Posts Tagged ‘Independent’

SIFF MOVIE: The Off Hours (2010)

June 9, 2011

Francine is a young woman living in a rural Washington town whose life pretty much revolves around her dead-end, night-shift job at a local truck stop diner and a string of sexual encounters with pretty much anyone who seems interested, mostly in dingy bar and restaurant bathrooms (and, oh, honestly, is there anything more depressing than cheap sex in public restrooms?  Blargh).

It’s not much of a life and she knows it.  But she feels stuck, trapped.  She’s been there so long (12 years) she seems to have forgotten she ever had options, and the people she’s close to are similarly cycling and recycling through their own personal circles of hell:  her boss, Stu, an alcoholic divorcé with a teenage daughter he rarely sees; Jelena, a middle-aged Serbian waitress who spends her off hours sleeping with truckers in her motel apartment; and Corey, Fran’s roommate and foster brother, who’s so furiously in love with her he can hardly stand talking to her anymore.

One night, Francine spots a new face at the diner.  She introduces herself, pours him some coffee, and the two begin to chat — his name’s Oliver, he’s a truck driver who’s just started a new route, he’s married with two kids, blah blah.  Over the next few weeks, they become friends — him looking for her through the diner windows as soon as he pulls into the parking lot, her face lighting up as soon as she spots him.  Turns out he’s sort of on the other side of “stuck;” he was a banker for ten years and when his branch closed, he decided he was tired of a 9-to-5 existence and took a leap into the life of trucking just to try something new.  Now he’s hardly at home, always on the move, his wife growing more and more frustrated by the week.  Unstuck in some ways, for sure.  But perhaps more stuck than ever in others.

When a series of things go wrong at roughly the same time, it seems to dawn on Francine at last that she’s in charge of her own destiny.  With a line of nudges all giving her a collective shove, she decides it’s time to unstick herself.  How she does it is the final scene of this mesmerizing, gorgeously-made film, and it takes what is otherwise a painful story of desolate, dark sadness and drops a light right into it.  A flare goes up.  And you leave the film knowing Francine’s gonna be just fine.

Goddamn, I loved that final scene.

In fact, there were so many things I loved about this haunting film I hardly know where to begin.  The acting is incredible, the writing is tight and authentic, the story is engaging and relateable, and the visuals — wow.  I’ve heard people raving about local cinematographer Ben Kasulke for years, and though I’ve seen a few of his other films, this is the first time I really understood what all the hoopla was about.  The colors, the crispness, the still shots, the long shots — this movie does everything visually great art is supposed to do.  It moves you; it picks you up and takes you right to it.  And it does it subtly, quietly, perfectly.  In between scenes, there were often quick stills of images from around the town — a beat-up truck here, a broken rocking chair there, an angled shot of the diner counter that made it look like it went on forever (oof, so great), a close-up of Francine’s face that showed every pore of loveliness and despair.  By the middle of the film, I found myself wishing I could get a print of every single one of those shots to frame and hang on a wall where I’d see them every day.  They were that good.

They were lovely, in fact.  In fact, lovely is the right word for every element of this film.

This film is lovely.

Highly, highly recommended.  And I can’t wait to see what director/writer Megan Griffiths does next.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t take her a decade to make her second film (as this one did), because the world shouldn’t have to wait so long to be so incredibly moved again.  A masterpiece.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama, Indie
Cast:  Amy Seimetz, Ross Partridge, Tony Doupe, Scoot McNairy, Gergana Mellin, Lynn Shelton, Bret Roberts, Madeline Elizabeth

MOVIE: The Scenesters (2009)

May 16, 2011

I’d never even heard of this film when I came across it on hotel pay-per-view a week or so ago, but after having just sat through the utterly-awful The Next Three Days on PPV, I figured it could hardly be any worse.  The trailer made it look like a keen little murder mystery, for one thing, and that was exactly what I was in the mood for.  Plus, I’m getting ready for the upcoming Seattle International Film Festival (25 films I want to see, 9 I refuse to miss — watch for reviews to start rolling in after the holiday weekend!), so diving back into the world of independent film seemed appealing as well.

