I’ve accepted a generous invitation to visit and cover the 2012 Hanoi Film Festival (11.25 through 11.29). I’ll leave a few days before Thanksgiving to visit Danang and Hue before returning to Hanoi for four days of moviegoing, interviewing and event-covering. I’m figuring there will have to be at least four or five Asian-produced films worth savoring. It’ll be a chance to learn, open up and breathe in fresh aromas.
“This is one of those movies that depend on your not thinking much about it; for as soon as you reflect on what’s happening rather than being swept up in the narrative flow, there doesn’t seem much to it aside from the skill with which suspense is maintained despite the fact that you know in advance how it’s going to turn out.
“Nothing hangs on the way it turns out. Once the deed is successfully done, there’s really nothing much to say, and anything that is said seems contrived. That is the virtue of an entertainment like this; it doesn’t linger in the memory and provoke afterthoughts. One need not, and should not, pause for an instant while consuming it. It is a confection — perhaps that’s the message; everything is confection; movies, diplomacy, what’s the difference? — and it goes down well, leaving no aftertaste whatsoever.” — from a 10.29 N.Y. Times “Opinionator” piece by Stanley Fish, author and professor of humanities and law at Miami’s Florida International University.
Fish’s comments echo my own to some extent.
New York City needs to do more than simply admit error in case of the wrongly-convicted, wrongly-imprisoned Central Park Five — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam. Nine years ago the five filed a federal lawsuit against the city, seeking $50 million each in damages or $250 million total. “If anyone deserves to be financially compensated for a perversion of justice, it’s these guys,” I wrote seven weeks ago.
I came to this conclusion after seeing Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon‘s The Central Park Five, a PBS-funded doc about the 1989 Central Park Jogger rape case, at the Telluride Film Festival. Earlier this month the N.Y. Times reported that “lawyers for New York City want to explore if much of the film’s unpublished interviews and unreleased footage might help them” defend against the above-mentioned lawsuit. Let’s hope that they lose and that the five receive full financial compensation.
But at the same time let’s not go overboard with praise for The Central Park Five, which I don’t feel is honest and inquisitive enough to warrant Oscar consideration. Its heart is in the right place, but its embrace of a rotely compassionate liberal approach to the facts is, in my view, overly emphatic as it either ignores or fails to sufficiently explore certain points. A real-deal doc exposes all the facts of a given situation as much as possible, warts and all & let the chips fall. By my sights The Central Park Five doesn’t do this. Instead it pushes an argument against the wrongness of the city’s prosecution of the five youths (which we all agree with) and offers a pat, incomplete portrait of the five as well as the 1989 rape victim, Trisha Meili.
* “The five unjustly convicted youths were not blameless angels, although the film tries to indicate this. They were part of a roving gang that was harassing and beating the crap out of anyone they happened to encounter. The five say in the film that they were just watching this activity and going ‘wow,’ but I don’t believe in my gut they were just onlookers. It was the metaphor of a sizable gang of black kids hurting victims at random and the inflaming of this by the media and politicians that got the five convicted as much as anything else, and I resented the film trying to sidestep the likelihood that they were bad-ass teenagers at the time who were up to no good.”
* “It was one thing when one mentally challenged defendant in the West Memphis Three case confessed to having killed three boys, but the mind reels at the idea of four guys who weren’t mentally challenged confessing to the Central Park rape, and with their parents or guardians in the room! Four kids plus four guardian/parents — that’s eight instances of massive stupidity. The kids had been grilled and pressured by NYPD detectives because they’d been involved in a ‘wilding’ incident that same night in which a gang of about 30 kids from their general neighborhood had randomly attacked and beaten up a couple of victims inside the park. But the absurdity of four kids confessing en masse to something they didn’t do because they were tired and wanted to go home is mind-boggling. And the filmmakers barely touch this. It is simply explained that the confessions were coerced. Madness.”
* “Not only does Trishna Meili not speak to the filmmakers, but a photo of her isn’t even used, despite her having written a book, ‘I Am The Central Park Jogger.’ Her injuries were so severe and traumatizing that she’s never been able to remember the incident, but to not even explain the whys and wherefores of her absence from the film seems strange. She may not have wanted to be in the film, okay, but why not at least explain that? And why wouldn’t she want to be in the film if she’d written a book about the attack and her recovery? The film doesn’t even run a pertinent quote or two from her book. Incomplete and irksome.”
