After Porn Ends – DVD Review

Like it or not pornography is a billion dollar industry, forms the seedy backbone to the internet, and was the deciding factor in the war between Betamax and VHS and between Blu-ray and HD DVD. Sex sells, sex streams, and in order for pornography to exist people have to have sex on camera. Beyond the simple appeal of watching naked people touch one another porn is fascinating from a psychological point of view; what makes people get into porn and what do they do with their lives afterwards? After Porn Ends is a documentary which aims to answer these questions by talking to former pornographic actors about their life in porn and what came next.

The stories we hear are varied and curious. Pornography is not a black and white issue and After Porn Ends is not out to preach in either its favour or condemnation. The former actors interviewed all joined the porn industry for a different reason. Some found it the perfect job to bring in money and still allow them time to look after their children, for others it was the less sentimental motivations of fame and money. Amusingly one actor got into porn simply because they wanted to act. Imagine if Helen Mirren hadn’t been able to get any TV work. Possibly the most male-fantasy-friendly story was that of one male performer who started as a cameraman but got a little too close to the action. His reason for working in porn? To get laid.

The interviews are pleasingly frank as interviewees more familiar with exposing their genitals reveal what lies beneath their skin – though perhaps sometimes unintentionally. One woman in particular had a sadness in her eyes that betrayed her and revealed more about her relationship with porn than her words ever could. The majority no longer work in the industry and it is hard to believe that the respectable middle-aged Americans telling you their story once made their money by rimming on camera. As if predicting our lack of imagination the film-makers overlay the audio from the interviews with footage from the subjects’ careers. Watching as the man in front of you is replaced by footage of him cavorting with two naked ladies while he continues to talk about the good old days has a startling effect and is a powerful device.

In today’s world of torrents and streaming the face of porn has changed considerably. The distribution of penetrating visuals is no longer restricted to the licensed sex shop and you are just as likely to sit next to a teen streaming bukkake on their mobile as you are to see a man in a dirty mac looking shifty as he leaves the neon-heavy shops of Soho. As such the world of pornography portrayed here seems almost quaint and old-fashioned. The actors speaking are from a world before amateur porn, a world with much less competition from “hot young teens” and “horny amateur lesbians”*. As much as the film is an insight into the mind of a porn actor it is an insight into an industry that doesn’t really exist any more. For more on this give Louis Theroux a thorough Google.

While not the most in-depth exploration of the porn industry After Porn Ends gives us a fascinating look at those who have survived years on what is sometimes considered a destructive career path. After Porn Ends does not judge or sensationalise an industry where fisting is just another day at the office but instead lets the world of porn speak for itself. It is up to the audience to judge, but if nothing else this film shows us that porn stars are people too and don’t really deserve to be judged.

You can judge them for yourselves by buying the film on DVD (available only on Region 1) or by downloading from iTunes.

Don’t forget it’s only classy if you’re watching porn within a documentary or if subtitles are involved.

*Excuse the shameless attempt to appear in all the wrong Google searches

Blancanieves – LFF Review


2012 has seen rather a lot of adaptations of Snow White but Blancanieves – literally Snow White in Spanish – carries genuine Oscar hopes for Spain. Silent (although accompanied by a gorgeous musical score) and black and white, this gothic tale has been drawing comparisons with The Artist but those two features aside, they’re nothing alike. While The Artist is a French film steeped in Hollywood and easily mistaken for American, Blancanieves with its flamenco dancing, bullfighting and Catholic iconography is so Sevillean as to almost be a tourist-baiting cliché.

Most people presumably already know the story of Snow White, and it is this general thread that the film follows. However, this flavour has stripped most of the supernatural elements and is 1920s in period style. Carmen (Inma Cuesta), a lovely and successful flamenco dancer, is married to Spain’s greatest matador, Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho). We open on the day Antonio enters the bullring for the last time, as he is severely gouged by a bull in its final throes. The shock sends Carmen into early labour and while the surgeons operate on the father, the mother dies in childbirth. Antonio survives his accident but grief-stricken and suffering quadriplegia, rejects the baby Carmencita, leaving her to be brought up by her grandmother – played by the fabulous Ángela Molina. Meanwhile, Antonio’s opportunistic nurse Encarna manages to wangle a position as wife number two and here we have our Wicked Stepmother.

Encarna - Blancanieves

The performances throughout Blancanieves are all very strong but special mentions go to Maribel Verdú, who is fantastically horrible as Encarna, and Sofía Oria who plays the young Carmencita. Some of the fun leaks away once Carmencita grows up and no longer shares a roof with Encarna and you can’t help but root a little for the evil stepmother, as adult Carmencita (Macarena García) is nothing like as appealing or peppy as her younger counterpart.