As it turned out, the mystery part of this film, about a serial killer in Los Angeles, was the least entertaining part of the whole entertaining shebang.  Even though it was the backbone of the story, by the time we got to the end and the killer’s identity was revealed, I’d practically forgotten we were looking for a killer; I was too busy laughing and loving all the kooky characters instead.  This is probably just as good, though, because had I been paying more attention, I’m sure I would’ve figured out whodunnit much sooner than I did (and I figured it out at least  a third of the way in — it’s a bit Scooby Doo, I’m afraid. (That’s a spoiler for anybody who’s ever had a conversation with me about Scooby Doo, but since I think that’s probably only my sister, I’m not too concerned I just blew the ending for most of you.)).

The story is about a broke indie filmmaker, Wallace Cotton (Todd Berger), who has just been hired as the LAPD’s murder scene videographer.  He shows up at the scene of the first crime and records what he sees, but when his producer buddy watches the tape the next day, he tells Wallace it was boring as hell and urges him to try to make his next crime scene recording more interesting.

Together, they end up hiring the local crime scene clean-up guy, Charlie Newton (Blaise Miller), to play the role of a detective in a film they start making using the real crimes as their plot.  But as it turns out, Charlie is actually really sharp, and the more the bodies pile up, the more he starts to notice connections between the various murders.  Soon the group is convinced there’s a serial killer at work, and while Charlie’s goal is to stop him, Wallace’s goal is to make an exciting film — two goals that start to clash, with dangerous impact, as the film progresses.

The frame for the story is set in a courtroom, clearly the trial for the killer.  As the DA (Sherilyn Fenn, looking pretty damn good here, I must say) asks Wallace and his friends questions about the murders, their involvement in the case, and why they didn’t report their suspicions to the cops, we watch the actual mystery unfold, intercut with scenes from Cotton’s film ABOUT the mystery, a hilariously cliché-ridden noir thing with several shots and lines that had me laughing out loud.

As an added bonus, the film opens with a fake trailer for Cotton’s latest movie, which features three hipsters with bad skin sitting in an empty wading pool talking about nothing interesting, and includes pull quotes from reviews that say things like, “Three people talking. . . FOR TWO HOURS!”  in a delightful spoof of the “mumblecore” genre.  It was so mumblecorey, in fact, it took me a while to realize it was part of the joke.  It wouldn’t have surprised me one bit if it had been authentic — that’s how many really crappy films of THAT genre I’ve seen.  Brilliant.

The film definitely feels like exactly what it is– the first film this group has ever made together (the actors/writers are all part of an improv group in LA called “The Vacationers“).  It’s very clumsy at times, to the point of feeling somewhat like a really good student film, and could’ve been a lot more tightly and creatively written (especially the actual crime elements).  But overall, I enjoyed this one a lot and am greatly looking forward to seeing whatever it is these guys do next.


[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Mystery, Comedy, Independent
Cast:  Sherilyn Fenn, Blaise Miller, Suzanne May, Jeff Grace, Kevin Brennan, Todd Berger

Marwencol, My Fave Film of 2010, Airs This Week on PBS!

April 25, 2011

Just a quick post to let you all know that the movie I rated as my favorite film from 2010, Marwencol, is going to be airing nation-wide this week on PBS stations.  If you’re in Seattle, it’ll be on tomorrow night, April 26th.

Check your local listings/station if you’re interested in seeing it — WHICH YOU BETTER BE BECAUSE IT IS AMAZING.

Read my original review of Marwencol.

View the PBS page about Marwencol (includes trailer).

View the Marwencol web site.


MOVIE: Ludlow (2010)

December 18, 2010

Last weekend, I finally had the 70-some-odd minutes of free time needed to sit down and watch this short film, written and directed by amazing Renaissance woman Stacie Ponder (she’s an artist! she’s a writer! she’s a filmmaker! she can juggle chainsaws!) (okay, I don’t know for sure about the chainsaw thing, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest, is what I’m saying).

