This column offers a method of film criticism that dwells entirely (almost entirely) on the film itself. It is not interested in ideological approaches to film or contextualization in regards to an auteur theory that privileges the authorial perspective of a director. It comments on recent DVD releases and attempts to offer something in return but only a something which has been taken from the film and did not originate in the writer. The column accepts that this approach breaches much of modern aesthetic theory and tries not to care.

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

DVD Column Three

Pick of the Week


Tabu [Blu-ray] (Miguel Gomes, 2012) RB UK New Wave Cinema

Two films in one but both needing the other for context and structure, Tabu is a collection of scenes about Aurora at two vastly different periods of her life: as an elderly woman in Lisbon and as a young woman in Africa. The two narratives are connected by the rambling/sharing of memories by Aurora the elder of her younger life which are perceived by those around her as signs of dementia. It is not until after her funeral and we meet Ventura, her paramour from her African life who is also believed to be demented, that we are shown that her stories had some grounding in a history. Beyond realizing that Aurora lived a fascinating life, I was not sure what we were being shown here: old age can be tragic, youth can be tragic, love is impossible when security/tradition demands our attention, that the wild pet will lead to your joy and destruction? If one is not careful (and the film demands a level of care to a point that almost assures that it will not be paid) you might settle for any one of those. But with attention to one’s response to the array of lovely images one can discern that the point is the very thing that the viewer is led to feel. Loneliness comes from beauty insofar as beauty in this life is both rare and overwhelming. Once witnessed it haunts you. This penetrating theme is exacerbated by the further realization that our access to beauty is contingent on an intrinsic loneliness drawing us towards that which promises to be something that we are not. To find beauty, and its lesser sister love, is to not be satisfied, it is to be homeless. The film must be praised for presenting the discovery that the viewer’s recognition of a similar ache is part of the experience of viewing the film. This is a rarity and is the opposite to the sentimental movie that relies on your already possessing the feelings that it seeks to exploit. This is not an easy film; it is a dream and a gamble on that dream that has no assurance of paying off in a meaningful way.

 SRP: 17.00 pounds
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Also Released


About Cherry [Blu-ray] (Stephen Elliott, 2012) MPI


A young woman named Angelina needs money and will provide naked pictures of herself for a website that pays well. It escalates from there as all viewers can predict and some will hope. This is one of those types of movies that have no point in a culture jammed up with, as it is, pornographic options. Once upon a time a young person would have rented a movie such as this one for the promise of nudity and sex under the guise of respectability. Given that the film is directly about the pornographic website industry and is not itself, completely, pornographic the cinematic justification for the exploitation pretends to be a warning and critique. It is a bad life, we are shown, that starts slow and runs out of control damaging both prior innocent relationships and newly developed already damaged ones. As a critique on a larger level of what we will do to succeed in this day and age the film is at its best ironic, utilizing the very thing it wanly chastises in order to succeed. The most telling scene is when long-time friend Andrew is caught by Angelina looking at her on the website. She is outraged, he explains that even though he loves her he is the only one who cannot see her naked. We are encouraged to recognize that even Andrew has fallen prey to the demon of objectifying lust because any deeper consideration is mooted by the fact that, as Andrew notes, we have already seen her naked. This is the best the film can do: have the guilty judge the confused.

The Blood Beast Terror [Blu-ray] (Vernon Sewell, 1968) AIS

Hammer films are often entertaining because they deal with simple but intriguing metaphysical premises in a way that is stylistically attractive. The acting is never strong but that is beside the point, you are captured by a simple story well told in a way that makes you wonder beyond the flimsy structure of the movie. The metaphor of Dracula and Frankenstein, among others, are mined over and over in slightly different and mostly similar ways that bear small fruits for those with time on their hands. The Blood Beast Terror is not a Hammer film but it pretends to be one by utilizing similar cast members, colour and framing structures, and the inane as something potentially meaningful. This is a rip-off not only because it lacks the Hammer stamp but because the premise of a scientist father who protects and preserves his daughter who is also a moth creature fails to connect in a metaphorical way. There is no suggestion as to what analogy might be being made about this woman`s powerful weakness beyond the loosest sense that her sexuality makes her a monster. But this is not clearly presented and the viewer has no confidence at all that they are doing anything else in their musings but imposing their hopes on a movie that is otherwise wasting their time.

