“Love and Friendship” (actually, “Love & Friendship”) is a comedy of manners (or morals), directed by Wilt Stillman, largely filmed at a real manor in Ireland. It is based on the “letters” (epistolary) novel “Lady Susan” by Jane Austen, probably written in 1794, but published until 1871. But the movie uses a juvenile story “Love and Friendship” (with a misspelled title) for the movie title, and replaces the “and” with an ampersand to distinguish it from a 1946 film.
In the 1790s, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) has to find an estate to live after her dalliances with a married man and arrives at “Churchill” in the English countryside, owned by her brother-and-law. Her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) has been kicked out of boarding school in the “colonies” (now America) and arrives. Lady Susan seeks husbands for both her daughter and herself.
There’s some serious talk about what marriage means – sharing you bed with someone for the rest of your life. Lady Susan will have trouble living up to that even if she preaches to her daughter. There’s also an issue of aesthetic realism: she likes younger, more virile men. But this was an era where all men wore tights. People didn’t take baths very often, and there was a lot of B.O.
The film starts by introducing every character by name. But, having no husband means so much despair?
Here’s a long list of the classical music in the background of his period piece, all of it pre-romantic and rather curtsy.
“The Wailing” (or “Goksung”), directed by Hong-jin Na, may strike many viewers as a long (156 minutes), repetitive and cult-like Asian horror film. But the director goes for slow-space mystery, involving immediate neighborhood, local life, and family, to give what otherwise would seem like a zombie premise some sense of real menace.
In a mountain region in South Korea, in a small village, people start falling sick with a kind of rabies, behaving wildly with violence, then bleeding out and frothing and disintegrating into rigor mortis quickly. Policeman Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) first buys the theory that the disease could be caused by unusual poisonous wild mushrooms. But then he learns of a new Japanese “immigrant” or “stranger” in town, and a mystery “Woman in White” (like the classic film) literally called “No Name” (Chun woo-hee). Then his own daughter (Kim Hwan) is sickened.
What follows may seem like a confined metaphor for AIDS (at least the visual horror of some early Kaposi’s sarcoma cases) , or perhaps a bio-terror event. Films like “Outbreak” (1995, which I saw while working as a sub in a chemistry class) and “Quarantine” (2008), and even “The Andromeda Strain” may come to mind, but this film, for all the outdoor scenery (augmented by rain machines in filmmaking) still seems rather stagey in comparison. A few of the death scenes are on the edge of real-life horror (I recall Laurie Garrett’s book “Coming Plague”, which pretty much anticipates the real life horror in Liberia (brought home to the US for a few health care workers overseas) with Ebola in 2014. (Note: the latest news is that the Ebola vaccine is going to work.)
The movie works in a shaman (Hwang jung-min), who presumably has been exalted by overcoming an existential trial and managing to keep people loving him. But there is real question as to his connection to the stranger, and the stranger’s death. Then there are the ritual dances and burnings, as well as the expected plot development over suspicion of outsiders – very relevant to our own political debates today.
The film uses a lot of symbolism that is apparently familiar in oriental religion and used in manga (maybe even in Japanese Danganronpa), and some specific notions about demons and devils. For example, a worm provides an early metaphor with what will happen. Yet, western audiences may find plenty to compare with their own perils.
Most of all, there is a continual somber mood.
There are several YouTube videos with lengthy (spoiler) analyses of the symbolism in the film.
“TheTransgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens” (by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney) is a lengthy (338 pages) and practical guide for parents of (older) children and teens who say they do not have a conventional “cisgender” identity.
Indeed, a great deal of the book deals with basic terminology. One of the most important terms is simply “non-binary”. Two others are “assigned sex” and “assumed gender”, in light of “personal gender identity”. “Congruence” refers to the procedures (including medical and cosmetic) to make the person’s appearance more like what is expected for his or her The modern use of the word “queer” refers to any aspects of gender (including but not limited to sexual orientation) that does not conform to what society has nominally expected for the person’s assumed birth gender. I recall that at the GOP convention in July, Donald Trump stumbled over adding the letter “Q” to LGBT.