Over the last year or so, Ponder’s been blogging regularly at Final Girl (her terrific horror movie site) about the trials and tribs encountered while making this film, which I gather is her first feature-length-ish production.    I studiously avoided ALL of these posts, because I wanted to wait to get the backstory until I saw the actual story.  When she finally posted a month or so ago that Ludlow was at long last available on DVD, I emailed to beg her for a copy.

That’s right, I BEGGED.  And I feel no shame whatsoever in admitting that, either.  You know why?  Because I knew that even if there were something dramatically wrong with it — maybe the film quality would suck, maybe the actors would be insufferable, or maybe, well, any other of the wide variety of flaws you sometimes encounter in low-budget indie films — I knew at the very least, it was going to be SMART.  And smart is the one thing that will make up for almost every other thing in my book.  You could shoot it on an old iPhone, cast it with maudlin high school drama nerds, and use synthesizer musak for the soundtrack, and if it had a smart script, I’d still love it.

Lucky for me (and you, and you, and that guy over there), if I had to pick something to complain about when it came to Ludlow, it would be the fact it’s not twenty minutes longer.  I was sorry to see it end;  I wasn’t really ready for it to end.  More stuff could’ve happened.  More story could’ve been told.  I was totally in for a longer ride.  I was THAT engaged.

The story focuses on a young woman, Krista (Shannon Lark), who, as the movie opens, is pulling into a cheap motel in the middle of the deserty nowhere.  Once inside her room, she makes a phone call to her sister that tells the audience everything it needs to know about her situation — she’s on the run from an abusive boyfriend and has plans to connect with her sister in a few days to start over.  In the meantime, she’s gonna hole up in her motel room, hide from said boyfriend, drink to excess, and wait for her sister to come get her.  But as the days go on, strange things begin to happen: she starts bleeding for no discernible reason, she is beaten by her boyfriend only to discover he’s not really there, she finds a dead body outside the hotel.  It looks like her.

At first, we aren’t sure what we’re really seeing — what is real and what isn’t.  But as the film continues, it becomes more and more clear that what we’re seeing is this:  madness.

Shannon Lark is an actress I’ve never seen before, but man, is she ever ready to go major places, if you ask me.  Her portrayal of Krista is so real it was hard for me to disconnect from her and from the film after it was over.  The way she talks is so authentic somehow — the sentence fragments, the pauses — the way she cries, the way her face changes with emotion or fear.   She totally blew my mind in this film, and I can’t wait to see her in whatever she does next (or, for that matter, whatever she’s done before).

I also loved the way this film was shot, using a grainy film quality that made me feel like I was spying on the characters from another room, as well as a series of camera angles and lighting tricks that subtly but effectively conveyed a sense of disconnect from reality.  Every time Krista opens the curtains or the door of her room, for example, the sunlight outside — the light of the real world — is blindingly white.  It’s painfully white, in fact.  It reminded me of one of the most powerful scenes of Haneke’s The White Ribbon from earlier this year, in which a man is sitting in a small room grieving the death of his wife, and all we can really see is the eye-boring blast of white sunlight coming from the window over his head.  That contrast between the darkness of one character’s reality and the blinding light of the world outside them is so effective when it’s used correctly, as it is in both these films.  I love subtleties like that — things your brain picks up on that paint a fuller picture without your conscious involvement.

I went back this week and read all of the making of Ludlow blog posts at last, and now that I’ve got the backstory stored away in my brain, I’m extremely excited to watch the film again, knowing I’ll be picking up on even more nuances in both the script and the cinematography stuff the second time around (I’m also planning to rent Roman Polanski’s Repulsion soon, because it’s been forever since I last saw it, and Ludlow reminded me of it in a few places — watch for a review of that one here next week).

If you’re intrigued, you can get a copy of Ludlow yourself by heading over to (it says preorder on the site, so it may not be available quite yet, but you can at least get in line — $11 is a steal for it, too, if you ask me, especially since you’ll be helping to support future Ponder projects).

