“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”: the hypocrisy of the world of a left-wing lawyer comes to a head (like it can for a blogger)

Roman J. Israel, Esq.” may not sound like the name of a black activist lawyer (played by Denzel Washington), but the new film by Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) starts in a most non-visual fashion, with an image of the legal complaint where Roman sues himself for hypocrisy (or perhaps gratuitous speech).

Yes, I’ve made little videos comprising images of paperwork. The opening image may explain why the film, long at 125 minutes, was shot in the conventional 1.85:1 aspect.

As the mains story line starts, we find out that the owner of the LA law film Roman works for is in a permanent vegetative state after a stroke, and that the law firm will close.  Enter George Pierce (Colin Farrell) who makes no bones about the fact that left-leaning law firms that help destitute underclass clients still have to make money.

That sets up the trap, where Roman has to play the system against itself.  I know that idea as a blogger. Roman needs money for his own life, fast.  Screenwriting 101.  Even so, he has floated the idea of a class action lawsuit to stop all plea bargains which deny poor defendants a chance at exoneration (and this brings up the idea of the Innocence Project and films about wrongful convictions, like “Dream / Killer” by Andrew Jenks about Ryan Ferguson).  He also mentions the privatization of prisons, and describes the hole system as one that keeps blacks in their place (as in the film “13th”.Nov 14, 206)

The firm gets a case involving a convenience store murder, where the guy who pulled the trigger disappears   Roman is first assigned to help the other know-nothing defendant, and even tries to cap a plea bargain with the butch female prosecutor . The Armenian community puts up reward money, and in time Roman takes the bait, literally pulling $100,000 in cash out of a trash barrel.

The film makes a lot of the pressure trial lawyers work under (much like the John Grisham novel movies like “The Firm” and “The Pelican Brief”, oh, and even “The Rainmaker”).  They have to think and talk on their feet for a client’s interests.  As a blogger/journalist, I don’t have to do that.  I feel like I’m not supposed to take sides.

There is a scene late in the film, as Roman contemplates his own end, as he drives alone out into the desert, and he thinks a sports car is following him.  He brakes and runs off the road. The teenagers (Kevin Balmore, who looks Hispanic, and Miles Heizer, who looks white) come back and actually want to help.

The music score, by James Newton Howard, is schmaltzy, with a touch of jazz.

I wasn’t sure if the technology was supposed to be current.  Some of the cell phones look modern, others were flips.  The computers looked more like late 90s.

There are scenes at the Los Angeles County Courthouse and later the federal district court in LA.  I kept thinking of Reid Ewing’s wonderful little short film “I’m Free” filmed in the former.  Roman is not , in this lifetime.

Intellectual Takeout (Annie Holmquist) offered a perspective on Denzel Washington’s own perspective on the film and the causes of violent or self-destructive behavior among men of color:  fatherlessness. Here is more about Denzel’s comments in the New York Daily News.  Don’t blame private prisons.  A fair question to follow up with could concern the moral obligations of childless people.

Picture: Along I-10, May 2012, near Ontario CA, my trip.

Name: “Roman J. Israel, Esq”
Director, writer:  Dan Gilroy
Released:  2017/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/11/25, night, fair crowd
Length:  125
Rating:  R
Companies:  Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2017 at 4:45 PM EST)

“Only the Brave”: firefighting is like the military, and the horror of a firestorm is well noted

Only the Brave”, directed by Joseph Kosinski and based on the GQ article by Sean Flynn, is a rather frightening Imax dramatic account of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, 19 of whom were trapped by Yarnell Hill fire in western Arizona on June 30, 2013, and roasted to death, despite being inside their fire bags.  The film release is timely given the recent destructive wildfires around Santa Rosa CA especially.

I presume the film has a lot of real footage of the fires, which explode and approach with shocking speed.

