Monday, May 16, 2011


The most inspiring, touching, and relevant art in the world isn't created by artists. Mark Hogancamp has created an entire world in his backyard and because he took pictures, he's considered an artist. He didn't set out to create art in the way someone sits down at a canvas and asks, what should I paint today? Mark simply wanted to escape the pains of the real world. Marwencol is his story.

A decade ago, Mark was savagely beaten by five men outside a bar. He was left brain damaged and lost most of his memories. Unable to afford any kind of therapy, Mark begins constructing a model of a fictional World War II era town; Marwencol. He populates the town with G.I. Joes and Barbies. At first, the construction of this town and its inhabitants enable Mark to practice his fine motor skills. Eventually, Mark gives personalities to each doll, based on people he knows in his personal life. There is even a Mark doll, the alpha male of Marwencol. Through this doll, Mark is able to live his life.

Mark, in real life is divorced, but he doesn't remember why. He only knows that he loves women. In Marwencol the women, an assortment of different Barbie dolls, love him back. There are several times when the Mark doll runs into serious trouble. He is often tortured at the hands of Nazi toys. These conflicts represent the barrage of demons Mark has locked inside his subconscious. It is often the women toys, including a witch with magical powers, that come to his rescue. This means more than I'm willing to give away.

As the line between Mark's Marwencol and his real life starts to disappear, the pictures he has taken are discovered. He is asked to show them in a gallery. Mark must choose whether or not to venture out of his world. It is amazing to see how this climax in Mark's life translates to the storyline taking place in Mark's backyard.

Marwencol is a fascinating look at a real man living in an artificial world. The story is sad at times, but Mark has small victories every day; a true testament to art therapy. The interviews with Mark and his neighbors paint a picture just as detailed as the buildings and characters Mark has built. Jeff Malmberg, the filmaker, presents Mark in such a matter of fact way you can't help but love him. He treats the town of Marwencol as if it were just another one of the shooting locations. Thanks to Malmberg we enter Marwencol just as Mark does on a daily basis.

Everything is brought together at the end in a beautiful metaphysical kind of way. Charlie Kaufman would have a run for his money had this been a fictional story. The fact that it's all real makes Marwencol even more special.

This film gets 4 stickers from me. Really big stickers... (All images are property of Mark Hogancamp.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Terrifying Family Films - Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! What a perfect day to share one of my favorite childhood movies; a film that also scared the shamrocks out of me. Darby O’Gill and the Little People is a classic Disney film, known for its innovative special effects. I don’t quite remember what the movie is all about; just that an old man catches the king of leprechauns. I also vaguely remember Sean Connery singing. I think my mom rewound the tape to watch this scene a few times.

Nice right? That song will be in your head all day. What I remember most, though, is the wailing banshee and the Grim Reaper’s death wagon. What kind of F-ed up Disney movie has a Grim Reaper? Just looking for media gave me the creeps.

I couldn’t find an actual clip of the death wagon flying in, or its headless driver, but here’s some of the freakiest Darby O’Gill scenes set to some pleasant celtic music. The banshee looks like a dementor on acid.

Way to give me nightmares Disney. No wonder I feel the need to drink beer on St. Patrick's Day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm Still Here

Wascally wascals Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck have played a joke on America. Only the joke isn’t funny and short of some publicity on Letterman and Access Hollywood, did anyone really care?

I’m Still Here is a mockumentary filmed by Affleck and Phoenix. According to the film, Phoenix decides to retire from acting and break into the rap game. On the road to rap stardom he completely falls apart; his breakdown accompanied by drugs and prostitutes. Surprise! It’s fake. Hilarious, right? Not really. The concept is clever; I’ll give them that. The resulting film is just hard to watch. It’s slow-moving, hard to follow, and at times, really gross. This movie reminded me a lot of Pauly Shore is Dead. Interesting concept, but in the end, nobody wants to watch.