SRP: $47.67
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Castle Freak [Blu-ray] (Stuart Gordon, 1995) RB UK 88 Films

Genuinely disturbing and occasionally gruesome, Castle Freak is a cheaply made but unusually effective story about an American family with a difficult past that has, surprising to all, inherited an enormous Italian castle that contains its own difficult past. John Reilly, the American father, is a failed writer and alcoholic who accidentally, and not it appears as a result of criminal negligence, killed his young son and blinded his older daughter in a traffic accident. His wife is no longer affectionately available to him and while the blind daughter is forgiving the family is in ruins. And now with this inheritance they have a physical space to echo their own turmoil though it is startling how much space they are given. A wide expanse and terrain is necessary so that the dungeons can house a man provided with decades of torture and he can coexist with them without being daily observed. The demons in our cellars require, it seems, a large geography so they can properly haunt before they actually hinder. As such films go, all physical points do eventually converge, temptations are accepted, vices are exhibited, the unknown terror is denied, but eventually the convergence insures a gathering of broken pieces into a united whole that seeks to do not only what needs to be done but is remedial in the narratives of the character`s lives as well. The film is cheap and has a straight to video feel about it. It is not a great movie in any possible sense of that word but it was also perpetually compelling and the dialogue brings an essential component of the believable to the absurd.

Death Watch [Blu-ray] (Bertrand Tavernier, 1980) AIS

This expose of the elements within human psychology that thirty years later have become the standard appeal of reality television seeks to separate the cinematic from the idolatry of voyeurism. The line between the two is ambiguous and one can never be sure what side of that perspective they are on even when the thing being viewed is the question of whether you are being a witness to something true or stealing glances for the benefit of a mere curiosity. Roddy, for reasons I either do not understand or accept, has agreed to have his ocular lenses connected to a television network so that whatever he sees they can show. The reason for this is connected to the network`s idea of presenting a show about a woman who is dying. They find her, Katherine Mortenhoe, film from behind one way glass the doctor`s delivery of the bad news and then seek to incorporate her into their program with the sole moral logic being that people will want to see it. She is not as enticed as one might suspect but agrees for the money that it will leave her widower. Having taken the money she flees from the oppressive system of the network with its obvious cameras. But this is the point of Roddy, he finds her in private, befriends her in private, and makes anything she has to say and do public. The film explores the need to see how other people live in private and its own logic cuts right to the mostly personal question of all: if death is essential to life, and death is a mystery to us all, could we not be given so much by watching and coming to see what happens when a women, who does not know she is on view, comes to die? The answer is no but not only because there may not be a correlation between what we experience and what is true but because the degrees of being viewed are engrained in us, even in 1980, and we are aware of the camera that is the other even when the audience exposure is presumed to be the select few of family and friends. The film is fascinating and more than a bit discouraging given that our desire to be exposed over our desire to be a witness and participant in the joy and suffering of life has certainly only increased. We are all camera people now, directors of others at our worst, and voyeurs at our dubious best. If we cannot see the truth, which cannot be seen, we say we don’t believe in it because we do not have any other options.

Dredd [Blu-ray] (Pete Travis, 2012) Alliance Films

Bearing a strong resemblance to Robo-cop, Dredd replaces the satire of 1980s America with a political/theological stance that derides complicity in the dehumanizing forces of a justice system against the powers of self-absorbed criminals profiting on the desperation of those perpetually wounded by their society. Justice is largely absent but when present can be purchased to do one’s own bidding as long as you’re among the kings and queens of the criminal world. This is except for Judge Dredd (for Dredd read anxiety, an anxiety that demands civic action and not empty despair) and his rookie partner Anderson who is, herself, undertaking a trial to see if she has what is required to be a judge. Initially, we are informed that the requirements to be a judge are contingent upon an ability to abide and imbibe a number of set rules and strictures. It is these rules, though, that, we come to see, sometimes can be broken in the spirit of a justice that includes or accepts human weakness and failure. Dredd is barely human and is mostly bent on the destruction of that which destroys, Anderson is all inclination to help those in need, and together they are united. The film is relentlessly and excitingly violent but it does also display tenderness and an affection that are stirring if not exactly moving. The film as a piece, despite or perhaps in hand with the carnage, strikes me as akin to scriptures – we are warned that judgment is coming and that inaction in the face of darkness is the same as death. You do not have to be the monster to enable the monster. It should be stated that nothing I have noted is directly presented in the film and there is nothing to suggest that these points are intended. But they are in there, I swear.

