“The Thinning”: Logan Paul plays undercover hero in a fascist America “made great again” by executing “parasites”

The Thinning” (2016), directed by Michael Gallagher, from Legendary Digital Studios (usually connected to Warner Brothers) specifically for You Tube Red original films, gets attention now as lead actor Logan Paul, who plays the hero teen Blake Redding, drew negative attention recently for a suicide-related video he posted.  That has been said to complicate the production of the sequel, but we’ll all that aside for another time.

The point of the film seems shocking, beyond satire. In 2039 in Austin Texas, a Vista Pointe High School is part prison camp, as every year the kids have to pass a test on an iPad tablet. Those who fail are executed, removed from society.  This is America’s answer to the world population problem exacerbated by runaway global warming.

Some people might say now that such a film puts the idea of doing something like this in play.  That’s the thinking of the trigger warning crowd. But the film has plenty of precedents: the entire “The Hunger Games” franchise, and the 2000 Japanese thriller “Battle Royale”.

Blake is the Governor Redding’s (Matthew Glave) son, and Glave is running for president on continuing to Make America Great Again.  Although the film was apparently shot before Trump’s election victory, it is clearly intended to send a message that we’re headed for Nazi-Germany style fascism, where the weak are eliminated.  In a speech where Redding announces his candidacy, he calls failing students “parasites” whom we “wash out”.  But at the end of the movie he makes a similarly sickening speech where he honor’s the kids’ sacrifice for the Common Good, like the new Soviet Man.  Funny how fascism and communism can join together.

Of course, the film has to become a stereotyped B-movie thriller at some point. Predictably, after Blake loses his girl friend Ellie (Lia Marie Johnson) to the thinning and protests (and isn’t prosecuted because he’s the governor’s son), Blake decides really challenge the system next year and deliberately fails.  Nevertheless, he is selected to pass, whereas tutor Laina (Peyton List) fails in his place. The kids arrange a diversion, with a power failure and some chase sequences as the school is shut down and the scandal exposed.  It’s interesting that at the beginning we learn that Laina had been helping mediocre students cheat by selling them special Google contact lenses to pay for medical treatments for her mother.  (Health care?  Obamacare?)  At the end, we learn what really happens to the failing kids.  Blake is still very much alive and undercover.

I have to say that Logan Paul (who grew up in Ohio) has a spectacular, even perfect, bod on camera.

I’m not personally a fan of the “rotten apples” theory of pulling work by artists because of their “sins” that come to light.

The idea of “ranking and yanking” employees has been common in business.  Furthermore, the idea of doing this to kids reminds me of the Vietnam era draft, student deferments, and the whole “McNamara’s Morons” issue which I’ll take up soon in a book review.

(Picture: Austin, TX, my visit, Nov. 2011)

Name:  “The Thinning”
Director, writer:  Michael Gallagher
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Home, purchase on YouTube for $4.99 HD
Length:  82
Rating:  NA (PG-13 or soft R)
Companies:  YouTube Red, Legendary Digital, Cinemand (Cinedigm?)
Link:  official

Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 11:15 AM.

“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)

“The Book of Henry”: the legacy of a gifted child who was grown at 12

The Book of Henry”, directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Gregg Hurwitz, is layered, in the sense that the plot is partially driven by the contents of a handwritten notebook authored by the charismatic Henry (think “Nocturnal Animals”) and it is also Biblical, in that the 12 year old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is almost like a Christ figure (think Danny in “Judas Kiss”) who really could save us, so his book is like a Gospel.

Unfortunately, Henry has an unusual, opportunistic brain tumor.  It starts with headaches, and a seizure, and he dies in his mother’s arms, looking at the sky. It’s a horrific tragedy. It is sudden, like Lee Atwater’s in 1989. Why would this happen.  Was he born with HIV?  His single mom (Naomi Watts) also has a younger son Peter (Jacob Tremblay, from “Room”) whom we also hope will grow up to be a genius.

Henry and Peter have built a tree house with all kinds of perpetual motion gadgets. Mom likes to play video games on TV, but the movie has the look of the early 90s (in upstate New York).  Mom (Susan) works in a diner as a waitress even though it’s not clear  she has to. (The source of the money is not quite clear.)  She often covers for goofball comedian Sheila (Sarah Silverman).

