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Tuesday
May172011

Defending Your Life (1991) Home Video Review

It's the Chair for You, Kid!

Every aspiring romantic-comedy screenwriter should be forced to watch Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life.  This movie says more about love and the human condition than the last two-dozen such films I've suffered through.  Best yet, it's written for adults.

Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a mid-level ad executive who treats himself to a BMW on his birthday (I can't recall, but I believe it's the "big four-oh").  Zipping along the streets of L.A., rocking out to Barbara Streisand (!), he accidentally smashes head-on into a bus.  He comes to outside Judgment City, a cosmic way station for the recently deceased.  He takes a shuttle bus to a hotel, plops into bed, and awakens the next day to learn that he's about to spend the next four days in a courtroom.  His defender, a boisterous salesman-type named Bob Diamond (Rip Torn), must convince two judges that Daniel has evolved enough since his previous life to be reincarnated as a higher life form.

Representing The Universe is prosecutor Lena Foster (Lee Grant), a hard-edged professional who believes that the recurring theme of succumbing to fear in Daniel's life makes him ineligible to move on. Daniel sits in a swivel chair watching scenes from childhood and adulthood play out on a giant screen, while his lawyers argue over the meaning of "fear", "virtue", and "courage".  From a bullying incident that left young Daniel petrified of confrontation, to his hesitancy to invest in the fledgling Casio corporation, Foster posits that the defendant has lived timidly and could use at least another trip back to Earth in order to correct this dilemma of the soul.

It's not all business in Judgment City, though.  When he's not standing trial, Daniel tours a pleasant, green paradise that's full of all-you-can-eat gourmet restaurants, golf courses and comedy clubs.  While watching a particularly awful stand-up (Roger Behr), he meets Julia (Meryl Streep), a mother of two who died in her pool.  They bond over jokes and a love of food.  Julia's trial goes swimmingly compared to Daniel's, as she has half as many days to review as he does.  Indeed, she seems destined for sainthood: Daniel sits in on one of Julia's sessions, in which she rushes out of a burning house with her two kids in tow; then runs back in to save the family pet.

I'll leave the outcome of Daniel's trial for you to discover.  Defending Your Life is a movie that needs to be seen and appreciated.  I love that Brooks uses his platform to explore big ideas at the same time he's delivering a warm, sharp comedy.  The notion that there is no Hell is quite comforting; at the same time, Daniel's existential dread lies in the possibility of having to live life as a human being all over again. More to the point, he feels he's let himself and The Universe down by not seizing opportunities when he had them. This film is about hindsight, and recognizing key decisions in the smallest choices.

Unlike modern romantic comedies, the leads in this film are pleasant to watch.  Streep is her most natural here, giggling and enjoying the freedom of knowing that she led a good life; Brooks is a nebbishy sad-sack whose humor barely masks the constant regret of not having gone after what he wanted when he was alive.  Their courtship is believable and touching, and it's refreshing to see smart, older adults going on a date without some horrible, Three's-Company-style mishap throwing a third-act curve-ball into the mix.  Daniel's late-developing issue with Julia stems from his insecurities, and watching him fight his demons made my heart soar.

Defending Your Life is a small movie with epic themes, a brilliant slice of self-examination in which the way a person sits in a chair (curled up and cozy versus the strapped-in look of someone who's about to be electrocuted) speaks volumes, and a seeming act of selflessness means nothing.  I've seen fewer films with greater ambition, wit and spirit.  I hope that when the people responsible for Bridesmaids face their final judgment, they're shown this movie and weep forever.

Monday
May162011

Starship Troopers (1997)

How Could You Not See It?

Somehow, I'd avoided seeing Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers until yesterday.  When the movie came out fourteen years ago, I assumed it was a big, dumb pile of sci-fi trash--Aliens for the WB crowd. Indeed, there's a lot of fluff here that I probably wouldn't have appreciated at the time; now that we're at war, however, the film takes on a chilling new context that I doubt I'll be able to shake.

In the distant future, Earth finds itself battling several races of gigantic bugs from deep space. Their spawn arrive buried in waves of giant asteroids that invade our solar system, and it's up to the ultra-fascist planetary entity known as The Federation to keep the planet safe.  Starship Troopers tells the story of three best friends who enlist after high school.  Carmen (Denise Richards) wants to pilot starships.  Carl (Neil Patrick Harris) is an amateur psychic who dreams of communicating with the bugs in order to squash them.  Johnny (Casper Van Dien) wants nothing to do with war, but follows Carmen into service because he's madly in love.