Farewell, My Queen [Blu-ray] (Benoît Jacquot, 2012) Cohen Media Group

Farewell, My Queen is an evocative presentation of the side of those who hold power when the reigning order is threatened by those it oppresses. Our perspective is largely that of Sidonie, Queen Marie Antoinette’s reader and academic advisor, who is befuddled and terrified that loyalty and allegiance to the queen despite her capriciousness callousness and demeaning understanding of the lower classes is not enough to sustain a necessary existence. Sidonie’s life is meaningful because she belongs to an order. It is this that makes acceptable a life of squalor and the itchy bites of bed bugs. The distinction is, I suspect, that Sidonie is fed sustaining food and the rebels of Paris were not and thus their relation to order was overturned by a basic human hunger. But as a film about the requirements of human dignity and their place in a social order, the critique presented by the picture is devastating and intriguing. Loyalty is shown to be senseless outside of the language of sacrifice and that sacrifice while necessary does not return even the favor of acknowledgement or remembrance. We care for those who rule and we know they do not really care for us. If they did they would not be as deeply deserving of our care – how could we love someone who loves us in our depraved condition? Tie into this questions of sexual identity and expression and you have a historical costume drama that also, or equally, is about our own identities and their formation in relation to structures of order and our corresponding roles and rebellions within those systems.

SRP: $29.79
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Gentleman's Agreement [Blu-ray] (Elia Kazan, 1947) 20th Century Fox

Gentleman’s Agreement demonstrates the moral inadequacy of empathy. Schuyler Green, a journalist, has been assigned a piece on anti-Semitism by a New York publisher and the topic holds very little interest for him. As he puts it, it has been done, the ideas are all already out there and they make little difference. It is only when he comes upon a provocative strategy for writing the article that he takes on enthusiasm for the work. He will spend six months pretending to be Jewish in order to know what it feels like. His approach because it is existential will perhaps be the thing that comes to mean something for the Jewish people. His discovery is that it is hard to be hated and that there is bigotry present even in those who seem beyond reproach. It is this last point that I think we should pay special attention to as the film itself seems likely guilty of the same oppressions that they identify in others. The idea that you can know a people by pretending to be like them, in other words what we call the empathy of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, is the problem. It is telling that, really, Green only gets excited about the problem because of his approach. He is not that concerned about the problem, or the people, but with his ideas. The idea again is that the actions of the white male will save those burdened by the ideas of white males. And the idea is empty and ugly pretending to be someone does not make you remotely like that someone. It is not the same as being raised and formed in an understanding and knowing that it cannot be escaped once one’s time at play is over. It is intriguing that this smart awareness of the plight of others is not extended to women. Throughout the film they are presented either as pretty distractions or domestic/secretarial work. In twenty years Schuyler Green will be open to pretending to be a woman for six months. In everything that he thinks he has learned nothing will be altered.

Grindhouse 3- Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity (Ken Dixon, 1987) R2 UK 88 Films

The recent minor trend, since Tarantino’s grindhouse homage, is to release terrible movies with acceptance that they are terrible because they are at least twenty years old. We watch for titillation and to mock the failures of an exploitative film-maker. Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity is about bathing suit clothed women dealing with the madman from The Most Dangerous Game who hunts them on his island somewhere, I am only guessing, beyond infinity. It is terrible but it is not that enjoyably so unless feeling ashamed has become funny I cannot imagine why anyone would want to see this film. 

 SRP: 9.00 pounds

Hannah and Her Sisters [Blu-ray] (Woody Allen, 1986) 20th Century Fox

Even though this is one of Woody Allen’s best films there is much in it that is hard to accept – the sentimental ending, the architecture travelogues, the fetishization of a conservative cultural style. That said, none of it matters because the movie is a smorgasbord of other delights many of them not only tasty but also nutritious. I am drawn less to Hannah and her sisters than I am to the example of Frederick, sister Lee’s older boyfriend and teacher, who discovers to his pain that disgust for the idiocy of the world does not suffice as a replacement for human comfort and that a relationship based on education is more damaging, but no less doomed, than one built on lust. Elliot (Hannah’s husband) and his travails with marital fidelity and doubt about what he needs and how he is needed are nuanced and powerful. His failures are acceptable to the viewer because they mask confusions and hesitations that strike us as both believable but also responsible to a serious engagement with commitment from a man who is baffled by his place in this world. Hannah is too good and too beautiful to connect with and her other sister Holly is too damaged and narcissistic to be desired. Holly, in all of her grasping, is at least struggling and in struggle there is at least the fascination of an energetic movement. In Hannah the same struggle is verbalized but not embodied and so we only worship but do not love her. We love the stupid, the hypochondriac, and the lost; this is the joy of the film, the broken are where the heart is.

