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DVD Review: Kill Arman

13 Dec

Yeah, this guy knows a good ass kicking.

There are worse ways to spend a mildly hungover Sunday afternoon than watching Kill Arman in its entirety. The series features our man Arman, a tailor and party boy who for reasons not gone into (presumably shits and giggles, which is reason enough for me) goes around the world getting eight colours of snot beaten out of him by genius practitioners of deadly fighting. He goes to South Korea, China, Japan, England, Cambodia, and a few other joints to enjoy his face-pummeling, and while I don’t envy the brain-kicking he routinely enjoys, everything else maintains a nice level of vicarious enjoyment. But aside from watching a comparatively tubby man getting punched to custard every few days and being physically humiliated by five year-olds hourly, there are thoughts to be provoked here.

Extreme Martial Arts were developed in nations with a combination of economic, environmental, and political brutality, combined with harsh authoritarian rule. While sometimes the social structures that birthed these fighting style shave themselves withered and decayed, they present the interesting flip-side to our current prevailing libertarian western idiom. If you are willing to submit to doing exactly what someone else says from a young age, and follow a rigid set of rules your entire life, you can achieve extraordinary things. Our mindset suggests this may not be worth the implied loss of free-will, that whatever super human feats your body may be coaxed into are not worth the resulting lack of individual identity.

Indeed a social system that neglects orphans and poor children so thoroughly that their best option for survival is to enter a temple and be hit with sticks for fifteen years (but good sticks), could scarcely be considered amazing. Except that those kids can do amazing things, while those of us with happy childhoods are barely able to jog for our seat on an air-conditioned train. It is true any human being could be capable of the grueling physical development of young Shaolin students, but it is the centuries of method and study that have made this possible. And those centuries of method are characterised by a startling disregard for human life and the poor.

Also, breaking bars of iron with your head seven hours a day and running up and down mountains doesn’t leave a lot of time for your reading and writing and arithmetic and you know, fun.

And there it is.

The modern western martial art Arman learns is street warfare in America. This is ghetto-defence, another example of poverty and generally horrible ways of life resulting in being able to beat people up almost supernaturally. You could say it’s an argument for terrible lifestyles. Do we need one of those?

The rigidity of the structure of these Martial Arts is feared not just by us squishy whiteys, but also by the actual ruling systems of the countries they come from. Recognising the danger of groups of people single-mindedly dedicated to anything, many of these arts have been almost wiped out. The Shaolin School Arman visits has been forcibly moved from it’s temple by the communists and put it a rather hideous ‘modern’ concrete cell block. It is allowed to exist, but largely because Shaolin is now a source of national cultural pride. Bokator in Cambodia was almost completely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, and all Martial Arts were banned. The ones that continued to thrive were similarly adopted by the state either as a display art, or a genuine military tactic. OR, they were entertaining as hell to watch, such as Boxing (which as a war weapon is pretty stupid, what with it’s gentlemanly rules and purely incidental killing blows). Frankly, the actual killing arts are considerably more respectful of the human form than Boxing. It’s like they just threw Boxing in there to embarrass Europe, and fair enough.

All in all, Arman doesn’t get very good at fighting. He doesn’t wind up hospitalised either, which is apparently only because the masters are pulling their punches. This is a noble code to live by, but if there’s one appetite this series whets without satisfying, it’s bloodlust. I kind of just want to see two Okinawa Karate masters beating the living hell out of each other. This is entertaining, a little superficial, and features a bunch of extremely decent tussles. Get amongst it.


DVD review: The Loved Ones (2009)

14 Apr

This film may have too much going on upstairs to please its demographic. This is why demographics are morons and this film should be seen by everyone with a strong stomach.

There’s little denying the lack of bank made by The Loved Ones, but that is not its fault. This is a very good, bloody disturbing piece of cinema. Gore aficionados won’t be happy until around the sixty-minute mark (when things get kicked up a frightening number of notches) which in their minds probably wastes too much of the 81-minute running time. The Art crowd will find the initial limiting of splatter and upping of psychological torture pleasing but the final twenty minutes will laminate the scowls upon their sour-pusses. Continue reading

DVD Review: Good Dick (2008)

30 Mar

By Michael De Martino

(Marianna Palka, 2008, USA, Drama/comedy, 82 minutes)

He works in a video store and lives in his car; she lives in an all-expenses paid apartment and regularly rents erotic films. He obsesses over her but she is repelled by men. Through persistence and strong desire, he (Jason Ritter) manages to break through her (Marianna Palka) barriers until a strange relationship forms. What proceeds is a totally observational experience of two damaged souls in an unconventional relationship. Continue reading

DVD review: The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) Review #2

30 Mar

By Mia Robinson

Argentina: in Spanish with subtitles

124 minutes

I was dubious about this film after learning that it had won the Academy Award in 2010 for “Best Foreign Language Film” over nominees including Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009).  However, personal bias to Haneke aside, once the film started my scepticism soon dissipated. Continue reading

DVD review: The Secret in their Eyes

25 Mar

By Michael De Martino

(2009, Argentina, in Spanish, Crime/drama, 127 minutes)

The Secret in Their Eyes follows retired judicial officer Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darin) who takes a retrospective look at his life in order to write his first novel. The subject of Espósito’s novel is the “Morales case” involving a rape and murder of a young woman he had worked on in the mid 70s that has had a heavy impact on his life. We follow two juxtaposing periods of Espósito’s life; the present time as he writes his novel, and his experiences with the Morales case. Continue reading

Oz Classic: Turkey Shoot (1982)

24 Mar

By Gram Morris

3 prawns

Trying to explain Turkeyshoot’s plot would feel like an exaggeration; after all the film-makers never did.

