National Geographic: Dino Death Match / T.Rex Ultimate Survivor

Dino Death Match:

In 2006, at Hell Creek in Montana, a rare fossil was found. Given the name “The Dueling Dinosaurs”, the fossil consists of two dinosaurs who appear to have killed each other during a fight. One is a smaller sized carnivorous tyrannosaurid and the other a larger herbivore.  What’s all the excitement about? The smaller dinosaur may provide evidence to back up the theory of a different type or tyrannosaur dubbed the Nanotyrannus.

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The Wolfpack

The-WolfpackUpon seeing a group of long-haired teenage boys dressed in matching suits on the streets of NYC, documentary filmmaker Crystal Moselle’s curiosity gets the better of her. She strikes up a conversation with the boys, thus opening up a truly bizarre world to her camera and us viewers alike. Housebound in an apartment on New York’s Lower East Side and raised strictly on Krishna and Hollywood films, the Angulo brothers  (now known as “The Wolfpack“) story must be seen to be believed.

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N.W.A & Eazy-E: Kings of Compton

N.W.A-DVDFor all intents and purposes NWA single-handedly invented Gangsta Rap. Before them was Hip Hop. Sure, there were beats and some street knowledge being dropped, but the hardness wasn’t there. And those brightly colored outfits just didn’t convey ghetto authenticity. NWA’s look clearly said “hood nigga”. Black from head to toe, Raiders gear, wraparound shades and guns pointed right at you. They looked intimidating and their music followed suit. Being among the multitude of suburban white boys digging their rugged sound in the early ’90s, I understood the appeal. A culture so utterly brutal and alien at the same time was exciting to vicariously partake in. And there were lotsa cuss words.

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Iris

irisIris is a documentary by one half of the famed Maysles Brothers (Albert), about Iris Apfel, a 94 year old New York interior designer and style icon. I had never heard of or seen Iris before but from the moment you see her you can tell she is an interesting character and has a very unique sense of style. Told at a young age that she wasn’t pretty but that she had style, she seems to have got more stylish as she aged. From photos of her youth it’s very noticeable she became more flamboyant and unique over time. Iris is like an amalgamation of high-fashion and kitsch pop-art but with a worldly twist. In the film she says she doesn’t like “pretty”, because it’s boring. I agree with her but I actually found the documentary kinda boring and I seem to be in the minority.

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Soaked in Bleach

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I’m just going to put it out there. I believe that Kurt Cobain killed himself. I am not going to try and convince anyone not to believe in the theory that he was murdered, but don’t make your assessment based on one documentary or your hatred of Courtney Love. And if you do think he was murdered, imagine what it must be like for the Cobain family every time someone brings this up or petitions the court to see gruesome death-scene photos and his family have to respond.

I was really hesitant to watch this documentary as I saw it as nothing but money-grabbing and thought the timing of its release coinciding with Montage of Heck was incredibly disrespectful. The guy should be remembered for more than just his death, but just like Sharon Tate their deaths are inescapable. Conspiracy theorists have complained that Montage of Heck didn’t address his death, but why should it? Sharon Tate’s sister recently released a book that celebrated Sharon’s life and didn’t mention her death, and surely families (and the fans) should be entitled to something positive about their beloveds lives and not their deaths.

If you’ve looked at Tom Grant’s website the documentary doesn’t really offer anything new. I looked at it at least 15 years ago and he’s still scraping the barrel. Tom Grant makes money off his website. He is making money off Cobain’s death. After watching this documentary I am convinced even more that this man is unethical and exploiting Cobain and vulnerable fans. Again, the sort of things Grant thinks point to “motive” can range from out of context and cut up audio clips of Courtney Love, and lyrics she wrote previous to even meeting Cobain. (Lyrics from Hole’s Turpetine;  on his website Grant quotes them as “I’m gonna walk you to your suicide!” when it’s “I’ve been walking to your suicide”. It’s all a bit nuts really, that song was written in 1989).

The documentary basically claims that the level of heroin in his body would have rendered him incapable of pulling the trigger and that the empty shell could not have landed where it did due to way the gun was resting in Cobain’s hands. Everything else is conjecture, hearsay and cunning manipulations to make you believe the murder theory narrative.