I got into trouble (i.e., accused of insensitivity by liberal p.c. bullies) when I explained my final dispute, so let me try and explain a little better this time:
* Why was the victim, Trisha Meili, jogging in the vicinity of 102nd street on a dark road inside the park around 10:30 pm? I know New York City and that is flat-out insane. Nobody of any gender or size with a vestige of common sense should’ve jogged in Central Park after dusk in the late ’80s (when racial relations were volatile and Manhattan “was a completely schizophrenic and divided city”), much less above 96th street and much less above friggin’ 100th street. Everybody knows you don’t tempt fate like that. When Meili was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in 2007, Winfrey said the following: “When I first heard about you, I thought, ‘Why were you running alone in Central Park at night?'” ** And no one in the film even mentions this, not even anecdotally. This was my very first thought when I heard the facts of the case. Five year olds who’ve had Grimm Fairy Tales read to them know that wolves lurk in the forest in the black of night.
These shortcomings aside The Central Park Five is a thorough-minded, well-ordered and commendable exploration of a miscarriage of justice. It’s certainly worth seeing. But it indulges in too much sidestepping to be nominated for Best Documentary Feature.
** Meili responded to Winfrey as follows: “You’re not the first person to say that. For me, running was a release at the end of the day, and I had this feeling that, ‘Hey, I have every right to run where I want, when I want.’ Wells response: Of course she had that right. Just like a visitor to the Florida Everglades has the right to go wading in the swamps with alligators swimming about.
“I’d been running in the park for two years,” Meili went on. “It was not a smart thing to do. Believe me, I’m not sitting here trying to justify it. Yet that is absolutely no justification for what happened to me.” Wells response: Of course not. No one’s talking about blaming the victim for anything. The point is simply “what constitutes common sense and what doesn’t?”
“But the idea of running alone in Central Park is a foreign concept to me,” Winfrey responded. “You had to be the kind of person who either thought you were invincible or who was just nuts.”
“I wouldn’t say I was nuts,” Meili replied. “Maybe I thought I was invincible.”
Gold Derby‘a Tom O’Neil has a “wacky Best Picture race chart” up — a capturing of how Best Picture betting has fared over the last five weeks. Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln were the front-runners on 9.23, but now Argo leads with 12 pundits out of 25 picking it to win. Les Miserables, which no one will see until early December, follows with 8. Prediction: the SLP haters will modify their positions after it opens on 11.21.
My initial reaction to the oncoming Hurricane Sandy (posted on Sunday) was that I wished I could be in New York to experience it. I still wish that. I also said it might be another Hurricane Irene and that New Yorkers who were “genuinely worried” struck me as a bit candy-assed. And I shouldn’t have said that. I apologize. I went past the limit. The worst is over now but Frankenstorm turned out to be a really heavy deal.
The house fires in Breezy Point, Queens especially. Just flat-out tragic. I understand and respect the hurt and the fear that Hurricane Sandy has caused. Of course I do. Very bad news for many millions. Very traumatic, unsettling all around. Seven million without power. The Con Ed sub-station explosion on East 14th Street. Hospital evacuations. 14 people dead. At least the worst is over.
Lewis Miller‘s Suddenly (’54) has always been a second-rate melodrama about an attempted assassination of a U.S. President by three psycho goonies (one played by Frank Sinatra). Many crappy-looking public domain VHS and DVD versions have appeared over the years, but a better looking Bluray version came out two weeks ago from HD Cinema. DVD Beaver’s Gary W. Tooze praises says it “actually supports some of the film’s grain structure” and it “seems the best of the digital editions.”
1.85 screen capture from one of the cheesy DVD versions of yore.
Screen capture from HD Video’s Bluray version.
But what a shame that it’s presented in a 1.37 aspect ratio…right? Look at that needless information on the top of the frame!
Last week I finally caught Julian Jarrold‘s The Girl on HBO. It seemed all right — not terrible, not difficult to watch — but I was bored for the most part, such that I couldn’t push out a review for this column. It may be at least a somewhat accurate portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock‘s cruel and creepy obsession with Tippi Hedren, the cool, brittle-mannered actress he chose to star in The Birds and Marnie. But The Girl is a tired tale about icky, tedious behavior.
It’s a modest, low-budgety, visually perfunctory thing that contains a skillful, well-tuned performance by Toby Jones (I got the idea that he might turn out to be a better Hitchcock than Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock) and a pretty good one by Sienna Miller, but it doesn’t build or snap open or go anywhere.
The story of an older, powerful, not very attractive man trying to persuade a beautiful young actress to sprinkle a little sexual sugar into his erotically starved existence…yes, fine, but there’s not enough there. Unrequited sexual obsession will never be interesting to anyone. Desperation can only turn up the need or the volume.
I didn’t feel sympathy for Jones’ Hitch, but I didn’t want to watch him behave in this sad manner. I’ve known Hitchcock all my life and while I’m not for a second disputing what went on with Tippi, I’d rather just put the icky Hitch in a cardboard box and take it out to the garage and put it on a high shelf.
