Back in early 1996, I remember attending movies at the old National Amusements Complex in Merrifield VA (now replaced with a new urban center), and seeing the poster for “Independence Day”, saying “Have a good look at Earth: It may be your last”. A the time, the ad was intriguing. The title of the movie was appropriate for Independence Day weekend, but the alien story really wasn’t. What, Earth has to declare its independence from aliens?
The national Libertarian Party had a convention that weekend, and I remember a friend who snuck out to see the movie at the Uptown in DC and fell asleep for most of it, having been up 24 hours.
So now we have the (“2”) sequel, “Independence Day: Resurgence” twenty years later. It’s silly. One problem is that, at best, this has to happen in an “alternate universe”. We didn’t have an alien attack in 1996, and the world did not unite and solve all its political problems of inequality in the meantime. So there’s no communal celebration that “we are one” on the National Mall. (From the Rosicrucians, I accept that; not from a female president).
The first line of defense from a second attack is an elaborate base on the Moon, with hotshots Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), and the slender Charlie Miller (Travis Tope). Are they brothers, or lovers? Pretty soon the aliens return, disrupting a Mall celebration (like a terrorist), except that the spaceship is supposedly 3000 miles in diameter, bigger than the moon (as big as my favorite place Titan, which disappears later in the story).
The ship is big enough to sport its own internal geography, a gray world of swamps and black ferns amd huge arthropods. The aliens are social insects, as in the first movie, and the point is to get the Queen, who is shielded.
There is a complication in the “plot” where two alien alliances are at war for control of the Milky Way, and the Earth will have to take sides.
The dialogue is really corny, and it would have been hard to work as a “writer” on this project with a straight (no pun) face. Like, when the ship reaches the core, it will “crack the Earth in two.” No civilization could survive anything like this, not even under Donald Trump (aka Bill Pullman, below).
A lot of the movie happens near Area 51, of course, including a final showdown with The Queen, who physically resembles the creature in the 1979 masterpiece “Alien”, that Ripley blew away.
Bill Pullman returns as the past president, sillier than other (I remember his oddly hairless chest in David Lynch’s 1993 masterpiece “Lost Highway”, a film about people trading bodies). His wife (Maika Monroe) seems to have followed him into office, a “Hillie and Billy” team.
Mike Day’s documentary “The Islands and the Whales” (taking five years to make) presents the moral dilemmas faced by the Faroe Islands , a tiny country of 48000 people (and autonomous part of the “kingdom of Denmark”) geographically comprising an archipelago between Iceland and Scotland in the far north Atlantic.
The country’s biggest industry is, understandably, fishing and this includes whaling. That poses two major problems. The first is that the people are gradually getting exposed to more mercury in the seafood, which can cause gradual mental dulling in kids The second is the whole ethical basis of the pilot whale hunting. People include whale meat in their diet, but much less than in the past. Now, all goods can be imported into the modern country, but in the 1950s whale was actually a major protein source.
The movie has brutal scenes of the killing of the whales once captured. Pilot whales have a complex social structure similar to that of dolphins and orcas, and their intelligence may approach that of these other “animals”. It’s interesting to remember that, before the oil and gas industry developed, back in the 19th century, people used whale oil for lighting. Now, cetaceans are understood to have the intelligence comparable to elephants and primates, and even a more communal sense of self. Orcas may have intelligence fully equal to humans. Hunting them is more objectionable than would, say, hunting big cats (which cause an international uproar in the case of Cecil the Lion) because we have come to appreciate the intelligence of most carnivores, whether as pets or large in the wild. We feel their lives, if separate from us in the wild (like the grizzly bear) should be respected.
In the QA, Day said that the residents of Faroe would probably compare whale hunting to agriculture and hunting in the American West, which used to be socially and morally acceptable. Information about the intelligence of whales is more recent and not accepted by everyone. More discussion of the “non human person” concept is here.
The film focuses on a particular family, with an attractive father probably in his 30s with wife and two daughters, taking the medical tests for mercury. The father has more mercury than the others but no symptoms. The family debates cutting down or out on eating whale meat.
The film also shows the “sea warriors” who show up to protest and disrupt whaling activities, and get arrested. It also shows a street fair in Torshavn in late summer. The climate is marine, with little snow at sea level but heavy snow at over 1000 feet in winter, and cool summers. The scenery, of lava flow glaciate rocks and greenery, with sharp peaks and plateaus, is spectacular. There are a few towns and densely populated areas. The people talk about the coming of electricity after WWII.
