20130831: Comedy Review--Midsummer Night's Dream

Name: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1996)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy, romance.   Country of origin: UK.

Cast: Starring Alex Jennings as Theseus and Oberon, Lindsey Duncan as Hippolyta and Titania, Barry Lynch as Philostrate and Puck, Emily Raymond as Helena, Monica Dolan as Hermia, Kevin Doyle as Demetrius, Daniel Evans as Lysander, Desmond Barrit as Nick Bottom.

Written and directed by:  Adrian Noble.    Original play: William Shakespeare.

The Three Acts: 

The initial tableaux: 
The conceit of this production was that a boy dreams the entire play.  That takes a little getting used to.  The set design is unexpected as well, with both classical and modern abstract elements.

The upperclass layer takes place in the court of Duke Theseus of classical Athens, who is about to marry Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.  In Theseus' court are Egeus plus his daughter Hermia, as well as Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius.

The lower class layer is illustrated by Nick Bottom, who is the silliest of the craftsmen preparing a play within the play for the entertainment of the Duke and Duchess to be.

The last layer is that of the fairies in the wood surrounding the palace.  This includes King Oberon, Queen Titania, the trickster Puck, and several lesser fairies.

The delineation of conflicts:
Egeus beseeches Theseus to rule that Hermia must marry Demetrius.  Hermia is interested in Lysander, while Demetrius has left his former companion Helena, who still loves him.  Oberon and Titania are squabbling as well.

During a single evening set mostly in the enchanted wood, the craftsmen prepare for the play. Hermia and Lysander attempt to run off in defiance of Egeus and the Duke.  Helena follows Demetrius about.  Oberon sets Puck upon all of them to have his amusement. Puck's love spells land on the four young adults, and odd pairings proceed.  Puck has a special spell that he casts on Bottom, whose head is afflicted.  Titania, also the target of Puck, swoons for Bottom, gross appearance and all.

Some of Puck's spells go awry; does he fix them?  Toward the end, the play-within-a-play about Pyramus and Thisbe was delightfully executed.

One line summary: RSC does the Shakespeare play.


Cinematography: 8/10 A bit dark in some passages, but sufficiently lit for focus and contrast to be good.

Sound: 8/10 The actors are adequately miked.

Acting: 8/10 The actors spoke just slowly enough that each word could be understood.  The dialog was delivered convincingly more often than not.

Set design: 6/10 The look of the film was regularly unexpected; who would have thought electric lights and motorcycles would be present?  Greek upper class flowing garments meet early twentieth century suit and tie meet Chinese house coats.  The leis were lovely, but also weird.  Telling the entire story from the viewpoint of a dreaming modern boy had its uses. The free standing doors were cleverly employed.

Final Rating: Eight of ten.

20130831: Anime Review--King of Thorn

Name: King of Thorn (2009)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Anime, SciFi     Country of Origin: Japan

Cast: Kana Hanazawa as Kasumi Kashiki, Kousei Hirota as Alexandro Pecchino, Misaki Kuno as Alice, Tsutomu Isobe as Ivan Coral Vega, Toshiyuki Morikawa as Marco Owen.

Written and directed by: Kazuyoshi Katayama.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableau:
The Medusa virus has turned many people to stone, and the government has no cure in sight.  A few people are placed in cryosleep against the day when a vaccine is found.  The female heroine is one of the sleepers.  When she awakes, the world is not all that pleasant. The action starts with the disease spreading in the USA.

Delineation of conflicts: 
The Venus Gate Corporation, sponsors of the cold sleep, are led by religious fanatics who think the world is about to end (true in some sense in this film) and that they are the ones chosen to survive. Sadly, Venus Gate can only support 160 sleepers. The NSA thinks Venus Gate is a terrorist organisation, and plans to exact some sort of strong arm intervention when the sleep centre is opened.

At the cryogenic chambers at a remote castle in Scotland, the sleepers find out that a big automation program (Alice) will be monitoring them, so they do not have to worry about the attendants dying from Medusa.  The sleep is scheduled for 100 years, like 'Sleeping Beauty.'  Of the 160, all wake up OK, but 153 are killed by flesh-eating birds, and a massive carnivore in the elevator well.  Alice is unresponsive, and the Venus Gate staff are mostly dead.

The seven survivors attempt valiantly to free themselves from this terrible, dark, underground place filled with monsters. The party finds some truths and many lies along the way.  One of the truths was that the Venus Gate personnel were looking for individuals with strong obsessions, such as the character Marco, whose sister Laura dies early in the film.  Venus Gate, via some sort of mind control, hopes to harness the supernatural powers of the obsessed, and gain these powers for themselves.

This film is billed as adventure-horror, but it is neither. This is a psychological drama with supernatural overtones. The only real conflict ever in the film was the conflict within Kasumi about whether or not to decide to live.

The protagonist, Kasumi Ishiki, is an infected girl whose twin sister Shizuku was not chosen for the cryosleep. The twins' parents died from Medusa, and Kasumi had tried to kill herself before. As the viewer watches the multiple layers of convoluted re-tellings of the same story, one sees that the central actor in all this is Kasumi with her obsession with death. The re-tellings are forced on the viewer as Kasumi finally releases herself from her obsession. All the death and destruction are supernatural collateral damage for this return to normal mental health.

One line summary: Psychological drama with supernatural overtones.

Art: 10/10 Between good and wonderful at all times.

Sound: 9/10 Sufficient.  Some of it was exceptional.

Voice Actors: N/A Since I'm reading the subtitles, the best I can say is that they are not irritating, and the voice actors' voices seem to suit the ages and stages of the characters.

Screenplay: 10/10 . Almost two hours of psychological drama is usually way too much for me, so the writing was absolutely brilliant, since I watched the whole thing.

Final Rating: 9/10

20130831: Anime Review--Vexille

Vexille: 2077 Isolation of Japan
  1. Fundamentals and reception
    1. Japanese anime feature length film, 2007, NR, 109 minutes, original title 'Bekushiru: 2077 Nihon sakoku'
    2. IMDB: 6.8/10.0 from 5,382 users
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%, but 'no consensus yet'; 66% liked it from 4,386 audience ratings.  One sentence summary: '...following female agent Vexille as she ventures into Tokyo to find out if the Japanese are developing robotic technology, which the U.N. has explicitly banned' ~Jason Buchanan, Rovi.
    4. Directed by Fumihiko Sori, written by Haruka Handa and Fumihiko Sori.
    5. Spoken language is Japanese, dubbed in English.
    6. The film is made from a three dimensional animation engine.  It looks quite good, though the movements seem a little stiff at times. Some of the human figures look rotoscoped, and hence not at well-drawn as the robots, androids, and some other humans.  This is the weakest part of the film, but perhaps it saved on costs.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Backdrop: mid-21st century, all nations except Japan agree to stop android development.  Japan shuts itself off from the rest of the world in 2067, and continues robotic research and export, coming to dominate the market.  It also digs in and does android development in secret.  The story starts in 2077.
    2. SWORD (headquartered in Los Angeles) versus Daiwa Robotics (inside Japan).  Commandos are sent to check on a high-level meeting regarding android development.
    3. Lots of explosions, chases, bullets flying, and people dying.  During the first raid and blowup fight, one of the Daiwa agents escapes by means of cutting off his right leg.  The SWORD agents take the leg back to labs in LA HQ, and find that it's android, and in violation of all sorts of treaties.
    4. SWORD mounts a commando insertion into Japan in order to pierce the jamming network, and get new images and intel about what is going on in Japan.  The rest of the world has been cut off for ten years.
    5. This does not go well, but is not a total disaster.
    6. What Vexille finds in Japan is rather alarming, and the news needs to get back to Los Angeles.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Foreign agents investigate 2077 Japan.
    2. Nine of ten.

