Archive for April, 2015

That was the place that was: Two films, one bookstore and a luxury hotel

April 28, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 28, 2015

As I was putting together the previous post, it struck me that the scenes that shared a location from the new feature film True Story and the new documentary Deep Web might have actually been filmed at a New York City bookstore, which is where we see a character in the True Story reading from his memoir at the end of that film. Perhaps, I mused, it could have been the Barnes & Noble at Union Square.

I did a couple of image searches, one of which — using the keywords “new york city” barnes & noble chandelier — led me to a 2013 video posted by Rizzoli Bookstore. A quick look at the video clinched it: This was the space that I’d seen in both films.

The video’s title proclaims Rizzoli to be “The Most Beautiful Bookstore in New York.” The label is immodest, but it may be apt.

Or at least, it may have been apt.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Jolted: Suddenly recognizing movie scenes filmed in places that I have known or seen (or even actually been!)

April 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 27, 2015

As I was saying the other day, a few times a year, my parent and I and the beloved dog-in-residence will drive down to Piermont. We’ll park in the big lot behind the shops and restaurants and walk up Ferry Road to the end of the pier and back.

The view out there is great, especially from the large concrete platform where the pier ends near the middle of the Hudson River. A few miles to the north, the Tappan Zee Bridge reaches from Nyack on the western bank to Tarrytown on the east. The span carries a seemingly endless river of cars and trucks.

If it’s a nice day, there’ll be lots of recreational boats, often wind-powered, zipping back and forth. (You’ll also find plenty of folks fishing in the Hudson River from multiple points along the pier when the weather’s good.) In any conditions, you can watch the occasional chain of barges cruise slowly up or down the river; now and then, a freighter or two will sail past them.

At regular intervals, a silver MetroNorth caterpillar crawls along the rails on the river’s eastern shore, pausing at the Irvington station before continuing on its journey. And once, I saw kayakers cutting through the water on the pier’s north side.

Read the rest of this entry »

The river, the railroad, the pier and the mountains: Some notes on the picturesque village of Piermont, New York

April 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 25, 2015

A few times a year, my parental unit, the parental unit’s dog and I will pile into a car and drive to Piermont, a picturesque New York village on the western shore of the Hudson River a few miles north of the New Jersey border.

The community was originally known as Tappan Slote. In 1839, residents renamed the place Piermont after its most prominent, and newest, manmade feature — a roughly mile-long pier extending toward the deep center channel of the broad Hudson.

The pier, built in 1838, was meant to serve as the eastern terminus for the New York and Erie Railroad. Upon its completion in 1851, the line was the longest in the nation. Passengers and freight could transfer to boats for a 20-mile river cruise to New York City.

Once new laws authorized the Erie railroad company to operate in New Jersey, the brief era that some historians call Piermont’s glory years was bound to end. Passenger trains soon began traveling along lines that bypassed the community, which allowed them to save time on their journey to New York City.

Freight trains continued loading and unloading at the pier, but even this ended by the close of 1861. The railroad’s repair shops and other facilities were abandoned; ultimately, they were destroyed by fire.

Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with an accused murderer: Thanks to numerous missteps, the based-on-a-true-story movie ‘True Story’ falls flat

April 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 24, 2015

About a third of the way into the new movie True Story, there’s a short but eerie scene in which journalist Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill) asks his girlfriend, Jill Barker (Felicity Jones), to look at a pair of manuscripts.

One is a book of notes Finkel took during his most recent reporting trip, a journey to Africa. The other is a 40-page letter, written by an accused murdered named Christian Longo (James Franco), which recounts much of his life, including the aftermath of the vicious slayings with which he is accused.

Finkel recorded his observations in a notebook using a pen, while Longo put pencil to legal paper. And yet both men have interrupted their fields of verbiage with doodles. The two very different texts are undeniably, and uncannily, similar.

The effect is eerie. Sadly, director-screenwriter Rupert Goold and scripting partner David Kajganich never really tie this short but unnerving scene into the rest of the film. The failure is emblematic: This is one of several effective but isolated moments that hint at the better movie that True Story could have been but isn’t.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Woman in Gold’ movingly portrays the quixotic quest by a World War II refugee and her attorney to correct a Nazi injustice

April 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 21, 2015

The new feature film Woman in Gold poignantly tells the true story of a World War II refugee and her lawyer who sue to recover a famous portrait of her aunt decades after it was confiscated by Nazis.

The woman at the heart of the story is Maria Altmann, the daughter of a prominent Austrian Jewish family. Simon Curtis and Alexi Kaye Campbell — it’s the second full-length movie feature directing credit for Curtis, following My Week with Marilyn and numerous TV movies, and the first writing credit of any kind for Campbell — intertwine scenes from Altmann’s earlier life in Vienna with those of Altmann and her attorney, new father Randy Schoenberg.