SRP: $25.99
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Lawless [Blu-ray] (John Hillcoat, 2012) Anchor Bay

Writing this column I have noticed my own prejudice towards movies that stick with me after I have seen them. These types of movies give me something to consider and to ponder and they provide the sense that something is continuing to happen between myself and the show. The suspicion is that a movie that resists this is not as good, or perhaps a bad movie but I want to resist this conclusion. Lawless leaves me with nothing to say about it and the sense that to underline pleasures of certain scenes and flourishes with my own words is to add a further nothing. The film is as nice to look at as any expensive film made today; it is neither annoying nor special. It is about moonshiner brothers in the era of prohibition who are resisting the efforts of a corrupt legal machine that seeks to extort from them monies for a smoother business practice. This is resisted and the brothers three, each wildly different from each other, spend the rest of the film battling and being battled with expected results. That is it and while it is on it was certainly enough. It was enjoyable and I was chagrined to see it end and I will never think to see it again.

SRP: $30.99

Lightning Bug [Blu-ray] (Robert Hall, 2004) Image Entertainment

Here is a horror film of sorts with the terror residing, for one character, in a vicious step-father and, for another, a mother using Christian virtue as a weapon of control. So much of the film seems like a made for television warning film against child abuse that the other aspects of the film that are not so built on platitudes are all the more surprising. Our main character and abused figure Green Graves is much more interesting than his name as he presents us with a bit of high school bravado dashed with a larger quantity of adolescent impotence. His friends Billy and Tony seem like they would fit in well with any Hallmark feature but when they open their mouths and provide us with endless amounts of well-meaning but sexually explicit commentary they seem much closer to being actual teenagers, raging with sexual desire and violence but not old enough to be filled with the resentments and casual hatreds that ruin their elders. They brighten the screen, as does Green’s younger brother Jay who is swept up by the local church but remains ungoverned by their need to separate the us from the them. All of this is to say that Lightning Bug is an R-Rated family movie. The traditional family movie elements make it almost unwatchable, it is the R-Rated elements and the fact that honesty about adolescent life is a subject only for adults that one wishes were standard in all of our family dramas.

 SRP: $16.99
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The Man Who Knew Too Much [Blu-ray] (Alfred Hitchcock, 1934) Criterion Collection 
What would you save, your child today or potentially millions of citizens next year? The answer provided by the parents in The Man Who Knew Too Much (and given that mother and father are both implicated in this difficult knowledge I have no idea who the man of the title refers to) is the obvious moral one. You save your child, Betty, who is often an annoyance and causes much trouble to those around her. It is her horror that is the real one, the spectre of all those lives tomorrow is abstract and what, the question we have here is, is the point of saving tomorrow at the expense of today? This Hitchcock film is a masterpiece of filming and of subtle tension culminating in a real understanding of human psychosis and fear in a way that lies beneath all of our more visible apprehensions. The closing shots of a young girl obviously if only partially shattered by her experience resonates and I don’t think I have seen a more believable representation of a person devastated by an experience in any other film. It lasts a second or two but it has me captured. There are many more such moments in this film, certainly just as many as there are scenes that are too silly to remember. I prefer to privilege the grand moments rather than the scenes of a chair fight where only the furniture seems to suffer any real pain. Patriarch Bob Lawrence’s inability to hide his smirk of small accomplishment in the face of an evil he does not know how to beat; mother Eve Lawrence’s internal search for the right thing to do in public settings for which she has no understanding; and mostly, head villain Abbott’s absolutely infectious delight and laughter at how he is perceived and how he perceives others. His complete merriment at much around him, included with his malign and absolutely mysterious intentions, draw the viewer to him with engagement for his personality and apathy for almost anything else about him. These scenes, and others, stick with you and the slightness of the plot becomes a delight insofar as it never threatens your enjoyment of these small moments of cinematic majesty.

