“The Square”: vicious satire that starts out as a sermon on radical hospitality

This Sunday, I thought that a local church had a special service showing “13th”. a film I’ve already watched twice (Nov. 14, 2016 review — then I later saw the showing is Nov. 19). So I went to the one daily remaining showing of “The Square”, the new “morality play” and vicious (conservative) satire by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund; and, expecting an exploration of Christian personal values about other people, expected that to become my sermon and church, on a lively Sunday morning at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA (there is a church service there in a rented theater).

The title refers to an exhibit in a Stockholm museum, the “X-Royal” (for a reason), a bordered white space you could step onto as a safe space, a “sanctuary of trust and caring”.

The lead is Christian (Claes Bang), an attractive slender married heterosexual man in his 40s with two young daughters, who espouses a Leftist philosophy of ultimate charity for the needy, particularly for street panhandlers.  But like many on the Left, he is not above wielding power for its own sake, especially sexually over women, as shown in one confrontation where one of his partners challenges him about the time he went inside her. The movie starts precariously enough (after an initial anti-establishing shot of a homeless man on the streets of the perfect EU welfare state), as he is about to speak publicly, and another woman toys with his chest hair to attach a microphone.  In this movie, you notice these things.

As far as the space, I’m reminded of a huge maze exhibit at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain in late April, 2001, when I visited.  A young man from Brazil stood behind me in line and said that the whole point of this “sculptor” was to make you wait in line so you can “feel like shit.”

Very early in the film, Christian is robbed of his cell phone, wallet and cufflinks, in what seems like a setup confrontation in the streets.  (As I wrote this an fumbled my own iPhone its flashlight came on for the first time ever.)  Soon Christian is challenged to practice what he preaches. He inveigles his tag team hhsidekick Michael (Christopher Laesso) to support him, ultimately in a bizarre effort to hand deliver a letter to every family in a walkup apartment accusing them of the theft.

The film turns into a 140-minute sequence of skits, often with bizarre rhythmic sound effects, exploring the whole issue of how we personally treat people whom we perceive as weaker than ourselves. There is an experiment where museum visitors are challenged to prove they “trust people” by leaving their phones and wallets out in the open on the Square.

Whatever plot structure there is, gets driven by two attractive young male journalists (Daniel Hallberg and Martin Soder) who, in an early presentation, explain how you make content go viral, not only with original perspective but with some shock effect to get a visitor’s attention. So they come up with a video of a blond little girl holding a cat who gets blown up, with some Arabic warnings at the end. It seems that maybe this was hacked. But I was reminded of LBJ’s 1964 ad challenging Barry Goldwater with a mushroom cloud. That may cost Christian his job, which seems especially timely now.

But near the end there is a skit at a dinner, where attendees are challenged to do with “survival mom” type threats.  A man, his body completely waxed smooth (“thmooth”, he’s in the movie posters), comes into the dinner acting threatening, walking on all fours like a pre-human ape, with props. The guests are challenged to remain calm and inconspicuous so they can let somebody else take the threat (think about Las Vegas and Paddock Oct. 1)   But the scene winds up with attempted rape.

Somewhere in the middle there is a skit about the ALS ice bucket challenge. They have no monopoly on this “chain letter” which doesn’t even need a refrigerator’s ice maker.

Wiki picture of the actual museum in Stockholm.  I visited the city in Aug. 1972,

Picture: Occupy DC, December 2011 (mine).

Name:  “The Square
Director, writer:  Ruben Ostlund
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1  in Swedish, subtitles
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2017/11/12, Sunday morning
Length:  142
Rating:  R
Companies:  Magnolia Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Beatriz at Dinner”: a vicious moral satire, and a caricature of The Donald, maybe; and some alternate reality in the end

Beatriz at Dinner”, directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White, may come across as a satire about a Donald Trump kind of person, and a very personal political and social conflict that develops with a person who indirectly works for him.

Beatriz (Salma Hayak) lives humbly with a lot of animals (“my pet goat”), works as a new age practitioner on nursing homes, and as a domestic in a real estate broker’s (David Warhofsky) home on the California coast. When her car breaks down as she is leaving, the family invites her to stay for dinner while waiting for the tow truck.

But when the “green boss” (that’s by childhood term) Doug Strutt, played by a creepy John Lithgow, arrives for dinner, the comedy becomes dire quickly. Strutt brags about his hunting exploits, where he killed a rhinoceros (remember Cecil the Lion).  Beatriz becomes unhinged, and goes to another room and looks up Strutt’s “online reputation” on the Internet, and finds loads of articles of how he has exploited workers all over the world.  When she comes back, she confronts him further, causing the party to break up.

