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.

Links:

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.

I’m No Dummy (2009)

July 11th, 2011

For a few years as a kid, I was really into puppets and The Muppets and ventriloquism. In second grade for Christmas I got my very own ventriloquist doll, Charlie McCarthy. I spent a few months practicing the art of talking while keeping my mouth closed, and even remember working up a little routine for my friends. After almost getting my ass kicked by some older kids for bringing “a big doll” to school, I decided to retire the act. Sorry, Charlie.

I’m No Dummy is a solid documentary about the history and current state of ventriloquism. This documentary traces ventriloquism back to its vaudeville roots. It’s full of clips of performing artists. In the film, you’ll see clips of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Senor Wences (“S’alright? S’alright.”), Jay Johnson (from Soap), Sherri “Lambchop” Lewis, Paul Winchell, and of course lots and lots of Jeff Dunham, the modern savior of the art. A few lesser-known ventriloquists are interviewed as well, along with a few ventriloquist-related collectors. Unless you’re a die hard fan of ventriloquism, I suspect every ventriloquist you’ve ever heard of probably appears at some point in this film.

I wish I had more to say about this documentary. It’s as good and thorough as a documentary about the art of ventriloquism is probably going to get. The history the form, the mechanics of the art, and the force driving some of these artists are all covered. For most people, this is all the information about ventriloquism you will ever need. The only downside is several appearances of the “f-word,” which makes this a tough sell for children — again, what a shame.

You’re Gonna Miss Me (2007)

July 10th, 2011

Reporters are always looking for a snappy headline, so you should do your best in life not to give them one. If your last name is “Wiener”, you should probably go out of your way to avoid being caught up in a scandal that involves your wiener. It makes things too easy for TMZ — just sayin’. Chris Hansen, host of the controversial show “To Catch a Predator” in which people are busted using undercover camera footage, was recently caught cheating on his wife in an undercover camera sting. Sometimes the headlines write themselves, folks. And so, if you’re the lead guitarist and lead singer of a psychedelic rock band who loves taking acid, down the road people are liable to cringe at the irony of your hit single, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.

You’re Gonna Miss Me documents the life and trials of Roky Erickson, member of the band 13th Floor Elevators. Despite being one of the founders of psychedelic rock (one of his bandmates claims to have coined the term during a jam session), I had never heard of either Roky Erickson nor the 13th Floor Elevators. The documentary contains early American Bandstand footage of Roky jamming on the guitar and screaming wildly as his band mates tried to follow. The only thing Roky loves more than making music is doing drugs. Throughout the 1960s, Roky had a seat at the drug buffet of life helped himself to a big ol’ helping of LSD, multiple side orders of cocaine and heroin, and a heaping pile of marijuana for dessert. By the time Roky got arrested for doing all the drugs he could find in Texas his mental capacity was already questionable, and years of time served in a maximum-security mental facility combined with experimental drugs and shock therapy didn’t help the situation.

That brings us to today, and the meat of the film. Roky’s brain is so rotten he makes modern day Ozzy look like 1970′s Ozzy. He bumbles around town and his apartment with the help of his mother Evelyn who, despite not having done all the drugs in Texas, doesn’t seem to much more mentally competent than her son. Evelyn spends her days making giant cardboard collages and doing whatever it is other crazy people do in their free time.

Despite the fact that at different times Roky has believed himself to be possessed by the devil and being harassed by aliens, Evelyn — Roky’s legal guardian — refuses him medicine. Did I mention that Roky has been diagnosed as a psychotic schizophrenic? Oh yeah, there’s that. Brewing in the Erickson family is a bitter custody battle. The youngest of the five Erickson brothers, Sumner, thinks that with the proper care, medication and therapy, that eldest Erickson brother Roky can rebuild his health, his mind, and his life. To show how good his therapist is, we are treated to footage in which Sumner rolls on the floor with her embracing him from behind as he cries uncontrollably. Did I mention Sumner is a professional tuba player? Rarely is the case where the most bizarre member of a family comes down to a coin flip, but that might be the case here. Early on my money was on the family’s patriarch, until we learn that he was once caught in the bedroom fooling around with one of the five sons. Jesus Christ, Ericksons!

As with any documentary involving dysfunctional family members, it’s difficult to unequivocally say who the good and bad guys are in You’re Gonna Miss Me. Near the end of the documentary, thank God, Roky begins to get the help he so badly needed. Through medication and therapy we see Roky “functioning” once again. He’s in therapy, he appears lucid, he even spends a little time playing an old song on the guitar for his therapist and brother, something that the Roky at the beginning of the film never could have done. There’s no doubt that the years of mental and physical abuse Roky experienced took a toll against his cranium, but seeing the guy appear to realize where (or who) he is makes him seem happier than he was not so long ago.

Since the release of this documentary, Roky Erickson has made a seemingly full recovery. In 2010 he released the album “True Love,” and has been touring and performing live gigs off and on since then. Thumbs up, Roky — after seeing this film, nobody’s gonna forget you.

Catfish (2010)

July 10th, 2011

The 2010 documentary Catfish begins seemingly normal enough. In the beginning of the film we witness the blossoming of an online friendship between Yaniv Schulman, a New York City photographer, and Abby, an 8-year-old prodigal painter. After Abby sends Yaniv a painting she did of one of his photographs, the two of them strike up an online friendship through Facebook.

Through Abby, Yaniv meets her family and friends — her parents, her family friends, and particularly her older half-sister Megan. Yaniv and Megan soon form a long distance relationship that consists of text messages, e-mails, Facebooking, and even late night phone calls.

As time goes on, holes begin to appear in Megan and Abby’s stories. A song that the two of them claim to have written appears to have been recorded by a different artist. A vacant building that Abby’s mom Angela claims has renovated as an art studio for Abby still appears to be on the market. After one too many details fail to add up, Yaniv, his brother Ariel, and director Henry Joost decide to drop in on Abby’s family to find out where the truth ends and the lies begin.

As you can probably guess, not all is what it appears to be, and not everyone is who they appear to be. After the trio visually verify that the art studio is still a vacant building and a horse barn that Megan claims to own is also unoccupied, they decide to drop in on Megan, Abby, and Angela. What happens next is … wow.

The movie’s selling point is its twist ending so I won’t give it away here, but suffice it to say that indeed, not everyone Yaniv was chatting with was who they said they were (in fact, some of them don’t even exist). An awkward dancing around the truth takes place until, eventually, the beans are spilled. And boy, are spilled beans messy. Put it this way; if you’ve ever dated a girl who turned out to be crazy … be thankful she wasn’t this crazy.

The veracity of the film has been strongly argued since its release. The filmmakers have conceded that “some” of the film’s early scenes were “recreated,” but that’s as much as they’ll admit to. Some reviewers have claimed that the story had a “nugget of truth,” which has been inflated — others claim that the whole story from beginning to end is a setup, or at least that our protagonist was “playing along,” to a certain extent. None of those things made the movie any less riveting for me. It’s a good story, regardless.

I, like many people my age, have people I call “friends” that I have never met in real life — people I communicate with on a regular basis that I have never met in person. Many of my online friends I have met only after knowing them online for years. Catfish is a valid reminder that, all that appears online may not be as it seems. This movie is a must-see for anyone who’s ever added a Facebook friend and later thought … I wonder who that is?