Curiously, the Faroe Islands have one of the highest fertility rates in Europe.
Another environmental issue is the dwindling population of a spectacular bird, the Puffin, which is also hunted.
Many other parts of the world have done whaling. The Smithsonian Folklife exhibit on Basque culture refers to it off the coast of Spain in the past, associated with the modern sport of estropadak, or rowing.
Here is Carl Nielsen’s “Rhapsody Overture: An Imaginary Trip to the Faroe Islands”.
Related feature films would include “The Cove” (2009, “Racing Extinction” (2015, both Psihoyos), “How to Change the World” (2016, Rothwell, about Greenpeace), “In the Heart of the Sea” (2015, Ron Howard, about “Moby Dick”).
Wikipedia attribution link for Faroese landscape by Vincent van Jeigst, under CCSA 3.0.
The feature was preceded (at AFI Docs) by a short “My Deadly, Beautiful City” (previously titled “The Hidden City”), 13 minutes, by Victoria Fiore. It was sponsored by the New York Times (largely in Russian with subtitles). The film showed Norilsk, Russia, an industrial city in Siberia 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, polluted by nickel mining. Norilsk is the world’s northernmost city with a population over 100000, but it is usually closed to non-Russian visitors. But Putin has been offering free land and housing to families who will settle in Siberia and have lots of babies. But is this city Vladimir Putin’s shame? So much for how well Soviet communism and now ultra nationalism takes care of people.
Here’s an interview with a Russian journalist on the most polluted city in Russia.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of landscape near Norilsk, by Grain, public domain.
(Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)
(Last picture is from Aquarium in Baltimore, dolphin show, November 2009, mine)
“Free State of Jones” (2016), directed by Gary Ross, based on a (partially) “non-fiction” biographical story by Leonard Hartman, tells us the history of a re-secession movement in Mississippi starting in 1862, led by Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey). It is layered against a trial in 1947 in “modern” Mississippi where one of Newton’s male descendants is tried for miscegenation, where the state claims he is 1/8 “black” even though he certainly “looks” white.
The movie starts with an 1862 battle scene, where a teenage relative runs to Newton, claiming he was “drafted”. The kid breaks the first rule of “night infiltration” (for readers who have gone through Army Basic as I did) and stands up and is shot, bleeding out to death in Newton’s arms. There is talk about how white conscripts can buy their way out of the draft by supplying twenty slaves. There is a line “this is a rich man’s war fought by poor people.” There is talk of cowardice, treason, and sedition laws passed by the Confederacy. (The draft issue came up in the 2002 Martin Scorsese film “Gangs of New York”).
The movie tracks through the rest of the War Between the States, and into the Reconstruction, with the whole “40 Acres and a Mule” thing, as white landowners and the Ku Klux Klan try to intimidate blacks to keep them from voting. There is one graphic lynching scene (foreshadowing the still incomplete documentary “American Lynching” by Gode Davis).
The look of much of the film reminds one of NBC’s “Revolution”. The style of acting and scene set-up is that of a western, although you could call it a “southern”. Some of the early scenes of war wounds are quite graphic, with nauseating limb amputations on camera (so well described by Margaret Mitchell in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlet gets trapped in Atlanta), a face literally blown off, and later a scene where an attack dog chews on McConaughey’s balding leg.
As Reconstruction starts, Knight gives an impromptu speech to his vagabond rebels, a kind of libertarian manifesto, of four points, including what you plant you keep (the Confederacy had seized crops and livestock) and skin color won’t matter in your having voting and property rights.
The film was shot on location in Jones County, Mississippi, as well as in Louisiana.
(Published: Monday, June 27, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)
(Outdoor photos are mine, from northern MS on a trip in May 2014)
“When Two Worlds Collide” (2015), directed by Heidi Brandenberg and Mathew Orzel, somewhat lengthy, gives us a lot of grainy video footage of the indigenous peoples’ 2009 protests against mining and logging companies in their area near Bagua, in the Amazon valley and mountain foothills of eastern Peru.
A number of policemen die in the protests, and then the Peruvian government launches aggressive prosecutions against the organizers of the protests. One of the protest leaders actually gets asylum in Nicaragua for a while. Bureaucrats in the government claim that 400,000 native people don’t have the right to stop progress and higher living standards for 30 million newcomers (in large part European).
Toward the end, the film shows a lot of high-definition footage of how the area looks today, with huge areas deforested into ugly logging camps, and various areas of strip-mined hills with lots of rogue toxic waste. (But the environmental damage from open-pit mining gets worse higher in the Andes.) The actual picture quality improves considerably (to normal film standards) in the late scenes, compare to the protest scenes, where apparently high definition was not available. The film has a slightly reduced aspect ratio.
