Archive for October, 2013

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This western tosses aside all the old genre conventions and takes a more critical look at the old west.  A brutal, lawless world where business and organized crime are one in the same, the sheriff is unconcerned with victims of violence, and so a group of prostitutes decide to seek a different kind of justice.

Alone, they don’t stand a chance against the men who dominate them.  Together, pooling their resources, the women put out a contract on the offenders, seeking gunslingers who’ll do it for the money.

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Enter William Munny, an old, broken down trigger man living on a failing farm.  When the news arrives of a payday, and this time on the side of justice, the offer is too tempting for him to resist.

Munny is a bad guy, but he’s reformed now.  His wife had turned his life around.  He became a family man.  After her death, and after financial misfortune, Munny feels the economic desperation.  He wants something better for his kids.

The intended targets mutilated a young woman, scarring her face forever and getting away with the crime.  Munny feels a chivalric duty to take the contract, but perhaps it’s just in his nature.  The law had failed to protect the women, and now the only justice left is cowboy justice.

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Complications enter.  This is no simple, straightforward job.  The sheriff gets wind of the contract put out by the whores.  He vows to uphold his own brand of law, which he does ruthlessly.  Munny and his companions manage to make it to town, but killing isn’t an easy thing.  It destroys men’s souls, shatters their minds.

Unforgiven is a timeless classic, and one of Eastwood’s best.  That he would reexamine his previous characters and stories and turn in such a haunting performance definitely affected my view of him.  I’d love to catch Unforgiven, and several others, up on the big screen again.

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Noam Chomsky has misled what passes for “the left” in the United States since the September 11th attacks.  His verbal contortions apparently get some traction amongst people who know as little about the actual evidence as he does.

A recent college appearance had Noam slinging the same ignorant blather as he has done for 12 years now, and his reasoning fails due to a) either a complete lack of understanding of international terrorism and its sponsors, or b) dishonesty.

For an alternative perspective there is Senator Bob Graham, who co-wrote the Congressional Joint Inquiry Into the Attacks of September 11th 2001, the most crucial parts of which remain censored to this day (by two administrations).

Luckily Senator Graham has the backbone to tell the public what is being censored: Re-Open the 9/11 Investigation Now

Censoring clear evidence of Saudi state complicity in the 9/11 attacks on America fits the Constitutional definition of Treason.

Chomsky’s response concerning WTC building 7 is dismissive, claiming that 2000 architects and engineers are a “miniscule” number.  Noam swiftly changes tack so that these professionals, who take very real career risks by openly signing the 9/11 statement, are equated with people who learned about physics for an hour on the Internet.  This sleight of hand earns Chomsky a special place in hell for the damage he has willingly done to the US, just on this one issue.  He also makes ridiculous claims about investigating 9/11 being a “safe” topic (another demonstrable lie), as if those who challenge the US government’s 9/11 story are not routinely attacked across the corporate media as well as on so-called “alternative” foundation-funded media.  That architects and engineers would face reprisals for such political activity as this is inconceivable apparently.

But Chomsky’s Big Lie, pretty unique to himself, is a whopper of irrelevant speculation.  His personal musings are given the label “evidence” with total disregard for so much actual evidence it would humble any real scholar.

Noam Chomsky’s political gibberish, which he had the stones to call “evidence that [the unelected Bush regime] weren’t involved” in the 9/11 attacks, rises to a new level of absurdity:

Noam Chomsky’s (Anti) Conspiracy Theory:

  1. BushCo. wanted to invade Iraq.
  2. The alleged perpetrators were Saudis.  Phrased as “They blamed it on their major ally…”
  3. “Unless they’re total lunatics, they would have blamed it on Iraqis…”

There you go.  Noam would have had Central Casting call up some Iraqis to blame the 9/11 attacks on, because… it’s so ridiculous.  It’s astounding that adults, never mind academics in attendance, applauded such foul reasoning.

Here’s an alternative understanding, Noam.  One that actually meshes with the known history of the event and US proxy wars with their partners Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, beginning in 1979 (another uncontroversial fact, see Operation Cyclone).

