On April, 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was brutally attacked in a bar in Kingston, New York. His attackers were five teenagers, and the damage done was horrific. Plastic surgery was needed in order to repair his face and he was in a coma for nine days. When he came to, his memory and motor skills had been erased. He was hospitalized for 40 days until his medical insurance could no longer pay for his treatment and he was released. At 38 and without a means of income, he had to build his life from scratch.
This documentary is separated into ten chapters which chronicle Mark's outstanding efforts to reclaim his life and latch on to the only thing that wasn't taken away by his attackers: his imagination. Chapter 1 is titled “The Attack” and it introduces us to many people in Mark's life. The first is his attorney, but it’s an introduction that is far from ordinary. Standing still is Emmanuel Nneji, his attorney, and to the right of the screen is a 1/6 scale toy figure in his likeness. Nneji presents us with the facts of the case and, occasionally, video clips of the bar and photos of Mark's disfigured appearance after the accident.
There's something comforting in movies about a small-time guy who ends up making it big despite the odds. But, as the Horatio Alger Myth goes, that small-time guy usually squanders his chance at sustaining wealth and power. The Boost is about Larry Brown (James Woods), a rigid freelance salesman based out of New York. He's too busy doubting himself and making his situation appear more glorious than it actually is—so busy that he doesn't realize that he's found what most people look for their entire lives: unconditional true love.
Based on the book Ludes: A Ballad of the Drug & the Dream by Ben Stein, the story is one of those “boys and girls get off the bus to come to L.A.” tales that leaves your mind fuzzy and with a bitter taste in your mouth. Lenny was lucky enough to find a gorgeous, hard-working woman to marry him and believe in him—even when he makes a fool of himself. With his risky profession as a salesman and hers as a paralegal, the two did alright for themselves. While figuratively drowning during a particular sale and groping for a lifeline, he ends up catching the eye of Max Sherman: a man gifted at taking little fish and turning them into soaring birds. Sherman works in Southern California real estate and wants the over-achieving Lenny on his team. So Lenny starts seeing dollar bills and asks his wife Linda (Sean Young) to take a risk with him and move to Los Angeles.
This Filthy World
In jest, John Waters has been given many pets names from the industry, the most amusing of which are “The Duke of Dirt” “The Baron of Bad Taste,” “The Sultan of Sleaze,” and my personal favorite, “The Anal Ambassador.” However, after viewing his interviews and TV appearances over the years and this stand-up tour, you understand how wonderfully silly and semi-appropriate these titles are. But, in all seriousness, John Waters might just be one of the most open-minded, witty, and modest social commentators of our time. This is in no way exclusive to his films, which are near-subversive in their moral assault towards the mainstream. With his appearances, lectures, and stand-up, audiences are given a touching, crude and hilarious back-story to Waters and his inspirations. One which can be revolting and, despite his pet names, quite literate.
Vincent Peranio, a production designer with whom Waters works regularly, designed the stage for the event, which was held at the Harry DeJour Playhouse in New York with an audience of college students. The set consisted of a giant catholic confessional, a tree, and overflowing metal garbage cans. The backdrop provided an appropriate reflection of the director's anarchic motivations as a boy to defy the Catholic church and do everything the nuns in his school forbade him. The trash cans speak for themselves and the tree...well, the students present should have had something hopeful and refreshing to look at.
The Up Series
Imagine what it would be like to have a visual journal of your life from childhood to middle-age. Would you find the footage painful or nostalgic? Now imagine that this footage is aired on a yearly program in your nation and later available for purchase across the world. Many of us cannot begin to fathom what that would be like, even with the rise in reality television, but for a small group of Brits, it's been a reality for decades.
In 1964, directors Paul Almond and Michael Apted started a program for BBC called Seven Up!. The project was part of the World in Action series. Apted, along with Gordan McDougall, chose 14 children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, many offering extremes within the range. The motto of the project is “give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man,” based on a quotation from Ignatius Loyola. Given the harshness of the U.K. class system, those involved predicted that the children featured would more or less follow paths that could be expected of them, based on their background. The children range from illegitimate orphans to the extremely pampered, and in order to expose them to children from different class groups, they threw them together in a field trip and studied their behavior through contrast. Following this trip were in-depth interviews with each child and their close peers. This longitudinal study is then repeated every 7 years. The programs are as follows: Seven Up!, 7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up, and a rumored 56 Up is to be aired in 2012.
Trick 'r Treat
WARNING: Review contains spoilers.
Trick 'r Treat might just be the greatest Halloween horror film to date. Not only do most of the horror films that people choose to scare themselves with around the holiday not even circulate around the event, but those that do, such as the films that make up the Halloween franchise, fail to approach the mysticism of Halloween itself. Don't get me wrong, many of them are awesome movies, but they use Halloween as a crutch instead of integrating it into the plot.
Friday the 13th:The Final Chapter
Franchise films are a bittersweet realm. They stay fairly safe when they reach the prequels and sequels, but everything past that tends to get a little sloppy. The reasons are usually quite simple: either there were too many hands in the cookie jar in production, a bad team working on the film (director, casting, etc.) or, the plot just gets exhausted to the point of being tasteless and dull.