SRP: $54.99
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The Paperboy [Blu-ray] (Lee Daniels, 2012) Millennium

Established Hollywood from Nicole Kidman to John Cusack to Matthew McConnaghey to Scott Glenn go slumming by sporting, all to the one, the worst haircuts they have ever worn. Set in a Florida of swamps and suburbs, the story is of two journalists, one from a newspaper family, setting out to investigate the possible innocence of a man convicted of murdering the worst sheriff in Florida history. We are shown that the swamp and the suburb are not all that different except you really cannot live in the swamp. Considered to be one of the worst movies of 2012 I was expecting something else entirely. Yes, the love story is flimsy but at least one half of the pairing seems well aware of the same fact. The film does not have much to say, and that is no criticism, but it does mask that in trying to half say a lot of things about the justice system, the power of the sexually decadent, the failures of journalism, race relations, homosexual siblings, and the depravity of those who live off the land and water. It is a film where you watch actors you know well try on clothes and accents that they would never usually wear. In Hollywood this is called stretching your character range, elsewhere this is usually called a stretch and it is not without its fun as long as you do not learn from people who are slumming. (See: Gentleman’s Agreement)

 SRP: $29.99
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The Possession [Blu-ray] (Ole Bornedal, 2012) Lionsgate

Films about possession by some sort of demon or other have become ever present in our culture. Each year offers two or three exorcism movies. I suspect that this has more to do with our own feeling of being possessed by things beyond our control than it does with any affection we may have for The Exorcist. I am privately intrigued by all these films from the Paranormal Activity industry (even though the demons in those movies are more obvious metaphors for actual tensions in our lives) to offerings like The Last Exorcism (with its support of a sacrificial communal love for a suffering stranger). I am drawn to the metaphysics, the overt theologies and to the images which are a microcosm of cinema itself – inviting the exotic into the mundane. This film is wondrous for its narrow range. It is disturbing and intriguing but its levels of disturbance are such that you are never drawn to really ponder the things that intrigue. This is probably for the best as the metaphors of teenage sexuality, the pains of divorce on children, the need to suffer for one’s guilt towards one children, and the demonic control that body image (along with the language of animal over human rights) holds over young people are probably bigger than a film of this scope can handle except for their mentioning. That is fine because what you are left with is image of a young girl looking into the back of her throat and seeing the living fingers of another clawing their way up and out. Wow. Who wants out of us? The film gives us no shortage of powerful visual jolts. It also provides a better argument against anti-Semitism than any other film I have seen this week.

SRP: $39.99
Sleeper [Blu-ray] (Woody Allen, 1973) Sony

I don’t think I am the only person who does not prefer Woody Allen’s early, “funny” films over what came after this juvenile period ended. This movie about a man reawakened two hundred years into a future that is filled with domestic robots, mechanized sex and science failing everyone seeks to draw attention to the silliness of today by imagining its shape tomorrow. Sleeper  is more silly than satirical and be thankful for that given that its satire is so specifically focused not on systems but on particular people that are now far removed from the public eye. Where it is silly it is fun and one can be justified in thinking that Woody Allen’s strengths, like Jacques Tati, are as a physical comedian albeit substantially less subtle. But less subtle is also not a criticism when it comes to the inane and where the film is physically silly I was amused. The verbal amusements and the sight gags contingent upon ideas (like the oversized vegetables of scientifically enhanced agriculture) seem overwhelmed by their making a point.

SRP: $25.99

Taken 2 [Blu-ray] (Olivier Megaton, 2012) 20th Century Fox

We seem to love the Bourne trilogy so much that we are willing to take on any similar type of adventure film that puts us into old Europe and has us in over our heads. But where the Bourne movies point to traps that persist all around us and that only Jason Bourne with his nebulous hold on identity can escape, other regurgitations de-complicate these meanings by connecting their drifts to more basic refrains of our culture. Namely, this is another film where a man protects his family from the evil good that he has done. After slaughtering a number of Albanians who made the mistake of kidnapping his daughter in the first Taken, the Albanian grieving males swear revenge and make a work vacation in Istanbul for the Mills family miserable for at least two-thirds of them. In order to avoid another male saviour story, which is exactly what this is, the daughter is incorporated into the heroism but only through the strict guidance of her father. The mother does nothing but everything wrong. It all flows well enough (though I must confess that much of the logic of why they were able to do what they do or even why they were doing it lost me) but this is one messed up family. The father ceaselessly monitors his daughter and even while promising not to do, keeps doing it and it is presented as an amusing foible. The ex-wife has had it with her present husband because he has cancelled a family trip to China presumably because he is rotten but more likely because their lives are extraordinarily expensive in a recessed economy. The daughter is better than most but in the film’s closing scene jokes in the presence of her new boyfriend that she hopes Dad does not shoot him. He laughingly says he won’t but the joke one suspects is that of course he will.