  1. US “allies” sponsor, train and help radical Sunni militia movements like Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, ISIS, MEK, LIFG, KLA, Chechen separatists…
  2. These groups are not directly controlled by US personnel.  That’s called “plausible deniability,” a term the great professor has apparently never come across at MIT.
  3. The US and partners don’t just want to attack Iraq, Noam.  They want the world, and they want it now.  General Wesley Clark (who helped KLA destroy Serbia and Kosovo btw) told of 7 nations on the Bush regime’s hit list, immediately after 9/11.
  4. The “War on Terror” was not a simple pretext to attack Saddam Hussein, but a new paradigm in the face of a vanquished Soviet Union.  Terrorism replaced communism as the bogey man to open the spigots of unlimited war materiel spending and unlimited surveillance, something MIT might know a thing or two about.

Chomsky has the sense to punt on questions of WTC Building 7, claiming no opinion on the matter (except for his disdain at even being asked).  His opinions of what happened on 9/11 and the geopolitics of empire are hamfisted grasping at straws and desperate squeals from someone who has painted himself into a corner.  Chomsky finds himself in the unfortunate position of being looked to as someone who supposedly knows what he is talking about, and yet his responses reveal that he has no desire to know about the actual September 11th attack operation at all.  That the audience would applaud such mindless obfuscation is indicative of a cult of personality rather than any credibility or superior logic at work.

Chomsky assails the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth for not having enough scholarly papers published, in his opinion, and yet they do what he does.  They use alternative media to get the word out.  This is not an academic question but real life and death struggle for the fate of the world.  US empire, Noam Chomsky should know quite well, exploits the 9/11 event to occupy, threaten and covertly destabilize a large chunk of planet earth.  It is their main military recruitment meme.  It is truly a day that changed history, and Chomsky doesn’t want to know what happened.  He doesn’t care.  He is a flagrant misleader who should have shut his mouth if he lacked the spine to learn the truth.

P.S.

I meant to mention sooner that there is another lie in Chomsky’s statement: “They blamed it on their major ally.”

It is glaringly false on its face, a grotesque mischaracterization.

“They,” the Bush regime, did not “blame it,” 9/11, on their “ally” Saudi Arabia. Quite the opposite, and that’s the problem. They covered it up and redacted the investigation that blames 9/11 on Saudi Arabia. It is this protection of the Saudi regime that’s the central problem. It is also arguably high treason.

Noam Chomsky knows how to string together sentences that are clear and make perfect sense, as well as adhere to the facts. In this case he has gone to opposite land. I have my own hypothesis as to why he’s chosen to toss any credibility he once had over this issue. But the why isn’t as important as showing his statements to be ridiculous, counterproductive, and at odds with the truth and with the millions of people struggling to get the truth out. It is the victim’s families who are the original so-called “truthers” who demanded an independent investigation, only to watch it turn into an obvious and pathetic cover-up. Chomsky finds himself on the wrong side of history, feeding myths to his willfully ignorant followers rather than even acknowledging the cover-up. I have run into several of his ilk who have basically turned off their brains and refuse to even read FBI intelligence reports and the statements of the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 9/11/01, Senator Graham. They substitute ignorant speculation for the actual hard evidence uncovered by the FBI. And why wouldn’t they? That’s what Chomsky does.

These are supposed to be the critical thinkers, the political opposition, and yet they are carrying water for Cheney et al. Go explain that one if you can.

Rabbit hole.

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No Justice No Peace: California’s Battle Against Police Brutality & Racist Violence

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The Corruption of the Innocent
by KIM NICOLINI

I had (with notable doubt) high hopes for Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Stephen King’s Carrie. I know that taking on Brian De Palma, whose 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie in iconic history-making performances, was no short order to fill. On the other hand, I thought maybe a woman director taking on a classic female body horror narrative would give it a fresh take. Carrie was originally written by a man in 1974 and filmed by a man in 1976; perhaps seeing Carrie through Peirce’s eyes would lend a fresh vision to the story. Kimberley Peirce’s other films – Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss – are both very effective portrayals of class and otherness, two components which play in Carrie’s story.  So while it seemed like an impossible task to conquer a remake of a horror film that holds that holds such high theoretical, cinematographic and an acting import in the genre, I thought maybe, just maybe, Kimberley Peirce would be the girl who could do the job. I was wrong.

