CODE BLACK (doc, 2014)

July 23, 2014

code black Greetings again from the darkness. Filmmaker/Doctor (an unusual combo) Ryan McGarry takes us behind the Emergency Room curtain at LA County General … one of the busiest ER departments in the country, with a waiting room filled with low income, uninsured people desperate for medical attention. So desperate that they will wait up to 18 hours to see a doctor.

We see live action sequences from C-Booth (Critical Booth) in the “old” Emergency Room prior to the opening of the shiny new facility next door. The footage is startling and quickly explains why so few doctors are cut out for this particular work. The workspace is limited and the most serious trauma cases are wheeled in with medical staff whirling around at full speed and full adrenaline. Life and death medical decisions must be made at a frantic pace, and each person must perform their role precisely during this operating ballet.

This initial C-Booth footage is not for the squeamish but sets the stage for the abrupt changes brought on by the new facility. Bureacracy and compliance put an immediate kibosh on the doctor/patient relationship. We know this because the doctors tell us. They now must spend the bulk of their time completing paperwork rather than seeing patients.

We hear directly from a group of interns and we admire their passion for medicine and healing. Still, the apparent bashing of a business-first approach and compliance-heavy process highlight the real world inexperience of these young docs. Unfortunately, very few of the veteran doctors have much to say on camera and instead, director/doctor McGarry guides us through his words and eyes in hopes of creating empathy for his “I just want to help people” devotion.

The C-Booth footage is fascinating and reminds us that “M*A*S*H” was purely entertainment and “Grey’s Anatomy” probably doesn’t even deserve to be called a medical drama. Where the film falters is in not contrasting the LA County General process with that of the suburban facilities that deal almost exclusively with the insured populace. That seems to be a much more interesting comparison than old school crash cart trauma with no tracking to the new world of hospital compliance.

JAMES GARNER remembered (link to comments)

July 20, 2014

A glitch this morning prevented the “JAMES GARNER remembered” post from being emailed to subscribers.  Here is the link to the comments I posted:

**If you received the first posting, I apologize for the duplication

JAMES GARNER remembered

July 20, 2014

garner Awoke this morning to the sad, but long-expected news that actor James Garner had passed away.  Mr. Garner was 86 years old and had been mostly out of the public eye since suffering a stroke in 2008.  It’s difficult to find another performer whose work appealed to “the greatest generation” (his work in “Maverick“), the maturing flower power generation (“The Rockford Files“) and Gen X and Y (The Notebook).

Born in that state just north of Texas, Garner dropped out of high school to join the Merchant Marines … a career cut short by his sea-sickness.  He later joined the Army and served 14 months in the Korean War, earning two Purple Hearts. His acting career really took off with the 1957 series “Maverick“, where Garner played a card shark whose quick wit often got him out of the trouble that the same quick wit had gotten him into.  Garner then made the transition to movies, and during his career starred with such female leads as Doris Day (Move Over, Darling; The Thrill of it All), Julie Andrews (The Americanization of Emily, Victor Victoria) and Sally Field (Murphy’s Romance) … culminating in his teaming with Gena Rowlands to play the elder characters of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook (2004).  Scattered in between were other memorable films such as The Great Escape (1963), Grand Prix (1966), and Space Cowboys (2000), as well as TV movies Heartsounds (1984), My Name is Bill W (1989), and Barbarians at the Gate (HBO, 1992).

Obviously the role Garner is most identified with is Private Investigator Jim Rockford in the TV series “The Rockford Files” from 1974-80.  He was the reluctant hero who was always in hot water with the police, but managed to save the day in his patented clumsy style by the end of the hour.  Garner stacked the cast with his friends Joe Santos, Stuart Margolin and Noah Beery, Jr. This group would work together again in the 1990′s on the Rockford TV movies.  Who among us didn’t want to be Rockford … living in a trailer on Malibu beach, zipping around L.A. in a Firebird and solving criminal cases for the cops!  When I spoke briefly with Mr. Margolin last year at the Little Rock Film Festival, he had nothing but fond memories of working with Garner on the show.

As if conquering TV and Movies wasn’t enough, James Garner and Mariette Hartley teamed to make more than 300 Polaroid commercials in the late 1970′s through the early 1980′s. Their sprited banter led many to believe the two were real life spouses, and had retail customers requesting “the James Garner camera”. Garner and Hartley were of course not married.  In fact, Garner and his (surviving) wife Lois had been married for 56 years at the time of his death … a long term marriage being yet another thing setting Garner apart from most others in the Hollywood world.

