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 16, 2013

DVD Column Four

Pick of the Week


Pina [Blu-ray] (Wim Wenders, 2011) Criterion Collection

I know that most do not want to see this movie even though they think they probably should. Pina is wonderful but because it shouts high art it is going to come across the shelf to you as smug and lifeless. You are not going to enjoy this edification, you tell yourself. I am not convinced that there is such a thing as high art but if there is it is something that speaks to you and for you in ways that are fundamentally powerful and evocative. In your experience of high art you are written and you write a view of yourself and how you relate to the various aspects of social and more abstract truths in such a way that is pertinent and necessary. High art is not boring, it is crucial and its voice, once accessed, becomes commanding and liberating.
This is the power of Pina. I am aware that my descriptions of what it is are going to tend any reader in a direction opposite to the one intended but these series of modern dance, both on a stage and on the streets of a small German city refers to something that I believe is inside of you, not universally, but idiosyncratically. The dancers are outrageously gifted and their movements are suggestive of that winning human combination of angry aggression and soothing grace. There are four main pieces, all originally choreographed by Pina Bausch, presented here and they have as their main source of expression the outrage of what it is to be trapped in a life and the corresponding knowledge that awareness of this morass is in itself a freedom. Bodies fly, eyes often shut or wide eyed open, women are caught by men, perpetually seek embrace, the loving lead the blind, and the truth of our hopes and failures are grounded in the physicality of the body and the space within which it can move. And the dancers because of their spiritual knowledge of their bodies are able to draft visions of enactments in space that open the environment for all the viewers. They mock their limitations while demonstrating them. The film is endlessly deep and will be different each time you watch it. Ideally, you should have it on all the time. It is exciting, visceral and participates in a type of thought given its absence of declarations that I would silently call poetry.
SRP: $44.95
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Also released:


And Now Tomorrow (Irving Pichel, 1944) R2 UK Simply Media

Emily Blair, the eldest daughter of a family rich enough to live in Blairtown, has contracted meningitis and is now deaf. The immediate result of this, of course, is that she feels obligated to postpone her engagement to Jeff who deals with the pain by falling in love with her sister Janice. It is not clear why Emily has come to this decision given her startling ability to read lips and the fact that despite not hearing herself talk she still speaks in a consistently measured and appropriately inflected cadence. Truth be told the only appearance of her deafness is the claim that she is. It is the lack of actual ramifications to her affliction that clues us in to the bigger impairment that her deafness is only a metaphor for. Emily is a snob and it takes the once poor hearing specialist Dr. Vance to cure her of both her failings, the physical one she cannot help and the mental one she accepts. The main problem with this problem and solution as it is presented in the film is that Emily seems kind and lovely and Dr. Vance comes across as the epitome of class resentiment. Offering her an appointment in his working class Pittsburgh clinic which he pungently describes as dirty and overly crowded she demurs, as you or I would if we could, and we are still to be left with the image that she is spoiled to the core. The person in the film who seems most governed by class stereotypes and disdain is Dr. Lance and perhaps this is the more intriguing point: it is a problem if you are so rich that you don’t hate others for who they are as it means the natures of other people are not really hindrances to your life. Dr. Vance represents the lowly at their lowest, gifted but blind to their own snobbery. The film has no time for details, save Janice’s suggestion of being romantically stymied by a guilty suitor in terms of sexual frustration, it cuts right to its moral points and stays at them. As a strategy it fails if only because our dislike for Dr. Vance prevents us from seeing his presumably correct agenda. We can all see why he loves her, why she loves him is not as clear.
SRP: 10.00 pounds
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Cujo [Blu-ray] (Lewis Teague, 1983) Olive Films