Anybody who appreciates smart, original horror will find much to appreciate in this film, and I’m not just saying that because my name is in the credits.  Although, that too.  (A lovely surprise, I might add.)

Highly recommended!

Genre: Horror, Psychological thriller
Cast:  Shannon Lark, Elissa Downing, Ned Christensen

MOVIE: Winter’s Bone (2010)

December 9, 2010

Earlier this year, when this film was in local theaters, I kept meaning to go see it and then putting it off until, finally, I had missed its entire run.  Still intrigued by the story, I picked up a copy of the novel it was based on, by Daniel Woodrell, and then . . . never got around to reading it.  Hmmm.

The problem?  I think it was that I knew this was going to be a grim story — it’s about meth addicts in the rural Ozarks, after all — and I wasn’t sure it was also going to be a story great enough to warrant the bummer.

But man, was I ever wrong to doubt, because though this movie is definitely a serious downer, it’s also absolutely brilliant.

The plot focuses on a 17 year-old girl named Ree Dolly who lives in a very poor community in the mountains.  Ree’s been the primary “adult” of her household for years, taking care of her little brother and sister while her mother sits nearby, incapacitated by severe depression, and her father, Jessup, moves in and out of jails and meth labs, an addict and cooker who hasn’t really been a part of the family for years.

When a cop comes by the house one afternoon, Ree braces herself for the latest in bad news, knowing it’s probably got something to do with her dad.  She figured he’d been arrested again, but is stunned to hear that ain’t the half of it.  Not only has Jessup been arrested, the trooper tells her, but he put the Dolly house up as collateral for his bail — and hasn’t been heard from since.  The cop tells Ree if he doesn’t turn himself in within the week, she and her family will lose their home.  Ree pauses for a moment, letting the weight of the news sink her down, then quickly straightens up and declares with confidence, “I’ll find him.”

She immediately sets out to do just that, something that takes her into pretty dangerous territory.  Jessup’s circle of acquaintances, mostly all related to each other and the Dollys in one way or another, are also all criminals and meth heads, and none too keen on little girls asking nosy questions.

Ree’s uncle, Jessup’s brother Teardrop (powerfully played by ex-Boyfriend John Hawkes), tries to scare Ree into digging no deeper, leading her to suspect her father’s been the victim of foul play.  But when she continues to pursue the truth and is beaten severely for it, Teardrop finally takes a stand against the family himself — at great risk to his own life.

This story is heartbreaking on so many levels, not just because of the awful havoc wreaked by the combination of meth and poverty, but because of the incredible courage of this teenage girl who carries more weight of responsibility than I do, and does it with twice my strength and grace.  There wasn’t a single moment during this film when I doubted Ree could and would save her family, even as she was being kicked in the ribs repeatedly or forced to pull a corpse out of icy water with her bare hands.

New actress Jennifer Lawrence is stunningly talented (not to mention just plain stunning), and I can’t wait to see what she does next.  She brings Ree Dolly to life with a vibrancy I haven’t seen from a new actor in a really long time.

Beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, and brazenly authentic, this movie is absolute aces.  Do not miss!

[Netflix it | Buy it from Amazon]

Genre: Drama
Cast:  Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Lauren Sweetser, Isaiah Stone, Ashlee Thompson

MOVIE: Cropsey (2009)

November 11, 2010

Growing up on Staten Island in the 70s and 80s, filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio often heard stories about a local boogeyman known as “Cropsey.”  The legend of Cropsey was typically evoked by parents trying to scare their kids out of doing things they weren’t supposed to, like playing in the woods, talking to strangers, etc.

Zeman and Brancaccio never really believed the stories.  That is, until the day a little Staten Island girl named Jennifer disappeared.

As police investigated the case, a man named Andre Rand, spotted in the area Jennifer had last been seen in, became their chief suspect.  He was a former resident of Willowbrook, a “state school” (more like mental institution) in the woods of Staten Island that had been shut down a decade earlier after horrific abuses of patients were exposed in a Giraldo Rivera special.  Patients of Willowbrook were then farmed out to local halfway houses and hospitals, but many ended up sort of instinctively migrating back to the area.  Andre Rand was one such patient and when, a few months later, Jennifer’s body was found buried near his campsite in the Willowbrook woods, it seemed obvious he was the killer.

