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Safe, Easy Answers for a Sleeping America
I wanted to like this film but unfortunately, it's a bit of a mess since it constantly jumps from one argument to another in the way it trashes both illegal AND legal drugs, contradicting itself at every turn. They never go into addictions in general, which is the main problem of our society (personally, I think that television is the worst drug in our society).
For those who will insist on disagreeing with me... Do you really think that if drugs DID become legal they wouldn't be sold by the same corporations that now sell tobacco or alcohol? If there's a dollar to be made, then it will either be by "criminals" on the street or by corporate executives, who are both snakes as far as I'm concerned. It's almost hilarious that Ricky Ross, one of the top drug dealers in US history, is depicted a poor hapless fellow who - aww-gee just wanted to pursue the American Dream, yet our government is 'evil'. In my book they're ALL after the same thing: power and M-O-N-E-Y! As Ricky Ross said, "if it hadn't been for the money, I wouldn't have gotten into the drug trade". Duh! Ollie North couldn't have said it better although at least his motive was also about his vision of a 'better America', as depraved and twisted as it was! Anyway, the same pharmaceutical companies that lobby against medical marijuana today will be the first to produce the magic weed if/when it does become legal. At which time the average Joe on the street who grows and sells his own will STILL find himself in prison for selling a product that's not licensed (the licensing will have to do with the 'purity' of the product, since home-grown could have other substances in it).
And that's where this documentary bungles its stance the most. It does a good job of depicting the true profit motive of the US government in terms of the drug war but it does not seem to want to investigate what the true profit motive of the anti-war on drugs campaign is. Is there a profit motive? For many casual drug users and those of us who want to see the US government's involvement in the anti-drug war disappear, there is no profit motive. But there is a strong wing of the Libertarian Party led by Ron Paul that is hooking liberals in on this issue. Once again, it's all about money and power and in this case, the end of federal taxation in America. What's wrong with that you may ask? Well, if programs for the people aren't funded by federal taxes, then they will either be funded by corporations, or they'll just go unfunded altogether (state taxes can't even come close to covering any state's needs). I don't believe that this film is totally out to endorse this particular agenda; it ironically makes an argument that we should get rid of taxes, while praising the socialist Dutch, who have the highest tax rates in the world. But the libertarian talking heads in this film scare me as much as our government does because they want to decriminalize drugs AND they want to get rid of all the funding for programs that will pay for the education and rehabilitation to solve the problems of drugs, crime, poverty and racism. They offer no viable solutions, just as this film never makes any attempt at all to discuss possible solutions to wean our nation of its addictions.
And while I'm at it... If tobacco and alcohol are as evil as this film insists, then why compound the problem with making ALL drugs legal? I can just see the filmmaker's family portrait dwindling in ten years as more and more friends are lost to cigarettes, alcohol, and... what are now illegal drugs.
A film that claims to be about the drug war but doesn't spend a significant amount of time on addiction in general, as well as how to combat our addictions through education and rehabilitation, is this country's problem in a nutshell. We just want safe, easy answers. The "just say no to drug wars" campaign is as stupid and reckless as the whole "just say no to drugs" campaign! Those who want to really stop drug addiction, poverty, crime and racism knows that it will only be through education, rehabilitation and social programs.
To clarify... I DO want to see an end to the drug wars and I'd like to see Marijuana legalized, but I'm ALSO for viable solutions. Our government is corrupt because it answers to industry and corporations that have their own agenda (money, of course). MAKING DRUGS LEGAL WILL JUST KEEP DRUGS IN THE CORPORATE LOOP! The occasional user or small-time seller will still be harassed and/or incarcerated. The best thing we can do is not get government itself off our backs, but get rid of our current BAD government that cares more about profits than people. We indeed should use the Dutch as a model... for EVERYTHING!
