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Judge Neal Solon • Location: Brooklyn, NY
• Member since: August 2004
• 44 full reviews
• 9 small claims

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Acts of Worship - Blog Review
October 12th, 2005 7:44PM

Acts of Worship
Hart Sharp Video
Release Date: March 03, 2005


Acts of Worship begins with an image of someone, presumably the main character Alix (Ana Reeder), lying in swimming pool. The next image is a drug-addled Alix wandering the streets of New York City, the streets of her neighborhood. She runs into a woman on the street who asks if Alix to trade something for a nice looking 35mm camera. Alix makes a trade; then, she breaks down crying. The chronology isn’t quite clear, but we soon watch Alix hitting rock bottom, seemingly overdosing in her boyfriend’s apartment. In his fearful, drug-induced haze, he puts her out in the hallway and leaves her lying there, unconscious, to fend for herself.

Alix is taken in by her neighbor, Digna (Michael Hyatt). Digna is the picture of success and, it turns out, of recovery; she was in Alix’s shoes not long ago-- addicted, out of control, and essentially living on the street. Digna hopes to guide Alix out of her haze, but Alix isn’t so sure that she wants the help. What follows is a sort of tug of war between lives of addiction and lives of “normalcy:” Digna’s past and present and Alix’s present and her future.

Acts of Worship succeeds on the performances of its central actors. Hyatt is often especially earnest as Digna, but she never comes across as preachy in a film where the risk of doing is immense. Reeder, too, is convincing as an addict being pulled apart by conflicting desires. In the hands of lesser actors, the film would easily become trite. The film also benefits from deft writing. While it is never profound, the script stays largely away from the moral and political issues around drugs. Instead, it focuses on personal implications of drugs in the lives of two young women. The film also uses a few conventional, but not obvious, literary techniques both to disorient the viewer at the beginning and to bring the film to a satisfying end without relying on dramatic action for emotional closure. By avoiding this pitfall of many “drug films,” the focus of Acts of Worship stays squarely on the inner turmoil of the characters.

Unfortunately, the presentation on DVD does detract from this focus on a number of occasions. Of course, the disc I have is a promotional screener, so the transfer may not be the finalized version. But the movie I saw was littered with film damage, reel change marks and color issues reminiscent of the flickering often associated with macrovision. It’s a shame because the film itself is an interesting study of two drug addicts and deserves better.

As it stands, Hart Sharp Video’s release of Acts of Worship is worthy of a rental. I’m glad to have seen the film even if: I can’t imagine coming back to the film in the near future; I can’t imagine caring about the extras mentioned but not included on my disc (including a director’s commentary); and I’d be upset if I’d shelled out money for a four-year-old film with a transfer like this.

Blog Review: Tying the Knot
August 17th, 2005 3:41PM

Not too long ago, I sat down with my sister to watch Tying the Knot, a documentary about gay marriage. The film opens with footage of a group of gay-rights advocates taking over the New York City Marriage License Bureau in 1971. It’s an interesting historical and political artifact that makes the viewer aware of a history to the gay marriage debate that few realize exists. The film doesn't live in past decades for long, however. The next overtly political image to appear on the screen was President George W. Bush staring directly at us declaring that the “nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”

At this point, my sister exclaimed, somewhat dramatically, “Yes! Another Bush-basher!” You know the films; they’ve been plentiful over the last six years. They have helped to reinvent a divisive, polemic, award-winning style of “documentary” that is based on manipulation, conjecture and the filmmaker as political guru. Tying the Knot, I am thankful, turned out not to be one of these films. When he does choose to include political statements, de Seve does it across party lines. He includes statements made in opposition to gay marriage by John Kerry, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Bill Frist, among others. Yes, the sound bytes ultimately come more often from people on the right side of the aisle, but this is probably reflective of the political landscape more than it is of the filmmaker’s bias.

In my mind, there are two obvious types of documentary films. The first is a film that simply documents; in other words, it serves primarily to record something. Most documentaries about nature or the Civil War, for example, tend to fall into this category. The second type is the “position piece,” whose filmmakers make their films to argue a point or to make a statement. Many people seem to think that making a film in this second documentary category means simply recording their own opinions. Director Jim de Seve realizes that it’s not.

De Seve clearly had an opinion about gay marriage when he set out to make Tying the Knot. He does not try to hide it, but he does not make it the focus of the film. Instead, de Seve guides the viewer through the tragic stories of a gay man and a gay woman who have both suffered tremendously after the death of their long time partners, and he makes it apparent how this suffering was compounded because the State did not recognize their unions. He occasionally adds commentary on the history of marriage as a political and religious institution, but the real stories are always the focus.