  4. Statistics
  5. Art: 9/10  I like the 3-d look.

    Sound: 8/10 Good incidental music and foley.

    Voice Actors: 10/10 The dubbing script is well-written, and the voice actors execute well.

    Screenplay: 9/10 Well-constructed.  The story moves right along.


20130830: Anime Review--Gunbuster vs Diebuster

Name: Gunbuster vs Diebuster: Aim for the Top! (2004)
TMDb: link to Aim for the Top!

Genres: Adventure, Animé, SciFi   Country of Origin: Japan

Cast: Yukari Fukui as Nono, Maaya Sakamoto as Lal'C Mellk Mal, Miyuki Sawashiro as Tycho Science, Mitsuo Iwata as Nicholas Vacheron.

Directed by: Kazuya Tsurumaki.    Written by: Yoji Enokido.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Nono is a young country girl who dreams of being a space pilot as the film starts.  She has a chance meeting with a real pilot.  She travels to the city, and tries to weasel her way into joining the fraternity of elite pilots.

Delineation of conflicts:  Nono is an outsider who has to gain the trust of the elite pilots.  Earth is attacked by an old enemy.  Earth is losing, and needs additional help.

Resolution: Once Nono discovers her true identity, will she be able to adapt quickly enough to save the day?


Art: 7/10 Despite the 2004 release year, the art looks rather dated, perhaps early 90s or late 80s, pre-Cowboy Bebop.

Sound: 6/10 Spoken word is Japanese; subtitles are in English. Voices were OK, but the background music was annoying.  I relied on the voice for clues to the emotional states of the characters, but used the sub-titles for language.

Voice acting: 8/10 The voice actors were into it.

Screenplay: 2/10 Plot?  What plot?  Also, the protagonist was at first the quintessence of loser, while neither funny nor sympathetic.  Later the idiot protagonist becomes amazingly powerful.  Supposedly she's a leftover from lost high-technology from times past.  Anime explosions are fun, and there are lots of those.  I viewed the rest of the film in passive mode, as one might during a Gundam property.

Final Score: 6/10

20130830: SciFi Review--Chrysalis

Name: Chrysalis (2007)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Thriller, Action.   Country of origin: France

Cast: Marthe Keller as Professor Brugen, Melanie Thierry as Manon Brugen (the Professor's daughter), Patrick Bauchau as Charles Becker, Marie Guillard as Marie Becker (Charles' niece, and David's new partner), Albert Dupontel as David Hoffman, Alain Figlarz as {Dmitri/Danis} Nicolov (killed Hoffman's partner), Smadi Wolfman as Hoffman's first partner Sarah.

Directed by: Julien LeClercq.      Written by: Julien LeClercq and Franck Philippon.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
The Professor's daughter Manon is hurt badly in a car crash.  The Professor tries with high tech help to reconstruct her daughter's life.

Europol Detective David Hoffman's partner Sarah is killed by a criminal after a fire fight.

The delineation of conflicts:
Both storylines are introduced full hilt early on.  The rest of the movie bounces back and forth between the two until they merge.

Hoffman seeks revenge after recovering from the battle, and is ordered to partner up with Charles Becker's (head of French counter-intelligence) niece Marie.

Hoffman is an incredibly incompetent detective; he has a gun and he barely apprehends his unarmed nemesis.  Then he's cut out of the case by his captain.  Manon's reconstruction looks spectacular in terms of physical reconstruction, but her mind is clearly damaged.  Looks like two failures coming up.

Nicolov, the criminal Hoffman was chasing, turns out to be Manon's mother's controller.  So Hoffman gets his brain fried.  Marie, her uncle, and her captain try to put it all together.

Resolution: The misperceptions of the protagonists are cleared up somewhat.

One line summary: Sadly misused scifi brain research.


Cinematography: 4/10 The focus is too soft; there is not enough light for the cameras used; contrast is often too low.  Plus, there is the jumpy camera work.  The colour palettes are consistently meager.  Is this supposed to be a tribute to earlier French films?  If so, who cares?  The film looked like hell.  Perhaps 35% of the frames in the film had every single object in the field of view out of focus.  Jumpy camera work and insufficient light for the cameras are just as bad as Blair Witch.

Sound: 4/10 The dubbing is horrible, and there were no subtitles available on Hulu+.  The sentences in the English dub script seemed to be written by children in their mid-teens.  The adults sounded ridiculous speaking such lines.  Credibility went out the window.  The incidental music was either florid and forgettable, or loud and overbearing.

Acting: 4/10 Marie Guillard was poor.  Albert Dupontel was fairly good, but the lines he had were not the best for the protagonist of the film.  The sad dubbing even made me regret listening to Patrick Bauchau's character.  I generally count on Bauchau for gravitas and a reliable performance, but not here.

Screenplay: 2/10 Defeated by fundamentals, which were so bad that I did not care what the story was.  Further the story was screwed up by the dubbing.  Some of the crucial motivational passages were botched.

Final Score: Four of ten.


20130829: Documentary Review--Titanoboa Monster Snake

Titanoboa Monster Snake
  1. American live action feature film, 92 minutes, NR, 2012
  2. IMDB: 7.2/10.0 from 46 users.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet' and no audience ratings. From Jeff Gemmill, Rovi, 'This program from The Smithsonian Channel examines the discovery in a Colombian coal mine of a prehistoric fossil of a 48-foot, 2500-pound snake.'
  4. Directed by Martin Kemp.
  5. Filmed in Cerrehon, Colombia; the Llanos, Venezuela; University of Florida, and Indiana University, Bloomington.
  6. Principal interviews:
  7. Dr. Jonathan Bloch, Associate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, University of Florida
  8. Dr. Jason Head, Assistant Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology, University of Nebraska
  9. Dr. Carlos Jaramillo, Paleobotanist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  10. Dr. P David Polly, Vertebrate Paleontologist, Indiana University, Bloomington
  11. Outline of the process:
  12. Dr. Bloch and some of his graduate students were looking for fossils in a huge coal mining site in Cerrehon.  Dating methods showed the strata to be around 60 million years old, about 5 million years after the dinosaurs.  They found some snake vertebrae.  Dr Bloch consulted with Dr Head, and the hunt was on.  It was clear that the whole snake was likely the biggest one ever found.  Among living snakes, the record is 28.5 feet on an Asian python.  Among historic snakes, Dr Head had found a 33 foot species in fossil beds in Africa.  So this was quite a find.
  13. More vertebrae were unearthed.  More experts were called in, and the closest living relatives were determined from morphological comparisons.  Eventually parts of the skull were found, as were fossilized eggs.
  14. Putting the puzzle together, they determined the large size (48 feet, ~2500 pounds) and put together a 3-d model for museum display purposes.  Working with a paleobotanist, they determined that the snake lived in an era of high temperatures, allowing for the additional size.
  15. Also found were the shell and bones of a turtle as big as a large dining room table.  On this shell were bite marks from a crocodile larger than any yet found.  Its fossils were not discovered yet. 
  16. Going forward, the researchers figured they had unearthed a sufficient set from the current strata in the cola mine.  They expected to find new discoveries as the coal miners dug deeper.
  17. Five stars of five.
Cinematography: 10/10 Seldom disappointed, usually superb.

Sound: 10/10 No complaints.

Screenplay: 10/10 Well constructed and engaging.