A Patriot Act (2004)
In recent years, I've watched numerous documentaries and read numerous books on this administration, to the point where they're all starting to blend in. This film though, knocked me off my seat. Mark Crispin Miller gives an astounding monologue about what he calls the 'Christo-fascist' movement that is sweeping the country. That phrase may sound radical, but then 'Christo-Radical' movement would suffice just as well (these aren't republicans, they're theocrats). If you think I'm exaggerating, watch even ten minutes of the 700 Club sometime (remember Falwell and Robertson saying that pagans, feminists, gays, abortionists and the ACLU were responsible for 911? That was hardly an isolated incident). This is not a club; it's a movement that is rooted in the kind of theocratic idealism of centuries ago, "when faith registered before reason" as Miller describes it. No, this is not the stuff of paranoia that we occasionally see in other documentaries. One need only keep abreast of the Tom DeLay circus, or the Frist/Schiavo scandal, or James Dobson recently describing liberal judges as black-robed KKK members, or the API's daily headlines. Today's... "Democrats Booted Out Of Church for Politics" (in Waynesville, North Carolina), and "Kansas Board Holds Evolution Hearings" (no, that's not a headline from 1925!).
Like James Mann's brilliant book "Rise of the Vulcans", Miller shows us how Bush is merely the frost on the tip of the iceberg (though he does at least a half hour of analysis on Bush's mindset, which is as funny as it is scary). Miller presents to us, 'all the president's men': those who make up the Council of National Policy (such as Falwell, DeLay, Trent Lott, Ed Meese and Oliver North to name but a few). They're not only associated with money and power, but in a Christian Reconstructionalist movement (also called Dominion Theology - do a Google on the Chalcedon Foundation) that, in John Ashcroft's words, puts "God before kings". If you thought Reagan believing in Armageddon was scary, be prepared for worse news (Bush has even been quoted as saying that God speaks through him, yet the media never even questions these things). This is scary, scary stuff, and to steal a famous quote, "if you're not worried, you're not informed". Don't believe me though; rent this for yourself and then research this stuff out. But by all means, don't just stop there. Once you get informed - act!
Free Money (1998)
A Mixed Bag of Brilliant Treasure
Currently this film has a 4.8 rating here at IMDb but in my opinion, VERY unjustly so! It teeters constantly between quirky, sweet humor, and macabre, almost cartoonish dark comedy. Which is to say, it's quintessential Brando. There's even a brief freeze-frame in the film of Brando with his hands flapping by his face in a 'neah-neah' gesture that is so 'Brandoesque'. He knows that his physical presence (a seemingly 500-pound ballet dancer) is a grand mixture of Father Christmas, Charlie Chaplin, Edward G. Robinson, and the man who bites off the heads of chickens at the circus. You just never know what you're going to get with him, so you - and the other characters in the film - are always kept a bit on edge (he played a somewhat similar character in "The Freshman"; another film that I've always thought was underrated).
Anyway, the train heist is merely a minor plot point, so I'm guessing that maybe that's why the movie bombed. Audiences were probably expecting a heist story with a solid, formula plot (probably along the scale of "Oceans Twelve"), and I'm guessing they felt extremely uncomfortable with the film's humble speed. The big-name cast also probably didn't help, because the film has a real 'Canadian provincial' feel to it (Hollywood, this film is not!). Nevertheless, the entire cast is fantastic; particularly Thomas Haden Church who I never would have guessed was the same guy in "Sideways"! Perhaps I'm just nuts, but I think this is a sleeper gem that has yet to find its true audience.
The Boys of Baraka (2005)
I was all jazzed up at the idea of seeing a movie about a school in Kenya that introduces African-American inner city boys to a culture different from their own and gives them a whole new perspective on being a black male. Unfortunately, there is very little if anything like that in this movie. The boys go to Kenya, get some strict but nurturing tutoring (by white women and men), see wild animals, and climb Mount Kenya. That's it. If what we see is really all they experienced then I don't know why anyone schlepped them to Africa: a camp in the Pocanos with a trip to the zoo would have sufficed. There is one very brief scene where the kids talk about some of their impressions of the way people in Kenya live ("no chicken strips!"), but we never see them interact with any people other than their white American counselors, and ... one particular Sunday at an African church service in town (preachers screaming about sin, sigh!). I think some really good things did happen to these kids at The Baraka School, but the film documents nothing but badly edited soundbites to give us any hint. Even the impact of living in a rural area at a leisurely pace isn't really reflected on. We see it and can feel it, but the boys seem relatively unaffected by it even though I know it must have had a deep effect on them. I want to praise this film for being about an important subject but alas, I can only think of it as a wasted opportunity. A good documentary on the subject could have created a lasting impact on other youths who might have experienced something wildly different and exciting and been inspired by it. At the end of the day, this is just another look at the vicious cycle of ghetto life that will be nothing new for anyone who hasn't had their head in the sand. It will rightly make all of us liberals angry that there can't be thousands of 'Baraka Schools' in the US, but there are countless documentaries on that subject (see "OT: Our Town" and "Rize"). This was a missed opportunity to make a film for the kids in these communities themselves to see how much else is out there in the world.