 SRP: $49.99
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The Tin Drum [Blu-ray] (Volker Schlöndorff, 1979) Criterion Collection

Oskar, at the age of three, viewing the adults around him with their love triangles and fascist allegiances decides that he is not going to grow anymore. He hides this act of willfulness by throwing himself down the cellar stairs and in doing so sparks further tensions in his family. Oskar is also beholden to a third year birthday gift of a tin drum and when attempts are made to remove him from it he discovers he has the pinpoint ability to break glass with his shrieking voice of retaliation. Oskar is a bit of a menace and causes harm to most of the people he knows because of his insanely selfish need for new drums and for care to be taken for his every whim. He is a monster but because he is three all is largely ignored or forgiven, by me especially. There is something essentially encouraging about this refusal to be a man (though he does not deny himself entrance into a carnal life, apparently using the only appendage not stymied by his refusal to grow) when all evidences of men are either louts of powerful and idiotic demand or ineffectual cowards against these powerful. Echoing Melville’s scrivener Oskar would prefer not to join the ranks of the adult world which seems to promise only duplicity, compromised conformity, and wretched responsibility. Oskar travels in the wake and support of a Nazi conquering and decline in Europe neither negating nor complicit, he is just not big enough to be responsible for anything. If this sounds condemning of the irresponsible lout it probably should be but it is not. His movements are within a history that he refuses to identify with; this refusal is his only judgment. It is all, the good forces and the darker ones, an adult game that he cannot bear to have an interest in. Willfully naïve about the importance of temporal politics Oskar lives, as he puts it between the decadent spirituality of a Rasputin and the desire for an enlightenment he identifies with Goethe. Me too and I would also agree that there is something about the exhaustion of adult life that sadly renders such battles to be childish luxuries.

SRP: $54.99

To Rome with Love [Blu-ray] (Woody Allen, 2012) Sony

There are five stories at play here: an American music executive seeks to persuade his daughter’s father in law to be to become an opera singer despite the fact that his only venue can be the shower; a young man from the country seeks his wealth by joining the family business and is, through odd circumstances, forced to pretend that a local prostitute is his wife; this same young man’s wife unable to find her way back to the hotel spends time and romantic energy on Italian cinema’s latest Don Juan; a visiting architecture student becomes enamored with his fiancé’s friend despite sensible warnings from a third party whose actual presence is unclear; and finally a clerk of no importance or interest becomes famous for no reason other than that he is becoming famous. The thing that unites these disconnected plotlines is the idea of wishing, for security, for love, for adventure or for fame. Other than that not much is said except perhaps that wishing will only provide you with the understanding that what you have is better than what you want. In any and all cases the film is a mess, sometimes amusing, occasionally witty and none of it necessarily set in Rome. As such, it is another Woody Allen travel piece with small bits of funny wisdom set in a context that is likely without much resonance to anyone watching. 

 SRP: $38.99
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Wake in Fright [Blu-ray] (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) Image Entertainment

A school teacher literally in the middle of nowhere Australia aims to visit his girlfriend in Sydney for the Christmas holidays. En route he stops in Bundanyabba and that is as far as he gets. Befriended by the local police and toured to the dark spots of town he is drawn into a gambling game of toss-a-coin where he eventually loses all he has save one dollar. Destitute and dependant on the kindness of the strangest of strangers (“little demons proud of their hell”) he spends a weekend descending into the wilderness of his own capabilities. There he discovers an insatiable taste for drink and violence against nature that by film’s end have left their mark on him. He is out there beyond civilization where ideas like progress are mocked as the vanity of the fearful and it is here that he confronts an identity and a promise that he would have hoped never to consider. The promise is that he can survive even beyond the point of wanting to and that life is perhaps something other than what he has been educates, and educates others, to believe. But is this something to be desired? Is there comfort in knowing that depravity can be a home or that it is perhaps closer to one’s nature than one normally allows? Is the understanding that civilization is a façade mean that it is also destructive? The men of Bundanyabba are trusting men but they are outsiders to each other and to themselves, they pay no attention to such attentions and their extended kindness to a man with nothing is a gesture not of principle but of their nature. They are beasts and part of their beastliness is a kindness that has no respect for the proprieties usually demanded of such gestures. But to those without any place to go it is still a real kindness. The film is perfectly powerful in its representations of squalor, the alcoholic doctor is a genius of barbarity (“and where is Socrates now?”) who recognizes that he is special because he has some education but is accepted because he does not care about it. There is no pretention in the people of the town and where there are what we might call virtues they are performed as extensions of real natures and are not performed out of tradition or self-benefit. One wonders by the time the film has ended what sort of Christmas present our school teacher has received, the thing he wanted or the thing he needs? Or nothing of the sort?

SRP: $29.78
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