Fear Factory – Demanufacture (1995)

June 16th, 2015

The mid-90s were a time of growth for heavy metal. Arena-filling bands of the 80s wearing eyeliner and lipstick had been recently dethroned by guys wearing cargo shorts and flannel shirts — hair metal was out and grunge was in. In an attempt to stay relevant, metal began to splinter and diversify. In 1994 we saw the birth of nu-metal with Korn’s first album, debut albums from Emperor (In the Nightside Eclipse) and Mayhem (De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas) and another power metal release from Pantera, Far Beyond Driven. I had no idea where 1995 would take heavy metal, but I knew it would be interesting.

Fear Factory was not a new band in 1995, but their 1992 debut Soul of a New Machine had failed to break through to the mainstream. It wasn’t until the release of 1995’s Demanufacture that the world began to take notice. The world has been taking notice — and ripping off this album — ever since.

While Soul of a New Machine had its roots in death metal, the opening of Demanufacture introduces listeners to an entirely new soundscape. Fear Factory introduces itself in the opening/tital track. “Demanufacture” opens with a few sounds of heavy machinery firing up before quickly bringing in keyboard samples, almost robotic kick drums, and a heavily gated guitar. It’s our first exposure to the this new factory of fear, and it feels mechanical and evil. Vocalist Burton C. Bell sings the song’s first two lines before breaking into his traditional throaty screams. If you needed a shout-along anthem to get your blood pumping, “Demanufacture” delivers:

“I’ve got no more goddamn regrets
I’ve got no more goddamn respect”

Demanufacture paints a dystopian story of man vs. machine directly inspired by the Terminator films, most notable in “H-K / Hunter Killer” (robotic Skynet soldiers from the Terminaotr franchise) and “Zero Signal,” which contains samples from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. While Demanufacture is technically a concept album, most of the album’s themes can be applied to any conflict of power. In “Replica,” Bell howls “Every day I feel anonymous hate,” and later admits, “I don’t want to live that way.”

The mechanical element of the story is portrayed by the music itself. The brutality begins with Raymond Herrera’s heavily syncopated drum beats, so fast, crisp and accurate they were rumored to have been programmed (they weren’t; they were triggered). Dino Cazares adds to the machine with staccato guitars (Cazarez handles most of the albums bass duties as well as bassist Christian Olde Wolbers was just coming on board). Rhys Fulber and Reynor Diego bring atmosphere to the best with layers of keyboards and samples, with Burton C. Bell screaming over the whole mechanical beast.

Demanufacture defined the genre of industrial metal and may have perfected it. Fear Factory has continued to dabble in the theme of man vs. machine with their unique mix of bone-crushing rhythms and has inspired an army of imitators, but nobody has done what Feat Factory does better than when Fear Factory did it here. Not even Fear Factory.

June, 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Fear Factory’s Demanufacture. It sounds as crisp and sharp as it did twenty years ago. If you only sample one album from Fear Factory, this is the one to taste.

Jurassic World (2015)

June 14th, 2015

(This review contains minor spoilers, most of which are revealed in the trailer.)

Can we all agree by now that a theme park that puts people near unrestrained carnivorous dinosaurs is a bad idea?

2015’s Jurassic World skips over the past two installments in the series (1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park and 2001’s Jurassic Park III, neither of which took place on the original island) and picks up where the 1993 original film left off.

Twenty-two years later (both in real time and movie time), John Hammond’s dream of bringing Jurassic Park, a theme park filled with real live dinosaurs (grown from extracted dinosaur DNA), has been fully realized in the form of Jurassic World. Just like in the first film, dinosaurs have been restricted to various zones on the island be large barriers made of concrete. Also, like in the first film, visitors to the park are allowed to be precariously close to these giant beasts in various vehicles and viewing areas. Finally, like in the first film, everyone is assured that nothing could possible go wrong… until it eventually does.