The titular woman in gold is Adele Bloch-Bauer, whom famed artist Gustav Klimt painted in 1907 in what became an iconic work. As we learn, even this apt and seemingly innocuous title has political implications. (Klimt, incidentally, also painted a second portrait of Adele as well as additional works for the Bloch-Bauers.) The legal battle begins in 1998 when, after the death of Maria’s older sister, Luise, the younger woman finds letters from the late 1940s that her sibling had exchanged with an Austrian lawyer in a futile attempt to recover stolen family property.

Read the rest of this entry »

A thin tan line: ‘Tell Spring Not to Come This Year’ shows the seemingly endless struggles of an Afghanistan army unit

April 18, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 18, 2015

Tell Spring Not to Come This Year, the new movie that made its North American debut this month at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, shows the travails of a unit in the Afghanistan National Army.

To make the film, co-directors Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy embedded with a battalion in the army, which began taking full responsibility for national security in 2014. Thanks to McEvoy, who formally served the United Kingdom in Afghanistan as a liaison between the British and Afghanistan army, the pair had unique access to a group of soldiers and their commander. The men in their film, despite being well-meaning and willing to serve and sacrifice for their nation, struggle to bring security and stability to a land with few national institutions.

At times, Tell Spring Not to Come makes Afghanistan’s deficits seem achingly clear. A caption in the film informs the audience that Afghanistan had never had an official national military until the Western powers that invaded the country in 2002 helped form one the following year. (I found that quite startling.) Early on, an officer gives a speech to his troops about some young soldiers, evidently on leave, who were pulled from their homes and killed by Taliban fighters. Later, as the unit is about to deploy to a combat zone, a soldier tells his commander that the men aren’t afraid, but they are upset about not having been paid for the past nine months.

Read the rest of this entry »

Old? Yes. Old-fashioned? Hardly. Albert Maysles profiles a one-of-a-kind New Yorker in ‘Iris’

April 16, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 16, 2015

Before the audience gets a glimpse of Iris Apfel, the subject of Albert Maysles’ recently released documentary, it hears her.

More precisely, the audience hears the bangles and necklaces Apfel wears as they gently click against one another.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that the late Maysles prepares us for our first look at the nonagenarian featured in Iris. If the aesthetic of this unlikely fashion icon could be summarized in one sentence, it would be, Nothing succeeds like excess. She seems to be wearing no fewer than three different necklaces and half a dozen bracelets at any one time, and her trademark oversized glasses all but openly dare the onlooker not to gawk.

Apfel’s homes seem to be bursting with clothing and knickknacks, all as vibrant and whimsical and over-the-top as her outfits. And yes, I meant homes: Iris and her husband, Carl Apfel, founded Old World Weavers, an enormously successful textile business that, among other things, contributed to White House design projects under nine presidents. They also, we later see, have an enormous warehouse stuffed with castoff treasures.

Personality-wise, the brassy Apfel seems to be almost as in-your-face as her clothing and decor. And yet, Iris succeeds because Apfel has an inimitable, undeniable charm.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Deep Web’ questions the case against an alleged online drug impresario with libertarian leanings

April 14, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 14, 2015

Deep Web explores a variety of issues about the Internet and how it may shape our lives in the future. But Alex Winter’s new documentary is at its best by far when it dives into the prosecution of a man who became notorious for his links to an online drug market.

That individual is Ross Ulbricht, now 30, who was convicted in February on federal hacking charges. (His sentencing is scheduled for next month.) When he was arrested in 2013 at a San Francisco library, his laptop was linked to administrative functions of the covert Silk Road website, which sold all manner of illegal drugs.

Deep Web, which is narrated by Keanu Reeves, acknowledges that Ulbricht at the very least was one of the operators of the Silk Road and may actually have founded it. But the documentary raises serious questions about decisions made by law enforcement agencies, the prosecution and the judge in the case.

Read the rest of this entry »

In music, escape: Palestinian schoolgirl singers seek acclaim in ‘Sad Songs of Happiness’

April 12, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 12, 2015

Constanze Knoche’s 2014 documentary, Sad Songs of Happiness, chronicles the journey of a handful of Palestinian girls and their singing instructor as they participate in a European music competition.

The story here is told simply and clearly. A few interviews with the three most prominent girls, Rita, Hiba and Tamar, are sprinkled throughout, but mostly we see the youngsters working with their teacher, attending school, talking with their families and, over the last third or so, taking part in the contest.

