Becoming Bulletproof (2014): Teaching Humanity Through Art (Review)

Grim, villain in Bulletproof Jackson

Documentaries can be dull as dishwater or have that lecturing you feel that is guaranteed to put one off completely from whatever message or concept they are selling. “Becoming Bulletproof” does not do either of these things. Rather, they teach the viewer humanity under the guise of art, or in the case of this documentary, taking us behind the scenes where the educational art is being made.

Zeno Mountain Farms makes one short film per year. The artists and creatives who make the films do so sans pay. The stars of the movies are various “disabled” actors and the “able bodied” staff play supporting roles on top of helping to care for their talent.  It is a unique, and before now  unknown organization to Mike’s Film Talk at any rate, that works off the premise that money should not govern art, just as certain human difficulties should not hinder people from performing.

At its base, the group’s philosophy is clear, anyone can contribute to art and for those who have the focus to follow through their personal dreams despite suffering from conditions that society deem “unworthy.”  Zeno Mountain Farms makes dreams become reality.

This documentary was put together in 2014, after which it ran the festival circuit where it won seven awards and was nominated for three more,  was helmed by Michael Barnett.  It should be noted that the movie being filmed, in the documentary, was “Bulletproof” filmed, and released in 2012 and that David Arquette had a cameo role in the short film.

Rotten Tomatoes gave “Becoming Bulletproof” a 100 percent “fresh” rating and the overall comments and reviews about the documentary were favorable and mentioned the word “inspirational” several times.  One word not used was educational.

And it should have been. As a teaching aid to the “normal” of society, it is priceless.   Certainly the film shows the difficulties and almost insurmountable problems that the disabled face everyday but more importantly, it shows that they are not different because of the issues they must overcome.

These challenged people are the same as the able-bodied of the world.

Each one, from A.J. who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, to Alec; who has Williams Syndrome, has dreams, aspirations and sees the world as we do; the “non-challenged” of the world.  Yes it is inspirational to see these hard working people complete their film and attend the premiere.

More than having a feel good factor of 100 percent however is the value of teaching the world of these actors’ normalcy. For, despite everything,  they are.

Being a documentary, “Becoming Bulletproof” spends much time interacting with those behind and in front of the camera. The Zeno Mountain Farms staff and the performers all talk about the project, the organization, each other and the sheer joy of allowing everyone to make art “happen.”

By the end of the documentary  it is indeed inspirational and one may find that a little sentimental tear may be rolling down a cheek or two. However, as stated elsewhere in this review, it is the power of the message; the teaching of the uneducated that counts here. The use of arts to teach humanity.

If one takes nothing else from this documentary is should be this:  People are people, regardless of the skin they are in or the difficulties that they face.

Zeno Mountain Farms, and all who sail her, we salute you for your effort, your art and your dedication.  This is a 5 star documentary.  You will walk away feeling good, and possibly with a big soppy grin on your face,  but entertained and educated you will be and that, that is a good thing.

Steaming on Showtime and Hulu at the moment. Do not miss this one.

Louis L’Amour: A Biography by Anita Y Tsuchiya

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Another e-book of the “Reader’s Digest” variety that obviously is aimed at the “limited” reader. Limited as in not feeling like they have the time to peruse a “proper” book versus these watered down versions. As in the American Legend series I just reviewed on Duke Wayne, this book will not break the bank and just under 2 pounds, but it is fairly limited in the amount of information that is related about this iconic author.

I was going to include this book review with my John Wayne review because it was Wayne’s role of Hondo in the picture of the same name that propelled L’Amour even further into the limelight as the film was adapted pretty faithfully from his book. He was not unknown at the time that Hondo was made (as a 3D film yet!) but the public reception of the film was such that L’Amour became even more popular as the preferred storyteller of America’s west.

I grew up reading both Louis L’Amour westerns and those of Zane Grey as well. My father was a huge fan of both authors (with a definite preference to Grey’s novels) and because he had plenty of these books around the house I read them as well. L’Amour’s life, as chronicled by several interviews and articles over the years could have stepped whole out of one of his stories.

He left home and “rode the rails” to find work and an education. He had left school at an early age to “round” out his learning as he felt the academic system used in the formal setting of  his school was lacking. Coming from a family of readers and teachers, he already knew everything that he considered important from a scholastic viewpoint and was eager to learn more than what he had current access to.

For a really great source of  information on Louis L’Amour read his autobiographical novel Education of a Wandering Man. While the book is not all-encompassing, it does relate a lot of facts from the man himself. It is a fascinating inside look at the man who created such iconic sagas with the feudal and familial Sacketts.

