The Depress-A-Thon: Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door Repost by Jamie

Yes, it’s another repost in the Depress-A-Thon but this time it’s a video review! Aren’t you lucky?


The Depress-A-Thon: Jesus Camp Repost by Jamie

Well it’s time for a look back to an old post that I wrote some time last year as The Depress-A-Thon steam rolls ever forwards. It’s a film that I found both terrifying and depressing when I watched it. That film was Jesus camp. Enjoy.

I’ve previously written about Threads as being the single most depressing thing mankind has ever put to film. There is one film, however, that always threatens it’s position. Hell, it’s the film that was in my mind when I came up with the title for my documentary reviews, Documental. It doesn’t manage to take that title away from Threads though, simply because depression isn’t the overriding emotion that I feel whilst watching this film. In fact it’s a sickening cocktail of anger, hatred, fear and depression. Good times are ahead.

The film follows Becky Fisher and her “army” of god made up of children who seem to range between ages 5 and 13 as they spend the summer at a camp in Missouri and the various japes and shenanigans that they get up to like having seminars where they teach children that a child is fully formed in the womb after seven weeks or having them all pray to a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush. It’s very much a case of ‘Hello Mother, Hello Father, Here I Am At Camp Retarded!’

What’s probably the most disturbing accept of this film is the fact that Fisher seems to want to teach the children to die for Jesus much in the same way that people are taught to die for Allah in Islamic fundamentalist training camps. In fact, there seems to be even a hint of admiration for these terrorist groups and even a kind of remorse that America doesn’t have a Christian alternative. Worst of all is that the children seem amenable to this philosophy. There’s even a point where one child emphatically states “I feel like we’re kinda being trained to be warriors, only in a much funner way. Like I don’t feel the sense of afraid to die in battle or anything like you would if you were actually going off to a war in the physical. There’s a peace with it all too. There’s an excitement at the same time too, it’s really cool.” Keep in mind that child saying this is a 9 year old little girl.

She’s one of two real main children that you really follow through the film and certainly the one I feel most sorry for. There’s a scene where she talks about how the other kids tease her at school but she doesn’t care. After all it’s God who’ll be judging her, not her schoolmates or as she puts it “Man’s decision–whatever! God’s decision–Something.” There’s a sense of sadness and loneliness about her, however, that seems to suggest that under all the indoctrination and religious fervour she’d maybe like to be a normal girl with friends.

The other main child in the film is Levi. He doesn’t have the sense of sadness that Rachael does which is probably due to the fact that he’s home schooled so he’s probably the spared the torment of being bullied because of his extreme faith. In fact you see a bit of what this home schooling entails. His mother is telling him, essentially, why global warming is a lie, that real teaches would call him stupid for believing in creationism, that creationism is the only possible answer to all the questions and the real gem that comes near the end of the scene in which she asks “Did you get to the part on here where it says that science doesn’t prove anything? And it’s really interesting when you look at it that way.” Excuse me for one moment.

Sorry about that, I feel much better now. Well, I don’t really but I have to get through this. Now, I’m an atheist but the average Christian is fairly inoffensive, rarely forcing their views on anyone else and I’m always happy to enter into spirited debate with these people after which we can agree to disagree and have a pint together. There are occasions when I have made the unfortunate decision to debate with fundamentalists. This no longer happens as I’ve developed a kind of fundamendar, like gaydar except the fundamendar would like to have gaydar banned. I can quite easily spot them now because there is one major sign. The average fundamentalist will have an odd sense about them, you get the feeling straight away that something isn’t right. Then you look in there eyes and you hit on what it is. There’s a vacancy there, a sort of glossed over look like they’ve switched off part of their brain and are using a lot of their processing power to keep it switched off. The cause of this is that they are. They’ve become so steeped in this worldview that it takes over their life completely and all other things are completely meaningless apart from the will of their magic sky daddy. They are, however, still human so the urge for rationality and reason is always there and it takes a lot to keep this basic human need for inquiry completely suppressed. This vacant look is present throughout this film.