An Act of Conscience (1997)
The Price of Having a Conscience
Although many people like myself don't mind paying taxes, we hate the idea that a significant percentage of our tax dollars go to defense contractors and the war effort. It's painful to be working for anti-war efforts knowing that you are also in a sense supporting them financially. Therefore, there are groups of people who refuse to pay their taxes. They figure out how much they owe the government every year, and give that money directly to charities that help with education, health care, housing, the environment etc. I'd like to be one of those people but what stops me personally from doing that is that I am aware of the anarchy of what would happen if everybody just supported what they morally saw as correct. Millions of fundamentalists for example would be supporting Christian schools and housing, leaving people who need secular public schools and housing out of the loop.
Still, I support the intentions of the family depicted in this documentary. The government has auctioned their house away, and a working class family has bought it for a fraction of what the house is actually worth. What the tax protesters fail to accept though, is that they've lost their house, not their home. They try to talk the new family into understanding their predicament, and at first the new family is sympathetic, but the family also knows that they will never be able to afford a house like this again. There is stubbornness on both sides. The tax protesters attract a lot of support and attention, and those who find the tax protesters 'un-American', side with the new owners of the house. What ensues is a three-ring-circus that is a perfect microcosm of America as it stands today; divided and profusely inflexible. The tax protesters try to bend over backward to help the new family by building them a new house, but the new family refuses to move which I can't blame them for after the way they have been painted as evil by some of those in the tax protesters' circle. The solution to me would have been to build the house for the family of tax protesters who were kicked out of their house (which is inevitably considered). One has to accept that one must make sacrifices for what they believe in, and to attach oneself to a piece of land and the material things on it is antithetical to the ideals they espouse. This is an interesting documentary, but it spends too much time on the sensationalist battle, instead of covering the wider picture of the tax protester's movement.
3 Needles (2005)
One of the Bravest Films I've Ever Seen!
I saw this last night and just can't stop thinking about it. This film is off-the-charts audacious in its blend of tragedy and dark humor, with cinematography that ranges from powerfully beautiful (the South African sequences reminded me of John Ford movies like "The Searchers"), to a seedy quality that subtly conveys the weirdness of its humor and unethical qualities of its characters. The film also never flinches from showing us such taboos as male nudity and the indignities of a terminally ill man. Like the movie "Babel," this movie contains three stories, two of which are set in far-off lands, all dealing with complex issues and tragic ignorance.
The first story is about how practically an entire village in China acquires AIDS due to poverty-driven greed. The film's edge is in how it turns the tables on us psychologically; the people are not what they seem, and greed is not always clear-cut when it is a basic means of survival. The second story is a strange tale of a mother who handles the death of her husband and 'acceptance' of the fact that her son has AIDS in a way that leaves the viewer extremely perplexed and uncomfortable, which is actually a good thing. This film doesn't flinch from showing us AIDS stories we don't want to believe, such as those people who purposefully acquire it. It mixes dark humor with beautiful metaphors, such as the mother driving her sports car into an enormous pile of red leaves, until she's practically buried in it. The final seconds of that story leave a chilling print embedded on one's brain; what is this woman thinking?? The third story juggles a whole range of issues regarding ignorance, religion, greed, selfishness and selflessness, and balances them all on a head of a pin. One false move and the story would have come off as preachy or exploitational. Again, there is an iconic scene that stays indelibly in my mind; the beautiful and horrific sight of a woman's dead body lying under a thin blanket of mud.