The Friday the 13th franchise is perhaps one of the most successful overall, coming in second to A Nightmare on Elm St. Up until the fifth or sixth film, you can pretty much find something amusing within each story. When you think about it, there are several films you can make about an impenetrable boogeyman who attacks oversexed (or in the case of this film, undersexed) teenagers who camp on his turf.
A special kind of applause should be granted to any actor/actress who can take on a role that in some form or another mocks their features, or worse, feeds into the stigmas they get from other people. For example, Camryn Manheim's performance in Happiness where she calls herself “fat” and “ugly” while slurping down ice cream, or Paul Reubens playing the ghost of a pervert in Todd Solondz's most recent film Life During Wartime. Criminally Insane marks the beginning of the short but interesting low-budget career for actress Priscilla Alden. The tagline of the film is “250 pounds of maniacal terror,” and Alden breathes life into the phrase with her pathetic, brutal, and sometimes comic portrayal of Ethel Janowski, also known as “Crazy Fat Ethel.”
Janowski is an obese mental patient with whom you sympathize at first. The film opens with her shock therapy sessions, followed by her glaring at the camera while dressed in a straitjacket. We are then introduced to her grandmother (Jane Lambert), who speaks with her doctors about her progress and the possibility of taking her home. Ethel is released from the asylum and returns to a quiet San Francisco neighborhood with her grandmother. Once settled she dives into a bout of anti-Semitic slurs against her doctor, whom she claims was trying to starve her to death. Simultaneously she begins to stuff her face with a hearty breakfast: a dozen fried eggs, a whole slab of bacon, half a loaf of toasted bread, and milk. The scene is unnerving for two reasons: (1) watching Ethel in a close-up stuffing her face is uncomfortable and purposefully repulsive, and (2) you get the feeling that someone with that kind of insatiable appetite has more in common with a predatory beast than a human being with logical thoughts. There's also discomfort in the dialogue from the grandmother who is passively bullying her while she's eating—reciting the ol' “never too late to watch your figure” line.
It's fairly safe to say that those who consider themselves cineastes or cinefiles have a series of genres in which they feel quite knowledgeable. In retrospect, they often praise these films on the obvious basis that they think they're superior to other genres in many ways. A horror buff will scoff at the claim that classic dramas are unmatchable in terms of style and entertainment, and vice versa. The irony behind these arguments is that underneath every film is just a story—some fantastical and others quite plain. Film does not reflect life and human consciousness so much as it interprets these things and distorts them for the viewer. Everyone walks away with their own subjective thoughts because of a mirrored element, or lack of, which they can relate to. The magic is in the varied levels in which a film can affect a wide range of people. If there is any sense or weight to my claim here, you won't find a broader or more distorted film than Thundercrack!.
Rarely will a person like myself glorify or reference a film that is classified as smut. Perhaps it's because modern smut is lacking in something quite important: a story that can hold itself up without the exposure of genitals. Thundercrack!, written by and starring George Kuchar (1942–2011) and directed by his good friend (possible ex-lover) Curt McDowell (1945–1987), is a parody film like nothing you've ever seen and is now among my top 20 favorite movies. It pays homage to just about every genre, specifically horror, Noir, fantasy and comedy, and presents the viewer with something very extraordinary.
A man jumps in front of a train and commits suicide, forcing everyone to exit and walk past the bloody scene in a tunnel. Among the commuters is Angela (Ana Torrent), a college senior. She witnesses the curiosity of the passengers who eagerly try to get a glimpse of the morbid scene, and she, too, wanders closer in order to get a look. She decides to write her thesis paper on audiovisual violence and its relation to the masses. The interest comes from not only the scene on the train, but the roll of violence in the media. However, being new to the concept, and yet observing it all her life, she finds many obstacles in obtaining footage that is violent and/or pornographic. In short, she comes to the conclusion that she needs access to footage that is too crude for television.
There are two sources that she expects to be quite lucrative in her quest for information. The first is her cinema professor, who is directing her thesis and has access to the school's film archives. The second proves to be more beneficial. Chema (Fele Martinez), a fellow student in her class, is rumored to be a sadist with a personal library of the kinds of films she needs to research. When she asks to see his collection, he is cold and unresponsive, but soon agrees to help her based on her good looks. What he shows her would be the equivalent to the shock value films, Faces of Death—film compilations that feature real accounts of torture, executions, etc. She's disturbed by the films, mainly because she realizes that there are people like Chema who are target audiences, and therefore the films have a sort of industry.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Russ Meyer has brought a plethora of tales that feature femme fatales, vixens, and unapologetic ladies, but none are as flawless as Faster, Pussycat! Aside from being ahead of its time by approaching women as forces to be reckoned with—not trampled on—Meyer employed various techniques that were rarely used in low budget film. The frame composition in the action sequences and the superb editing, aided by the use of multiple cameras during a shot, are things that you'd expect to see in a feature with a large budget. This, paired with excellent black & white photography and a thrilling plot, has turned the movie into a classic instead of a cult fad.
The opening sequence pretty much forces you, in a somewhat silly way, to go into the movie expecting to see women who aren't of the norm. A narrator informs the audience that there is a new breed of woman—vicious, unrelenting beasts; animals in a shell of soft skin. The voice-over states that in these “new times,” one can never know what to expect of a woman, and that those who you need to watch out for could be anyone: secretaries, nurses, or even go-go dancers.