The words most often used to describe James Garner are amiable, likable, handsome, witty and charming.  Mostly, he was a very talented guy who made it all look pretty easy on whatever screen he happened to appear … he was a guy we could relate to and felt like we knew – or could know.  There is not another actor who found success in the rare Western Comedy genre, as well as Rom-Coms, a POW film, Race Cars, Police series, and Business drama.  With his Oakland Raiders fanatacisim and his stake in the expansion NBA Dallas Mavericks (1980), he was connected to the real world without making tabloid headlines. James Garner is to be most admired as a professional who entertained us on screen while not embarrassing himself off.   Perhaps he was so likable on screen because he brought so much of himself to his roles.




I ORIGINS (2014)

July 19, 2014

i origins Greetings again from the darkness. The evening I saw this one, I tweeted “Mike Cahill is one of today’s most intriguing filmmakers“. After a few days to think about it, that belief remains so. A double feature of this and his previous film Another Earth could keep the conversation flowing for days and weeks.

Evolution vs Spirituality is the main theme here. Miohael Pitt plays molecular biologist Ian Gray, who is working diligently to prove that the evolution of the eye is the scientific proof debunking creationism and spirituality. Ian’s petri dish view of life is challenged when he meets free-spirited Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). This takes “opposites attract” to a whole new level … in fact, opposites actually detract … from the story and tone. While Sofi causes cracks in Ian’s convictions, their ultimate split is actually a turning point for the film. The second half is extremely entertaining and thought-provoking.

Leaping ahead a few years, we find Ian married to his previous lab assistant Karen (a terrific Brit Marling). These two have an intriguing bond, and the birth of their first child sends the two scientists back into research mode … including some globe trotting. Retina scanning technology plays a huge role here, and leads Ian to India where he searches for proof of this new theory.

This existential trip has an inordinate number of coincidences, lucky breaks, and philosophical discussions … not to mention a rainbow range of eye glass styles for Pitt and Marling. If you enjoy films that generate post-viewing discussions, Mr. Cahil is proving himself as the go-to filmmaker. Whether you fall on the side of science or spirituality, or somewhere in-between, this film seeks to prove the eyes have it.

watch the trailer:



July 18, 2014

underwater dreams Greetings again from the darkness. Documentarian Mary Mazzio presents an inspirational and terrific human interest story … in the first half of the film. The second half veers off into a one-sided socio-political editorial that, as frustrating as it is, doesn’t dim the light from the magical first half.

Narrated by Michael Pena, we learn the story of 2 teachers and 4 students from Carl Hayden Community High School located just outside of Phoenix. The students are sons of undocumented immigrants (illegal aliens) attending a school with 92% of families living below the poverty line (90% Hispanic). The area is riddled with gangs, drugs and depression, making the journey and accomplishments of these four all the more impressive.

The group enters a high level Underwater Robotics competition sponsored by NASA and Naval Research … in the collegiate division. If this were a Hollywood script, it would be outlandish and unbelievable. Instead, it’s true and fascinating. Two amazing teachers (Fredi and Allan) lead the four boys: Lorenzo (the funny one, driven by a Hooters dream), Oscar (a natural leader in any group), Luis (the quiet dependable one, the muscle of the group), and Cristian (the brainiac computer geek who is a loner). With a total budget of $800, the group proceeds to work together to design, build and test their entry (affectionately known as “Stinky”).

When they arrive in California, they realize they are competing against colleges … in particular, the team from MIT (with Exxon sponsorship). Simply competing should have been victory enough, but we see actual footage of the awards ceremony which nets the team much more than a participation ribbon. Their spirit and drive was no longer just inspirational, but now they had results to go with it.

The talking head approach works here because we get to know the four boys and the teachers. We also get plenty of face time with the MIT team and some judges. The insight from all of these people helps put this in perspective. Quite enlightening is the 10 year reunion between the MIT team and the boys who beat them a decade earlier. The life paths of these 8 display a clear distinction between the economic haves and have-nots. This is where the film’s focus should have remained post-competition.

Unfortunately, we are taken on a trip of activism and the movement for undocumented students known as the Dream Act. Too much time is spent on the politics and protests, and not enough on the positive aspects of the legacy these boys and the teachers left for the high school, and a generation of students that followed. We are told that of the 2 million undocumented students in the U.S., 49% will drop out of high school. This leaves the impression that all 2 million are similar to these four, never once providing a mention of those who choose gangs or drugs. Focusing on one segment of this, is an injustice to the issue as a whole.

The best message here is that determination and drive and teamwork can accomplish a great deal, and that it would be wonderful if every student could explore their own talents and interests. It does make one wonder if this economically disadvantaged group can accomplish this, what limitations is the impact of the rigid structure within public education imposing on other students. If a group of ESL students in the middle of the desert can build an underwater robotics that competes against the work of the brightest engineering students at MIT … all students should know the possibilities are endless.

watch the trailer:



A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) revisited

July 16, 2014

a hard days night Greetings again from the darkness. It’s the 50th anniversary and what a treat to see the re-mastered, restored film in a crowded theatre – many wearing their Beatles shirts. The quasi-documentary, cinema verite’ approach from director Richard Lester may not fit the traditional idea of a great movie, but at a minimum, it’s a fantastic pop culture artifact showing a world on the verge of change (and four of those partially responsible).

