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0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
When the Art of Dubbing Dies, 24 July 2008

"You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment." In fact so important, so narcissistic is entertainment that you go ahead a blow a few million just to remake your Austrian obscurity of hyper violence shot for shot in English because really, "it's an American story." I take this to be more of Wim Wenders or Werner Hertzog maneuver, assuming Haneke for a more streamlined and antiseptic intellectual than the others, but whatever... I don't know, the quality of Americanness to the narrative implies an oversight and an error on the director's part. That error in point is the apparently unrealized "requirement" the first time around that Haneke should have used inferior, maginally Hollywood, English language actors to capture the true essence of this so called American story as opposed to employing German speaking European actors of superior talent.

Fact is, you shouldn't exactly believe all the hyperbole around this film, because the narrative is probably the least American in character than other films from this director. You're more likely to find Ralph Lauren style serial killers in Austria or on the shores of Lake Geneva (where the real money is at) than in Manhattan Beach, CA -especially these days, in this market, if you know where I'm headed with that statement (*see the American economy circa 1929*). Because US Americans rob banks before they return to their day jobs (at the bank) on Monday, and when they need drugs to ameliorate all the pain they feel, being an American, they stick their best friend for what turns out to be three dollars when it was potentially ten... right before they sell off their VCR to the local Pawn and Gun.

This is where Haneke falls down: the point of violence is not simply pointless sport at all in the good ole' USA because violent tactics are usually associated with the art of getting money not with people who already have it. Or at least violence is one way of going about it, and, as it turns out, an increasingly common way of expanding and building personal wealth particularly those with much to build upon, much of nothing that is.

Not to say, really, speaking of money, that American's don't enjoy cinematic projections of pointless violence as orchestrated and executed by European film directors adept at their craft as is Haneke. Indeed, there is a rich history of that scenario playing itself out in the history of entertainment theory; and lest we forget LA is the cinema's world stage. You wanna make world movies, take it to LA... That, as De Palma would have it, "violence is inherently cinematic," is reason enough to put one's investment dollars behind the remake of a relatively obscure ultra violent film especially if it's being remade for the benefit of the USA and in the lingua franca. Lesson: film-making is almost exclusively and specifically about making money.

So that's why... That's why they did it: For the money. Haneke's cinema violence is interesting, sure, it's lesson teaching, it's well directed, even philosophical but its violence doesn't cease to be violence. You can intellectualize it all you like; however, it remains that violence in film is a time-worn yet unmistakably proved commercial formula, while shunned and frowned upon in Europe and thriving always in the States, that plays off our lizard brain fears of the unknown sort of like Republican Politics. And, gee, by the way, I'll be darned, let me tell you, violent movies generate a lot of money, Batman. So every time you pop into the cinema with your gfriend, keep in mind, it's sort of like a Funny Game to separate you from what you're holding in you're pocket book. If a film was determined at some point that it couldn't do that, it wouldn't be film. And this includes "Art films" even, like Funny Games. (*Remember: Basically if you call a film an art film, it just means you were left behind. Avoid that.*)

Over all the lack of departure form the original is what makes this film so post-postmodernly interesting. Funny Games EL Redeaux is better lit than the first film, and you can discern pretty clearly the advances in film stock since the mid-nineties; take a close look at that last 400 Blows style freeze frame shot at the end of each movie and compare the two - the new film is better. Apart from that, folks, very few differences exist between the films. It's my stance that the performances in the Austrian version are better because the actors in that picture are better actors but that's just my stance... You should see both, though, just for fun.

Mondo cane (1962)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Travel Round the World: Making Viewers Dizzy, 23 April 2008

Whoa, this pre-MPAA film ratings system film, Mondo Cane, must have been quite a surprise to Gram and Gramps when they walked you in. The movie opens with a powerful sequence in which a wheezing and gnashing dog is dragged down a line of other not dissimilarly vicious dogs, twisting and snapping, before it's thrown in among them, behind the gate of a dusty and dirt-packed kennel, on the other side and the fence there, only to be assaulted and attacked by the entire gang of –dogs that is. Then, moving on to another interesting human to animal interaction scene, we're shown a set of New Guinea tribal elders ceremonially blunting a field of wild boars, each to a convulsive death, with a tree trunk that was fashioned into a dull point.

