young teen couple who don’t buy their evangelical family’s idea that an asteroid is going to destroy the world. They get out (after the family eats cyanide for dinner) to find the townspeople believe the same thing, and have a “motel hell” orgy.  The ending of the film will remind you of Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia”.

Subotika: Land of Wonders” (14 min, Switzerland, “realistic” animation), by Peter Volkart, has an appealing young couple taking their honeymoon in a hidden post-Communist (specifically Soviet) enclave, where slag heaps provide scenic attractions and communication is by pneumatic tubes.  The geography of the place reminds me of the wasteland in my own sci-fi screenplay “Baltimore Is Missing” which I entered into Project Greenlight in 2004. Actually, this film is fascinating to watch.  It looks like a real place, maybe on another planet.  Is this movie “conservative” (because of the obvious attack on Soviet-style collectivism) or “liberal” (because of environmental concerns)?

40h Anniversary” (14 min, Spain), shows a 60-something couple making confessions as they sit in an outdoors Madrid café.  The camera never moves.  The worst confession is that the husband euthanized his mother after she had become a vegetable through end-stage dementia, so he could get on with his life.

Boy-Razor” (12 min, Sweden, but with actors of color), by Peter Pontikis, has a troubled kid placing a razor blade in a crevice of a water slide to get even for being bullied.  We really don’t see many of the consequences.

Sundae” (7 min, Sonya Goody), has a mom driving around Queens asking her son for the house her female enemy lives in, with a reward of an ice cream sundae,

Mine” (about 12 min), filmed in Kensington Gardens, England, by Simon Berry, seems to be a last minute replacement.  A woman leads her husband to a spot in the woods where he steps on a mine (reminding one of a recent incident in Central Park that cost a teenager a leg).  But the dead hand is active.

Last Door South” (“Derniere Porte au Sud”) by Sacha Feiner, from France, wasn’t shown, but the “Making of” video (22 minutes) for this black-and-white animation story about a two-headed mom raising her two-headed son is fascinating,  The realistic animation is shot from models and puppets that took enormous painstaking work by many artisans to create.  I couldn’t easily recreate this with my own trainset downstairs.

(Posted: Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 at 11:15 AM)