The Beatles first film shows them at the most innocent and fresh-faced we ever see them … it’s just a few months after their appearance on “the Ed Sullivan Show”. John Lennon is the most guarded, but his quick wit and distrust of the establishment are obvious. Paul McCartney is at his cutest and least arrogant, but still managing to pose on cue. George Harrison comes across most open and full of joy – before he became the most publicly withdrawn. Ringo Starr is self-deprecating and in full hang-dog mode.

For a stark contrast, watch the four lads a year later in HELP!, also directed by Mr. Lester. The luster of fame is clearly tarnished and they are quite aware of the power they wield. In contrast, during this shoot, we are almost “on set” as the boys are first experiencing Beatlemania! In addition to the Fab Four, British actor Wilfrid Brambill plays Paul’s Grandfather. The recurring gag of him being “very clean” is a play on Brambill’s long-running role as Albert Steptoe in “Steptoe & Son” where he is referred to as “a dirty old man“. Victor Spinetti plays the very anxious TV director wearing the infamous sweater. Mr. Spinetti also appeared in HELP! (1965) and The Magical Mystery Tour (1967). Richard Vernon played the grumpy old man sharing the train car with the boys. Mr. Vernon also appeared in Goldfinger that same year. Another James Bond link occurs when Ringo is invited to the Le Cercle Club … the same club James Bond first appears in Dr. No (1962). Lastly, Pattie Boyd is one of the giggly schoolgirls on the train and appears in 3 different scenes. 18 months later, she was married to George Harrison … and a few years later, she reiterated her attraction to lead guitarists by marrying Eric Clapton.

I was caught off guard by the frenetic pace of the film … it has been 3 decades since I last watched it. But mostly, I was stunned at the clean look of this restored version and was awed by the terrific sound, especially of the song restorations completed by Giles Martin, the son of Beatles record producer Sir George Martin … who was nominated for an Academy Award for his film score.

The film inspired the 1960′s TV show “The Monkees“, and of course, the soundtrack was a massive best seller and chart topper. “If I Fell” is one of my favorite Beatles songs and it’s a nice segment in the film, but the real climax is the performance of “She Loves You”, replete with terrific crowd shots. The impact and lasting impression of the film is every bit as recognizable as that stunning opening chord to the title track that opens the film.

watch the (new) trailer:



July 14, 2014

planet Greetings again from the darkness. Admitting a weakness is the first step. Yes, I am a proud, long-time fan of this series. My soft spot for these films began when I was a kid – mesmerized by the 1968 original, while watching from the back seat of the car, as the clunky metal speaker hung on the window and my parents sat in the front. Oh, and yes, I was wearing my pajamas!

It’s pretty much impossible to describe the technological advances in movies since Charleston Heston stumbled into one of the biggest shocker endings the movies have ever provided (and that was 46 years ago!). Heck, the advances since the 2011 movie with James Franco are staggering to see. The combination of real actors, CGI and fantastic motion capture technology make for a realistic look that is unsettling at times.

Many know the work of Andy Serkis (Gollam, King Kong) who is considered the master of motion capture acting, and here he returns as Caeser, the leader of the apes. Only this time, he has real competition, especially from Toby Kebbell as Koba, his friend who was previously mistreated in the lab by humans … thereby explaining their opposite view of the few remaining humans.

This entry from director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) picks up 10 years after the 2011 movie. The apes have established a very cool community in the forest, while only a few immune humans survived the lab-born simian virus that was leaked. The apes have continued to get smarter and even have their own culture and code (apes don’t kill apes). The surviving humans have fought amongst themselves and only recently organized a faction with Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus as their leader. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) takes a small group over the Golden Gate Bridge to see if they can reignite a dam which could produce the energy so desperately needed in human town.

Almost immediately, humans and apes meet. The big philosophical chess match begins with Malcolm and Caeser negotiating for cooperation and peace, while Koda and Drefus see war as the only solution. Alliances are drawn, fragile accords made, loyalties are questioned, and hierarchies crumble. See, it turns out the apes are like us, and we are like the apes.

There is a terrific battle scene, but the real joy here is the personalities and look of the apes. It is fascinating to watch the interactions … and that final shot is startling! The only downside is the caricature of Carver played by Kirk Acevedo. He is the token human d-bag but his character is so over the top it ruins most of his scenes. Luckily, he has very few … and they are offset by the really cool horse dismount displayed by Caesar. If you buy into this, it’s a tension-filled jolly good time.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of the series and want to be awed by the evolution of the apes – both in the story and on the screen

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you just can’t buy into the apes thing OR you miss Roddy McDowell and his rubber mask too much to ever give the nod to CGI.

watch the trailer:



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 144 other followers