The other guests release lanterns (like they do in Spain at the end of “The Way”) and the tow truck finally comes, but after a conversation where Strutts disavows liberal-do-goodism and climate change because the world will end in a few decades anyway (like FitzGerald’s Rubyiat).

The film then presents (by my count) three alternative endings.  With a couple of them, Strutts would not get a funeral in my world, because his end was for a political crime.  The we do see Beatriz’s own view of the afterlife.

I like the tagline, “She’s invited, but she’s not welcome”.

This movie is indeed a vicious moral and political satire, putting Jonathan Swift to shame.

Name: Beatriz at Dinner
Director, writer:  Miguel Arteta and Mike White
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85 :1
When and how viewed:  Shirlington AMC, 2017/6/24, small auditorium, full audience
Length:  87
Rating:  R
Companies:  Roadside Attractions, FilmNation
Link:  RA

(Posted: Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 10 PM EDT)

“The Circle”: satire as a super Facebook wants to rule the world and turn it into one group mind

The Circle” is actually a sphere that looks like a marble, and is a micro camera, something like Google glasses.  In this satire, directed by James Ponsoldt and based on the novel by Dave Eggers, the plan is to get everyone the planet to wear one and be continuously logged on to this new super reinvention of Facebook.  The color is red, rather than blue, so it is less inviting to color-blind people, for starters.

Emma Watson plays Mae, a bill collector (it seems like everybody works in collections these days as movies begin) who gets invited to join this new Silicon Valley company. She already has a good life kayaking and with a humble blue-collar boyfriend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane, whose recreation of his Mason persona from Boyhood is a little forced).  But her dad has multiple sclerosis and Mae (unlike me) has gone to the effort to get her parents to have some competence with tech.

Pretty soon she buys into the sinister aims of the company guru  Bailey (Tom Hanks) and COO (Patton Oswalt) to rule the world. Beyond super Amway attitudes, they goad all their employees into sharing everything all the time.  They want use The Circle to register voters and run elections, and to make every email everyone has ever sent transparent to the whole world.  I kept wondering how long before the 2016 election was this written, as the references to Hillary Clinton’s email scandal are pretty transparent.

They have a slogan, secrets are lies, and want to destroy all privacy completely.  In fact, they see all of humanity as one group mind, so you wonder if the film is a metaphor for distributed consciousness, dolphin style.

But you can also take the film as asking, whether all human activity ought to become eventually public and knowable by others, who may want to “connect the dots” the way I do.

Mercer wants to stay out of this, but is dragged in with tragic results.  Maybe he needs resurrection.

There is an odd scene early in the film were Mae is given a medical physical, and told to drink a prep (rather like for a catscan) containing nanobots, which communicate to her Fitbit watch (they also put electrodes on her upper chest. I wondered if employees were Holter monitors all the time.)

Jack Andraka wants to do a lot with nanobots, as these two stories show (Huffington and Telegraph).

There was sci-fi movie with the title Circle reviewed here June 6.

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Name:  “The Circle”
Director, writer:  James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2017/4/29 Angelika Mosaic fair crowd
Length:  110
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  STX Entertainment, Europa (some financing from
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, April 29 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“A Cure for Wellness”: a bloated road horror satire about health nuts

A Cure for Wellness” (directed and written by Gore Verbinski with Justin Haythe) is another road horror film, but also a rather bloated (146 minutes) black comedy-type satire, with just average looks.

The film opens in a brokerage room filled with screens at night, and a stock trader has a heart attack and keels over. He’ll be replaced, but he’s apparently the only really sick one in the movie.

The movie shifts a boardroom (Trump style) after young trader Lockhart (Dane DeHann) is called upstairs. He is threatened with an SEC investigation (with a joke I know comes from Milo Yiannopoulos), and I thought about a moment in R, Foster Winans’s book “Trading Secrets”. But then the Trump-like chairman offers him an out: to find his old boss, Pembroke (Harry Groener) vacationing at a mysterious spa in Switzerland.

Lockhart goes, and I have to say that for Gothic horror the sets in this movie are just average. The film is shot in normal aspect 1.85:1, allowing simpler setups of the indoor scenes. The geography of this mile-high resort is rather hard to figure out – even if you’re supposed to compare it to the hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining”. Lockhart at first finds the staff protective, and odd; but when his driver hits a deer on an errand to town, Lockhart breaks a leg and winds up a patient in the spa.

It’s not clear why they are here, but in time the bowels of the place are gradually revealed, with people inside floatation pods like in the movie “Altered States”. The doctors also have raised a school of eels to torment the patients.

