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Sunday, April 17, 2016

COMMAND AND CONTROL

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Absolutely terrifying is the phrase that comes to mind in regard to the events chronicled in this Robert Kenner documentary.

Recounted in harrowing detail, an accident occurred at a Titan II missile silo in Arkansas when Bill Clinton was the governor in September 1980.

A mistake was made, something that seemed innocuous.  An airman doing routine maintenance dropped a piece of equipment.  The dropped metal socket fell 70 feet and punctured the Titan's fuel tank.

The film recreates the confusion that took place as unprepared officials tried to determine how to patch the fuel tank.  The Titan carried the most destructive nuclear warhead and could have wiped out a large portion of Arkansas had an explosion occurred.

Using archival footage that the military kept locked away until the Freedon of Information Act required it be released, we see a very young Governor Clinton broadcasting that there was nothing to be alarmed about and there were no evacuation plans put into effect.  Meanwhile, men who went back into the silo to perform containment were badly injured or killed and the entire incident was kept under military wraps.

Of particular interest is that the film brings to light how common such incidents were at the time, and what great risks were involved.

We live in a more sophisticated society now, and we have greater and deadlier nuclear weapons.  The question remaining is whether our officials are better equipped to handle the weapons and safeguard the nation.

MIDSUMMER IN NEWTOWN

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Lloyd Kramer's documentary about a group of Newtown Connecticut residents and NYC theater professionals comes in the wake of the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

When 20 first graders and 6 educators are slain, theater director Michael Unger and other theater professionals decide to create a distraction for the survivors by producing a pop musical take on a Midsummer's Nights Dream.

The film follows the production from auditions to opening night and focuses on three participants, two children who are living and one who was killed and is represented by her parents.

An interesting study on the mechanism of using immersion in an artistic production to cope with the hurt, fear and loss of the elementary school killings, the film is unique not in the production, but in the efforts to promote a healing process.



I

MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Louis Theroux shows up in Los Angeles announcing his intention to make a movie about the Church of Scientology.  His approach is to film a series of scripted and unscripted scenes from the life of Church leader David Miscavige.

He will audition actors, film the audition process and use as his adviser former Scientologist Marty Rathbun, a man now thoroughly despised within the Church.

When the Church becomes aware of Theroux and his actions they send people to harass him in a variety of ways, including armed with movie cameras to do a counter documentary of Theroux.

It's a rather intriguing approach and we have only the film and comments by Rathbun about the actors playing Miscavige being very realistic, to go on.  Theroux seems intent on cross examining Rathbun about his actions while he was in the Church.  At this point in his life, Rathbun has admitted his actions and is dedicated to working against the Church, so the viewer has to wonder why Theroux is so intent on his cross examination.  Rathbun is furious at Theroux's lack of faith in him.

For his part, Theroux does shed light on how important Los Angeles and the movie industry is to the Church.  The Scientologists prey on the desperation of the dream seekers who come to town seeking fame and fortune and siphon off much of their energy and money with promises.

Tom Cruise is a featured player, being one of the most famous Scientologists, close to Miscavige and an outspoken advocate for the Church.

CALIFORNIA

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

In Brazil in the 1980s, Estela (Clara Gallo) dreams of escaping her life and taking a trip to California with her uncle.

Living in Sao Paulo with her stifling father and mother, and hangs out with her conventional friends.  Dissatisfied, Estela has two forms of escape.  One is music, with a particular fondness for David Bowie, and the other is escapism into the journey she'll make to California with her mother's brother Carlos.

When Carlos returns to Sao Paulo sick with AIDS to be looked after by his family, it becomes clear that Estela's trip won't take place and she must make decisions about who she wants to be and who she wants to be with.

Will she choose Xande (the dream catch according to everyone) or JM, who arrives mid-semester with an air of mystery and great records?

THE FAMILY FANG

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Evidently faltering actress Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman) and stalled author Baxter (Jason Bateman) had an unusual upbringing.

The children of performance artists, they routinely participated in their parents performance art pieces such as a stage bank robbery with guns, fake blood and bystanders who think it's real.

Daddy Caleb Fang (Christopher Walken) is a charmer who uses his children to prop up his shaky identity as an artist.  With his wife Camille (MaryAnn Plunkett), the Fangs consistently place art ahead of their children.

Annie and Baxter come together as adults when their parents go missing.  Annie thinks it's a publicity act because their parent's careers have faltered since the children left the act.  Baxter wants to believe that even their unorthodox parents wouldn't be cruel enough to try to convince their children and the world that they are dead.

While this is a comedy, there are disturbing undercurrents that surface as Annie and Baxter play detective in a case involving their own lives.

Friday, April 15, 2016

UNTOUCHABLE

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

The film is about how Ron Book, a powerful Florida lobbyist, discovers that his daughter was sexuaally abused by the nanny entrusted with her care.  Speaking at the beginning of the film, even 10 years later, Book is moved to tears.

With money and considerable political power, Book and his daughter Lauren (the victim of the abuse), take on the threat of sexual predators.

As a lobbyist, Book is not accustomed to the word "no".  Ron Book is a man on a mission, pursuing the passage of ever increasingly restrictive laws and amendments pertaining to people on the sex offenders register.

However, director David Feige, a lawyer turned author, makes a case that sex offenders (the term covers a very broad category of individuals) are being denied due process and their basic human rights as a result of the increasingly stricter laws that are meant to protect the larger population.  Indeed, he conends that by forcing convicted sex offenders out of their homes, it becomes increasingly difficult for law enforcment agencies to keep track of them.

While Ron Book contends that he is out to do good and protect the population from sex offenders, Feige's more measured and less sensational approach shows the ramifications that some of of the laws have on innocents (such as the children of the offenders).


THE CHARRO OF TOLUQUILLA

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

In the 1940s and 1950s "Charro" cinema became to Mexican cinema what the western is to American cinema.

Charro refers to a icon of popular folklore , a horseman with colorful clothing and a big sombrero.  In this film, Jaime Garcia, a mariachi singer, has assumed the cocky and seductive attidue of the typical Charro.

Despite his womanizing and drinking, there is a weariness that creeps into Jaime's life as he struggles to survive as an HIV-positive man and keep his image alive while struggling to maintain a relationship with his estranged daughter (born without the HIV virus) and her stingent, religious mother.

The film, over a period of five years, chronicles the life and emotions of a man divided.