“God’s Own Country” does seem like a “Brokeback Mountain II”

God’s Own Country”, directed by Francis Lee, may come across as a “Brokeback Mountain II” from Ang Lee a dozen years ago.

This time, the setting is in Yorkshire in northern England, apparently in the 1960s or so, before modern technology. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) seems a little squeamish over his farming duties – in the opening scene is vomits when getting up on a day he has to help a sheep deliver a baby.  His parents, especially mom, seem concerned about his manliness.  In a nearby town, he finds nelly boys who make him feel a little manlier by comparison. Gay life went on in rural England, even only a couple decades after Alan Turing’s tragedy (Britain decriminalized sodomy in 1967). When a roughshod immigrant, Georghe (Alex Secareanu) arrives from communist Romania, the new guy first intimidates Johnny because the comrade really is very good at doing everything on a farm.  The time of this movie may have actually been intended to coincide with the fall of the Soviet bloc and Ceausescu.  But soom Georghe’s dominating (very cis-male) behavior entices Johnny and they fall in love, with some passionate scenes when out on the range with bedrolls.

A family crisis ensues when dad has a stroke, and Johnny has to really take care of dad personally.  That leads to a whirlwind plot climax in the men’s relationship.

The film has graphic cinematography of the live animal birth scenes, with how farm boys really do this.  The animals “know” and “trust” them (“it’s only me”). I’m reminded of a live birth scene in Walt Disney’s “The Vanishing Prairie” (1954), a bit of a sensation at the time.

The film was preceded by a 10-minute short “Breakfast” by Tyler Byrnes. A young man David (Altan Alburo) invites a boyfriend Alex (Tommy Bernadi) (quite handsome but apparently with dysmorphia) with an eating disorder to share a fattening breakfast. The film contains David Lynch-like scenes with chest tunes invading.

The show, sponsored by Reel Affirmations of the DC Center at the Gala Hispania theater in the Columbia Heights area of Washington DC,  was preceded by a stand-up by Rayceen Pendarvis, advertising himself as 68, who got everyone one into a brief hug-fest.  That isn’t my own personal message, but that’s for another time.

Link for Yorkshire picture (wiki).

Name:  “Gods Own Country”
Director, writer:  Francis Lee
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Reel Affirmations, 2017/10/19 opening night, Gala Hispania, Washington DC, sold out
Length:  104
Rating:  NA (explicit enough for NC-17, artistic and dramatic film for adults, not considered pornographic)
Companies:  Samuel Goldwyn, Orion Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, October 20, 2017 at 7:45 PM EDT)

“The Mountain Between Us”: The wilderness airplane crash survival gets painful, but the love story is silly

The Mountain Between Us”, directed by Hany Abu-Assad (based on the novel by Charles Martin), is mostly a survivor-in-wilderness piece, like “Cast Away” (2000, by Robert Zemeckis with Tom Hanks as “Wilson:) and “127 Hours” (by Danny Boyle, where James Franco plays trapped hiker Aron Ralston amputating his own arm when trapped).  Remember also “The Life of Pi” (2012, by Ang Lee) where a teenage boy trains and tames tiger Richard Parker on a raft at see.  And there is Sean Penn’s tragic “Into the Wild” (2007) with Emile Hirsch (“just living”).  Maybe 85 of the 112 minutes are taken with this 2-person drama, which sounds like it could get tedious.

Ben (Idris Elba), a doctor,  and Alex (Kate Winslet), a photojournalist), suddenly decide to ride a private charter in the mountains when commercial flights are canceled. Alex has to get to her wedding in Denver. The pilot’s very smart dog accompanies them. When the pilot (Beau Bridges) has a stroke and dies, the plane crashes high in the mountains.

There follows the extended survival story, which moves along faster than one expect. While Ben is scouting, Alex survives an encounter with a cougar (which probably would not attack humans in real life) and they wind up roasting the cat as food. Eventually they get the courage to go down the mountain and find an abandoned cabin.  Despite both having serious injuries, they’re able to start a  and consummate a romance (interracial) , somewhat predictable.

The dog discovers a nearby logging camp.  Ben steps on a fur trap, but the dog leads Alex to the camp and they are rescued.  (in the movie “The Artist” a dog plays a similar role in one scene.)

The film has a twenty minute epilogue in London and New York about the romantic implications of the whole event, which seems rather silly, but it does explain the title of the film.

The novel appears on Amazon Create Space.