Cropsey was real.

Or was he?  As the story spread and witnesses of an increasingly dubious nature came forward, some began to suspect Rand had either been framed or was being used as a scapegoat by the Staten Island police, desperate to appease the community by locking up a child killer.  For example, Jennifer’s body had not been found during previous searches of the area — instead, it was found just after a photo of a drooling, crazed-looking Rand was published in the local paper.  Forensic experts determined that she had been killed elsewhere and then moved to the discovery site later.  Possibly even moved there recently.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of physical evidence tying Rand to the case, he was convicted in the mid-1980s and sentenced to 25-to-life (for kidnapping; jurors were deadlocked on the murder charge).  Stories of “Cropsey” faded after that, until a decade and a half passed and Rand’s name hit the papers again.  He was being charged with another murder, one from 20 years prior — one of four additional Staten Island children whose disappearances police suspected Rand was involved in.  They had no evidence — not even a body this time — but again, Rand was put on trial, and again, convicted.

This fascinating documentary tells the stories of Willowbrook hospital, Andre Rand, the missing children, and the way media frenzy, public pressure, and fear can influence our criminal justice system.  While the film’s outcome isn’t terribly satisfying (did he do it or not? we’ll probably never know), the story itself is riveting and the filmmakers do a solid job in its telling.

Definitely recommended, and I also enjoyed (well, not enjoyed, exactly) an hour long documentary specifically about Willowbrook that I stumbled across online while looking for more information about Andre Rand.  That one, Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook (narrated by Danny Aiello), describes in greater detail the horrors patients institutionalized there experienced (within six months of admission, most patients suffered from parasites and pneumonia, and the incidence of hepatitis infection was 100% — broken bones, malnutrition, mental and physical abuse, and worse.  Unbelievable.).  You can rent it for $2.99 at, and it’s well worth your time, especially if you have seen or are interested in seeing Cropsey.


[Netflix it (available for streaming)]

Genre: Documentary
Directed by: Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio

MOVIE: Monsters (2010)

October 28, 2010

I was home sick for a couple of days last week, and by the second day, was completely bored out of my skull, as usual.  Figured that called for a splurge, so I headed over to to see if they had any pre-theatrical release flicks to rent (I have a Roku box, which means I can stream movies to my TV set not only from Netflix, but also from Amazon — you need one of these, trust me).

I don’t do the pre-theatrical thing too often, and never for a movie I really, really want to see (why watch it on my little TV when I can just wait and big-screen it?).  But a small-budget alien flick like this one, being favorably compared to District 9 by a bunch of film reviewers?  That sounded pretty perfect for a sick day.

As it turns out, this movie is really nothing at all like District 9, which is both good and bad.

The good:  Monsters dares to strike out and break a little new ground by being an alien movie that isn’t really about the aliens.   Sure, there are aliens in the story, but the movie mainly focuses on the two main characters, reporter Andrew Kaulder and Samantha Wynden, the daughter of his boss, who Andrew’s been ordered to find and bring home after an alien attack took out the South American hotel she’d been staying in.

The bad:  the special effects, while admirable considering the tiny budget and the fact the director did them all himself on his laptop, were, in my opinion, vastly overused.  By which I mean:  used at all. If you can’t afford really good effects, why not simply avoid using effects in the first place?  Sure, they were a key player in District 9 — unavoidable.  But here, with the focus more on the people instead of the monsters?  Just not needed, and frankly, it would’ve been a strong film — not to mention a scarier one —  had it merely threatened to show us the aliens instead of actually going ahead and doing it.  Especially since:  silly spider/octopus War of the Worlds rip-off alien beings and glowing tree fungus are. . . yawn.)