20130829: Documentary Review--The Flaw

  1. The Flaw: introduction

    1. British live action feature length film, 2011, NR, 78 minutes, documentary detailing the major recession of 2007 to 2009 in America and in Western Europe, including the housing bubble in the States.
    2. IMDB: 7.2/10.0 from 224 users; from the summary, 'The film argues that the roots of the crisis lie in the changing relationship between the rich and the rest in American society.'
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 80% on the meter, but 'still no consensus'; 65% liked it from 151 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by David Sington.
    5. Guest experts, and their one sentence theories:
      1. Andrew Luan, former (sub-prime) mortgage bond trader on Wall Street, now a Wall Street tour guide (fear; March 2008 to September 2008, multiple failures: Freddy and Fannie, Lehman Brothers, Iceland, and so on)
      2. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, 1987-2006 ( a flaw in his model of how economics works)
      3. Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics, Yale University (world historical events)
      4. Louis Hyman, Economic Historian, Harvard University (it's about wages)
      5. George Cooper, Fund Manager, Blue Crest Capital (it's a debt crisis, and very much a crisis of economic theory)
      6. Robert Frank, Professor of Economics, Cornell University (income distribution problem)
      7. Nell Minow, corporate watchdog, The Corporate Library (all the people we've trusted have turned out to be untrustworthy)
      8. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize winner in Economics, Columbia University (this is a total failure of markets)
      9. Daniel Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics, Duke University (people make mistakes of many sorts)
      10. Ed Andrews, Economics Correspondent, New York Times, still a delinquent borrower (got burned in the housing bubble, as did so many others)
    6. At the start of the film, there is no clear POV (point of view).  Instead, the problem is approached in the style of showing each of ten blind men a different piece of an elephant.  It takes some work to get the data returned by the blind men into something overarching and coherent, such as a single 3-d model of the elephant which explains all reportage.
    7. Let's see whether the coherence and generalisation comes into focus.

  2. History,  phase 1

    1. 1970s: the 'efficient markets hypothesis' took hold as doctrine--if the price of something is too low, the market will bid it up; if the price is too high, the market will bid the price down.  Individuals might make bad bids, but in aggregate, the 'wisdom of the crowd' will be correct.  Most of the time.  So...the bigger the market, the more foolhardy it would be to question a market price; social intelligence will get it corrected at all times.
    2. So, supposedly, this applies to assets of all types, and one cannot have an asset bubble of any kind in modern markets.  How can anyone believe that?  Bubble means 'speculative market price increase that cannot be justified', full of air, and bound to burst.  Seen repeatedly through centuries of capitalism.
    3. Stock market bubble in the 90s, tech bubble around 2001, mortgage bubble 2008.  How can this be?  Better question: how could it not be?
    4. Reagan-Thatcher period with lessening of regulation; fall of the Soviet Union; rise of capitalism in China: these sorts of big strokes indicated that free markets were the way to go.  Shiller called this a gold-rush mentality: get on board or get left behind.  Of course, bubbles get created by this kind of thinking.
    5. The response to the 2001 dot-com bubble bursting was to 'rotate out of the equity sector into the property sector' which later gave us the sub-prime mortgage debacle.  Only this time, average investors were staggeringly more poor after the bubble burst, because so many 'bet the house' on it.  Literally.  Three interviews were done with people who were deeply burned by this process.
    6. The housing market turned houses (usually property to be kept and bought on debt) that we live in into assets (to be traded later, or borrowed against if the prices go up), which fed the bubble.  That sort of works until the prices start to fall; then it all collapses, rather like 1929.
    7. The flaw was the perception that pricing of property or assets is a stable, self-correcting system.  So one should not fool with it when it was going well.  However, if things were going badly, the Fed would pump money into the system (lowering interest rates, or just printing money), so that prices continue to go up, and borrowing continues to increase.

  3. Perceptions:

    1. When was America at its most stable economically?  Everyone says the 1950s.  One income could support a family and buy a house.  According to Louis Hyman, this is no accident.  The 1950s was the beginning of a short period in American life that had the lowest income disparity in society as a whole.
    2. The percentage of total income in America in the top one percent peaked at 22% in 1929, followed by the Great Depression.  Post World War II, this percentage dropped, and continued to drop, until it hit its lowest point in the 1970s, at 9%.  In the late seventies, this bottomed out, and started to climb.  It continued to climb until 2007, when it hit 22% again, and the Great Recession started.

  4. More history.

    1. Before the Depression, the rise of the top one percent was accompanied by a huge increase in debt for cars, refrigerators, houses, and so on.  This escalated to too much indebtedness, too many margin buys, and the like.  Debt as a percentage of GDP reached a peak at the breaking point.  So the debt percentage curve and the curve for percentage of GDP owned by the top 1 percent mirror each other.
    2. There were strong parallels in the 2008 debacle.  The financial sector accounted for 40% of all corporate profits in 2003, which is grotesquely too high, and incentives to top financial officers go through the roof.  Yikes.  A Goldman-Sachs officer defended this bovine scatology.  As George Cooper put it, 'if they were that good, we would not be in this mess.'
    3. Real wages rose steadily from end of World War II until 1970.  The rise of globalization and industrialization hit the American work force.  The bottom 90% of the American work force earned around 65% of GDP from 1940 to 1980.  Then this portion dropped to 50% by 2003.
    4. Today, on the other end of the spectrum, 15,000 Americans, the top 0.1%, make 700 billion USD, slightly more than the GDP of Brazil.  This has a direct affect on the present problem.  As people's income rises, they tend not to buy food, washing machines, or cars, except out of petty cash.  The real object of their spending is in assets.  With so much more of the total income in the hands of a few, there was much more activity in assets, and housing had become an asset, something to invest in for future profits.  This fed the bubble.  Also, this activity drives up housing prices, so that the median level house buyers have to buy more expensive houses so that their children can go to good schools.
    5. Robert Shiller put together (huge effort) a grand index of American housing prices, corrected for inflation, from 1890 to 2010.  There was a bit of a trough in the Depression, but there was only one bump, and that was a huge bubble starting around 2000.
    6. 'While the top was not willing to pay the bottom reasonable wages, they were willing to lend them money'...to feed the housing bubble.
    7. FHA: federal housing administration, whose racial profiling policies contributed heavily to the formation of slums in larges cities. Later, financial institutions looked at the slums and perceived them to be a way to gain money by flipping over housing, which fed the bubble, of course, more fuel for the fire. 

  5. Back to current issues

    1. CDO: collateralized debt obligations--banks don't want mortgages (money returns over too long a period) so they sell the mortgage to some one else; same applies to credit card debts and a few other instruments.  Finance companies buy the pieces, construct CDOs, then sell the CDOs to some greater fool at some acknowledged risk level.  (Higher risk, higher yields.)
    2. Bad house loans were given high risk ratings, and came to be encouraged. (Red lights!)
    3. Ed Andrews, who got caught in the bubble, explained how he got his loan in this environment, when it was clear he had no business buying anything on credit worth more than a lawn mower.  He did not have to disclose his salary or his true monthly expenses.
    4. He was not alone.  Lenders were pushing loans on people who could not possibly pay them off. This meant guaranteed foreclosures.  The lenders did not care since they would sell off the loan later and do it again.  Some people were encouraged to re-finance, which helped the lenders, but also had the effect of deteriorating the equity the owners had accumulated in the real property.
    5. The financial institutions make more money on these housing scams than they would in investing in manufacturing or in small business creation.  Hence the weakness in these areas and the quickening of the bubble expansion.
    6. With housing prices rising and real incomes falling, people tend to re-finance to make up for the shortfall in income.  This led to a large aggregate drop in personal house equity in the bottom 90% of incomes.
    7. The drop in the percent of GDP earned by the bottom 90% represented a transfer upward of 1.5 trillion USD per year during the bubble period.  This intolerable theft was done over a period of decades in stable democracies (not just the USA), where the very people who promoted the problem were elected again and again (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama).  Yes, Obama, the problem is still going on.  The upward 1.5 trillion was sort of balanced by the 1.0 trillion coming down in the form of house refinancing and extreme credit card debt (which led to more refinancing).