There is something about movies from the eighties, and not exclusively Hollywood movies, that are terrible. I don’t like thinking this and it is my deep hope that it is not true but if one was to do the research I suspect you would find that the eighties were a period of odd transition. The standards of what could be shown to a mainstream audience along with the primacy of story over character make these dramas, along with too much flat colour, tired and boring, family movies that have hints of darkness that no family is looking for. Characters are types and decadence is not shown in actual behaviour but through facial hair for the men (if you have it you are trouble) and by extra weight for the women (unless you are jolly, serious and overweight means evil). The good people are clean, part of their experience in awfulness is how dirty they become, and well mannered, closer to mannequins than to our neighbours. And the children are ideas of children, almost always outdoorsy and drawn to the values of the 1950s even if their parents are not. The films in total seek sentimental outcomes – instead of trying to inspire optimism against odds (which I am for) they instead present the notion that good (clean) living will win out because it is right (which I am against). Cujo is two films in one: the first is a lame presentation of a suburban community in the throes of the usual cinematic issues of infidelity and business trouble; the second is the gripping tension between a mother and her son stalled in a car in the country pitted against a rabid Saint Bernard. The thing that connects the two tales is the argument about the existence of monsters and it is here that the film tries to make a strong point. Unless the mother is out there in the country with her son as cosmic punishment for her marital lapse the existence of the rabid dog is there to show that, yes, even though your existence is managed there are still gentle things out there that can turn into ferocious beasts and your survival is not based on merit but on luck. The film is right to devote its second half to a confrontation as it erases the icky weirdness of the first half and re-contextualizes it: none of that fake crap matters now that we are aware of the monster in our midst. The film has all the tendencies of the trite but these do are erased in the actual grip of a real terror. The film has the sense to end when it should without any pontification about meaning when obviously there is none to be found because that is a part of the monster.
SRP: $24.95
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Deadly Blessing [Blu-ray] (Wes Craven, 1981) Shout! Factory

In a community of “Hittites” (which I think is a cross between Hutterites and Mennonites and has nothing to do with the Anatolian Hittities) a man, Jim, marries a woman, Martha, from outside the flock and is ostracized for doing so. Oddly enough he sets up his farm next door to his family which predictably exacerbates the tensions between them. Even though he has been excommunicated this does not mean that he is not entitled to some land. Martha is not given any such perks because she is deemed by the community the less than neighbourly title of incubus. The label is inappropriate for a number of reasons beyond the fact that the term is designated for males where a succubus is the female equivalent. Martha is shown to us to be not overtly sexually tempting as much as she is martially interested in her husband. Confusions abound, tragedies strike, friends from California arrive without any sense of how to deal with the stranger in their strange land. The film is an awkward one with set and dream pieces working as examples of film-making expertise that are then awkwardly fit into the picture as a whole. The whole thing works its way to a conclusion that is surprising and disappointing given that it resolves little and only adds an excusing plot twist in order to judge no one as failing anything. The film is terrible with the only signs of life coming from the elder Hittites. Compared to the California crowd I know who I would rather spend the day with.
SRP: $29.99
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Death Race 3: Inferno [Blu-ray] (Roel Reine, 2013) Universal Studios

Life sentenced convicts race against each other, free to murder other drivers, in order to win the death race. Five victories and you are freed from your sentence. It sounds like a great sport and fun but, predictably, market forces are trying to commercialize the game in ways that are compromising the spirit of the match. The film acts as an expose of how a group of convicts seek to confront the inadequacies of the new corporate agenda. I saw Death Race, the first, and while it did not end up on my year end best of list it was a moderately enjoyable film that was horribly violent but not without its guilty pleasure. I missed the second film and perhaps this has impacted my ability to enjoy the third offering. However, I don’t think the problem is that the plot was too complicated or that I was missing essential pieces of who these people were and why they were there but instead any momentum that the film developed was crushed by an exposition style that deflated any forward movement. The film ends, after a confusing closing piece that I was not paying much attention to anyhow, with a Keyser Soze revelation sequence that does not drop your jaw but has you asking why are you doing this, why are you showing me the dull ending twice? It was all silly played out with no irony.
SRP: $37.99
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Django [Blu-ray] (Sergio Corbucci, 1966) RB UK Argent Films

The opening shots are of the title character dragging a coffin through the wilderness. The coffin looks heavy and the terrain is not smooth, any viewer who has ever performed a camping trip portage will immediately sympathize. I was immediately grabbed and as long as you are passive in your attention the film will continue to enchant. We learn that Django is after Major Jackson who murdered Django’s wife though there is no reason to care. We know that Django quietly stands for something that we support and we know that he is bound to run into something that is going to challenge his righteousness. It does not matter what but to be fair Major Jackson is a wonderful slice of awful; the sort of man who uses human beings as clay pigeons. The film provides all the usual Western escapades, there are plenty of gunfights in saloons and the not so great outdoors, a heist and a betrayal and everything is punctuated with brutality. The most brutal aspect of the film is the most powerful: the weather and the terrain shout of the dark cold wetness and outside of Swedish dramas by Berman and August I have never felt so chilly while watching a film. I mean this as high praise, the art direction is wonderful, the mud is wet and impenetrable, the devastation of the landscape believable and disturbing. The closing scenes of Django, hands smashed beyond possible use, trying to find a way to pull his trigger while braced on the irons of a cemetery cross are arresting and delightful. There is no shortage of Christian imagery throughout the film but it is my sense that it just there to add to the gothic pathos. He certainly does suffer and he exhibits a respectable sexual propriety but he does not have anything resembling a forgiving nature, as the coffin eventually attests.
SRP: $24.99
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End of Watch [Blu-ray] (David Ayer, 2012) Universal