Much of the story concerns the group’s founder Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), his wife (Jennifer Connelly), and one particular firefighter with a criminal record whom Eric hires and takes under his wing, Brendan McDonough, played by Miles Teller.  Now Teller often plays the charismatic young man who falls under the spell of an older mentor (as the jazz drummer in “Whiplash” (2014), so sometimes his roles seem self-contradictory.  His bod gets tested enough, first by P.T. (he vomits after finishing an uphill sprint the first time), and then by a desert rattler bite in the middle of the film, where Brendan does without the painkillers and anti-venom (and gets his bandages torn off his leg at a party rather unceremoniously). But once his daughter is born, he almost quits in order to be a better dad, before Eric talks that down.  Really, we’re too valuable to die only when we have kids?  Brendan is generous with radical hospitality, offering a teammate a room to stay in his apartment. Brendan, working as a “foreword observer” and apart from the unit, is the only member to survive.

In fact, the movie seems to convey a moral message about physical courage and risk sharing.  The Hot Shots are like a military unit, and individualistic men probably would not fit into it.  The rest of us depend on young men to sacrifice themselves, when life goes on for us.

The film twice gives us the image of a burning bear (grizzly), all its body hair on fire, fleeing the flames alive.

It’s noteworthy that women are not shown as members of the hot shots. There is old-fashioned unit cohesion among the men; sexuality (outside of Brendan’s daddyhood) and gender never come up in conversation.

Yarnell Hill Fire picture, Wiki.

Picture: brush in southern Nevada, my trip, 2012. Second picture: residual fire damage about Gatlinburg TN, six months after fire, my visit, July 10, 2017.

Name:  “Only the Brave”
Director, writer:  Joseph Kosinski
Released:  2017/10/20
Format:  2.39:1, Imax
When and how viewed:  AMC Tysons 2017/10/23, afternoon fair crowd
Length:  133
Rating: PG-13
Companies: Sony  Columbia Pictures, Black Label Media
Link:  official 

(Posted: Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“Blade Runner 2049”: The 30-year reset; can synthetic people attract souls?

The original “Blade Runner” (1982), directed by Ridley Scott, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?”, had an interesting premise, that ranged far and due to happen soon, om 2019;  a blade runner would track down slave replicants who had stolen a space ship and “illegally” (Trump-like) returned to Earth to look for their creator.  I saw the original film at Northpark in Dallas.

The newer film “Blade Runner 2049”, directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve, was necessary to reset the calendar.  It starts out by showing up an eyeball, and then a huge array of solar panels in a very smoggy California desert, before a vigorous young LAPD detective named “K” (Ryan Gosling) tracks down rogue replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) and winds the hand-to-hand battle, tearing out walls in a remote desert house, before finding human remains.

The movie seem sets up is premise, which is geographically limiting. The older replicants were to be retired and eliminated, and the newer ones are integrated into society.  But soon K gets information on a missing veteran replicant Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), and discovers that replicants can actually reproduce.  K’s adventures lead him to a particular ogre, Nilander Wallace (Jared Leto), who sets up a demonstration of a holographic pregnancy surrounded by disembodied black crawling eyes as if they were partial creature remnants themselves.  (There was a horror film “The Crawling Eye” on “Chiller” in the early 60.s).  There is curious terminology that calls the new replicants “angels”.

K moves between the city, modern LA, and a work farm out in the Mojave Desert, where kids (“proles”) are trained in a massive work farm, to burned out Las Vegas (“Cibola” from Stephen King’s “The Stand”). There is a critical scene with the Luxor (where I stayed in 1997) in the distance), which is ironically across the street from the rampage on Oct. 1.  Coincidence?

Some of the scenes, with bizarre alien structures laid across the desert, are impressive, but most of the time in this film, you don’t really know where you are going. But it is the psychological composition of the people that gets interesting.  First of all, K has gradually come to realize that he is a replicant himself. He is told he has no soul by a supervisor (Robin Wright), and that some of his childhood memories were implanted digitally.

Yet, K seems psychologically intact.  He may have mild Asperger’s, but he is really quite likeable and self-aware, and seems to have a certain intellectual integrity that doesn’t require close involvement with other people. It’s almost like he is a kind of Alan Turning, or maybe “The Good Doctor”. He could be fine as your best friend.  Relationships with women turn out to be fantasy pieces with holograms, but why not.  He doesn’t seem inclined to reproduce, but has discovered that maybe he is supposed to. It’s not hard to imagine how this kind of film could have used a gay subplot.