  6. Meltdown

    1. The huge upward spike in housing prices before 2007 was accompanied by a steep drop over the time interval of 18 months or so.
    2. This started in late 2006, apparently, with the numbers of loan payment failures started going up, and credit ratings of some of the CDOs going down.  Then the panic was on, because there was little solid to hold onto.  Banks got clobbered when bad loans got sent back to them.  Because of all the automation in the finance world, this all could collapse rather quickly.
    3. Responsibility?  This seems to be lacking.  Many people identified as victims or 'cogs in the much bigger machine.'
    4. The impact on the victims is huge.
    5. In terms of overall viewpoint, the middle class has falling wages, and after the meltdown, has most or all of their house equity lost.  Net strong equity positions became personal disasters.  Housing failed to counter-balance the falling wages.
    6. Wage inequality has allowed this updraft of money from people who need it and will spend it to people who don't need it, and perhaps won't spend it on things that will help the general economy.  The growing level of inequality results in overall consumption going down, and the economy slowing.  (Also, the much hated phenomenon of executives getting obscenely huge salaries/bonuses even when their company lost money.)
    7. The failure of capitalism in the past 30 years is that the overall standard of living has gone down, which bucks the trend of the last 500 years.

  7. Five stars of five.  Brilliant; the experts were all correct, and the film put it all together by the end of the show.
Cinematography: 8/10 The archival footage is not all that good. The modern interviews were crisp and well-done.

Sound: 8/10 Almost everyone is properly miked.  The archival footage of Greenspan versus Waxman in the House hearings was weak.

Screenplay: 10/10 Obviously had a lot of careful thought.  This is so well done that it moves well even with the large amount of detail and history being conveyed.

20130829: Documentary Review--When the Moors Ruled Europe

When the Moors Ruled Europe
  1. British feature length live action film, 100 minutes, 2005, NR, 
  2. IMDB: 6.7/10.0 from 21 reviews.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' and 100% from 12 audience ratings.
  4. Stars: Bettany Hughes (contrarian historian)
  5. Directed by Timothy Copestake.
  6. This mess badly needed subtitles.  The simultaneous translations were missing or incomplete.
  7. While describing the renovation of Cordoba after the Berber and Islamic invasion of Spain, subsequently called Al Andalus, the narrator says, 'Almost immediately the land was transformed.'  Oh, stow it.  Changes on that scale do not happen overnight.
  8. A fragment of a page in Arabic translated from a copy of a book purported to have been in the Library of Alexandria was shown as if it were of great moment, and proved what wonderful, culture-bringing people the foreign invaders were.  The narrator fails to mention that Islamic marauders torched and utterly destroyed the Library of Alexandria.
  9. 'Inhabitants converted to Islam in droves.'  It sounded like the narrator had never had heard of conversion by the sword.
  10. At one archaeological dig, modern Spanish building materials were shown over a Moorish layer, which in turn covered a Roman layer.  The Roman layer looked fresh and serviceable as well as more colorful and sturdy than the Moorish or the Spanish layers on top.  The narrator repeatedly praises Moorish architecture to the skies, but what I see while she is speaking is ugly, ordinary, cluttered, and often oppressive.  Level them, don't praise them.
  11. The Dark Ages were indeed dark for Europe.  Few would dispute that the Spanish Moors introduced paper, the astrolabe, improvements in medicine, the number zero, arabic numerals, well-stocked libraries, and the like to Europe.  This was during the period 711 to roughly 1100 AD.
  12. By 1100, Al Andalus had fragmented into city states.  The fall of Moorish Spain was well underway.  The city states imported fundamentalist warriors into Spain.  These warriors felt the need to purify and did not care for the mixing of Moors, Christians, and Jews that they found.
  13. The period of the re-conquest is in modern times described as a holy war.  The narrator presents the Moorish side of the propaganda concerning this period.  'The reconquest was nothing but a civil war between factions of different faiths.'  Just what else is a holy war within one country?
  14. The narrator takes the wellsprings of the Renaissance from Italy, and claims they originated in Moorish Toledo.  Really?  Did Islamic cultures of the time go through the same sorts of advances that the Europeans did during the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution?  Those occurred in Europe.
  15. The narrator rather takes the Christians to task for presenting Moors with the choice: become Catholic, leave Spain forever, or face punishment.  How is this worse than the choice: convert to Islam or be beheaded (decide now)?
  16. One star of five, for the misinterpretations and omissions, as well as the incredibly ugly architecture.
Cinematography: 5/10 Mediocre in its best parts, downright sloppy in others.

Sound: 7/10 The narrator is well-miked, but those interviewed were not always.

Acting: N/A

Screenplay: 2/10  Yikes.  This is neither new nor interesting nor engaging nor believable.

20130829: Documentary Review--We're Not Broke

We're Not Broke
  1. Feature length film, documentary, 2012, 80 minutes, NR,
  2. IMDB: 6.2/10.0 from 111 users
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No score yet,' and 82% from 37 audience responses
  4. Directed and written by: Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes.
  5. Multiple examples of corporations making billions of profits (not revenues, but profits) that pay zero ($0.00) in taxes in the US: GE, Bank of America, Exxon, Chevron, Citigroup, and so on.
  6. Some of these companies received huge bailouts, from 500 billion USD, to 2.5 trillion USD total.
  7. The film asserted that the percentage of US federal tax collected from US corporations today is less than one half of the percentage that they paid in 1961.
  8. The title We're Not Broke comes from the assertion that many corporations are paying zero taxes, and many others are paying negligible amounts.  The public services cuts we've seen (libraries, cops, teachers, firemen, and so on) are unnecessary: there's money to be found the old-fashioned way.
  9. US corporations pay taxes on US earnings; these are taxed at 35%.  Through various loopholes and offshore nonsense, the effective tax rate is more like 20% down to 0%.  Cayman Islands 'offices', Swiss 'headquarters',  Bermuda 'law offices', and so on allow the corporate money made in the US can get booked as offshore, where corporate tax rates are significantly lower.  This sort of process was called 'transfer pricing.'  Example: Google shifted some profits to Ireland, so 35% rate ==> 12.5% rate; then there was a second shift of Ireland's money to Bermuda, so there was another steep reduction, 2% I think.  Google cut its tax liability by billions using this technique.  Facebook seems to be setting up to do the same.
  10. Profile of the actions of the Usuncut.com movement using social media, both the good and the illegal.  The support of law firms and accounting firms give to corporations to keep the effective tax rates low.  As one commentator put it in the film, 'non-taxation through extraordinary representation,' including lobbying money.
  11. Clinton administration versus Bush administration versus Obama administration in terms of tax revenue versus spending.  All of this comes back to the initial issues: lack of revenue from corporations that are making record profits.  Even Obama is not spared from this criticism; he seems to have disavowed his 2008 campaign promises regarding getting corporations to pay more taxes.  The lack of revenues has been made up for by borrowing from the Chinese and Japanese at low interest rates.
  12. In 2004 and 2005, the Bush administration signed a bill to 'repatriate' corporate profits.  The moneys came back (Ford, Pfizer, Merck, Apple, and so on), but once back, the corporations fire thousands of employees and use the savings to buy back stock, which increases corporate profits.
  13. What to do after the repatriation debacle?  The push today is to make the tax code even more favorable to large corporations.  Other countries have dropped their corporate tax rates (there was a sort of race for this), but it did them no good.  Corporations still shuffled things to places like Bermuda.  Most of these countries (and the US) are in trouble with too little tax revenue.
  14. Four stars of five.
Cinematography: 6/10 Not a strong point.

Sound: 10/10 No problems.

Screenplay: 8/10 The number of points to be made was small (good), and the points were brought home well enough.  The central issue is danced around enough. We need the political will to change the tax laws to close the loopholes for corporations.  Compared to other countries, we do not have a high tax rate; this is particularly true for corporations but also applies to individuals.

Since the film came out, the Occupy movement has been completely shutdown, and there has been no talk of tax reform in 2013 so far.


