Friday, May 27, 2011

Slut Walk


The upcoming 'Slut Walk', an international event, represents a hysterical, immature reaction to a Canadian lawman's comments.

It is, in fact, a 'Walk Against An Unfortunate Truth', a reality that some women accept and some don't.

The Canadian found himself in hot water recently after he said women who dress in a "slutty" fashion are more likely to be raped or sexually harassed.

Isn't this statement just common sense?

It's important to put this into perspective. The majority of men out there, in the big, wide, wonderful world, do not rush to rape when they see a provocatively dressed woman. They're most certainly turned on (hell, men are turned on with extraordinary ease!), but their inner inhibitor, survival instinct (avoidance of jail), and empathy for a fellow human being prevents the commission of a violent, illegal act.

Not so a small majority of human beasts who will rush to rape anything in a skirt, panties, or short shorts (the shorter the better).  These low level sociopaths, who live amongst us all, have no inhibitor, possess little empathy for others, and are focused on gratification at any cost. There's no getting around the fact that these beasts do exist, are easily stirred, and receive messages from women that they're not consciously sending.

The 'Slut Walk' is focusing on the right of women to dress as they please and be ignored. The law already permits the wearing of very little and the suggestion of much. You don't get arrested for sporting a sexy pair of short shorts or showcasing a superb pair of breasts in a tight top. It's legal.

The idea that a woman ought to be able to parade her physical assets in public without harassment is a sound one.  Of course she should.  No man is naturally entitled to the body or mind of any woman.  Generally speaking, he needs permission to touch. A walking, gyrating advertisement for a juicy vagina, tight ass, or shapely pair of tits is not a consensual contract, either. We get that. There's also no arguing that men love to ogle scantily dressed women.


But it's pure fantasy to not expect SOME unwelcome attention when you can't control who sees what you're advertising. In the public arena, the pair of eyes you attract is beyond your control. You also have no control over whether the owner of those eyes decides to pluck you from the trees to satisfy his animal lust. This scenario is highly unlikely, but it's not improbable.

Most beasts not only lack social skills and bedside manners, they lack intelligence; they're not discerning in their choices,  they're not interested in getting to know you, girls, or listening to your feminist dogma or humanitarian rhetoric. They simply react and act. They see something they like, that something communicates a message to them that you may not intend ("I'm here! Come and get me!"), and they respond to that message with appalling action.

Every decision comes with consequences. No action is denied a reaction. The truth is, when a woman dresses in a sexy, provocative manner, she is seeking attention. That attention validates a part of her. It makes her feel good about herself. If you doubt this, then consider how many women dress "slutty" and stay home to stare at themselves in the mirror? Very few. Probably none. There is intention behind all forms of dress and undress. And all forms provoke positive and negative outcomes. Why deny that? Why get angry at the truth? Why vent your frustrations on the messenger?

Right now, I'm thinking of covering myself in menstrual blood and jumping into shark-infested waters. I like the sensation of being smeared with red, viscous fluids,  I like the attention it gets me, I enjoy arousing the interest of friends and strangers.

But I'm going to be really fuckin pissed off if sharks attack me while I'm enjoying my blood-smeared swim. As a matter of fact, a lifeguard suggested that I was endangering my life by swimming with sharks while covered in blood. What the fuck!? Hell, I'll show that damn lifeguard a thing or two. And fuck those damn sharks! I ought to be free to swim and smear as I please.

I'm so pig-biting mad I'm gonna call my mates and organize a Blood Walk. Wanna join me?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Snowtown


Australia has distinguished itself recently recently with a handful of dramas based on true crime stories; Animal Kingdom, one of the best,  did a US tour of duty, and garnered an Oscar nomination for Aussie actress Jackie Weaver. This week, Snowtown, based on the notorious Bodies in the Barrels story, hits theaters; it's another worthy addition to a genre that is gaining traction with filmmakers, audiences, and critics Down Under.

I'm very familiar with the 'Snowtown' story, so I needed zero introduction or explanation of the narrative gaps the film doesn't address. International audiences not familiar with the story may have trouble with the film's broader context because director Justin Kurzel does little to paint it, let alone explain the title (it's the name of the town where the film's victims were entombed in barrels).


