Monday, June 29, 2009

Cracktown Not So Hot

It really pains me to say this, because I love the work of Buddy Giovinazzo, but I didn't find much too much to like in his new film Life Is Hot In Cracktown.

Settling in for the screening at Laemmle's Sunset 5

Written by Giovinazzo, it is based on a collection of short stories he wrote under the same title. The original stories were set in New York.

In the film, the setting is now Los Angeles, and we follow four groups of people whose lives have been impacted by the shitty economy, drugs, bad choices, and dysfunctional family structures. We see the cycles being repeated, and we see more bad thrown after bad. The picture Giovinazzo paints is grim, but not entirely hopeless.
Shannyn Sossamon

The director's great talent is his ability to tune in on life at its lowest ebb and make it compelling. In his previous films, he has demonstrated great sympathy for the fallen, the beaten, the abused and the flailing. These qualities are present in Cracktown. Unfortunately, the material has a too familiar ring. If you've seen Menace II Society, Keane, Juice, and Last Exit To Brooklyn, you've seen Cracktown.

There are a couple of very tense sequences involving a junkie who pulls a gun twice on a store clerk, and Giovinazzo uses drone-like scoring to great effect at times, but the good stuff is washed away by the stuff you've seen before.

Victor Rusak

Giovinazzo's Combat Shock, a study of a forgotten veteran's hellish existence back in America after Vietnam, seared my brain because it took, once again, a familiar premise, but stood it on its head with a subplot about a mutant baby, a quest for a job, and a tragic father-son relationship. Its power was its singular, unrelenting focus and audacious desire to penetrate the most sensitive of flesh.

The director's Maniac 2 - Mr. Robbie, a short subject, took the William Lustig original and totally upended i. It made its killer the host of a children's TV show whose mission was to kill parents who were abusing their children.

Both films, as well as No Way Home, possessed enormous power. Cracktown lacks that power. Perhaps it's because Giovinazzo is intercutting between four different stories, possibly diluting each one. Unlike Crash and The Dead Girl, the stories here don't intersect. They share a common milieu, but they're not moving towards an inevitable collision. To be fair, they do all reach climactic moments that are cut in parallel, but there is no sense of one resonating with another.
Kerry Washington delivers a strong performance as a pre-op tranny.

Some of Cracktown's visual gimmicks seem out of kilter with the subject. There are frequent jump cuts that rub against the emotional build of the material. Some of the music cues feel like they've been dropped on top of scenes. They don't emerge organically from the personal gristle.

Vondie Curtis Hall strikes again!

A final point is the lack of explicit content in this cut of the film. The director is notorious for his uncompromising set pieces and refusal to turn away from the grotesque. The result of a backyard abortion is shown, but it is short, dark, and a bit of a throwaway in terms of its relevance. Several shootings are off-screen or suggested. If the content wasn't so familiar, the lack of visceral imagery wouldn't really matter. But because the content isn't fresh enough to resonate, the more bashful depictions of violence and tragedy further dilute the overall impact.

The very believable Evan Ross.

The performances are pretty solid all 'round. Fifteen year old Ridge Canipe, who was probably thirteen or fourteen at the time of the shoot, is terrific as 'Willy', a resourceful young boy whose unemployed, strung out parents leave him constantly to protect his little sister.

Ridge Canipe

Canipe has a natural, electric presence. Desmond Harrington makes a forceful impact as the junkie boyfriend of pre-op tranny Kerry Washington (another strong turn). The scene in which he accepts that she will leave him is beautifully performed and written. Other standout perfs are Vondie Curtis Hall, who is always great, Shannyn Sossamon (as a weary but strong wife and mother), Evan Ross as a scary, ambitious gang member...

Edoardo Bellerini

Edoardo Bellerini as a sinking patriarch...

...and Victor Rasuk (pictured firing gun above).

I really wanted to love this. I wanted to get on here and write about how amazing it is.

I was disappointed. Perhaps Giovinazzo set the bar too high for me with his previous work.

No problem. I look forward to his next film.

I was still there when the final credits rolled.

Kudos to Lightning Media for giving Life Is Hot in Cracktown a small theatrical run.

Their website is at:

I blogged about Cracktown's talented director here also:


  1. Saw CRACKTOWN in the market at cannes and sort of feel the same way. But of all the movies I saw there, this (and ENTER THE VOID) are the two that stick in my mind the most.

    Even disappointing Giovinazzo is still pretty memorable. And I though Evan Ross was beyond excellent.

    Love the blog.

    Jon Hewitt

  2. Great to hear from you, John. Sounds like we're on the same page. I agree that a disappointing Giovinazzo is still a memorable one. At least the guy is very consistent in his focus.

    I'm aching to see ENTER THE VOID. I'd really value your thoughts on that. Have you written about it anywhere?

    Maintain the pressure.

    +++FYI, John Hewitt is the co-director of BLOODLUST, and the director of the genre pics REDBALL, DARKLOVESTORY, and ACOLYTES+++ALL ARE WELL WORTH CHECKING OUT

  3. Ha! Bloodlust eh? Feckin genius! A well overlooked bloody gem. Cheers JH!

    Glad you gave this an honest review Phantom. The best thing is always to have NO expectations. Hard to do, but it may pay off occasionally.

  4. I've learned from reading your work on this blog that we have a lot in common, but sitting in the back row is not one of them.

  5. Jerry -- I've moved back over the years because I always get people behind me talking if I sit closer. Now I like it (the sitting, not the talking). Of course, not too much talking at this screening because it was pretty empty.

    What position do you favor?

  6. Lol. Being 6' 2" I need leg room, so I like the front row of stadium seating, but few of the films I like get the big screens. I like the aisle seat behind the open handicap wheelchair space. I have yet to find that space taken. I might be moving to the back row too, cause I've had it with being kicked in the back of the head with kids putting their feet up on the back of my seat.

  7. Jerry -- I have tried the front row of the stadium, too. Very nice. I am 6'2 1/2" myself, so also keen on legroom. That aisle seat behind the handicap space is a doozy.

    Perhaps I'll see you in the back row some time. No kicking. No talking. Of course, I'm still trying to figure out a way to short all the cell phone screens that pop up like fireflies before and during the movie. Aaarrrggghhh!!!

  8. This is getting an unrated director's cut release on DVD so some of that additional violence that you mentioned will probably get edited back into the film.

  9. Buscemi -- I'm hanging out for that cut.

    As stated above, I hated fucking shoveling shit on Buddy's film because he's a great filmmaker.

    But film viewing is so damn subjective. "I" was disappointed. Doesn't make it a bad film at all.

    My own modest efforts get a lot of shit shoveled on them (and some praise), so I know it's a shooting gallery out there.