Read the rest of this entry »

A group of socially awkward teenagers and adults learn ‘How to Dance in Ohio’ in Alexandra Shiva’s sweet new documentary

April 11, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 11, 2015

How to Dance in Ohio is a touching new documentary about a group of high-functioning autistic teenagers and young adults who are getting ready for a formal dance.

Director Alexandra Shiva spent about three months filming psychologist Emilio Amigo and his counselors, their clients and the clients’ families as they geared up for their party. She focuses on 16-year-old Marideth, who’s happiest sitting at home with her computer, and young 20-something friends Caroline and Jessica, who are struggling respectively with her first year at community college and her job at a bakery.

In many ways, Jessica is the heart of the movie. She talks with her parents and a social worker about becoming more independent, but at times, she’s keenly aware of her limitations: She wants to move out of her family’s home, but she’d prefer to have a roommate. After showing us several awkward moments at the bakery, Shiva follows Jessica into a tense meeting with the business’s owner. The young woman bursts into tears during the conversation; afterward, while eating lunch alone, Jessica wishes that her mother was there.

Later in the movie, Jessica’s face crumples when she learns that Tommy, the young man she’d hoped would be her date to the dance, has already asked another to go with him.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Towboat run deep’: ‘Barge’ shows the work and banter of the men who move the goods that fuel and build America

April 11, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 11, 2015

Barge, Ben Powell’s documentary about life aboard a Mississippi tugboat, offers a rare and unusual glimpse of the industrial transportation network that powers the American economy.

The movie tracks the crew of the M/V Mary Parker as they push barges from Rosedale, Miss., to New Orleans and back. The tug’s captain claims at one point that everything every American touches was either conveyed by barge or had a component that was. The petroleum and other chemicals that fuel our cars, build our roads and make plastics of all kinds; the fertilizers that spur crop growth; the food that results — all travel up and down American rivers, the captain claims in a rare moment of expansiveness.

The crew are handsomely rewarded for their work, which involves alternating six-hour shifts (one on, one off) for a month at a time. A deckhand can make upwards of $100,000 a year, one crewman says.

Read the rest of this entry »

The impressive, impressionistic and incomplete ‘Tiger Tiger’ showcases the largely unknown habitat of one of the world’s best-known predators

April 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 10, 2015

George Butler’s new documentary about large wildcat conservation in India and Bangladesh, Tiger Tiger, is a beautifully shot film about a little-known ecosystem and the predator that rules it. Unfortunately, I think the film will likely leave the viewer with a number of questions.

Some of those queries run along sadly familiar lines: With only about 3,000 tigers remaining in the wild, will the species survive into the 22nd century? What kind of steps can nonprofit organizations and government agencies take to deter often poor and hungry villagers in tiger habitats from poaching the animal, given that tiger skin and bones are worth a literal fortune on the black market?

One can’t hold it against producer-director Butler for not answering these questions; after all, they’re ones that some of the finest minds in wildlife conservation have struggled to answer for decades.

But I did find myself somewhat baffled by a few smaller issues that could easily have been clarified with a handful of on-screen titles. At one point, conservationist Alan Rabinowitz visits a sick “sub-adult” female tiger that was caught after wandering into an Indian village. Was this the same animal that we later see being tranquilized and captured by a crowd of people in a frightening montage? And was that the same animal that we subsequently see being released from a government patrol boat?

Read the rest of this entry »

Some quick notes!

April 9, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 8, 2015

My computer’s been repaired. There’s a story in that, which I’ll get to later.

Also, the next few weeks are going to be a little hectic. Beginning tomorrow, I’ll be seeing about a dozen movies at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. After that, I’ve got a roughly weeklong trip coming up. Only following that will things begin to settle back to quote-unquote normal.

I’ve fallen behind a bit on my reviewing. The other week, I finished reading Frederick Reiken’s excellent Day for Night; in February, close readers may recall, I wrote about his earlier novel, The Lost Legends of New Jersey. And I’m in the middle of reading Margaret Atwood’s apocalyptic 2009 novel, The Year of the Flood. It’s well-written and compelling, but it’s also disturbing. That’s due to what happens to the book’s characters (and to its world at large) as well as to what Atwood is saying about how our species is treating planet Earth.

I’ll share my thoughts on both books at length at…well, at some point in the future. In the interim, I’m going to try to blog about most if not all of the documentaries I see at Full Frame, so brace for a bunch of film posts.

A few more notes about this here blog

April 9, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 9, 2015

Time to update my standard blog disclaimer!

In November 2012, I wrote the following:

With some exceptions noted below, I have not requested or received any free items to be reviewed on MEMwrites; nor do I plan to request any. The blog is an entirely voluntary venture for which I am receiving no financial compensation. The only reward I derive from MEMwrites is the satisfaction I get from writing and from being read.

