“Tom of Finland”: biopic of the artist who created leather culture

Dome Karukoski’s film “Tom of Finland” is a workmanlike biography of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonone, better known as the movie title.  Touko is credited with creating the artistic basis of the gay male leather community and of cis-male “muscle culture” within the gay community.

“Tom” (played by Pekka Strang) was born in 1920 and his first major life event was his experience in the Winter War between Russia and Finland (the 1998 film “Ambush”) where he served as an artillery or anti-aircraft officer and had a male relationship or two.  This, of course, would feed into the past debate on gays in the military.

Once in civilian life he pursued his artistic career of erotic drawings, which could attract hostility. He gets arrested, supposedly for not paying a hotel bill in Germany, and later finds private parties subject to police raids.  Finland is indeed one of the world’s most progressive countries today, but it was not so in the early 1950s.  There is a scene where Tom meets his old friend from the Russo war, and the friend wants conversion therapy so that he can have children!

Toulo gradually established a business of publishing “muscle magazines” in the US through contacts in California.  Explicit gay photos could not be published until a 1962 Supreme Court ruling that they were not obscene. I definitely remember the way muscle magazines provided a covert fantasy outlet for gay men back in the 1960s.

The film has a few nice shots of the lake areas in Finland;  some of the southern California sequences seem to have been shot in Spain.

The film is in German and Finnish, and sometimes English.  Despite the mysterious Asiatic origins of the language, the people look similar to those in the rest of Scandinavia.

Here are a couple of films for comparison: “Interior, Leather Bar” (2014, directed by James Franco) (legacy review); “Age of Consent” (2015, about “The Hoist”, review), and “Kink Crusaders” (2011, review).

This may be good place to mention a mysterious assassination in the town of Imatra, Finland, near the Russian border, in 2016, with a scandal that sounds like Russia’s “Pizzagate”.  This incident could turn out to have more serious implications if Vladimir Putin has aspirations in the Baltics and later Finland in the future.

Finland map (Russo-Finnish war)

Helsinki

Finnish lakes

Name:  “Tom of Finland”
Director, writer:  Dome Karuloski, Aleksi Bardy
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark West End, Washington DC, 2017/12/30
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2017 at 12 noon)

 

“The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”: was she an angel warning us?

The 1952 film “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”, by John Brahm, is of some special interest to me right now, with my own fiction project.  The film, in “Warnercolor”, predates the religious spectacles that would start a year later with “The Robe”, when Cinemascope would introduced;  this film is in the old 4:3 aspect.  And it looks a little hokey by modern standards.

The film opens in 1910 with the revolution and establishment of the First Portuguese Republic, which was definitely authoritarian, with mixtures of fascism and communism. Most notably, it as anti-Church.

Fast forward to 1917 when the Catholic churches have been begrudgingly allowed to reopen. Three grade-school-age shepherd children one day in May encounter, in a dry thunderstorm, an apparition hat seems to be the Virgin Mary or some related angel. The angel warns them to say their rosaries and to be careful but to return regularly.  Media accounts often maintain that she was the Virgin Mary.

The family and local priests try to get the kids to remain quiet, but word gets around and soon pilgrims start to arrive to the hill to see the angel again, especially in October.  The kids are arrested and jailed and terrorized, and told they will be responsible for the deaths of their families (a common tactic of totalitarianism). But Hugo (a very hairy-chested Gilbert Roland) gets them out of jail, and the authorities cannot stop the pilgrimage, which assembles in another storm in October 1917. The angel appears and warns everyone that a second great war may happen even though the current World War will end soon.

The Sun comes through the cloud as if it were going to burn up the landscape and then recedes. This conclusion reminds me of the end of a short film “Anton Bruckner’s Ultimate Finale” (Dec. 3, 2016) where an angel or extraterrestrial appears over Vienna with blazing light, burning off a young man’s chest hair in the very last shot.

The style of writing in the script, however, emphasizes simple, almost naïve Christian faith and loyalty to the authority of the Church, with no respect for independent thinking — this stands in contrast to the stark warning of the film.

The film has an epilogue in 1951, showing the modern day church and grounds at Fatima, which I visited myself in April 2001.  The grounds are massive, and various pilgrim groups appear.  There are unusual candles in large quantities.

The music score by Max Steiner is impressive, with choral passages that remind me of Vaughn Williams.

There are various Catholic churches around the world for which claims of miracles around Virgin Mary statues are made.  Two of these are in Aliquippa and Ambridge PA, north of Pittsburgh;  I visited the Aliquippa church briefly in 1989.  Another may be in Harlingen, Texas (near Brownsville), which I think I visited with the help of Southwest Airlines “peanuts fares” when I was living in Dallas, in 1980.  The Church generally does not verify these claims or continue to publish them.

Catholic churches and schools, to a Protestant, seem to have their own world. I can tell that from visits to an “Our Lady of Good Counsel” school in northern Virginia for “Chess for Charity” Sunday afternoon events in the past couple of years.

Fatima church and grounds today (wiki).

Aliquippa (wiki)

Harlingen (wiki)

Name:  “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”
Director, writer:  John Brahm
Released:  1952
Format: 4:3  WarnerColor (an old proprietary process)
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/12/29
Length:  102
Rating:  NA (probably PG-13)
Companies:  Warner Brothers
Link:  Washington Post 2007 article on the Miracle

 

(Posted: Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 at 10 AM EST)

“Burning Sands”: a drama about hazing in a black college fraternity, with catastrophic consequences on Hell Night

Burning Sands”, directed by Gerald McMurray and written with Christine Berg, dramatizes hazing in American college fraternities, and tries to look for a balance between group loyalty and safety for the pledges – when does one tell or snitch?

The film, shot near Petersburg VA (there is one shot of downtown Richmond) seems to take place at a black college.  I would expected the film to show a reasonable racial mix at a modern college, including white, black, native and Asian.  I personally don’t know whether the Greek system still has a lot of racial segregation in southern states.

The film takes place over six labeled days, leading to a Hell Night on a Saturday.

Much of the film is seen through Zurich (Trevor Jackson) who starts out dealing with the 6 AM military-like drills and pushups, and attends class during the week.  English professor Hughes (Alfre Woodard) assigns a paper and at one point says, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Zurich is quite troubled and late with his term paper and consults with an alumnus and Sean Richardson (Steve Harris) who still consuls loyalty to the Greek system.

The hazing gets more brutal, with some blindfolded water torture in a swimming pool.  Finally, one of the pledges gets boxed on the ears.  I’m surprised this would create a serious head injury, but soon the pledge is frothing the mouth. The upperclassmen take the boy to an emergency room in Richmond and run.  Zurich, at the end, calls his father.  One is left with the impression that the boy dies.  Zurich says something like “Now I decipher who my tribe is and live a life to know what the other side is”.

There is another film on Youtube about ragging in a college in India, called “The Punishment” (legacy review), and it is somewhat homoerotic and homophobic at the same time, legacy review.   This short seems to build on the idea of physical body shame and comparison to other men in a group.

During my last first fall freshmen semester at William and Mary in 1961, the freshmen boys (all of them, not just fraternity pledges) were supposed to go to a “tribunal” the last Friday in September, where some of the boys would have their legs shaved.  I skipped out on this, and I wonder if that contributed to my eventual confrontation with the Dean and my expulsion.  I cover all that in my DADT-1 book.

There was an incident at Louisiana State University where a student died, apparently of alcohol poisoning, in a hazing incident, covered on CNN here.

Name:  “Burning Sands”
Director, writer:  Gerald McMurray
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant, 2017/12/28
Length:  102
Rating:  R
Companies: Mandelay, Kino, Netflix
Link:  Kino

(Posted: Friday, December 29, 2017 at 11 AM EST)

“Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin”: 2003 biographical documentary covers activist who connected many issues

A few years ago, Human Rights Campaign (HTC) gave away copies of a DVD for the 2003 PBS POV film “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin”, a biography   I overlooked it, and discovered it while packing to move from house to condo this fall in my own personal “downsizing”.

The 84 minute documentary is directed by Bennett Singer and Nancy Kates. It features a lot of black and white newsreel footage in small aspect, as well as interviews with two of Rustin’s male partners and also Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Rustin is perhaps best known for working with Dr. Martin Luther King on various events including the 1963 March on Washington, as a covert gay man.  But his life spanned many issues, moving from communism to anti-communism, working with labor unions to get them up to speed on civil rights, draft resistance, and only later in life openness about homosexuality. The film ends with some coverage of the 1987 LGB march on Washington;  the 1993 LGB march was larger and better known (I attended it) and covered heavily by writers like Andrew Sullivan.

Throughout his life, the FBI closely monitored him.  He served prison time for resisting the WWII draft, and wrote to his male partner from prison as if his partner was a woman. He had at one time joined the Young Communist League (in 1936) but after the US entered WWII the communists dropped their interest in race relations.  Ironically, later, he would push for racial integration of the military, which Truman achieved in 1948.

Later in life, he would be busted for public sex in Pasadena CA in 1953, and the history of a “morals charge” would be used in rhetoric against him, as by Senator Strom Thurmond (whom we know emphatically opposed lifting the ban on gays in the military in 1993, with his “it isn’t normal” rant in a public assembly in Norfolk right in front of Tracey Thorne.)

Later in his life, Rustin became anti-communist and supported US involvement in Vietnam but criticized many of the specific actions taken by the military. The film does cover the issue of identity politics and intersectionality as Rustin experienced it in earlier generations.  He created controversy as to whether is involvement with labor issues and later Vietnam represented the best interest of “his own people”, African-Americans.  He believed that African-Americans (called “negroes” in the 1960s when I was coming of age) needed to accept that technology would affect the labor market for everyone.  Heliked to use the phrase “angelic troublemakers”.

Name:  “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin
Director, writer:  Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer
Released:  2003
Format:  1.85:1  (often 1:37:1), often BW
When and how viewed:  DVD giveaway from HRC, 2017/12/27
Length:  84
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Question Why, PBS POV
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 at

“The Man Who Invented Christmas”: Charles Dickens authors “A Christmas Carol” as he lives his own ghost story

Bharat Nalluri’s “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a layered meta-telling of Charles Dickens’s classic novel “A Christmas Carol”, by dramatizing his writing of it. Actually, the full title of the novella (quite literary in the sense of high school English indeed) is “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas”, published December 19, 1943 and selling out copies (that is, “instances” in OOP-speak) in record numbers for the time.  The film is actually based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Les Standiford, as adapted for the screen by Susan Coyne.

The film, a well-staged period piece, presents Dan Stevens as the young author, reeling from a few commercial failures (like “American Notes for General Circulation”), as the film starts with his giving the equivalent of a Ted talk on an American stage.

Dickens approaches investors and considers “self-publishing” (he hardly needed the vanity, but he needed to get his career going) and has to borrow some money.  This was a time when books really did have to sell;  there was no capability of allowing freeloaders on the Internet.  The film gets into the relationship with his father (Jonathan Pryce) and an Irish immigrant, Tara (Anna Murphy).  There is enormous pressure to get the cursive manuscript done in six weeks, and illustrated (Simon Callow).

Along the way Dickens has his own visions of the characters, perhaps in dreams or some sort of meditation, as the ghosts return and regret the limitations of their afterlives.  Most compromised of all is Ebeneezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, who pretty much starts out as the same character as John Paul Getty in yesterday’s film – “nothing”). Tara convinces Charles to have Scrooge change heart an save Tiny Tim and adopt or godfather him as family.

Scrooge’s motivation, as a ghost, seems to be obsessed with his own idea of righteousness, and doesn’t want to give in to making others who seem to fail “all right”.  Tiny Tim would present an existential challenge to the aims of his personality. He has to change, or be changed.

I wasn’t aware of the claim that the exaggerated winter solstice festivities of the Christmas season really started with this novel in England.

Donald Trump, as we know, has been bragging that he can bring Christmas back again (MAGA indeed).

The film now has little availability in theaters, having been released a little early for Christmas. I made a “night day trip” and saw it at Countryside Regal Cinemas in Sterling VA.  The theater was very crowded for other films, much more so than many other theaters. Despite popular beliefs, the audiences in this upscale area of northern Virginia look quite diversified.

A Christmas Carol” has been made into a feature film several times, most notably in 2009 in 3-D by Disney and Robert Zemeckis with Jim Carrey (legacy link).

