Buddy Giovinazzo is not a household name. He's not Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, or some other famed illustrator of America's urban decay. But he should be. In fact, he should reign head and shoulders above anyone pretending to understand the horrors of the human condition, inner city style. Back in 1986, he crafted a brilliant if bleak look at the struggles of an unemployed Vietnam vet at the end of his rope. Given the working title American Nightmare, it remains the most authentic take on the whole post-traumatic stress situation of warfare, period. Troma, looking for a tie-in to the current Rambo jingoism renamed Giovinazzo's neo-realistic rave Combat Shock and sold it to a demographic eager for more proto-patriotic shoot 'em ups. There was more confusion than critical acclaim. Now, after nearly two decades in semi-exile, Giovinazzo is back, and this time he's taking on the equally ugly world of drug addiction and its personal aftereffects. The result is the undeniable masterpiece Life is Hot in Cracktown, one of the most brutal and honest portrayals of people in the throws of addiction ever created.
There are several interwoven stories inside Life is Hot in Cracktown, lives interlinked by dreams, dope, and a desire to break free. Marybeth is a pre-op transsexual who lives with crack-addicted "husband" Benny. They spend their days hustling, their nights working the streets and hanging out with their rich trust fund baby buddy. Elsewhere, a junkie couple raises their two scruffy kids in the squalor of a welfare hotel. There, the young boy Willy befriends a tweaking street person as well as a teen prostitute turning tricks for her coked-up mother. The daytime security guard of the building works two jobs just to make ends meet. While a decent enough man, the demands of a lonely wife and a constantly crying child push him toward the edge. Finally, as if things weren't bad enough, a gang of cavalier hoodlums led by the far too young Romeo runs ramshackle over the area, beating and abusing anyone who gets in their way. Desperate to get back at the individuals who killed one of their own, all our leader needs is a gun...and when he finally gets one, all Hell does indeed breaks loose.
It's a safe bet that you haven't seen a movie as dark and depressing as Life is Hot in Cracktown. Writer/director Buddy Giovinazzo, adapting his own celebrated collection of short stories, has a truly artistic way with despair. He works in poverty like Picasso, offers up misery like Matisse or Monet. For those who thought - or continue to think - that Combat Shock could never be topped in the filth and fury department, take heed. Life is Hot in Cracktown is ten time more depressing than said 1986 gem, and equally as memorable. Using his innate ability to create authentic, memorable characters while never excusing their often disturbing behavior, Giovinazzo manufactures cliché and then transforms it into truth, embracing cinematic staples like melodrama and shock for the sake of ready realism and truth. This may look like your typical slice of inner city strife, marginalized people eking out a mediocre living on the fringes. But there is more here than mere human horror. Giovinazzo is convinced that there's some higher purpose in exposing people overwhelmed by their flaws and failings - and he can't wait to discover it.
In essence, Life is Hot in Cracktown is about the struggle for redemption when none is available. It's about faking hope when said optimism is not really an option. All throughout the near two hour running time, Giovinazzo throws every possible trauma at the screen, from the recognizable (the colicky infant, the jealous boyfriend) to the truly horrific. Children are beaten, teen girls are gang-raped and sexually disrespected, aging adults are terrorized in their neglected hovels, young women are sold like meat on the streets. Facets of life never really discussed - the love between a trannie and his/her man, the sexualization of youth, the bold blame game surrounding addiction - are also the paints Giovinazzo works in. Along the way, he exposes the fallacies in believing in one self and trying too hard. The key player here is Manny, the diligent good guy who can barely hold it together. He believes in the failed American Dream, the notion that a dedication to work and a strong will rescues you from the direst of situations. His story arc, sadly, argues against such pie in the sky sentiments.
From an acting standpoint, Life is Hot in Cracktown contains several sensational performances. Victor Rasuk is excellent as the aforementioned hero. While tough on the outside, you can see him slowly crumbling on the inside. Kerry Washington inhabits the role of the transsexual Marybeth with just enough of a masculine undercurrent that we buy (sort of) the ruse, and Desmond Harrington is the worst kind of companion to our wannabe 'woman' - loving, but capable of great cruelty, all fueled by his own sexual insecurities. As the little boy lost, Ridge Canipe is innocent openness and streetwise reflection, while Ileana Douglas and Edoardo Ballerini make an excellent pair of hiss-able parents. The most astonishing turn, however, is delivered by 21 year old upstart Evan Ross. As gang leader Romeo, he hides a devil's delight in pain and torture beneath a barely out of his tweens demeanor. Wrapped up in Giovinazzo's efficient point and shoot style, underlined with occasional directorial flourishes, Life is Hot in Cracktown becomes a devastating denouncement of the continuing War on Drugs. Clearly, the police state policy is not working. The proof lies in the hundreds of lives destroyed and devalued by the ever-present crime and corruption within the scene. As cinematic statements go, this is strong, strong stuff. But it's typical of Buddy Giovinazzo's muse - and the independent artform is better for it.
Pursuant to DVD Talk policy, a screener copy of a film currently in limited release is not given a video rating, as this is far from final product. If and when an actual DVD of the version released to retail actually arrives, the tech specs will be reviewed and said comments collected here.
Pursuant to DVD Talk policy, a screener copy of a film currently in limited release is not given an audio rating, as this is far from final product. If and when an actual DVD of the version released to retail actually arrives, the tech specs will be reviewed and said comments collected here.
Pursuant to DVD Talk policy, a screener copy of a film currently in limited release is not given an extras rating, as this is far from final product. If and when an actual DVD of the version released to retail actually arrives, the tech specs will be reviewed and said comments collected here.
It's hard to imagine Buddy Giovinazzo topping Combat Shock. Even those tricked into taking a look at that dank, desolate urban tragedy could not deny its power and vision. Now imagine a movie that's several times more effective and you have an idea about how great Life is Hot in Cracktown really is. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, this is the kind of outsider effort that renews your faith in film, the sort of clear artistic vision that reminds you of the inherent power in putting truth up on the screen. Some may see it as hopelessly nihilistic and celebrating shock for sickening shock's sake. Others will tune out almost immediately, unable to cope with such stark realities staring them squarely in the face. But those of you with the guts to see life the way it's really lived should visit this particular part of Cracktown. Things are not only hot there, they're unholy - and unforgettable.