The pleasures here are found in the camaraderie of the two central characters who are also LAPD officers. Their conversations have an easy-going rhythm and their wit seems natural and tied to the actual domestic and dull situations that they are in. They are the sort of people you may work with or just simply know who are at ease with themselves and with others and while you know they have some problems you also know they are not going to burden you with them. You envy them their casual and comfortable way of making a joke in whatever social situation and you want to resent them but their likability resists even the possibility of developing anger towards them. This is the key to their appeal and to why they semi-annoy. They are socially doing fine, even when awkward they manage it well and it seems natural and not learned. A film that only puts us into the company of two guys who are at ease with one another and their world needs to give us something else to keep us tuned in. If this is true it is too bad because it is this type of thinking that gets movies into trouble. The police work that our officers are committed to is unbelievable, the high level of aggression that they face from the criminal element, the lack of knowledge they have about the context that they are working in, the persistent ache of poverty and violence in the city. All of this is believable. What is not is that if it is as persistent and as ugly as it seems in the film that these two could manage to maintain their perpetually jokey attitudes. I know that tough situations bring out the jokester in some of us but the situation of the film is beyond tough and I would insist that it must produce a psychic debt. In this sense, and only in this sense, the film perturbs me as it seems a brochure advertising police careers that is going to potentially or likely destroy that easy going nature of yours. It is propaganda but it is very good propaganda.
SRP: $30.99
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Frontier Horizon [Blu-ray] (George Sherman, 1939) Olive FilmsFrontier Horizon [Blu-ray] (George Sherman, 1939) Olive Film

The three Mesquiters, one of which is Stoney Brooke (played by John Wayne and thus the only reason that this film persists), are horse riders for the Pony Express; for reasons unclear this provides them with being a source of moral guidance to their community. The community is New Hope Valley and it is being threatened with devastation, largely because of the bad advice given by the three Mesquiters. Guilt results and the three, led by Stoney`s sense of wise responsibility fight for what is right. The villains want money and don’t care about people, the good townsfolk care seemingly only for themselves but not money and so we are to be on their side. The film is short and the plot is long so much is shown without the complications of being believable (the film also has startling problems with anachronisms – elaborate power lines loom in the backdrops and the creation of a damn is performed with equipment from the 1930s though the film is set in the early 20th century). And yet the film is constantly being padded with repetitive scenes of horseback riding and vistas that do not further or deepen an overly simplified story. It is great to have scenes that do nothing for the story that show us more about the people involved but this is not accomplished by watching men and women ride horses. It is impossible to care about what is happening because it is clear that what is happening is following its own movie logic and has no need of our interest or involvement. Really, this is the rare film that offers the viewer nothing. If it was the only film in town you would ask why do we need films.
SRP: $24.95
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Hold Your Breath [Blu-ray] (Jared Cohn, 2012) Asylum Home Ent.

Some years ago I watched a stack of films in the After Dark Horrorfest series. The films were not very good and I had learned my lesson about the relationship between marketing and actuality. Then I watched Mulberry Street and I loved it. It was gritty, the writing and the acting were compelling and it was about rat people. The rat people angle was understandably what originally enticed me but I kept with it because I was genuinely tickled by all of its aspects. I wish this had not happened because I now have a precedent for surprise and so I keep watching all sorts of dreck under the pretense of the big maybe, maybe this will be great. And it still sometimes happens. Hold Your Breath is an argument in the other direction – poorly made in every way and unforgivingly dull. The idea is if you don’t hold your breath when you pass a graveyard you run the risk of imbibing the spirit of an evil lost soul that resides there and obviously seeks escape. It sounds promising but it is not. The graveyard is a big one and as you might predict not everyone in a car full of late adolescents (average age I put at about 25) is able to do what is needed in terms of breath control despite the startling insistence of one of the characters (who later shows herself to be clueless about every other sort of danger except this one superstition). Menace takes over; the seeds of mistrust boil over into relationships that seem to already be based on a lack of trust. They are all idiots and they are all quickly outraged and prone to tantrums that do not create tension but make the viewer feel like they need to be the calm person in order to get through all this cheapness. There is no metaphor here just a very loose idea that has me wondering whether the director took the title’s advice when preparing the film.
SRP: $19.98
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Indiscreet [Blu-ray] (Stanley Donen, 1958) Olive Films

