“Wonder”: a film about lookism, and more about the rest of the family and school rather than the boy himself

Wonder” (like “Stronger”) is another film that addresses lookism and the challenges that someone with a visible deformity will face socially in life. I was reluctant to see it out of what I feared would be sugary moralizing.  Directed by Stephen Chbosky, and based on the 2012 children’s novel by R. J. Palacio, it presents us with a fifth grader August Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) with a genetic facial deformity called mandibulofacial dysotosis, and we’re told that he has had over twenty surgeries as child. The actual physical appearance is toned down;  it is not particularly abnormal, and all you notice is a couple scars.  (I could mention neurofibromatosis, the subject of David Lynch’s 1980bw  film “The Elephant Man” about Joseph Merrick in 19th Century London, which gets around to modeled stagecraft.)

But, much to is credit, the film gradually becomes a story about the rest of the family members and others at his private prep school, rather than just about him.

But the film opens almost as if it were to be animated, with a shot of a spacesuit helmet, as we gradually see a little boy lying on his back in bed with it on, and with a bedspread that continues the space suit image.

His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) and father Nate (Owen Wilson) have homeschooled him. We’ve been shown a flashback of the birth, with a “teenage” obstetrician (Shaun Murphy?) and the nurses carry him away in horror when the see his face, almost like he was “Rosemary’s Baby”.

But now its time for middle school, and he’s sent to a fancy prep near Lincoln Center.  So, yes, he and the family have to deal with bullying as (in the previous film yesterday) does the school. Why would kids bully him?  Because they want to be affiliated with the “best” and want to come out on top of a survival of the fittest game?  I’m reminded of the WB show “Gossip Girl” with the rogue blogger Serena turns wealthy teens into proto-Apprentice candidates (like Penn Badgley’s character Dan).  But there, these are younger, middle school kids.  There is a nasty incident of a passed note saying “Freddie Kruger”.  I recall when I was substitute teaching at a middle school in 2005 a kid passed an anti-semetic note to another and got into trouble, as did I, for not preventing something I could not possibly see.  I’m also reminded of an incident in my own Ninth Grade (p. 21 in the DADT 1 book) where I spread rumors and even taunted a student who had experienced an epileptic fit in algebra class (I called it “all those convulsions”), something that sounds like throwing up in class  Well, that happened to me in second grade and was particularly traumatic.

That theme comes up in the movie a few times.  The family dog gets it, and has to be put down, but she is old. In the meantime, a number of the older kids try out to play in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”.  Big sister Via is an understudy, and when the lead girl says she fears she will throw up on stage, Via gets to shine.  (That would be a real horror if it happened;  it never happens on Broadway.)   A little bit of the play gets performed in the movie (the play itself has been filmed several times).

At the end, the tone changes, as August gets a science fair award.  I was reminded of Jack Andraka’s award in 2013 at age 16 for an inexpensive pancreatic cancer test he had invented (as detailed in his book “Breakthrough”). Maybe the allusion is intentional.

The film has some interesting brief scenes on Coney Island (near my favorite “Seaside Courts”) and also upstate, in a lake area (Adirondacks?)  According to imdb, except for establishing shots in NYC, most of the film was shot in British Columbia.

Here’s an ABCNews story about another real life case.

Picture: an arts school near Lincoln Center, my photo, Feb. 2013.

Name:  “Wonder”
Director, writer:  Stephen Chobsky, R. J. Palacio (novel)
Released:  2017/12
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2018/1/9, afternoon, fair audience
Length:  103
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Lionsgate, Participant Media, Walden Media
Link:  official

(Posted: Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 10:30 PM EST)

“Ukeire”: gay melodrama set in Appalachia takes religious homophobia to a precipice

Ukeire” (2015), is a disturbing small “real indie” film about religiously driven homophobia by J. J. O’Hearn based on his own short story, which might seem set up and contrived.  But the message of this film, which is somewhat stilted in acting and excruciating at times to watch, does indeed unfold in some light sheets or layers.  The title means “acceptance” in Japanese.  I would wonder if Reid Ewing, with his interest in Japan and Danganronpa and Japanese culture, has watched this.

