Documental: Cropsey by Jamie

It seems that every town has an urban legend involving some kind of scary maniac, weirdo or boogeyman who lives away from the rest of society doing untoward things like kidnapping or murder. The one we had growing up was Bill, a homeless man who lived down by the river. Admittedly ours was an actual person though the legend that grew up around him was probably somewhat exaggerated. There were those who said he was an eccentric billionaire who actually owned a rather nice house but decided to live down by the river instead because he was mental. I don’t really remember any tales of murder but I do remember that our parents would warn us of him when ever we were going down that way.

I remember one day when a few of us were walking across the Cow Pipe (a pipe elevated of the ground that ran from one part of the river to a cow field next to it) and Bill came round the corner. My friend fell and I grabbed him. Unfortuantely he took me with him and I landed in a big pile of stinging nettles. Bill sat there on the pipe laughing at us for a few minute before wandering off. It was one of the times that I remember being really and truly afraid.

The urban legend that circled amongst the kids on Staten Island was of Cropsey and that’s kind of what the film of the same name deals with. The interesting thing about this case is that something happened after the establisment of the legend that gave the story further credence.

On Staten Island there used to be a mental institution called Willowbrook. It was originally designed for 4,000 residents but by 1965 it had over 6,000 and was the biggest state-run institution for the mentally handicapped. In 1972 the institution was visited by the admirably mustachioed Geraldo Rivera in a report he called ‘Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace”. His footage, some of which is shown in ‘Cropsey’ showed scenes of overcrowding, children screeching naked and covered in filth. The report caused a public outcry but Willowbrook would remain open until 1987.

After it’s closure a few of the former residents and even staff members returned, living for periods in the woods around the institution of in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the old building. One of these people was a former employee, Andre Rand.

Whilst all this was going on, children were going missing on Staten Island and this just helped to feed the Cropsey legend further. In 1987 a young girl with Down’s Syndrome called Jennifer Schwiezer went missing. Searches were carried out around the island and eventually her body was found close to Willowbrook. Attention turned towards Rand especially when witnesses came forward claiming that Jennifer had last been seen with a man fitting his description. He was brought in for questioning, charged and convicted receiving twenty -five years to life.

The film itself investigates all aspects of the legends and facts around Staten Island and Willowbrook. First it traces the legened of Cropsey before getting more and more involved in the case of Rand, going so far as to contact him and ask for interviews as a new trial is about to begin involving the disappearance of another little girl from 1981.

Overall it’s a pretty fascinating documentary and one which honestly gets more than a little creepy at times, particularly when the film makers are going through the ruins of Willowbrook at night, discovering all the old sleeping places of people who used to live there. It also handles the question of whether or not Rand is guilty quite well early on although as the film progresses I certainly found myself thinking he was probably guilty not so much because of any slant in the film but because of the actions of Rand himself which also ties into things. Is Rand being declared guilty because of any concrete evidence or because he seems like the kind of person who might do horrible things and therefore makes a convenient boogeyman for the community of Staten Island?

In closing the only real problem I had was that the film seemed a little all over the place at times but I’ll put this down to the nature of the story rather than any real fault of the film itself. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

Documental: Prodigal Sons by Jamie

Some may consider this review a touch spoilery but it’s really not to be honest. There’s stuff that may be considered spoilers if you haven’t seen the trailer I suppose.

Kimberley Reed is a magazine editor based in New York but she was brought up in Helena, Montana and is headed back there for her twenty year high school reunion and she’s excited if somewhat apprehensive about seeing her old friends. Part of this apprehension derives from the fact that she’ll be seeing her estranged brother adopted brother Marc who she hasn’t seen for a decade. There’s also the fact that the last time she was in her hometown her name wasn’t Kimberley Reed. It was Paul McKerrow

Yes, Kimberley was born a boy and had suffered with gender identifications for her whole life. In her school days as Paul, he had been one of the co-captain’s of the football team, was popular and had girls chasing after him. When he finally made it to San Francisco after leaving her home town she had the gender reassignment surgery that would make her into the person she would want to be. Marc, on the other hand, didn’t have such a privileged life, at least from his point of view. He was popular but he was also considered hyperactive during pre-school which caused him to be left back a year, putting in the same class as brother Paul.