Tonally, Snowtown has more in common with Rowen Woods' The Boys, a superior work, than Animal Kingdom. A low budget production, it focuses on a small cast of characters through the eyes of Jamie (Lucas Pittaway),  an impressionable, rudderless young man whose world is turned upside down by a man, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), who appears to offer a solution to the shithole that is his life. Unfortunately for Jamie, Bunting's solutions to his and a slew of local "problems" (including homosexuality) involve murder, betrayal, dismemberment, rape, torture, and assorted perversions -- committed under the pretext of vigilantism. Like the hero of Kinatay (reviewed in previous blog), Jamie finds himself spiralling helplessly downwards into an abyss of utter madness -- in this case, a strange kind of suburban madness, portrayed with chilling realism by all concerned -- under the tutelage of older adults who come bearing gifts of mature guidance.




The film opens with a wrong-headed voiceover that reeks of post-production jitters. Thankfully, this redundant gimmick is jettisoned lickety-split, allowing director Kurzel to get on with business. From the opening frames to the closing ones, the film's trance-like sound design plays a major role in establishing the grim, relentless tone. Credit Jez Kurzel with the hypnotic score and Frank Lipson with the crack sound design.

Though based on a true story, the story on screen doesn't feel like anything particularly new or original because key details of its origin story are ignored or glossed over. It's as if the filmmakers were too afraid to tick off certain plot details out of fear that they would offend relatives of the victims. 'Snowtown' has forever been associated with The Bodies in the Barrels, but you wouldn't know it here. At some juncture, the killers were forced to move their victims' bodies from one location to another. That second location was a bank vault. The bodies were stuffed into large, plastic barrels and left there. The crimes became public when the barrels surrendered their ghastly cargo. In Snowtown, we see barrels in the background of a handful of scenes, but anybody unfamiliar with the story would have no inkling of their significance.

As horror, this film delivers the goods. We're treated to homosexual rape, hints of pedophilia, strangulation, torture, and good, old-fashioned animal killing. The film is intense, with leads Pittaway (a natural first-timer) and Henshall (stunningly good!) confidently carrying heavy dramatic loads on their shoulders. Henshall's bigoted, corrupting patriarch is worth the price of admission alone. What a piece of work he is!




Like The Boys, Animal Kingdom, Blue Murder (the best crime drama ever produced in Australia), and the little seen Shame (just released on DVD Down Under), Snowtown's milieu is a dark, disturbing, horribly homophobic and racist underbelly of Aussie culture that is the product of nobody's imagination. An an Australian who has traveled broadly within the country, I can vouch for the chilling reality on display in these movies. It mightn't be pretty, but it's a side of Australia that is alive, well, and busy reproducing like vermin.


Just as the film begins with a wrong-headed choice, it ends with a surprising whimper. For mine, it totally cops out by not depicting the ultimate fate of the killers -- or at least how they were busted. Instead, it offers five or six sentences of explanation to pick up the slack it leaves us. Why describe in writing what should have been described on screen? For Australians who know the story, this decision to avoid a big bang ending isn't quite so tragic because the story is familiar. For those unfamiliar with the story, it will probably be a letdown.

Still, this is a film that is well worth chasing down and experiencing. One hundred plus minutes inside a world as depraved and morally bankrupt as this is the kind of  "entertainment"  that rattles you without a reach-around.  Cruel, yes, but compelling, nonetheless, for adventurous punters.

***

Interestingly, the 'Snowtown' story has already been vividly and more graphically depicted in the amazing and intense 'Crime Investigation Australia' series, a brutal TV anthology of lurid docudramas that explode any myth that Australia is all about dancing transvestites, yahoos fighting crocodiles, and boxing kangaroos. . 



Available on video in Australia, this series (and this episode) are highly, highly recommended; the 'Snowtown' entry represents a more exploitative, linear take on the story, hitting every grisly and grotesque punchline in its presentation of the crimes.