In writing this column I have not set myself any rules but I have a few guidelines. I avoid referring to actors and directors because my critical interest is in the film itself and not in placing it within a context of history of auteurism. I have no great prejudice against this sort of criticism except that many of its purveyors tend to ignore the film itself or reduce it to a line or two of plot summation. Reading someone like Jonathan Rosenbaum can be maddening because much of what you are given is information about the film, predominantly its supposed maker and how it relates to the other films in the genre or the career of that director. As one of our most praised living critics I am struck by how little his work creates enthusiasm for the magic of particular films. I aim to celebrate and to comment (and given the first may need to do some serious thinking about my obsessive vice of wanting to cover as much as possible. Prior to doing this I believed I actually liked most everything I saw) and I am very happily in no position to educate. This brings us to Indiscreet and the only reason to watch the film which is to witness Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman working off of each other. Unlike you I have never been fond of Cary Grant. I find him wooden and so filled with the affectation of charm to be charmless. He is redeemed, constantly, by finding a way to challenge his own debonair image with goofy gestures or some inspired silliness. This is Cary Grant at his best but I am problematized by the lesson that sleaze tempered with awkwardness is an ideal. In the film under consideration he plays another smoothie matched with the equally cool and erudite Ingrid Bergman. They fall in love and work out some issues mostly in ways that are disturbingly stupid. The main trick of the film, which is also one of its premises (which I will not mention as it is supposed to be a surprise) is lame and thankfully irrelevant. The joy of the film is the snappiness of these two actors, mostly Bergman, as they work through confusions of social fear, insecurity in personas governed by their confidence, and the frustrating fear that maybe a person cannot be self-defined. The banter is accurate and attaches itself to situations where the viewer is impressed by how that is the smart and funny thing to say and can believe that someone would say such a thing. They are wits, and they are smart, and they deliver their carefully written dialogue as if it is occurring to them in the moment. They play well with their scenery and this is all for the fun. Like End of Watch (to which this film is similar) we are being sold an image of splendour and sophistication that is either paired with loneliness and pain to make it palatable or because it is only honest to show that this is a part of the package. I don’t care if these two get married except that increases the odds of them being seen together and after two hours plus of them playing through a far-fetched plot it would be pleasurably relaxing to hang out with them and listen to them riff.
SRP: $29.95
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It’s In the Bag [Blu-ray] (Richard Wallace, 1945) Olive Films

My expectations were low given that madcap film of the 1940s, which I correctly predicted this to be, tend to demonstrations of the chaotic that exhaust more than they entertain me. This story of a poor conniving family managing a bit of an inheritance that they are sure to abuse was inexplicably entertaining. I attribute the merriment to the personality of the head of the family (the Floggles, who I concede would do anything to make money off of a dead horse) and his relentless desire to serve himself along with the assistance of his exhausted and blandly encouraging spouse. Rarely has the neglect of children been so funny and the absolute lack of moral teaching is refreshing. There is not a hint of redemption in anything that they accomplish or fail so singularly directed is their intention to make a fortune without effort. The two Floggle children have nothing in common with their parents and so are of no interest except in where they are of use. Floggle does not care, he knows he is dubious, he knows that no one can guess how dubious he actually is and he uses the gap between perception and belief to do what he can get away with. Their greed would not be nearly as charming if they were smart. Their beauty is in their stupid desire to grab at everything, they please like the monkey who already eating a banana works to possess the one belonging to his brother. They will capture you unaware, unless you are too smart for them, then, they will just annoy you. If this is the case I bet that is an annoying thing about you.
SRP: $29.95
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Ivan’s Childhood [Blu-ray] (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962) Criterion Collection