Lima (usually in perpetual cloudiness) looks modern and prosperous compared to the rural Bagua region.
The film was shown in the largest auditorium at Landmark during the AFI-Docs, and was nearly sold out noon Sunday, with an engaged (partly Hispanic) audience, with lots of QA.
“The Land of the Enlightened” (2015), directed by Belgian Pieter-Jan De Pue, layers the life of two boys (sometimes more as a “posse”), about 12, from the Kuchi tribe in Afghanistan (apparently near the Pakistan border) against the shelling and activity of American Army troops, creating a “Restrepo” (Sebiastian Junger) atmosphere whenever they appear.
The boys dig out old Soviet (1979) mines and make toys to sell on their imaginary trade routes, while sometimes encountering the GI’s. An African-American captain gives a little lecture on how the Taliban hides among civilians, especially with boys their age. Toward the end, the boys’ pilgrimage takes them to the ruins of a large palace near Kabul.
The scenery in the film is breathtaking, with lots of high altitude scenes in ice with little huts and yurts lying around, sometimes creating the look of an alien planet. Much of the film was shot on 16mm, yet the detail is always there in the landscape scenes.
Dennis Clohessy composed the theme music, but I remember a scene where a Bach concerto plays in the background.
It’s still ironic that my social studies project in ninth grade was Afghanistan – something the teacher back in 1958 saw as prescient.
The director gave an opening introduction but could not stay for QA. The film was financed in Flanders (Belgium).
Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. US Army photos of Afghan landscape similar to film.
“The Road”, directed by Zanbo Zhang, exposes the intricacies and corruption behind road construction in the “statist capitalism” of the People’s Republic of China, by focusing on the difficulties of building a super highway through a village in Hunan, a province in southeastern China, somewhat inland, in rolling mountain foothills with towns that look like they were built from toys.
The film is in four sections, “The Villagers”, “The Laborers”, “The Fighters”, and “The Singers”.
The first section shows the construction company rebuffing an old woman whose simple rural home is damaged by debris from the blasting. The second section shows the difficulty in properly paying the workers, despite “communism”. Foremen often have to pay laborers (often migrants) out of their own pockets and companies are slow to reimburse their own management. It sounds like a “piecework” economy. In the third section, there is some violence, with graphic, disfiguring injuries and surgical scars shown (but, “thmooth”). In the last section, there are celebrations in completing the road, often elevated above the towns it transits. The birth of communism is observed, so to speak. There are vague references to Mao’s “cultural revolution” of the 1960s, but here it doesn’t seem that everyone takes turns being a peasant anymore.
I was surprised to see scenes with snow, given how far south the area is. There was air pollution and smog in many scenes. Most of the men smoked. The social relationships were both combative and frail.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture by Chensiyuan under CCSA 4.0
(Published: Saturday, June 25, 2016 at 9:15 PM EDT)
“Those Who Jump” (“Les Sauteurs”), directed by Moritz Siebert, Estephan Wagner, and Abou Bakar Sidibe, presents Abou’s camera work in a migrant camp on Mount Gurubu outside Melilla, a Spanish autonomous city on the north coast of Morocco.
Abou has traveled from Mali in an attempt to migrate to Europe my climbing the wall and barbed wire into “Europe”. The film opens with a black-and-white shot from a security camera focused on the fence, with an abstract look that seems otherworldly. The film producers (Heidi Elsie Christisen and Estephan Wagner, from the Danish Film Institute) “hired” Abou to film the life in the camp and attempts to enter “Spain”.
The men (no women are there) form a ragtag community in the brush on the mountain, making prongs to put into their shoes for climbing. There’s a bit of a social hierarchy in the community that focuses on loyalty and belonging, sometimes edging into combativeness.
During the QA, it was pointed out that “migrants”, who simply want jobs and a better life and opportunity, don’t qualify for asylum the way political refugees (as from Syria) would.
The film compares the squalor of the camp with the pristine, stucco beauty of the Spanish port town (which I did not know existed as Spanish sovereign territory).
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of the fence by Ongayo
The 2007 Russian film “12”, by Nikita Mikhalov is indeed based on Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic “12 Angry Men”, based on the play by Reginald Rose. It’s long, 160 minutes, but quite riveting if someone is ready to serious drama. Subtitles help, but this is probably even more interesting for Russian-fluent speakers because the obvious idioms and social and particularly Russian political context in the script.