It’s not a visually low-budget documentary, it’s fine for what it is but highly biased and calculated. The re-enactments are awkward and a bit hokey but the girl who played Courtney looks so much like mid-2000 era Courtney, it’s really creepy. Love is portrayed so horribly in every scene the film is just a blatant smear campaign. The film is cleverly crafted, every scene and re-enactment clearly sets out the good guys from the bad guys but is often so over-the-top and cartoonish it’s hard to take serious. It’s also pretty deceptive, most noticeably splicing audio content/taking it out of context to demonize Love.

The only valid point the  film raises is that the Seattle Police were quick to rule it a suicide but this doesn’t imply a conspiracy or cover-up. I guess we will never know why they were so quick to do so – why not investigate that then? No such luck here.

For the 20th anniversary of his death the Seattle Police decided to have  a cold case detective review the case. The detective has answers to the shell casing theory and found that the drug level 1.52mg is dependent on tolerance. Plenty of Medical people have said that level could be possible or it’s inconclusive. Forensic document analyzers  also concluded Cobain wrote the note, as well as his mother. If you read the SPD cold case review it challenges every claim made in the documentary that “points” to murder. So let’s just recap – there’s no hard evidence to support foul play. If we’re meant to believe that people don’t medicate before they kill themselves (as said by a “medical” professional in the film), how can we believe  a bunch of junkies could carry on/cover up such an elaborate murder plan for over 20 years? surely someone would have caved or needed drug money and outed Courtney Love.

New evidence revealed in this report mentions a receipt in the bag of  bullets, now I don’t know how many killers get a taxi,  buy bullets, leave a bag of bullets and the receipt for said bullets at the crime scene. That seems like a good thing to do if you’re going to kill one of the most famous people in the entire world.

This DVD is going to be a must have for fans who believe in the murder conspiracy but for those with a slight interest  it’s probably just worth renting.

No extras.

 

National Geographic: Nazi Megastructures 2

Nazi-MegastructuresWorld War II is probably the most fascinating historical event to me. I always seem to uncover some new aspect to it and it feels like a never ending story.  You’ve got  the Japanese doing experiments on the Chinese, saboteurs, the extreme Russian casualties, the mass rapes of German women, the Holocaust, the experiments, the Nazi Hunters, the American Heroes. So much stuff, so little time to devour it all.

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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Going-ClearI guess nowadays most sane people are of the opinion that those Scientologists are wacky folks. Many have seen the viral video of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch all hopped up on the ‘tology or are aware that John Travolta is a longtime member of the church. But did you know that Scientologists believe 75 million years ago a galactic ruler named Xenu imprisoned the population, put them all into boxes which he then dropped into volcanoes and subsequently detonated H-bombs sending society’s souls flying all over the place. These souls (known as thetons) now cling to our human bodies and it is only through paying a lot of money to the Church of Scientology that we can learn the secrets to rid ourselves of them. That’s some zany sci-fi shit ain’t it? Nope, that’s a billion dollar religion.

Alex Gibney’s latest documentary Going Clear exposes some shocking truths about this church of “science” that will have you picking your jaw up off the floor. Relying chiefly on archive footage and the testimonies of eight ex-Scientologists we are taken behind the scenes of this utterly bizarre cult.

To begin with we learn the background of L. Ron Hubbard, the creator of dianetics and the Scientology religion. Essentially a Science Fiction writer who created a grand mythology around himself and found a tax-free way to sucker folks. Using a pseudo-scientific combination of Freudian psychology, hypnosis and a lie detector, Hubbard’s dianetics blew up in the 1950s as the new wave of psycho-therapy. After losing the rights to the name he quickly invented a new religion, Scientology.

The ultimate aim of a Scientologist is to get “clear”. This involves regular “auditing” wherein the subject attempts to bring forth and analyze any traumatic life events or suppressed memories and afterwards no longer feels weighed down by this emotional baggage, thus “clear”. And by paying larger & larger sums you move up the ranks eventually earning access to all the highly secretive science fiction knowledge.

Everything about it appears cultish, from the insular view that any outside media relating to Scientology is forbidden to the dictum that if you leave you are “disconnected” from everyone you know and harassed/stalked/publicly slandered (this actually forms a part of their doctrine called Fair Game). Then there’s the humiliation tactics and occasional bit of torture for good measure.

The most intriguing part of all this is that as a rule Scientology tends to attract apparently sane, intelligent people. All of the “survivors” interviewed, which include actor Jason Beghe (Californication), and various higher-ups in the organization, marvel at how completely indoctrinated they were to blindly swallow whatever was put in front of them regardless of how twisted things got and in spite of multiple signs they should get out.

