World’s Greatest Actor

There’s a scene in Albert Camus’ “The Plague” where an actor is performing the story of “Orpheus” in the quarantined, plague-infested town of Oran. During the third act, the actor kneels over and dies. That’s when the audience realizes that the actor’s trembling wasn’t just talent. He was really, genuinely sick.

That’s what it’s like to re-watch Robin Williams in Bobcat Goldthwait’s 2009 dark comedy “World’s Greatest Dad.” You can help but wonder if you’re seeing incredible acting or the hidden signs of depression.

Williams stars as melancholy, mousy and subdued poetry teacher Lance Clayton (perhaps an older and sadder reprise of his role as the lively John Keating from Peter Weir’s 1989 cult hit, “Dead Poet Society”). After his teenage son, Kyle (played by “Spy Kids'” Daryl Sabara), dies from a rather unfortunate masturbating accident, Lance covers it up, staging the death to look like a suicide.

Like “Heathers,” the death has unintended effects. Kyle (and Lance’s) fame skyrockets when “Kyle’s suicide note” is published in the school’s paper. Lance also ghostwrites Kyle’s book, “You Don’t Know Me,” and it becomes the greatest posthumous teen novel since “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

While Williams is known for his brilliant quickfire wit and incredible charisma, he also possesses the ability to appear almost invisible and unassuming (like Bryan Cranston in the beginning of “Breaking Bad” and Kevin Spacey in “The Usual Suspect’s”). Sure, his smile is friendly enough, but Williams’ character looks like a sad sack of potatoes and his smile never quite reaches his eyes.

They always say that hindsight is 20/20. “World’s Greatest Dad” would be a lot funnier if Williams death wasn’t (literally) hanging over us. Williams suicide seems like some sick sort of joke. Unlike many of Williams’ other jokes, this one has us crying from sadness.

“World’s Greatest Dad” was written by and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.


‘Easy Prey’: kids falling through the cracks of bullying and mental illness


Even if you haven’t lived through the Columbine High School shootings, the Virginia Tech massacre, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the UC Santa Barbara shooting, or the more than five dozens mass shootings in the last three decades, Anne Marie Cummings’ short film “Easy Prey” is easy to relate to.

Written by Cummings, Evan Stewart Eisenberg and Effie Johnson, the 37-minute film is “The Laramie Project” of school shootings. “Easy Prey” is a fictional story centered on six monologues, but that doesn’t mean it’s less real. If anything, the film’s direct interviews offers an immediacy that we don’t always get with these tragedies.

Edited by Marilyn Rivchin, the film follows a dramatic mockumentary style, featuring five upstate New York actors and one New York City actor. When the film begins, we meet Paula (Brenda Aulbach), a distraught schoolteacher who was there when 17-year-old Josh (Cole Long) shot track star Adriel before committing suicide.

“How could Josh — one of my students — one of my own students, do such a mindless thing,” says Paula.

Directed and filmed by Cummings, “Easy Prey” allows us to delve into the minds of the teachers, parents, friends and innocent bystanders. Mrs. Meyers (Moira Haupt) still talks to her son Adriel even though he’s deceased. His best friend Carl (Ian Whitt) says Josh has changed in the last six months prior to the incident. Cafe owner Dale (Tim Mollen) says the shootings are part of a larger culture where people don’t really communicate.

These messages are reinforced in Sage Francis’ poignant indie hip hop single, “The Best of Times,” and Hank Roberts’ atmospheric song “Peaceful Mind,” which underscores the film.

Cummings lays out her film like a game of “Clue”; each monologue is peppered with nuggets about what happened while providing commentary on bullying and gun violence.

Math teacher Ethan (Tim Perry) questions how Josh could have gotten a gun. According to a Mother Jones’ study, almost 50 percent weapons of weapons involved in U.S. mass shootings between 1982 and 2012 were obtained legally.

“It’s gotten to the point that I dread logging into CNN every morning because I don’t want to hear or see another shooting,” says Ethan.

“Easy Prey” isn’t an easy film to watch; it’s never easy to watch bullying. But it forces us to look at the hard truths — the aftermath of these massacres beyond the 30-second soundbites. Even when the news forgets, people remember and live on.

As Francis raps in “The Best of Times,” “It’s not the end of the world.” Even though it might feel like it.

“Easy Prey” will be screened at Cinemapolis at 7 p.m. on October 1. The actors and writers will be available for a Q&A following the free screening. The film will be available online from October 2, 2014 to October 2, 2015.

The film was produced by the Readers’ Theatre of Ithaca in association with the PACERS National Bullying Prevention Center.

Another ‘Dirty War’

Rick Rowley’s “Dirty Wars” begins like a film noir piece. Journalist Jeremy Scahill’s (author of “Blackwater: the rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army”) driving around the pitch-black deserted streets of Kabul at 4 a.m.

“A city of three million. Barely a streetlight on,” Scahill says.

Scahill’s investigating a series of night raids throughout the Middle East. They all had a similar modus operandi: Americans with muscles and beards would swarm into poor villages, wounding and killing men, women and children — including pregnant women with children.

“We called them the American Taliban,” someone says.

Directed and filmed by Rowley, the Academy Award-nominated documentary gives insight on a frightening operation, which Scahill describes as a “global stop and frisk program.” Essentially, a secretive U.S. government organization called the Joint Special Operations Command is given free reign to enact a global “Project Oversight.”

One of the victims was Mohammed Daoud, an Afghanistan police commander who trained under the U.S. and fought against the Taliban. The Americans killed his wife, sister and niece.

“I didn’t want to live anymore,” Daoud says to Scahill after the incident. “I wanted to wear a suicide jacket and bomb the Americans, but my father and brother won’t let me. I wanted jihad against the Americans.”

American forces disguised some of these attacks. NATO claimed they were the result of Taliban “honor killings”; the women and children were just accidental casualties, they said.

This, says Scahill, is the secret war on terror — the “dirty war.” The war’s so dirty that in a WIN/Gallup International poll, the U.S. was declared the No. 1 threat to world peace.

This dirty war continues with today’s targeted airstrikes against ISIS groups in Iraq. It’s a formality that journalist Glenn Greenwald describes as “prettily packaged under humanitarianism.”

“It is simply mystifying how anyone can look at U.S. actions in the Middle East and still believe that the goal of its military deployments is humanitarianism,” Greenwald writes in The Intercept. “The U.S. government does not oppose tyranny and violent oppression in the Middle East. To the contrary, it is and long has been American policy to do everything possible to subjugate the populations of that region with brutal force – as conclusively demonstrated by stalwart U.S. support for the region’s worst oppressors.”

After all, America’s been funding war, supplying weapons to both sides of conflicts.

Rowley’s documentary raises disturbing questions about the U.S. military agenda. Questions that Scahill voices and broadcasts.

“As an investigative reporter, you rarely have people’s attention,” says Scahill. “More often than not, you work alone. And the stories you labor over fall on deaf years.”

But every once in a while, someone listens.

“Dirty Wars” was directed by Rick Rowley and written by Jeremy Scahill and David Riker. “Dirty Wars” was nominated for Best Documentary in the 2014 Academy Awards.