By now Jurassic World’s gates have been open for ten years and the visiting public has grown tired of the same old dinosaurs (really?), so the park’s DNA wizards have decided to create their own dinosaur. The all new Indominus Rex was created much in the way Willy Wonka designed the Everlasting Gobstopper — a pinch of T-Rex here, a dash of Giganotosaurus there, and so on. The end result is a dinosaur that is bigger, meaner, smarter, and more aggressive than any dinosaur the park has seen to date. My nine-year-old whispered to me, “That sounds like a bad idea.” How this fact eluded the park’s board of directors is a head-scratcher.

While only DNA master Dr. Henry Wu returns from the original film, Jurassic World’s new cast of characters are cut from similar molds. Clair is the driven business woman, so dedicated to running Jurassic World she doesn’t even know how old her two adolescent nephews are (Zach and Gray) when they come to visit. Then we’ve got Simon Masrani, the rich backer behind the new park, and Hoskins, the greedy leader of the park’s security team who has other plans for some of the park’s assets. Finally there’s Owen (Chris Pratt), who brings the whole thing together. Navy retiree Owen has established himself as the park’s animal behavioral expert by becoming the “alpha” of a small team of velociraptors and getting them to stop eating people long enough to do a few tricks.

If you’re counting “bad ideas,” add these to your list: sending your teenage kids to a dinosaur theme park in hopes that their career-driven aunt they haven’t seen in seven years will watch over them; attempting to train velociraptors; anything the park’s board of directors has approved in the past 22 years.

Within twenty minutes of its introduction the Indominus Rex has outsmarted every member of the park’s security team, which launches the film’s events into motion. Will our kids be the heros or the victims? Who will save the day and who will be dinosnacks? Ultimately it doesn’t even matter — there’s enough dinosaur-on-man attacks and dinosaur-on-dinosaur battles to keep you cheering and jumping for the film’s run time. Long gone are those slow, tense moments from the first film; we know what these monsters are capable of, and the movie wastes little time in showing us. While Jurassic Park had elements of horror mixed in, Jurassic World is more action-comedy. I laughed outloud at least half a dozen times, mostly to Owen-delivered one-liners. For the record, I also jumped at least twice.

If your brain is bigger than a Stegosaurus’ you’ll laugh at some of the film’s goofy plot decisions and characters’ actions, but the action is so loud and fast that you won’t have time to think about them until you’re back at home, checking your bedroom closet for velociraptors before bed.

Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990)

June 13th, 2015

Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. is a pretty safe way to wade into the world of Troma Films. It’s got a little bit of everything that makes Troma what it is without going to extremes. If you like this film there’s a chance you might like other Troma films — and if you hate it, just know things are only going to get worse from here.

Now it’s time to tighten your gi, stow your katana, and prepare for the kookiness that is Sgt. Kabukiman.

Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. is the story of Harry Griswold, a NYPD detective who witnesses an onstage slaughter during a local Kabuki theater production. During the massacre, elderly Kabuki master Mr. Sato is shot and must pass on the ancient spirit of Kabukiman. Sato’s grandaughter Lotus hopes to inherit the spirit but instead it enters Detective Griswold.

Griswold does not fully understand the changes his body begins to take after inheriting the ancient Kabukiman spirit. He develops a taste for sushi and occasionally his shoes magically transform into sandals, but as any of us would he simply writes these things off. It’s not until Griswold’s co-worker is brutally attacked while jogging in Central Park that the spirit completely takes over and Griswold is transformed into Sgt. Kabukiman. What follows this transformation is a lengthy battle between Kabukiman and at least a dozen thugs.

Prior to the beginning of this epic battle viewers have already been treated to two sets of boobs, two murdered children, and multiple gunshot wounds to the forehead. Seriously, almost everybody who gets shot in this movie gets shot in the forehead (one guy who gets shot in the crotch). But the Central Park battle raises the stakes. Along with his samurai sword, Kabukiman blows two baddies into the air using his fans and shoots sushi rolls into a lady’s mouth to shut her up. Just when you think one punk gets off light by being beat with a metal fan, Kabikiman turns his head into goo by stomping on it. Three times.