Name:  “The Man Who Invented Christmas”
Director, writer:  Bharat Nalluri, Les Standiford, Susan Coyne, Charles Dickens
Released:  2017/11
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Countryside in Sterling VA, small audience night 2917/12/16 but theater facility as a whole was very crowded with other films
Length:  105
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Bleecker Street    (Canada, Ireland)
Link:  official 

(Posted: Wednesday, December 27, 2017 at 11 AM EST)

“All the Money in the World”: existential moral problem somewhat diluted by expanded thriller format

All the Money in the World” is sold by Sony Pictures as a thriller, but, coming from Ridley Scott and based on a book by John Pearson, the film also provides a setting for a serious moral dilemma, a kind of “Trolley Problem”.

The film, with a lot of dated flashbacks surrounding, chronicles the kidnapping of the 16 year old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) into a van from the streets in Rome in July 1973, and then the grandfather’s refusal to pay ransom. (“Nothing.”)  It’s not too much of a spoiler to give the Wikipedia narrative of the life of the younger Getty, whose life was severely compromised by the event and led to his death at 54.

So I get the senior Getty’s point: if he gives in, then the other fourteen grandchildren are targets.  You don’t negotiate with terrorists. But in a moral sense, you deny the idea that there are victims at all.  The “victim” personally pays for the sins of the perpetrator for all time (unless saved by Grace).   It’s spiritual extortion. That’s why bullied people often commit suicide.

The movie does tell the story of the Getty family, most of all the mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams). She had renounced any fortune to keep her kids after a divorce, and has none when John III is kidnapped. (“I’m not a Getty; I just married one.”) The kidnappers presume that the senior Getty’s deep pockets will cover everything and threaten to send the son back in pieces (like the 1983 horror film “Pieces”).  They turn out to be petty low-level Mafia figures (no surprise) but are thought to be political Communist terrorists during the film. (The parallel to the Patty Hearst case, as in Jeffrey Toobin’s book (Nov. 9, 2016, reviewed by me the day after Trump’s election) seem striking.)  When Gail “hires” private detective Fletcher Chase (“Marky” Mark Wahlberg, whose early adulthood was tough enough) to find Paul and manipulate the “terrorists” into an eventual deal, Feltcher notes the plethora of false claims from other “kidnappers” purporting to have the boy, which is another reason you don’t pay.

Christopher Plummer (no relation to Charlie) is Scrooge-like enough as the senior Getty. But I would have liked to see Kevin Spacey in the role. It took a fantastic amount of work to reshoot all his scenes in three weeks.

The film makes good use of the events of the time, especially senior Getty’s reaction to the Arab Oil Embargo (and contrived “energy crisis”) after the 1973 Yom Kippur war. While it led to gas lines and odd-even rationing in the US, Getty saw an eventual price crash as inevitable after the political crisis was resolved.  But that did not happen.  Gasoline returned to normal in April 1974 but the price stayed “up”, with gasoline about twice its former price.  The film does show briefly how Getty got rich in 1948 by exploring Saudi Arabia, about the time Israel was founded.  As I recall, for years Getty gas stations sold premium gas only (in New Jersey, at least, when I started working as a young adult in 1970 with a job at RCA in Princeton, and traveled and drove a lot.)

There is one false escape sequence, which Getty III is clever enough to pull off by starting a grass fire outside with a cigarette; he gets caught again by corrupt police. Then when he finally does escape with the payoff set up by Chase with considerable manipulation, he winds up banging on doors hoping for radical hospitality from strangers before one final twist seems to save him.

Before his death, the elder Getty, clutching an art work before a fireplace, gives a monologue on how rich people become targets while presented with too many choices.

There is a curious conversation at the end of the film when Gail gets to be the trustee of the estate and gets her kids back. Gail learns (as I have recently in my own situation) that a lot of times trusts don’t allow you to spend your money or even give it away to charity.  You have to make charities into “investments”.  But I guess Bill Gates is pretty good at that.

John Paul Getty III’s son Balthazar Getty is a musician and also an actor in largely independent film and TV.  It’s ironic that Getty III had a fascination with Charles Manson (“Helter Skelter”), according to Wikipedia.

Calabria scene (where Getty was taken by kidnappers), wiki.

I’ll add to the “moral enigma” I mentioned above:  I’m 74 now, and in 2014 I wrote a blog post saying my own life can never be bargained for.