Carmencita - Blancanieves

In a post-film Q&A, director Pablo Berger said that when he was trying to sell the script back in 2004, those few producers who actually got past the monochrome, silent aspect, balked at the amount of money that would be needed, and you can see why. This film, which took six years to make, is huge and impressive to look at, with its massive bullfighting arenas and intricate costumes.

Apart from the first half being stronger than the second, as mentioned above, I do have two quibbles. One is that being an adaptation of Snow White, you’re inevitably pre-spoiled. (If you really don’t remember how the fairy tale goes, you might want to stop reading here.

Still with me? Okay…) It felt as if I was constantly waiting to see how Berger would handle the key points – how would Antonio die? What drives Carmencita to the dwarves? Without magic, how will the mirror moment be handled? When will Encarna bring the poisoned apple? It’s hard to lose yourself completely in this beautifully created world while looking out for these things. The other problematic aspect were the final scenes, which soured the ending for me. As true to the original story as it might be, it’s hard to stomach watching people kiss a comatose girl, especially as this is in a much more modern setting than the original. However, judging by the laughs amongst the rest of the audience, I am apparently in a minority that would feel that way.

Blancanieves is bold, beautiful, and brilliant but currently doesn’t have a UK release date. However, it’s hard to believe it won’t at least make it to the arthouses at some point.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology – LFF Review

Slavoj Žižek

Oh boy, this is not going to be a useful review, I warn you now. Let’s start with what I know about Slavoj Žižek – professor, philosopher, researcher, commentator. A couple of birthdays ago, a certain Mild Concern editor gave me a copy of Žižek’s philosophical treatise, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. It’s a politically-left commentary on the current state of the world, particularly what led to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the global financial crisis. I think. Žižek tends to catapult from one theory or example to the next, giving the reader (or me at least) little time to get their head around what he’s proposing. I’ll admit, it was not an easy read. Here’s a quote, which possibly summarises his new documentary:

The contemporary era constantly proclaims itself as post-ideological, but this denial of ideology only provides the ultimate proof that we are more than ever embedded in ideology. Ideology is always a field of struggle—among other things, the struggle for appropriating past traditions.

In The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, the follow-up documentary to The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and directed by Sophie Fiennes, Žižek takes a tour through the world of film, and interpreting the ideological meaning deep within them and the power those ideologies have over us. Some are more obvious sources, such as those from the Nazi and Stalinist eras and The Clockwork Orange, to the less obvious, like The Sound of Music and Titanic. He also draws from footage of real life events, including the UK riots last summer and Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway.

As in First as Tragedy…, Žižek jumps from concept to concept and as with the book, I did not find this easy. I too pinged about all over the shop – from total confusion, to just about grasping what was being said, to thinking that certain points were so obvious as to be self-evident. And as the one spontaneous cheer during the film was for what I thought was the most obvious point made (that the reason Starbucks portrays itself as doing social good in poor countries is to make its customers in rich countries feel better about themselves for buying from them – well, yes, of course), I suspect I wasn’t the only one in the sold-out screening feeling frazzled by the end.

Still, seeing clips of a lot of these films is intriguing in itself – I particularly enjoyed the rundown of 1950’s Soviet film, The Fall of Berlin, where Stalin is portrayed as the ultimate matchmaker and gives extremely successful romance advice to a factory worker. Žižek also has some great comic timing and amusingly, he physically appears in recreations of famous scenes. However, on a purely practical level, keeping up with what is essentially an illustrated two hour lecture was made harder by his accent. When you are already devoting a lot of brainpower to following the argument, it is easy to fall behind when you’re having to mentally translate certain words. Also, the word “ideology” ceases to have any meaning after a while.

Currently there is no general release slated for The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology , but if it does I expect it will be a limited one, intended for those with a better grasp of philosophical theory than me.

Seven Psychopaths – LFF Review

Colin Farrell plays Marty a screenwriter struggling with his latest screenplay. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) runs a dog-napping with Hans (Christopher Walken) and wants to help Marty with his screenplay any way he can. Events take a turn for the worst when Billy kidnaps the dog of local mob boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson) and all manner of shooting ensues. Throw in a serial killer, quaker, and Tom Waits and you have Seven Psychopaths.

Martin McDonagh has moved on from In Bruges, a relatively small film with one location and three characters, as he now deals with a cast of dozens in a film that roams from inner-city to outer-desert and incorporates many intertwining stories both factual and fictional within the film’s universe. The result is a bombastic film constantly trying to simultaneously shock you and make you smile. Seven Psychopaths desperately wants you to think it is cool and won’t stop shooting people and swearing until you are rocking in your seat laughing and giving an approving clap.