The entire film does has some rough edges, which may at first put some viewers off. I found Olympia Dukakis' narration a bit difficult to accept at the beginning of the movie (during a strange and fascinating African ritual of male circumcision), but it all comes together by the very end - in fact, quite powerfully. The film also jumps back and forth in past and present, which may at times seem confusing, but the ultimate effect makes us reread our initial assumptions. And the first film in particular is quite slow, although again, I think there was a point to its languorous pace. We all know that the disease in question in this film is AIDS, but the location used in China is so rural that one feels that the time period could be any time in the past fifty years. In fact the circumcision scene at the beginning of the film makes one unaware of even what century we are witnessing! That I think, is the director Thom Fitzgerald's genius. I read a review that criticized this movie for not mentioning the word AIDS, which actually I was unaware of. But the fact is; this movie could be about any disease, as even the Chinese initial reaction to SARS was one of denial. This film does certainly illustrate the stigma associated with AIDS, but the fallout is much deeper than sexual practices in developing countries. The reason it has spread, as this film so eloquently shows, is not because of people's sex lives; it's spread because of ignorance, poverty, superstition, fear and greed. If we can just focus on fighting those battles, then maybe
maybe we can win.
The Man Who Got His Own Medicine
The so-called tragedy of Barry Goldwater can be summed up by a soundbite comment he made at the 1964 convention, "extremism in the face of liberty is no vice". It looks nice on a bumpersticker but a slam-dunk remark like that begs any thinking person to ask, "ANY form of extremism?" and "whose liberty are we talking about?" Joseph McCarthy defended liberty by persecuting thousands of innocent Americans. The Ku Klux Klan (and Goldwater himself) wanted to defend liberty by protecting a constitution that did not specify that people of color should not be second-class citizens. And President Johnson wanted to defend liberty by murdering hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians and by creating an extremist political ad that assumed that a man who championed extremism might just be extremist enough to use nuclear weapons in a world that was still reeling from the Bay of Pigs incident two years earlier. Was the ad extremist? Yup Barry got a dose of his own medicine!
Janet Goldwater, granddaughter of Barry Sr. (us Californians remember Jr. only too well!), has made a sweet, homey movie showing us that her grandpa was a good man of the people who befriended Hopi Indians, created lovely photographs and like most men of his generation, couldn't say the words "I love you" to his son. We all like Barry the man; what's not to like? The fact is that this film indirectly illustrates the problems with the majority of people in power who are good ol' regular people who are not evil, but will do evil things to protect ideals that they but not all Americans believe in. A recent Gallup poll asked Americans if they chose politicians either based on their character or how they stand on the issues. Goldwater is a perfect example of why one should pay more attention to the issues than the man. Janet Goldwater's well-meaning but dangerous documentary shows that like Bush, Goldwater loved his family and looked good riding a horse. But the film shows very little of the political climate of 1964 (the bombing of black churches and the Bay of Pigs were not even mentioned). It is as out of touch with the American heart as Goldwater was. After the Bay of Pigs, people were a lot more terrified of nuclear war than communism. And after the consistent persecution and even murder of black people who wanted to be treated as equals, most Americans felt that it was more important to protect the rights of individuals than a document that was passed in lieu of allowing slavery to continue in this country.
Hot and Stupid
Spoilers! Do not read unless you've seen the movie!! I have to admit, I find the leather guys in this movie very sexy, so I have always enjoyed this movie on some level. But it IS lame and dangerously so, mainly because we are led to believe that a person exposed to the S&M gay scene could easily become a pathological killer, as Pacino does at the end of this movie. Let's assume that it isn't about the gay S&M scene but the straight S&M scene. It becomes more obvious then how ludicrous it would be for a cop or anyone for that matter to become a murderer just from hanging out at S&M clubs! If that were the case, there'd be millions of S&M murderers all over the country! It also makes no sense that a cop would become a killer just from spending several months tracing a killer. If that was the case, then most cops in the homicide department had better retire! Then are we to assume then that Pacino is a latent homosexual? If so, we're shown no reasoning for that in the film, and even if he were, his sexuality wouldn't have anything to do with being homicidal! The most change we can see in his sexual behavior is that he begins to discover that he likes it rough with his girlfriend. There's a big leap between that and murder! Seriously, this misunderstanding that S&M equals murderous impulses is about as ridiculous as someone who plays pro football being consumed with wanting to bash people's skulls in. OJ Simpson aside, S&M is far less violent than the world of football because anger and rage aren't facilitated in S&M. It's a very controlled act that is entirely permissive don't forget, it's sadoMASOCHISM; the recipient 'wants' a certain amount of pain!