What's of most notable interest here in this trend-setter of a picture is not the xenophobic representations (don't let the tag line fool you, these are representations) of our world citizens indigenous to the African and Asian contents –no, you get greater depth of story in Porno Holocaust which is an exclusive treatment on the topic of nuclear contamination- but rather the Otherization of the Los Angeles Hollywood American figure. For instance why in the world did comedic actor Jerry Lee Lewis honor his dead pet with a five-thousand dollar tombstone made of pure granite? And Zanuck, he and his clan did that too… Oh, just how easy it is, kids, in San Bernardino with all the violent machinery of the automobile graveyard to pack your Packard into a cube and ship it overseas to be made into some other "much smaller car."

Making a pseudo-documentary about death and sex in series hyper-exoticized locations, while essentially meaningless, is just one Italian way of breaking the bank. Regardless, I'm quite looking forward to seeing Mondo Topless, because it has to be firm that one question didn't fail to pass the innocent lips of a San Francisco strip club on-looker and patron: "What the hell are those Italians doing here with those movie cameras?" Yo!

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Ken Jacobs' Version, 7 April 2008

"Well, I usually take short lengths of film and pore over them, or pour into them. Dig into them. So it's mining. And I'm looking for things that literally you just don't see when it zips by at 24 frames per second, normal sound speed. Film is a relation of frame to frame to frame, and I am also declaring relations of one frame with another frame. I want to see what can be done between those two frames and then, maybe frame A and frame B, and then frame B frame C. Okay? It definitely is a dig. What I'm after, of course, is vital, interesting, amusing, crazy-making stuff." -Ken Jacobs

This is a new visual take on some very old (Thomas Edison) filmic material. Few examples like it exist, if any at all, in the NetFlix catalog. The only other place you'll find entertainments such as this one is at a major museum of modern art.

It's unfortunate, but at this phase in time, New York Fishmarket Ghetto communicates specifically and expressly to an elite viewer and, having it there, on NetFlix, throws the film itself into a state of disorientation while it is distributed as an anomalous cultural artifact in a non-elite venue, thus slaking its traditional place in the web of relations we call the world.

Interpretations are useless, however, I urge the curious viewer not familiar with the work and goals of Ken Jacobs to have a confrontation New York Gehtto Fishmarket 1903 and take some its valuable lessons with him next time he is settling in with a classical realist narrative film. Excellent. (But not for epileptics).

10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
What Are You Shooting? …Everything That Moves, 2 April 2008

Ah for the love of film…In 2006, I was one internet flight ticket transaction click away from moving to the area of Poland for the duration, but didn't. The "good" reason being is that I suffered some seriously grave trepidation over the fact that I would need to have two months salary in the bank before I'd EVER raise enough capital to buy an 8 mm motion picture camera. And this was in 2006. Sadly, these hypertensive concerns about finances low, all sleepless nights over equipment I don't have, and from where in the heck is the next camera going to come turned out to be relative in the scope of things –in a sick and cyclical sense- and after interfacing with the characters of Kyrstof Kieslowski's incredibly moving Humanist Dark-Dramity, Camera Buff, for an hour and half, I'm just now harboring more than a few serious regrets about not actually abandoning the competitive, spiraling nightmare that is Western Life when I had the chance.

Camera Buff is a wonderful story about a factory worker Filip (Jerzy Stuhr); a man who, in his thirties, begins to see life anew through the view finder of a small gauge movie camera. Originally purchased for "two months salary," which "pissed his wife off" to document his newborn daughter's first few steps, the 8 mm camera is quickly realized as something more useful than just a device for making home-movies. The narrative's tension is organized specifically around the reaction to the films of the institutional power structures and forces around Filip that essentially commissioned, financed, and instigated the films themselves along with Filip's newly discovered and unyielding passion for creating them as he sees fit.

If you view the Kino Video DVD release of this film, perhaps even more profoundly affecting than the feature as an augury of hope for the human race is the sixteen minute black and white documentary entitled Talking Heads in which Kielowski conducts helter-skleter a multitude of fifteen second interviews about "who you are" and "what you want" with Polish citizens, age zero to one-hundred, across all walks of life starting at the year 1979 with a little gurgling baby. In all, it's wonderful material and has me seeking out more Kieslowski.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Bad Pick for a Defect from the Neo-Star System, 30 March 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had a recent spectator experience with The Perfect Witness (2007) because the NetFlix computer recommendation engine suggested I watch this film. Apparently, at some point, I told it how much I liked Michael Haneke's, Benny's Video. I don't know about you, but this parallel being drawn provoked in me a maelstrom of emotion and excitement over Thomas C. Dunn's film and made the allocation of my time toward it virtually impossible to refuse. Just this kind of recommendation from the NetFlix computer intelligence, for me, had the aesthetic/moral movie bar set to level so high that, upon reflection, it represented something pretty much unaccomplished in every film produced in the year 2007.