A teenager, Brennan Akitsuki O’Dorcay (Pate Faulkner) has taken the bus from California back to his old hometown of Corbin, Kentucky, in the mountains near Cumberland Gap (which I visited in 2016, my photo above). We’re he lost family members to a house fire and then a murder in San Francisco and later Fresno.  Child Protective Services escorts him to his single dad’s (Brady, played by David Bingham) home, which seems rather nicely furnished physically. Brady somewhat reluctantly takes him in.   Brennan apparently has partly Japanese ancestry, although that’s not really obvious from his looks.

Then Brennan is enrolled in the local high school.  It seems sparsely staffed (is this really how it is, or a matter of the film’s budget) – teachers double up as assistant principals.   He quickly meets a best friend  Aidan (Austin Call) who seems like an intellectually and socially secure person in a poor environment – maybe even gifted. But the other kids seem tribal and lethargic, and homophobic, as we find out.  Two girls beat up Brennan for dressing and looking like a “fag” (or maybe a “gook” even).

The young male English teacher Mr. James Wilson (James Lanham) assigns the small class an assignment of rewriting a scene from either “Romeo and Juliet” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in modern context (with FinalDraft?) and acting it in class.  (Why not try, “The Tempest“?  Saw it on an arena stage in Dallas in the 80s and the young male sirens were appropriately polished.)  Brennan gets paired with Aidan, who is trying to help him adjust. Lanham’s voice and delivery reminds me of math teacher and whiz Deven Ware from AOPS at UCLA (on YouTube). I wondered if Deven could have been cast for this role!

After the beating, Brennan tells both Wilson and Aidan that he is gay.  The staff seems mildly supportive but not willing to do much to stop other students from bullying. Aidan is more supportive, and seems genuinely, maybe profoundly gifted and ready to go onto great things himself. Brennan decides to tell dad that he is gay, and slips it in to a dinner conversation. The father explodes, beats up Brennan, who runs out into the woods. Later Aiden finds him having slashed his wrists. It’s too late to save his life at the hospital.

Maybe the film means a parallel to a Shakespeare as a tragedy, although it’s not really a fit.  Brennan appears as a ghost from heaven a few times, as if it were a real place for the next life. Personally, I think the afterlife is a lot more fragmentary than that, but I won’t get into the Monroe Institute theories here. The dad explodes at the funeral again with rhetoric that sounds like the Westboro Baptist Church (“GHF”), complete with burning in hell.  But when he meets his son’s ghost near the coffin, he realizes how wrong he is and become profusely apologetic, as his whole concept of what is in the Bible must turn on its head.

There are other ways to interpret the suicide issue.  It could be seen as the person’s desire to punish those who taunted him, to say that the world is unworthy of being lived in.  So it might be seen as arrogant or even cowardly. Indeed many Christians believe that suicide means forfeiture of heaven and damnation instead. But what if gross harm is inflicted by a criminal or a foreign enemy.  What if someone is exposed to radiation by a terrorist or nuclear blast and decides to jump off a building to avoid dying of radiation sickness?  Or to avoid survival in a world, however changed by force by an enemy, in which he no longer fits in?

We could imagine a film whether the father commits suicide instead.  The father may be in the position of Job, so to speak. Much of his family has been taken away from him by disaster or violence perpetrated by others. Now his only son informs him, effectively, that he will never have any more lineage.

One, for comparison, could read the New Yorker article by Ian Parker, “The Story of a Suicide”, about 18 year old violinist and Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, in September 2010, three months before my own mother’s natural passing.

The film stays within PG-13 territory and has no explicit scenes.

The photography and lighting look sharp.  The music score seems trite and repetitious, however.