20130827: Documentary Review--Vanishing of the Bees

Vanishing of the Bees
  1. American live action feature length film, 87 minutes, documentary, history, entomology, 2009.
  2. IMDB: 7.0/10.0 from 475 users.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: 59% from 17 reviews, 'no consensus yet'; 69% like it from 622 audience ratings.
  4. As themselves: Davey Hackenberg (bee keeper), Dennis van Englesdorp (Dept Entomology, University of Maryland), Maryann Frazier (Dept. Entomology, Penn State), Dave Mendes (bee keeper, 7000 hives), David Pettit (Natural Resources Defense Council).
  5. Colony Collapse Disorder is described.  This occurs in 35/50 states in the USA.  Dave Hackenberg raised the red flag in 2006.
  6. Historical context of humans interactions with bees (millenia long) is sketched for different ages and different geographical locations.
  7. The search for the cause of CCD continues.  Several possible causes were eliminated (certain bacteria, a virus or two, a tiny parasite).
  8. America grew short of bees a few years back; the Feds were petitioned to allow foreign bees to fill the shortfall.  Bees were brought in from Australia.  This will not be a long-term solution.
  9. A contributor to the bees' troubles is the practice of taking honey from hives and replacing it with sugar water.  The bees need the extra components that occur in nectar of various flowers.
  10. Price competition: China, Argentina, India undercut world honey prices.  Many of these 'honeys' are highly adulterated with lactose and corn syrup.  These honey supplies force many American bee keepers to be migratory--that is, make their money from pollination, not from honey sales.  Life on the road is tough on the bees in terms of diet and wear and tear.
  11. One of the worst was a discussion of 40,000 hives getting CCD within about 3 weeks.  That's about 2 billion bees.
  12. The dangers of monocultures: these are farms that grow one species, such as all corn, or all wheat, or all soybeans.  This is a modern model inspired by Monsanto.  Monocultures require insectides in large amounts, since monocultures are the easiest prey of insect pests.
  13. Pesticides have many ill effects on honey bees.  Modern pesticides are internal and systemic: they remain in the plants being grown throughout their lives.  So bees have almost continual exposure to the poisons.
  14. There seems next to no research (in the US) on long-term, sub-lethal pesticide doses on hives as a whole, from eggs to adulthood for individuals.
  15. France and Germany seem to be ahead of us on limiting systemic pesticides.  The French got the problem about ten years earlier, and called it mad bee disease.  After the 'bad beekeeping' charge was disproven, the beekeepers got scientific evidence together, and set a lawyer on the French government.  The government banned the systemic pesticides made by Bayer for corn and for sunflowers.  Similar movements started in the UK and Italy.
  16. Davey Hackenberg: the Europeans take pesticides off the market until safety has been proven.  In the States, the EPA looks at risk assessment based on testing against instantaneous lethal doses.  So in the States, the pesticide stays on the market until studies at the pesticide producer says it's bad.  That is, never.  The EPA does not do research itself, so it's the fox guarding the hen house against the foxes.
  17. Over 95% of the food we eat is treated with systemic pesticides.  Also, fruit and vegetables consumed by Americans is tending to be grown outside the US, to make more room for corn, canola, soybeans, wheat.
  18. In a weak parallel to actions in Europe, the NRDC filed suit against the EPA to help straighten things out.
  19. Checking back with the French, the bees seemed to bounce back within a year of the systemic pesticides being banned.
  20. The film convinced me that the EPA needs to be changed so that it does its own research.  The 'cheap' food we have is not all that cheap.  Sustainability of American agriculture does not seem all that certain.
  21. Five stars of five.
Cinematography: 9/10 Always competent.  Some of the archival footage is iffy.

Sound: 10/10 No problem, except the narration.

Acting: N/A

Screenplay: 10/10 Moves along well, and makes points effectively.

20130827: Documentary Review--Videocracy

  1. Italian live action feature length film, documentary, 2009, 85 minutes, NR.
  2. IMDB: 6.4/10.0 from 1,325 users. 'A look at segments of the Italian population who are consumed with celebrity worship.'
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: 68% from critics, but 'no consensus yet'; 42% of 425 audience members liked it.
  4. Directed, written, and narrated in English by Erik Gandini.  Budget: an estimated 700,000 euros.
  5. Features Silvio Berlosconi, Flavio Briatore (created the Billionaire brand), Lele Mora (a top agent), Morella Giovannelli (Berlosconi's neighbor), Fabio Calvi (field leader in live video stage handling), Fabrizio Corona (leader in gossip magazines) as themselves.
  6. Television brings immortality.  Television brings opportunities.  Television brings attention, advertisers, and money.
  7. Italians often follow celebrities closely, even some American reality shows.
  8. Put all those together.  Silvio Berlosconi was president of a television company.  He leveraged that into becoming the president of the country called Italy.
  9. More themes: 
    1. a factory worker tries to become a star, and the reasons he has no traction so far
    2. attractive young women getting many jobs in television, but few of these jobs are as stars; most are as eye-candy
    3. striptease--more of this than I would have expected, from the opening sequence up to auditions for current positions
    4. successful agents are much sought after and have some clout; their success often comes from connection to Berlosconi
    5. pro-Mussolini elements in the 21st century
    6. Money, political power, and television stardom seem to go together.
    7. The next-door neighbor of the president, Morella Giovannelli, makes considerable money selling still photographs of the guests at the parties at the president's villa. She has quite the rogue's gallery of famous guests, mostly from the entertainment and the political arenas.
    8. Scandals, extortion, court appearances, turning jail sentences into profits as a celebrity (Fabrizio Corona).

  10. There are three commercial channels in Italy, plus the national TV.  In this setting, Berlosconi controls about 90% of the programming that makes the air.  He also owns all the large gossip magazines.  If the film is to be believed, Corona sold pictures of the president's daughter since the daughter found them unflattering; the family bought the photos, and Corona was done with it.  Then later Berlosconi published them himself in his gossip publications to get more media churn.
  11. The large musical numbers that were 100% political adulation were a bit of a surprise.  The film stated that 120 million gossip magazines are sold per year in Italy.
  12. I was relieved when this long laundry list of descriptions of malaise was over.
  13. Three stars of five. 
Cinematography: 6/10 Lots of the video is mediocre; some of it is poor.

Sound: 8/10 Much of the speech other than the narration is in Italian, so the subtitles are essential.

Acting: N/A

Screenplay: 6/10 The film certainly described aspects of a couple of layers of current Italian society, but it has an unfortunate ax-grinding feel to it.  I came away from watching this film knowing more than I did from just Internet news accounts, but I did not feel it is a substantial difference.