Ivan is a twelve year old scout for the Russian army. Prior to his acceptance to those ranks he had been a Partisan, undercutting the regime whenever possible. He is an orphan who has also lost a sister. He is hardened and has no interest in doing anything but keeping at the game of retaliation. For him it must speak of a vague justice but this justice serves mostly to compensate for that which has been lost. He is without mooring and so he attaches himself to a series of parents, all military, to whom he seeks to impress with his prowess and his bravery. He is not scared in the terrors of the day because his sense of life is not present to him. He is only afraid when he dreams. He is also only happy when he dreams. His dreams are beautiful and suggest and show a world of harmonious and bountiful nature within which he is a happy participant. These idyllic nature dreams have no bearing on his present life and I suspect do not belong to the realm of actual memory either. They are idealized visions of what was there before it was all taken away. Before it was taken away, I am confident, his life was perceived and received as not much of anything. But now that it is gone, it is now the symbol of everything and symbols are only idols if they are not the icons of a truthful belief so his dreams must be real and they must be the thing to protect even though their existence can never be. His world is vicious and the imagery of everything constantly pointing at him with a violence that has no anger is dark and believable. Outside of the world of fantasy there is not a cheerful thought or image in the movie. But the threat against life and hope is so powerfully evoked you recognize that the honest portrayal of the worst is in itself a source of cheer given that the alternative, that the dead and dying do not even wound us, would be the end of all of us.
SRP: $54.99
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King of the Pecos [Blu-ray] (Joseph Kane, 1936) Olive Films

Where the brevity of Frontier Horizon is a flaw that demonstrates the ineptitude of that film in King of the Pecos it aids in creating suspense. King of the Pecos, also an early John Wayne, is a vastly superior film. Again, the rich are overwhelming the poor, this time by bullying ranchers (the very soon to be rich) through false legal claims to all the water in the vast region. John Clayborn, whose father was killed at the beginning of the film, has come back to town to prosecute Alexander Stiles, the man behind his father’s death. It is a run of the mill Western theme but Stiles is so despicable and full of himself (you can just guess where he sits on the weight scale) that the film transcends its basics. Stiles sense of entitlement is so total that you cannot imagine him being moved by anything except threats to his practical sense of desire. I am smarter than these people and there is no way  that I am going to exist in tandem or cooperation with a land full of rubes and boobs. And the ranchers except for the useless outsider Eli Jackson and his more effective daughter Belle, are boobs and rubes. You can understand Stiles disdain, they are toothless and deaf unable to see past their own stupidity to know that they are being ripped off. The film is crisp, the scenes are sharp, and it is over before you are done with it.
SRP: $24.95
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Nature Calls [Blu-ray] (Todd Rohal, 2012) Magnolia Home Ent.

To be overly generous this movie was so morally confusing that I think that its aims may be ironic or to mock itself. It is about two brothers, one devoted to the boy scouts and nature, the other beholden to his ATM business and to a lifestyle celebrating the joys of having twenty televisions in one room. Besides knowing exactly with which of these two brothers my loyalties basically lie there is eventually not much to choose between them. Everyone makes terrible decisions which they seek to deny and no one can be said to do the right thing or to even have given it much thought. The red flag, for me, was the way that the media based family cursed constantly in front of groups of children only to find that this shorthand warning of decadence was repeated by the scout leaders in front of the same children. Everyone is clueless to what they are doing was the point and being clueless for some clueless reason is better outdoors. If the film is ironic it does not take adequate care to be anything more than stupid. And if you are given a choice of critical distinction between ironic and stupid, stupid will always be the trump.
SRP: $24.95
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Nobody Walks [Blu-ray] (Ry Russo-Young, 2012) Magnolia Home Ent.

Martine is looking for a sound editor for her art project. Peter, who is in that business, takes her into his home where she lives with Peter’s wife Caroline and their daughter Kolt. Peter and Martine hook up, Peter becomes jealous of Martine’s interest in other people and eventually Martine, at Caroline’s insistence, is asked to live. It is a slice of life if your life is casually and carefully out of control, that is, if you live in a house with people who have no actual affection for anyone. The movie is boring but it is because I don’t like a single one of the people in it. The problem is that the movie does not like them either. The art film within the film appears to be about how insects are scavenging the dead but in the actual film the insects only buzz around each other. Watching the film is like being invited to someone’s house that is doing so well financially in a field that has a touch of culture that they think that makes them interesting. I like my nihilism with a bit more punch.
SRP: $29.79
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Officer Down [Blu-ray] (Brian Miller, 2012) Anchor Bay