Name: “All the Money in the World”
Director, writer:  Ridley Scott, John Pearson
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, Christmas Day afternoon, near sellout
Length: 135
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Tri-Star
Link:  official 

(Posted: Tuesday, December 26, 2017, at 10:30 AM EST)

“The Shape of Water”: satire, period drama, and more than ordinary horror; in fact, a love story

Guillermo del Terro’s lastest auteur-isch tour de force, “The Shape of Water”, is indeed a cutting social satire of the social and political values of rival “power structures” in the 1960s.  It’s also good horror, and it’s a love story. And it is a period piece.  I worked at the old NBS in Washington DC in 1963-1964 (before there was a UDC) and it really looked like that in the underground tunnels.

The basic premise is a bit concocted. In a secret research facility near Baltimore, the military (read NSA at Fort Meade) holds a captured “alien”, a scaly biped creature with gills and lungs who has to stay under water, discovered in the Amazon, and maybe an extraterrestrial alien. I will accept nothing less.

Maybe the creature is superman. The US wants to send him into space. And at the height of the Cold War, the Russians (and their inside implants) want the alien dead.

The autocratic civilian head, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) plays his world of Trump-like powers.  Among his chargelings are two proles, janitors who bow down to him: Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and the mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins). Strickland treats them with racial remarks that even make a modern audience cringe, and (for Elisa) sexual harassment – and the movie was shot before the recent scandals.

One day Elisa finds the creature (Doug Jones).  After a series of mishaps, Elisa binds to him and the second half of the movie is taken up with her arranging his escape into the Chesapeake Bay, at high tide and after a fall thunderstorm.

Shannon plays well the typical bureaucrat who believes you get things only by intimidation and control. But so does the general  (Richard Jenkins), who near the end warns Strickland about winding up in an alternate universe of “shit” with his own future cosmic existence undone.  Bullies win in this world.

The film mentions other events in the geopolitical environment, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Sputnik, but I didn’t hear mention of the Kennedy Assassination. So maybe the time is early 1963.

Back in the 1960s there was a late Saturday night movie program “Chiller”, of mostly monster movies, where typically you didn’t see the monster until two-thirds the way in.  I can recall “The Werewolf”, “Blood of Dracula”, and “Invasion of the Animal People”.  Or try “Donovan’s Brain”, or “the Undead” or “The Disembodied” (or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, a real classic). Then there was also “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  This film doesn’t quite fit those, because you see the monster early, and he really isn’t a monster, although he fights back with his fingernails at Strickland.  So I could wonder about “Roswell” (1994, or even “Six Days in Roswell”, 1999), or “Fire in the Sky” (1993, about Travis Walton). I could also suggest that Terro could have taken a hint from “An American Werewolf in London” (“The Monster Movie” in 1982) or “Wolfen” and allowed Strickland a full decapitation at the end.  Maybe for a few seconds “you know you’re dead”.

The story is by the director and the script was written with Vanessa Taylor.

A Sense of Wonder from Mathieu Le Lay on Vimeo.

Before the show we were treated to Mathieu LeLay’s  “A Sense of Wonder”  The short appears to he filmed in the Canadian Rockies.

Name:  “The Shape of Water
Director, writer:  Guillermo del Torro
Released:  2017/12/18
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/14
Length:  105
Rating:  R
Companies:  Fox Searchlight
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, December 25, 2017 at 11 AM EST)

“Santa and Andres”: a peasant girl watches a banished writer in Castro’s Cuba, to protect the “revolution”

Santa and Andres”, directed by Carlos Lechuga (based on a story by Eliseo Altunaga), is a bizarre and oddly intimate drama with a stark political warning: communism is deeply hostile to homosexuality and to independent speech.

The setup sounds unpretentious and unpromising. In 1983 in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, a revolutionary peasant girl (Lola Amores) is assigned to watch an exiled gay writer Andres (Eduardo Martinez) in a remote hut conveniently, it turns out, in both mountains and near the shore. Some public event is supposed to go on nearby.

The film starts out in Spanish with a summary of Castro’s purges not only of gay people but of intellectuals in general.  One logically wonders, if his regime is so vulnerable to the books or articles of a few writers, why isn’t that an admission of weakness and illegitimacy?  But of course, the point of this kind of authoritarian is to force everyone to be the same so that everyone has an equal chance to survive, or so that no one can stand off at a distance and benefit from the labor of others.  By that kind of thinking, I wouldn’t be allowed to write and publish on my own without demonstrating some kind of community engagement.  Long term, I see this idea as a real threat today.