Some critics believed the hype; this was the real Phoenix having a breakdown. Even one critic, whom I hold in high regard, seemed to believe it. In his review he says the film is pointless; watching Phoenix spiral out of control is pathetic. I agree that it is pointless, but that’s how you know it’s fake. Who would make a movie showing their buddy falling apart and doing drugs? It would be pointless and cruel. Also, wouldn’t there be legal ramifications if Phoenix really took that many drugs on screen? Phoenix does an insane amount of drugs on screen. What celebrity would really do that unless they were on Dr. Drew? Affleck is married to Joaquin’s sister, Summer. What decent human being would film their brother-in-law in such conditions, knowing that the family would see? What would be the point? This film only makes sense as a hoax; it only works as a celebrity spoof. Unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

There are moments where it seemed as though 12 year old boys got hold of the camera. It bounces around the room, in and out of focus, while the little boys giggle. You can’t even tell what the actors are saying half the time. And let me tell you, there are just way too many poop, vomit, and full frontal shots for my taste.

The one outstanding scene, which required some terrific acting on Phoenix’s part, is when he appears on Letterman to promote his new rap gig. Unfortunately, everyone already saw this part. I would have really liked to see the green room footage, or maybe something backstage with Letterman. They could have staged a fight or something; just something additional to what everyone saw already.

It takes a lot of talent to play yourself, and it takes a lot of guts to portray yourself in a negative way. So I admire Phoenix for that. I admire both Phoenix and Affleck for trying something different. The concept is a pretty good one, but I think it takes a dark turn. I would have enjoyed a movie about Phoenix becoming a rapper. That has comedy written all over it. Film the crowd reacting to the outfits and hilariously bad raps; leave the nudity and drugs out of it. The secret to a good lie is to not overdo it.

2 weird beards

Monday, March 7, 2011


Don’t let the big orange Nickelodeon logo fool you. Rango is a cartoon about little animals but it's not a cartoon for kids; at least not little ones. Cartoons seem to be getting very serious lately. Toy Story 3 definitely had its share of adult themes. Rango does too, but even more so. It’s also violent, dark, scary, and really noisy. I saw more than a few kids covering their ears. Not to mention, some of the cuddly little animals drink and smoke and curse. I loved it, but I’m not little. That reminds me, I need to get back to the gym.

Rango is somebody’s pet chameleon. He’s a privileged, self-proclaimed thespian, but he longs for something more. After a fateful accident, Rango finds himself in an old west town with some rather disgusting, but intricately rendered animals. Rango must prove himself to the town and answer life’s biggest question, “Who am I?”

The story is a pretty good one. It’s well-written and funny, but it’s also full of pretty standard old west archetypes. This movie is a clear descendent of Blazing Saddles and The Andy Griffith show. Rango, and more than a few of his quirks, is homage to Barney Fife. Another interesting comparison I couldn’t help but draw was to the movie Chinatown. Rango’s new home, aptly named Dirt, is suffering through a drought. Rango must figure out who or what is to blame.

What’s most amazing about this movie is the character design. The creatures of Dirt look like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They are so ugly, but you know, in a cute way. They are pretty gross sometimes but so detailed they’re almost beautiful. Although, the guy with the arrow in his eye was pretty gnarly. These are exactly the kind of rodents you’d assume you may find in a town called Dirt.

As much as I loved this movie I just can’t recommend it for families. The reactions from some of the little kids I saw were pretty telling. There are plenty of hilarious sight gags and slapstick jokes that got the little ones laughing. But there are lots of adult jokes and some inappropriate behavior. One has to take into account though that Dirt is an authentic old west town. Characters drink and smoke cigars. Characters point guns and characters get shot. There are a couple scenes that I believe would be absolutely traumatic for a kid. One of the main villains is a giant rattlesnake. I thought the snake from The Jungle Book was freaky, but this guy puts him to shame. He’s a pretty scary dude, and his “rattle” is actually a revolver-like cannon. Another scary scene, one I absolutely loved for its creativity, was when a posse of bat-riding rodents chase Rango and his gang. I mean… what’s more terrifying than bats? Well, rodents riding bats and shooting guns.

The great references and metaphors would also be lost on kids. There are so many cool themes and nods to spaghetti westerns to appreciate. And because Johnny Depp is the star, there’s even a hidden Hunter S. Thompson caricature. Look for it. Unless your kids know who Hunter S. Thompson is, this movie isn’t really for them.

4.5 filthy animals

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Terrible Movie Night!

I had to pass this on. This brilliant website was created just about a week ago and I can't believe I didn't think of it first. Here's how it works: Terrible Movie Night schedules a showing of a classically bad movie. You go on to Netflix instant stream and start the movie when scheduled. Then you log on to the website and basically tear it apart with other viewers. What a perfect way to showcase your genius wit with people you don't know!

