Weeds (1987) Poster


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Very Underrated and Too Unknown
walter radunsky7 December 2013
'Weeds', which made its short run on the big screen in 1987, is not so much of a forgotten movie as it is a film that relatively few people have ever seen. As of the time of this review (Dec. 2013) it has never been released on DVD and only resurfaces now and then through a couple of seldom watched YouTube clips. Yet having finally seen the movie in its VHS-aged entirety, I can find no good reason for its obscurity. The cast is made up of many well-known actors, including Nick Nolte, Ernie Hudson, William Forsythe, and Joe Mantegna, all of which give dynamic performances, the musical score by the great cinematic composer Angelo Badalamenti is absolutely beautiful, and the settings, characters and plot are all compelling. Thus, I can't help but to assume that this film has been suppressed by the adverse reviews of professional critics such as Siskel and Ebert (I happen to think these two guys made their greatest contribution to the film industry postmortem, when movies were no longer subjected to their ignorant and simple-minded opinions), and perhaps even more so by the fact that the narrative of the film conflicts with American ideologies. 'Weeds' is a film about a group of maximum security prisoners who start a theater company presenting plays about prison life. The audience, both inside and outside the film, are made to sympathize with the prisoners and see a humanity within them, in spite of the immoralities and serious crimes that they have committed. The character Lee Umstetter, the playwright and protagonist of the film, likens the prisoners to weeds growing through the cracks of the prison walls and blooming with flowers filled with nectar sweet enough to still attract and feed the bees. While such a sentiment may be well understood in countries that have some understanding and, in turn, sympathy with the human condition, it is in complete contradiction to the dogma of America, where--as is pointed out in the film--prison is regarded as punishment rather than rehabilitation, and where criminal behavior is completely removed from the context of class, race, and countless other circumstances in order to be simplified into nothing more than a personal choice.

Although I gave it a perfect score, I don't regard 'Weeds' as a perfect film. The behavior of the characters (perhaps to make the audience further sympathize with them) seemed oversimplified at times, and parts of screenplay adhered too much to the predictable Hollywood formula (though I sense that this was in part done to appeal to as large of an American audience as possible). Nevertheless, I would like to contribute in whatever way I can to raising the status and awareness of a film that, unlike so many of the American films that came out during and after the Regan era, is filled with purpose, meaning and heart, and which deserves far better ratings and reviews than it has normally received from American viewers.
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A lot better than people may think.
Jetset9711 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Well, for openers, I am amazed that this movie got such a mediocre rating. This is one of the most poignant dramas about despair and emptiness that i have ever seen. I know the focus is on a person who is in prison for life trying to find some meaning for going on and channeling that fever into acting it out in plays. But, i began to sense that this movie was speaking about every person out there that is "doing time" in their own respective lives and feeling like they have nothing to shoot for or any direction to go. If you watch this movie you see that these ex-cons are still struggling with the shackles of prison life, even when they are no longer there. As one of them observes "you hear stories of guys actually wanting to go back. The brotherhood of the doomed." This kinda struck me as a metaphor about peoples lives and how even when they get a chance to break free, they feel the pull to go back to the groove they are so accustomed to. Now that i have given my philosophical two cents, let me talk about the movie in more detail. "Weeds" is a compelling tale about how a bunch of misfit ex-cons are trying to strive for a better life by telling the world, through performing plays, what it feels like to be in prison. Nick Nolte gives a top notch performance as the leader of the troupe that needs, not just wants, to express himself through the stage. The other actors, Lane Smith and Joe Montanea, give compelling support, ex specially William Forsthye who plays a two-bit shoplifter that has found a new life in the theatre. I think the musical numbers add a serial quality that uplifts this movie to new heights and the direction is quite good in telling this story. Overall its not the best movie ever made but it certainly is a well crafted one.
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Drama with a hint of a musical about it
P. McNamee15 August 1999
Some may say this film doesn't know where it is going, it starts as a drama, then a thriller, a musical, a comedy and back to a drama. It was a mixture to be enjoyed. Nick Nolte fans should not be disappointed. This was a low budget venture and it doesn't show. The casting director certainly earned their money on this one with a rich mix of character actors who today are very well known but maybe not at the time this was made. One for the collection.
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Shoot to Kill
Robert J. Maxwell6 April 2002
Robert Maxwell rmax304823@yahoo.com wrote:

It's difficult to evaluate a film in which you've been to even the slightest extent involved. You tend to wish it well. I was an atmosphere person in the prison scenes here, filmed at a cement factory a few miles outside of Wilmington, North Carolina. I watch it with gusto, not only my scenes but all of them. Nick Nolte wearing what he thinks is the high-collared coat of a Broadway producer. I had a terrific scene in which I hand an inmate a glass of milk with my thumb in it and he throws it back at me. (They had trouble refitting me after each take, what with my neck as it is.) Marilisa and I finally wound up putting a safety pin through the flesh of my neck, so anxious was I to be Taft-Hartleyed into SAG. It was the only production I worked on in which the character had a name, Bruce Olson. Thank Bog for John Hancock. He picked me out of a lineup to play the sloppy corrections officer because I looked least like Doctor Jeykll and most like Mr. Hyde. I was so nervous that when he called "action" I mimed the scene, not knowing the cameras were rolling. Hancock called me aside, patted me on the shoulder, and gently told me that "Action" meant the whole thing, as if I were the village idiot, instead of a highly dignified and educated personage in the Wilmington community. As far as the movie goes, I've seen better, insofar as I can divorce myself from it, the way a doctor does with a patient. The riot scene was no joke. I was a member of the riot squad, went through a blistering two-day course in crowd control, and a bit of burning phosphorous dribbled down into my face between the plastic shield and the goggles and burned off my eyebrows. Confused by the smell of incense and burning hair I milled around trying to look fierce. Must have succeeded because one slightly built African-American kid was positioned opposite me (I was wardrobed in an international orange jump suit with black belt, black boots, gas mask, helmet and face plate, and riot baton) and shakily said, "Hey, don't hurt me, man." Stumbled over a couple of inmates, who really were inmates, or rather ex-inmates. At the end of the day I went to the PA and told her I'd locked myself out of my car, how could I get back in? Libby hollered, "Anyone here know how to get into a locked car?" and every hand shot up. It was a tough shoot overall. Everyone in the riot scene wound up bruised. I wish the effort had been worth it, but it doesn't seem to have been, even at more than ten years' distance. I wish it had been a better movie, but it's not too bad as it is. Above average. Let's say that.
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SnoopyStyle28 November 2016
Lee Umstetter (Nick Nolte) is in San Quentin serving life without the possibility of parole. He has a failed suicide attempt. He starts reading books, anything that is thick. He begins to appreciate literature and writes his own play "Weeds". The prisoners put on his plays and there is a change among them. San Francisco reporter Lillian Bingington takes an interest in him and gets him released. On the outside, he reunites with some of the prisoner-players from Quentin to go on the road with his latest play but it doesn't all go smoothly.

This start off as a serious prison drama but somewhere along the line, it becomes a dramedy about a traveling Broadway troupe. It's uneven to say the least. It can feel like a meandering journey but it never stops being interesting. The play is the least compelling part of the movie until they showed it in a prison. The movie threatens to get lost at various times but Nolte is able to lead the troupe home.
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