There’s the thinnest of plots involving government corruption and there are continuity errors abound, but this isn’t the kind of movie you watch for details like that. This is the kind of movie you watch if you think a criminal getting impaled to a tree by a hundred chopsticks is funny business.

After being whipped into shape by Lotus, Detective Griswold plans to bring down the evil Reginald Stewart who has been in cahoots with the corrupt Reverend Snipes, but in fact Lotus has been preparing Sgt. Kabukiman to do battle with The Evil One. All of this has something to do with an ancient prophecy that involves getting a bunch of things together including a jaguar, a tiger, a monkey and a virgin. (Turns out, the monkey (“Toyota”) may be the best actor in the film.) If you think an NYPD detective randomly turning into an ancient Kabukiman (and occasionally a circus clown) is weird, wait until you see what Reginald Stewart turns into.

Right. He turns into that.

If none of this sounds entertaining or funny then best keep walking. The acting, editing and special effects are all what you would expect on a budget roughly the same as two venti lattes from Starbucks. Yeah, there’s sort of a plot, but more importantly for 100 minutes you’ll get to hear a grown man in a clown suit say “ka-BU-ki-man!” before pummeling bad guys all over New York City, occasionally while riding a tricycle. If that sounds like fun, it’s time to invite your friends open, break out the saki, and enjoy the madness that is Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.

MindCandy Volume 3: Demos 2003-2010 (2011)

February 6th, 2012

It’s not fair.

After spending several hours watching MindCandy Volume 3: PC Demos 2003-2010, I decided it’s simply not fair that there are people on this planet talented enough to create art this visually stunning, using the exact same ones and zeros that all of us have access to, on computers no more powerful than the one you’re reading this review on. It’s unbelievable, is what it is. Unbelievable, and unfair.

Back with a third package of computer demos is MindCandy Volume 3: PC Demos from 2003-2010. The original MindCandy release contained both older and modern PC demos up to the disc’s release date (2003). Volume Two contained demos programmed on the Commodore Amiga. Many fans of the series (myself included) assumed that the third volume would cover Commodore 64 demos; however, the folks behind MindCandy explain in one of the package’s many extra features that several DVDs of C64 demos have already been released, so instead the group decided to refocus their energy elsewhere.

The result is MindCandy 3, a visually amazing collection of forty PC computer demos released since 2003 — and when I say visually amazing, I truly mean it. I watched the Blu-Ray version on a high definition television and the demos were absolutely stunning. Whether you are looking at abstract shapes and colors or watching virtual worlds unfold before your eyes, you will continually be in awe. In one of the included bonus features, Jim “Trixer” Leonard gives advanced technical details about how the video were captured. This particular feature reveals not only the technical expertise of the people behind the series, but also the amount of care that went into preserving the accuracy of each video.

The video quality presented on MindCandy 3 is top notch. Don’t let the 720p number fool you; running at 60 frames per second, these demos are gorgeous. With bright colors, fluid motion and no artifacting, the demos look as good if not better than they would on your computer. If I were trying to sell my HD television, this is what I would have running on it.

Audio on the disc is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. While some other online reviews dinged the package for not including a 5.1 surround sound mix, I did not feel the two-channel stereo mix detracted from the experience at all. While I believe a lack of free space on the discs was part of the reason for not including a 5.1 mix (the Blu-ray version takes up around 46 of the 50 available gigs worth of space), I believe that most (if not all) of these demos were originally released in stereo format. Given all the work the group did in preserving the video quality of the original demos, including an artificially mixed surround sound track seems (to me) to miss the point. Even with the 2.0 mix, my home theater had no problem blasting out the electronically crafted demo tunes.