We can add a perspective with modern post-Communist Russia, where Putin fears that open speech accepting homosexuality will allow less competitive males to believe there is no point in having their own children and families, in a country with an underpopulation problem and demographic winter.

Andres claims he hasn’t written a word in years, and was banished after writing a book (like my “do ask do tell”) that the government didn’t like.  His mute nephew-boyfriend (?) (Cesar Dominguez), after putting him in a nearby infirmary with a stab wound, turns him in to authorities for having started a ew book.  Andres denies it.  The authorities will come to search his house and throw eggs on him for being queer and, therefore, counter-revolutionary.

So, will any redeeming chemistry come in his relationship with Santa?  Is the new book real?  Why are authorities so concerned about a half-finished handwritten manuscript (rather like my 1969 effort “The Proles” during the time I was in the Army)?

The end reminds me of the Mariel Boatlift (which occurred 3 years before), which resulted in calls for personal hosting of Cuban refugees by the LGBT community in southern cities in late 1980, well before the AIDS crisis would become known.

The film makes Castro’s Cuba look bad, approaching Kim Jong Un’s North Korea (which makes much more show today, but Castro gave us the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962).

The film was actually shot in Colombia.

A good comparison might be “Before Night Falls” (2000), by Julian Schnabel, with Xavier Bardem as Cuban poet and novelist Reynaldo Arenas (Fine Line Features) (legacy review).

Small business in Havana (wiki)

Mariel Boatlift refugee center in Miami (wiki)

Name:  “Santa & Andres
Director, writer:  Carlos Lechuga, Eliseo Altunaga (story)
Released: 2016
Format:  1.85:1  in Spanish, subtitles
When and how viewed:  sample review DVD from distributor, 2017/12/23
Length:  105
Rating:  NA  (R)
Companies:  Breaking Glass Pictures
Link: official  

(Posted: Saturday, December 23, 2017 at 8 PM EST)

“Downsizing”: Go get small

Downsizing”, directed and written by Alexander Payne (with Jim Taylor) seems like a modern telling of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, at least the Lilliputian part, with the same purpose, to poke fun at the way our political systems neglect global problems.

Some time soon a scientist in Norway discovers a way to “downsize” almost any organism by a mass of about 2500:1 with a single injection and heat chamber treatment. Soon companies are offering it to people with enough money, and setting aside “model train” communities around the world, somewhat hidden or perhaps “Under the Dome”, or perhaps like The Truman Show. It’s a way to save the planet from overpopulation (although the film doesn’t mention the whole problem of “the right babies” going along with population demographics).

Matt Damon plays an occupational therapist Paul Safranek working in Omaha.  He has lost out on the chance to go to medical school because he had to care for his mother. One day he and his wife see a former boss (Jason Sudeikis) like a doll on a table, and Paul asked why did you “go get small.” Pretty soon Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) visit Leisureland in New Mexico (having seen the small people in a box on the flight down) and take the sales pitch. They can live like millionaires.

Paul takes the bait.  The scenes tracing the medical “downsizings” are scary enough.  Paul’s body hair is removed as well as the usual Army buzz cut, and his teeth are pulled.  The actual downsizing chamber part takes only a few minutes.  Paul wakes up, bald everywhere like a chemo patient and checks his private parts.  Then he gets dental implants with microteeth (because they don’t shrink and could cause his head to explode).  I’ve had implants myself, and companies like Clear Choice must be laughing at this.  Then Paul finds out that Audrey bailed out of the procedure and wants to divorce him.

The hair grows back, fortunately. A year later, after downsizing to an apartment on Leisureland and starting to date single moms, and after hearing about the political consequences of downsizing in the media, specifically the surreptitious trafficking of downsized immigrants (despite travel bans!) Paul finds out, from a housekeeper (Ngoc Lan Tran) that immigrants like her live in “barrios” for downsized undocumented immigrants.

As with his mom, Paul is very susceptible to moral pressure to give direct service to those in need, and finds himself as a “doctor” working in the barrio. Then the movie takes a turn to Norway, as a neighbor (Christoph Waltz) takes Paul on a trip to Norway to see the original colony.

And here comes the other political consequence: the Earth has reached its tipping point with the chain release of methane gas, so the little people in Norway have set up a “Noah’s arc” underground. Indeed, will the “normal people” become “the Leftovers”?