I wouldn’t dispute the legend that Hitchcock was a bit of a twisted pretzel. Two Donald Spoto books about him, “The Dark Side of Genius” and “Spellbound By Beauty”, persuaded everyone that Hitch, by whatever pathetic process, allowed his feelings of erotic frustration to manifest into a bizarre obsession with Hedren, which led to acute pain and discomfort for both of them.
In the ’50s and ’60s Hitch was mesmerized by actresses who exuded that cool, blonde, quietly slutty ice-queen quality (Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles, Hedren) and did what he could to mold these actresses into versions of this sexual ideal. And then he made Vertigo, a now-legendary 1958 drama about a man who falls in love with a classy erotic dream girl, watches her die and then re-molds a woman (Novak) he meets on the street into a version of the dead girl. Two years later he made Psycho, a classic 1960 horror film, in which a cool and brittle slut queen (played by Janet Leigh, who is first seen in a white bra and a slip in a crummy hotel room, having just fucked John Gavin on her lunch hour) is murdered in the shower. Hitch made films about his own interior realm, and his imagination was nothing if not perverse.
And then, from ’61 to ’64, Hitch completely devoted himself to making Hedren into the ultimate ice queen in The Birds and Marnie. Sadly, clumsily, he tried to take his professional relationship with her beyond a matter of craft and into the intimate, and he failed miserably. And now we’re obliged to ponder this sordid saga on HBO.
Please, Jones keeps saying to Miller. I’m not a dashing attractive fellow but I’m doing so much for you. Ecch, she keeps responding. No, really…please, he says again. I really am doing quite a lot for you. Can’t you do a little something for me? And she makes no attempt to hide her disgust. Hitch was a wealthy man after Psycho — why didn’t he just arrange for some ice-blonde hookers to drop by his Universal office after dinner hour? Because Hitch was hot for icy upscale class — real breeding, cultivation, refinement — and hookers don’t know how to do that.
I didn’t care at all for a scene in which Hitch is shooting that scene in The Birds in which Hedren climbs down a ladder on a Bodega Bay pier and starts up a small motor boat. The bay in The Birds is completely placid and lake-like, but in The Girl the scene is clearly being shot on a turbulent ocean cove, complete with high winds and whitecaps. Second-rate replications are what low-rent filmmaking is partly about.
The Presidential campaign might be “functionally over” (as MSNBC’s Laurence O’Donnell just said an hour ago) as of right now, due to Frankenstorm. The storm will rule between now and Wednesday or Thursday. So there’ll basically be some campaigning Friday through Monday — four days. Before that Obama gets to be the nation’s leader overseeing the vast recovery efforts and Shallow Mitt can’t afford to appear to care more about his election chances than the welfare and safety of hurricane victims.
FiveThirtyEight‘s Nate Silver is saying the numbers are more or less where they were in June, and Romney is on record as being in favor of shutting down FEMA. I think the election is over as of today with the odds clearly favoring Obama squeaking through to a win.
There are no facts if you’re determined to reject them by hook or crook. There are no persuasive arguments or narratives. There is only what people want to believe.
Some meteorologists believe there is a clear relationship between Frankenstorm and reduced Arctic sea ice caused by human-driven climate change. In plainer reductionist language, the proponents of climate-change denial, which are largely collected under the Republican umbrella, are not wholly responsible but are almost certainly partly responsible for the Hurricane Sandy catastrophe now unfolding.
“It could very well be that general warming along with high sea-surface temperatures have lengthened the tropical storm season, making it more likely that a Sandy could form, travel so far north, and have an opportunity to interact with a deep jet-stream trough associated with the strong block, which is steering it westward into the mid-Atlantic,” Francis writes.
“While it’s impossible to say how this scenario might have unfolded if sea-ice had been as extensive as it was in the 1980s, the situation at hand is completely consistent with what I’d expect to see happen more often as a result of unabated warming and especially the amplification of that warming in the Arctic. Losing ice, reducing the poleward temperature gradient, and warming the entire climate system should contribute to increasing the likelihood of anomalous storms.”
A 2011 Mitt Romney statement in which he took a dim view of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and stated the disaster relief should be handled by the states and the private sector will almost certainly circulate around over the next two or three days. With Frankenstorm looming, will Joe and Jane Dumbass take note and draw lines between the dots?
“The Romney campaign said early Monday morning that Romney stood behind a statement first made during a 2011 Republican debate, in which Romney said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be disbanded, and its powers either privatized or given to the states,” says a 10.29 report.
“Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction,” Romney said during a 2011 Republician debate. “And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”
“Asked by debate moderator John King if that included cutting disaster relief, Romney said, ‘We cannot…we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.'”