Officer Down is not nearly as much fun as End of Watch but it is a bit more honest in its theme that immersion in systems of perversity will have an effect on you. Formerly corrupt cop David Callahan, however, was never a particularly winning personality. His interests are all vices and when it comes to “normal” life his response is perfunctory; there is no way that the day to day could compete with a life of willed and playful oblivion. He is an empty man who is only partially interesting when filled with bourbon and cocaine. Given a chance to remedy and redeem his existence he finds that the whole cart of apples is rotten and that his desire for justice and truth mark him as the same sort of outsider that he has been to others in his life. He finds that what he was is what there is to be and that the systemic supports to be something more stable and affirming only pay attention to these virtues in terms of sophistical rhetoric. Again, and again and again, this would be more powerfully presented if we had any sense that Callahan was more than a shell of a man and that there was something human to him beside his ability to collapse. He has no convictions, his defense of the good and true are exactly what an exhausted person would do when they have grown tired, and thus unable, to play the usual game. The point is that inspiration is not even on the table, the reason to stop a life corrupted is only because it seems like a work to keep going.
SRP: $36.99
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 The Quiet Man [Blu-ray] (John Ford, 1952) Olive Films

A nice film with finely realized characters all the more impressive for also representing entire types from the red-haired firebrand, the drunken matchmaker, the belligerent oaf, the overly educated young man, the independent widow to cool for love but obviously desirous of it, to the American arrival with his enlightened views and his respect for the ways that these views are irrelevant. It is the American that the film is about and he is a metaphor for us. Burdened by the violence of American not demanded of you but tacitly expected and quickly forgiven, he has fled back to his Irish birthplace in the hope of a tranquil, natural life where beating up your fellow man is not part and parcel of what it is to life. The film is not so sentimental that he is able to return to the idylls of innocence so thoroughly. He finds that you have to fight here to, against the belief that traditions he does not live by are arcane, and in order to show that life is worth fighting for. The measure of what it is to fight are different and it is in this lesson that peace does eventually come to him, a peace earned in the aggressive defense of something that one loves and not merely something one feels that they have to do. The film is masterful in all ways, from the setting of each individual shot to the developments of each character. To be watched alone with a drink. I guarantee that if you are over thirty you will hear its call and you will not be tricked by its promise.
SRP: $23.25
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Red Ball Express (Budd Boetticher, 1952) R2 UK Simply Media

When I write that this is a good movie I do not mean to imply that it is going to knock you out or even leave you with much to think or say. It is not the sort of film that you should highlight on family night at the movies – not because it is vulgar but because its pleasures are small and its methods so repeated that it cannot bear the weight of having a responsibility in your entertainment life. This is the place of many a good film. Marx was right that in a capitalist society leisure time becomes a responsibility that cannot be squandered. If you watch two or three movies a month you are going to miss a lot of films that will be good for you and to you because they do not have the weight to justify their use of your time. This is why, (although a download culture contributes to this) the most damning criticism of a film today is that it was a waste of time. Money is not the criteria, time is. And our time has become so scarce we need to make sure that it is filled with exactly what we want it to be filled with. Red Ball Express is a World War II film about Patton’s supply line and the ordinary and disgruntled soldiers who drive the trucks filled with gasoline and ammunition. It has its usual adventure elements and a love story between an American and a young French woman that while thoroughly clichéd was handled in such a way that I felt actual nervousness about their ability to unite. But the main plot point is the relationship between a soldier and his superior, the soldier holding the officer responsible for the death of his brother back in the States and bearing a grudge that refuses any respect. It is fascinating how the tied of this relationship shifts and we are slowly shown that the insubordinate soldier who is commendable in all other ways is actually a fool in this regard. The social dynamics, also neatly demonstrated in a racial question, are subtle and allow for argument and rebuttal from the viewer given that they are content to be only examples of how people are and not pronouncements of what they should be.
SRP: $55.99
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Searching for Sugar Man [Blu-ray] (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) Sony