Turns out, Johnny's a natural-born leader; his sharpshooting, determination and strict adherence to orders propel him up the ranks--which is fortunate because A) Carmen breaks up with him to pursue her career and a relationship with her steamy commanding officer, Zander (Patrick Muldoon), and B) a rogue asteroid slips past the orbital perimeter and destroys Johnny's home city of Buenos Aires, prompting an invasion of the bugs' home world.

Like Full Metal Jacket, the film is divided into two distinct parts: The kids' rigorous training and adaptation to military life, and their disillusionment in combat.  What makes Starship Troopers unique is Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier's satirical look at the military/industrial complex.  The movie is peppered with recruitment commercials and Internet pop-ups inviting the audience to learn salacious details about the bugs' abilities and carnage; as well as messages of empowerment enjoyed only by Federation enlistees. As the plot unravels, it becomes obvious that the reason service is so highly regarded is that the powers that be have no real plan to combat their enemy, and have resorted to literally throwing bodies at the problem.

The story's genius lies primarily in its lack of a mustache-twirling evil boss or committee.  For the most part, the highest-ranking people we meet are still middle-managers carrying out the bizarre orders of people several rungs up.  This allows us to discover the ineptitude and deviousness of the organization as the soldiers and pilots do--which often happens while being swarmed by creatures they're ill-equipped and under-trained to fight.

But what makes Starship Troopers special is the characters' lack of big-picture awareness.  Despite being ambushed, decimated and lied to, Johnny, Carmen, and their fellow combatants continue to buy the Federation's official line.  Even when Carl shows up towards the end dressed head-to-toe as a space Nazi, everyone is more than happy to follow along with his plan to wipe out what can barely be called a sentient species.  This is the first sci-fi movie I can recall whose climactic human victory and subsequent celebration sickened me.

There's no way Verhoeven and company could have known that they were making a prescient piece of new-century propaganda, but Starship Troopers presages the war on terror and its accompanying voluntary relinquishing of freedoms and military fetishism with brutal accuracy.  I haven't read the Robert A. Heinlein book on which Neumeier based his script, but I can see why the director of Robocop would latch onto it.  The two films could easily occupy different points on the same universe's timeline, with the OCP-dominated Detroit police force acting as the prototype for the Federation's worldwide model.  The key difference, of course, is that in the good old days of Officer Murphy, there were dissident elements inside the organization willing to stand up for decency.

I don't think Starship Troopers would have been as effective were it not for Van Dien and Richards' utterly blank, charisma-free performances.  I'm not that familiar with the actors' other work, so I can't say if the dead-behind-the-eyes delivery was an acting choice or just standard operating procedure--I do know that they fit the story's needs to a "T".  They're the same kind of young dupes we saw in Reefer Madness, relying on Big Brother to tell them what to think.  Even after they've had holes blown in them and lost several friends to awesome strategic blunders, there's still an aw-shucks, all-American kid quality to them that's more Saved by the Bell than Saving Private Ryan.

Even if the film wasn't a fascinating political allegory, it would still be a thrilling piece of science fiction.  Verhoeven knows how to stage a hell of a battle scene, and is so willing to sacrifice members of his main cast that each skirmish carries with it the potential for surprise.  The bugs eviscerate Federation soldiers with whipping claws and massive beaks; some of them are building-sized, fire-breathing sand beetles; some of them, we discover, have wings.  And the Federation soldiers prove little match for them, firing bulky machine guns and small nuclear warheads.  All of the home world skirmishes descend into chaos, no matter how much more prepared the invading armies consider themselves to be.

I just considered something that, if true, could put an even darker spin on the material.  Late in the film, Carl reveals that the reason the bugs are so unbeatable is because they're protecting a "brain bug", an intelligent beast that can not only strategise, but also psychically communicate with every other bug on the planet and surrounding systems.  Carl deploys hundreds of thousands of troops to capture the leader, resulting in more heroism, casualties, and advancement for the science division.