I read Stephen King’s novel and re-watched the De Palma film in preparation for the remake. While the King novel is written like crap, it does have nuggets that Peirce could have used to her advantage. Even when Stephen King’s writing is at its weakest, he is very good at describing environment and class. His books are very well crafted in the details of the characters’ lives. He is largely an author of place and the effect that place has on the people who occupy it.  (See The Shining for the most obvious example.) In the novel Carrie, King has many great descriptions of the environment that Carrie lives in – her house, the high school, the town in general including Sue’s house.

Most notable for grounding the book in place and class is the infamous trip to the pig farm where the villainous Chris and Billy slaughter a pig to get the blood to dump on Carrie in their great act of Prom Revenge. In the book, this is the scene in which King really exercises his chops, and we get a detailed scene of fucked-up working class suburban kids out for a blood thrill. De Palma handles this scene with the clean precision with which he handles the rest of his bloody masterpiece. Peirce turns it into a scene crafted more for shock value than social commentary, though her films generally lean toward the latter. In Peirce’s scene, we see a bunch of stick figure characters and watch as Chris ruthlessly cuts the pig’s throat. It is filmed more like “torture porn” than the American realism for which Peirce is known. Maybe Chris’s ruthless and gleeful killing of the pig is supposed to contain the heavy meaning of the film, which I guess is: “Look how bad and evil this rich girl is! She has no heart. All she has is privilege, envy, cruelty and greed.  She can cut a pig’s throat without flinching!”

 

carrie_shot1lSissy Spacek in Brian DePalma’s “Carrie.”

Yeah, girls are evil. That’s a large part of the subtext of the original book and movie. But some girls are lesser evil (the “outsider other”) even while seeming more evil (than the popular girls who run in packs). Carrie ultimately is a tale of the “other” as monster, and the other is largely female. The original book and film were released at a time when the market was glutted with stories about girls who come of age only to find themselves possessed by demons or supernatural powers (The Exorcist, Audrey Rose, Firestarter). In other words, female sexuality is the way to the devil. Carrie is a kind of “hysterical” narrative in the original sense of hysteria (the root of hysterectomy). Those female reproductive organs and the bloody mess they make sure can fuck things up and are scary. In relation to Carrie, I like to quote Sheila Ballantyne’s hilarious feminist treatise Norma Jean the Termite Queen in which she describes a caveman’s initial fear of women. When he discovers that she menstruates, he says, “She bleed all the time and never die.” (One of my favorite quotes ever.)

But Carrie isn’t just about female horror; it’s about other horrors as well: bad mommies, bullying, Christianity, and high school in general. All of these things should have given Kimberly Peirce something to dig her teeth into, and she tried, but she failed big time. The movie starts promisingly, on an entirely different note than the De Palma version giving it space to stand on its own. De Palma’s film opens in the infamous shower scene where Carrie gets her period and thinks that she’s bleeding to death. Peirce starts with the birth of Carrie (a scene which is in the book but not the 1976 film) and which is probably the best scene in the 2013 version of the movie. The camera closes in on an old house with a non-descript 1980s car parked in the driveway. We don’t know where we are in time.  Horrific howls come from the house. Surely a horrifying act of violence is being committed. The camera enters the house and follows a trail of blood until we find Julianne Moore lying on the bed screaming and giving birth all on her own. The scene is maternity at its most horrific. You’ve got the blood of the womb, the crazy mother, the baby being pushed from her vagina like some kind of abominable act, all covered with blood, blood and more blood. (“She bleed all the time and never die.”)  Julianne Moore raises a pair of scissors to murder her Devil Child, but at the last minute has a change of heart and decides to keep her baby. Which is good because then we have the story of Carrie.