There is some humour within this film, albeit unintentional. The film features one Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (at the time), giving a sermon about what the bible teaches about homosexuality and actually making jokes about one of the documentary team being unfaithful to his wife. If you don’t understand why this is funny, please refer yourself to this old video which I made years ago. Please excuse the typos:

So there you go, Mr We Have The Bible To Tell Us About Gays was having gay sex with a male prostitute whilst doing crystal meth. Bravo sir, bravo.

Other highlights throughout this film include Becky telling the chilren Harry Potter would be killed in Old Testament times, yelling at them for being all hypocrites in the eyes of God until they break down in tears, begging for forgiveness, several scenes where the adults lead the children in screams of “This Means War!” and “Righteous Judges!” plus much, much more.

I really have a love hate relationship with this film. I enjoy watching it even though it really, really pisses me off. I’ve watched it more times than I can remember. Maybe I just like getting angry. Perhaps the weakest point of the film is the moderate Christian radio host who’s kind of used as a framing device. I suppose he’s there to provide context and a counterweight to the extreme fundamentalists just so the film makers can say ‘See, we’re not saying all Christian’s are bad, just these ones.” Still, I suppose he’s not too intrusive and so overall I’ll give this film three and a half pints.


The Depress-A-Thon: When The Wind Blows by Jamie

The Cold War era was a great time for depressing media. The nuclear threat cast it’s long, dark shadow all across the globe as the threat of complete destruction was, for one of the first times in human history, very real. From the 50s you had the awesome nuclear safety videos telling people what to do in case of a bomb being dropped such as the infamous ‘Duck and Cover’ which seemed to serve no purpose other than ensuring you died looking like an idiot.

It was this era that gave rise to some of the great post-apocalyptic films as well. ‘Mad Max’, ‘Planet Of The Apes’ and ‘Terminator’ all owe something to growing fear over the complete annihilation of mankind but these films weren’t particularly true to life and largely dealt with the consequences of the apocalypse rather than the apocalypse itself. It is those films which deal with an actual nuclear attack and it’s consequences that are truly the most terrifying and depressing, things like ‘The Day After’, ‘Threads’ and the subject of today’s review ‘When The Wind Blows’.(Spoilers Ahead)

The film is an animated feature and if you’ve ever seen the charming, though also ultimately rather depressing, children’s Christmas film ‘The Snowman’ then the animation style should be rather familiar to you. The story follows Jim (John Mills) and Hilda Bloggs (Peggy Ashcroft), a retired couple living in a remote cottage somewhere in rural Sussex. Jim has become increasingly worried about the possibility of a nuclear strike against Britain and so has decided to follow governmental guidelines and build himself a bomb shelter out a few doors. Hilda is less concerned but indulges Jim in his paranoia, helping him when she can as long as doing so doesn’t interfere with her daily chores.

Both members of the Bloggs family are generally quite optimistic about what would happen if the bomb were to fall. Both grew up during the blitz and have fond memories of nights spent in Anderson Shelter’s and communities coming together to help each other in times of need. Jim in particular is incredibly trusting in the government and it’s ability to continue running the country in a forthright and proper manner should war break out. Neither of them seem to fully understand just exactly what a nuclear attack would mean for them and the people of Britain.

Jim finishes his shelter and, with Hilda’s help, begins to stock it with everything they need to survive the 48 weeks (which Jim later realises is actually 48 hours, a mistake made by his misreading of the official governmental pamphlet) he believes they are required to stay within the shelter to bypass the fallout from the bomb. Suddenly an announcement comes over the radio. The unthinkable has happened. The bomb is on its way. Jim and Hilda scramble to get into their homemade shelter and the explosion rocks their cottage.

The rest of the film deals with the aftermath of the bomb and the effect it has on Jima and Hilda as they re-emerge from their shelter. They find a world in which the countryside they live in is practically entirely dead, their water supply is cut off and even the milk and postmen haven’t managed to make their daily rounds.