All of the books and movies that I have been reviewing on MEMwrites have been chosen by me without any outside prompting. With some exceptions noted below, I have purchased all of the books and movies reviewed on the blog myself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Looking again at the profits of ‘Star Trek’ movies

April 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 8, 2015

On Tuesday, in my discussion of Star Trek: First Contact, I mentioned a number of parallels between that film and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Among other things, I wrote this:

These films are also the most popular and successful ones starring their respective casts. The Voyage Home, a 1986 release, grossed nearly $110 million. First Contact, which came out almost exactly 10 years later, grossed $92 million. The only Trek films that made more money were the J.J. Abrams–helmed reboots from 2009 and 2012, which populated the roles of Kirk, Spock and company with a brand-new cast.

I have a confession to make: These numbers are…fishy. Specifically, the numbers cited in yesterday’s blog post weren’t adjusted for inflation. (They came from Box Office Mojo, by the way.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Despite its stellar reputation, I recommend that most viewers avoid ‘Star Trek: First Contact’

April 7, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 7, 2015

Star Trek: First Contact was the eighth movie in the Trek franchise. It was also the second (following 1994’s Star Trek Generations) of four movies to feature the Next Generation cast.

First Contact has a number of things in common with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. These films marked the directorial debuts of, respectively, Jonathan Frakes (William Riker) and the late Leonard Nimoy (Spock), the first officers of TNG’s 24th-century Enterprise and the original series’s 23rd-century U.S.S. Enterprise. Both movies involve serious threats to planet Earth, which can only be resolved with journeys through time to Earth as it was roughly 300 years prior to the TV series’ main timelines. And both stories have generous doses of comedy, which are often due to the space-traveler-out-of-time aspect of the narratives.

These films are also the most popular and successful ones starring their respective casts. The Voyage Home, a 1986 release, grossed nearly $110 million. First Contact, which came out almost exactly 10 years later, grossed $92 million. The only Trek films that made more money were the J.J. Abrams–helmed reboots from 2009 and 2012, which populated the roles of Kirk, Spock and company with a brand-new cast.

I like The Voyage Home quite a lot, but I’ve never really been a fan of First Contact. In rewatching it recently, my opinion of the movie rose — but only slightly.

Read the rest of this entry »

On laughter and white privilege

April 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 3, 2015

Author’s note: Alas, my laptop is malfunctioning again, so I’m going to have to change up my blogging for the next several days until I get things in order. (Unfortunately, that may require the purchase of a new computer.) Here’s a short post based on some tweets I sent recently. MEM 

True, and kind of sad, story from Wednesday night about Chris Rock. 

It was trivia night at a downtown Durham, N.C., restaurant/bar. The crowd was largely Caucasian (as I am) and Asian. 

One trivia question was basically, “Which comedian posted pictures of himself being repeatedly pulled over by the police?”

Several minutes later, the M.C. gave the answers to that round of questions, including the above-mentioned one about Chris Rock.

The M.C. mentioned that some people incorrectly answered the question with “Will Ferrell” — who, of course, is white.

I laughed heartily at the thought of Will Ferrell being pulled over repeatedly. It just seemed totally ludicrous.

Read the rest of this entry »

In Ship we trust? A motley crew of amnesiac astronauts battle forces they barely comprehend in Greg Bear’s ‘Hull Zero Three’

April 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 1, 2015

Greg Bear is a prolific, award-winning American science fiction author. His 2010 novel, Hull Zero Three, is the story of a traveler aboard an interstellar sleeper ship who struggles to end a conflict that threatens the vessel and its passengers.

The Ship of Hull Zero Three (it’s otherwise nameless) is akin to the Argonos of Richard Paul Russo’s Ship of Fools in that both vessels are wandering the stars, their missions unclear. But Argonos is a generation ship, capable of sustaining a fully conscious and active population for years upon end. It can also travel from one star to another in a matter of months.

Ship travels at a much lower velocity; a single journey could last hundreds of years, after which it might lack the fuel to continue to another destination. This, at least in part, explains why Bear’s vehicle is a sleeper ship. To conserve air, water, food and other supplies, few if any of the people on Ship are awake. This changes, of course, when people are needed to deal with an emergency or some other important event, such as an impending planetfall.

In fact, Ship doesn’t necessarily convey people as such — rather, it has a genetic Catalog and the equipment and resources needed to grow the bodies and brains that it needs to handle the situation. The vessel can also implant memories and knowledge in the minds it creates.

But Ship’s voyage has gone awry. The vessel has stalled in the void as unknown forces battle for control of its systems.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: