Film o’ the week: Niki and Flo

Once more I exercised my Museum of  Modern Art Film Society membership and caught a more-or-less free flick in the basement theater last night. It was a worthwhile two hours spent in the dark and was followed by a 15 minute video interview with the director.

The film was Niki and Flo (Niki Ardelean, colonel în rezerva), directed  by Romanian director Lucian Pintilie and released in 2003. Without straying into spoiler territory, I will say this has one of the more stunning endings I’ve seen in a long while, a surprise that had me and the rest of the audience a bit dumbstruck when the closing credits started rolling. I heard a few “whoa’s” as the shock sank in.

[The review of Niki and Flo]

Surprises aside, the film is the story of a retired Romanian Army Colonel, Niki Ardelean, his wife, their daughter, son-in-law and in-laws. The film opens on April 1, 2011 and concludes six months later. It opens with the funeral of the Colonel’s son, a clarinet player who died senselessly while changing a blown fuse with wet hands.

Flo is Florian, the father-in-law, a hyper bohemian who darts around in contrast to the Colonel’s exhausted state of post-Communist retirement, videotaping weddings and funerals and loudly delivering his opinions. Flo’s slapstick, physical comedy had the audience nervously laughing during the funeral scene when he had the pall bearers open and close the coffin of the Colonel’s dead son several times so he could tape the perfect shot. But those comedy teases were erased by the mounting sadness of the Colonel and his wife, first grieving over the loss of one child, and then again as their newly married daughter made plans to leave for America and more opportunity.

The film is about the Colonel’s dispossession at the hands of Flo. He loses control over every detail of his life. From organizing the flowers at the funeral, to Flo’s “confiscation” of the newlyweds belongings as they move to America, to senseless political arguments about the role of the military … Flo eats away at every aspect of the Colonel’s dignity.

Filmed mostly in cramped Romanian apartment interiors, Pintilie’s background as a theatrical director gives the film the feeling of a play, and indeed, in the interview that followed, Pintilie explained his theory of film in light of Milan Kundera’s (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) theories from The Art of the Novel, that the purpose of story in art is to expose the possibilities that surround the story, to condense and expose through ellipsis.

Whenever I find myself exposed to Eastern European film, I can’t help but try to impose a layer of post-communism to the experience. Santatango is about a loss of structure and identity after the Communist failure. Ulysses Gaze is heavy handed in its unforgettable shot of an immense toppled statue of Lenin being barged down the Danube with Harvey Keitel along for the ride.

Niki and Flo is only tangentially about post-Communist Romania. Pintilie says that critical interpretations of Flo’s tyranny as a metaphor for the country’s Communist dictator,  Nicolae Ceau?escu are off the mark.

Here’s the film in its entirety on YouTube:

Blackouts, devices and addiction: how Major League Baseball picks my pocket

I always point to the interactive/digital division of Major League Baseball as one of the most progressive and intelligent media companies on the planet. The official name of the operation is Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which indeed they are.

Nothing has come between the MLB and their digital future.  From consolidating every one of the professional franchises’ web presence and ecommerce operation under one common infrastructure to being the first to adopt and extend its content on every platform imaginable — from smartphones to tablets to laptops to game consoles — the MLB has come to define the true meaning of the second-screen viewing experience, extending the same television experience our grandfathers knew on black and white televisions to the brave new world of Moneyball statistics, multi-angle interactive shots, pitch-by-pitch placement analysis, and a general entertainment geekout that makes the most of America’s pastime while inducing its most rabid fans to part with serious cash each and every year. [that was the first 110-word sentence I’ve written in a very long time]

This season marks the fourth year I’ll be subscribing to baseball’s AtBat service. The first year was 2008, when I paid some forgotten amount — maybe $60 or $75 — so I could watch the Red Sox while I was stationed in Beijing during the Summer Olympics. There was something supremely comforting about sitting in my hotel room at 2 am and watching a day game live from Fenway.  Even simply listening to a WEEI radio broadcast on my Blackberry in the back of a Chinese taxi on my way to deal with some urgent customer issue at the women’s beach volleyball arena made me feel 100% the part of the Ugly American in a strange land.

For someone who lives on the road or constantly works outside of their home television market — mine is defined basically by the New England Sports Network’s footprint — the MLB service is a nice thing to have. Sitting in a hotel room in the evening with an iPad streaming the home team is a good thing — once you get past the pernicious and byzantine blackout restrictions — and even at home, while the game is on the big screen and blacked out from the device, the statistical GameDay service is a nice thing to have at hand if you want to geek out on some statistics during the beer commercials.

Here’s the pitch on the MLB commerce cart:

“You have selected 2012 MLB.TV Premium Yearly. Watch over 150 Spring Training games LIVE online with no blackouts. Watch home or away feeds of every out-of-market regular season game LIVE in HD quality. At Bat 12 is now included free with your MLB.TV Premium subscription: watch on the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and select Android phones (now available), PLUS, new connected devices for the 2012 season like Xbox 360(coming soon).”

The price: $125 (and for merely $20 more I can get all of Minor League Baseball as well).

This year the MLB seems to have decoupled the AtBat service from the video service, so I am confronted with a $120 subscription to the premium service if I want to continue to be able to watch home games while I’m in New York City during the week. (yes, in theory I could be Slingboxing off of my home DirectTV system). Since I am a member-in-good-standing of the BLOHARDS (the Benevolent Loyal Order of the Honorable Ancient Red Sox Diehard Sufferers of New York), I feel obligated to keep a steady stream of Red Sox infiltrating the backyard of the despised Yankees. I know I could get off my agoraphobic ass and watch the games in a Red Sox friendly bar somewhere in Manhattan, but I doubt I’d be able to do so in my boxer shorts and know I’d end up in an over-served condition before game’s end.

The reality is I’ll probably watch two dozen games in their entirety via, most of them on an iPad, some in airport lounges on my Android phone, and probably a lot of the very cool 13 minute compressed hit-by-hit recaps that are shown every morning after. As for relying on the second-screen GameDay function — basically an avatar of a batter facing out towards a digital version of the home team’s outfield surrounded by stats and an pitch-by-pitch animation and strike zone placement — sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I’m a very ADD fan who generally does something else while the game drones in the background — email, memos, reading — and look up at the sound of the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd, relying in the replay or rewind button to show me the action.

But I pay because I am a fan and fans are fanatics after all.  While the blackout policies always piss me off, and make me especially curse the national weekend and post-season blackouts induced by MLB’s exclusives with Fox Sports and ESPN, still I pay.

It’s a great racket they have going and deserves the praise it has received from both the tech and the financial press. There’s good reason CEO Bob Bowman made a list of the smartest people in tech in 2010 (here’s an interview he did with AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka last spring.) I know of no other media organization that rose to the challenge, seized the opportunity, and then innovated against the technical opportunity like Major League Baseball — a remarkable feat considering the league consists of 30+ independent owners governed loosely by a commissioner.


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