Sexual orientation is a very different concept from gender identity. The most common setting for gay men, especially, is for a someone who perceives his biological identity as “male”, and generally there is no aggregate difference in appearance or physical performance between gay and straight men. “Gay” people are more common than “non-binary” or “transgender” people.
The book cover refers to a “generational divide in our understanding of gender”. I grew up in the 1950s as a boy who fell behind in what was expected of future young men physically. Although I read women’s magazines and enjoyed watching “The Homemaker’s Exchange” cooking show, I was also interested in trains and science, and later music. I never sensed a desire to be identified as female, but, as I have detailed elsewhere, gradually developed an awareness of my attraction to men during my teen years. But the surrounding culture drilled into me that it was my duty to adapt to the needs of the world around me, to fit in to my community and be able to help protect it from potential outside adversaries.
The book dispels many of the myths, and notes that some teens will say “I can’t survive until age 18”. The controversy over “bathroom bills”, such as the notorious HB2 in North Carolina, overlooks the fact that some transgender teens say they are not welcome in any bathroom. State laws are likely to require a birth certificate change, which would normally require parental consent.
There is a disturbing report of a Cub Scout troop in New Jersey that told a transgender child that he (originally born a girl) could not continue to stay in the troop a month after the troop found out. The BSA has been through a long process of accepting gay scouts (after winning a Supreme Court case in 2000 which took the libertarian position that it could do what it wanted).
Although the book goes into many concepts related to gender and sexuality, it doesn’t come close to Paul Rosenfels’s polarity theories (as in the 1971 book “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process“).
Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney
“TheTransgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens“
2016 (sent to me as a complimentary copy for review)
“Assassin’s Creed”, directed by Justin Kurzel, is a genre sci-fi fantasy film based on the video game series, and the filmmaking style is perhaps reminiscent of comic book franchises.
After a prologue set in 1492 Spain, where there is a presentation of the idea that the disbanded Knights Templar was trying to unleash the “Apple of Eden” and end free will for mankind, justifying the need to assassinate its members, the film moves to present day, first in 1986 where Callum Lynch is growing up in Baja California and witnessing family violence, to 2016, where the adult Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is being executed by lethal injection in a grim chamber at the Huntsville, TX penitentiary.
But Lynch goes through an interesting NDE, and wakes up to a new existence in a laboratory in Madrid, run by Abstergo, where he will be fed the memories of his ancestors, and sent back to 1492 to rescue humanity. The lead scientist is Sophia (Marion Cotillard). The lab, which picks up Lynch with huge pincers and throws him around in a simulator, is rather hard to describe, and the depiction of 1492 Granada is standard video game stuff, not terribly interesting. It’s also unclear often whose side the Abstergo minions are on. The complicated plot (it’s on Wikipedia ) leads to a showdown in London where the Apple is presented and mankind must be saved from being changed into obedient surfs – envisioning a world that crosses between Donald Trump (a convenient coincidence) and Mr. Snow in Hunger Games. Some autocrats or groups believe that it is their purpose to impose moral on the world (a “final solution”) and remain as combative as necessary to do so.
There’s a good question embedded in the movie: how could someone experience the memories of another, after some sort of reincarnation? Is the brain, with the neuronal microtubules a receptacle for consciousness that already exists? (link) If so, is there some link to others through the DNA (through genes) of biological lineage? That would actually have real significance for “family values”.
Justin Kurzel (wr. Michael Leslie, et al)
When and how viewed:
Regal Ballston Common, 2016/12/28, late. small audence
A comparison could be made to Paolo Barzman’s TV-mini series “The Last Templar”, January 2009 on NBC. The Templar, of course, appear in Dan Brown’s novels and movies, especially “The Da Vinci Code” (2006).
“Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement” (2014), by Stephen Snyder-Hill, with a Foreword by actor George Talei, is one of the most contemporary and thorough and up-to-date books on the history of the military gan ban and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, taking it through the repeal in 2011, told as a personal account by an Army captain who was eventually able to marry his male lover and legally hyphenate his name in Ohio.
Hill (born about 1970), raised near Columbus, Ohio, first joined the Army in 1988, seeking skills and a career, and wound up fighting in the Persian Gulf war in Iraq and Kuwait (recall Matt Damon’s 1995 film “Courage Under Fire”). He recalls being “asked” if he “took it” when joining, and “lied”. After the war, but while he was still on active duty, President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” was introduced. He was honorably discharged in 1996 and went to college and eventually became a medical dietician.