Even more unfortunate than the special effects, though, was the fact there was absolutely no chemistry between the two stars at all, which meant the human part of the story fell about as flat for me as the alien part.   After Andrew finds Sam, he spends the first day sullenly ordering her around, bitter he’s been pulled off a far more exciting assignment to babysit the boss’s daughter.  But as they struggle to find a way to get back to the U.S. together, through stress and danger, they gradually begin to fall in love.  Eventually, everything goes completely awry (lost passports, time running out, etc.) and they discover the only way they can get back to the U.S. is to walk there, right through the infected zone (where the monsters live!).

Cue many, many scenes of them traipsing through the jungle, hearing the ominous sounds of evil aliens in the trees all around them, clinging to each other for safety, sometimes alllllmost smooching.  But not quite!  Not quite!  Sexual tension here!  We got your sexual tension here!

Fine in theory, but in practice, I found Andrew completely boring.  When he talks at all, it’s in a monotonous, sleepy, whining sort of way.  And Sam?  Well,  Sam is pretty  kick-ass by comparison, and I didn’t believe for a minute she was falling in love with that snoozer.  Even when the story featured a really heavy-handed romantic moment, it just fell completely flat.  The actor playing Andrew  did absolutely nothing for me — he was primarily just getting in Sam’s way.

That said, obviously I watched the whole thing, which means I found it at least sufficiently entertaining, if heavily flawed.  And for what it is, it’s not that bad.  It’s watchable and some of the alien stuff was intriguing, if undeveloped (they have predictable migratory patterns?  that have suddenly changed this year?).

Had writer/director Gareth Edwards done a better job with casting and let go of his desire to monkey around with his Macbook, this would’ve been a much stronger film, and one that was unique enough in the genre to really stand out.

As it is, it’s not a bad time, but it’s probably not worth the ten bucks I spent on it.  Save it for a post-theatrical release DVD rental instead.  Is my suggestion.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer | Rent at]

Genre:  Science Fiction, Aliens
Cast:  Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

MOVIE: Junkbucket (2008)

June 19, 2010

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film.  It was made by a friend of a friend and seemed to have quite a little following of fans here in Seattle, but a lot of the super-low-budget horror movies I’ve seen have ended up being insufferably stupid,with lame local actors who can’t act, shoddy writing, and unbearably bad production work.  Also, the premise of this film, which I’ll get to in a moment, did not inspire a tremendous amount of optimism in me, I’ll confess.  (I suspect the filmmaker might see this review at some point, by the way, so if you’re reading this, Mr. Lange, please read on because I’m about to get super-duper nice, I swear.)

Color me surprised, though, this movie is actually pretty damn hilarious and even as I was rolling my eyes at some parts, I was laughing at the same time — both of those things, I believe, by absolute design.  Now that’s how you make these things right, people!

The story is about a group of early 20-somethings who have gotten together to help their friend clean out her parents’ cabin at Lake Pakajanomo after her folks died in a tragic accident.  They’re there for moral support, but they’re also there to drink lots, smoke a lot of pot, and have a lot of sex.  Ah ha, the perfect recipe for slasher-movie killings galore!

On their way to the woods, they pick up a hitchhiker who has with him a bag full of weapons (note to all 20-somethings: under most circumstances, you should probably leave guys like that by the side of the road).  Later that night, he tells them a story around the campfire about the very woods they’re staying in.  It’s the tale of a mutant kid, the product of incest, abandoned in the woods by his mother years ago.  Before leaving him there to die, she cut off his, well, his “junk” (ahem) so he could never reproduce, leaving the pieces in a bucket next to his body.  As legend goes, though, he lived, and now roams the woods wearing the bucket on his head, looking for people to de-junk and then kill.

When the group reacts to this tale with horror, the hitchhiker laughs it off, saying it’s just a story.  But later that night, the killings begin, and he’s forced to admit the truth: Junkbucket exists and the hitchhiker’s come to the woods with his bag of weapons to take him down at last.

The thing that makes this completely ridiculous story entertaining is the sharply-written dialogue, which had me laughing out loud more than once.  It’s clear the makers of this film are avid horror fans, and the movie is packed full of nods to other classics with an overall eye towards satire of the genre.  It’s about as low-budget as they come in terms of production quality, but the actors are surprisingly talented, the writing is completely solid, and the story, well, let’s just say I found this to be a pretty unique spin on the old “demented killer in the woods” tale.