I did go through my own downsizing in a real estate sense, from inherited house to condo, recently. And I had full dental implants in 2013.  I have yet to undergo a forced shaving.

Also, ponder the fact that certain big cats underwent downsizing thousands of years ago and became the domestic cats, one of the planets most successful mammals. Sometimes it pays to “go small”.

There was a short film with another Marriott “Storybooked” artist, this time sculptor Felix Semper, who visits San Sebastian, Spain (I visited it in 2001), in the Basque area, and then Barcelona, which is dealing with a new Catalan separatist vote today.

La Concha Bay in San Sebastian (wiki).

Name:  “Downsizing”
Director, writer:  Alexander Payne
Released:  2017/12/21
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/22
Length:  135
Rating:  R
Companies:  Paramount (independent)
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, December 22, 2017 at 11:15 PM EST)

 

“Call Me by Your Name”: a charismatic gay teen and an “adult” writer: coming of age story uplifts but leaves troubling questions

Call Me by Your Name” is a gay love story, about a precocious teen and a 30-ish mature writer. The relationship develops gradually over a summer in Tuscany, and according to the novel by Andre Aciman, as adapted to the screen by James Ivory and director Luca Guadagnino, the tension and “suspense” keep up, too.  It’s harder to do this with a relationship over even several months than something that evolves over a short time like a weekend, as in my story “The Ocelot the Way We Is”, which happens over a weekend in the woods and is interrupted at the end with external catastrophe.  There is a sense of possible ruin here, too, but I’ll come back to that.

Oliver, played by Armie Hammer (one of the bitcoin “Winklevii” from “The Social Network” where he played both twins) arrives for the summer and stays in the home of antiquities professor Perlman (Michael Sthulbarg) almost in Airbnb style. The teenager Elio (Tomothee Chalamet) in fact yields his room to the guest and stays in a connecting room. The host family is Jewish, which the script makes something of but it really doesn’t affect the story.

But Elio is no ordinary teen. He is verbal and well-read, plays concert-level piano (like Nolan in my story) and transcribes piano pieces.  Presumably he composes also. He is particularly interested in his games with a Bach chorale which he transcribes in successive stages as if Liszt, Busoni, and even Poulenc might have treated it.  The soundtrack has piano music of a number of composers including Satie, Ravel, and John Adams.  Chalamet plays the music himself (except some of it sounds like two pianos.) The music credits rolled too fast, and I couldn’t note all the composers or composition names.  Much of the music was eclectic and impressionistic. (I did wonder about all the cigarette smoking, but that was more acceptable in the early 80s than it is now.)

Elio starts spending time biking into town with Oliver and, after Oliver notes his intellect, Elio confesses there is one thing he doesn’t “know”.  In fact, during the course of the film he gets laid heterosexually and seems to have been serious about girlfriends. But he also is starting to fall in love with Oliver.

Elio is 17, which in Italy would be over the age of consent.  Although the camera emphasizes the difference in ages, it is Elio who is a bit seductive and Oliver cautious. Were this to happen in the US where the age of consent is 18, there would indeed be a legal angle (which my controversial script “The Sub” raised when I was substitute teaching a decade ago).  Keep in mind that Elio is presented as extremely gifted and charismatic, almost as much as possible for any teen.  The film at one point shows a sign indicating the year of 1981, which was the first year that CDC reported AIDS, and you wonder at the end what might happen in the future, especially if Oliver had already been infected.  There is a curious scene in the middle of the film where Elio has a severe nosebleed, but that doesn’t go anywhere.  In the epilogue, Elio’s father actually becomes supportive of Elio’s direction in life, to come out.

Tuscany coast, Wiki .

Name:  “Call Me By Your Name”
Director, writer:  Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Andre Aciman
Released:  2017/12
Format:  1.85:1;  English, French, Italian, German; set in 1981 in Italy
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/20 late PM fair crowd
Length:  132
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics, Frenesy, Cinefacture
Link:  official 

The theater offered a 10-minute short before the show from Marriot’s “Storybooked” series about artist Paula Wilson, “Weaving Threads Between the Ancient and Contemporary”, filmed in the Andes in Peru, stressing barren landscapes with copper-red mountains as well as Inca ruins and weaved clothing.

(Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2017, at 10:30 PM EST)