One of my favorite MindCandy features, the audio commentaries, has returned again in Volume 3. Where possible, the creators of each demo have gathered and recorded audio commentaries specifically for MindCandy. Some of them are silly, some of them are technical and dry, and some of them are downright bizarre, but all of them are worth listening to. If you’re the type of person that enjoys Pop-Up Video and listening to DVD commentary tracks, you’ll find the commentary tracks both interesting and entertaining. I found hearing why programmers made some of the choices they did was fascinating and made the experience that much more enjoyable. Each audio track also contains subtitles that can be enabled or disabled regardless of which audio track you have playing (which would allow you to listen to the original audio track with the commentary subtitles displayed on screen, for example).

While watching the included videos from disc, it’s easy to forget that these demos run and generate all the video and graphics you’re see in real time on a PC. When my wife mentioned that some of the graphics “weren’t quite up to Pixar standards,” I reminded her that CGI movies are pre-rendered. According to a recent Gizmondo article, Pixar’s Cars 2 used a rendering farm containing 12,500 CPU cores and each frame took approximately 11.5 hours to render (Link). The demos contained on this disc can be downloaded and run on a run-of-the-mill PC.

Which leads to what for some may be the elephant in the room: why pay for a DVD or Blu-ray disc full of demos that are freely downloadable from the Internet? Personally I can think of several reasons.

– The A/V setup in my living room far exceeds the one in my computer room. My PC’s 24″ monitor and small speakers don’t compare to my 55″ HD television connected to a surround sound receiver. These demos may have been designed on the small screen, but look fantastic on big ones.

– No hassle. I want to watch these demos, not download each one and hope that my under-powered laptop will display them properly. MindCandy 3 costs less than the video card I would probably need to view all of these demos at 60 frames per second in 720p.

– The Commentary Tracks. For me, these alone are worth the price of admission. Having someone explain the idea behind each demo was awesome.

– The Extras. The Blu-ray edition of MindCandy 3 contains several additional extras, including a section of 64k demos (demos written in 64 kilobytes or less), 7 hours of demoscene-related speeches recorded at NVScene, the aforementioned Production Notes, and some footage from RVScene. Both the Blu-ray and DVD versions of MindCandy include the audio commentary tracks and subtitles.

For anyone remotely interested in the computer demo scene or computer programming, at $20, MindCandy Volume 3 is an absolute steal. If you include all the commentary tracks and extras, that’s less than a dollar an hour.

Purchase Link: MindCandyDVD.com

See Also: Review of MindCandy 1 and 2

The Hangover Part II (2011)

November 25th, 2011

In Hollywood there are two kinds of movie sequels. There’s the good kind, the kind that picks up where the first story left off and tells an all new story; and then there’s the kind that’s essentially a remake of the first film, made in a cheap attempt to cash in on a popular movie title and squeeze every possible dollar out of a franchise. The second kind becomes painfully obvious when reviewing it. “Home Alone II is exactly like Home Alone, except instead of taking place in Chicago, it takes place in New York.” The end.

The Hangover Part II is exactly like The Hangover, except it takes place in Thailand. The end.

In the original film, four friends get together for a bachelor party. After being slipped drugs by their friend Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis), the four have a wild adventure that none of them can seem to remember. In the previous night’s romp, one of the friends ends up missing, and the rest of the guys must retrace their steps to find their friend.

In The Hangover Part II, the same four friends get together for a bachelor party. After being slipped drugs by their friend Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis), the four have a wild adventure that none of them can seem to remember. In the previous night’s romp, one of the friends ends up missing, and the rest of the guys must retrace their steps to find their friend.

At one point in the original Hangover, the guys run into Mike Tyson. In The Hangover Part II, Ed Helms gets a tattoo identical to Mike Tyson’s. Oh, and the guys run into Mike Tyson.

In the first Hangover movie, one of the guys ends up losing a tooth. In the second Hangover movie, one of the guys ends up losing a finger. I guess that’s different.

Oh, here’s something that was different; the first Hangover movie made me laugh.