The movie would beg the question, what really gives someone an identity?  If your memories could be transferred (like by a virus) to someone else’s brain, could you wake up perceiving yourself in that person’s body.  It would be a good way for a 70 year old to become 21 again.  With a finite list of souls, no one dies, and there is no need for reproduction.  But then you don’t do your part dealing with the entropy of the universe.  Inevitability of death is tied to life.

I saw the film at Tyson’s AMC in 3-D, having left Friday’s just before the Washington Nationals came up with their winning home run rally in the game I was watching on a plasma screen during dinner.

The film was produced by Columbia Pictures (and Alcon, and Scott-Free) and has plenty of references to Sony products. It is distributed by Warner Brothers.  The introduction dispensed with the trademark music and went right into the Hans Zimmer’s bizarre musical world of sliding scales (more dissonant than the 1982 score by Vangelis).   The music score often quotes Prokofiev’s March from “The Love of Three Oranges”

Previewers of the film were required to sign unusual non-disclosure agreements of certain spoilers, but they probably don’t matter much now.

Name:  “Blade Runner 2049
Director, writer:  Denis Villeneuve, DGC
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1, Imax, 3D
When and how viewed:  AMC Tysons 2017-10-7, evening, ample crowd
Length:  165
Rating:  R
Companies:  Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Alcon, Scott-Free
Link:  WB

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 at 4:30 PM EDT)

“Flatliners”: no, this doesn’t tell us what happens after death

I do vaguely remember the 1990 version of “Flatiners”, but I was curious enough to see the 2017 remake by Niles Arden Oplev based on Peter Fliardi’s short story.

I could say Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Courtney can do better than that. As a pesky medical resident, she concocts the idea of breaking into a mysterious equipment room in the basement of a Toronto hospital with her colleagues, doing death penalty drugs (including popofol) to create a near death experience, then recording the brain wave hologram to make a movie of the NDE. She gets gullible colleagues to go along, including the Brit-looking Jamie (James Norton) and Marlo (Nina Dobrev). The dashing Ray (Diego Luna) refuses at first but comes down to save them, and joins the group.

It’s pretty predictable.  The NDE’s are typical enough, but then ghosts from each doctor’s life comes back to haunt each one, based one each one’s karma.  Marlo especially has a problem with falsifying the record of a patient who had died because of her mistake.

The basement reminds me of the secret dorm cellar room at William and Mary in 1961 where freshman tribunal hazings were held.  I skipped out on them, which may have contributed to the anti-gay rumors and my expulsion. In the rituals, supposedly “they” shaved the boys legs in order to convey the idea of sacrificing individuality to join the group (“take one for the team”).  That idea may be more relevant to the afterlife than what happens in this film.

Kiefer Sutherland is strict enough as Dr. Wolfson, who harasses the residents with their daily oral exams. Maybe he can ask them what a Weiss Ring is.  I don’t think Jack Andraka’s medical school will be anything like this.  I’d like to see a movie of “Breakthrough”.

Toronto at night doesn’t seem as effective a backdrop as NYC.

Nathan Barr’s chamber music score is effective, but the piano playing of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” by a ghost is a little trite. A Danzi quartet is also quoted.

Toronto Wiki of “Annex” houses similar to movie.

Name:  “Flatliners”
Director, writer:  Niles Arden Oplev (DGC), Peter Filardi
Released:  2017 (remake of 1990)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter 2017/9/30, fair crowd
Length:  104
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sony Columbia Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 at 7:45 PM EDT)

“Spider-Man: Homecoming”: Tom Holland plays the perfect teen nerd hero

“I am Spider-Man.  With great power comes great responsibility”.

An earlier film where Tobey Maguire played Spider-Man ended that way.  This time, with the new Marvel film “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017), directed by Jon Watts and written by Jonathan Goldstein et al, the franchise presents a teen super-hero who might be comparable to Clark Kent in the WB “Smallville Series”.