From there, Peirce cuts to the shower scene. Here we see a different Carrie than DePalma’s. The girls in the shower room are skinny “Plastics” of the now. They wave their pink i-Phones in their hands, and waggle their bony asses in their Victoria’s Secret underwear. Carrie, on the other hand, is a voluptuous, curvy, sexpot of a freak played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Peirce has inverted the bodies of the original Carrie film in which Sissy Spacek is skinny as a rail and completely desexualized, but her tormentors, especially Chris and Sue, are curvy sexpots with boobs and hips. Peirce’s Carrie is somehow “other” because she is so overtly female (with a sexual fleshy unadorned body as opposed to the bulimic assless bitches in the locker room). This is interesting for sure, but Peirce doesn’t know where she’s going with it or how to get there. She piled on a sub-narrative where Sue is pregnant with Tommy’s baby  (who over course is a girl as Carrie points out at the end) trying to tie together the opening childbirth scene, Carrie’s sexuality, and Sue’s maternity, but it’s all very shallow and brushed over quickly because Peirce has to make room for all of the tedious special effects which weigh down and ruin the film.

carrie618x400Chloë Grace Moretz in Kimberly Pierce’s “Carrie.”

The shower scene is the last effective scene in Peirce’s movie. Carrie stands in the shower washing herself. She puts the soap between her legs. The soap comes out bloody and drops to the floor, and the image is terrific. The soap slowly falls to the drain with blood running off of it is cinematic poetry at its best. The dirty and the clean, the corruption of the innocent, all in one singular image.  It’s the last good powerful image in this film, and there are still 80 minutes or so left to go.

Peirce does allude to the idea that Carrie’s otherness stems from class as well as her mother’s religious fanaticism and her steaming uncontainted sexual power. Clearly her classmates are rich. Tommy shows up at Carrie’s house in a limo not a beat up pick-up truck like in De Palma’s film. Chris throws fuel on the fire of Carrie’s humiliation by posting a video of Carrie’s menstrual shaming on Youtube from her sprawling rich girl bedroom. Chris is kind of like the female equivalent of Mitt Romney and looks like a Kardashian knock-off. Tommy plays Lacrosse (the rich boy’s sport) not baseball like in the book or track like in the 1976 movie. In the meanwhile, Carrie’s mom slugs away hemming and ironing at the town dry cleaners, clearly a woman from the wrong side of the tracks. When Sue’s mom stops by to pick up a prom dress, the tension between the women is driven as much by class as by religious crackpotism.

Julianne Moore’s “Momma” is in some ways terrifying, and if Piper Laurie weren’t looming over her shoulder in every scene, perhaps Moore’s performance would be noteworthy. But because it’s impossible to watch “Momma” without the magnificent spectre of Piper Laurie (“They’ll all laugh at you!”) hovering close by, it’s hard to give Julianne Moore a place to breathe. The best scenes of her are when she says nothing – when she sits pounding her head on the wall, cuts herself with a seam ripper, or claws at her arms. Silence is Moore’s best ally in this film because every time she opens her mouth, we can’t help but think, “You’re no Piper Laurie.” This is a shame, because Julianne Moore is a great actor. She never should have taken on this role.

In fact, this film never should have been made. Peirce clearly wanted to do something interesting. She has the pieces – class disparity, female body images, religious fanaticism – but as soon as Carrie gets her period, the film is smothered with shitty special effects. Carrie does this ridiculous arm gesturing with goggling eyes every time she exercises her telekinetic powers (making books float in her room, lifting furniture off the floor, etc) This Carrie is actually kind of a snotty bitch getting her rocks off by exercising her superhuman brain power. She is not sympathetic, not Sissy Spacek’s confused woman-child. Chloë Grace Moretz’s Carrie is a total, though pretty, dud, and her pouty Carrie plays to the very teen audience that the movie and book supposedly critique. This Carrie is shallow and vengeful, ridiculously pretty without any tension to fuel the prettiness (e.g. overt expressions of jealousy from the bulimic crowd). She becomes a kind of special effects joke, and the real tragedy of the film is not her character but how badly she is depicted.