The woman, Mickie Mashburn, is a police officer in Tampa, Florida. Her partner of many years, Lois Marrero, was shot and killed in the line of duty. In the city of Tampa, surviving spouses are guaranteed survivors benefits. Mashburn was denied such benefits, though her relationship with Marrero was universally recognized within the department. As a result, Mashburn is left with all of the emotional and financial burdens of a surviving spouse with none of the benefits to help her.

The second story is of an Oklahoma farmer named Sam. Sam and his partner Earl were together for 22 years. When Earl died, distant cousins of his came out of nowhere and challenged Sam’s right to the house that he and Earl had built together. Despite having never been to see Earl in the 22 years that he had been with Sam, the cousins prevailed in court. More heart wrenching still is that Earl’s wishes were knowingly ignored because his notarized will was missing a single signature. Sam and Earl’s son are forced to move from their home and find a new source of income.

My descriptions certainly don’t do justice to the power or importance of these stories. It is by telling these stories that de Seve calls attention to a point that is often glossed over in the debate about gay marriage: this is a debate about human lives. The practical effects on the lives of a gay widow and widower are seen here, and only the most unfeeling of people could ignore them.

That’s not to say that this film will change many people’s minds about gay marriage, because it won’t. It does, however, add perspective to a debate that is over sexualized and sensationalized. Perhaps it will also help to convince a few people of the fence that a humanistic approach to this issue is more just than one that is vaguely theocratic.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, Tying the Knot is a worthwhile film. It looks and sounds good on this Docurama disc, and the actual disc looks to have a fair number of extras not provided on my screener copy. Tying the Knot is worth your time.

Miscellany
May 2nd, 2005 3:01PM

This won’t be the most thematically connected of entries, but here are a few things I’ve been thinking about:

AMC:

I was grading papers and lesson planning on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago and I decided to turn on the television both for some background noise and to aid in my perpetual procrastination. So, flipping through the channels I happened upon Death Wish 2, starring Charles Bronson- an easy flick to ignore.

I’m sure that most of you have heard that whole urban legend about Kentucky Fried Chicken being forced to change its name to KFC because there wasn’t enough chicken in the “chicken.” I’m pretty sure the same thing happened to American Movie Classics; someone decided that there wasn’t enough “classic” in AMC.

I mean, come on! The Chuck Bronson “Death Wish Trilogy” was on AMC no less than five times in the last month alone.


AMERICAN IDOL:

I’m not sure how many people watch this, but I’ve got to say this: Scott Savol should have been off the show a long time ago. In the edited words of Michael Bolton, he’s a “no talent @$$ clown.” Yet he is still there. I fear that he will actually go on to win the competition. Why? Not because of any particular talent in singing or performing, but because he wears his hat cocked to the side.

In other words, he is what under-25 America idolizes; he is “thuggish.” He wears his pants down around his thighs. He slaps his woman around, and he can’t form a proper sentence in the English language. He is what America wanted Ruben to be two years ago. There are plenty of people more talented, more worthy- and I sure as hell hope I’m wrong- but don’t be surprised if Savol walks away the our next American Idol.


DUAL-DISC:

I won’t claim to be a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, but I enjoy some of his stuff. Listening to snippets of and blurbs about his new album Devils & Dust I heard some stuff I liked, so as a new resident of the Boss’ home state of Jersey, I thought it my duty to support the man. So, I bought the album.

Among the many things you may have heard about the album is that it is the largest release yet to be released solely on the new “Dual Disc” format. This format is an effort by the music industry to supply added content to music releases to convince consumers to actually buy the albums rather than illegally download the songs. One side of the disc is a DVD with live performances of select songs and 5.1 audio of the entire album. On the other side is a normal “CD.”

Now, I have the acronym “CD” in parentheses because the dual disc format does not meet the industry’s own standards for compact discs and, thus, cannot be strictly called a CD. In other words, nobody’s going to guarantee that this will play in your CD player. The problem for me isn’t so much that it won’t work, but that it won’t fit.

I listen to music primarily on my computer. My laptop (along with the desktop I have in storage) has a slot-loading CD/DVD drive. The disc is too thick. It won’t fit in the drive. So, I can’t listen to the music through my computer, rip it on to my computer, or transfer it to another CD or an mp3 player. In other words, the “dual disc” is only useful to me when I’m sitting at home in my living room. The end result being that I am more likely to download the next album that I want if it is only available on dual disc.

I’ve long held that those little rectangular and GameCube-sized discs you used to see occasionally packaged as “extras” on CD releases were silly. Dual disc has just joined the list. What’s the point of industry standards if you’re just going to ignore them?

PRINCE:
This joke is only about 2-6 years late... but for some reason, I woke up thinking about this yesterday morning:

“After years of being known as
,
Prince has finally changed his name to something containing words again. Apparently, he got tired of being called a dingbat.”

Now... if you didn’t get that, consider yourself lucky. Despite associating with nerds, you’ve managed to avoid becoming one yourself. Have a good one...

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