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Beautiful To Me
**********EIGHT OUT OF TEN STARS**********
El Salvadorian refugee background: In June 1971, President Nixon declared a "war on drugs." He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants. Richard Nixon (now dead) created a power vacuum in Central and South America, creating Mexican and Brazilian Cartels that would eventually lay a violent and bloody siege upon the poor people of El Salvador.
Fast forward to 1981, when El Salvador's military leaders began to employ "scorched earth" tactics in their battle against left-wing guerrillas. In Spanish the saying was "sacar el pes del agua," or "remove the fish from the water." Total warfare and destruction was the objective, and the policy resulted in a brutal massacre in the small town of El Mozote. Over the course of three days in January, 1981, approximately 1000 people, almost the entire population of Mozote, were tortured and slaughtered. The American government was intimately involved with El Salvador's right wing government before and after the massacre. We provided them with weapons, money, and political support for a full 11 years after the massacre.
El Salvador's long civil war between savagely repressive U.S.-funded military forces and a leftist guerrilla army ended in 1992. But while the peace accords ended the "war of bullets," the political, social, and economic war began again, and under the rules of the right, the rules of capitalism, and the rules of the United States. In this context, the triumph of the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front)the former guerrillasin the last two presidential elections is quite remarkable. The victories of Mauricio Funes in 2009 and Salvador Sánchez Cerén in 2014 have threatened to disrupt the Salvadoran government's historic pattern of compliance with U.S. interests.
The Obama administration has sought to ensure the adoption of corporate-friendly policies in El Salvador by conditioning Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) development aid upon a slew of neo-liberal reforms that include privatization, the relaxation of business regulations, and the enforcement of trade provisions that privilege U.S. corporations.
"Greencard Warriors" has a very special place in my heart: Directed and written by Miriam Kruishoop, "Greencard Warriros", is a touching story of an El Salvadorian family in the United States illegally, trying to better their lives. Helle Jensen takes the helm as cinematographer and along with Kruishoop, beautifully captures the dark Gothic beauty of Latino culture in Los Angeles. I was particularly moved by the opening title sequence showing brothers Angel and Beto riding harmoniously together through their neighborhood; accompanied by the song "I'm an Ese" by Quennine. The Los Angeles city scape certainly isn't wasted in this film, which includes fly over excerpts of sprawling residential LA, many incredible street locale shots, and several ultra realistic Latino gang sequences. Interior shots of Jesus's home utilize close up camera shots displaying shadows and colors emphasizing the extreme pain of the family members, yet emulating a dark Hispanic beauty inherent in hard lined facial features and dark piercing eyes.
Manny Perez stars as Jesus Garza, the struggling family's father and turns in an incredible performance, along with his wife Rosie played by Christianne Christensen. Their oldest son Beto, played by actor Mario Ardila Jr., is quite convincing as a young man turned gang member in effort to bring in money. Angel, their middle child, is beautifully portrayed by actor Angel Amaral; a young El Salvadorian left with few if any choices in his family's struggle for survival. Other acting notables include Cesar Garcia as Mad Dog and Maynor Alvarado as Joker, who both turn in very realistic portrayals of Hispanic street gang leaders.
The plot is based upon Jesus being convinced by two dishonest Army recruiters that the only hope for Jesus and his family's quest for US citizenship is for his son Beto to join the Army. As Beto spirals further into gang life, Jesus pressures his oldest son to join the Army. Beto finally agrees to join the Army in an effort to help his family achieve legal status. After Beto leaves the barrio for the Army, things go down hill for Jesus's family: Angel is accosted by and eventually succumbs to the pressures of the neighborhood gang Beto was involved with and Jesus runs into trouble with the LAPD; forcing him to go into hiding... The very last scene of "Greencard Warriors" featuring Jesus's wife and young daughter is both heartbreaking and angering to say the least...
On closing, the cinematography by Helle Jensen is so moving and encapsulates the Los Angeles Latino struggle. The intermittent use of Spanish and English is masterfully accomplished and is something more filmmakers should try incorporating! Director/ writer Miriam Kruishoop hits a home run with this tragic story of unimaginable pain and heartache. As far as post production goes, this film was wonderfully edited and masterfully mixed with sound effects and music. "Greencard Warriors" strives to address so many different societal issues... 90 minutes isn't enough! The film does feel rushed in certain parts because Kruisshoop has packed so much emotion and many societal issues into one film. This review has only touched on the very basic details of this film. I personally own this film on DVD and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a dose of reality.
Five Tragic Stories of American Gun Culture
*******SEVEN OUT OF TEN STARS*******
Vince DiPersio and Bill Guttentag collaborate as a writer/ director team on this poignant 1995 documentary chronicling five tragic stories involving senseless gun violence. From a technical film-making perspective, "5 American Kids" is very well shot, edited, and sound mixed; it's a very well produced documentary! Admittedly, some of the gun statistics are sightly outdated, but that shouldn't be held against the other many merits of this film!