The film appeared in Toronto ad Venice film festivals,  Oddly, it was picked up by 20th Century Fox as a main brand release rather than Fox Searchlight, despite the indie feel of the film.

Panorama Mountain Village, British Columbia (wiki), actual filming location.

NBC Dateline ran an episode “Into the Wild” about the self-rescue of a female teenage pilot who crashes in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, review here.

(Picture: High Sierras, CA, in 2012, my trip.)

Name:  “The Mountain Between Us”
Director, writer:  Hany Abu-Assad
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/10/11, late, only 2 people in audience
Length:  112
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Fox 2000
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“The Ornithologist”: gay outdoor road “horror” film with a clue about resurrection

The Ornithologist” (“O Orintologo”), directed by Brazilian Joao Pedro Rodrigues. Is a gay road spiritual-and-horror (both) movie centered around an appealing outdoorsman who goes on a bizarre, dream-like journey with bizarre and shocking experiences.  Structurally, the film is very similar to each to the last two short stories in my own “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (that is, “Expedition” and “The Ocelot the Way He Is”).

Fernando (Paul Hamy) is a tall and slender man about 40 observing black stork birds around a river in northern Portugal, probably not too far from the Fatima site, which I visited in April 2001.   He gets cell phone calls reminding him to take his meds (is that Truvalda?) He kayaks alone and has a mishap.  Two pilgrims (for Fatima) from China find him at night, and at first take care of him. They hear weird ritualistic noises in the distance.  Then the story gets weird. The girls tie him up, then let him go, and he finds his stuff has been stolen near the river.  He meets another gay man who calls himself Jesus, who is deaf.  At first they strike a friendship of sorts, but conflict develops and there is an altercation, apparently leading to an accidental stabbing of Jesus.

Fernando’s adventures will take him around people wearing masks with tribal rituals, and finally into a bizarre death experience with his own resurrection.  Is this what can happen when we go?  The movie ends in Padua, Italy with the men in their next lives.  The film makes references to the writings of St Anthony of Padua in the 13th Century.

The film has a lot of nudity and bizarre effects reminding one of David Lynch’s direction of “Twin Peaks”.

The kayaking was spectacular.  Jack Andraka, Stanford student and inventor of a new cancer test, is an avid competitive kayaker.

Padua (wiki)

Fatima basilica (wiki_

The film showed at NY and AFI film festivals.

Name: The Ornithologist
Director, writer:  Joao Pedro Rodrigues
Released:  2017/10/3  DVD availability from Strand
Format:  2.35:1  (in Portuguese, Latin, Chinese with subtitles; much in English also)
When and how viewed:  complimentary screener from Strand
Length:  118
Rating:  NA (would be NC-17; artistic and not pornographic, but intended for adults)
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  official 

(Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2017, at 1:30 PM EDT)

“Two Lovers and a Bear”: in northern Canada, a polar bear plays guardian angel to troubled lovers fleeing their pasts

Two Lovers and a Bear“, by Kim Nguyen, is a bizarre little film that pits desperation and the will to live against a harsh environment, and argues for befriending wild animals to boot.  The film touches the fringes of sci-fi and erotic mystery without going very far.

Roman, played by the charismatic and boyish Dane DeHaan, drives trucks and run errands in Iqaluit (actually, Apex) in Nanavut, formerly part of Northwest Territories, above Hudson Bay, Canada, well above the Arctic Circle. He has an off-on relationship with a more bookish girl friend Lucy (Tatania Maslany) who wants go to Montreal or Toronto to college and study pre-med. Both he and Lucy have issues with abusive pasts.   He also has the unusual talent of befriending wild animals, especially a particular polar bear, with whom he carries on conversations (voice of Gordeon Pinsent).  (It occurred to me that Reid Ewing could have played this role, given his history with dogs on social media.)   The film shows a few impressive shots of the polar bear alone, and gives us a moment to ponder whether climate change will endanger is magnificent and free animal, well up the scale in intelligence.

Roman resents her leaving and even kicks her out when she wants to make up, but then they do make up and go on a journey south together on a snowmobile, oblivious to a coming spring blizzard.  The bear has three conversations with Roman in the movie, and is obviously concerned for Roman’s life. The bear knows he can survive but humans can’t (again, ironic, given the climate change issue).  Dangers mount, as Roman falls into an crevasse but Lucy gets him out.  They then have an interesting sequence inside an abandoned military facility that they stumble into, but this doesn’t give them enough wisdom to avoid tragedy.  But the Bear seems to have the key to their entry into heaven.