Having prefaced my response to the film that way, I'm going to proceed in knocking this picture down as poorly executed and banal; and I really hate to do that because I think our boy, Wes Bentley, happens to be not only one of the most interesting young faces in contemporary cinema, but also one its most overlooked and underrated screenacting talents in the US. I'm more than moderately concerned that the poor guy's going to miss the fame ship if he keeps fiddling around with first time movie directors like this.

The Perfect Witness is about Micky (Wes Bentley), who, about thirty, still lives with Mom ("You're not drinkin' again area ya's?"), but he's a "filmmaker" or at the very least some kind of street-level voyeur with a pension for shooting would-be Johns in the seedy back alleys of Philadelphia with his DVX 100B. Out there, doing his private investigator-like drills, Micky "inadvertently" video-tapes a brutal murder on a hapless early-twenty-ish coed with his hand held camcorder. Baring the notion in mind that snuff and movies as cultural currency can be his equated with his ticket out of the white urban ghetto (and not to the debts of his unwitting friends and relatives who put up the money for his atrocious films), Micky approaches the assailant, James LeMac (Mark Borkowski: also takes a writing credit) or "Mac the Knife" –whichever- and blackmails the killer into making a documentary about his murder impulses, holding this found footage over the attacker with threats of the police.

The problem with this movie is not that no interesting ideas exist because they do. While both the writing and direction are amateurish, that alone doesn't make a film bad. It's that these guys commit a rather poor assumption that what they are presenting is shocking in the context of a culture in which just about any person in the free world with access to a private computer can log-on to the web and catch the veracity of the action of a beheading on their little Mac or PC. No film relies on shock value alone any more (unless of course, ironically, it's a film about torture on animals) and therefore cinematic images of violence (real or fake) have less and less cultural capital with each year that passes. Also, we've got this astounding actor-talent in the lead all styled-up, real hip guy: his two inch beard and skull cap with the little bill on it, backwards, just like the dork from high school who craved after the potential services of my primary love interest –same guy who just now calls himself a "poet."

Spare me. "I'm an artist," "I'm a filmmaker." Okay. Please do, carry on with that shtick, Cronnie. Seems to have bought you a lot of expensive 35mm stock. And go ahead, you can wear all the accrutements of a "creative" but don't expect us top respond to you, to follow your below average character through your two hour movie while you take down Wes Bentley's career. Why don't we just let history speak to the merits of what you do, filmmaker guy. My guess is history will eventually have say something about that –like, probably that's in not is good as you think it is. And yeah, odds are you'll be laying the blame on your dear ole ma, end up like our man Micky here in The Perfect Witness; hooked on smack and covered in your buddy's blood with a video camera in your hand. Great.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Toward a New Liberation Theology: Seen the Pearl?, 25 March 2008

Say you love Him first, go to Heaven later. If you love Him, you will go: To Heaven. Without abating the serious gravity of the religious problem too much, these are the sort of "logical" deductions one encounters in The Rapture, a 1993 film directed by fiction writer (winner of the Edgar Allen Poe Award), Michel Tolkin. A surface-only glance at Tolkin's highly conceived, The Rapture, will invite associations with the not too dissimilar film-making stylistics discoverable in the low-studio-budggie, yet entirely for profit, commercially slick in pitch and tone, and even in the pleasantly familiar cast of, yes indeed, a late-night Skinamax special. But The Rapture, don't let it fool you Girls, is a well wrought little exercise in philosophical reflection on the quest for religious meaning in the context of post-modern US America.

Mimi Rogers plays Sharon, an empty-sexed swinger who works in a call-center cube-farm. Approaching forty and "dating" Vic, a likewise sexually vacant and older by at least a decade balding man that exudes wealth; Sharon is more or less that loopy, a little better than marginally attractive 40ish gal with whom you inadvertently find yourself in the middle of a gleefull but entirely awkward encounter there in your fluorescently lit tenth-floor corporate breakroom lobby; perhaps you're having an all-out bizarre discussion about, oh, I don't know, "Have you seen the Pearl?"

So keeping up with sex-parties (just what is this woman at the desk next to me into?) long enough to meet, David Duchovny, who apparently plays himself in the film, a man with a past and whose best year was 1976, protagonist, Sharon, manages to sway young David, despite his well reasoned, overly rational objections ("Some people use heroin. You use God.") over to her religious transformation reform scheme and finally let go of those dirty times before. The two justify their own lives by marrying, having a child, and playing out this drama of a generally boring and implausible suburban lifestyle which stands in direct contrast to the vicissitudes of, how do you say, uh, real life and the kind of visual material you catch on the evening news.