He was popular enough but he preferred the partying life rather than buckling down and excelling at anything. Then at the age of twenty-one he was involved in a car accident which left his brain scarred and caused him to suffer from seizures. He underwent a couple of surgeries to remove the scar tissue but unfortunately this had other side-effects. Left with a damaged brain that affected his short term memory and ability to control his emotions, Marc began to dwell on the past and the sibling rivalry that he felt characterised it, feeling as though life had cheated him even though out of his siblings in his mind he had turned out normal (He also had another younger brother, Todd, who was gay). Combine this with said difficulty with regard to controlling his emotions and Marc would sometimes lash out, uncontrollably violently at those around him.

Another aspect of Marc’s life that caused him difficulty was the fact that he was indeed adopted. In his eyes, his siblings had another advantage because they were genetically related to their parents, meaning they should have had a better idea who they were. As for Marc, he was always left wondering just who he was supposed to be and just where his innate ability for the piano came from.

So it’s with all this going on that Kim decides to film her reunion and hopeful reconciliation with her brother. At first things seem to be going well but before she’s due to go home, Marc snaps and begins going on about the past and begins tearing shit up. Still, they do part on somewhat good terms, Marc feeling incredibly guilty about his inability to control himself. Some small ground has been made but it’s not really the reunion Kimberley had been hoping for.

Then Marc receives some fairly incredible news about his birth mother. It turns out that she was Rebecca Welles, daughter of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Yes, the man who had been jealous of his siblings’ genetic connection to their parents turned out to be related by blood to Hollywood royalty. He’s flown out to Croatia to participate in a documentary about his grandfather by Oja Kodar, Orson’s “soul-mate”. Still it seems that despite these sudden revelations about his famous relatives, Marc is still unable to let go of his past with his adopted family, particularly the brother who became a sister that he had envied so much growing up which causes Kimberley some embarrassment when he shows a picture of the three brothers as youngsters to the crew of the Welles documentary.

That night the siblings have a discussion and Marc says something that suddenly makes Kim rethink her life. He makes her realise that she can’t be true to herself as a whole person if she completely tries to erase Paul from her past. This sends her on a kind of pilgrimage to rediscover her past and confront the transition that she’d tried to bury deep inside herself. She goes back to San Francisco and visits haunts that she’d frequent both before and after her sex change as well as meet up with an old friend of Paul’s.

And so the film continues on but sadly, Marc’s behaviour continues to become more and more erratic and violent until it finally reaches a boiling point during a family Christmas and events transpire that end with his arrest.

I think that’s about enough of a synopsis there. What I can say about this documentary is fuck! It twists and turns like a twisty turny thing. Every time you think that everything might finally be resolved and this family might have a chance at something approaching normality something else happens! It’s truly a pretty fucking incredible story that I promise will keep you hooked from start to finish.

What amazes me the most is that I came to this film thinking it would mostly be about the son of Orson Welles’ long lost grandson, and when you look at Marc the relation is obvious, particularly when you see his nose in profile. There are times when there are sideways close ups of that you almost think Welles has been brought back to life somehow. The fascinating thing, as I was saying, is that I went into this thinking that that would be the most interesting part of this whole film but it turns out it’s actually a fairly minor part of the story in relation to everything else.

No, this isn’t the story of Orson Welles’ long lost grandson. Rather it’s the story of a family and the members of it struggling to find out their true identities, trying to find out just who they are and how they fit into this mental world. Hell, even when Marc finds out who he’s related to it doesn’t seem to change his identity crisis. If anything it’s probably the catalyst for his condition worsening. Imagine if you had grown up jealous of your seemingly superior brother only to suffer brain damage and feel as though you’re completely unable to fulfil your true potential. Then you find out that you’re related to one of the most revered men in cinema history and yet the news basically comes to late for this new information to really change who you are or who you can be. That would probably eat a person alive inside. Of course, I’m just speculating but that’s certainly how I’d feel about it.

