Thursday, April 23, 2009

Buddy Giovinazzo's New Film Is Imminent

Finally, Buddy Giovinazzo's Life Is Hot in Cracktown has a US theatrical release date courtesy of LA-based Lightning Media.

I am a big admirer of this original and innovative director.

His Combat Shock, No Way Home, and Maniac 2 - Mr. Robbie are stellar examples of dark, compelling cinema. His The Unscarred is not too shabby, either.

My imdb review of Combat Shock ('86) went thus:

Originally titled American Nightmare and released by Troma in the States, this is a grim, depressing, heartfelt portrait of one Vietnam vet's rage. Unemployed, penniless, and father of a deformed infant (possibly the result of Agent Orange spraying), leading man Frankie (Rick Giovinazzo) walks the streets of New Jersey like a shambling corpse and encounters various miscreants as troubled as himself. Harassed by his fat, complaining wife (a great performance from Veronica Stork), chased by thugs he owes money to, and threatened with eviction from an apartment that looks like it should have been razed a decade ago, Frankie finally snaps and begins a campaign to erase his problems forever.

Giovinazzo's triumph is his believable creation of a bleak, hopeless, fascinating world, a world that eats its weak, neglects its old, and turns its back on its history. New Jersey, as seen through the lens of cinematographer Stella Varveris, is a metaphor for the rot in America's soul, a wasteland of trodden-on ambitions, poisoned dreams found in needles, and lingering death and disease.

The film employs Vietnam war footage, brutal recreations of Frankie's tour of duty and a pulsing, disturbing, electronic score by lead actor Rick Giovinazzo. The film's low budget enhances the grim subject matter and the stark interior lighting never allows the poverty to be romanticized.

The performances are all excellent and one sequence, where Frankie calls his broke father for a favor, is shattering on so many levels.

Combat Shock is a very powerful, amazing achievement.

Maniac 2 - Mr. Robbie ('89):

The bleak world view that Buddy Giovinazzo brings to every one of his films is why this "sequel" to William Lustig's Maniac ('80) is so damn rich. It's only short, but Giovinazzo and star Joe Spinnell create real magic from a premise that could have easily sustained a full feature -- TV host Mr. Robbie receives cries of help from abused children in the form of letters he reads on air. In his spare time, his visits the abusers of these children and murders them.

The letters from children that Robbie reads on air are voiced (cleverly) by talented adult actors, and are truly moving and painful to hear. Robbie's own history as a victim is economically conveyed and Spinnell, looking terribly ill (which he was at the time), is totally believable as Robbie.

This is like a shortened feature, a half dozen scenes in search of a financier. Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie never did become a feature, and it's a great pity because the material is so potent and adroitly handled by Giovinazzo, New Jersey's Dark Prince of Human Decay.

The violence is gloriously revolting and the film's sound design is a real asset. Shot in grotty greens and blues and boasting garish, deliberately ugly surfaces, this unofficial follow-up to the 1981 original has a stronger premise than its predecessor ("Jaws on Land") and would have made a better film.

Consistently dark and creative.

Go here to experience it:

No Way Home ('96)

With the exception of The Unscarred, this is Buddy Giovinazzo's most technically accomplished piece. It does share thematic similarities with Combat Shock, but it is a solid character drama that would not be out of place on a double bill with the Australian The Boys. Being a Giovinazzo flick, it's about deeply flawed characters living in a personal hell. They see no way out of their situation and are too emotionally paralyzed to act.

Deborah Kara Unger, who is a dynamite actress (and seriously sensual), is terrific as Lorraine, the girlfriend of James Russo's Tommy. Tim Roth plays Joey, who has just been released from jail and relies on his brother's goodwill to provide him with a roof and bed until he gets his act together. Complications arise when local criminal elements encroach on Joey's rehabilitation.

The plot is nothing new and hardly worth a mention. The drama's the thing here and it burns like a bolt of lightning once the the film's niceties are out of the way. Russo, who was also in The Unscarred, is hard as nails and scarily convincing as Tommy. Roth never disappoints, unless the script's not there, and in this venture he makes us feel his pain.

Another vacation in hell, with a great score, from one of cinema's darkest contemporary directors who is as seriously underrated as Ferrarra is seriously overrated.

The Unscarred ('99):

Buddy Giovinazzo is a consistently interesting filmmaker. Combat Shock and No Way Home are my favorite Buddy films, and his short Maniac 2 - Mr. Robbie is very good also, but The Unscarred is a more mainstream film and certainly the director's most technically polished.

It boasts so many twists and turns that anything but a basic plot synopsis would do it damage. James Russo, a resident of New Jersey, is seriously in debt. When he is invited to come to Berlin by old friends, he accepts the offer.

Giovinazzo is adept at depicting violent, visceral scenes. He isn't shy of blood and he doesn't neglect the emotions behind violence, either. This film's bloody set pieces are handsomely shot and the performances are strong. The beautiful Ornella Muti (the unforgettable female star of Tales of Ordinary Madness) is still gorgeous in this outing, though her delivery of the English dialogue is a little stilted.

A weak section of the narrative sees Russo irrationally instigating a short police chase. Clearly an example of something not carefully thought through, it is one of the few missteps in this otherwise effective suspense drama.

There are too many gratuitous travelogue shots of Berlin, probably a concession to the film's co-financiers.

The Giovinazzo novel on which Cracktown is based

I have been aching to see Life Is Hot in Cracktown since the movie's production was announced. I enjoyed Buddy's ultra-grim, powerful novel immensely so am confident the film will be a powerhouse.

Life is Hot in Cracktown will open for a one week engagement on the 26th of June, 09, at Laemmle's Sunset 5, which is at 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 90046.

Why only a one week engagement? Variety of possible reasons.

Lightning Media has the film for theatrical and video, so this one weeker is probably honoring their commitment to the producers to provide a theatrical release. A theatrical also guarantees (usually) a higher cable TV premium and greater video/streaming/on-line exposure.

I'm not surprised that the film isn't going wide, although I thought it would go wider than this.

Perhaps it will.

Often, distributors test their movies' strength by unspooling at theaters like the Sunset 5.

Because I no longer live in LA, I will still happily drive the 50 miles each way to see Life Is Hot in Cracktown.

A scene featuring actress/Exec Producer Melissa Wilfley is here:

...and here:

Director Giovanazzo currently lives in Berlin and has been directing gritty crime thrillers for TV.

When I reviewed his The Unscarred on imdb a couple of years ago, he contacted me to ask me where I'd gotten a DVD. I told him that I'd fished it out of a discount bin at an Aussie supermarket for the amazing price of $3. Buddy assured me that the copy I'd bought was a pirate copy because the film hadn't been licensed to any Australian distributor at that time.

Buddy is one of the very few truly original, consistent, exciting filmmakers of dark material. Abel Ferrara is a member of the same club, but I find his films wildly inconsistent. Most of his recent ones bore me. Not so Buddy Giovinazzo.

I'm counting down the days until I see this film, and will scribble a full review when I do.

This is a filmmaker who has found has found greater appreciation outside the US.


  1. Troma is releasing in July the 2-Disc Never-Before-Seen Director's Cut of COMBAT SHOCK. See cover art and specs here:

  2. Yes, I'm looking forward to that. Already pre-ordered.

    I meant to mention that fact in the review, but I got sidelined.


  3. I too was going to mention the upcoming Uncut DVD :-)

    I will be be looking forward to your review of Cracktown!