Being a fan of many of Gibney’s previous documentaries (Silence in the House of God, Gonzo – The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson), I had no doubt this would be a quality film but was blown away by some of the facts raised. This isn’t some scandalous exposé but a thoroughly researched (being in part inspired/based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name) condemnation which examines in full the dark side of this celebrity-endorsed religion.

Extras:

A five minute interview with director Alex Gibney.

We recommend:

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Banksy Does New York

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Banksy Does New York is an HBO documentary that covers Banksy’s residency (Better Out Than In) in New York. In 0ctober 2013 Bansky created 31 works and displayed them over 31 days. Each day he would post a photo of the work along with an audio commentary on Instagram with a clue on where to find the piece. Alongside his staple graffiti art he created dioramas, an art exhibition, a truck filled with stuffed animals and various other multimedia works.

The film is composed of footage sourced from the Internet, from mobile phones and hand-held footage, which helps to re-create some of the atmosphere that must have been over New York during his residency. Banksy essentially turned New York into a giant playground for an easter egg hunt. There’s a couple in a van who drive around and film themselves looking for the pieces and I couldn’t help wonder how many people had to skive off work to hunt for Banksy pieces. The documentary is a great way to get to experience the event which until now I never knew even happened.

My favourite stunt during the residency was when Banksy got an older man to sell “spray art” at $60 a painting. He sells hardly any pictures throughout the day, a couple at a reduced price, one to a man who wants to decorate his new home and two to a lady from New Zealand. The next day they were priced to be worth $250,000. His wit and knack for pointing out bullshit is incredibly on point and to imagine how many people would have been furious over this is hilarious.

As well as showcasing his art the film follows the Banksy Hunters and gallery owners who try to sell Bansky’s work. It’s crazy the lengths people would go to to secure themselves the (public) artwork but when a couple of ghetto-thugs start charging people to take pictures I kind of felt like it was set-up, just like when the police suddenly turn up on the very last day and basically “arrest” Banksy (it’s a blow up balloon of his name). Still entertaining stuff though!

The film also dedicates a bit of time to the cultural importance of New York in inspiring graffiti artists around the world and how one of New Yorks icons (5 Pointz) was white washed to make way for apartment complexes.

Although the documentary is a ball of fun there are the typical Bansky topics at play: the value of art and ownership of public works, corporate greed etc. There’s a lot of debate about whether there is any meaning to his works which I kind of call bullshit on. I think he is a very good PR man, our generation’s P.T Barnum. I think this is a critique from Bansky on us,  he is doing/giving us the very thing that makes us ignore these larger social and political issues: entertainment, distraction etc.

There’s interviews with art critics and curators but it was almost laughable when an art critic from a fancy magazine thinks Banksy is kitsch and worthless and doesn’t understand why anyone pays him attention and almost gloats how his magazine didn’t cover the residency. Although I think Banksy is kitsch and does appeal to the lowest common denominator there is such  wit in his work that makes it not worthless, it’s just sad that a lot of people don’t get the irony.  For example he has a truck driving around delivering “Calm” but it’s doing anything but as large crowds gather and cause a ruckus trying to get photos. To me it’s always been the “theatre” around the art that makes Banksy so interesting. The art world can have their elitism but these Bansky fans are having a lot of fun and the documentary manages to recreate that experience New Yorkers had wonderfully so we can all have a piece of it too.

Worth checking out if you were a fan of Exit Through The Gift Shop and if you haven’t seen that film then order both.

No extras.

Nazi Hunters

Nazi-Hunters

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Nazi Hunters is an eight episode documentary series that focuses on Nazi war criminals and the various Nazi Hunters who brought them to justice and/or executed revenge. The Mossad, French couple Serge and Beate Klarsfeld and Simon Wiesenthal are just some of the Nazi Hunters featured.

The Episodes:

Herberts Cukurs – aka the the Hangman of Riga, Cukurs was a Latvian aviator and member of the Arajs Kommando, a unit within the Latvian police who were loyal to the Gestapo SD. He is thought to be responsible for the death of 30,000 Jews. Mossad agents track him down in São Paulo and executed him in 1965.