This might be a good film for Reel Affirmations (DC) to look at for an HRC showing. It would be nice if an innovative distributor like A24 took an interest in this film.

Corbin, KY photo (wiki).

Name:  “Ukeire
Director, writer:  J. J. O’Hearne
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  YouTube free, 2018/1/6
Length:  82
Rating:  NA (seems PG-13)
Companies:  self-distributed as far as I know, Emerald Shamrock Studios
Link:  imdb

(Posted: Monday, January 8, 2018 at 1:30 PM EST)

“The Life and Times of Jumper Maybach: A Pilgrimage to End Hate, Bullying and Intolerance”, guest post

Guest post by Joey Amato and Relevant Communications, “The Life and Times of Jumper Maybach: A Pilgrimage to End Hate, Bullying and Intolerance”.

Ben Workman, aka Jumper Maybach, was born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1963. He knew something special had taken place when his grandfather applied a white face on him the first time. It was then within an instant that Jumper was born.

Jumper’s grandfather served as a volunteer clown within various charity organizations for 25 years and at the time of his death in 1977, at the age of 84, he served as the official clown for the Corpus Christi State School. The young Jumper moved to Houston, Texas in 1977 with his family and embarked on various learning studies that have contributed to the diversity in his paintings.  However, it wasn’t until a religious experience during a painful time in his life enabled his vision to fully take shape. “This is the part that a lot of people wrote me off as crazy,” states Jumper. “I was being sexually harassed at work and was at a really low point in my life. One afternoon I went into a deep meditative prayer and that’s when what I call a ‘spark’ rushed into me that raised up Jumper. I truly believe God was talking to me and directing me in the mission through my art. I never painted before that spark.”

Jumper believes it is a person’s traumas that define an individual. He releases his joys and pain into the art and becomes the storyteller of the creations. Jumper’s techniques are self-taught through intense experimentation leading to an end result which is truly unique and representative of the artist. It’s about understanding love, peace and the transformation of an individual.

“Please forgive me if I talk about Jumper as a separate entity within me but that is the case. I have learned to accept the ridicule from almost everyone,” he jokes. “When Jumper began his painting, it began from a vision which he titled ‘Alien in the Box’.  It was a story of Jumper in the circus and helping children understand they are loved unconditionally.  Jumper’s painting evolved rapidly from childlike to the amazing abstracts he is known for today.”

Jumper’s art is a constant evolution of color and complete abandonment of the paint. It is an unplanned performance that creates the extraordinary works. The complexity within Jumper’s art comes from within. Jumper is unashamed to teach the world a lesson in compassion. His art is a beacon for ending hate, bullying, and intolerance in the world.

Not long after Jumper began his career as an artist, he started to receive national and international recognition for his work. In 2013, Jumper held his first gallery show, which ultimately led to an exhibition at Art Dubai. It was there that Jumper received a documentary film deal and was dubbed the Jackson Pollock of the 21st century.

“I was told by the Minister of Arts and Culture, ‘you’re the 21st Century Jackson Pollock with a lot of color.’  I was intrigued by the statement and a friend gave me a copy of Pollock’s documentary when I returned home. I viewed the film and was amazed at Pollock’s talents. I’m honored to be compared to Pollock,” recalls Jumper.

Shortly after Art Dubai, Jumper had the opportunity to present 39 pieces of art in Venice, Italy.  Another career highlight occurred when Jumper was invited to exhibit his art at the Galerie Du Louvre. “I made a series specifically for Paris. It was a great honor to have my art in the Louvre. It all seems so surreal.”

Jumper appreciates the opportunities he has been given and takes time to give back to multiple LGBTQ organizations around the country through both financial and artistic contributions. He and his partner David actively support GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, AIDS Foundation Houston, The Montrose Center, Houston Gay Pride and the Trevor Project in addition to other local and national charities.