The plot centers around the jury deliberations on the trial of a boy accused of murdering his stepfather in Moscow, after he had been taken from Chechnya when his parents had been killed in the civil war. The film seems timely in retrospect because of the history of the Tsarnaev family in the Boston Marathon attack in 2013.
Much of the deliberation occurs in a school gymnasium, set up as an arena stage, giving the look of a Lars van Trier film (like “Dogville”). The jurors perform a lot of antics, and in a “New Wave” maneuver, a wild songbird (canary) flies around the room.
The film is punctuated with the back story of urban guerilla war in Chechnya, with scenes that are quite graphic and brutal, as well as some black and white background rural footage (the film is shot in full wide screen).
In the beginning, only one juror (Sergei Makovetsky) wants to acquit. Deliberations bring out the life stories of the other men (why no women) from various walks of Russian (post-Communist) life. Included are a racist taxi driver, a television producer, a musician, and a Holocaust survivor. Slowly, the jurors come to realize the boy was framed by organized crime. But the foreman also realizes that if the acquit him, he will likely be targeted; he may be safer in prison (a hidden protective custody) until the real criminals are caught. This reminds me of other existential problems that can happen to people, like when they enter witness protection (the Lifetime film “Family in Hiding” or even the 1985 film “Witness” set in the Amish community) or even the Seattle-based cartoonist Molly Norris matter (when she had to change her identity after sponsoring a Mohammed-drawing contest in 2010 at FBI advice). In the end, the foreman (who was an intelligence official) votes for acquittal anyway. Some people see the denouement of the film as “pro-Putin”.
When I lived in Dallas, I got called for jury duty once every two years, since Texas has a one-day, one-trial system. I was foreman on a weapons trial (misdemeanor, six jurors) in 1982, and we came around to conviction toward the end.
The film won awards at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008. The film carries the brand MGM was well as Sony Pictures Classics because MGM (and United Artists) owns the original film.
“Silent Drums: Adapt, Improvise, Overcome!”, is a biography of Robert L. Le Blanc, a former US Marine Staff Sergeant who fought the old bans against gays in military services even before the official start of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993. He became somewhat well known in the 1990s during the political debate on DADT. The book is authored by Pam Daniels, and essentially self-published on Amazon Digital Services by her. It can be read free on Amazon Prime, or purchased on Kindle for $9.99. I don’t see any print availability, but it would run 295 pages.
Le Blanc has a “Change.org” petition for a pardon for a supposed “bogus” conviction from the USMC in the late 1970s. The Change link (along with Amazon) does summarize a lot of Bob’s personal story, so it’s not necessary to repeat all of it. Bob had served in the military police at Long Beach, CA (as well as in Vietnam in combat). In a complicated series of events, Bob was prosecuted first for breaking some kind of MP rule, and then prosecuted for “being gay”. At one point in the book, he takes a polygraph and is asked directly if he is a “faggot” (and this is very improper use of a questionable lie-detection technology to say the least, despite its use in top secret security SCI clearances today). This is about 16 years before DADT would come into being under Clinton (the service-wide “absolute ban” had been implemented in early 1981, with the individual services handling their own anti-gay bans previously). Anthony Kennedy, then a circuit judge, had tried to intervene.
Bob also had a harrowing time with his service in Vietnam (two tours), where he sustained a back injury, and saw some interesting interaction with villagers in Vietnam, helping a woman have a baby and trying to help orphans get adopted. Bob even got to play medic in one scene, relating having to scrub down his arms.
Later, he would form a relationship and finally marriage with an immigrant Julio (much younger). It was much harder to make Julio’s status legal than it would have been for a heterosexual couple. There is a situation where Julio wants to stay in Robert’s hospital room overnight during Robert’s cancer treatment, but he is not allowed to. Heterosexual married couples often do this. It’s a degree of intimacy (with the gravely ill) I have never allowed myself to experience.
Bob also recounts his treatment for cancers related to agent orange in Vietnam, and his type 2 diabetes.
The book also relates other gay couples with wounded veterans, and mentions the Vietnam era draft and the unfair privilege that went with student deferments. (I could add that the Army had stopped “asking” about “homosexual tendencies” in the draft physicals by 1966 to try to stop people from claiming homosexuality to get out of the draft, at a time when the Army already knew that social attitudes toward homosexuality were slowly changing with the broader Civil Rights movement, even before Stonewall.) Several times in the narrative gay partners stay intimate in the face of disfiguring injuries or cancer treatments, something expected in the heterosexual world, but much more common today than in past generations because people can survive wounds and illnesses that would have killed them quickly in the past. Medical solidarity is more common today than it used to be, whereas in the past wartime conditions imposed on civilians had imposed other kinds of social solidarity (as in Sebastian Junger’s book “Tribe”, May 30).