I’m not sure if you can find this film anywhere — I got a copy by sending a donation to the filmmakers through my friend to help support their goal for a sequel (what can I say?  I’m a sucker for people who love making movies).  But if you ever DO come across it, I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out.  Hey, it features a sex scene involving an accordion and a mime.  That’s worth the price of admission right there, am I right?

I am so, so right.

Great work, Mr. Lange!  Hot diggity.  I look forward to Junkbucket 2, and if you need any extras, I’d be happy to volunteer my time.  (But only if I get to keep my junk — that goes in my contract, for reals.)

UPDATE! To get a copy of Junkbucket sent to you, send $10 to director Steve Lange via PayPal using the email address You can also use that email to contact him if PayPal ain’t yo’ thang.  Please don’t steal the movie off a Torrent site. These guys worked hard and they’re trying to make a sequel — ten bucks seems a small price to pay to support both films.

[Junkbucket on Facebook | (send funds to user “”)]

Genre: Horror
Cast: Erin Stewart, Scott Baxter, Celene Ramadan, David Rollison, Steve Lange, Ryan Miller

SIFF MOVIE: Marwencol (2010)

June 2, 2010

Several years ago, 38 year-old Mark Hogencamp was attacked and beaten within an inch of his life by five men outside a bar.  After nine days unconscious and thirty-one more in the hospital, Mark returned home with severe brain damage.  He had to relearn how to walk, talk, write, eat, and take care of himself, all of which he did, in time.  But also lost in the attack was his memory — for him, nothing before waking up in the hospital had ever happened.  All friends and family were strangers.  Everything was new.  And none of that would ever come back.

This documentary tells the amazing story of Mark’s recovery.  After being cut off prematurely from medical and psychological care due to Medicaid restrictions (he had no health insurance — p.s. ARGH!), Mark decided to continue his own therapy by creating an elaborate WWII village in his front yard, a village he named Marwencol (after Mark, Wendy, and  Colleen — himself and two friends).  Using GI Joe- and Barbie-type dolls, he began to dream up and then stage extremely complex stories.   He would set each scene, paying attention to the most minute of details (the bend of a wrist, the setting of a bar counter, etc.), and after each scene was carefully staged, he’d take a photograph.  At the end of the day, he’d have dozens of photos which, when put together, told the complete tale —  kind of like a stop-action film with a lot more stops.  This process helped not only with his dexterity problems, especially in his hands, but also served as a very powerful form of emotional healing as well.

Many of the characters in Marwencol represent real people from Mark’s life, in part as a way to reconnect with those he’d lost all memory of.  He’s in there himself (he’s the star, in fact), and so are his family members and friends.  Together, they have dramatic, exciting adventures, many of which involve violence and warfare (a way Mark vents the anger and frustration that emerge as a result of his painfully debilitating PTSD), but a lot of them also involve friendship and love, as well as the loneliness and isolation Mark feels in his new life.  It’s those latter stories that made Marwencol one of the most thoroughly affecting movies I’ve seen so far at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF).

Hogencamp is a disabled man with a brilliantly artistic mind, always a challenging combination.  But one of the things I found fascinating about this film was thinking about the differences in his personality before and after the attack (“personality” might be the wrong word, but I can’t think of the right one).  Before the attack, Hogencamp says, he was an avid artist (drawings, mostly, and they were incredible), a terrible alcoholic, and a transvestite.  But after the attack wiped out his memory, only two of those three characteristics remained — he woke up in the hospital with no craving or desire for alcohol whatsoever, but returned home clearly still an extremely talented artist (though because of the brain damage, his hands are no longer steady enough to draw) and still a transvestite as well.  Two things innate, one the product of circumstances or experiences he no longer had?  Who knows?  But as someone fascinated by the way the human brain works, I found this to be a particularly intriguing element of the story.