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Hot Girls Wanted

Hot-Girls-WantedI’m not a consumer of porn but I find porn stars extremely interesting. I love Annie Sprinkle, Vanessa Del Rio and Harry Reems, but ultimately I find nudie-cutie/sexploitation cinema far more interesting and appealing. John Waters compared hard core porn to “watching open heart surgery”. I feel that way too although the feeling I get when trying to watch it is more akin to watching autopsy footage. I’ve enjoyed pretty much every documentary I have seen on porn and was hoping this would be a good viewing but I found myself angered by its selective nature and victim narrative.

“Everyday a new girl turns 18 and every day a new girl wants to do porn…. I will never run out” – Riley.

Hot Girls Wanted is about a couple of girls from Middle America who enter the amateur porn circuit in search of fame and money. They hook up with a man called Riley via Craigslist who pays for them to come out to Miami  and live in his house and do porn.

The film focuses on four or five girls with Tressa/Stella, an ex cheerleader, the main focus of the documentary. Stella is all bright eyed and bushy-tailed and of course, becomes disillusioned with porn. Stella is not from an abusive or broken home, she has good parents, well yeah… but webcams and free porn have changed the entire porn world: its acceptable and its mainstream. I don’t think the “___ abused me” myth is applicable anymore. Just like tattoos, porn has infected our culture so much that it’s no longer the freaks and horndogs who are doing it… it’s the girl next door.

To me the most uncomfortable part of the film is when Stella’s mother and boyfriend basically bully her into quitting porn. Her mother asks her boyfriend “how can you even date someone like that?”. To me that was just so tragic and uncomfortable to watch the people she loves make her feel ashamed of herself. I am sure that the (non-explicit) “facial abuse” scenes will strike fear into the heart of many who know nothing of the porn world but really, come on, your ignorance to perversions doesn’t make it more shocking. If a teen is too dumb to figure out that facial abuse is going to be a very taxing and horrible thing I have about as much compassion for them as the chick who flew from the UK to work with Max Hardcore (again, clue, HARDCORE) and has extreme apprehension about it and says she doesn’t want to be abused ON CAMERA! Then go do vanilla porn you complete idiots! Leave the porn to the professionals.

The problem I had with Hot Girls Wanted is that it looks at the amateur porn world which is not representative of the mainstream porn world and I think a lot of people are not seeing a difference. There’s your big clue right there! Amateur! And not in a cool Jamie Gillis way either. Some of these girls are pimply and gangly and have no idea how to wield their sexuality (one tries to make a porn face and looks like she is biting invisible pickles). Not only that but they are not enthusiastic. Ava Taylor in particular is extremely mopey and you can see revulsion in her face as she has to have sex with a middle-aged man who sure, is no Orlando Bloom, but he’s not hideous. Hot women graciously fucked Ron Jeremy and here’s this spoiled brat acting like she should be having sex with studs and raking in the big bucks!

I just can’t get over the fact that it’s teenage immaturity people are lauding the film for. From my nascent understanding, the porn industry is regulated by federal and state law and performers have contracts and know what they are in for. There is a total absence of all of that in this documentary yet people see this and deem all porn to operate “unethically”. If anything harsher regulations on the mainstream porn industry have lead to this need for amateur porn where they don’t adhere to regulations (see articles on goggles and condoms). Hot Girls makes no attempt to show the benefits of the legit porn industry.

I don’t like tearing other women down but these girls are just dumb kids. They are not sex-positive people and do not have the age, wisdom and moxie that it takes to be a successful porn star. It seems to me that to really pull through and make a career and survive porn you have to do it for the sex and not the money. The girls pretty much acknowledge that they are not comfortable with what they are doing, but they made that choice in return for “fame” and money. If anything it did make me think there should be some sort of psychological evaluation and education for performers to make sure they can cope with what they are doing, consider future effects and maybe open up a bank account.

If you love victim narratives then you will lap this film up, but I tend to view women as being their own keepers. Victims are people with pretty much no choice in the matter. Yes men do prey on women but there’s no cure for immaturity except for time and if there is any message to take away from the film it’s  that 18 is probably too young to do porn. I blew all my  working money at 18 on guitars and CDs but at least I only cleaned dishes for that crap. A friend told me a teen hooker would shout her friends pies from the petrol station after jobs. We all make stupid mistakes, the girls in the documentary just have a bigger audience for their mistakes and that’s the real problem. Their shitty choices are there for the world to witness, devour, and watch over and over forever and ever.

Available on Netflix.