Rubber (2010)

August 2nd, 2011

After only a single viewing, I suspect that someday, Rubber may be lumped in with such genre-bending classics as Eraserhead, Gummo, and Lost Highway, three movies people still discuss and debate the meanings of many years after their release. Rubber is not a typical “film” in which a simple narrative is presented to viewers. After thinking about it for the past couple of days, I can see at least three levels on which the film can be interpreted, and there may be more.

If you want to be surprised by this film, stop reading now. I will not give away every detail of the film, but I’ll be giving some major plot points away. If this bothers you, stop reading now.

The film Rubber begins with a monologue presented directly to the audience in which a police officer who, after questioning why characters do or don’t do certain things in movies, presents the audience with the movie’s overall theme: “no reason.” To drive home the fact, the officer then pours his glass of water out on to the desert sand below, and climbs back into the trunk of his squad car. It is within this “no reason” framework that we, the audience, are then presented the story of Robert, a homicidal tire.

And by that I don’t mean someone gets accidentally killed by a tire, or that a killer uses a tire to kill people. I mean, an old used tire literally rises up out of the desert sand and, after dusting itself off, begins rolling around the desert and killing small animals before it graduates to human beings.

Why? No reason.

If it weren’t for Lieutenant Chad and the moments in which he breaks the fourth wall, we might never question the absurdity of the film’s contents — but he does, and we do. At one point during the police investigation, Chad urges his fellow investigating officers to realize they are not actually members of law enforcement, but rather actors in a movie. He goes so far as to ask one of them to shoot him. When one of them does, he has to explain that the blood spurting from his chest is merely a special effect. The fact that any of them are in a movie is beyond the characters’ comprehension, and the investigation into the tire’s killing spree continues.

On the most basic level, you can take Rubber at face value and call it a film about a murderous tire. On a second level, you have an alternate reality unfolding, the one in which (at least one) character in the film realizes that he is, in fact, a character within a film who begins to question the absurdity of everything happening within the film including his own actions. And, moving completely outside the film’s narrative, there is a third layer in which we can view the film, that bigger “no reason” framework that questions not only why do people act the way they do in films, but why we are willing to watch those films and accept those actions as some form of reality?

I wanted to like Rubber and, as with many rule-challenging films, I walked away from it a little confused and a little frustrated. But the more I think about it, the more I like it and the more I appreciate what they were trying to do. Approaching an hour-and-a-half in length the film feels longer than it is, partially because of long segments with no dialog, and I wondered multiple times about what (if anything) could have been cut, edited, or replaced. Rubber isn’t perfect, but it’s an interesting film that takes a unique look at movies in general and asks its audience to challenge why characters act the way they do, not just in this film but in all films.

And if all that sounds too deep, you get to see a tire kill people. Why?

No reason. No reason at all.

Concerning Big Fun (2009)

August 1st, 2011

In the mid 1990s, an anarchistic group of young men and women from the Philadelphia area moved into a rented farmhouse located in Charlottesville, Virginia. The house, dubbed “Big Fun” by its inhabitants, was the setting for what must have been some of the wildest debauchery Charlottesville, Virginia has ever seen.

One of Big Fun’s inhabitants (“The Gus”) began working on a glossary while living in Big Fun. The glossary contained hundreds of entries that defined words, locations, events and people. Eventually the originally hand-written glossary was converted into a computer document that was printed out and passed around Philly. In the spring of 1996, The Gus converted his glossary into a website. For 15 years now, The Big Fun Glossary has sat online, largely unchanged. The website is a tribute not only to Big Fun, but also to bad HTML design of the mid-1990s.

In 2007, The Gus took The Big Fun Glossary (the website) and released it as a self-published book titled Concerning Big Fun. That book is the subject of this review.