The early scenes in the film make indoor life in the village look more prosperous than we expect.  There is a party scene in a home early in the movie.  Everything, including Internet, seems to work.

I’ve had a couple of encounters with wild animals.  In Maine in 1974 on a trail on Mt. Katahdin, I saw a black bear in the distance, but he didn’t pay attention to me.  A few years ago on the Appalachian Trail near Stoney Man in Virginia, I saw a mother bear with her cub. She saw me but did not act concerned. She calmly crossed the trail with her cub and ran down the mountain.  On the day of Hurricane Sandy (in the DC area, a long way from the area of major damage), a crow twice chased me back into my garage, as if to warn me of the storm.

There have been a couple of films from Russia about the far north with similar moodiness, such as “The Return” (2003) and “How I Ended This Summer” (2010) and “Leviathan” (2015).

Wikipedia picture, Iqaluit.

Wikipedia picture, Apex.

Name: “Two Lovers and a Polar Bear”
Director, writer: Kim Nguyen
Released: 2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix, Instant play, 2017/5/23
Length: 98
Rating: R
Companies:  2oth Century Fox (rather than Searchlight, unusual for Fox), Entertainment One, Netflix
Link:  official FB

(Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 7 PM EDT)

“Staying Vertical”: A filmmaker goes on a bizarre road quest in rural France

Staying Vertical” (“Rester vertical”) is a bizarre new erotic mystery film by Alain Guiraudie (“Stranger by the Lake”). The film sometimes seems like high class porn with a story, but we really wonder whose narrative is really being told.

A thirty-something filmmaker Leo (Damien Bonnard) explores a rural area in Provence looking for material for a new film, an contacting people who come across as alter-egos.  As the film progresses, we learn he gets money wired by a benefactor or sponsor (Sebastien Novac) whom we will eventually find may have some supernatural motive of his own.  (I’m reminded of the 1980 film “Wolfen”, as well as all the cattle mutilation stories).  When he gets back to some secret motel he tries to write a screenplay (in Final Draft).  But most of the time he hangs around this sheep farm, crashing and trying to make himself useful.

He has taken a liking to the teen Yoan (Basile Meilleurat) who is properly suspicious as he takes are of his dying dad. But soon he settles with a farm family and hooks up with the daughter Marie (India Hair) and quickly has child with her.  We learn that the film is spanning many months when the film shows the childbirth explicitly. Soon (without explanation) Marie leaves him to care for the baby as he wanders in his own wildnerness.

There are a couple of bizarre sequences where Leo kayaks (with the baby) through a bayou to a cabin in the woods occupied by a sage nurse, who hook his body up to electrocardiographs and brain monitors.  Conveniently, he has little chest hair.  Then he gradually starts attracting attention of other older gay men who fear he cannot take care of the baby.

Near the end there is sequence where Leo gives Yoan’s dying father an erotic  wish to remember for eternity as he dies.  Imagine if you stay fixed in time as you die in your last moment.  Maybe that’s what I would want.

The film presents a very loose way of life, crashing in people’s homes or farms and expecting to be offered radical hospitality, and even winding up homeless and destitute with child, begging from strangers (pandhandling), and somehow recovering.  It’s odd that a screenwriter would need to learn to live this way, off the books and off the radar, very good at creating his own immediate, local social capital.  But sometimes, like the Rich Young Ruler, one can have too much to lose.

The film showed at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center and supposedly some women walked out.  There is the impression that a lot of sex acts happen “out of need”.  The comments about the euthanasia-sex scene occur at about 20:00 in the QA.  Another comment is that in the film men care for other men than for women.  Oddly, the director doesn’t perceive the film as suspenseful.  But I did – what is going on?

Wikipedia scenery from Provence, link.

Wkiipedia scene of Brest, France, where the urban scenes were filmed, link. (Bayeux and Caen are the closest to here I have gotten, in 1999).

Other image: Mine, near Mineral VA (2011 earthquake site) and “Twin Oaks” intentional community, which I have visited before.  Also, near Lincoln Center.

Name: “Staying Vertical”
Director, writer:  Alain Giraudie
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Private screener free on Vimeo from Strand; was at New York Film Festival in Lincoln Center
Length:  101   (Language: French with subtitles)
Rating: Not given but would normally be NC-17. This is what Roger Ebert would have called a legitimate film for adults, that needs to be very explicit, especially to deal with unusual sexuality and personal identity issues
Companies:  Strand Releasing, Wild Bunch
Link:   Strand    Book date May 2, DVD available May 17 

(Posted Friday May 5, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)

“Kedi”: documentary from Turkey gives more than equal time for cats

Kedi”, directed by Ceyda Torun, gives us a look at Istanbul through the eyes of the city’s alley cats.  Well, these are cats that invite themselves into people’s homes and especially restaurants.  It’s very clear that the cat looks at human civilization as here to meet the cat’s needs.  The cats in the film seem to see themselves as superior to people’s dogs.