Jumper believes one of the largest challenges facing the LGBTQ community is the community itself. “We can’t fight intolerance and bullying when we play along with the bigots. I know so many LGBTQ friends who are out in our “safe” community but at their workplace they play “straight”. This is a cause for alarm. When you can’t live a free healthy life at work, then you’re in an unsafe work environment.”

He goes on to explain that this form of environment creates an atmosphere for bullies. “If you discover your environment as unsafe after coming out, then sue or leave. I must say, see my documentary “The Jumper Maybach Story” to understand what being outed can lead to. I personally chose to stay and fight. If we all did this, change would occur. It takes tremendous strength and courage to fight bullies.”

Jumper also offers words of encouragement to other developing artists. “LGBTQ artists should be free to be themselves. Art is a very personal experience. A great artist knows why they create their art. Sometimes the art is created from severe personal pain and at other times, it could be happiness.  I would urge artists to reach deep within and discover that reason.  If they can’t discover that reason, then their art will never make it to greatness. Art is not easy. It’s a gift from your soul.”

In the next decade, Jumper would like to actively pursue his mission of ending hate, bullying and intolerance through art. “I want my art to cause the viewer to step back and realize why Jumper created it. If it causes the viewer to take a breath and let Love enter their heart, then Jumper has fulfilled his mission.”

To learn more about Jumper Maybach, visit www.jumpermaybach.com.

Imdb link for “The Jumper Maybach Story“.

(Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018 at 11:30 AM EST)

“Burning Sands”: a drama about hazing in a black college fraternity, with catastrophic consequences on Hell Night

Burning Sands”, directed by Gerald McMurray and written with Christine Berg, dramatizes hazing in American college fraternities, and tries to look for a balance between group loyalty and safety for the pledges – when does one tell or snitch?

The film, shot near Petersburg VA (there is one shot of downtown Richmond) seems to take place at a black college.  I would expected the film to show a reasonable racial mix at a modern college, including white, black, native and Asian.  I personally don’t know whether the Greek system still has a lot of racial segregation in southern states.

The film takes place over six labeled days, leading to a Hell Night on a Saturday.

Much of the film is seen through Zurich (Trevor Jackson) who starts out dealing with the 6 AM military-like drills and pushups, and attends class during the week.  English professor Hughes (Alfre Woodard) assigns a paper and at one point says, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Zurich is quite troubled and late with his term paper and consults with an alumnus and Sean Richardson (Steve Harris) who still consuls loyalty to the Greek system.

The hazing gets more brutal, with some blindfolded water torture in a swimming pool.  Finally, one of the pledges gets boxed on the ears.  I’m surprised this would create a serious head injury, but soon the pledge is frothing the mouth. The upperclassmen take the boy to an emergency room in Richmond and run.  Zurich, at the end, calls his father.  One is left with the impression that the boy dies.  Zurich says something like “Now I decipher who my tribe is and live a life to know what the other side is”.

There is another film on Youtube about ragging in a college in India, called “The Punishment” (legacy review), and it is somewhat homoerotic and homophobic at the same time, legacy review.   This short seems to build on the idea of physical body shame and comparison to other men in a group.

During my last first fall freshmen semester at William and Mary in 1961, the freshmen boys (all of them, not just fraternity pledges) were supposed to go to a “tribunal” the last Friday in September, where some of the boys would have their legs shaved.  I skipped out on this, and I wonder if that contributed to my eventual confrontation with the Dean and my expulsion.  I cover all that in my DADT-1 book.

There was an incident at Louisiana State University where a student died, apparently of alcohol poisoning, in a hazing incident, covered on CNN here.

Name:  “Burning Sands”
Director, writer:  Gerald McMurray
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant, 2017/12/28
Length:  102
Rating:  R
Companies: Mandelay, Kino, Netflix
Link:  Kino

(Posted: Friday, December 29, 2017 at 11 AM EST)

“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

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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)