Of course Jim isn’t too worried. He theorises that there are bound to be delays during the emergency period that immediately follows the bomb. He’s also adamant that the government are working as quickly as possible to sort everything out and get all of the countries basic infrastructure up and running again. He’s also sure that emergency medical teams will be making the rounds as well, checking up on people, which is a good thing because it seems as though the shock of the bomb is having detrimental effects on both his and Hilda’s health. Jim, it seems, is completely ignorant of the effects of prolonged exposure to radiation.

As the days pass, Jim and Hilda succumb more and more to the effects of radiation poisoning and help still doesn’t seem to becoming. Eventually they decide to crawl back into their shelter, just in case a second bomb is dropped. The film ends with the couple praying before it fades to black.

All in all the film is a stark look at just what effects the bomb would have on people who are in regions that lay outside a major target such as London. There’s would be a slow, agonising death brought on by exposure to the radioactive fallout. Despite this the film is actually quite comical in nature, with much of the comedy coming from Jim’s adherence to the governmental outlines, the couples quintessential Britishness and the couples general ignorance about the consequences of a nuclear attack. There impression of what will happen is coloured by their experiences during the blitz and they expect much the same will happen this time. Of course, it’s this ignorance of the consequences which ultimately spells Jim and Hilda’s doom.

It’s a poignant, funny yet ultimately depressing film that I really do recommend. If there’s one criticism I can make it’s that there are occasional trippy little musical sequences, in particular during a scene where Hilda is hanging up her washing whilst Jim builds his shelter, which seem to serve no purpose and really just doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. Otherwise it’s another excellent example of a brilliantly depressing film based on events which, at the time of it’s production, seemed all too possible. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

The Depress-A-Thon: Happiness by Jamie

Happiness, happiness. I’ve been told that it’s the greatest gift that one can possess. But can anyone ever truly be happy? Is happiness merely a mask that people wear in order to protect themselves from the harsh realities of life? And what of those who can only find happiness by acting on strange impulses and fantasies? Do we as human beings even deserve happiness? (Spoilers Ahead!)

These are just a few of the questions you may ponder as you watch Todd Solondz’s 1998 film ‘Happiness’ a story starring an ensemble cast with interweaving stories which all seem to centre around the Jordan family in particular the Jordan Sisters, Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) and Joy (Jane Adams).

Joy is thirty-year old aspiring musician who still lives in her parents old home, works a crappy job and has basically no prospects for the future. Her sisters feign confidence in her to her face but in actuality it’s clear that neither of them think that she will ever be anything more than a lonely failure. The film opens with Joy on a date with Andy (Jon Lovitz), a co-worker and it’s clear that she’s just dumped him. He goes on to accuse her of being shallow before making a scene in the restaurant. He later kills himself. This causes Joy to leave her telephone sales job in an effort to do something more worth her while, becoming a teacher at an immigrant-education centre.

The problem is that she’s hired during a strike and even her students accuse her of being a scab. All except for one, a Russian named Vlad (Jarred Harris) who apparently takes quite a liking to her. He gives her a lift back to New Jersey where they have sex. Things finally seem to be going well for Joy until she finds out that Vlad was merely using her for money and to steal things from her.

Helen is a celebrated author who seemingly has the perfect life. She’s rich, famous and can have practically any man she wants. This life, however, leaves her wanting more. She’s worried that people only like her because of her success and she feels, ultimately, that her success is undeserved. She worries that because she writes about rape whilst never having been raped that she is a sham. She desires something more out of life, something to make her excited again.

Enter Allen (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Helen’s neighbour who is obsessed with her and making obscene phone calls. When he decides to call her from work and talk all dirty at her, she traces his number and rings him back, fascinated with the disgusting nature of his call. They finally meet but it soon becomes clear that Helen has absolutely no interest in Allen whatsoever. Depressed, Allen seeks solace in the arms of a more homely neighbour who had been in love with him, a murdering rape victim who is disgusted by the very idea of sex.