On the surface I really enjoyed Seven Psycopaths. It was funny and contained enough fodder to stop me from becoming distracted. It felt unpredictable, fun, and… Well. Then I spoke to my friend Jon (the one with the beard, not the other one):

“I didn’t really enjoy Seven Psychopaths. I was hungry at the time and I don’t cope well with being hungry so I think that factor may have biased my experience somewhat. Seeing the Jeffrey Dahmer Files about a real psychopath hours before may have also not really put me in the mood.

Is it wrong to expect a film called Seven Psychopaths to have seven psychopaths in it instead of a bunch of characters with a penchant for being violent? Of the three main characters in the film, one is a typecast stereotype, one is contrary with their actions ultimately becoming in no way believable, and it turns out the other guy used to be interesting but is now just a thief. There are two or three interesting ideas in the film but I don’t feel like they’re really explored. Instead, they’re clumsily mashed together along with copious uses of terms such as ‘fag’, lots of throw away violence, cheap laughs, and attempts at being clever that just fall too short of the mark. It’s a dumb glossy action film with one-dimensional characters that ultimately lacks any heart or soul.

Go read The Psychopath Test, watch No Country for Old Men or In Bruges instead.”

Seven Psychopaths will reach UK cinemas on 5th December 2012 and you’ll most likely love it. Just don’t go thinking about the film afterwards.

Kelly + Victor – LFF Review

On a night out in Liverpool Kelly and Victor meet on the dance floor and are instantly drawn to each other. It is not long before their dancing in the nightclub moves to the bedroom and they spend an intensely passionate night together. It’s all very raw and real and as such the course of true love does not run smooth.

Kelly + Victor is adapted from a novel by Niall Griffiths and so is a mostly internal story. Love is a complex beast and with a romance as frantic and fast as that between Kelly and Victor it can be hard for anyone outside the couple to get a real sense of how they are feeling. While some romantic films find a way to let the audience in on the emotional side of their characters Kelly + Victor left me cold.

For me the experience was wholly unemotional. I was watching two bland characters spend little time together and yet treat their relationship as the great tragic romance of the 21st century. Maybe I am being cynical and unromantic but I couldn’t see a reason why both parties couldn’t walk away from their fling and move on with their lives. Yes, their lives were far from perfect but the film never gave me a sense that the couple were right for each other or showed that they connected on any level deeper than that of a typical one night stand.

You will find positive reviews out there but for whatever reason I found Kelly + Victor to be a disappointing film; the leads were hard to connect to and the visuals were uninspiring. Film is an art form and I can only offer a subjective opinion. It feels mean to be dismissive of any director’s first film so let me end with this caveat – Kelly + Victor got a great response from the rest of the audience but for me was indulgent, navel-gazing, and needlessly bleak without having any real heart. Plus I was in a bit of a mood when I watched it.

A Liar’s Autobiography – LFF Review

Nine years before his death Monty Python member Graham Chapman wrote a fictional autobiography entitled The Liar’s Autobiography. Shortly before his death Chapman recording a reading of the book and now, 23 years after his death, these tapes have been made into an animated film featuring four other Pythons, three directors, and 17 animation styles provided by 14 different animation studios. The result is mind-blowing, brain-boggling, utterly fascinating, and endlessly revealing.

The mix of animation styles and the wild free-wheeling nature of the film makes for an attention grabbing watch. We are taken from a childhood memory to an aerial fantasy though to the Pythons as monkeys via the painted horror of a man overcoming alcohol addiction and a fairground tour of University based sexual exploits led by Chapman riding in a mechanical penis. It’s impossible to become bored as the film grabs you by the navel and pulls you from one direction to the next.

You may have noticed mention of a mechanical penis back there. While this is an animated film it is quite rightly rated at a 15 age certificate. Chapman’s was a life at times filled with sex and the film does not shy away from showing this is surprisingly graphic detail. Comically graphic detail I should say. There is no part of the film that isn’t presented with a wry smile and a charming sense of humour.

While most of the events we are shown were clearly fictional the whole film smacks of a truth that goes beyond whether or not any of it actually happened. What we are seeing is not an autobiography in a traditional sense but a visual representation of a character as a whole rather that the character’s life.

Any fan of Graham Chapman or Monty Python will love the film. I’ve never been a huge fan and I found A Liar’s Autobiography to be a delightfully surreal trip inside the mind of a comedy legend.