All in all, this is a truly incredible documentary that I don’t think I can possibly recommend further. Find it and watch it. Five pints out of five. Laterz.

Review: Catfish by Jamie

I thought long and hard about whether or not to make this review spoiler free or not and, in the end, I came to the conclusion that not mentioning spoilers would make this film particularly difficult to write about so yes, there will be spoilers in this review. Due to the nature of this film I would heartily suggest that you go and watch the film before reading further. To make sure that you don’t accidentally read anything that will spoil the film for you, I’ll place a video underneath this paragraph.

Hahaha, that never gets old. Yes, there’s nothing quite as funny as a chimp sexually violating a frog. It’s true what they say, they’re so like us. Anyway, on with Catfish then. I assume that we’re all finally on the same page here, all having watched the film. If you decided to read on anyway without watching the film then I guess that’s up to you. I can’t stop you.

The film begins in New York when professional photographer Nev Schulman receives a painting of one of his pictures from Abby Pierce, an eight year old from Michigan. Nev begins an online friendship with Abby and, by exension, Abby’s family including Abby’s mother, Angela, Abby’s brother Joel and Abby’s older half-sister Megan who Nev takes quite a shine to as they chat online and via phone calls.

Nev’s brother Ariel and his friend Henry Joost begin documenting Nev’s relationship with the family, in particular his developing romance with Megan. It turns out that Abby isn’t the only artiste in the family and that Megan herself is quite the proficient dancer and prolific songwriter. She sends him copies of songs she has recorded and he is quite impressed. Impressed, that is, until he finds that the songs have pretty much been taking from YouTube videos. This leads to the guys investigating some of the other claims the family have made.

For example, Megan had claimed that they had purchased a gallery in order to hold shows for Abby’s work and had sent them pictures of the building. Through some online sleuthing they discover that the building is actually an old JC Penney’s which is actually still up for sale. Determined to find out the truth behind the story of the family, the filmmakers decide to head out to Michigan to confront the family.

The first place they head to is a horse ranch which Megan supposedly owns in the middle of the night, which actually turns out to be quite a creepy scene. Upon arriving they find that find that no one is there and there is certainly no sign of any horses. Furthermore an investigation of the mailbox reveals that it’s full of postcards which Nev had sent Megan on his travels proving once and for all that the British door-based letter slot is far superior than the American mailbox system.

The next morning the three guys decide to just show up at the family’s house. There they find that Angela and her husband doesn’t look anything like their Facebook pictures, Abby isn’t an artist, Megan is no where to be found and Angela is in fact a housewife who cares for two disabled sons and is the actual person behind the paintings. The filmmakers come to the conclusion that it is Angela who has essentially fabricated an entire life on Facebook, creating fictional profiles for a large network of family and friends and that she is, in fact, in love with Nev

Nev eventually gently confronts Angela about all this and the truth finally comes out. The last half hour or so of the film is spent basically interviewing Angela and her family in order to try and get some kind of handle of just who she is. It’s revealed through these interviews that she basically carried out the lie in order to vicariously experience a life she had given up on in order to have the family she has now. During most of her interviews, Angela is seen making a sketch of Nev. When everything is all over Nev returns to New York where he finally receives Angela‘s portrait of himself.

So yeah, that’s basically the film. And it’s a well told story with many interesting turns and twists and you never really lose interest but by far the biggest question surrounding this film is it’s veracity. Are the events pictured real or is it all an elaborate hoax. It does seem as though things play out so nicely that it’s almost unbelievable but I’ve let documentaries slide for that before, the fantastic ‘King of Kong’ being a good example.

Still, there’s something else that just drives me to believe that the whole thing is fabricated and that’s the way people speak, especially the three filmmakers. It just seems to me as though they are saying things that they had planned out and trying to make it sound natural. I’ll admit this could be simply due to the presence of a camera. I’ve seen people just talking about stuff and coming off completely differently simply because they are being filmed. Still, these guys just come off so unnatural to me that I have a hard time believing that the film is a true documentary.