Trish appears to be living what I believe some call the American dream. She is a mother of three and wife to a psychiatrist Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker). She doesn’t seem to want for anything except that recently her sex life with her husband seems to have been suffering and she needs him to constantly reassure her that he loves her. Of course, the reason that Bill’s sexual appetite for his wife has diminished somewhat may be something to do with the fact that he is lusting after something else, young boys. He manages to control his urges by masturbating to pictures in magazines but an opportunity soon presents itself that Bill cannot resist.

A classmate of Bill’s son named Jonny comes for a sleepover one night, a classmate that Bill has developed something of an obsession with. During the night he drugs the boy and the rest of his family and rapes Jonny whilst he is unconscious. It seems as though this has unleashed something within Bill and when he learns that another classmate of his sons is home alone, he rapes him as well.

Jonny isn’t feeling to well after his night over at the Maplewood household and is eventually taken to hospital where it is revealed that he has been raped. This leads the police to call round and interview Bill. The police begin to question him about Jonny to which Bill replies with a question about the other boy, pretty much sealing his fate. This leads to a final conversation between Bill and his son where he explains that he did the things he is being accused of, enjoyed them, would do them again but he wouldn’t rape his own son. No, he’d just jerk off instead.

The final story within the film is that of the sisters two parents who, after forty years of marriage are finally separating though not getting divorced. The reason being that Lenny (Ben Gazzara) claims that he no longer loves his wife, just wants to be alone and has seemingly lost all capacity for normal human emotion.

So yeah, that’s pretty much a small synopsis of the film ‘Happiness’… Well, maybe it’s not small but it’s kind of hard to write a small synopsis for a film that has five different stories interweaving with each other, especially when all of those stories all seem to have a fairly equal amount of depth. Some are given more weight than others. For example, though it is clear that Joy is probably supposed to be the main character to some degree, it is Bill who comes of feeling more like he’s the focus of the film. This might be because his character seems to have the most dimensions to him.

Bill is the one who commits the most horrendous and reprehensible acts (acts which are thankfully only ever implied off-screen) whilst also being… I don’t want to say the most sympathetic character but Todd Solondz does somehow make you feel a little sorry for him. He’s different from most film portrayals of paedophiles in that he’s not a one-dimensional monster, he actually has good attributes as well. He’s a good husband and a good father which perhaps makes it all the more shocking when he does the things that he does. He’s not a monster, outwardly he’s just like everyone else and that makes him all the more horrible to contemplate.

The ironic thing about the title here is, of course, that no one in the film is happy. Helen is emotionally unfulfilled despite her pretty sweet life, Joy cannot seem to ever, ever get a break, Allen comes close to getting what he wants only to have any chance of it happening taken from him, Bill struggles and fails to control his urges and one character, Lenny has seemingly lost the ability to feel anything at all, let alone happiness. The implication of it all is that there is no such things as true happiness. It’s either an illusion that people convince themselves is real, either to cope with the horrid reality of living or protect themselves from their true nature, or if it does exist at all then it’s temporary and sooner or later something will come along to destroy it.

Despite this bleak outlook, ‘Happiness’ does actually manage to be rather funny and quite enjoyable. It’s a well made film with fantastic performances throughout. Dylan Baker and Phillip Seymour Hoffman stand out in particular, both managing to convey the conflicts within their characters perfectly. The music also remains ironically upbeat throughout the film, adding another layer to twisted nature of the film by doing things such as playing a happy go lucky kinda tune whilst a man suffers a heart attack on a golf course.

Now, I don’t know whether or not to recommend ‘Happiness’. It most certainly isn’t for everyone and there’s not much joy to be had in watching it though it is still a strangely enjoyable film to watch, if that makes any sense whatsoever. I’m not sure that it does. In fact, the only technical problem I can find with the film is that sometimes it seems as though a few things are pushed just a little too far for humours sake and they fall a little flat and outside the realms of believability that the rest of the film seems to inhabit. Still, I’ll give this film four pints out of five. Haven’t decided what the review for tomorrow will be yet but I’ll try and pick something that doesn’t involve paedophilia whatsoever, though the subject does admittedly make for a rather depressing, enraging and upsetting movie watching experience. Laterz.

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