What I didn't realize is that the audience is given no proof of the aliens' mastermind capabilities.  Sure, a number of the bugs' victims have their brains sucked out, and the lower order treat the pulsating master slug with as much reverence as roach-like creatures can muster; but it's unclear whether Carl is right about their intelligence, or if he's simply using circumstantial evidence to bolster the Federation's case for prolonging the war and exterminating "anything with more than two legs".  Until the Buenos Aires attack, the Federation took more of a defensive posture, but the event is used as an excuse for the brass to pursue their cloudy agenda in the name of liberty and survival.

I can't recommend this film enough.  Starship Troopers works well as a distraction for people who just want to see hot actors blow up CGI monsters with cool weapons; but it's also an eerie look at unchecked power and unquestioned patriotism.

Note: For fans of Saved by the Bell, you may recognize Patrick Muldoon as the guy who played "Jeff" on the show.  He was the sleazy college guy who broke up Zack and Kelly; he's essentially the same character here, but with a few hundred more shades of gray.

Sunday
May152011

Waxwork (1988) Home Video Review

Melting, I Scream

I don't know what to make of Waxwork.  It's either an awful horror movie or a brain-tickling horror-comedy in desperate need of a polish.  I'll err on the side of positivity and give writer/director Anthony Hickox the benefit of the doubt.

The plot is simple: A gang of rich California college kids tours the wax museum that's just sprung up in their neighborhood; its proprietor, Lincoln (David Warner), has constructed elaborate attractions featuring famous madmen from myth and history.  His patrons soon discover that each display is a magic portal into a dimension where they're picked off, one by one, by werewolves, vampires, and the Marquis de Sade (J. Kenneth Campbell).

What makes the film so strange is Hickox's choice of protagonists.  Led by Zach Galligan as Mark and Deborah Foreman as Sarah, the teens in Waxwork are like third-generation Xeroxes of the characters in Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero.  They don't snort coke (on camera), but their dress is Don Johnson Chic and they live in ridiculous mansions with little parental supervision.  They also talk to each other in the showy adult-speak of 1940s film characters, making them not unlike the kids in Scream (substituting Freddy and Jason for Bogart and Bacall).

Typically, a movie like this will have one or two such characters; they're the preppy bad guys who cause trouble for the nerdy hero before ultimately taking a well-deserved axe to the face.  By switching up this paradigm, Hickox makes us root for people we might normally despise.  I use "root for" very lightly, as I found Galligan to be a curiously bad actor here.  In his star-making role as Billy in Gremlins, he pulled off the shy-boy-next-door-becomes-a-hero role.  In Waxwork, he's stiff and distracted until the climax, and I couldn't tell if he was trying to make himself that much more unappealing to the audience, or if he just didn't have it in him to play a jerk.

For her part, Foreman transforms from mousy hanger-on to sex-crazed maniac pretty quickly.  Her encounter with the Marquis uncorks something in her that never really gets put back in the bottle; indeed, if you're looking for the best example of why Waxwork doesn't work as a horror film, you need go no further than the scene where she's whipped repeatedly and then refuses Mark's rescue attempt. There's nothing creepy or dangerous in this scene, and it plays like a Cinemax After Dark teaser.  Don't get me wrong: Watching a sweaty, heaving Deborah Foreman snub freedom is quite amazing, but it doesn't have the same visceral effect as watching John Rhys-Davies turn into a werewolf.

If this sounds like the craziest horror movie ever, let me assure you, it's not that exciting.  So much of Waxwork has been borrowed from Fright Night, Once Bitten, and Return of the Living Dead (at least in spirit) that I spent more time jotting down references than eagerly awaiting the unexpected. Admittedly, I didn't see the climax coming.

After much fighting, running, and narrowly escaping death, Mark and Sarah return to the real world--just in time to see Lincoln achieve his dream of resurrecting the spirits of his wax subjects and ending the world.  All seems lost until a mob of geriatrics bursts into the wax museum to take on the forces of evil. This boots Waxwork out of the horror realm entirely and re-brands it as a modern Blazing Saddles; instead of pies to the face, we get knives to the gut.

The thrilling camp of these last fifteen minutes really brings the movie to life.  It's a shame that Hickox found his tone so late, because I would have loved to have seen this level of experimental horror/comedy from the beginning (Granted, not everything works: There's a clumsy nod to Little Shop of Horrors that made me wince).