Other recommended crime features and TV from the proud penal colony:

The Boys
Blue Murder
Shame
Police Crop
Chopper
Scales of Justice

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fibrous Sinema


Recently dining on a menu of cinema that I can best describe as fibrous, I'm buoyed by the availability these days of the old and the new. At the dawn of my celluloid obsession, I relied on Melbourne arthouse cinemas like The Silver Screen, The Valhalla, and the Astor for my fix. Programming was the domain of an elite, adventurous few before cheap ownership of movies arrived in a VHS or Beta cassette. Now, forty years after home video's dawn, programming is personal.

In 2009, Filipino director Brilliante Mendoza's Kinatay earned a Cannes statue and some anger from critic Roger Ebert. His beef, shared by others, was that a movie featuring the protracted abuse of a woman had no business winning awards. Although Ebert originated "it's not what it's about, it's how it's about", he didn't apply it to Kinatay -- or maybe he did. The film centers on the kidnapping of a prostitute by corrupt cops; she owes money to one of them. They take her on a forty minute drive to the outskirts of Manila where she is raped and killed. Her body is then broken apart and thrown out the window on the drive back to the city. The infamous "rape" in the van is a myth. The woman is slapped and abused, but the serious abuse doesn't happen until she is tied to a bed in an old house at the end of the journey.


Although critics of the film want you to know that the film is unnecessarily exploitative, I want you to know that it is not. Its primary focus is a young rookie cop who is dragged into the whole messy affair. Short on cash, just married, and expected to feed several mouths, he accepts a part in this nocturnal mission and comes close to losing his soul in the process. When someone tosses him the head of the prostitute, we know and he knows there's no undoing what he's become part of.

Ebert's "...how it's about" is where I might meet him on even ground. The van journey is quite protracted and dark. We hear more than we see, and, theoretically, that's an effective approach, but director Mendoza lets the sequence run a little too long. Still, it's a powerful descent into moral decay, a spiral down the darkest human passages.

The dismemberment of the prostitute is relatively ghastly. The intercutting between the exercise itself and our hero's reaction is cleverly measured.  There are one or two horror equivalents of the porno "cum shot" to satisfy enthusiasts of grotesque violence, and the resolution feels very natural.

Recommend with reservations (for some).


Recommended without reservations is the same director's Serbis (aka Service), a grim, gritty, stark insight into the life of a family struggling to survive in Manila. Ironically, they run the "Family" cinema, a straight porn theater frequented by a mostly gay clientele. These folks, not unlike their counterparts elsewhere, use the picture palace's darkened nooks and crannies to suck, fuck, and be intimate, if only for a few moments.

The drama is driven purely by character decisions. The film is not heavily plotted or contrived. The family matriarch, Flor, is carrying such a colossal financial and emotional weight, she can barely walk. A scene in which she dresses down a relative for knocking up a local girl ends with her shedding tears of desperation.

Flor's nephews, the cinema's projectionists, live lives that parallel the clientele and the softcore shenanigans on the theater's screen. Sex, in fact, runs like a poisoned river through every cell of this drama, and leaves a sad, lingering odor. A fascinating aspect of the film is that a handful of sex scenes are hardcore. Though the film would not pass anybody's muster as a porn flick, these more graphic passages (gay and hetero blowjobs mostly) feel totally natural and essential in context.


There's no getting around the fact that the film feels Jodorowsky-inspired. The cinema setting could easily be a circus, the employees its trapeze artists and jugglers. When a frightened goat enters the cinema and trots into the light of a porno movie, it triggers a chase that would have delighted Jodorowsky or Fellini; its surrealism adds an extra level to an already densely layered cinematic soap opera.


Sticking to the theme of sex, I can't wrap up without expressing renewed admiration for the work of porno pioneer Alex de Renzy. The further modern porn moves away from real sex into something glib and cynical, the more I respect the stellar work of this talented auteur of desire.


In Babyface, a good-natured Lothario goes on the lam after bedding a gorgeous, underaged filly (the actress, 'Cuddles' Malone, wasn't underage during shooting, but for the sake of the story, she is, and looks it!). He ends up at a cathouse for men and spends his days servicing a variety of horny older women. For a porn flick, the plot is thicker than usual, the tech credits are excellent, and de Renzy's coverage is equal to any low budget flick. Unlike most of the hacks slaving away in porn these days, de Renzy was a real filmmaker; he knew how to shoot, direct, cut, and stage sex scenes and the stuff in between.