It could be that the fulsome couple already played their hand with devil and guess who's back to roost? It's that old song for the goat, Tragedy. Yep. Welcome back! So when things go from bad to good, then good to bad and bad to worse, when you can't blame your boyfriend, you can't blame the cops, you can't even blame yourself because "there's more than just you out there, right?" Well then it must be God's fault. And therein lays the unending theological conflict of these post-Vatican II times. How can am I supposed to love a God that gave me all of this? Take a good look at this film, because you'll have to see how, in the end, Sharon's convictions stand up.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Pharmaceutical Melt-Down/Industrial Breakdown, 20 March 2008

So many of us work for companies. In doing that, you're either building it up or boiling it down; and if you're not doing that, it's likely the case that you are selling it. Unfortunately that's a reality and not a product or your imagination.

More than just a visual analogy for all those dim aspects to quotidian life as represented here, in various forms of industrial labor that have never the less become insignificant as modern matrices of production, Light Work I (I haven't experienced the film's prequels or any of its sequels like, Light Work II etc), a film that can be viewed instantly on NetFlix, is just that –some really good and quality light work.

Because we work all the time, our society will invariably harbor a primitive understanding of a film like this one, orchestrated by Jennifer Todd Reeves; but Light Work I is an instance in which film catches up to painting and achieves aesthetic beauty by way of abstraction.

This isn't the pell-mell editing one discovers in the light work of Stan Brakhage, but Light Work does point out some important observations. For instance: Art is interesting because it begins with human beings just before it's transferred over to a the often chance action of a chemical process. You'll see how all that plays itself out here in Light Work I.

1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Getting High with Jesus On Earth, 12 March 2008

And exploring foreign policy with Eva Peron on Saturn. Actually, Holy Mountain (1973), despite common perceptions (yet it is undeniable that many filmmakers from around the time this film was constructed, apart form actor Cary Grant, perhaps Jodorowsky even, might have affirmed that Lysergic Acid Diethylamide was in fact the key to the locked vice that is the universe) is not a drug film. It's quite a shame, actually, that this kind of film-making that Jodorowsky was after is evidently a thing of the past. I don't know, maybe it's the Iraq War, but I think the modern viewer better relates with Jodorowsky's other substantially more unified piece of art, a sort of Spaghetti Western of a nightmare-breakdown, El Topo (1970), the director's other famous picture released not more than three years prior to Holy Mountain.

Unlike El Topo, Holy Mountain has a tendency to shift gears much more rapidly and displays an openness (not necessarily in the spacial sense) to become something completely different at any given moment. At the start of the film, we're reminded much of Fellini's Amarcord (1973) with a little Satyricon (1969) mixed in. Then we're moved on to Satanic Ritual and visuals not unlike those found in the later films of Kenneth Anger. Mid-movie, the director starts to essay on industrialism and the factory-produced characteristics of modern art which of course is bought and sold but you know that.

Every great art film director, particularly great European art film directors (Jodorowsky, while Latin American, lives in France) from the late sixties and early seventies wanted to make movies like Federico Fellini, however very few of them did. Antonioni sort of went there in that carnival direction at the beginning and end of Blow-Up (1966) however; he never took it as far as Jodorowsky advances the Fellini stylistics of cinema in Holy Mountain. Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie (1974) accomplishes something similar to Holy Mountain, potentially quite a bit better, but, in my mind, the jury is still out. I recommend viewing the two films in sequence or, who knows, maybe it is just better if you watch them both at the same time.

If you're a bored cinephile, looking for new images, heretofore unseen images, and you haven't checked this one out yet, now might be the time. The new Anchor Bay DVD reproduction of the Techniscopic process is super clean. Once great aspect to film material is that it just gets better with time. But getting down with Holy Mountain, you must remember, with a piece like that: the confrontation-tension exists not up there on the screen between the "characters" but rather between the mystical light-specter, The Holy Mountain and YOU. So dig in and, "Zoom back camera!"

Hardcore (1979)
The Heart of Starkness, 11 March 2008

Not going to waste my time comparing Paul Schrader to Marcantonio Scorcese because that's a lot like comparing Paul Auster to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but in 1982, at Cannes, film artist Jean-Luc Godard uttered these words: "The porno movie is a pretext to invite over a girl and it avoids the real work of talking to her about love." Now I'm going to paraphrase philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche because I can't exactly remember the quote, "You can't go off fighting monsters without the risk of becoming a monster yourself." Link those two ideas up and you have a conceptual summary of Paul Shrader's, Hardcore (1979).