There are twelve year old’s who understand the adult world.  I’ve met a few in my life, as a substitute teacher, and at local churches.  It’s gratifying to see the same 12 year old a decade ago at 22 today out of college.  (Maybe the Washington Nationals could use him as a closer, but I’ll stop there.)  But Henry won’t go to M.I.T., Stanford, or UNC.  His days are numbered, and he knows it, and he has to take care of his family.

Henry talks fast, often in rich metaphors (“our legacy is not how many commas we have after our name”).

Henry has Jesus’s moral sense.  Before his illness, he gets after his mom not intervening in an abusive situation in a supermarket.  He says that if everybody minded just their own business, people who can’t take care of themselves would be left to die.  Remember the parable of the Rich Young Ruler, who has too much to lose?

Henry, playing “Rear Window”, has spotted the possible abuse of a female classmate by her stepfather, a politically powerful police chief, through the window, in the next door house.  He wants mom to intervene but he figures out that politically Child Protective Services won’t help.  So his authored book provides the blueprint for what mom must do to stop the stepdad once Henry is gone.

Susan (the mom) puts her comic plan into action to trap the police chief while Sheila leads a talent show at the school.  At the end, she burns the Book and the 80s-style minitapes.  But the DVD for this movie will need to include a PDF of the Book, with all of Henry’s Da Vinci-like drawings.  The Book itself needs ti be published.

The style of the movie is almost that of comedy, despite its tragic middle. The look of it reminds me of “Moonrise Kingdom”.

There is a NatGeo film “The Gospel of Judas” (2006).

Name: “The Book of Henry”
Director, writer:  Colin Trevorrow, Gregg Hurwitz
Released:  2017
Format: 2.00:1
When and how viewed:  Cinema Arts, Fairfax, 2017/6/20
Length:  106
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sidney Kimmel, Focus Features
Link:  official

(Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Gifted”: rooting interest and courtroom drama, where I want to see documentary and real issues

Gifted”, directed by Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”, 2009), and written by Tom Flynn, takes up the subject of a gifted kid and sets up an audience rooting interest in a somewhat stereotyped way. It’s not my favorite way to handle the topic, but we’ll come back to this.

Mary Adler (McKenna Grace) is the first grader, whom her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) has home schooled but now insists on sending her to public school for socialization.  She makes a scene of her brilliance in arithmetic class in front of a patronizing teacher  (Jenny Slate), who later becomes Frank’s girl friend.  The teacher and principal at the Tampa area school want so sent her to an academy for the profoundly gifted. But Frank wants her to learn to be a human being first.  I met teachers with this classroom style with elementary school kids when I worked as a substitute teacher, 2004-2007.  Although I did mostly high school and some middle school, I accidentally got some grade school (and a lot of special education).  It was actually common in kindergarten or first grade for kids to sit on the floor on a rug for arithmetic drills.

Frank had actually dropped out of teaching philosophy in Boston and moved to Florida to become a contractor prole and handyman repairing boats (replacing water pumps, especially). We aren’t told why.  But Frank’s sister had been a brilliant mathematician and committed suicide, after nearly proving one of the Millennium Prize Problems (one about fluid mechanics which probably deals with the entropy than makes forecasting tornadoes difficult). Frank had taken custody of Mary, a setup that at first recalls “Manchester by the Sea” (Nov. 25).

Enter grandma (Lindsay Duncan) who wants to take custody back of Mary, take her back to Boston and have her finish proving this math theorem.  That sets up a custody battle in front of a Florida family court judge  (John M. Jackson), with some retrospective courtroom drama.

Adding to the plot are a neighbor played by Octavia Spencer, and particularly a one-eye male cat, who loves both Mary and Frank dearly, and creates the final plot twist.

I would rather see a documentary about  a gifted teen.  Maybe see how Jack Andraka (who invented a new test for pancreatic cancer for a science fair) spent his senior year in high school traveling the world and did his homework on planes (no electronics ban, as he sold his book “Breakthrough“), or see Taylor Wilson, educated at the Davison School for the profoundly gifted in Reno, would make the power grids safer. (The book is Tom Clynes, “The Boy Who Played with Fusion“.) Young UCLA mathematician Deven Ware could also fit this mold.