In the opening sequence, a female goes out an hunts, and returns home (with very detailed memory) to her kittens, regarding the human “owner” as part of her pride.  A large part of a later part of the film deals with a particular unaltered male stands in front of a restaurant front and paws until the owner sees him and lets him in for a “free fish” supper.

The cats often climb trees or onto balconies and roofs in order to return to their owner’s apartments, or find new people to adopt.  The film pretty much shows the biological concept of mutualism as explaining cat interaction with humans, as essentially wild animals who benefit from behaving well with humans.

There is one scene filmed in infrared black and white to show what a cat sees when hunting mice in alleys.

It’s remarkable how apolitical the film is, regarding Islam and the flow of refugees in Turkey, as well as the controversies over Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

I was adopted by a cat, Timmy, an unaltered male, when living in a garden apartment in Dallas in early 1979.  He would recognize the sound of my car and run to the apartment door and try to open it as I returned home.  He would head for the refrigerator.  He would sit in my lap during dinner, or on newspapers.  If he wanted something at night he would knead the pillow near me, or sometimes keand directly.

Istanbul skyline picture on Wikipedia.

Name:  “Kedi”
Director, writer:  Ceyda Torun
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, 2017/2/27, fairly good crowd for a weekday
Length:  80
Rating:  G
Companies:  Oscilloscope
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, February 27, 2017 at 8 PM EST)

“Captain Fantastic”: prepper comedy that pays homage to Noam Chomsky


Name: Captain Fantastic
Director, writer:  Matt Ross
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/23, at The Charles Theater, Baltimore, large audience, evening
Length 118
Rating R (some very explicit nudity and biological language, which is quite funny in context)
Companies: Bleecker St
Link: Official site 

Captain Fantastic”, directed and written by Matt Ross, somewhat resembles the “Wilderpeople” comedy (July 10) but is even more focused on fatherhood, in a domestic American (western) setting.

As the film opens, father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) Is leading his six kids in a camouflage deer hunt in Washington state’s Cascade mountains (which are often shown with stunning views). The kids paste their bodies, even more than we did in Army basic.  The movie shows us their campground with its little huts, barracks like sleeping quarters, gardens, and animal husbandry.  Soon the kids are all rappelling, and one of the young kids slips and apparent breaks his wrist.  Daddy and the other kids fix him up.

They go around in a “vancredible” bus.  They’re also home schooled.  Soon we learn that the kids know the great books of literature (George Elliot’s “Middlemarch” and I believe Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” get mentioned or show up in the “library”), can do the science and math, and the oldest boy, Bo(a charismatic and fit George Mackay) has gotten into every Ivy league college. Bo likes to quote political manifestos, and at one point says he is a “Troskyite” but may become a “Maoist”.  That makes sense, because Maoism (in the Chinese cultural revolution of the 1960s) had involved everyone taking his turn as a peasant or “prole”.

Ben is no right wing doomsday prepper (and the film doesn’t get into the area of guns).  His hero is Noam Chomsky, and on Chomsky’s birthday, he fakes a heart attack in a supermarket so the kids can shoplift groceries. That’s after an emergency room scene where one of the kids notices that most patients are fat (and probably diabetic). You don’t say those things in public.  It’s like saying Amish kids are usually much fitter than modern teens.


We learn that Ben’s wife – the kids’ mom – has committed suicide in a mental hospital, and the conflict over her father’s (the kids’ maternal grandparents) funeral plans generate the rest of the plot. The patriarch is Jack (Frank Langella), who lives in New Mexico in a huge estate.  Although Jack first threatens Ben with arrest if he comes, Ben takes the family down and they attempt a reconciliation (and now the scenery switches to New Mexico deserts and mountains). The main conflict now comes from mom’s will and her funeral wishes, which had expected modest ceremony, cremation, and disposal of the ashes, in comparison to the lavish funeral desired by Jack.  Ben proves disruptive, which provokes the climax of the film.  Maybe in the end, the kids (most of all Bo) all win out.