When I say that Concerning Big Fun is a copy of the online Big Fun Glossary, I do not meant that figuratively. The book is, for all intents and purposes, a text dump of the website. All the hyperlinks contained on the website appear underlined here. The caption on page 233 of the book prompts users to click the photo to enlarge it (I tried; it doesn’t work). The book’s introduction and stories that bookend the glossary itself appear virtually word-for-word as they do on the website. If you purchase Concerning Big Fun in hopes of new Fun-related content, you’ll be disappointed.

Why, one might ask, should anyone buy a printed copy of the glossary at all? I bought the book for two reasons. The first is that for fifteen years now, I’ve had Big Fun stories and adventures swirling around in my brain, and I thought The Gus deserved $11 for that. The glossary captures a moment in time that most reality shows could only dream of concocting. The other reason I purchased the book is that websites rarely live forever. The Gus mentions enough people by name that I have often feared a single cease-and-desist order from any one of them could take the Big Fun Glossary offline. Even if the website someday disappears, I’ll still own a hard copy of the glossary.

The glossary portion of the book alone runs 185 pages, and like you might expect, is presented alphabetically. For those just experiencing Big Fun for the first time, that means you’ll be reading people’s names before you know who they are, or who most of the major players even are. The website solves that problem to an extent by allowing readers to click on the hyperlinks and jump around.

Given enough time with the glossary, readers will uncover a situation not unlike MTV’s “The Real World” … that is, if the denizens from that show were placed in a house that ended up without running water and/or electricity and spent their time abusing everything from cough syrup to heroin while spray painting everything in sight, collecting doll heads, and mummifying cats. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the height of Big Fun, although I can tell you I couldn’t have personally lasted one night in the place. As I once said in a blog post about in regards to Big Fun, “I am sure that the thought of living in such squalor sounds like much more fun than it really is; and, by the time you get to the end of the timeline, it doesn’t even sound like that much fun. Fantastic romantacism, perhaps.”

What can I say to get you to buy this book? I cannot honestly say that reading about Big Fun was more fun on paper than it is on the website; in fact, the underlined words and passages in the book are a constant reminder that online these are hyperlinks I could be clicking to jump around. And, seeing as though Big Fun (the website) is still online, it’s hard to justify the purchase of a paper copy. That being said, I would urge you to check out the Big Fun website and, if you find yourself enthralled with the story the way I did, buy a copy of Concerning Big Fun and consider it a donation to The Gus for all the effort and work he put into capturing these stories.


Lulu.com: Concerning Big Fun
The Big Fun Glossary
The Gus’ Blog: Randomly Ever After

Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera (2008)

July 22nd, 2011

“Snuff” films,” largely considered to be urban legends, are supposedly films in which people are murdered on camera for the sole purpose of murdering somebody on camera. These films (again, in theory) are traded and/or sold on a deeply underground black market. Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera brings together several “experts” on the subject and gets their opinions of snuff films.

I used a lot of quotation marks in the above paragraph because nobody has ever uncovered a true, bona fide snuff film. Some of the experts in the film cite this as proof that snuff films do not exist. Others claim that just because you haven’t seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. At least a couple of the experts were just people who are into horror films. There are also a couple of FBI investigators who have seen some pretty awful things. But not snuff films.

Seeing as though it’s difficult to talk for long about real snuff films (since as far as we know, there aren’t any), the “experts” (again, in quotes) instead talk about things “like” snuff films. For example, the movie Cannibal Holocaust is discussed. Cannibal Holocaust is a disgusting movie that contains real animal killings, but fake human ones. Thus, it’s not a real snuff film. Serial killers Charles Ng and Leonard Lake, who videotaped themselves torturing and killing their victims, are also discussed. (Non-gruesome portions of the tapes are shown.) But again, these videos weren’t made for resale but rather for the killers’ “enjoyment”, which means they’re not snuff films either. The closest the documentary gets to discussing actual snuff films is the case of Dmitri Vladimirovich Kuznetsov, a fellow who was supposedly involved in “necro pedo” films in which children were abused to death. Again I say “supposedly” because there seems to be a ton of accusations that the case is or isn’t or was or wasn’t what it claimed to be. I searched Google a bit and found people who swear the story is true and people who swear it was fake. I don’t know what to think about that.

