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by Bill Gibron

20 Aug 2010

The word “pornography” is such a lightning rod, a phrase, facet, and concept open to mis- and reinterpretation that it’s almost impossible to talk about in a calm and considered manner. From the Puritanical point of view that argues for our status as “One Nation Under God” to the complicated questions of exploitation, compensation, and criminality, one has to tread tenuously less their intention be seen as outrageous or adding fuel to an already raging inferno. So when documentary filmmakers Anna Lorentzon and Barbara Bell decided to examine the extreme bondage website, they understood the inherent contradictions in their story - and their source. Focusing on a former Carnegie-Mellon University professor who took his fascination with all things fetish to mesmerizing, nauseating heights, they wanted to show the art, and atrocity, of mixing pleasure and pain - sometimes, violently.

Thus we come to Graphic Sexual Horror (the title taken from the intro/warning page of the former web locale) expecting both shock and sensibility. We anticipate being repulsed but at the same time reassured that what we are seeing is a situation between consenting adults well paid for their participation - and for a while, Lorentzon and Bell make the case brilliantly. They introduce us to Brent Scott (aka “pd”), the various models who ‘posed’ for his erotic experiments, and learn a lot about how a college-minded bit of ‘performance art’ and a fascination with the dark side of desire was turned into a 35,000 member adult entertainment outpost. In between all the philosophizing and blame gaming, assurances and assumptions, we see extended glimpses of what Insex offered, and it’s at these moments where the film loses its legitimate meaning and turns tacky.

by Gem Wheeler

20 Aug 2010

Duncan Jones’s Moon got rave reviews on its appearance last year, and, being a sci-fi nut, I knew I was going to have to see it at some point. Unfortunately, having heard on the grapevine that the plot hinged on clones, I reacted with panic, adopted a defensive position, and gave it a miss. Thanks to a certain big-name franchise, I am unable to hear the word ‘clones’ without mentally inserting ‘attack of the’. No-one needs that.

Still, time passes, and even the most unpleasant memories gradually fade. I got hold of the DVD of Moon last weekend and gave it a shot. Any film that dares to leave Earth’s atmosphere for plot purposes is already on thin ice. This is territory that, at least in fiction, is scarcely uncharted. Could Jones’s claustrophobic drama really dredge up anything truly original? As the film opens, the excellent model work in the long shots of the lunar landscape and the buildings of a human mining operation looming out of its wastes is reminiscent of nothing so much as the British sitcom, Red Dwarf (no bad thing) and Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999 (possibly a bad thing, depending on your point of view). This impression was exacerbated by the fact that my dud copy of the UK DVD release became locked on the audio commentary. Hearing one of the crew describe ‘dragging Tonka toys around’ to construct the set was probably not the best way to preserve atmosphere – and yes, I know it wasn’t really filmed in space, but even so…

by Bill Gibron

16 Aug 2010

Sometimes, you have to feel sorry for Blu-ray. It just gets a formidable footing into the home theater market and along comes a new visual gimmick - 3D - to threat its format opportunities. Granted, the new dimensional take on titles will require the help of high definition to make its bid, but it seems unfair for another upstart to ride piggyback on something that’s yet to establish its own commercial credentials. Of course, the studios are really no help. They hinder expansion by focusing on frivolous concepts like sell-through date, theatrical to digital turnaround times, and that everyman clash between rental and retail. As a result, films that should get the best preservationist treatment are taken for granted, while the most recent box office bomb is fleshed out with more added content than a box of Criterion classics. When trying to sell your elitist approach to your standard cinephile, such a strategy is, more or less, a non-starter.

Even worse, the geek freak patrol are clamoring for their own lost treasures to be transferred over in the best possible remastered manner. They will not settle for shoddy visuals or a less than completist approach to bonus features. Even when a company can’t condescend to all of their demands, their sense of entertainment entitlements tends to stunt any significant growth. As we wander into the next decade of this new millennium, as 2011 promises a staggering 28 films in the trumped up 3D style, it looks like the battle will continue to wage. In one corner will be the cash kowtowing of a business model desperate to stay relevant in a realm of easy instant media access. In the other are those who want the artform given the historical respect it so richly deserves. Looking over the five titles featured in this third installment of our semi-regular Blu-ray overview, you can see that some distributors are trying to conform to the latter. On the other hand, they have to deal with the often uneventful needs as part of the former.  Let’s begin with:

by Bill Gibron

16 Aug 2010

As part of our collective history, it was a cinematic staple. When TV arrived, it became part of that medium’s mindset as well. From radio series to matinee serials, the Western walked through the early part of 20th century pop culture with a side-armed swagger that nothing - or no one - could seemingly stop. But by the ‘60s, as America was reassessing its part in the destruction/disenfranchisement of its “native” population, the genre lost most of its patina. By the later part of the decades, the thrill kill ultra-violence of the Italian spaghetti take on the material was needed to resurrect the once mighty movie type. Now, nearly four decades later, Korean filmmaker Ji-woon Kim gives up a reinvention of an update, a brilliant “Asian Noodle” look at the archetypes that’s as indebted to Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone as it is post post-modern auteurs like Quentin Tarantino.

Even the title - The Good, The Bad, The Weird (now available on DVD and Blu-ray from IFC) - gives the intentions away. Set in Manchuria during the 1930s, it features a trio of anarchic anti-heroes in desperate competition for a map. The main narrative thread sees hired assassin Park Chang-y (Lee Byung-hun) aka “The Bad”, on the hunt for the elusive document. During a robbery, confirmed thief Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho) aka “The Weird”, grabs the parchment and discovers its treasure trove truth. While “The Good”, bounty hunter Park Do-won (Jung Woo-sung) tries to claim the price on The Bad’s beleaguered head, our stealthy little criminal takes the map to the cutthroat rogues of the Ghost Market. There, he hopes to decipher its secrets. Unfortunately, the Good, The Bad, the invading Japanese army, and every other villain in the region are after its proposed riches.

by Bill Gibron

13 Aug 2010

The decor is all late ‘60s camp - a combination of placid pop art and the Madison Avenue interpretation of cool chic. The characters are straight out of a disconnected ‘90s RomCom - unable to express their true feelings while sipping cup after cup of carefully brewed tea. The narrative approach is piecemeal and wonderfully wonky - girl anticipates phone call, girls gets call, girl reacts badly, dreams are discussed, boy’s obsession with girl grows in unsettling ways. By the end, when all the confused emotions are being delineated in a delicious, dirge like musical number, Jamie Travis’ Patterns Trilogy (part of an overview of the filmmaker’s short films available on DVD from Zeitgeist Films) finally comes into focus - and it’s a satisfying view for sure.

Often compared to David Lynch and Todd Solondz (though the aesthetic and eventual message are uniquely his own), the 31 year old Canadian artist has been carving out a unique niche in the often unsympathetic realm of short form cinema since the debut of his dark, deranged Why the Anderson Children Didn’t Come to Dinner in 2003. Since then, we’ve had the equally morose - and very funny - The Saddest Boy in the World, and the aforementioned romantic misadventures of Pauline and Michael. Based within a Good Housekeeping nightmare of surreal set designs and recognizable product placement, Travis takes us on a journey of character driven self-discovery that often yields oddball, unsettling results. Even better, he does so with a Charles Addams/Edward Gorey blackness that skews everyday life into something imposingly evil.

//Mixed media


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