After 9/11, he re-enlisted and became an officer, rising to Captain, in food service. He became part of Operation New Dawn in Iraq in 2010 until President Obama began to withdraw troops from Iraq (which we can speculate as to whether that made way for ISIS, but Hill never goes there). During his long second stint, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, starting with a law at the end of 2010, and “certified” by September 2011. (my posts are here (look at December 10, 2010 and September 20, 2011). He asked a pointed question online of socially conservative Senator Rick Santorum (“It Takes a Family”, his 2005 book) in the 2012 GOP presidential debates, and help fight for the repeal of DOMA by participating in litigation, and then fought for equal benefits for same-sex spouses in the military. He ran full circle.
He really covers a lot of ground. Back in Ohio as a civilian, he had dealt with “change your sexuality” probes by evangelical Christians (I recall the group “Love and Action” in the 1990s). In the Army, he faced constant intrusiveness from other soldiers over the lack of girl friends, and the culture of sharing so much (like letting people borrow cell phones during his second stint) made civilian expectations of privacy impossible, Back in 1993, recall, the main arguments against lifting the ban had been the lack of “privacy” in military living, and in the idea of “unit cohesion”. The privacy issue was often viewed in terms of seeing other men nude, as in showers, and noticing differences (circumcision, or traits like body hair that could be related to race), but the real problems is that tightly cohesive units don’t respect privacy the way gay singles who live alone or in privatized relationships expect. Hill makes the valuable point that sexual cues from gay men in intimate environments are only picked up by other men with gay identity (although I personally think more men “notice” than he wants to admit.) But the unit cohesion argument ran into another Waterloo; it had been used before, in 1948 when President Truman integrated the military by race (as in the HBO movie “Truman” with Gary Sinese).
I’ve never bought the “identity politics” idea of “gay rights”. I think that sexual orientation is a more complex issue than race (and more complex in many ways than gender identity). Colin Powell had gone into this point in his 1990s book “My American Journey”. A more logical comparison would be to “religion”, because the practice of religion is “behavior” more than it is “genetics” or “biology”. The question in my mind was always, why did others make my sexual orientation their business, but one answer used to be, they expected me to participate as a “male” as “part of the group” able to protect women and children, sometimes. That was a bigger part of the issue when I was growing up (in the 50s and 60s) than it is for young men today, at least more affluent young men.
The need for absolute legal and nominal equality in his marriage and personal relationships may seem over the top. But consider, that to walk in others’ shoes sometimes and really belong to the larger community, one needs to be recognized as fully an equal. Hill often mentions be thanked for his service and exposure to sacrifice by people who did not recognize the inconsistency of their own attitudes (and sometimes even, as he says, irrational group hatred).
It’s interesting to me that Hill’s narrative is different from mine in that he did not actually deal with conscription as I did (in the 1960s). But he mentions that the Army relented on enforcing DADT when it needed people deployed, and in fact, before DADT, the military often simply avoided bringing up the topic – to the point that the politicization of gender issues in the military under Clinton only added to people’s desire to “ask”. Back in the 1960s, in fact, the Army stopped “asking” on draft physicals, fearing people would use the ban to avoid Vietnam.
Hill mentions SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), now called Outserve, and talks about meeting the parents of Barry Winchell, murdered in a hate crime on base in 1999, at a dinner in 2012, which I attended. In fact, I attended all the dinners from 2003 to 2012 except 2011, when I had the flu but had made the donation for the ticket. That year I had to use other people’s YouTube to cover the event on my blogs. I remember the menus, ranging from vegan to “Cornish game hen”.
Hill’s book (like Daniels and Le Blanc, June 23, 2016) will be important ammunition if the Trump administration, with Mattis as Secretary of Defense, wants to erode the gains for non-straight men and all women in the military. Mattis’ own book (Dec, 7) had questioned the national security implications of “social experimentation” in the military, but, as Hill says, it is all too easy for this ruse to hide animus.
