Monday, May 28, 2012

Underwater Labs, Women's Panties and Bioterrorism

In the fall of 2001, America was still reeling from 9/11, so when envelopes containing a very strange form of anthrax were delivered to U.S. Senate offices (as well as various media outlets), people paid attention.  The FBI was on the case, though, and the world could rest easy that the guilty would be caught.

Or so it was believed.

The Anthrax Files is a Frontline production that takes a hard look at what the FBI did and didn’t do with that investigation.  After one suspect in the case holds an emotional press conference and sues the government and wins, the next suspect is driven to the point of suicide before the FBI declares, “We got our man.”  But did it?

Army scientist Dr. Bruce Ivins was the man the FBI targeted after the first suspect went on the attack.  Ivins, the bureau said, was the man behind these attacks that left five dead.  After all, there were e-mails that pointed to psychological problems, he had access to anthrax, and he had a bit of questionable activity in his background.  In between the mailing of the envelopes and the FBI press conference that played fast and loose with the truth, there is a tale of a hidden underwater laboratory, stalking, a basement firing range, women’s underwear and songs written to dead female astronauts.  Indeed, as clich├ęd as it sounds, the truth is stranger than fiction.

Playing at an hour, this production introduces a lot of questions, presents a lot of answers, and leaves viewers feeling as if there is still more to this story.  It also leaves them with a mixed feeling on Ivins.  It all comes down to: Did the FBI prove he did it, and is it possible that even without that proof he was behind the attacks?  The answers aren’t as easy as one would think, and that points to a story that did its job and did it well.  Unlike the FBI.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: This was sent to me to review.  Clicking on a link or ad could cause me to reap some rewards.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Abducted Girl: An American Sex Slave

Because I like Shane Ryan, and because I know he has taken a lot of heat over this, I decided to post one of the trailers here.  (He sent me a DVD some time ago with three trailers for it on it, but I'm not savvy enough to get it off the DVD.)  If you Google him in conjunction with this film you are going to see a lot of misrepresentation of him and his work.  Ryan courts controversy not because he's controversial, but because he makes films that make people uncomfortable. 

I've known Ryan for a few years now, from way back in his short film days, from before he was being bounced around on the news like a transgressive pinball.  He is not the monster the media has made him out to be.  In fact, he's a damn nice guy.  You can find interviews with him and his actors on Film Threat and on this blog.  Again, he is not a monster.

What is interesting, though, is that for all the heat he's taken (and he's taken more than most people could stand), there are comments on the Youtube trailers that are far worse than anything he's ever created.  Perhaps the media's focus is a bit off target.  It usually is.  Ryan is proof of that.

Ryan is an actor and a filmmaker.  He is epitome of the nice kid down the street.  He is misunderstood.  Misrepresented.  Misquoted.  He is a filmmaker whose films press all the right buttons.  They aren't usually meant to be entertainment.  He is making a statement with them, and he does it in a way that often causes people to feel like they've been put through a grinder.  Without further ado, here is a trailer for Abducted Girl: An American Sex Slave.  Save your hate mail.  He's heard it all before.

Wandering Ginza Butterfly Musings

Wandering Ginza Butterfly, a title much easier to say than Gincho Wataridori is one of the films I decided to review for film review book I'm working on sporadically.  5,000 films of all sorts.  I had to pick this one.

When it comes to the 1970s era Toei films, I feel like "mixed bag" is sometimes being too generous.  There's a lot of good stuff out there, but this one has a strange feel to it.  I have heard it lumped in with the pinky violence genre, but I'm not sure if it has enough exploitation to fit in comfortably at the party.  The end heats up, but everything getting there is a more realistic (as close as realistic as Toei in the 1970s could get, at least) than the standard pinky violence stuff.  It's like a tea pot set for a slow boil.  In that sense, it satisfies, but if you go in expecting lots of the standard nudity and violence, you will be sorely disappointed.

I'm not going to write a full-on review here.  I will say, however, that this sometimes feels like it was made for Japanese television, and that really threw me off watching it.  Hell, one of its climaxes involves a billiard game.  I expected Paul Newman to show up at any moment.  (And he does, in a way.)  Watching it made me wonder what the thought process was behind this film.  Did director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi set out to make something that was family-friendly and then decided to spice it up at the end?  Watching the commentary by Chris D. doesn't shed much light on that, either.  If you've listened to his commentary on other films of this ilk, it all starts to sound the same.  He adds a bit of history, but, again, if you heard on commentary ...

I sometimes feel that the entire pinky violence line is good for about four films and little else.  Same with the yakuza films.  You've seen one and you've kind of seem them all.  All that really changes are the faces and locations.  Surprisingly enough, though, even with that criticism of the genres they are still far more entertaining than what is playing at the local cinema today.  They can be wildly inventive and are often highly stylized.  And then something like Wandering Ginza Butterfly comes along and kind of throws you for a loop.  I don't think it's anyone's favorite film, but at the same time it has a subtle realism to it that makes you think it deserves more praise than it has received.

If only there was more blood ...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

They've Escape the Compound! Sons of Perdition Review

Imagine growing up not knowing the difference between Bill Clinton and Hitler, never knowing the tune “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or even knowing that Catholics believe in Jesus.  It seems crazy, but for the people who live in The Crick (Colorado City), a compound of Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) on the Utah/Arizona border, it is their way of life.  Some, however, get the courage to leave that life behind.  This is their story.

The documentary follows a few teenage boys and girls who have made their escape.  In telling the tale we meet adults who have also cut loose of the chains of Warren Jeffs, who is the head of FLDS and is now best known for being a polygamist and someone who rapes underage females.  In their story we learn of how women and girls are treated (not much better than property), how men are abusive (when one boy jokes that his father is going to cut someone’s head off, you get the idea that there may be some truth behind that), and how polygamy, often with child brides, is the rule of the day.  Under Jeffs’ watchful, perverted eye the group went from a festive place to a version of Hell best saved for horror fiction.  Unfortunately, what these people have had to endure is not the stuff of screenwriters, but because of a man with his own twisted take on the word of God. 

The teens who flee this religious group act pretty much the way you would expect someone to once they go from leading a sheltered, dogmatic life to being thrown into the arms of Devil’s America.  They cut loose.  Music, television, sex, drugs – all the things the church warned them about are now embraced.  It’s a tale as haunting as it is cautionary. 
Nobody really wants to believe this kind of world still exists, at least not in America.  But it does.  There is possibly no better documentary detailing the very problems that come with it, either.  It’s not pleasant.  It won’t fill you with joy.  It may make you question your own religion.  It will do a lot of things, but the one thing it will do best is get you to think.  What kind of people fall prey to something like this?  How can it be prevented?  The answer is as simple as looking at what you believe in and why you believe it.  If you come away from this film asking those questions of yourself, than it has done its job.  If not, well, you may as well be living in a compound of your own making.
Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I received this film for review.  You need to watch it.