Peter Parker is played by young British actor Tom Holland, now 21 but probably 19 when the film was shot. We get to see his ultra-lean body a couple times when he changes into the spider suit (I though about Milo Yiannopoulos saying fat people hate thin people like Milo).  His best friend in his nerdy hdgh school science crowd is Ned (Jacob Batalon), the same age as an actor, but rather pudgy.  Ned does all the computer hacking and shell-scripting.

The film opens with its own embedded short film, as “A Film by Peter Parker”, in the old 1.37:1 aspect projected onto the much wider screen, of Peter’s boyhood.  Then we see Peter living in Queens with his Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) playing with his superpowers and accompanying his classmates on  a trip to a Washington DC hotel for an academic decathlon.  The physics an calcolus teacher (Tony Revolori, as if right out the “Art of Problem Solving” videos) seems to be their mentor up to a point.   When the vulture (Michael Keaton) threatens terror on New York and Washington (a not so subtle political hint) Peter spins his web into action (sometimes recalling Captain America), rescuing his classmates from the Washington Monument (remember the 2011 earthquake), and then from the Staten Island Ferry when the boat breaks in half.  There is a closing climax over Coney Island, perhaps near the old Seaside Courts on the boardwalk.

Peter turns to the Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr) as a kind of “mentor”, despite multiple detentions from school system that doesn’t understand he Peter can save everybody.

Holland seems to be creating a combined persona of some clean-cut youthful science heroes now in their early twenties, such as Stanford undergraduate Jack Andraka (who has been called “nano-man” in a little comics series on Twitter), and Taylor Wilson, who invented a fusion reactor at age 14.  (Peter says he is 15.)  The body language and speech similarity of Holland’s character and Andraka is quite striking.  Jack wants everybody to have nanobots in their bloodstreams to detect and knock cancer before it can start.  Is that the premise of another Marvel movie?  (Echoes of “Fantastic Voyage”).

Name:  “Spider-Man: Homecoming
Director, writer:  Jon Watts
Released:  2017
Format: 2.35:1, 3-D, Imax-compatible, prologue is 1.37:1
When and how viewed:  Tyson’s AMC, 2017/8/16 late fair crowd
Length:  133
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Marvel, Columbia Pictures (Spider-Man Marvel productions are distributed by Sony)
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 2:30 PM)

“The Dark Tower”: basic Stephen King, and an interesting tour of another planet

I can remember a dream as a child, looking across a nocturnal, oily, desert landscape with a lighthouse in the distance and a command from on high, “Do not go near the Tower of Ned”. Indeed, there is such a tower in my own screenplay “Epiphany”, on Titan, on a methane lake (most of the action happens in a rotating rama colony).

The horror sci-fi film “The Dark Tower”, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, is based on Stephen King’s novel series by that name. Indeed, part of the movie happens on another planet (actually filmed in South Africa), accessible through a portal, largely desert, populated with shanty towns and ruins of pyramid-like structures, leading to a sanctum where the Man in Black Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey, who has a chance to be bad in rather arid fashion) unleashes his minions. He seeks to control an engine of the Universe, the so-called Dark Tower, made to look like Burj Khalifa Dubai, a metaphor for some kind of pulsar emitting rays in straight line fashion. His opponent is Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger (Irdis Elba).

Vox has pointed out that the film adaptation is rather loose (screenplays by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, and Anders Thomas Jensen as well as the director). I haven’t read the novels, but I remember great characters from other King novels becoming movies, like the “Walkin’ Dude” in “The Stand” as well as films like “Dreamcatcher” and “Storm of the Century” (sold in print as a screenplay, “Give me what I want and I’ll go away”), as well as the book “Cell”.(where technology makes people into monsters).

The star of the movie is the 13-year-old kid Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who anticipates the Dark Tower rivalry in his dreams, and whose fantasies and writings (he’s written graphic novel) are so shocking that his mother (Katheryn Winnick)l want to send him (from an upper West Side apartment) to therapy upstate (arranged by the villains). Instead, Jake will become almost the next Christ figure.