“Soldier of Change“
Potomac Brooks (University of Nebraska Press); 198 pages, paper, 15 roman, 22 chapters with Foreword and Epilogue
“Fences”, directed by Denzel Washington, is a major African-American morality play, actually based on the Broadway play by August Wilson, and translated rather directly to a 139 minute film that looks rather like a stage play, set mostly in a rowhouse and small backyard in working class Pittsburgh in 1957 (with a final act in 1962). The film has three visual interludes that seem like act markers.
Denzel plays the “imperfect” family “patriarch” Troy Maxson, now 53, who has a particularly authoritarian relationship with his 17-year old son Cory (Jovan Adepo), who fears Cory’s ambitions to play football (in college and maybe pros) are unrealistic given racial discrimination, and that Cory needs to learn his place making a proletarian living. It’s noteworthy that he is illiterate (can’t read).
In fact, Troy had been a baseball star in the Negro leagues, and had come along “too early” for baseball, before Jackie Robinson changed things (the film “46”). But by 1957 baseball already had many black stars, including Minnie Minoso, Luke Easter and Larry Doby (the last two from the powerhouse 199954 Cleveland Indians). Pro football as also changing quickly, so Troy wasn’t with it. Cory thinks his dad is afraid of his son’s being “better” than he is, but isn’t that a point of having a traditional family?
Viola Davis plays his loyal wife Rose, but she engages in the fast talk of many scenes. Troy has an older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), who struggles as a musician, borrowing money and getting in trouble with the law. In fact, we learn that Troy had done hard time himself for manslaughter after a fight in Alabama, where he had grown up. There is also a disabled brother (Mykelti Williamson) and the sidekick foil friend Bono (Stephen Henderson).
As the play progresses, Troy will continue his transgressions and test the loyalty of those around him, until he dies, as there is another “illegitimate” child Raynell (Saniyya Sydney).
I’ve encountered, in the workplace, African American men who believe they have to raise their kids to expect discrimination but still not expect any handouts in a capitalist society. One of them thought that, as an unmarried man, I must be living with my mother. But a decade later, I had to.
The film has some interesting scenes of improvised street baseball, like the backyard baseball (or softball or whiffleball)) we used to play in the 1950s.
Denzel Washington, August Wilson
When and how viewed:
2016/12/26, daytime show, nearly sold out, at Angelica Mosaic in Fairfax (mixed audience)
“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.
Garth and Luke Davis, Saroo Brierley
When and how viewed:
Regal Ballston Common, 2016/12/25, small auditorium, evening, near sellout
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.
“Closet Monster” (written and directed by Stephen Dunn) gives us an appealing gay teen Oscar (Connor Jessup), in a coming out story, looking back into the past through the eyes of his talking pet hamster Buffy (voice of Isabella Rossellini).
On the present day level. The kid, growing up in Newfoundland, faces the tests of artistic, creative teens forced to focus on the practicalities of an adaptive daily world. His boss at a hardware store (looking more or less like a Home Depot) tells him he is the least competent employee when letting him go, after earlier goading him on how to sell other people’s work. He applies to various art schools.
And he deals with a homophobic father (Aaron Abrams), in a second marriage, a father himself drifting into abuse and probably alcohol. And Oscar has his first trials with parties and the drug trips that follow.
But the back story shows a young boy, listening to the talking hamster (rather like Cleo, the talking dog on the 50s sitcom “The People’s Choice”), and asking his dad about a gay bashing he sees reported on the news on TV. And his father tells him to watch growing his hair too long.
Some lonesome sequences near the end have some stunning coastal sequences, of the Labrador coast, as if as a young man he could settle into a final isolation in some mystery ashram, rather perplexing. But earlier Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) has become an engaging companion in his coming out.
The film seems to have been shot maybe three years ago, as Connor Jessup looks a little “younger” in most scenes than he does in the ABC series “American Crime”. His body seems to be moving into full adulthood as the film progresses. He’s pretty handy and he bikes a lot. Given all the popularity of trans issues in the media recently, it’s well to remember that both Oscar and Wilder are conventionally “male-identified” young adults with conventionally male ideals of individual competitiveness, even physically.
Some of the dream effects remind me of David Cronenberg’s film “Spider” (2002).