20130827: Documentary Review--Gay Muslims

Gay Muslims
  1. UK made for TV live action documentary, 2006, NR, 49 minutes. 
  2. IMDB: 7.1/10.0 from 29 users.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: no search results, not even a stub.  Perhaps it's the television association.
  4. Directed by Cara Lavan.
  5. Gay and lesbian Muslims face a variety of negative consequences when they come out, such as 'you have to be stoned to death,' or similar.  Gay Muslims tend to keep their sexual lives secret.
  6. Several scenes are filmed with 'no faces' so that no one will be identified later.
  7. Case stories:
  8. Razeem: has known he was gay for 8 years; was outed to his father after 6 of those 8.
  9. He has little support from his parents.  The gay community (at least in the north of England) has substantial racism in it, being divided into white, Asian, black groups.  So the gay community is also dicey.  Razeem gets to know Adnan a bit, and their discussion help Razeem's piece of mind.  Back at home, he still has problems dealing with his family and friends.  Eventually he decides to go with the model of marrying a woman and acting like he's mainstream Muslim so that he can stay connected to his family.
  10. Adnan Ali.  From Pakistan, where he received a number of beatings.  Campaigns for gay rights in the UK.  His partner is a white UK man, some there's a double problem.
  11. Abdullah, in his late 30s, lives in the Midlands.  He is treated badly at the local mosque.  He submitted to an arranged marriage, which resulted in 3 children that he sired.  His wife left him with the children.  Soon thereafter, he was beaten and his children taken.  He obtained visitation rights, but after he came out, she made that very difficult, and he has not seen them for years.  The ex-wife becomes single again.  Abdullah's mother pressures him to re-marry the ex-wife and live with her for the sake of the children.  An imam advises him that thousands of British men are denied rights to see their children despite court orders in their favor.
  12. Farah is a lesbian living on her own.  After coming out, her mother's first visit back to Pakistan did not include an invite for Farrah.  Did some self-cutting, and had thoughts of suicide.  Attempts to have relationships with men failed.  Has fears that her relationship with her family will disappear.
  13. Shakir has known he was gay since he was old enough to read.  His parents could not accept his being gay, but did agree to discuss the matter on camera.
  14. Gay pride parade: Adnan and his partner go to it.  They get some ill looks from Asian gays.
  15. The sayings of the president of Iman, a gay-Islam group, are a bit hard to take while she's got her head and face covered, and the rest of her is covered in camouflage and boots.
  16. The cliches of the whole complicated situation are covered at a depth of about half an inch.
  17. Three stars of five.
Cinematography: 7/10 Not the best.

Sound: 10/10 Always clear.

Acting: N/A

Screenplay: 6/10 Airs the main issues, but does not seem to accomplish much in 49 minutes.

20130827: Documentary Review--Icons among Us

Icons among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense
  1. American live action feature film, documentary, music, 2009, NR, 93 minutes.
  2. IMDB: 7.7/10.0 from 31 users.  Interviews with 75 jazz musicians.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes:  'No reviews yet,' and 60% of 33 audience members liked it.
  4. Directed by Lars Larson, Michael Rivoira.
  5. Among the stars are: Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Esperanza Spalding, and others from NYC, Los Angeles, the UK, the Netherlands.
  6. Excellent interviews.
  7. Great performances by a dozen or so young jazz bands.
  8. Good narrative on what it means to be a jazz musician today.
  9. Trends
  10. 1961 to 1988: decline of jazz albums down to nothing
  11. One poorly documented website, Why Americans Don't like Jazz, gave the estimate that jazz was 3% of the music market in 2003.  The site also gives a well-reasoned argument as to why Americans like jazz less and less, while the towering dominance of American music makes foreigners (especially non-English speakers) like jazz more and more.
  12. The film makes similar points with the interviews in the Netherlands.
  13. The site statistics for 2012, shows jazz at 8.10 million units sold, versus rock at 102.50 million units sold.  For the stats shown, the total units sold for 2012 were 376 million.  Of the total (8.1/376.0) * 100 = 2.15% was jazz, so there was further slippage in market share from 2003.
  14. Main points.
  15. The efforts of Wynton Marsalis received quite a few positive mentions; I see this on websites as well.  Many of the musicians he plays with are children of jazz musicians, and the family aspect is brought home.
  16. A point made perhaps 25 times is that jazz has moved on from the jazz of Coltrane, Coleman, Armstrong, and the rest from the 1950s, when jazz was a much larger part of American music.  The excellence of the young jazz bands underscores this quite well.
  17. The film was initially rather depressing for me.  My introduction to jazz was in the mid to late 1970s, when jazz still had a much stronger market position.  I got to see live performances regularly, and to experience the flawless, brilliant playing of living masters directly (like 25 feet away in a whopping great music hall possessed of excellent acoustics).  That was when I was in graduate school.  Since then, I've had less and less contact with jazz; it even seems to have dropped off the radio.  The statistics on loss of market share, and loss of the attention of American music lovers is discouraging.  Just look at the lack of trace in IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. Jazz is almost a non-issue. However, this film did showcase quite a number of excellent current young performers who have strong skills.  So the genre is far from dead, despite the dearth of jobs in the jazz sector.
  18. Five of five stars.  I would recommend this to anyone who likes music.
Cinematography: 10/10 Excellent where it needs to be.  The archival footage is just that.

Sound: 10/10 Excellent.

Acting: N/A

Screenplay: 10/10 Good interviews, good performances, good handling of the points to be made about current jazz versus jazz of 40, 50, or 60 years ago.  As the film points out through its many voices, the artists have to speak their hearts, and make their music meaningful to the audience.  This film ended up making me more hopeful about that.


20130825: Documentary Review--Sacred Science

The Sacred Science
  1. Documentary live action feature length film, NR, 76 minutes, 2011,
  2. IMDB: 7.2/10.0 on 21 user ratings.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' and no audience ratings at all.
  4. Filmed in the USA, then in Peru for the treatments and interviews with the medicine men; this was to be a 30 day experiment.
  5. Eight volunteers went with the film maker to find cures in the Amazonian jungle.
  6. Five found cures (hm), two did not, and one died in the jungle.
  7. Garry Thompson -- neural endocrine cancer; even if the treatments succeed completely, he'll be addicted to the treatment, at 1,000 USD/month.
  8. Nicola Dale -- Parkinson's disease; wanted to stop the drugs, and hopefully get the symptoms to back off.
  9. Juan Orraca-- alcoholism/depression
  10. Melinda Elliott-- breast cancer
  11. Gretchen Stacey-- irritable bowel syndrome
  12. Joel Davis-- type II diabetes
  13. Jessica Stenis-- Crohn's disease
  14. John Wood-- prostate cancer
  15. One needs to (a) find a relevant shaman (b) form some sort of relationship with the shaman (c) discuss (d) use medicines and listen to chanting (e) iterate c and d.
  16. The medicine men dressed and acted pretty much like everyone else these days.  They use some modern appliances (refrigerators, for example) if they had electricity.
  17. Ayahuasca use.  One of the medicine men portrayed it as the sovereign specific.  That is, it can cure anything.  The film started to lose me at that point.  However, other herbal preparations were used tailored for the individual needs.
  18. There seemed to be endless searching for the medicinal plants.
  19. There were recurrent check-ups from traditional doctors/nurses who were sympathetic to the approach of the shamans.
  20. Joel left after ten days, since all the symptoms of diabetes were gone.  The shaman sent him off with dietary restrictions and the continued connection of sending medicines.  He remained free of type II diabetes.
  21. Garry died in the middle of the night, and was buried locally the next day.
  22. Nicola, toward the end of the 30 days, was off her medications and had greatly increased range of motion for her limbs.  She stayed an additional 30 days, and her ability to do better (increased range of motion, fewer jerks) without medications stuck.
  23. John had a 2.0 drop (7.5 => 5.5, normal range for age 60+) in his PSA (prostate specific antigen) reading.  Speaking of jungles, wikipedia PSA. After returning to Australia, John's PSA was read 'officially' as 5.3, to his physician's surprise.
  24. Gretchen had all symptoms vanish.  Her primary Western physician said she had short-circuited years of therapy.
  25. Juan apparently got his head straight, but still consults with the medicine men now and then.
  26. Joel, Nicola, John, Gretchen, Juan found cures or significant improvement in symptoms.
  27. Melinda, Jessica found no improvement; Jessica spent a second month in the jungle, still with no forward progress.
  28. Garry died in the jungle.
  29. Four stars of five, whether I view it as documentary or as science fiction.  Good writing and organization.
Cinematography:  8/10 Beautiful for the most part: sharp, well focused, and all the other technical considerations. Occasionally it was a bit dark for the interviews in the huts.  Some of the night scenes were ridiculously bad, as in Blair Witch bad.

Sound: 7/10 Sometimes too low to hear.

Acting: N/A At least on the face of it, there was not any acting involved here.