There’s also a scene where they’re talking about chickens and apparently none of them knew that chickens lay one egg a day. Really? Are you shitting me? Who the fuck doesn’t know that? I know that they live in New York but surely they must have learnt that at some point in their lives. The whole thing, again, comes of as something written that they thought would be a wacky little conversation because seriously, I refuse to believe that there’s anyone who has heard of chickens that doesn’t know that they lay an egg a day. I mean Jesus fucking Christ!

Ahem. Whether or not the film is real there are a couple things that just rubbed me up the wrong way. The first is the unrepentant douchebaggery of the three main characters. They just seem so smug to me that I just found them genuinely annoying and I was kinda glad that they’d been played for fools. The second thing is the style of the film. Something about how heavily it relied on the internet imagery pissed me off as well. Yes, I understand it’s a documentary about people meeting and forming relationships over the internet but do I really need to see Google Maps every time they go travelling? And I swear this film had showed Facebook more fucking times than ‘The Social Network’ did. It just seemed as though they were saying “Look! The internet exists and we’re using it a lot in our movie! Aren’t we current and up to date!” It just irritated the hell out of me and I realise that’s more my problem than the films but still.

Despite these flaws, it is a interesting story, true or not, about the perils of relationships with strangers over the internet and one which is certainly relevant right now what with the release of ‘The Social Network’ and Mark Zuckerberg being name ‘Times’ man of the year. Yes, 2010 was the year of Facebook and ‘Catfish’ is another part of that. Overall I’ll give it 3 out of 5.

Review: Across The Universe by Jamie

The last time I looked at a film that took the music of one band and built a plot around it was the fucking atrocious ABBA-based musical ‘Mamma Mia!’…. Oh god, the shrieking, the bad singing, the bad acting… I’m just going to have a little cry. Please bear with me.

Right. Sorry about that. That film really touched me and not in a good way, more like the kind of way that the Pope might try and cover up. Zing, take that Catholic Church! Haha, satire. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Mamma Mia. So yeah that was a terrible, terrible film that kind of made me want to launch a full scale invasion of Sweden to try and make sure this kind of thing never happens again. Still, this kind of thing did happen again. And this time the band that supplied the music, The Beatles, came from my beloved Britain! Would I have to commit some desperate acts of domestic terrorism or would ‘Across The Universe’ actually turn out to be good?

Thankfully it looks like I’m safe for the time being. I had some worries going in but it actually turns out that ‘Across The Universe’ was an eminently enjoyable film. And how could it not be, really? It’s based on the music of The Fucking Beatles. I think we’re definitely dealing with song-writers of an infinitely higher calibre than ABBA. So yeah, it’s definitely starting from a stronger point right there.

Now, I can remember when I first heard about this film and there were a lot of complaints I’d heard from people basically disliking the cover versions of the song or saying that the songs were being used too literally and yes, I can see why those people have those complaints. But you can’t take such things so seriously. Cover versions have been a part of music probably since music began. And even if those cover versions are going to exist I don’t see the problem. It’s not like the original versions are suddenly going to disappear or be superseded by the new versions. Of course, remakes of films are totally different and a perfectly valid thing to get upset about for reasons I simply won’t go into here…

As for the using the songs too literally, well, yeah. I can see that as well but you’ve got to understand that the songs are being used in this context to tell a narrative throughout an entire film. They’re not being left to stand on there own or to tell a story throughout an album. They aren’t meant to be interpreted and picked apart for their meaning when used in a film in this manner. They just tell the story of the film. I suppose some people may say that taking these elements from these classic songs and using them in this way some how cheapens them but to that I say pshaw! Of course, when you take elements from an older film and re-use them in a different way in a remake it’s completely different and a completely valid thing to get upset about for, once again, reasons I simply won’t go into here…

Anyway, I didn’t see this film when it first came out mainly because of those complaints. I liked the Beatles and had no interest in watching their music possibly being butchered in what sounded like it might just end up being a pretty standard love film. Then I listened to the Cool Shite soundtrack podcast about this film. I generally seem to have similar tastes to the guys on that podcast and they seemed to enjoy it so I thought ‘what the fuck, just give it a watch.’ So I did. I should say that, having listened to that podcast there’s a chance that some of my thoughts may echo some of theirs though I tried to leave it a little while after listening to it before writing this in the hope that there wouldn’t be too much cross-over.