There’s a homoerotic scene about an hour in, where Lockhart gets the first flotation treatment. His body looks immature and smooth, the kind that David Skinner wrote about in 1999 in the essay “Notes on the Hairless Man” in National Review.  But Lockhart is charismatic, and hardly fodder for a rich person’s cult.

The music score has a lot of Mozart and Beethoven in the background (like the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony 2).

Structurally, the story resembles “The Ocelot the Way He Is“, the last “chapter” of my DADT-III book, in which the protagonist is invited by a charismatic young friend to visit a mysterious ashram while a terror attack happens at home.

20th Century Fox did not use ifs Alfred Newman fanfare to open the movie, unusual to this studio usually very jealous of its trademark. Fox did a “fake news” campaign to advertise the movie (ABC story).

Name:  “A Cure for Wellness”
Director, writer:  Gore Verbinski
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/2/19, afternoon, small audience
Length:  146
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Regency, Baselberg (German production)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST)

“The Girl on the Train”: stalking, voyeurism and fantasy turn into an old-fashioned potboiler

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Name: The Girl on the Train
Director, writer:  Tate Taylor, novel by Paula Hawkins
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/10/7, mid afternoon, light attendance
Length 112
Rating R
Companies: Dreamworks, Universal
Link: official

The Girl on the Train”, directed by Tate Taylor, adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson from the novel by Paula Hawkins, heavily promoted in previews and television ads, seemed tantalizing to me at first because it seemed to focus on fantasy.  A girl Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides a Hudson River commuter train every day and becomes fascinated with a woman, and her apparent marriage or life, in a home a few addresses away from her old place.

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That could be a fascinating mystery of upward affiliation.  But soon we learn of a web of troubled, basically unadmirable characters and entanglements.  The movie is told largely in flashbacks of Rebecca, but also in two other female characters, so there is a question of the cleanliness of the “omniscient observer”.

We learn of her alcoholism, which led to her being fired from a public relations job in New York, which she pretends she has anyway. We also learn of her divorce from Tom (Justin Theroux), who kicked her out to live in her old mansion with a new bride, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Soon there’s a convenient plot coincidence: Anna works as a nanny for Megan (Haley Bennett) in the mystery house; Megan is married to Scott (Luke Evans).

The movie seems like it should be an exploration of voyeurism and stalking, maybe unwelcome flirting. But soon Megan is missing, and a detective (Allison Janey) is asking Rebecca questions and warning her to stop the stalking. Psychologically, this sounds like familiar territory.

Pretty soon we’re back into potboiler mystery territory (remember “Gone Girl”) and the trouble is to many of the other characters are, at best, examples of narcissistic personality disorder (especially Tom)  There’s a line about an unwanted pregnancy: “Get rid of it!”  Tom wants heterosexual mating without the baggage of propagating his genes like a real alpha male.

The film is shot up close, in traditional 1.85:1, with the trains making for a Hitchcock-like background.

The book, and movie, appeal for a mass audience by presenting aggressive, sexually self-serving characters and steamy fantasies of romance, although the film is no match for “Body Heat” (1980).  It’s possible to make mystery about sexual or erotic fantasy more subtle, which I’ve tried to do in my own screenplays – and I run into the problem that I need to present how the other characters (not just “me”) got there.

(Published: Friday, October 7, 2016 at 7:30 PM EDT)

“The Selfishness of Others” by Kristin Dombek, an “essay” on the moral aspects of narcissism

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Author: Kristin Dombek
Title, Subtitle: The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism
publication date 2016
ISBN ISBN 978-0-86547-823-7
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York; 150 pages, endnotes, seven chapters
Link: author


I saw the little book “The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism”, by Kristin Dombek, on display in bookshelves near the check-in desk at the Ace Hotel in New York City, on 29th St, ironically about six blocks where an explosion in Chelsea would happen later that day (and two blocks from where another device would be discovered).  I ordered it from Amazon.  At 138 pages, it is still just an “essay”.

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The book is quite abstract, and seems to be a philosophical discussion of narcissistic personality disorder in a year when Donald Trump is running for president. The last two pages of the book propose a new DSM clinical definition of “Narciphobia” as if it were a form of narcissism itself.

The book as seven short chapters, and starts out with a description of a young woman’s wanting to close down an entire street in Atlanta for her debutance or wedding party.  There are some references to Tara, the lost culture of the old South, as if Scarlet O’Hara had been the ultimate narcissist.