I'm going to try it out tonight with the film, Transatlantic Tunnel. However, I'm most excited about the double feature this Saturday - two Troma flicks: The Toxic Avenger and Redneck Zombies. I'm not a huge fan of Toxie, but I used to watch Redneck Zombies constantly. Only problem was, no one would watch with me. Now, thanks to Terrible Movie Night, I will have virtual friends to bash it with!!

Check out the website for more details and showings:
Terrible Movie Night

Thanks to Thrillist Chicago for spreading the word, and to my sister for reading Thrillist Chicago.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Something's happening!

The news has been filled with accounts of strange nature phenomenons lately. Birds dying, fish dying, bees disappearing. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! But don't worry, I know what it is.

Relax, it's just some viral marketing for The Happening 2.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Terrifying Family Films - A Christmas Story

In the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d discuss my favorite Christmas movie ever: A Christmas Story. When I started outlining this piece, I realized something. This movie, while it’s amazing and hilarious, is kind of scary. I’ve unintentionally dug up some repressed feelings and am therefore dusting off a series I call Terrifying Family Films. Here are the top five real reasons your kids will be up all night Christmas Eve.

1.) I think we can all agree that the pivotal moment when Ralphie tells Santa his wish, and is subsequently pushed down the slide, is pretty freaky. The elves are mean and Santa looks like the devil. The thing that really gave me nightmares was that slide. I don’t know why; maybe because it was bright red or because it was monstrously huge and out of place. I had night terrors as a kid and the majority of them were about plummeting to my death on a long slide like that. Usually there was no end to the slide, but every so often I fell into the Sarlac pit from Return of the Jedi.

2.) At one point in the film, Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields and his mom are dressed as a witch and a harlequin and proceed to make fun of him. I hated this scene. If you can’t trust your mom or your teacher, who can you trust?

3.) If you can watch A Christmas Story without feeling a little anxiety when Scut Farkus comes around, you probably are Scut Farkus. If so, stay far away from me because you are absolutely grotesque. The braces, freckles, and yellow eyes - yikes! And you’re so mean. Making kids cry, shame on you. As horrible as you are, Ralphie’s final battle with you is glorious.

4.) Some of you may not recall this absolutely terrifying scene, however, I can quote every line. After Ralphie say’s “Fudge” (And by the way, did any kid understand this joke? I did not. For many years I thought Fudge was a swear word.) Anyway, his mother puts soap in his mouth and then asks where he heard the particular word. Ralphie totally narks on his buddy Schwartz. Mrs. Parker calls Schwartz’s mom. Mrs. Schwartz freaks the fudge out, and we listen as she beats him. "Ahhh what'd I do mom!? What'd I do!?"

5.) Finally, and the most horrible of all, the tongue on the frosty pole scene. The lead up to this scene is tense, but it’s not scary. The triple-dog-dare is mean, but not scary. The fact that all Flick’s friends leave him stuck to the pole and not inform anyone of his predicament is sick, but not scary. The scary part, the scariest part of the whole movie, is when they bring Flick back inside and he’s got gauze on his tongue. However, as a kid, I was convinced that the firemen had ripped off half his tongue, and the white stuff was the inside of his tongue. What a great Christmas movie mom and dad!

All kidding aside, I love this movie. A Christmas Story is one of America’s most cherished films and I watch it all day on Christmas just like the rest of you. The bunny pajamas, Randy in his huge coat, the crummy commercial for Ovaltine, and of course the leg lamp are all iconic film moments all surprisingly found in the same movie. How can one movie have so many great scenes? I think we've all seen this movie so many times we forget how truly great it is. I wish I could go back and watch it for the first time all over again.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tron: Legacy

What was the most common thing heard at the movie theater this weekend? “One ticket for Tron, please.” Tron: Legacy is a movie with a very specific audience and though it’s very good, I’m not sure it will achieve the box office numbers Disney was hoping for. It opened at number one, but I don’t think it will last. I could be wrong here, but Tron: Legacy might only appeal to men my age. We remember the original Tron from when we were kids and want to relive it the same way we lined up for The Phantom Menace. I’m pretty sure the dinner-and-movie date demographic skipped this one. That's unfortunate.