Babyface's sex scenes are volcanic because everybody's having such a good fuckin time -- the women are loving it, the men are loving it, and de Renzy offers a cornucopia of camera angles, sexual positions, and old-fashioned heat. It's not a damn blowjob marathon, my pet hate, and the ladies get sucked, licked, fucked, and brought to screaming orgasms. That's entertainment!!!

Apart from doing everything right for the first sixty minutes, de Renzy tops himself with a climactic "gangbang" in which  the gorgeous, natural looking Christine Heller invites a number of men to share her body and passions while satisfying her deepest desires.  The result is a piece of superb celluloid and living proof that, despite all the PC bullshit that is shoved in our faces by uptight morons,  a confident women can enjoy having sex with multiple men on her own terms -- she's not being abused, she's not being "forced", and she's not being exploited; she's simply expressing being human without a shred of "guilt".

Alex de Renzy's pornography has always acknowledged the complexity of sex while making an effort to shut out the hypocrisy surrounding it. What's not to like about that? A toast to you, Alex!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Qantas is Kind to Freaks


I fly quite a bit and hate the exercise itself, so I'm always looking for reasons to pick particular airlines. As a massive documentary/mondo fan, I'm very partial to Qantas. They give me a reason to choose them. Thank Christ (or any other imaginary god), they boast a magnificent doco channel in all classes called 'The Edge'. As the name suggests, it leans towards more edgy, confronting material -- definitely NOT the sort of material you expect from an airline, even an Aussie one. But Aussies are pretty relaxed when it comes sex and words like "fuck", "cunt", and "tit". Nudity is all over free Aussie TV and words reserved for paycable in the US are thrown around like dwarves in a bowling alley after 9pm. I think it shows some maturity.

I don't think I've discussed it before, but I find that American cultural invention, the "F-Bomb", an insulting, childish, pandering bunch of hypocrisy. A product of strict, puritan broadcast standards, I'm sure most Americans wouldn't propose it if given the opportunity. Only a cynical bureaucrat would con himself into believing that he was doing the world a favor by demonizing such a word. Such easy "favors" are what these morons do so well.  Such nonsense only gives the word extra zing and teaches children that it is "naughty" (therefore, they want to use it as often as possible). Why don't we just drop the charade and focus on more important stuff, harder stuff, like providing real socialized health care for the population, not a watered down compromise that puts smiles on the faces of big business?


But back to 'The Edge'. On a recent flight, I was lucky enough to see Discovery Channel's fantastic -My Shocking Story-, a superb series that focuses on human anomalies such as Tree Men. These poor, unfortunate souls suffer from massive, disfiguring body warts, a symptom of the human papillomavirus. 


In 'Treeman Meets Treeman', one Indonesian Treeman meets another born in the same locale. A third Treeman is revealed as the episode progresses, and we discover that, though based in Holland, this Treeman's father was also born in the same section of Indonesia. Aside from some fascinating medical facts, we're served up some truly magnificent visuals of the Treefellas hanging out together, comparing warts, and being delighted to find that they're not alone.

Everything about this series is stellar, and it satisfies both freak cravings and deeply-rooted sympathy most of us feel for unfortunate human beings whose lives are a challenge twenty-four hours a day.


Other humans of immense interest in this series include the 'Freak Show Family', 'Octoboy' (no relation to Octamom), 'Human Spider Sisters', "Giant Head', and "Real Wolf Kids'. 

These "freaks", once the cinematic domain of 70's mondo movies, have graduated to prime time, and I couldn't be happier.

We humans are fascinated by those so similar yet very different to us. We share the human connection, but are intrigued by the way the physical can disassociate us from others. These shows re-connect the broken line and foreground that which was once shunned and deliberately forgotten.

I salute the bravery of these individuals.

So, if you fly Qantas, you're in for some mind-blowing entertainment.