I saw this film as a break for news coverage about the North Korea nuclear crisis, and just as the movie ended I learned of Mattis’s stark warning backing up Trump’s.  Kim Jong Un is indeed a caricature of the Man in Black.

The music by Junkie XL reminds me of Hans Zimmer.

Vox commentaries (one  two).

South African scenery (wiki).

Burj in Dubai (wiki).

Name:  “The Dark Tower
Director, writer:  Nikolaj Arcel
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/8/9, daytime, moderate audience
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Columbia
Link:  official


(Posted: Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 at 5:45 PM EDT)

“LIFE”, a monster movie, hails from “Alien” and “The Thing”

LIFE”, directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, is a monster movie, maybe “The Monster Movie” (a wordmark claimed by “An American Werewolf in London” (1982)).  It reminds me not only of the “Alien” franchise (I missed Ripley), but even “The Thing” (1982, especially) and “The Blob”, maybe even “It Crawled out of the Woodwork“.  It is not “pro-life” in a narrower political sense.

“Life” also takes place in a confined volume, a space station, with its internal three dimensions and various vaults and locks (rather like a submarine).  People working in such an environment indeed need “unit cohesion” and have no privacy.  Sam Nunn would notice.   But I always wonder if you need Imax and a huge screen for a film that focuses on closeups, however gory.   I could have wondered the same thing for “Gravity” (2013).

The premise is simple enough.  The crew has custody of a same brought back from Mars.  Eventually were are told that this one life form may have destroyed all life there, so it wouldn’t be cool for it to show up on Terra.

Conveniently (for the storytelling), one of the crew starts feeding the sample.  What looks amorphous develops gray flaps, and then a mollusk-like structure with tentacles.  Then, like “Alien”, it gets arthropod-like mouths (successively enclosed).  The monster (like “The Thing”) can take on the appearance of what it has just eaten, or invaded.  There are a couple scenes where the tentacles embrace the victims, as if out of gay love, and then “f—“ the prey in both the mouth and rear end, consuming him from within.  There is even a follow up scene of vomiting blood in a weightless environment. In the past, a certain Dallas critics named Joe Bob would have said “check it out”.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the pilot David Jordan, and continues a trend set in four of his last five movies, starting with “Nightcrawler” (2014), of having shaved his arms.  He hasn’t done a bicycle road racing or swimming movie yet (does he want to play Michael Phelps some day?)  The rest of the cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada,  Rebecca Ferguson, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare.

If you compare this film to “Alien” (especially the first one in 1979), it lacks the variety of showing landscapes on another planet. In “Alien” we got to see a cave with egg cases, and a mummy of life form that might have been partially silicon-based.  In “Alien 3” (1992), I remember that Ripley gets clippers for “private parts”.

In the end, there will be a Hobson’s choice, so to speak, of who returns to Earth.  And, unfortunately, it looks like there will be a sequel.  But I thought that for “The Thing”.

There weren’t many people in the auditorium when I saw it Saturday afternoon.  But Sunday afternoon, I happened to drive by a multiplex on Maryland Route 60 just north of Hagerstown and noticed a very full lot.  Very interesting.  And I recall a moment standing in line to see Alien in 1979 in north Dallas and seeing a young man who had been horribly burned.  The sight stayed in my memory.

Congratulations to Columbia Pictures (Sony) for playing its entire logo.

The music score by Jon Ekstrand opens with a triadic passage (was that G Major) that resembles “Thus Spake Zarathrustra” (Richard Strauss, as starting “2001: A Space Odyessy” (1968)), and the closing credits offer a complete, coherent orchestral tone poem  (ending on the same triadic motive, in triumph but then dying away) that deserves concert performance.  There are intervening dance-like episodes with a flavor resembling Shostakovich.

Name: “LIFE”
Director, writer:  Daniel Espinosa
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1, Imax available
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/3/25
Length:  111
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sony-Columbia
Link:  official

Picture: Virginia Air and Space Museum, Hampton, VA, 2012

(Posted: Monday, March 27, 2107 at 12 noon EDT)