So, the story basically follows a group of characters living through the tumultuous mid to late 60s, the things they encounter on their journeys and the friendships they make along the way. I’m guessing, though it’s never actually made clear, that this is some kind of parallel dimension where The Beatles never existed but peoples lives play out according to their lyrics or something. Anyway, the two main characters are Jude Feeny (Jim Sturgess), a working class artistic boy from Liverpool who comes to America to try and find his father and ends up staying there to try and find himself and Lucy Carrigan (Evan Rachel Wood) an upper class girl who loses her boyfriend in Vietnam and becomes heavily involved in the protest against it and heavily involved in Jude as well. There’s also Max (Joe Anderson), Lucy’s brother and Jude’s best friend who’s quite a fun, likeable guy who suddenly finds himself called up to serve in the war effort, Sadie (Dana Fuchs), the group’s landlady and singer in a band, Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy), Sadie’s boyfriend and guitarist and Prudence (T.V. Carpio), who’s a bit of a drifter and a lesbian.

I’m sure you can see just by looking at some of the character’s names that this is literally littered with Beatles references. It doesn’t stop at character names (Though Bono has a cameo as Dr. Robert and Eddie Izzard as Mr Kite though we’ll come back to those later). Almost everything seems to be some kind of reference. At one point Jude is trying to come up with a logo for Sadie’s record label and eventually settles on a strawberry whilst singing Strawberry Fields Forever and the label is called Strawberry Jamz which is an obvious reference to Apple Corps and just in case you didn’t get that, Jude is earlier shown trying to draw a green apple. The Blue Meanies from Yellow submarine appear, The Magical Mystery Bus appears, an early scene in the film takes place in The Cavern Club… I think you get the point. If I keep going on like this I’ll still be here when I‘m sixty-four.

So the music’s clearly the backbone of this film but it would be utterly pointless without a plot and yeah, there are times when it lags and during the beginning I was a little worried because it just seemed to be random scenes tenuously linked by Beatles music which kind of fit it and I was worried that this film was essentially just gonna be a bit of an excuse just to do a few cover songs with little to no actual plot but as it went along I found myself genuinely enjoying the story and empathising with the characters and the various predicaments they find themselves in. I’m trying to be vague because I think it’s really a film you should probably see for yourself.

The plot also features a few real life events which the characters find themselves involved in though some are just mentioned in passing to try and give some time of context of the films time frame. There are race riots, a riot at a college which turns violent, the assassination of Martin Luther King and, of course, the previously mentioned Vietnam war. There are even references to the rise of the psychedelic drug use, though I suppose you’d have to include that in a film that included ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘For The Benefit of Mr Kite’.

So let’s get onto the music then. In general it’s all pretty goddamn good. I didn’t find the cover versions in anyway pissed on what The Beatles did and I wasn’t particularly annoyed by the ‘over-literal’ interpretations of the songs. There where definitely some highlights for me. In particular Bono’s cameo to do a version of ‘I Am The Walrus’ and Eddie Izzard’s cameo to deliver a spoken word version of ‘For The Benefit of Mr Kite’. It’s brilliant and anyone who’s an Izzard fan is sure to enjoy it. He’s basically just being himself in the context of a Beatles song. I could go on about other songs and why I love them so I’ll just make a quick go of it: Joe Cocker’s version of ‘Come Together’, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ featuring Selma Hayek as a troupe of sexy nurses, a transatlantic version of ‘Hey Jude’, a rooftop version of ‘All You Need Is Love’ and my personal favourite Beatles song ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ during the end credits.

Hmm, I guess this hasn’t been a review so much as it’s been a series of lists. Still I highly, highly recommend you see this film especially if you love The Beatles but aren‘t against their music being used in new and interesting ways. Also it really made me want to play Rock Band: The Beatles again so that’s always good. Four pints out of five.

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