I also think that profoundly gifted kids in mathematics (or in music) may present evidence of reincarnation.

My own novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother” will feature a profoundly gifted college senior in Texas whom I’ve named Sal Garcia.

Angelika Mosaic also showed a short film, “The Dark Island” with an observatory on top of a maountain showing the heavens.  Was this Mauna Loa in Hawaii?

Name:  “Gifted”
Director, writer:  Marc Webb, Tom Flynn
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/4/7
Length:  101
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Fox Searchlight
Link:  official

The film was shot around Savannah (like “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, 1997, with John Cusack and Kevin Spacey, with Cusack’s famous line, “New York is boring”).  There are also scenes in Boston around M.I.T.  The picture above is mine from 2015, central Florida.

(Posted: Friday, April 7, 2017 at 8 PM EDT)

“LION”: a loving couple in Australia adopts a runaway from India, who as a successful grown businessman looks for his birth mother

LION”, is the English translation of “Saroo” or “Sheru”, and is also a three part biographical film of the youth of Saroo Brierley, now a writer and businessman in Tasmania. Australia.

Saroo was born in Ganeshh Tilai slum near Khandwa, India.  One day, at age 5, he got separated from an older brother Gunnu who was supposed to look after him, and ran away, eventually living in the streets of Calcutta.  He had enough street smarts to escape the possible introduction into child sex trafficking, and wound up in a welfare shelter.  But he was fortunate enough to be adopted by a well-off loving couple in Tasmania and raised in Australia., from whom he took their English family name. He learned English and forgot a lot of his Hindu.

In the middle section, Saroo excels as a teenager and young man, with the parents winding up with the privilege of raising a “Clark Kent”.  At least that’s how Indian-English actor Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) portrays him.  He goes to hotel management school and to work, but one day, after seeing a Hindu food at a party, begins to remember his past and long to find his birth mother.  The third part of the movie shows his locating his home on Google Earth and returning home to find his birth mother.

The couple (played by David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) had also adopted a child who turned out to be autistic, and the film shows some strain in Saroo’s relationship with his new brother, reflective of having been left helpless by his natural brother by accident.  The couple confides to Saroo that it did not want to have its own children, because there were too many poor kids in the world that needed care.  Usually, most people need to have their own children to get in the game, so this is remarkable.

The film is based on the 2012 book by Saroo, “Homeward Bound” or “A Long Way Home: A Memoir” (Berkley).  The film is directed by Garth Davis and the screenplay was adapted from the book by Luke Davis.  The wide screen photography shows stunning shots of the central Indian desert, with all the slums and manual labor in a quarry, and of Tasmania, and also Melbourne.

Name:  “LION”
Director, writer: Garth and Luke Davis, Saroo Brierley
Released:  2016/12
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2016/12/25, small auditorium, evening, near sellout
Length:  116
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  TWC
Link:  official site

Illustrations:

Wikipedia photo of Hobart, Tasmania harbor.

Wikipedia photo of countryside near Kandwha, India

The title of the film reminds me of the PBS-Sundance documentary in 2006 “A Lion in the House” (Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert) about five families in Cincinnati copying with children with cancer; a rather hyperbolic title.

Posted: Sunday, December 25, 2016 at 11:30 PM EST

“Manchester by the Sea”: an uncle becomes guardian of a teen, who turns out to have to parent the uncle

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Name: Manchester by the Sea
Director, writer:  Kenneth Lonergan; Matt Damon is a producer
Released:  2016/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/11/24, Thanksgiving night sneak preview, starts today
Length 137
Rating R (implicit sex, including teens, in a strongly dramatic context)
Companies: Amazon Studios, Roadside Attractions
Link: official;  Vox review

Manchester by the Sea”, is the name of a town along the north coast of Massachusetts, and it’s the setting for the newest family drama film from Kenneth Lonergan.  The film is billed as a tear-jerker and as an essay on involuntary family responsibility.