In the third chapter, “The Bad Boyfriend”, she seems to venture into philosophical homophobia.  She recounts Freud’s account of male homosexuality as a mirror (metaphor) where the man loves only what he would like to see himself as (and that fantasy has to be met perfectly, no flaws allowed).  That brings back my own days at NIH in 1962 (“How do you see yourself??”) – another way of putting George Gilder’s idea of “upward affiliation” (articulated in the 1986 book “Men and Marriage”).  Or perhaps we recall David Skinner’s 1999 essay in the Weekly Standard, “Notes on the Hairless Man” (see July 28 movie review for link).   I can recall Skinner’s getting into Marky Mark’s idea of “creativity”.  Finally, though, Dombek becomes appropriately suspicious of Freud himself. But not until (on p. 38) she proposed “When e grow up, we forfeit part of this early childhood narcissism – impoverishing our oceanic, boundless self-absorption in order to care and be cared about. Genuinely loving parents teach their children that it is safe to make this trade.”  It was Philip Longman, in the 2004 book “The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What We Can Do About It”, who wrote that a lot of people are too “self-absorbed” to beget children. Indeed. Bombek sometimes comes back with the refrain that experiencing straight love is a moral imperative.

Later, in a chapter on “The Millennial” (p. 70) she describes narcissism as an artificially “self-sufficient femininity”, and odd take on Rosenfels’s polarities.  (I also wonder about whether “acceptance” is supposed to be a sub-component of “Love” from Reid Ewing’s own Twitter feed.)  Then, she gets into a most interesting and disturbing paradox in Millennial life:  no group has been so self-absorbed, but no group is so willing to pimp out sociability and self-indulgent “go-fund-me” onto others.

“The Murderer” as a narcissist needs no explanation, but for “The Artist” she retells the Greek parable of Narcissus and Echo.   All these modern romance websites “invite you to be in the center of the world. Stuck in time, assessing the moral status of others, until love is gone.” Indeed, she notes in “The World”, a third of us freelance ourselves alone on the Internet – the “alone together” phenomenon.  Finally, on p. 135, she says “The selfishness of others is the feeling of your dependence revealed, as their gaze turns away; Your independence (is) laid bare as a myth.”

(Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2016, at 2:30 PM EDT)

“The List”: a “black” romantic comedy about the perils of upward affiliation in relationships

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Name: The List
Director, writer:  Brandon Sonnier
Released:  2007
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length 92
Rating R
Companies: RossWWMedia, Warner Independent Pictures
Link: Black Film Festival

The List” (alternatively titled “I’m Perfect”), from 2006 and directed by Brandon Sonnier, at first sounds like genre “indie” black romantic comedy (rather like Tyler Perry), but in fact it broaches a “morally” important topic:  what happens when we approach romantic or intimate relationships expecting the other partner to be “perfect” enough?  Call this the “upward affiliation” problem (a term coined in the 1980s by conservative writer George Gilder). https://www.doaskdotellnotes.com/?p=511

The plot is heterosexual, and some reviewers have noted that this story would work regardless of the race of any character.   In more recent years, in fact, casting diversity has started to become a “political” flashpoint in Hollywood. http://billsmediareviews.com/?p=1908

The story presents a young ad executive Lewis (Wayne Brady) who has a peculiar intellectual way of processing everything.  As a manager, he makes lists of goals.  For romantic partners, he makes lists of desired attributes.   Lew proposes to the perfect lady on his own reality television show, and she says “No” to the Big Question.  In fact, the lady retaliates by showing how far Lew falls from perfection himself. But Lew will not be deterred from using his “list” technique.  He soon has his eyes on Cecile, played by Sydney Tamiia Poiter (daughter of the actor Sidney Poitier, as from “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, both 1967).  He will experience his own battle of head vs. heart.

The film gradually gets back into his ad business, which involves casting and filming commercials in Los Angeles – somewhat away from the actual entertainment film business.

The “upward affiliation” problem can drag on the resilience of a population.  If people are too picky about whom they will bond with (enough to marry and raise children), or not willing to stay in an intimate relationship during physical adversity, a people becomes more vulnerable to adverse externalitie and even enemies.

The idea of a personal “list” has another implementation: one can have a private “list” of persons he or she thinks the most of or would fantasize getting intimate with, and “to hell” with everyone else.  Although, in my own short story “The Ocelot the Way He Is,” the ocelot doesn’t have clay feet after all.

(Published: Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016 at 9 PM EDT)

“Sausage Party”: Freedom of speech includes films by Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, even when animated

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Name: Sausage Party
Director, writer:  Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon; many writers, including Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1  3-D available
When and how viewed:  2016/8/31, AMC Shirlington, light audience
Length 89
Rating R
Companies: Sony-Columbia, Annapurna
Link: official

Last Friday morning, while on a trip, I actually ate a sausage McMuffin for breakfast at a McDonald’s on US 60 near my Red Roof Inn room in Huntington W Va.