De Palma’s film is so clean and precise in what it’s doing. There is no extraneous anything. He very clearly knows exactly what he wants his camera to do and why. The changing “look” of DePalma’s film between Carrie’s house and the high school play in great contrast. Carrie’s house is a dark, grainy den of religious fanaticism whereas the high school is a super-crisp, uber-glossy place of artifice and social construction. De Palma masterfully manipulates POV as we actually occupy Carrie’s body, follow Carrie as she ascends stairs, and watch Carrie in horror as she slaughters us with her power. Peirce shows none of these nuances in perspective. The camera basically is a tool to show-off ludicrous prolonged unnecessary special effects. Do we need to see Chris’s face pushed through the windshield and still talking even when it’s sliced to bits? No, we don’t. Do we need to see Carrie reconfigure the pieces of the mirror after she breaks it with her powers? No, we don’t. These are devices used to sell tickets to high school kids who could care less if this adaptation of the film is any good or has interesting class, gender, and religion subtext.

The biggest thing that Peirce’s film is lacking is the complexity of its main character. In De Palma’s film, Carrie is both monster and heroine. We cheer for her even as we’re frightened of her. She is an innocent abused child (abused by her own mother and her classmates), and he is also a terrifying scary “other” girl. Certainly Sissy Spacek allows this effect to come through, but so does De Palma’s restrained though bloody filmmaking. In the prom scene, Sissy Spacek simply looking out of her eyes to wreak havoc is way more effective than Moretz’s twisted arm waving which looks like some kind of cheesy CGI overlay on her body.

Really, watching Peirce’s film only reinforces how great De Palma’s movie is. The sad thing is that the elements are in the film to make in interesting, but they fall flat and are smothered by an industry-produced FX extravaganza marketed to the teen market that the story attempts to critique. What a disaster.

 

Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently published her first book, Mapping the Inside Out, in conjunction with a solo gallery show by the same name. She can be reached at knicolini@gmail.com.

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NSA Chief: Reporters Must Be Stopped
NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts
Edward Snowden: Comic Books and Video Games Inspired, Motivated Whistleblowing
Why We Should Think About the Threat of Artificial Intelligence

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Uninspired

This dismal, snow globe version of Ghosts of Mars lacks a solid foundation.  The villains are one-dimensional feral, screaming savages, and their entire contingent manages to utter one word of dialogue over the entire film.  At least in Ghosts they were terrifying freaks with some sense of style.

This film seems to lack a third act, ending abruptly after two.  It also fails to develop strong characters apart from some obligatory checklist stuff.  The lead starts off on a decent enough path, only to end up jumping instantly into mindless brutality.

Add to that CGI effects from 90s video games.  I was sort of stunned they had created such a cheesy 3D colony above the snow.  Many of the sequences lack the visceral quality of being somewhere real, and it is quite obvious they shot in green screen studios.

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The Colony’s end message, however, irked me.  We’re all monsters.  All cannibal savages under a thin veneer.  Yeah, yeah.  Couldn’t have done any more soul searching than that?  All in all a waste of time, nothing to see here.

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Dr. J.’s Commentary: Hairspray: We’ve Come so Far; We Have So Far to Go

by Steven Jonas

Hairspray is a movie that can be taken on a number of levels, your choice. It’s a funny, sassy, heartwarming old-style Hollywood movie musical about teenage life in Baltimore, circa 1962. It’s about actors like Christopher Walken, John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Michelle Pfeiffer playing against type (and doing it marvelously well). It’s about a classic Hollywood “discovery,” the previously unknown high school senior, an aspiring actress from Great Neck, NY, Nikki Blonsky, delivering a drop-dead performance as the lead, Tracy Turnblad. It’s about terrific singing and dancing all designed to make you feel oh-so-good while you’re watching it.

At the next level, the social issue of obesity is prevalent, how it affects the lives of so many Americans in so many different ways. John Travolta in a fat suit playing Tracy’s mom shows how socially crippling it can be. Tracy, also obese, shows how one can overcome the prejudice our society has against overweight people, even as it encourages overweight (much more now through the role of the food industry than back then, but back then too). Tracy says “I’m happy with myself. I can do tons of stuff, and if you don’t like me because I’m fat, that’s your issue, not mine.”

The next level is classically political. The movie shows very starkly just how the nation was beginning for the first time to deal with race-relations and the coming desegregation, in a former Border State city, Baltimore. A highly popular afternoon teenage TV show that features high-powered singing and dancing by and for teens is totally and consciously segregated. It’s an all-white show, with one “Negro Day” a month. In Tracy’s high school, when she is sent to detention for some minor infraction in the classroom, virtually everyone else there is African-American. It is in that setting that Tracy, who can already dance, is introduced to the coming wave of African-American popular dancing that is about to burst into the mainstream for the first time.