The protagonist is a 40-year-old apartment handyman from Quincy, MA, Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (and the obvious comparison is his role in the 2005 film “Lonesome Jim” (2005), also “Gerry” (2002)). He does good work but his interpersonal skills are mixed, as there is a slight degree of Asperger in his personality. (Oddly, the has personality behavioral quirks like sensitivity to being looked at in bars, and starts a fight over it.)  One day he gets a call from relatives in Manchester that his slightly  older brother has had another heart attack.  When he arrives, his brother has passed away.  And soon, the family lawyer is challenging him to become legal guardian of the brother’s (Kyle Chandler) erratic son Patrick (Lucas Hedges – the last name is tricky, not the more common “Hodges”).  He will become trustee, and the will provides him some income for doing so.  So this sounds like another “Raising Helen” scenario.

But Lee has actually contributed some of his own karma.  An early scene on a boat in the bay shows him bonding with the little boy (Ben O’Brien) Patrick, out of character for his otherwise sometimes introverted personality.  Later (by the time the moviegoer has gotten used to the flashbacks) we learn of a late night party where some inattention to home safety by Lee led to a house fire that destroyed his wife’s life.  We already know of the divorce, and ex-about wife Randi’s (Michelle Williams) problem with alcohol.  By present day, she has an older man dating her and having given her another child.  The older man is quite possessive.

So, partly because of Lee’s actions, mom would not be a suitable parent.  It seems that Lee is the best possible father figure for Patrick.

Patrick is emotionally disturbed but also probably profoundly gifted.  He plays hockey and basketball, and leads a rock band, all in high school.  He has the athletic talent to become a hockey pro, and probably the musical talent to become a rock star.  It’s as if someone like Bryce Harper also able to become a concert musician existed  (Bryce has already made a short film for ESPN).  Patrick does a good job of handling interpersonal conflicts among others in his band, so that bodes well for a future music career from a business aspect (even if that’s Trump-like).  He doesn’t want to go to college, but Peter Thiel would be fine with that (Thiel funds his own entrepeneurs like Taylor Wilson to skip college and start innovative businesses while teens, and Thiel regards college, with its student debt fiasco, a scam and ponzi scheme). Patrick is also very interested in keeping dad’s boat, which is breaking down and will cost $$$ to fix.  He has already learned to run it, but can do so legally until 18 or 21.  Most of all Patrick doesn’t want to move back Quincy because he has his life (including two girl friends he wants to “score” with)  in Manchester.  (Patrick also reminds me of the piano prodigy “Ephram” from the WB show “Everwood”, played by Gregory Smith.)

Patrick is also very verbal and snarky at times.  He is prone to sudden emotional breakdowns, especially over the idea of his dad’s corpse staying in a freezer before the burial and funeral, which seem to take a long time to happen. But otherwise, it’s apparent that Patrick is rapidly becoming the parent and Lee the child.  It’s Patrick who has the talents to make a lot of money on his own, without college or much financial support.  It’s Patrick whose gifts could provide a living for everybody else.  So playing his dad seems like a good deal.

The film doesn’t make much of the brother’s congenital or maybe genetic heart disease that causes his early death, but it’s fair to wonder if it could run in the family.  One could another movie plot where heart transplant is considered (as with Dick Cheney).

The film is long (137 minutes) and filmed in regular aspect, which tends to emphasize close-ups and de-emphasize the gorgeous coastal scenery, even in winter.

Lucas Hedges, apparently 19, seems like a very charismatic teen actor, whose personality tends to dominate the films he is in (much as is the case with Richard Harmon, 25, for example).  Patrick here resembles “Bob” in Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem“, when Bob says “I’m nobody’s tool” and when Bob essentially parents Christopher Waltz’s Qohen Leth. Lucas would have been 15 when acting the part, and he completely dominates the second half of the film.

Some other films for comparison on filial piety include “Saving Sarah Cain” (a mainstream columnist becomes involuntary guardian of Amish sister’s kids) and “Gracie’s Choice“.

It does indeed happen, that childless career people are suddenly expected to raise nieces and nephews.  Much of the generosity of inheritance law (from a left-wing perspective, at least) expects “you take care of your own first.”

The picture above is mine (2015), from Cape Cod.

(Posted: Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 at 12:15 PM EDT)