Look at the Wikipedia (attribution) link for Newfoundland picture by Auden Mulroney, CCSA 2.0. I’ve only set foot there once (In Gander at the airport in 1970 on a refueling stop), It’s an important setting in Anthony Hyde’s 1985 Cold War novel “The Red Fox”
“Into the Inferno” is a moving documentary by Werner Herzog, distributed by Netflix, but grand enough to be an Imax film for the Smithsonian. There are landscapes in this film that truly look alien.
The documentary is based on the book “Eruptions that Shook the World” by Cambridge University volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, who travels around the world narrating his experiences.
The film starts on Tanna Island of Vanuatu, east of Australia, exploring a tribe with a history of cannibalism, as it shows us the bowels of a volcano, before it moves on to Sumatra, Indonesia and Mt. Erebus, Antarctica. But soon Oppenheimer settles down and stays a while in some places, especially in Ethiopia in a hot plain below sea level, in a tribal area, and actually helps look for fossils. But the high point of the film is his trip to North Korea, and Paektu Mountain, Herzog insists that filmmakers can only show what the North Korean communist dictatorship wants you to see, but he explains the mythology that the ruling cult family attributes to the volcano. He also shows some daily life in the Pyongyang subway, where there is no public Internet, no newsstands, no commercial advertising, only statist propaganda, yet everything is clean, showy and orderly.
Oppenheimer then visits Iceland, showing a coastal village buried by ash in in 1973 and impressive volcanic landscapes greening up, before finally returning to Tanna.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Chnagbai, DPRK, by Mates Il, ubder CCSA 3.0.
(Posted: Friday, December 23, 2016 at 12:45 PM EST)
“Passengers”, directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts, turns out to be a rather formulaic dramatic thriller, with indie-sized cast, set on a spaceship (maybe it has an Alcubierre Drive), but it could have just as well have been a hotel, casino, or cruise liner, even the Titanic.
The ship has three interlaced living threads, all linked together in an interesting lattice; but inside it’s mostly cookie cutter luxury stuff. A Trump-like corporation sells passage to other inhabited colony planets, where people can start over. (It must own the planets.) They need to be prepared for “colonial living”, something that reminds me of the era-defined colonies on the rama-station in my own screenplay “Epiphany”. The people who escape earth do so by having enough money. In my screenplay, they have to be pretty and “angelic” or fundamentally virtuous enough. There seems to be no room for losers, but that’s Trump.
The gig is that you hibernate for the 120 years it takes to get there. You wake up four months early, and take your training.
The “situation” is that mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wakes up when his hibernation chamber fails, after the ship goes through an asteroid swarm. It’s still 90 years to landing. He’s entertained by a droid robot bartender with no legs (Martin Sheen), but has to go it alone for fifteen months. In time, he gets too curious about a female Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) he sees in the chamber, and, yes, he wakes her up and takes away her intended life, which had been to travel to another world, write a book, and then return, assuming Earth really does have a civilization 250 years from now (maybe a world like “Revolution” after an EMP attack). She also finds she is writing about herself for the first time.
Eventually a couple other character work in, especially the engineer Gus (Laurence Fishburne). Andy Garcia appears briefly as the captain.
One way the plot could have gone would be Putin-like: wake up everybody else and make them have enough children en route. That would require too much cast. Instead, we have a solution a bit like that of “Gravity” (an maybe even “Wicked“).
There are a couple interesting points about technology. One is that the issue of “open access” comes up, in that Preston needs “access” to the technical manuals to help fix things (without having to deal with a paywall). Another is how they do the artificial gravity – it’s not explained well, but it doesn’t seem to be centrifugal. There’s a swimming pool scene that shows what happens when gravity is suddenly lost. Oh, the ship has a fusion reactor, maybe designed by Taylor Wilson. It makes a flyby of red giant Arcturus (some unreliable astronomy).
A couple of films for comparison would be “All Is Lost” (with Redford) and “Castaway” (with Tom Hanks and tennis ball “Wilson”).
Pratt, now 36 and Minnesota born, looks good again. I remember him as Bright in Everwood (starting in 2002), and met him (with Gregory Smith) at an event at King of Prussia mall in August 2005.