The film is broken down into five utterly devastating stories of senseless gun deaths intertwined with :
1) A toddler shoots his play friend after they stumble upon two guns in the parent's bedroom. It turns out the father didn't properly store the weapons after shooting some gophers weeks earlier 2) A fourteen year old boy commits suicide with his step father's unsecured side arm. His step father was a law enforcer at the time 3) Three teen friends decide to play with one of their parent's unsecured firearms during a football half time show. One of the boys ends up shot to death accidentally 4) A fourteen year old juvenile delinquent guns down a local police officer over a stolen car in small town America 5) A studious 15 year old boy walking to a community Christmas gathering is killed in the cross fire of rival gangs.
The first three stories are dealing with irresponsible gun storage in homes that have children and teens, while the last two stories are addressing the lack of parental upbringing or family values. I would be surprised if the teen in part four or the gang members in part five had any kind of stable father figure. And while it's easy for us to blame the parents in these types of tragedies, it's also important for Americans to ask some important questions about the overwhelming prevalence of gun violence in USA culture.
Rounding out statistics on gun deaths in the US shows us that annually twice as many people die from self inflicted gun fire, opposed to actual homicide related gun deaths. So we're roughly talking about 10,000 homicides and 20,0000 gun related suicides annually. The big issue with gun related suicides is that access to guns allow people to kill themselves in split second decisions of extreme emotion or depression; whereas most other forms of suicide require more planning and forethought. Easy access to firearms is undoubtedly a major contribution to a high American suicide rate; and claiming these poor people would've found a way to kill themselves regardless simply isn't an accurate statement.
Listen, I'm not anti gun per-say, but Americans need to ask themselves why the United States has such an extreme culture of gun violence? Why are we so obsessed with guns? Why are 30,000 gun deaths a year so acceptable to us? Why does a country like Canada, also a heavy gun culture, have a fraction of gun deaths when compared to America? And why the heck are parents so darn irresponsible when it comes to proper gun storage?
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
$28,000,000? For A Model Train? 4/10
$28 million on this pile of crap? Where did the money go? Yes, I'm a fan of Carpenter, but not on this one. Carpenter always has had a sort of cheesiness element comprising his films, but this one is inundated with cheese, in fact it's pure cheese. "GOM" isn't scary, it's just plain annoying. And while I enjoy much of Carpenter's work, I never thought it was deserving as having his name proudly displayed before the title of every film he directs. I can name about twenty directors that are much better than John Carpenter. I believe Carpenter took an extended leave from film making after this film, which was a good idea; this guy is just burnt out. But the big problem with "GOM" is that the acting is atrocious! And I mean atrocious.
Natasha Henstridge's performance as Lieutenant Melanie Ballard is literally one of the most unlikeable and unbelievable performances I've ever seen. Henstridge couldn't act her way out of a Kleenex box. Pam Grier's performance as Commander Helena Braddock is ridiculous and revolting, especially the scene where Braddock romantically hits on Ballard!? Give me a break! Grier also turns in an equally poor acting performance. Then there's Jason Statham as Sgt Jericho Butler, another tough guy acting moron that plays his own selfish egomaniac personality in every acting role he's paid for. Statham's character, while fighting for his life, also finds numerous occasions to hit on Braddock's character; it's annoying and doesn't work. Ice Cube also plays himself as Desolation Williams: An ignorant no talent thug crook, who's only importance are his equally ignorant nasty friends whom look up to his terrible personality. Ice Cube has never been an acting talent and never will be. Please, may I never have to see his ugly face in another film ever. I could go on through the list of supporting actors, but all that needs to be said is there wasn't one redeeming performance.
Moving away from the horrific casting decisions, I can basically rip apart every aspect of the production end of this steaming pile of crap. The script is mind numbingly stupid, which is a bad combination considering the terrible acting talent they brought to this production. This also has to be one the worst sound scores Carpenter has ever attached to one his films. I own the full studio sound scores for many of Carpenter's earliest films; but this sound score is just flat out nauseating. It's heavily based on head ache inducing heavy metal by the likes of ANTHRAX! Yikes. As for the film taking place in the year 2071, the technology, including guns, vehicles, and buildings, look eerily similar to late 90's design and influence; really, give me a break. The train special effects look like advanced Japanese Godzilla puppeteer effects. This flick is just a big strike out all the way around.
The War on Drugs is A Sham: 4/10
Yes, in my estimate, the majority of people arrested on this program deserve to be arrested: Drunk drivers, robbers/ thieves, domestic abusers, wreck less drivers, child abusers.... But what bothers me is that way too many non violent suspects are arrested for minor possessions of marijuana, cocaine, crack.... These people don't need to be locked up with violent offenders. The problem is that many of the officers on this program display behavior that's reprehensible, ignorant, and nasty. These bastard cops are ruining poor people's lives even more than they are already ruined; and many times over non-violent offenses. I shouldn't even watch this program, because I mostly just get upset at the ridiculousness and nastiness displayed by these so called great citizen cops. The problem IS, these cops are making decent people into criminals. The problem IS the War on Drugs is a terrible sham that's morphed into one of the biggest money making businesses in the country. Do you know how many GOP law enforcement flakes would be out of work if marijuana would be legalized? Tens of thousands. Do you think they want that? Clearly most creeps in law enforcement are more concerned with their fat cat pensions than truly helping people and society.