Mixing horror and comedy is a tough proposition, and Hickox showed that he wasn't quite up to the task with Waxwork.  Unlike benchmarks Evil Dead 2 or Friday the 13th Part 6, the horror elements are too timid and the comedy is too lame.  Had he spent as much time on his screenplay as the rest of his crew did on creating elaborate costumes and sets, the movie might have been a triumph rather than a head-scratching oddity.

Saturday
May142011

Bridesmaids (2011)

 

Baby, It's Cold Inside

Let's clear something up: Bridesmaids is not the female version of The Hangover.  The 2009 male-bonding blockbuster had fleshed-out characters, a plot and a purpose.  Bridesmaids is a parade of every despicable chick-flick cliche whose alleged edginess stems from use of the word "cunt" and watching women degrade themselves through cattiness, loveless sex and public incontinence.

Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, a single woman who lost her bakery and her boyfriend to the Great Recession.  Her only friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), gets engaged and asks Annie to be the maid of honor. At the engagement party, Annie meets the new circle of friends that Lillian has made in the eight months she's lived in Chicago with her fiancé, Dougie (Tim Heidecker)--at least, I think that's how it works; Bridesmaids cares even less about timelines and geography than it does about comedy or realism.

The women are archetypes, of course.  We meet Becca (Ellie Kemper), the bubbly, newly-wed prude; Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), the haggard, alcoholic mom; Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the awkward fat girl who acts like a cross between Zach Galifianakis and Cliff Clavin; and Helen (Rose Byrne), the rich wife of Dougie's new boss who we're meant to believe is Bridesmaids' villain (from what I can tell, her only crime is having been raised with culture and self-esteem).

Annie's instant jealousy of Lillian and Helen's bond sets in motion a series of oneupmanship sketches that Universal Studios had the balls to release as a movie.  Briedsmaids isn't even episodic in its plotting; you could shuffle the middle hour-and-a-half of scenes and wind up with the same understanding of these women's motivations and personalities--which is to say, none at all.  Unlike The Hangover, which set its characters on a bizarre, debauched Las Vegas scavenger hunt, where one clue led to another and then another before finally achieving a clearly established goal, Bridesmaids simply meanders and stalls.  From the gown fitting where the women blow vomit and dihorreah out of just about every orifice, to the "hilarious" ten-minute airplane scene in which Annie mixes muscle-relaxers with scotch and winds up causing an emergency landing, the movie buckles under the weight of its see-if-it-sticks approach to comedy.

There's a sub-plot involving Annie's relationship with a highway patrol officer named Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), but again, we're presented with a series of vignettes and meets-cute rather than a story with forward momentum.  This may be due to the fact that Wiig, who co-wrote Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo, knows how despicable a human being her protagonist is and doesn't want the audience wondering why Rhodes would even bother with Annie--not for the whole movie, anyway.

Lest you think me a misogynist, allow me to explain why Annie is so gross.  It's become de rigueur to mock romantic comedies for their shallow portrayals of women--specifically, the over-twenty-five sad-sack career junky who just needs a scruffy, dashing hunk to give her a sense of humor and a solid lay. Think of any mass-appeal Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson, or Jennifer Aniston picture from the last decade, and you'll catch my drift.  It's an easy formula that pretends to paint a more realistic portrait of the modern woman, but which ultimately acts as an excuse to showcase the male lead's great looks and comic timing.

Annie breaks this mold by lacking A) a job and B) any sense of self-awareness.  She sleeps with a vapid, handsome businessman named Ted (Jon Hamm) who uses her as nothing more than a respiring glory hole. Yet she pines for him.  She spends the entire film sabotaging Helen's efforts to give Lillian a dream wedding because, at the end of the day, everything is about Annie losing her best friend--not her best friend starting a wonderful, new life.  The only redeeming part of the screenplay is that Annie finally gets called on her shit (though not before ruining the bachelorette party and destroying the wedding shower in a foul-mouthed, violent tantrum).  But I was done with this monster about an hour before the light bulb went off.  There's a difference between cute, desperate and vicious; Annie is like a rubber-faced version of The Bad Seed, whose deplorable actions Wiig and director Paul Feig count on being overlooked by lots of silly faces and pratfalls.