Screenplay: 8/10 The logical progression seemed good, and the check-pointing with Western doctors seemed to verify progress.  The followups at the end of the film were a nice touch.  The fact that five of eight were successes, but three were not was also a sign that this was intended to be a fair experiment.

20130825: Documentary Review--The Fourth World

The Fourth World
  1. Live action documentary film, 54 minutes, NR, 2011
  2. IMDB: fewer than 5 votes.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'no reviews yet', and 0% liked it from 2 audience ratings.  'Documentary award winner at 20+ film festivals.'
  4. Producer, narrator, writer: Mark Volkers.
  5. Filmed in 5 continents: North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa.
  6. Per the film, the 'Fourth World' is the aggregate of human slum dwellers in the world.  In 2007, the number of people living in the Fourth World exceeded 1 billion for the first time.
  7. The next decades are likely to see the largest human migration in history, from countryside to slums in cities.  Most of these people end up in sections of cities where tourists usually never see.
  8. Per UN estimates, to maintain the squatter/non-squatter equilibrium, the world will need to build one home per second from here on out.
  9. Case studies were done in slums in Nairobi, Kenya; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Dakar, Senegal; Manila, Philippines.
  10. Common themes are: low incomes, rampant crime, poor nutrition, lack of education, sex trafficking of children, drug use.
  11. Parsing garbage was also a common theme: whole families in the Philipines send several hours a day sifting through garbage for anything that they might sell for money.  That worked out to 7.5 cents (US) per hour,
  12. Interviewed: Paul Collier, Oxford University, author of The Bottom Billion (2007); Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums (2006).
  13. Four stars of five.  Gave it four of five stars on Rotten Tomatoes, and eight of ten stars on IMDB.
Cinematography: 10/10 Excellent.

Sound: 10/10 Well done.

Acting: N/A There is no acting here.

Screenplay: 8/10 Made its case fairly well, and moved along in its presentation.

20130825: Documentary Review--Business of Comedy

The Business of Comedy
  1. American live action documentary, 48 minutes, NR, 2013.
  2. IMDB: one trailer and a one paragraph description.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: nothing to be found.
  4. Featured in interviews: Robert Klein, Susie Essman, George Wallace, Tom Dreesen, Budd Friedman, Stewie Stone, Judy Carter, Shecky Greene, Traci Skene, Gabe Waldman, Howie Walfish, Sasheer Zameta, Modi.  Richard Zoglin, commentator.
  5. The documentary covers business issues for comedy clubs, dating from the 1960s to the present, with some concentration on the 60s, 70s, 80s.
  6. The 1960s: The Improv (NY, Budd Friedman), The Second City (Chicago),  Las Vegas (casinos), The Catskills (Concorde Hotel, and others).  Ed Sullivan gave big boosts to comics.
  7. The 1970s: The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson), Catch a Rising Star (NY comedy club; Jay Leno grew there), The Comic Strip (NY), The Improv (LA version),  and others.
  8. The 1980s: comedy inflation set in.  Many more comedy clubs and television gigs in were opened.  There was a serious dilution of talent versus number of clubs and tv shows.  Retrenchment followed.  The crash started in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Judy Carter's how-to book about being a standup comedian made this worse.  Even some of the vanguard clubs closed, such as Catch a Rising Star.
  9. Current state of comedy clubs: after a down time in the 1990s, comedy clubs started picking up again. By the early 2010s, there are more comedy clubs than ever.  Clubs now stream live shows to television, and record for future showings.  The purpose of this was to provide feedback to produce more customers in the clubs.
  10. Social media: tweets and retweets, facebook likes, YouTube statistics all help comedians hone their craft, gain exposure, and increase popularity.  Some comedians even do their standup as YouTube comedy series.  Newer comedians are not so dependent on being 'discovered' by some element of established entertainment figures.
  11. Overall, comedians and comedy club owners are much more business savvy than in the late 80s and in the 90s.
  12. Three stars of five.
Cinematography: 10/10 The archival visuals are mostly stills instead of poor videos.  Otherwise the new footage shot for the film is fine.

Sound: 9/10 A few of the speaker could have been better miked.

Acting: N/A

Screenplay: 6/10 Well-organized, but dull.  The points made in the film could have been made in 20 minutes instead of 48.


20130824: Horror Review--The Awakening

Name: The Awakening (2011)
IMDb: link to IMDb 

Genres: Horror, thriller.     Country of origin: UK.

Cast: Rebecca Hall (Frost/Nixon; The Town) as Florence Cathcart, Dominic West (300, The Wire) as Robert Mallory, Imelda Staunton (Cranford) as Maud Hill, Isaac Hempstead Wright as Tom Hill, Joseph Mawle (Game of Thrones) as Edward Judd.

Directed by: Nick Murphy  
Written by: Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk.  These two are UK TV veterans. 
Soundtrack by: Nick Murphy.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
The film opens in London in 1921; the scene is of Florence Cathcart debunking a seance.

Soon thereafter, a Mr Mallory appears at her doorstep claiming to have found a haunting at a school in Rookford in Cumbria.  A student death was involved.

Florence has an interlude with her mother.  Florence is exhausted.  Her mother refers to an obsession, and the consequences of going through with the debunking.

Florence takes on the new case due to some photographic evidence, and Mallory's use of references in her book to her own fears.  Florence travels with Mallory to the school, where she meets her ally Maud.

The delineation of conflicts:  
In this case, the conflicts are inner conflicts.  The film exposes secrets: those of Florence, Mallory, Maud, the coughing teacher,  and Judd. That takes a fair amount of time in flashbacks.

Florence finds those involved in the death at the school.  A student confesses, and a teacher is exposed.  The children leave for a week's vacation at home.  So it all seems done.

When she is about to leave, some odd occurrences keep her at the school, and she sets up her equipment again to ferret out the truth.  Florence continues to see things that are not there, or so it would seem.

This one managed to surprise me.  Rather than insert too many spoilers, suffice it to say that the film was not a horror thriller, but instead was a psychological drama, and the prison of obsession was successfully broken.

One line summary: Psychological drama posed as a ghost story.

Cinematography: 9/10 Dark, with a reduced colour palette.  I suppose this was for effect, since focus, depth of field, and framing were fine.  There were no jerky camera movements.  Despite the darkness, the camera work is far better than such wretched nonsense as Blair Witch.

Sound: 8/10 Adequate.

Acting: 7/10 I liked the adult actors, but neither the child actors nor the interactions of the children with the adults.

Screenplay: 9/10 Kept me guessing, and moved right along.

Final Rating: 8/10

20130824: Action Review--Iron Sky

Iron Sky
  1. Feature length film, 92 minutes, rated R, 2012, Action, Comedy, SciFi.
  2. IMDB: 6.0/10.0 from 58,185 users.
  3. Rotten Tomatoes: 36% but 'no consensus yet'; 38% liked it from 8,225 audience inputs.
  4. Directed by Timo Vuorensola, screenplay by Michael Kalesniko.
  5. Starring Julia Dietze as Renate Richter, Christopher Kirby as the male model James Washington, Udo Kier as Wolfgang Kortzfleisch, Peta Sergent as Vivian Wagner, Götz Otto as Klaus Adler, Stephanie Paul as the president of the USA.
  6. Bumbling American astronauts discover extensive Nazi settlements and fabrication on the dark side of the Moon.  That is quite a beginning.  Mentioned in passing was the search for Helium-3.
  7. The year is 2018.  The woman American president has sent a crew to the Moon as a publicity stunt to shore up her flagging re-election hopes.  The black 'astronaut' James Washington was a central part of the stunt, meant to increase the president's PC ratings.
  8. The Nazis decide it's time to return to the Earth for reconnaissance, then to invade and conquer.  Loved the Nazis using flying saucers coming from the Moon.
  9. There are clever moments showing the Nazi recon party interacting with American pot growers, street gangs, marketing executives, and the representatives of the president.
  10. The marketing director even gets the president to adopt a Nazi campaign.  Listening to the president talking about 'one truth' and the New World Order (Nazi style) did not seem all that far-fetched.
  11. Soon enough, the Nazis on the Moon are ready to invade.  The American president takes this as an opportunity to become a 'wartime president' so that she will be re-elected.
  12. The space war was quite impressive from the special effects side, though I thought the massive space battleship Götterdämmerung might have done more damage before it was destroyed (from having an iPad ripped out of its control network).
  13. After the Nazis are defeated, the American president makes a grab for the Helium-3 reserves on the Moon found by the Nazis.  (Why? asks the president.  Reply from Secretary of Defence: Because we'd be energy independent for a thousand years.)  The space battle resumes then, with the powers from the Earth destroying each other, and the UN representatives beating the nonsense out of each other.
  14. Four stars of five.
Cinematography: 10/10 The film is just beautiful.

