Sunday, September 28, 2014



 Meat, Beer, Punks, Mutants, O.G.'s and Bloody Bohabs all 'round.

Paying flaming last respect to the old while ushering in the new. 8-15+16-2014.



(As published in the October 2014 issue of Wisconsin's own The Scene)

Following an unexpected yet invigorating sabbatical this past summer, your oh-so-humble favorite local movie rambler hath returned to saturate you once more with knowledge and helpful suggestions concerning most things cinematic that might never even make it to a theater near you. Being as it is growing close to 'All Hallows Eve' and things like neighborhood zombie walks are soon to become all the rage, it seems like a swell idea to take this month's article in a might darker, more dementia riddled direction. Shall we?

I. The Fine Art of Murder.

So, how's this strike you for a truly daunting kind of subject matter with which to found a non-fiction film on and around; the calculated reenacting of a series of ruthless, government sanctioned executions utilizing the full (and fully enthusiastic) participation of several of the pivotal perpetrators themselves? Well, 'The Act of Killing' just so happens to be the kind of film to result from such a bold and (very) risky undertaking. This picture, the impressive end product of director Joshua Oppenheimer's (assisted by Christine Cynn and some entity listed as 'Anonymous') reported 8 year or so immersion into the given material and corresponding geographic locales, takes on a smattering of Indonesian paramilitary folks (active and retired) and sets them to the deeply unsettling (one would assume) task of play acting in present time their cruel yet effective actions from a time well in the past. You see, back in the middle of the 1960s, said soldiers set out to relentlessly rid their beloved stomping grounds of any and all traces of communist misbehavior (suspected as well as proven) by virtue of unapologetic extermination of any recognized offenders.

Due to the protracted development period his project demanded, Oppenheimer got to know many of his players to a deep extent (most of note, the front and center duo of Anwar Congo and Herman Kato). In so doing, he was exposed to, among many other traits, a startling adoration of movies and their potential power over a collected audience (many of these cats used to scalp admission tickets at area bijous as youths). In light of this significant revelation of character, the filmmaker ushered in the further requirement that his subjects' reenactings be staged with a layer of direct big screen influence. Thus, Anwar and co. get to planning and fleshing out a surreal succession of mini-movie styled skits, all centered around the core factor of factual killings that were once as far removed from a fond movie going memory as legitimately conceivable.

The fair bulk of the picture delves well into these truly elaborate and often colorfully startling microcosms of damaged personal performance 'art' giving the viewer a wholly contradictory palette of images and ideas with which to digest and analyze to the best of their ability, which is no simple assignment. One absorbs both the creative, dare I say, glee with which these 'skits' are born and also the rather horrific method that pervades the carrying out of the separate acts of detrimental violence that stick close to the facts as kept alive in the now aging assassin's minds. The scope of these differing parts is sometimes notable, the torching and ransacking of a village, for quick example, employs multiple wailing extras and pyrotechnics while a tense rooftop strangulation only requires some handy wire and a solo assistant to get the (ugly) job done correct.

The progression and fervor between the crafting and full realization of the mocked up killings also works to stress the growing impact on the performers in a variety of fashions as they are coming to terms anew with their past transgressions as they are pulled into the present and placed under the microscope of the camera eye.

'The Act of Killing exists as an almost purely nominal viewing experience, one that swiftly defies easy comparison amongst other documentaries covering similar dark thematic territory. From its opening imagery, graceful dancers emerging from the mouth of a gigantic structure designed like a fish and easily moving across a long plank to the nodding approval of fat man Herman Kato adorned in vivid blue drag queen attire (cross dressing proves to be a reoccurring fashion choice for this dude), the film hypnotizes and transports us into this otherwise impenetrable kingdom of fever dreamish ultra madness. 

