This Documentary is only kind of about Porn

Every one of the first six Netflix user reviews for Michael Grecco‘s Naked Ambition: An R-Rated Look at an X-Rated Industry give it a 1-star rating. “It is NOT a true doccumentary,” one reviewer whines. Another says it “makes porn boring”. The comment rated most helpful by the Netflix community reads, “This documentary sux!!!!!!!”

Those people are all wrong, and because they’re unanimously and vocally so, I feel obligated to correct them.

First order of business: Naked Ambition is not a documentary about porn. It’s a documentary about Grecco’s attempt to shoot a coffee table photography book in only three days. His subject just happens to be the Adult Video News awards show in Las Vegas. People expecting a straight documentary about porn will be disappointed (though there’s plenty of sex-free nudity), and that’s their own fault. The film’s synopsis clearly states that the doc is about Grecco working to compile photos for his book, which brings me to my next point.

Second order of business: Naked Ambition is not an advertisement for Grecco’s book (also named Naked Ambition: blah blah blah). Many reviewers complain that it’s self-indulgent and that Grecco is creepy. None of this is true. It’s about Grecco shooting for his book. Of course he’s going to talk about it. The man worked 20 hours a day for 3 days and you don’t want to hear about the finished product!? Would you complain that The Beatles Let It Be film is an advertisement for the album?

Third order of business: Naked Ambition is not entirely without plot or insight. Plotwise, it follows one thread about Grecco making his book and another about two up-and-coming young actresses vying for the coveted Best New Starlet award. Along the way it provides a glimpse of some porn stars’ real personalities, and they aren’t exceptionally strange or emotionally damaged at all. Throw in some behind-the-scenes peeks at the awards show and the convention preceding it and, as an added bonus, brief interviews with some of the most interesting sex toy creators you’ll ever see, and this doc has way more substance than prude reviewers would have you believe.

You see, it starts as a straight documentary about a photographer shooting for a coffee table book. Interviews along the way introduce stars, inventors, and awards. Slowly, you start caring more about the people and less about the book and the porn. Will Sunny Lane, a former figure skater and current Next Big Thing, win an award? Will Grecco land a photo-op with smut legend and First Amendment crusader Larry Flynt? I’m not telling.

Naked Ambition is an excellent documentary, folks. If you’re interested in photography, porn, awards shows, or convention expos, (and who doesn’t love convention expos?), you’ll dig this flick.

Rotten Tomatoes gives Naked Ambition a stinky ol’ 38%. I gave it four Netflix stars out of five.

I’m right. As usual.

Last Shot: ‘Poltergeist’

This is Last Shot, where I put up a frame from the last shot in a movie, without spoilery commentary.  If you’ve seen the movie, be nostalgic. If not, maybe this will get you interested.

Poltergeist is on Netflix until October 1. Catch it while you can.

Netflix Pic: Fallen Angels

I never recommend bad movies, ever. Usually I can back my picks up with more logical arguments than “This movie is cool”, though. Fallen Angels is cool. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.

I first watched Wong Kar-Wai‘s 墮落天使  (doesn’t the title look so much cooler that way?) back on August 2. I didn’t know how to write about it then, and I don’t know how to write about it now, but I do know that I have to write about it. This movie is proof that all style/no substance can work, and it’s still blowing my mind.

To be fair, Fallen Angels isn’t completely devoid of substance. It’s about a hit man who needs to get over the affections of his beautiful and elusive partner before he can get out of the killing game. It’s about a quirky mute fellow who forces people to pay him for things they don’t want. It’s about an emotional woman searching the night for her ex-boyfriend. But mostly it’s about a few neon Hong Kong nights and how they all come together in the end, in a diner, during a brawl. [SPOILER? The screen grab above is from just about the very last shot in the movie, but it’s on the cover so it’s not a spoiler. SPOILER?]

Fallen Angels is a movie you watch with a pack of cigarettes instead of a bowl of popcorn. Is it a good film? Definitely. Is it a great one? Probably. The music is pretty fantastic. Watch it on Netflix, which is no longer Netflix Instant, because Netflix Slow is now Qwickster.

Netflix Pics: ‘1984’

I’m not adding anything meaningful to the Internet when I say Nineteen Eighty-Four is a great film. That’s obvious. Based on George Orwell‘s classic novel and starring John Hurt and Richard Burton (his final performance), it would have taken a miracle for this movie to be anything less than stellar. Suzanna Hamilton‘s captivating portrayal of Julia is particularly notable, and I’m not just saying that because she spends so much of her screen time naked.

But this isn’t a review, it’s a recommendation. 1984 is streaming on Netflix Instant, and you should watch it whether you’ve read the book or not. If you haven’t read the book, the images below may be spoilery. I’m including them because I love the framing in this scene and because this is my blog, so I can do whatever I want.

As always, click for hi-res.


Cuts to-

[I could have gotten enormous amounts of traffic on this post by analyzing the role sexuality plays in this film and including frame grabs with more nudity. I didn’t do it. This time.]

In Frame: The Staircase Scene from ‘Faces’

In Frame: Anne Parillaud in ‘La Femme Nikita’

This isn’t a particularly informative post or anything like that. I took this screenshot a while ago and couldn’t figure out what to do with it. But look at that hat! And that face!

French directors (here Luc Besson) are experts at framing female faces.

You can watch La Femme Nikita now on Netflix Instant.

Why I Love Movies: The Ghost Monkey from “Uncle Boonmee”

The nightmarish image above is from the end of the first scene in Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. The creature is a Ghost Monkey, and yes it is terrifying, but not in the context of the film. As I understand it, those things (yup, there are more of them) aren’t malicious. You would never guess that from the following screenshots, though.

[SPOILERS AHEAD: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, watch it on Netflix]

We next see the Ghost Monkey slowly ascending the stairs into Boonmee’s dining room. Boonmee, Jen, and their aid Thong have just barely gotten over the shock of seeing Boonmee’s long-dead wife’s ghost appear at the dinner table when they hear footsteps on the stairs. They turn, silent, and see the Ghost Monkey’s glowing red eyes as he approaches.

Creepy.

It speaks to them from the darkness. Jen recognizes its human voice as that of Boonmee’s son, Boonsong, who disappeared into the forest 6 months after his mother’s death. They invite Boongsong to the table, where we get our first good look  at the thing.

Hi dad.

Ghost Monkey Boonsong explains what happened to him all those years ago. It seems he had an affinity for photography when he was still human. One day, while developing photos he had taken in the forest, he spotted something unusual in one of his prints.

Boonsong destroyed the image, but became obsessed with the creature in it. He decided then and there that he would go out into the forest to find one in person. This was his goal when he ran away.

The search consumed Boonsong’s every waking moment. His obsession made his hair grow long and thick and gave him excellent night vision and poor light vision. He transformed into a Ghost Monkey. Eventually, he took a Ghost Monkey bride.

Together they stalk the forests. And the caves. And wait outside Boonmee’s house, sensing his disease. The last we see of them, they’re peering at a dying Boonmee from the shadows.

So they look like the stuff of cavemen’s nightmares, and every scene they’re in is creepier than the entirety of most modern Hollywood horror films, but they really aren’t so bad, in context. I haven’t really provided any context though, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Even without the Ghost Monkeys, Uncle Boonmee is an excellent, totally unconventional film that leaves much of the heavy thinking to the viewer. You won’t find answers here, just fables. Stories about transformations. What it means is ultimately up to the audience. I can’t very well explain that in pictures, but I can include a few gorgeous screenshots and the psychedelic poster art. Click for higher resolution images.