I might have forgiven Annie had it not been for the scene following her night of lovemaking with the cuddly, good-hearted Rhodes.  He surprises her by stocking and prepping his kitchen for a fun morning of baking--a passion of hers that she's let lapse since the bakery closed.  Instead of taking part, or politely declining, she flips out and storms out.  I'm not spoiling anything by saying that they eventually wind up together (this is, after all, a chick flick and not an actual movie), and that made me really sad.  Despite all the supposedly redemptive progress Annie makes later on, Rhodes doesn't deserve to be saddled with such a neurotic nut-job.

It hurts me to have to write these things.  Bridesmaids is full of actors that I generally love, but they're all squandered on a screenplay that isn't half as smart as they are.  I'm also tired of having to write about the same movie over and over and over again.  Whether you want to call it No Strings Attached, Going the Distance, Couples Retreat, or How Do You Know, chances are you've spent lots of time and money buying into the same clueless-guy/lovelorn-girl film; the performers and ratings may change, but the outcome is always, depressingly exact.

Melissa McCarthy's presence made me think of a terrific example of what this movie would love to have been.  Get ready to roll your eyes, kids, 'cause I'm gonna invoke Gilmore Girls.  Yes, it was a prime time dramedy on a C-level network; yes, it was brimming with dialogue that sounded like it was written by the test-tube-daughter of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith; but it was also an honest look at how smart and vulnerable women relate to one another.  McCarthy was on that show, playing Lauren Graham's bubbly best friend, Sookie.  Their dynamic was fun and touching, and there wasn't an irritable bowel in sight.

Gilmore Girls invested in strong characters; in turn, its audience invested in it.  Bridesmaids gives us no one worth relating to.  The screenplay comes close, but the most sympathetic person in the whole movie is the alleged villain, Helen.  We're meant to laugh at her high-class taste and proper demeanor; she's supposed to be the bitchy snob who stole down-to-earth Annie's best friend.  But it's easy to see why Lillian would ditch her psycho sad-sack pal for someone with brains, sophistication, and a healthy sense of herself.  Just as we're never given reason to like Annie (at all; let me repeat: At all), we're never given reason to hate Helen.  She indulges in some weird behavior that betrays what had been established as her character, which smacks of Wiig and Mumolo's need to sloppily set up more gags.

There's nothing wrong with women headlining a raunchy comedy.  But until the day comes when the creative forces behind these projects step their writing up to the level of their male counterparts and stop kowtowing to the dumbest members of their audience, I'm afraid we're doomed to these garish, pink fantasies.  What writer/directors Todd Philips and Judd Apatow (who produced this movie) have over Wiig and Feig is the courage to show men as they really are: Yes, they can be idiots who forget how to function outside the vicinity of a strong female influence.  But they can also be heroic, fun, smart, and loyal to one another.  It's also interesting that these supposedly male-targeted raunchy comedies feature stronger female characters than films aimed expressly at women--whereas the men in Bridesmaids are relegated to one-dimensional jerks or jokes; particularly Dougie, who, I don't believe, has a single line in the film, but who is for some reason described by his sister as a raging asshole.

I can watch movies like Old School and Knocked Up and recognize well-rounded, human qualities underneath the layers of pot smoke and exaggeration.  The only truth that Bridesmaids espouses is that if you get to the age of forty and are still unmarried, you're doomed to be a rich tool's fuck-doll whose only acquaintances are either like-minded harpies or dithering idiots who are too stupid to know better (no, I haven't strayed into a critique of Sex and the City).  If there's anything to that, ladies, you have my sincerest apologies.

Thursday
May122011

Cropsey (2010) Home Video Review

The Heresy of Hearsay

More than any Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock movie, directors Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman's film Cropsey exemplifies the docuganda--a movie disguised as a documentary that is so slanted that it's almost impossible for the audience to draw objective conclusions about its events. When watching a documentary, one puts a certain amount of trust in the filmmakers: Their job is to present a real-life story that educates and entertains.  Docugandas take that trust and distort it through entertaining manipulation, leaving the audience to believe that what they're watching is real, even if the story is as fabricated as Avatar.

At the outset, one might think the movie is about what it says it is.  Brancaccio and Zeman interview residents of Staten Island, New York, about a bogeyman called Cropsey that many people on the East Coast grew up fearing.  In the 1980s, the island's looming Willowbrook Mental Institution was closed down thanks in large part to an expose by Geraldo Rivera.  A film crew made public the filthy conditions and lack of care that had plagued the institution for decades.  But after the doors were shuttered--we're told--a number of patients and former employees simply took to the surrounding woods, or returned to the abandoned Willowbrook grounds as living ghosts.