I am a collector of albums from across the 20th Century and I have no discretion in what I collect. I spend a lot of time listening to music that I don’t much like because of an innate fascination about the fact that it was ever made. Searching for Sugar Man is the true story of how an American singer-songwriter by the name of Rodriguez who made no name for himself in America was received as a superstar bigger than Elvis in South Africa. None of this news made it back to Rodriguez who toils in poverty in Detroit constantly trying to make ends meet. The film itself is interesting and moving but I am equally drawn to this notion of persons or a people making a totem out of a musical act who is, I am sorry to say, a very ordinary talent at his very best. I am fascinated by the idea that for every trivial and inspired recording there is someone or even a group of people on this planet for whom this sound is everything. I don’t have any conclusions to reach from my own fascination except to note and recognize that I admire obsessives, those who are driven and drawn to a cultural force that they fill with themselves and their own articulations as to what that thing means. I find this stirring and dare say that those of us who are obsessed with something/anything are less lonely and insecure than those who are not, for those who find that living fills their days. All of these thoughts, and the film itself, are furthered by the demonstration, once he enters the picture half way through, that Rodriquez is a gem of a person. Actually humble, and both shocked and non-plussed by the sudden attention, he does not let anything in his life actually change. They may worship him but he is not about to begin to worship his worshippers. This is, I concede, a good type of person to innocently or ignorantly revere.
SRP: $38.99
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The Seven-Per-Cent Solution [Blu-ray] (Herbert Ross, 1976) Shout! Factory

The idea that a perfect cinematic marriage is the minds of Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud, under the pretense of curing Holmes’ cocaine addiction is not one that most modern viewers would gravitate towards. Thankfully the film is  more than just a movie about a cure and involves some nice scenes and a style of acting that you do not see much of these days – actors committed to roles that are obviously roles and not the illusion of actual people. These are people who you would only find in a movie and there is something very rewarding about a person who knows and recognizes their place. As a movie it is intriguing enough and some of the visuals are memorable (a speeding and dismantled train) and shocking (a team of white horses). The whole thing plays out exactly as it should – an adventure matinee for precocious children. I am just now, at middle age entering such a stage. The key to membership to this demographic is knowing when not to make too much out of nothing.
SRP: $26.99
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A Thousand Cuts [Blu-ray] (Charles Evered, 2011) Lorber Films

Cheaply made and basically bad, this play on film about a director of slasher films defending himself against the distraught father of a daughter murdered by a psychopath influenced by said films is intelligently enough in its presentation of the debate. But it is not much more, and the debate is not really interesting unless you have the terrible misfortune to deeply identify with one of the two main characters.
SRP: $26.95
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Ticks [Blu-ray] (Tony Randel, 1995) Olive Films

This is exactly the sort of film, of which there are apparently an endless supply, that is completely muddled about its demographic. It is too gruesome for children and too badly organized for anyone but a forgiving child. The idea here is that marijuana growers through growth steroids for their crops have inadvertently created a mutated form of the basic wood tick. A group of inner city kids are forced to band together, first to convince the always sceptical grown-ups that the problem is real, and then to combat it through ridiculous acts of heroism and sacrifice. The ticks multiply and there are some spooky scenes especially if you are creeped out by quantities of large bugs skittering across the ground or floor. As a depiction of the drug culture and its vampirish effect on the American teen it is telling that the only people who have ever enjoyed this film are groups of teenagers high on weed.
SRP: $29.76


Trust [Blu-ray] (Hal Hartley, 1990) Olive Films

I am drawn to this film for the way it slides past all the things that are wrong with it including an absence of set decoration, wooden acting (except for Edie Falco who is unusually alive and real in this company) and characters suddenly performing symbolic gestures in the place of what they might have actually done. Maria, a pregnant teenager suddenly single and homeless meets up with Matthew, abused by his father and overly dramatic about his disdain for a television culture. These two going nowhere types are shown to be already somewhere and their quiet non-romantic, non-sexual affection for each other ingratiates itself into the viewer. You become startled by them without caring about what else they do. All the unrealistic stuff they do with other characters and the unrealistic situations expose themselves as not poor movie making but a stylistic point – that stuff is fake because it is fake and that it would take a heavily deluded person to believe that it looks real. Their anomie and their fear freed by a sense of caring for one another we find people in the place of these personas. The film seems to be suggesting that love stories are fake, trust stories can’t be and that with trust all the fake stuff can either be avoided or handled. It takes a careful cast and crew to present the relation between the artificial and the real as both artificial and real and compel the audience to make the same movement as the characters. This happened for me, around the time that Matthew and Maria began to trust each other I had begun to trust the film.
SRP: $29.95
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