I, Anna – LFF Review

I, Anna is a modern-day British noir thriller. DCI Bernie Reid (Gabriel Byrne) is investigating a brutal murder while struggling through a divorce and starting to date the mysterious Anna (Charlotte Rampling) who has plenty of secrets to unveil before the film’s end. The film’s plot is too delicate to discuss in much more detail and I’m afraid that pulling on any one thread will reveal too much.

I, Anna is a great showcase of older UK acting talent. Byrne plays a troubled man struggling between loyalties and Rampling shows a tender frailty with the hint of something dangerous bubbling below the surface. Both characters garnered a lot of sympathy as we were allowed an insight into both their lives beyond the case at hand. Rampling’s trip to a singles night was heartbreaking; a bewildered divorced woman looking for companionship being given advice on oral sex in the toilets makes for a slightly tragic tableau. In a similar position Byrne’s character was forced to stoop to looking up a woman’s car registration in the police database in order to force a chance encounter. These are two desperately lonely characters caught up in an impossible situation.

I’m not sure if it is just me or a sign of the state of TV and film but it was almost odd to see a crime drama with middle-aged characters on the big screen. It is more common to see this style of drama on BBC1 or ITV with the cinema reserved only for crime dramas involving the younger, more violent end of the criminal scale.

I, Anna was gripping, surprising, and superbly acted. While a cinematic release is scheduled for September 7th in the UK I can’t help but feel that the film is better suited to a TV viewing.

My Amityville Horror – LFF Review

In 1975 the Lutz family moved into 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. 28 days later the family of five fled the property claiming to have been terrorised by paranormal phenomena. The events have spawned endless headlines, a book, and ten feature films. What actually happened during those four weeks is constantly under debate. Was it a hoax? Was it a haunting? My Amityville Horror does not attempt to answer these questions instead presenting a character study of Daniel Lutz, the family’s eldest son, as he speaks about the events for the first time.

The documentary mostly comprises of conversations with Daniel interspersed with the occasional word from an expert or a figure involved in investigating the events at the time. On the whole though this is Daniel Lutz’s film and he is allowed to tell his story in his own words. What surprised me is that Daniel supports the claims that the family were attacked by the paranormal and even suggests that supernatural influences were around both before and after the short stay in Amityville. It is up to the viewer to decide whether or not they believe Daniel, to read between the lines as a man talks about what was an undeniably troubled childhood.

My Amityville Horror is a powerful examination of a fascinating character that lays no judgement upon its subject. For my money I believe that Daniel is saying what he believes to be true, but the fact that he answers to the names his character was given in the various films says a lot on how the rumours have affected his perception of his own childhood.

For anyone with a passing interest in the events of Amityville or in human psychology My Amityville Horror is a fascinating watch.

Out Now – 19th October 2012

Tim Burton returns to the territory that brought us his greatest film; gothic sop-motion animation about a male with a dead dog. Young Victor Frankenstein brings his dead pet back to life much to the horror of the neighbourhood. PG horror fun.

Paranormal Activity 4
I have a bit of a soft spot for the Paranormal Activity series. They’re harmless fun and always manage to unsettle me with their lazy but effective use of endless inactivity followed by a loud burst of action. After the first film we have had one prequel and one parallelogram (or something) with 4 being the first proper sequel. Can’t bloody wait.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
A snippet from Stephen’s review: “Rarely ceases its onslaught of kinetic chase sequences, lively dance scenes and other nonsensical montages. On top of that the enormous detail that goes into every one of these is unimaginable. And to keep those viewers that don’t have ADD (ie: anyone over the age of 14) engaged, barely a scene goes by without a subtly hidden adult joke or background gag that would make the Zucker brothers proud.”

BB King: The Life of Riley (limited release)
Two hour documentary about B.B. King. If you’re into that sort of thing.

The Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane (limited release)
Two hour documentary about The Rolling Stones. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (limited release)
“Faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.” Anyone who can offer advice in the ways of either courage or love please leave them in the comments below.

Ginger & Rosa (limited release)
A ginger girl called Ginger and a rosa girl called Rosa are friends with an unclear plot in 1960s London. Still trying to figure out what rosa is as an adjective for the purposes of this joke. Urban Dictionary says “The most beautiful girl in the entire world”. Steady on now Urban Dictionary.

5 Broken Cameras (limited release)
“A documentary on a Palestinian farmer’s chronicle of his nonviolent resistance to the actions of the Israeli army.”

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (limited release)
I’m wary enough about travelling to somewhere called Dragon Gate but now I know that there are flying swords involved I’m out.