Sound: 9/10 Fine, start to finish. There was too much sound in space, though.

Acting: 10/10 Actors followed direction and the screenplay as far as I could see.  Udo Kier was fine as the aging Nazi leader; so was Christopher Kirby whose character accomplishes so much more than anyone expected from him.  I liked Peta Sergent's portrayal of the marketing executive who serves as one of the president's chief advisers, and does a fair 'woman scorned' segment.  Götz Otto does a fine turn as the slimy bastard who delivers a coup against the Führer and directs the failed attack on Earth.

Screenplay: 8/10   This is billed as a comedy, but I did not laugh once.  Otherwise, I loved it for what it had to say about America and the world powers.

Special Effects: 10/10 Quite good, especially compared to most SciFi films of the last ten or twenty years.  I'm not talking about District 9 or Elysium or Oblivion, but the run-of-the-mill SciFi film, which looks horrible.  The art and effects on this film are first rate, from the World War II/steam punk Nazi technology to the complex space-going warships of the modern Earth fleets.  In terms of total visual effect, this is one of the best looking films I've ever seen.

Considering the budget estimate I saw (7.5 million euros), the effects were even more impressive.  Hollywood just cannot do anything nearly as good as this for that amount of money.

Fire in space?  Well, no.  Still, the bad visuals are about 20 seconds, versus most of the film, which looks fine.

20130824: Comedy Review--The Decoy Bride

Name: The Decoy Bride (2011)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy, drama, romance.    Country of origin: UK

Cast: David Tennant (Dr. Who) as author James Neil Arber, Kelly MacDonald (No Country for Old Men) as Katie Nic Aoidh, Alice Eve (Star Trek: into Darkness) as film star Lara Tyler, Hamish Clark (Monarch of the Glen) as Angus, Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) as Lara's agent Steve Korbitz, Federico Castellucio (The Sopranos) as Marco Ballani (the most determined of the photographers).

Directed by: Sheree Folkson, who has most of her experience in episodic television; this explains casting so many television actors, I suppose.

Written by: Neil Jaworski, Sally Phillips.

Set in: in little known Hegg Island in Scotland.  Filming done at (a) the Isle of Man (b) Glasgow, Strathclyde, Scotland, UK (c) Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The film star Lara Tyler intends to marry author James Arber, but the photographers make that awkward.  To get around this, Steve goes to Hegg Island, the setting of James' best-seller to find a remote location for the wedding.  Katie, the only unmarried woman on the island, is recruited for her expertise in Hegg's geography.

Delineation of conflicts: Despite the ploy with the island, Marco catches up with Lara while disguised as a monk.  Lara sees him before he sees her; she goes into hiding.  With Lara missing, Steve then starts the scam of the substitute bride.   Katie agrees for 5,000 pounds and a makeover.  Oi.

Resolution: The initial deception leads to more deception; the fun is in watching the web of lies collapse in on itself.

One line summary: Hijinks surrounding filming the details of an inaccurate book.


Cinematography: 10/10 No problems.

Sound: 10/10 Well done. I liked the incidental music on the whole.

Acting: 8/10  Fine cast.  This was the first time I've seen Michael Urie act instead of being over the top.  Tennant was fine; Castelluccio was a blast; Macdonald was witty.

Screenplay: 8/10 Funny, often clever.  Regarding motivations, though, why would Lara be interested in James?  Otherwise, it was a romp.

Final Score: eight of ten


20130824: Documentary Review--Patriocracy

  1. American live action feature length film, 2011, 90 minutes, documentary.

  2. IMDB: 6.9/10.0 from 91 user ratings.

  3. Rotten Tomatoes: from critics, 43% from 7 critics; 'no consensus yet'; from audience 81% from 95 ratings.

  4. "People don't talk to each other, they talk at each other"

  5. What do you fear?  After health disasters, it's loss of jobs, loss of house, loss of savings.  Many people have lost all of three.

  6. Divisions between the two major parties are detailed.  Polarization among the members of the electorate is discussed.

  7. In depth interviews with former senator Alan Simpson, veteran CBS reporter Bob Schieffer, Erskine Bowles, and a dozen or so current members of congress are included.

  8. These days, there are fewer friendships among congressmen and senators than in previous decades. This makes it easier to demonize those of the opposite party, and harder to arrive at compromises.

  9. Economic problems (2001 tech bubble, the 'war on terror', 2007 real estate bubble plus banking and auto industry problems) exasperated this.  The several bailouts (auto, bank, financial) plus two wars cost trillions of dollars with no additional revenues.  So we owe China a lot of money.

  10. The commission appointed to study what to do with this growing problem published a report in 2010: need to handle debt, deficit, interest payment problems.  The study was respected on the surface, but both parties decided to not accept anything big enough to be useful.

  11. Because of this inaction, the USA might lose credit ratings, which will make the debt harder to pay off.

  12. The fall of newspapers and the rise of polarized websites makes the overall polarization more entrenched.  As opposed to the traditional newspapers, there are no longer rules of order and basic fact checking.  Would Walter Cronkite go on the air with a conjecture?  No, since fails news objectivity tests.  On internet sites, a story is good if a lot of people agree with it.

  13. Several television 'news' shows are discussion of news uncovered by traditional news sources, such as Reuters, AP, BBC.  These shows are not actually news, but rather entertainment consisting of polemic about news.

  14. Kent Collins from University of Missouri shows Fox and MSNBC discussing the same news story in totally different ways.  Both shows are polemic, often insulting, and usually polarizing, but not objective.  As Collins points out, neither are news shows; both are junk for already partisan zealot listeners.  It's all bovine scatology on both sides.

  15. The zealots versus the moderates: the moderates seem to be losing to the extreme elements of either side.  That trend makes the gridlock in Congress worse.

  16. Fundraising seems to be something done everyday of the congressmen's terms.  The fundraising comes with strings, and this makes for fewer bills passed, and worse bills passed.  Even worse, members of congress have their policies locked in my fundraising promises before the next term starts.

  17. The Citizens United Supreme Court case is discussed in some depth, with overall agreement by those willing to speak.  Corporations now have unlimited ability to spend on fundraisers.  As Alan Simpson said, this is madness.  As a congressmen said, there are several corporations who could buy all the seats of congress in any given election.  As an example, the fundraising total for 2010 was ~4 billion USD, which many corporations could afford.

  18. Pat Buchanan: we have to hear the roar of the falls before we change our ways.  Another commentator: only some event that is strongly horrific could change the way things are going.  Examples suggest that even that will not produce any change.

  19. Five stars of five.
One line summary: Analyses gridlock in the Federal government of the USA.

Cinematography: 10/10 Just fine on fundamentals.

Sound: 10/10 Good on fundamentals.

Acting: N/A No one is acting here.

Screenplay: 10/10 Well crafted.  Many interviews from both democrats and republicans.  The implications are clear, but getting anything fixed seems to be unlikely.