The book is written in a “stream of consciousness” sequence, in present tense, often mixing narratives from Bob’s service in Vietnam and then the later prosecutions with today’s treatment for cancers.
The Kindle sometimes does not reproduce all the pictures, as there are some blank spaces when it tries to load certain documents or images. The book is heavily illustrated in black and white.
The writing style is “visual”, particularly in the combat scenes, which contrast well with the drama in the hospital and military court episodes. The book comes across almost like a screenplay, as if easy conversion to a formal FinalDraft motion picture script is already in mind.
Le Blanc had penned an earlier version of this book himself, which he had called “A Marine’s Diary” and posted online, and which I had reviewed on Blogger in 2009 here. The earlier version appears to be no longer available, and is superseded by this book.
Le Blanc had shared (by phone and US mail) an early draft of his book outline with me in 1996, when I was working on my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, and I mentioned his case very briefly in Chapter 4 of the first book at note 32. (In fact, I recall that the very last phone call that I got in my Annandale, VA apartment in 1997, just emptied out by movers before my driving off to Minneapolis for a job transfer as from Bob!) I have met Le Blanc once, in February 2002 in Long Beach. He has lived in Palm Springs, which I have visited in 2002 and then 2012 but did not meet up with him on those trips.
The obvious question, then, is could I have “ghost written” this book myself? It does seem, in retrospect, that I have been so consumed with the nooks and crannies of my own narrative (which are about as complex and ironic in their own way as Le Blanc’) that I never got around to trying to be hired to write anyone else’s. After my “career ending” layoff at the end of 2001 (post 9/11), it seems as though I could have tried harder to go down this path than I did, even though I networked with the National Writers Union while still in Minneapolis. That’s significant hindsight, because I do think that I could help a Vox or a CNN with special news topics today, something I am still planning to pursue.
It’s also interesting to wonder, what happens if there is a movie proposal? (The same question applies to my narrative, and I am pursuing it, with one major screenplay draft, “Epiphany”, embedded in a sci-fi setting, completed at home.) If Dustin Lance Black wants to have at this one (or at mine, for that matter), that would be great. Would I take a crack at this? I need to finish “my own work” first! Just so everyone knows, there are about four to six other projects that friends of mine have that could conceivably attract money and work.
(Published: Thursday, June 23, 2016 at 12 Noon EDT)
(Update: July 1, 2016: Amazon now shows the paperback version as available.)
Last weekend, the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC offered a chamber version of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Fidelio (Op. 72), his only opera. It wasn’t convenient for me to get there, but I indulged in getting the DG-Universal DVD of the 2002 Metropolitan Opera performance in New York with James Levine.
The name of the opera is the name of the disguised boy character who is actually Lenore (Karita Matilla), the wife of Florestan (Ben Heppner), secretly imprisoned by Pizarro (Falk Struckmann), apparently after been kidnapped for trying to expose Pizarro’s corruption. Sound familiar? Like how China and other authoritarian countries treat journalists today?
Yes, the opera can be viewed in terms of two different issues: free “journalistic” speech, and gender roles. One of the subplots concerns the jailor Rocco’s (Rene Pape) daughter Marzelline (Jennifer Welch-Babidge) and her romantic interest in “Fidelio” which would technically be lesbian. But opera practice sometimes allowed blending of genders (look at “Der Rosenkavalier”) and it doesn’t seemed to have been particularly controversial with audiences. If Marzelline really experiences Fidelio as a “man”, then her sense of attraction must go way beyond the external trappings of manhood.
The libretto is by Joseph Sonnleithner, and the full title of the opera was “Leonore, or the Triumph of Marital Love”, or “Leonore, oder der Triumph der eheliechen Liebe”.
This particular DCD does not include a performance of the “Leonore Overture #3” (C Major) which should occur after Scene 15 in Act 2. The defiance of the music toward the end (of either Leonore #2 or #3) fits the opera better than most of the sung text, and the final chorus is not yet quite on the level of the later Choral Symphony. The shorter, playful “official” overture is somewhat underwhelming, but there is a famous march half way through Act 1 and a nice somber prelude to Act 2. Yet, the music as a whole seems light and “bel canto-like” to my ear (even resembling early romantic Italian opera in some arias) compared to most of Beethoven’s “cyclic work” output.