During his lifetime, L’Amour was: A boxer, miner, merchant seaman, naval officer, skinner and lumber man.  All these on top of being a top-notch writer of western and adventure novels. He was also an accomplished poet and his daughter Angelique has published a collection of these in Smoke From This Altar.

This biography does touch on a lot of information about L’Amour and it appears to be, again, aimed at the commuter market. For those who do not know who this fascinating man is, it is a good introduction. Sadly the only other biographical information out there is the Education of a Wandering Man and assorted interviews and magazine articles. If you are lucky enough to have access to some of his audio-books you can hear the man himself providing background and information on each of the books.

If you have had the pleasure of reading any of his books you’ll know that the “About the Author” preamble states that he was, amongst other things, shipwrecked, stranded in the Mojave Desert, and was a world traveller. This book doesn’t really relate more than the most basic of information with the odd bit of information that delves a bit deeper.

A 3 out of 5 star book just because it did tell me a few things that I did not know already, quite a feat considering that I have spent years in my spare time trying to learn as much as possible about this writer.

The author Louis L'Amour. (b: 1908 - d: 1988)
The author Louis L’Amour. (b: 1908 – d: 1988)

Tokyo Hostess by Clare Campbell: Deviant Death

When I picked this book up at my local Library, I did so because the title rang a bell. Not the Tokyo Hostess part alone  but the prefacing statement above the title: The Shocking True Story… bit. It rang a bell because it was not too long ago that a young English girl who had gone to Japan as an English teacher had been discovered murdered in a tub of sand on an apartment balcony. *In fact it was March 2007* When the news reported this event they mentioned that this was not the first time that this had happened. They also mentioned a name, Lucie Blackman in connection with this “current” event.

Lucie Blackman (September 1, 1978 – July 1, 2000)

This also sparked a bit of recognition. Not because of her disappearance and death, but because of the controversy of her father taking money from her killer; one Joji Obara, a rich Korean immigrant son whose family fortune allowed him to offer huge sums of money to his victims and their families.

Intrigued, I checked the book out and brought it home.

Tokyo Hostess is Clare Campbell’s coverage not only of the events leading up to the deaths of Carita Ridgway and Lucie Blackman but it also contains an in-depth look at the “hostess” trade in Japan and its role in replacing the geisha in modern times but with much more of a risk.

Carita Ridgway murdered in 1992.

The book looks at the promises made by the Hostess trade to prospective employees and how they emphasise how safe it is and how easy it is. They repeatedly assure the young gaijin (non-Japanese) women that sex is not part of the job. They are not prostitutes. Some Hostess’s in the past have had sex with their clients, but, it is a money losing proposition.

The whole Hostess mythos works on the Japanese male’s sense of harmless fantasy. The men (mostly salary workers and mostly married) will come into a Hostess club for the female company of a pretty girl who waits on him exclusively. Pouring his drinks; lighting his cigarettes; laughing at his jokes and appearing to hang on his every word, the hostess gives the promise of this becoming a love affair. But it is a love affair that cannot happen, because once reality hits (in the form of sex) the fantasy is over and the male will move on to another hostess at another club.

But on the fantasy side of this little “harmless” arrangement, the men are all fixated on gaijin women; the curvier the better.

Clare Campbell takes us into the sordid underbelly of Japan’s “entertainment” districts. She shows us the hierarchy of the Hostess trade and its first cousin the sex trade. She interviews “retired” and current hostesses to find out how the whole thing works and what the rules are.

She also tells Lucie and Carita’s stories and the events that led to their deaths. She spoke to the families; the survivors of the horrible phone call, the inept police enquiry and the subsequent trial and publicity. She has also documented the Japanese legal authority’s xenophobic attitude towards gaijin crime (unless it is a gaijin who has done something to a Japanese citizen) and how political pressure was needed to resolve the problems of moving the case forward.

Carita Ridgway; Joji Obara; Lucie Blackman

The fact that Joji Obara had been abducting and raping girls for years (not just gaijin) was well documented by the thousands of videos he’d made and had stored at his various homes. This is the only area that the book has not been able to go into any depth. Obara is still a mystery figure. He was the Japanese born son of Korean immigrants who were fabulously wealthy. A spoiled but popular young man who apparently could not have sex “normally” with a body that could move or feel anything; a fact that caused his weird sexual fantasies to spiral out of control. Aided by his money, he then began his ‘Play’ as he called it, only getting caught when he killed Lucie Blackman.