Tron: Legacy is definitely worth seeing in theaters, even if you aren’t familiar with the original. I passed on the 3D as I usually do for review purposes. (I’m always afraid I’m going to miss something important when I’m trying to grab the 3D effects.) The visuals were still impressive and nice to look at. However, it didn’t really look all that much like Tron. That’s due in part to the plot which is set up something like this:

Kevin Flynn, the man behind the Tron game has been living inside the grid for 20 something years. His son Sam receives a message from the grid so Sam goes to find him. The grid has changed a lot because Kevin, along with his “program” Clu, have been making nice alterations. So the flat geometric shapes and monotone color scheme have been updated, which is a clever tie in to modern day computer graphic capabilities. And speaking of modern day capabilities, the animators actually make Jeff Bridges look 20 years younger as he did in the first movie. Pretty snazzy. Everything looks amazing, but it doesn’t really feel like a video game anymore. I suppose video games really don’t look like video games anymore either.

Tron: Legacy is also an interesting story, and it held my attention. There’s a new twist to the grid which I found intriguing. The whole idea behind this new character Quorra, played by Olivia Wilde, is clever and thought-provoking. Plus she’s really hot. There are some pretty decent action sequences as well, all using the classic Tron games. Light Cycles, which have been updated, are totally awesome.

The film is very entertaining but you walk away with some questions that can’t really be answered because in no way is this story possible. So you have to suspend your disbelief a great deal and ignore any holes. However, I still have questions. For example, how does one manage to find food and eat it in the grid? Is the roasted pig on the dinner table just a program? If so, does that make it vegetarian?

Tron: Legacy is a great tribute to the original. It’s fun if you don’t think too much about the science behind everything. You also have to appreciate that everything has been upgraded. The suits, the vehicles, and the city itself have all been improved and rendered intricately. The futuristic theme music from the original has also been upgraded… by Daft Punk. So if you’re expecting the Tron you remember, go watch that. This isn’t it. This is better! So see it, and bring a friend!

4 arcade classics

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let the Right One In

So I’m pretty tired of the vampire thing and although I enjoy The Walking Dead on AMC, I’m pretty tired of zombies as well. Isn’t there some other monster we can exploit? There has to be something. Bigfoots maybe? I’d love to see a tween romance with glittery bigfoots.

Let the Right One In is another vampire movie. But, this one is different. It’s not really a vampire movie at all. In fact, it’s quite lovely. I have no doubts that Let Me In, the Hollywood remake released last month, will be scary and totally miss what makes the original so great. I need to see the new one before I make rash judgments of course, but I have a pretty good hunch. Let the Right One In isn’t meant to scare. There are a few spooky scenes and a little blood, but this story is really about friendship. It’s like My Girl meets Nosferatu.

This film was made in Stockholm and it’s entirely in Swedish. Oskar is a boy with an unfortunate haircut and no friends except his mom. He keeps to himself and is frequently picked on by a kid named Conny. He meets a girl named Eli and they form a nice little friendship over a Rubik’s Cube. And so you know, Rubik’s Cube is the same in Swedish.

Eli is a fascinating and complex character. You know from the beginning that she’s different. Although she is 12, she admits to having been 12 for a long time and you can actually see it in her face. I’m not sure if it’s done with makeup or if it’s the actress, but she looks very mature. Interestingly, when she meets Eli she begins to act childish and not sure of herself. Oskar tells her that she smells. Hilarious. But then she worries about smelling nice for him. Oskar tells her that she’s ice cold and Eli wonders if that makes her gross. The complexity of her character is amazing. Young Oskar is interesting as well, but Eli steals the show.

Considering this is a vampire movie, there is some violence. The film doesn’t shy away from the notion that vampires eat people; it’s a fact. There are no vegetarian vampires. To me, the scenes are more beautiful than gory. You might think the part where Eli bleeds profusely is disgusting, but in the context of the scene, it’s a beautiful moment. The attack scenes, which in other films might be brutal in order to scare the audience, are more subtle in Let the Right One In.

Furthermore, the story remains true to classic vampire mythology. I definitely appreciate this. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it old school. If you’re a vampire, sunlight will kill you. It’s that simple.

Let the Right One In is a wonderful little film. It's a refreshing story; heartwarming when Oskar and Eli are together and thought provoking as their relationship develops. You definitely question the lengths you go to for the ones you love. It's also nice to look at. The winter in Sweden is just beautiful, even if there's a little blood in the snow.

3.5 nice vampires


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