Eventually the documentary began discussing footage of US soldiers being killed. Around the time the film began to show footage of American soldiers being beheaded, I turned it off. Not for any moral or patriotic reason, but perhaps because for the first time in all the awful, horrible films I’ve watched (and I’ve watched a lot), this was too much. I’ll watch a documentary about just about anything, but showing footage of captured soldiers being beheaded is not for me. Sorry. Showing footage of captured prisoners being beheaded in a documentary about snuff films is just a cheap way to get some controversy surrounding your project. I’ll pass, thanks.

I really can’t recommend this documentary, not because it was offensive, but because it really doesn’t tell you much about snuff films and it doesn’t really make a statement about them. I went into this film thinking, “I hope to God there’s no such thing as a real snuff film, but there probably is,” and that’s what I walked away from the film thinking as well. I’m no expert on snuff films (everything I know about them I learned from the Nicolas Cage film 8mm), and I didn’t learn anything new about them either. Essentially the film tells us that snuff films may or may not exist, serial killers are pretty demented people, Cannibal Holocaust and Faces of Death were a mixture of real animal and fake human deaths, and combat soldiers sometimes get killed. Again, those are all things I unfortunately already knew.

Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera is available via Netflix streaming, and I hope my kids never stumble across it there.

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (2010)

July 14th, 2011

Tired of mounting health concerns and carrying around 100 extra pounds of body fat, Joe Cross decided to go on both a physical journey as well as one of self-discovery. After consulting with a dietary physician, Cross decided to go on a self-induced 60 day juice diet. Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead is that story.

Cross, a likable Australian fellow, decides to coordinate his 60-day juice fast with a 60-day visit to America. Cross spends the first 30 days of his fast in New York City, and the second half driving across America. Along the way, Cross stops and talks with hundreds of Americans about their weight, diet, and health. Throughout his trip you can literally see the weight dropping off Cross like slices of hot butter. Mmm, butter.

Along the way, Cross meets up with truck driver Phil Riverstone. Riverstone, who tops the scales at 430 pounds, takes an interest in Cross’ experiment. Just when Cross’ journey ends, he receives a phone call from Riverstone, asking him for help. With juicer in hand, Cross returns to America to help his friend out.

For anyone who has no idea what a calorie is or how the human body processes food this may feel like a spoiler, but it turns out that changing your diet to 400 calories of vegetables 3 times a day, juiced or not, will cause a person to lose weight. The only thing shocking is how quickly and dramatically this change takes place. By the end of his 60-day stint, Cross has lost 75 pounds. 10 months later, Riverstone has dropped from 429 pounds to 270 pounds!

While the documentary focuses on the achievements of these two individuals, there are also dozens of interviews with people across America, discussing their own personal struggles with food and obesity. Some of Cross’ interviews are borderline awkward as he sits down with Americans and asks them questions about their health and weight as they dig into a chicken fried steak or a slab or ribs. Mmm, ribs.

BY the end of the film we find both of the subjects jogging, exercising, and living more healthy lifestyles. Cross says he not only feels physically better, but mentally sharper as well. Riverstone, a guy that could only walk 5 minutes at a time, goes from a 5xl shirt to a 2xl and expresses the amount of weight he’s lost in terms of bowling balls.

While replacing your meals with juiced vegetables may not be a long term solution, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead is an excellent look at how poorly we, as a nation, are treating our bodies. Expect this film to change the way you think about food for weeks to come.

PS: Less than 24 hours after watching this film, my wife bought a juicer.

The Great Happiness Space (2008)

July 13th, 2011

In The Great Happiness Space I was introduced to the world of Japanese “host clubs”, something I (as a Westerner) had never heard of before. The focus of the film is Cafe Rakkyo, the most popular host club in Osaka, Japan. Here, in Cafe Rakkyo, women compete for the attention of men by spending money on champagne, VIP seats, and even the hosts themselves. The hottest host in the hottest club in all of Osaka is Issei, an attractive and stylish young Japanese man around whom most of the documentary focuses on.