One of these was former orderly and sex offender Andre Rand.  In 1987, he was convicted of kidnapping a local girl with Down Syndrome named Jennifer Schweiger, who had been found buried in a shallow grave.  The authorities could never pin the murder on Rand, but Staten Island residents "knew" he was the killer.

After nearly two decades in prison, Rand was brought to trial again for the 1981 disappearance of 7-year-old Holly Ann Hughes.  By this time, the community was certain that Rand had been responsible for murdering every kid who'd disappeared on the island in the 70s and 80s, despite a lack of any supporting evidence.  Further hurting his credibility was the fact that he denied the press any interviews and never made public statements (he also looked a lot like George Romero, but I find that a cause for celebration; not suspicion).

While making their film, Brancaccio and Zeman receive several letters from Rand poking holes in the prosecution's argument and maintaining his innocence.  This is a first, and a big deal for the filmmakers, who set out to interview Rand in prison--but he turns them away at the last minute for no apparent reason.  In the end, Rand receives another kidnapping conviction, making him next eligible for parole at age 93.  The fine, law-abiding citizens of Staten Island are happy with the conviction, but wish to God that Rand would just tell everyone where he buried the other bodies.

The filmmakers have two big problems.  First, unlike the far superior, similarly themed documentary Paradise Lost, no cameras were allowed inside the courtroom.  Zeman is reduced to interviewing former cops at their homes or getting lawyers' opinions on the street; we never hear eyewitness testimony. It's only described to us.  What we do get is lots of authoritative-sounding speculation from people who worked these cases twenty-five or more years ago, whose suppositions and prejudices are just as desperate-sounding as the unfortunate parents who lost their children and want justice.  For good measure, Brancaccio and Zeman toss in an occult angle that never goes anywhere.

Related to that, the few facts we're presented with don't add up.  Apparently, Holly Ann Hughes was abducted at 9:30pm, after her mother sent her to a convenience store to buy soap.  Let me repeat that: A mother sent her seven-year-old daughter to the convenience store at 9:30pm to buy soap. Remember, this happened in an area that had seen kidnappings before and was home to a shuttered mental institution whose inmates were believed to be loose in the woods.

The second problem is that Rand was never charged with murder; only two kidnappings.  Yes, one of the bodies turned up, but there's controversy surrounding that, too: Some believe Rand was framed.  It feels as though Brancaccio and Zeman had bet all their chips on a "guilty" verdict (for murder) as the perfect bow for their serial killer/urban legend documentary.  I say this because, from the very beginning of the movie, we're assaulted with ominous music, artificially aged crime scene photographs, and somber narration that leads us to believe we're watching a tragic horror story about a deranged monster.

The presentation is so slanted that it doesn't matter if the courts convict Rand of murder because we've already been conditioned to accept every action on his part to be suspicious and evil.  It would be one thing for the filmmakers to let this play out in a straightforward, honest fashion, but Cropsey wants so badly to be a gripping crime drama/horror movie that it goes out of its way to make sure no one in the audience asks the questions that the people on-camera should have asked, too.  The whole "urban legend" conceit feels like an afterthought meant to dress up what is essentially the biggest non-story in Staten Island's history.

Further evidence of this lay in the order in which the kidnappings are presented to us.  We begin with the most sensational of them, the dead Down Syndrome girl, and then "Tarantino" our way back in time to the other kids, whose disappearances are, perhaps, less sensational.  I wondered where the public outcry and crusading search teams were for the other kids.  If there's a legitimate reason we couldn't see the cases in chronological order, it's never explained.  I guess that kind of questioning has no place in a documentary.

At the end of the movie, I had no doubt that Andre Rand is a weird, troubled guy who probably functions best away from polite society.  But I didn't find the filmmakers' characters to be all that great, either. Weighing child murder and propaganda is an apples-and-oranges argument, but let's not pretend that anyone involved in this production has clean hands.

Note: The beautifully gruesome slasher film The Burning also takes place in the woods of New York and features a serial killer named Cropsy (the spelling difference is intentional).  Unlike Andre Rand, though, I saw evidence of that guy's crimes.