Tales of war crimes are often of the 'Human generated horror leads to apprehension and repremendation (i.e. Proper Trial) followed by the subsequent healing process for the surviving victims or their descendants. Not so much this time out (though Oppenheimer has since put together an opposing viewpoint sequel of sorts, The Look of Silence, which gives one family a chance to address the murder of their sibling during the above mentioned chaos), here the villains have grown to become respected national heroes. Victorious saviors over the communist plague, the enjoy unparalleled freedom and often brag up even the lowliest aspects of their abhorrent behaviours (beware the one arrogant thug who waxes fondness over the 'heavenly' benefits of sexually degrading random young females, yuck!). 'The Act of Killing' sets out to try to crack the pokerfaced surface of this posse's infamous yet never disowned history and with the aid of this highly unique approach to revisiting some of the events in question, hopefully expresses to the world and better still, the men themselves, the extent of their wrong doing. Does this tactic at all work? You'll have to witness the film your own self to obtain the answer.

'The Act of Killing' is currently available in both DVD and BLU RAY formats from a place called Drafthouse Films and it features two separate cuts of the picture, the standard 122 minute theatrical issue and a more involved 166 minute Director's variation. There is, of course, bonus features to be had like featurettes, deleted scenes and audion commentary with the director and documentary hall of famer Werner ('Grizzly Man, 'Into the Abyss') Herzog who (along with esteemed filmmaking peer Errol Morris) became one of the chief cheerleaders of this film and helped to push it into the festival circuit and such. The whole mind boggling adventure can be found here, Check into it.

II. Bonus Stuff.

'Willow Creek' (

This here sho' ain't the Bobcat Goldthwait you ever saw screech out a nerve wracking stand up routine nor call the behind the scenes shots on such black comedic epics as 'Shakes the Clown', 'World's Greatest Dad' (which features one of poor Robin Williams' finest latter day performances) and 'God Bless America'. Instead we are gifted still another Found Footage scenario involving naive young peeps venturing into an all-together unforgiving, unknown environment. This time it's all centered around the Big Foot mythos and one head strong believer (Bryce Johnson) and his reckless yearning to gather actual video evidence of the beast and prove it all factual for once and for final. This leads our hero and his less than convinced gal pal (Alexie Gilmore) to the darkest camping spot imaginable and....well, no spoilers here. Just accept the fact that Ol' Bobby has aimed for something quite separate from the rest of his resume and I suppose you're left with a very adequate riff on the basic outline of 'The Blair Witch Project', albeit with far more stable camera work and scares that emanate from real beasts in the darkness and not mean, ill tempered spirits. Not a complete waste of 80 minutes, but nothing poised to break ground either. Includes the expected commentary by folks involved, one deleted scene and a short on set piece.

'Death Spa' (
Prime sliced 80s schlock 'til you drop cheese, resurrected in fitting home video fashion. An All-American, high end fitness joint is all the aerobic rage until strange fatalities start to pile up. Seems the deceased spouse of this happenin' club's owner is out to haunt the spot into bankruptcy by picking off much of its' sexy, style conscious (when not fully naked) clientele. Real simplistic premise is established as a handy way to enact one goofy yet fairly inventive kill shot after another while the cardboard cast milk out much of the average run time searching for a way to wrap it all up cheaply and get out alive. Along with like minded flotsam like 'Killer Workout' (you know you recall that one as well) this little creeper stands as the perfect time capsule of an era when it was chic to be fit and the Jane Fonda workout regimen ruled the day.

Loaded with cut rate gore, bare and sweaty skin and thespians who understand how to react accordingly (including 'Dawn of the Dead' alum Ken Foree), this new DVD/BLU RAY combo release displays the film in what is likely the finest quality it will ever see. The bonus stuff is predictable but fun (commentary, retrospective doc short) and the film itself is not without its' considerable camp merits. Prefect fodder for the horror goon who still longs for the small scale, mom & pop local video rental store way of movie watching.

Thanks for humoring me, you can write me (if the urge somehow strikes you) at