The idea of wanting to downplay a funeral, especially if death occurs in certain shameful or violent circumstances, is an idea that has occurred to me.  The idea was even explored on NBC’s “Days of our Lives” with EJ’s murder.



Wikipedia attribution link for I90 thru Snoqualimie Pass in Washington, p.d., from Byways.org    I had an “ephiphany” there at lunch in 1978 on vacation, which would turn out to be prophetic in a few years.

Wikipedia attribution link for view from Lama Foundation (north of Taos, NM), which I visited in 1980 and again in 1984 (“Spring Work Camp”).     The facility sustained a

(Published: Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 11:15 AM)


“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”: bizarre “doomsday prepper” comedy that is hard to explain, but it works



Name: Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Director, writer:  Taiki Waihiti (based on book by Barry Crump)
Released:  2016/7
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/9, Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA
Length 101
Rating PG-13
Companies: The Orchard;  Piki, Defender
Link: Piki

Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is an outdoor adventure comedy, set in New Zealand, that I could not have imagined writing. Directed and adapted by Taika Waihiti, it’s based on the novel “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump.  The film features New Zealand scenery, some of it high and on South Island, and in winter even, that complements “The Lord of the Rings”.

The story concept is that child services takes a fat, rebellious kid Ricky (Julian Dennison) to live with a “foster aunt” (Rima Te Wiata) in a farm with shacks in the country. Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal.  I’m not sure what a foster “aunt” really is, in family values terms. But the couple seems to leave a doomsday prepper life.

Aunt Bella suddenly passes away, and child services sends a letter saying it wants to take Ricky back to a foster home – an institution.  Hec, an ex-con, will have none of it.  The two escape into the woods, and the authorities mount a comic manhunt for them. Along the way, they encounter other comic vagabonds, and various outdoor survival situations, including one with a particularly aggressive wild boar.

The film has nine “chapters” (which may follow the book) and an epilogue, where Hec is living in the inevitable urban halfway house after he is apprehended.   I don’t think that spoils anything.

The audience loved this film (late Saturday afternoon, fairly large). For some reason, the title of the film reminds me of a 50s horror classic “Invasion of the Animal People”.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of New Zealand mountains by Andrea Schaffer, uncder CCSA 2.0

(Published: Saturday, July 9, 2016 at 9:45 PM EDT)

“Valley Uprising” documents Yosemite climbers living on the edge


Name: Valley Uprising
Director, writer:  Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen, Josh Lowell
Released:  2014
Format:  regular film
When and how viewed:  Netflix, 2016/5/31  (also av. Amazon video, $high)
Companies: North Face, Big Up, Sender Films
Link: url

Valley Uprising” (2014), directed by Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen, and Josh Lowell, and narrated by Peter Sarsgaard, traces the history of rock climbing and then sky-diving in the Yosemite Valley, emphasizing the way the sport’s practitioners lived for the moment, often on the edge of or outside the law.  It seems to fit in to the previous two posts, motivated by Sebastian Junger’s interest in people who take big physical risks and our hidden moral dependence on them.  (Think, for a moment, about rural volunteer fire departments, for openers.   When I returned to my mother’s house in 2003 after years in apartments, my mother noticed, “You are not a climber.”) The film mentions the tie of the sport to the lifestyles presented in the writings of Jack Kerouac (“On the Road” and “Big Sur”).

The film has a lot of close-ups, and really doesn’t give the viewer a lot of time to admire Yosemite scenery, dominated by two particularly challenging climbs: Half Dome (over 2000 feet) and El Capitan (over 3000).

The film gives the history of major contributors to the sport, starting with Royal Robbins, who pretty much wrote the first rule book on what is technically permissible, and then Warren Harding (not a former president).


It’s noteworthy that interest in rock climbing grew, especially along the West Coast, as men sought “freedom” from the conformist, comfy suburban lifestyles (often connected to defense jobs) in southern California in the 1950s after WWII.

In more modern times, the National Park Service created an existential threat to the sport by limiting stays of campers to seven days.  Some enthusiasts lived outside the law and hid in the woods like foxes.  One particular man Chongo Chuck was the role model for everyone else.  People also got arrested for illegal skydiving, even though you could save yourself from a fall by diving with a chute.

The young men in the film are always lean and rather hairless-chested, which seems to have been more common in the past.

Wikipedia attribution link for Washburn point on Half Dome by King of Hearts under CCSA 3.0.

A good comparison is “A Walk in the Woods” (2015), Ken Kwapis.

A possible distant comparison is the road horror film “Altar” by Matthew Sconce.

(Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 9:45 PM EDT)