Tracy, who looks entirely different from all the other white kids on the show, somehow manages to win a dance contest and get a slot on it for herself. But by then, she has already been taken by the black dancing and is beginning to spend time with and work her way into the culture. She eventually proclaims that the show should be integrated and, with Queen Latifah who plays the entertainer-leader of the black kids, she is in the leadership of a street march and demonstration that eventually leads to just that eventuality. For a Hollywood movie, this one has an unusual amount of bare-bones, yes, that-is-what-it-was-like, politics in it. The progressive forces are the good guys. The police and the station management are the bad guys (and boy does Michelle Pfeiffer do a marvelous job of playing a bad guy). And the movie ends with the triumph of integration over prejudice, at least circa 1962.

The next level on which one can view the movie and its lessons is not nearly so happy. This is one that is encapsulated in a line from the movie’s climactic musical number: “We’ve come so far; we have so far to go.” Indeed we do, in terms of race relations in our country. The issue is not on the movie’s agenda in any way. But the line does make the politically conscious person think, right to the present. Are things better than in 1962? Of course they are, in many areas of discrimination. Are things worse? Oh yes they are, in the political arena. During the 1960s, it seemed that political racism was on the way out, that George Wallace would be its last howl of un-reason. And then came Nixon and the Southern Strategy that has defined the modern Republican Party.

Race prejudice and its political usage is what defines the Southern Strategy, and defined the Nixonian Republicans into the Reagan Era. Starting with Reagan’s capitulation to the Christian Right, the modern Bush-Cheney-Rove Republican has taken prejudice to a much broader level and made it into their party’s political foundation. Race is there, of course, in the judicial nominations that led to the recent Roberts Court decision that said racism is for communities to decide, through their democratically elected representatives. And racism is there in the conscious campaign started by Ashcroft to use the “Justice” Department to suppress black voting, under the cover of “dealing with election fraud as mandated by the Civil Rights Act (sic, and sick).” But these folks have taken the political use of prejudice to a whole new level.

Just consider: the political exploitation of prejudice against homosexuals simply because of who they are, not anything they have done; the political exploitation of prejudice against those of us (in this case, the majority of the population) who believe life begins at the time of viability, and the drive to criminalize our belief; the political exploitation of prejudice against Hispanics through the whole so-called “illegal immigration crisis”; the political exploitation of a prejudice these people are building from the ground up: Islamophobia; the political exploitation of prejudice against anyone who is labeled a “liberal,” because as Ann Coulter/Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh/Bill O’Reilly say out in the open and the party’s leadership says in code words, “liberals” are traitors, and, it so happens, the penalty in this country for treason is death.

Yes, the modern Republican Party has reached new depths. If the Democrats don’t begin to take it on directly on this issue of the political use of prejudice, and soon, it will very likely, very quickly get to be too late. Yes indeed, “We’ve come so far; we have so far to go.”

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY), a weekly contributing author for The Political Junkies, and contributing editor for The Moving Planet Blog.

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A movie that feels bigger than its budget should allow, Go Is a classic drug/crime black comedy.  John August’s tale of ecstasy, raves, Vegas and desperation feels authentic.  Not written by some marketing committee spitballing ideas to see what sticks, these stories seem like real life at the bottom.  The misbehavior resonates, and the dialogue is crisp and fresh.

And it has Sarah Polley in the lead, and so of course I’m a fan.  Ronna’s desperate bid to keep from being homeless by selling ecstasy to a couple of ravers, who aren’t what they seem, is the kind of working class / twenty something stunt that people might recognize from their own lives.  Then the film takes radical turns, jumping stories and leads, such that it becomes a twisted ensemble crime narrative.  Only, the bad guys aren’t your one-dimensional stereotypes, and that’s where the film really scores.  Each character is fleshed out and affected differently along the way.

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Go Is a pretty special movie that inspires me to want to write something similar.

 

Dilemma (short)

Posted: October 24, 2013 in -
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