At this juncture in gay history, a film like Cruising wouldn't register much on any scale of political incorrectness but back in 1979, this was the first major Hollywood movie to deal with the subject. Because of that, it had a responsibility to keep truthful in its depictions of sex and violence. Friedkin knew damn well what he was doing. If one watches the scene where the man who was tied up gets stabbed over and over in a very slow scan, they'll see that Friedkin had edited in a gay hardcore sex scene of penetration. Homo Sex = Fatal Violence in Friedkin's warped mind. MAYBE one can accept that the murderer in the film was murderous because he couldn't cope with being gay, but there's nothing in Pacino's character that would make him succumb to such a mindset.
As for the murderer in the film, his character is also pretty lazy writing if you ask me. A closeted man studying Broadway musicals of all things, virtually turns into his disapproving father whenever his sexual impulses ahem arise. Again, if all the gay men into Broadway musicals with disapproving fathers became schizophrenic murders... I suppose the Christofascists would create a new holiday in celebration! Still, every few years I take a peak at this movie, for the hot guys, the (unintentionally) hilarious dialogue, the fabulous score (when's the soundtrack gonna be re-released?) and for the nostalgia. It was after all, the halcyon days for gay men; a type of murder that was far more sinister than what was dreamt up in this movie was just around the corner. I say, try to enjoy this movie the way you would "Gone with the Wind" with its outrageously offensive black stereotypes. We are a wiser more sophisticated society now and we can wink knowingly at the stupidity on the screen. And don't worry, homophobes wouldn't go near this film with a ten-foot pole, so no one's going to be using this film as a textbook example of homosexuality. Just put your intelligence aside and enjoy! Now, where did I put my handkerchief?
Bling: A Planet Rock (2007)
Bling = Shame
This is a documentary about several rappers who are famous for being draped in bling, and one of the guys who designs bling for them. They're banded together to go on a fact-finding trip to Sierra Leone. It's a harrowing experience; visiting children with missing limbs, women who were raped incessantly as girls, and some of the poorest areas in the world (including a major port for slavery, where one can still see the shackles on the walls). It's a wake-up call for these rappers as well as for the audience but I'm not optimistic. Apparently, this documentary aired on VH1, but thus far, there aren't even five ratings at IMDb. And given the fact that the guys were still wearing their gold at the end of the film (apparently no one told them that gold mining countries face the same level of poverty and exploitation) I have to wonder how much these guys are going to change, let along work to educate the public about what they saw. They said they would, so I will try to have faith. The people of Africa are laying their hopes at the feet of role models like these.
Winter Soldier (1972)
This is virtually ninety-plus minutes of testimonials of 'war crimes' by Vietnam vets at a conference in 1971, and while all of the atrocities - there's no other word for them - were the kinds of things I'd seen before, the sheer numbers were what got to me. Not the numbers of tortured and dead; that number I don't suppose I'll ever digest. It's the numbers of decent Americans like you or me who through exaggerated training of 'manhood', became savages. One can better understand what it must have been like to come home to our normal world of shopping malls, fast food, and sitcoms, and try to stuff back the memories and repressed emotions that made one kill children for fun and hack off body parts for a reward of a six-pack. Actually, I still can't understand it. I don't suppose I'll ever know at one point one stops becoming human, but at least I did find some hope in seeing these hundreds of men who found their humanity again after the war. Don't think that this is a film that tries to make Americans look bad, for virtually every culture in the world has had its share of atrocities. The atrocities are the symptom; war is the disease. From that perspective, I wish the film had gone further in having someone articulate the ignorance that these guys had in even going into this war. They really only understood why they were sent to fight when they returned, and it's that ignorance that is the virus that our government - that all governments and extremists - like to spread. The most upsetting image I saw in this film was a snapshot of an American soldier smiling over the exposed body of one of his kill. The chill down the back of my neck hit me before my mind brought up what it reminded me of. The smile on that soldier's face was the exact same smile that one of the soldiers Abu Ghraib had as he stood over a pile of naked bodies and crooked his thumbs up in a sign of victorious glee. The horror is that it just never stops.