I rarely eat pork, although I’ve not gone to Bill Clinton’s vegan diet – which really tastes good when you can find a vegan restaurant.  Reid Ewing has recently been advocating vegan, too, out of moral grounds, but also as a way to stay biologically 20-something forever.

Nevertheless, I took in “Sausage Party” tonight because Richard Harmon talked about it a lot on Twitter, having a real party, I guess in Toronto.

I had expected a movie like “Babe” (1995), where a piglet only gradually becomes aware of his future fate of being eaten, and transcends it by becoming an animal soldier.  But here, the processed foods in a “Shopwell” (there is a Shop Rite in New Jersey) become the characters, to voices like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Ed Norton.  The drug addict who brings the to life acts to the voice of James Franco, who in real life looks fine, but here plays a pear-shaped thin man with a pot belly and balding legs, ruined by drugs and cigarettes.  But he turns the foods into real live things in his mind.

The innards of the grocery store are made to look like a fantasy city, and the “foods” are promised a Gray Beyond, as they only gradually figure out they will be eaten.  A few non-perishables (“Grits”) think they are immortal, like angels.

Of course, the best way to deal with impending death is to “eat drink and be merry” and have object-oriented sex, all in java libraries.

There’s a great line, “you’re different, so you burden the group.” So the story must prove otherwise.

The film is directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, and the story is a concoction from Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Evan Goldberg.

There are some wonderful, Broadway-like songs (“I Can Be”, which wants to become Ram Dass and “Be Here Now”).

The “premise” of the film reminds me of the sci-fi film “The Giver” (2014).

(Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, 11:45 PM)

Dating and relationship apps: how do they help people find and keep romantic partners?

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“Dating Apps / Relationship Apps: A New Direction”, by Happy Couple, CEO Julien Robert

The landscape of online dating and dating apps has come a long way since the first site went live over two decades ago. It’s quaint to think that people used to find dates and mates through jobs. Or friends. Or chance encounters in bars.

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Today, there are thousands of dating apps on the market ranging from the general to the specific – dating sites for mature singles, farmers, and even vegetarians. Whether gay, straight, bi, trans or into open relationships, people can virtually meet dozens of potentially compatible matches with just a few keystrokes and without ever leaving their living rooms.

But what about after they’ve met someone? For years, there weren’t any apps designed to make sure those online matches went smoothly or that helped determine that the match was, in fact, a good match at all.

The most exciting development in the dating app arena are their companion pieces – apps designed to speed up the getting-to-know-you process so users can find out more quickly if they’re well-matched, and if they’re not, what they can do about it. Call it the Angie’s List Effect. Broken dishwasher? Find a plumber with Angie’s List. Broken relationship? Fix it with the help of an app.

While this specific niche in the market is still developing, Happy Couple is a standout. Launched on Valentine’s Day of 2016, Happy Couple is a well-designed, spunky quiz game where users guess their partner’s answers to questions about communication, sex, emotions, responsibilities, recreation and their partner’s background and favorite things. Think the Newlywed Game, only without those primitive cards those TV game players had to ink up with giant markers and hold over their heads.

Instead, in this simple game, just five questions are delivered each day and game players answer them any time they want – in line for lunch at the food truck, on hold listening to Muzak, during a coffee break at work.

The two halves of the couple work as a team and get points for matches which result in reaching new levels and being rewarded with a choice of challenges designed to enhance the relationship. The most intriguing element to Happy Couple is that the game is not only geared to heterosexual couples, but to gay and lesbian couples and even those self-described as “other.”  Additionally, the questions and the daily relationship tips are tailored specifically to the players depending on if they are dating, living together, married or are in some other “it’s complicated” relationship.

This goes way beyond the scope of competing dating apps that are therapy apps aiming to fix what’s wrong. Instead, this is a true relationship game that has the couple – the game’s player – really interact.

There are a few glitches – it can be slow at times and some new features such as a between-couples competition has yet to launch – but these don’t detract from the experience. And the conversations the app generates turns out to be the true value behind the fun experience.

ABOUT HAPPY COUPLE: Happy Couple is an innovative app designed to broaden and deepen couples’ relationships, whether just a few weeks along or after 25 years of marriage. Founded by CEO, Julien Robert; Dr. Lonnie Barbach, head of content; Arnaud Le Mérour, CMO; and Erin Johnson, art director — the dynamic team with French and U.S. roots has developed a fun, witty, informational technology offering that is transforming the way couples look at their connection and affinity. For more information, visit: happycouple.co.

(Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2016, at 10:15 AM EDT.  It was submitted to me through Public Relations firm Beyond Fifteen.)