Also on 'The Edge' and caught/enjoyed by this writer was another excellent documentary on my favorite subject -- dolls! Sex dolls in this case,  but robotic ones. In 'My Sex Robot', the Real Doll phenomenon may be coming to an end with actual robots vying for the currently occupied pillow beside you. Some Real Doll enthusiasts check out the plastic vaginas on offer and admit that the robot makers are edging closer to producing something approximating the human experience (without the human complexities, of course, which can be a bad thing and a good thing).

The always reliable Louis Theroux is also appearing on current Qantas mini-screens with his 'Medicated Kids', a knockout doc on the disturbing trend of drugging your sprout in order to control the little bugger. Strict, consistent parenting used to do the trick. Now drugs allow parents to skulk away from firm parenting.


All these docs (or parts of them) are also available internationally on TV, tubes, torrents, cable systems, and friendly public broadcasting systems.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

13 Assassins Plus Two


In transit mode, so posts have been sparse. Apologies. I have caught a few flicks worth reflecting on, the most impactful being Takeshi Miike's 13 Assassins, but Limitless and Fast Five are worth your indulgence, too.

13 Assassins is a solid samurai epic with a golden heart. Like The Wild Bunch and Seven Samurai, it is is about friendship and believing in a cause that overrides the survival instinct. In this instance, a group of experienced and not so experienced warriors share a collective compulsion to erase a particularly reckless individual from the face of the earth. The movie comprises the intricate planning and hazardous execution of this erasure.

I wasn't looking too forward to this film. After the digital excess of John Woo's Red Cliff and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, I'm fed up with impersonal fight sequences that go on forever, become boring in their sameness, and signify little but technical achievement. Would 13 Assassins be another one of those?

No.

The film begins well in that it echoes Kurosawa with its adroit conveying of political unrest and personal anxiety. It doesn't open with the traditional action splash or telegraph the nature of its ultimate conflict. On the contrary, it opens with a quiet but disturbing act of ritual suicide that is also an expression of anger towards the same enemy the 13 Assassins will focus on. In this case, that expression is muted. For the band of killers, it will not be.

As is typical for a Miike movie, genre conventions are adhered to, but boundaries are pushed. I loved the revelation that the film's villain has punished a woman by lopping her limbs off. Now a living torso incapable of speech, this snippet of grotesquerie underlines the terrifying reality of absolute power, and gives us a hapless human symbol of it.

The central battle sequence, recalling Wang Yu's Beach of the War Gods for me, is long, but it doesn't feel repetitive. The warriors feel real, not computer created, and blood flows with admirable restraint. At first, it bothered me that the slashing swords were not launching geysers of crimson, but I came around slowly to the more theatrical style, and appreciated the gore when it accompanied particularly important kills.

13 Assassins' greatest achievement is emotional. Its action, though furious, does not trample its heart. It is a film of intense feelings, feelings of anger and injustice that drive positive action. The result is a rewarding, powerful experience. Highly recommended for men, women, and tall children.


In Limitless, a would-be writer whose personal and professional life is in ruins, ingests a pill that enables him to use 100% of his brain's capacity.  The results are predictable but visually engaging. Like the recent The Invention of Lying, this is a movie based on a single behavioral concept. The former failed because it didn't take the concept to another level. It was happy being a series of comedy bits in which Ricky Gervais said funny things to clueless people. Little else was explored. Limitless does explore the downside of being a brainiac amongst non-brainiacs. Like 13 Assassins, it doesn't allow its premise to trample its heart. Protagonist Bradley Cooper is likable. He's honest. He's flawed. When good things happen to him, we're happy for him and amused. When his world begins to decay, we experience his ups and downs beside him, not above or below him. Things are resolved in a clever way, too.


Fast Five, the fifth entry in The Fast and the Furious franchise, is a pretty pure action flick.  As car stunt movies go, it's the best I've seen in years. That's because director Jason Lin allows us to see the action clearly. He doesn't rattle our vision with quick cuts, ADD-ridden camera moves, and souped-up transitions. Stylistically, the film has plenty in common with George Miller's The Road Warrior, the textbook on how to do auto ballet right. Why utter crap like Gone in Sixty Seconds wasn't more like this is beyond me. Some people just don't get it.

Unlike The Road Warrior, the action logic here is preposterous, but the makers know it, and they provide two hours of gleefully blistering entertainment.