Initially host clubs may sound a bit like strip clubs with the male/female roles reversed, but that’s not quite right. While strip clubs revolve around sex, host clubs are more about attention. In fact, as one of the hosts explains to viewers, sex is just about the worst thing that can happen between a host and a client, as the goal of every host is to string his clients along as long as possible and drain them financially.

Women arriving at Cafe Rakkyo (which looks like a modern restaurant, dance club, and lounge all rolled into one location) pick their hosts out of a book full of photographs. There are many more clients than hosts, so each host must entertain multiple women at the same time — sometimes in the same part of the club, sometimes in different areas. The women compete by spending money, and the hosts respond by showering the high rollers with attention. With club bottles of champagne costing between $250 and $600, an evening at the host club can get very expensive, very quickly. In one scene we watch the hosts badger a customer into buying five bottles of champagne, one for each year she’s been coming to the host club. Despite her protests, the hosts surround her and convince her into buying “one more bottle”. As the final bottle is guzzled, all the hosts gather round, the DJ chants her name, and for 30 seconds or so, the client has bought happiness.

Each day before the club opens, the lesser-known hosts hit the streets in an attempt to drum up business. Rain or shine, they stand around talking to women, attempting to lure them to the club. During one rainy afternoon, one of the hosts yells at a woman, “it’s acid rain! You’re going to go bald! Come inside!” For the most part the women of Osaka seem to know the score and none of them appear particularly interested in the men’s offers — still, like e-mail spam, it must have some success rate or people wouldn’t do it.

As the film progresses viewers begin to realize that all of the on-screen relationships we see are sham. Behind closed doors, when one of the hosts struggles with guilt from stringing women along in exchange for cash, Issei tells him to man up. “We sell dreams here,” he says. Issei admits to bringing in anywhere from $30k-$50k a month, and several of the female clients interviewed admit to spending thousands of dollars each visit. Most of the women can afford this because, we learn, they are prostitutes. These same women who men pay money to have physical relationships with pay the hosts for emotional relationships. Some of the hosts are emotionally drained from all the attention, and admit they have no way of (or interest in) finding women outside the club. Inside the club the hosts have prostitutes vying for the attention; outside, they can’t even get a date. My perception of which are the hunters and which are the hunted changed several times while watching the documentary.

One prostitute in particular shares that she has spent around $30,000 on Issei alone (she considers it “an investment in their future together”). We see the two of them cuddling on a couch and hugging in an elevator before she has to leave. Issei walks her to a waiting cab and, while waving at her as the taxi pulls away, tells viewers how much he can’t stand her. “It’s that kind of client that makes me sick,” he says. Moments later his cell phone rings, and it’s her. “Like I’m going to answer that,” he says. “Shit.”

But all of that sadness goes away when the doors open. Then, the hosts are “on” and the women line up for their adoration. The hosts know they are selling a fake emotional relationship, and the clients know that the men only give them attention while they spend money. (“I think they are all liars,” one client says. “I don’t trust any of them.”) None of this matters when the music gets cranked up and the alcohol begins to flow.

As the movie comes to a close we see the hosts closing up shop and going home. One is so drunk and passed out he has to be lifted up and walked to the elevator. One host, in his stylish clothes, hat and sunglasses, climbs onto a girl’s bicycle and pedals off. A few of the others pour themselves into a taxi cab. Issei, on the outside, doesn’t look too much worse for the wear. “Sometimes I drink 10 bottles of champagne a night,” he admits, “but I try to vomit some of it back up.” On the inside though, one can only wonder what kind of toll the host clubs will eventually take on its and their clients.

The Great Happiness Space is both addictive and repulsive, enthralling and disgusting. If it’s true only the lonely can play, the host clubs of Osaka are the playground.