Blah blah science blah who cares, though.  What made this film a delight was Hogencamp himself.  His stories are unbelievably entertaining, his art mind-blowing.  And the man himself is an absolute inspiration, not just because of what he’s overcome, but because of his courage, confidence, and self-respect.  Hogencamp refuses to hide any part of himself; he’s completely open, loving, and honest.  He is, in short, the purest form of beauty there is — he is truth.  You can see it in his eyes when he talks, and you can see it in his art too — so complex and yet so thoroughly unfettered somehow, too.

Marwencol is, without a doubt, a film that will stay with me for a very long time.  Lucky for the rest of you, the director reported at the screening that it will be opening in theaters nationwide in October, as well as air on PBS next spring.  In the meantime, you can visit Mark’s web site, where you’ll see some of his work (stories and photos), and there you can buy his book, part of the proceeds of which will go to help Mark with both medical expenses and with the costs of upgrading and maintaining the amazing, beautiful world of Marwencol.

Don’t miss this film.  Just don’t do it.  You need to see it.  It’s that incredible.  It really is.  Listen to me.  Just listen this time.  Listen up.

[Update 9/15/2010:  The Marwencol trailer is now up on YouTube, and the film should be opening nationwide in theaters on OCTOBER 8, 2010.  Don’t miss it!]

[Prequeue it at Netflix | Marwencol site (with photos!) | Marwencol trailer]

Genre: Documentary
Cast: Mark Hogencamp, directed by Jeff Malmberg

SIFF MOVIE: The Trotsky (2009)

May 28, 2010

This crazy-brilliant comedy had such a bizarre concept, I almost didn’t go see it.  What ended up convincing me it might be worth a gander was a review of the film after its run at the Tribeca Film Festival that said it was one of the best high school comedies since the days of John Hughes.  Okay.  Okay, maybe.  Okay, let’s give this one a shot.  WE’LL JUST SEE ABOUT THAT, MADAM.

The premise is pretty bananas:  It’s about a 17 year-old boy, Leon (Jay Baruchel), who is completely convinced he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky.  And you know what?  I think I’m going to leave you with that as a summary.  I tried several times to figure out a way to describe the plot of this hilarious movie, but everything I came up with made it sound completely ridiculous (well, see, he tries to unionize his high school, and there’s this theme of boredom vs. apathy, and that scary guy from Storm of the Century is the principal, and there’s a clever homage to Battleship Potemkin, and Leon is just, like, completely adorable and so, so utterly sweet, especially when he meets his first wife, and, er, um, so. . . well, hell, see what I mean?).

The thing is, it IS totally ridiculous.  But it’s also smart as hell, absolutely charming from start to finish, and very thoughtfully filmed (I was mesmerized by the camera work, for example, which often featured close-ups of Leon’s face while he spoke, framed at awkward angles, all a little atilt — kind of like Leon himself).

The guy sitting behind me in the packed movie theater last night had the greatest laugh I have ever heard; lucky for me, this film gave him ample opportunity to use it.  The entire audience was roaring through the whole picture, myself included, and the energy that emitted was divinely restorative.  So far, of the three Seattle International Film Festival flicks I’ve seen, this is by far my favorite (sorry Tucker & Dale!).  Sharp, funny, clever, unique, CANADIAN!  And any doubts I might’ve had about Jay Baruchel’s ability to carry an entire film by himself vanished the moment Leon banned the student dressed like Ayn Rand from the “Social Justice” school dance.

I think I’m in love.

If you live in Seattle, you’ve still got two chances to catch this one at SIFF — May 29 at 11am at the Neptune, and May 31 at 5:30 in Everett.  For the rest of you, you can stream it on for $5.99 (for those with Roku players, that means you can stream it to your TV set).  It’ll be, guaranteed, among the best six dollars you’ve ever spent.  Highly, HIGHLY recommended!  See this movie!

[Prequeue at Netflix | Buy tickets for SIFF & View trailer | Stream on]

Genre: Comedy
Cast:  Jay Baruchel, Saul Rubinek, Colm Feore, Emily Hampshire, Genevieve Bujold, Jessica Pare