Hardcore is one of those travel-to-the-heart-of-darkness-and-confront-your-worst-fear movies popular in late 1970's American Cinema. These movies inherently "other-ize" and isolate before victimizing a particular minority group such the United States adult entertainment industry. One also finds, for better or worse, in films like Hardcore, a reproduction of the Vietnam War narrative. In this instance, Schrader brings it back home to the streets of LA.

So really when you approach this picture you're required to think about the guys up in Washington that look and act not unlike George C. Scott; guys who harbor a similar right-wing system of beliefs as they all converge around a large roundtable to debate kicking the crap out this marginal group-nation "over here." Think about how these men will all arrive at a legerdemain-justification for war that's usually in the name of preserving innocence. But as we learn in the final moments of Hardcore, just like out here in reality, you can't rid the world of terrorists and you can't exactly rid the world of pornographers either. Conclusion: "there's nothing you can do (George)" but "go home."

Yet with all, there are a lot of daughters out there doing that –and why? One notices an attempt to answer that question in that George C. Scott, who can't seem to find the precise locus of the set, must necessarily wait until the scene is over (a roll of 8mm only last about two and a half minutes) before he screams, "Turn it off. Turn it off!" Oh, and how about that? Did old George C just a just pay a hundred dollars to watch a snuff film that seemed pretty tangential to the discovery of his daughter's whereabouts? Not that a guy like George, the number one customer, really needs an excuse to kick it with prozzi's and seek-out Snuff; but he'll always have one. Won't he? George is on a mission. You know why it is: it's because he can't stop watching. And that's what keeps this money wheel rollin' my friends –round and round we go: the Lookielookiewatchiewa. So why not just let the girl have her life out there in LA?

Descent (2007)
7 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Dawson's Descent, 9 March 2008

"Descent." Yeah. Boy... I haven't seen anything this powerful and scintillating since Bruno Dumont's, "Twentynine Palms" (2003). (By the way this film is not to be confused with another fairly recent pic about the topic of "female empowerment," "THE Descent" (2005), directed by our Splat Pack friend, Neil Marshall, who also happens to be a major talent his own right.) But getting back to this "Descent," the NC-17 rated (uh-oh) effort on which the lovely Ms. Dawson takes a producer's credit (congratulations) and directed by Talia Lugacy (strong chance that's not a real name), as good as it is (in moments), it will not be appreciated by most lay people out there because the script is pretty flawed. As a producer, you really have to tighten up that script. Of course, in the premise alone, you have the promise of rising conflict, but there still lies the task therein of accomplishing rising conflict.

At times, this thing plays like an interesting piece of experimental theater and, well, I guess I'll let the others who've already commented here speak to the boringness of it, namely that which occurs in the second act -but find me a second act that isn't boring? There's also this Catch 22 that goes along with these quasi-independent films like "Descent" in which Rosario happens to be attaching herself to and leveraging her "fame-identity" to get a script into production that would, under usual circumstances, not get made at all while at the same time she is basically a miscast in the film's leading role. Rosario Dawson is gorgeous and, apparently, you can shoot this girl from just about any angle all day long, but, oh, wow-wee, how fast the time just slips away: Rosy ain't no undergraduate no more. That's part of the confusion about the screenplay: "Is she a graduate student? A TA? No, graduate students don't really have these type of qualms with football players, do they?" Again, if you are Rosario Dawson, Executive Producer, that's the one of many, many aspects to the professional film process you'll have to think about as you embark on this wonderful new role in your film career. And if you don't have the answer to why you're movie isn't convincing, let me tell you: there is a boatload and a bevy of vivacious, well-qualified, undergraduate aged talents, pining to get involved in the business, who might have nailed that lead character down, all the while, looking just as darn good as you know who; but unfortunately without Ms. Dawson -no Honey, NO money. I have to say, the camera department did an outstanding job, however, because this film is really well shot (i.e. lit) in all its dreary/dreamy darkness. The nightclub scenes look wonderful; one can tell all those music videos are starting to pay off and the play with time... The shooting/framing is all quite excellent which makes the picture a rewarding watch.

"Descent" is good not great. However, I have a feeling, thanks to NetFlix, this movie will find a life of its own. I hope this group continues making films. If you're into experimental American film-making, cinematographic imagery of implausibly well formed college studs (or male model drop-outs) in their early twenties, or if you're an undergraduate, just plain angry at the hormonally aggressive young men that comprise less than half of your American university, "Rosario Dawson's Descent" might be your flavor of RockaRoll.

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