Budget problems meant the first 12 pages of the script were thrown out and serious film critics like Phillip Adams would probably like to ask director Brian Trenchard-Smith why he stopped there. Continue reading

DVD Review: Mother

30 Sep

As far as I’m concerned, Bong Joon-ho is a man who can do no wrong. In the last decade he has directed four outstanding films that have defied expectations: the social satire BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, the police procedural MEMORIES OF MURDER, the monster movie THE HOST and his latest offering, the suspense thriller MOTHER. Continue reading

DVD Review: Mesrine (2009)

28 Jun

Ben Buckingham is hanging out with ultra-violent crooks again. Perhaps I should vary the movies I send him… Want to do Garfield 2: A Tail of Two kitties next time Ben?

Forty minutes in and already there has been two beat downs, a knee-capping, an (off-screen) mutilation, and a murder. The first part of Mesrine, entitled L`instinct de Mort (The Killer Instinct), is living up to its name.

Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One (as it is titled in Australia) is a four hour crime thriller detailing the more lurid aspects of the real-life French criminal Jacques Mesrine. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s he committed numerous bank heists, kidnappings and murders, quickly making himself the number one public enemy in France. Continue reading

DVD review: Cold Souls (2009)

28 Jun

COLD SOULS is constructed around a single original premise: that it’s actually possible to remove the soul from your body and keep it in storage until a later date. With your body ‘de-souled’ you’re no longer burdened by pesky emotions, you feel lighter and you think more rationally. Of course, like any medical procedure there are certain side effects.

Paul Giamatti (playing himself) is struggling with the titular character in a production of Uncle Vanya and when he reads an article about a place dealing in ‘soul storage’ he investigates whether this is the answer to his troubles. Once his soul has been removed he’s surprised to discover it resembles a small chickpea. What should have come as no surprise however, is that being soulless isn’t exactly a great way to live. He picks a new soul out of a catalogue, one that used to belong to a Russian poet and though it greatly helps his performance, once the play wraps he decides to have his original put back in. Unfortunately, his chickpea-soul has been stolen.

Director Sophie Barthes’ debut has a lot going for it: great premise, beautifully shot and a fantastic performance by Paul Giamatti. It’s also often quite funny, particularly early on when we’re still adjusting to such a service existing (Paul looks up the clinic under ‘Soul Storage’ in the Yellow Pages). Despite all these absurdities though, it leans more towards melancholic drama, which is a shame because deep within this film is the kernel of a much better existential comedy.

Well, maybe not a kernel… more of a chickpea.


DVD Extras: Trailers, Soul Extractor concept sketches.

DVD review: Wendy and Lucy (2009)

7 Jun

“You can’t get an address without an address; you can’t get a phone without a phone.”

Young Wendy is down and out and headed to Alaska to get a job at the canneries. She’s driving an old car that stops driving and she loses her dog outside the supermarket she shoplifts at. The rest of the film is about getting her dog back.

But it’s not really. It’s director Kelly Reichardt’s commentary on the question, “Do you have value if you’re of a certain income?”

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Wendy ends up staying in some town in Oregon that doesn’t really want to know. She washes herself in the servo toilet wash basin, sleeps on cardboard in the park while waiting for the mechanic’s judgment about her car and uses the security guard’s phone to continually call the dog pound for news on Lucy.

Neo-realistic and devoid of music, there’s not a lot for you in this film if you want stunts and glossy images. However, the body of this low budget work ($500,000) will speak to anyone who’s struggled alone to find the way forward. The real desperation is reflected in every simple, yet detailed moment of Wendy trying to get through a difficult moment on her travels – and though we are led to believe the worse will happen in the night, or arguably the best when we see the guy in the garage, the guy in café – no such thing occurs. Just Wendy’s almost numbly dogged determination not to give up. And it’s just Wendy’s luck that she’s here in this situation, unlikely to shoplift again – there’s American moral implications and the righteous prejudice of the average white American male who’s just doing his job. Isn’t he?

Wendy’s on-the-edge-fragility is played by Michelle Williams whose finely crafted realism carries the film. One sign of a great actor is that of letting go of the need to be pretty and although she’s not ugly, Michelle plays Wendy as the antithesis of Hollywood glamour in the chequered shirt, daggy shorts and scruffy boy hairdo she wears all the way through – but it’s the moments when she gives her character permission to breakdown that really define her ability.

Meaningful and quietly desperate, Wendy and Lucy show us what we have to do to move on.

Beverley Callow