This book is an interesting read made more so because it gives the reader an insight into the Japanese social culture and their conception of foreign (gaijin) visitors to their shores. It also takes a look at the sexual mores of the country and how “harmless” fantasy is accepted as an everyday staple of life. I would recommend reading this book if you want to see how the judicial system works in Japan on a sophomoric level; if you want something more in-depth you’ll have to look elsewhere.

But Clare Campbell has done an excellent job of showing how “international” crime works and affects different people’s lives and just how difficult it can be to find justice in a country that is not your own.

Author Clare Campbell.

Cannibals by Jimmy Lee Shreeve: Biting the Hand that Feeds You

Published in 2008 the long title of the book is: Cannibals True Stories Of The Horrifying Killers Who Feast On Human Flesh. As if the actual short title of cannibals was not descriptive enough.

If you are interested enough you can go to Jimmy’s website http://www.jimmyleeshreeve.com/ where it will tell you that:

Cult author and slipstream commentator”

“With over thirty years experience of earning a living in the slipstream, Jimmy Lee Shreeve has written half-a-dozen books, run a successful internet-based business, written advertising copy, self-publicized, re-invented and re-launched himself, and generally blagged his way through it all.

He also writes as Doktor Snake and Dr. Hash. His books include How To Be FamousHash BrowniesBlood RitesCannibalsDoktor Snake’s Voodoo Spellbook, and Human Sacrifice.

Jimmy’s byline and work has appeared in over a thousand newspapers, magazines and online media all over the world…”


The rest of the “about” section also goes on to say he’s been on television and radio.

Shreeve has a writing style slightly reminiscent of John Dunning (not John Dunning the detective novelist) who wrote 12 books on murders across the globe. His style was of a tongue in cheek nature in order to soften the subject matter.

While Mr Shreeve is not so prolific with his writing he does specialize in the more macabre stories out there with titles like Dr Snakes Vodoo Spell Book Vol 1 & 2 and Human Sacrifice. His titles alone evoke a type of tabloid like feeling that is reminiscent of the National Enquirer newspaper which specialized in stories like, “Elvis is alive and living in the back of my car” and “Family watches in horror as rats eat baby.”

To give Shreeve credit, he has done his homework and dug up some pretty gruesome tales that he shares with the curious reader. From Andrei Chikatilov (the butcher of Rostov) and Albert Fish right back to Albert Packer and Sawney Beane, he writes about the well-known and lesser known cannibals who have gotten their 15 minutes of fame (or infamy) for snacking on their fellow-man.

Admittedly, all these stories can be found on the internet and probably any library or book store in the true crime section. But he does cover each case well and give the narrative his own personal touch. He has researched enough that he was able to give background to Armin Weiwes, *If the name doesn’t ring a bell his story might. He got a “willing” volunteer via the internet to drop around so Armin could kill him and eat him.* background that I had certainly never seen before.

As a “True Crime” book, Shreeve doesn’t have the wry touch of Colin Wilson or even Dunning, although as I said before, his writing style is similar. The book is informative (and let’s face it), gory and shocking.

I cannot vouch for the rest of the stories in his book, but in his recounting of the Jeffrey Dahmer he leaves out the fact that local police actually brought one of Dahmer’s intended victims back to him thinking it was a lovers tiff between two gay men. They took the man (who could not speak very good English) to his death.

I don’t know why Shreeve left this bit of “colour” out of the story but it made me wonder what else he had omitted. Still the book is a fairly good account of cannibals and their “motives.” He also purports to have been part of an exorcism that “cured” a cannibal that he had corresponded with over a period of time.

In keeping with that theme he also discusses the issue of demon possession and/or Devil worship playing a part in the cannibalistic acts of these deviant criminals. He also brings a brief history of cannibalism into play and writes about people who have studied it as a cultural background for a lot of modern societies.

Cannibals include a lot of different cases and the thread that Shreeve uses to tie them all together is the premise of demon possession. I’m not sure I buy that but it made for some interesting theories.

I picked this book up mainly out of curiosity. No one has really stepped into the late John Dunning’s shoes, although Colin Wilson does come close (interestingly enough it was the friendship between Wilson and Dunning that caused the later to actually publish his collection of stories) even if he did not focus on the more bizarre crimes that Dunning covered.

I used to have quite a large personal collection of “true crime” books that I kept for research purposes. I still have them but Shreeve’s book will not be one that I’ll be rushing out to buy. It’s a short (at 256 pages) curiosity and doesn’t really include too much in the way of more information.

I would say take a moment to read it if a) you are of strong stomach; and b) your knowledge of cannibal criminals is quite sparse. Otherwise you’d do well to stick to the mainstream non-fiction writers such as Colin Wilson.

Bon appétit.