Friday the 13th: The Series (1987)
Late Night Saturday Classic
******Six Out of Ten Stars******
Actors Louise Robey, Chris Wiggins, and John D. LeMay star in this 80's late night horror thriller about demonic antiques possessed by the devil. Our three protagonists inherit an antique shop from a deceased relative that had made a pact with the Devil. Our caring lead actors agree it's their responsibility to reacquire demonic items their deceased Satanic Uncle had sold as part of a deal with the Devil.
"Friday's Curse" is actually quite a creative premise, and with stronger writing may have been able to continue for more than three mere seasons. I'm not sure what happened by the third season, but the weekly tales really got sloppy and unbelievable. LeMay left the third season, leading to Steve Monarque taking his place; which never really worked for most viewers.
I recall watching these episodes as they were airing new, and the first two seasons were mostly incredible! The level of violence was criticized heavily back then by several conservative groups, but most viewers loved it! The special effects were decent, despite it's obvious low budget premise. I always believed it was fairly well filmed from a technical perspective, despite the series delving into the hammy side of production at times.
One item of mention many complain about is the original title of "Friday the 13th the Series", and I agree with them. It was a tremendous mistake to use the title familiarized with the Jason Vorhees series. IMO, the title confusion doomed this cool series to a very short production run. What marketing moron ever thought it would work to rip off the Jason title? Also mentioned previously, was the God awful third season writing. Some third series episodes are flat out idiotic, not to say there aren't a few gems in season three.
Also a noteworthy mention is the full series soundtrack composed by Fred Mollin, which I own on DVD. Mollin's compilation is a wonderful 80's synthetic horror tribute album. Additionally, the complete series collection is readily available usually for around $50; well worth the price. On a closing note, producer Frank Mancuso Jr. should be credited for his perseverance and dedication in getting this thing off the ground, and actors Robey and Wiggins turned in solid performances every week. The only thing else I can say is they're were too many writers and directors involved in this series, and it clearly shows in many episodes lacking in linearity.
Dog the Bounty Hunter (2003)
Dear Dog: You are a disgusting piece of racist white trash and your inbred kids and fat wife make me sick. Do you really think that Jesus Christ is OK with what you do to poor people? Your children look like inbreds and your wife needs a breast reduction operation. Do you really need a convoy of three SUV's to track down washed up drug addicts and drunks? You're a hypocrite of the worst kind sir. Do really think you're a man of God? You're an abomination of humanity with absolutely no clue of what's really going on around you. Your posse of pussies makes me sick to my stomach. A & E channel used to be a classy channel, which makes me just flabbergasted as to why they ever picked up this trash? Your hair reminds me of a bad WWF nightmare from 1986. I'm going to recommend the FBI start their search for Jimmy Hoffa in your scalp. I think the worst punishment for the poor wimps you thug would be having to watch you and your gorilla tits wife have sex.
Dragnet 1967 (1967)
*****Five out of Ten Stars*****
Producer Jack Webb was known as an extremely economical TV producer: His Mark VII productions routinely used minimal sets, even more minimal wardrobes (Friday and Gannon seem to wear the same suits over entire seasons, which minimized continuity issues) and maintained a relatively tight-knit stock company that consisted of scale-paid regulars who routinely appeared as irate crime victims, policewomen, miscreants and clueless parents of misguided youth. Which is pretty evident if you follow the show consistently. In fact I find it comical, in an annoying way, that some actors clearly play good characters in some episodes and criminals in other episodes.
In real life Jack Webb was a hard worker that had a great sense of humor, loved to drink, and smoke cigarettes. That being said, "Dragnet" is over-rated. PLEASE let me explain: Webb's decision to have actors read off cue cards and read their lines monotone isn't my idea of a method in making a TV show more realistic; which was Webb's reasoning behind this production decision. Also, the whole idea of these stories being real life depictions of actual events is somewhat misleading. These stories were BASED on real cases. Liberties were clearly taken in the writing department in an effort to make the stories more palatable to Webb's goals and the main TV viewing audience.
So, don't' get me wrong; I like watching Dragnet. Webb's introductory history lessons about Los Angeles are really quite enjoyable at the beginning of each episode. It's also great to see the location shots filmed in the Los Angeles area at that time in the late 60s: It's classic America before LA turned into the sess-pit it is now. Putting it into perspective, "Dragnet" has some endearing qualities, but Jack Webb's cue card production style gets an F from me.
Diff'rent Strokes (1978)
Rest in Peace Mr. Bain
*******Seven Out Of Ten Stars*******
The true star of this show, Conrad Bain, died this past January in the year of 2013. In my humble opinion, Bain really held this show together through the years. He was the only cast member to appear in all 180 episodes. And Bain always offered what I thought were the best comedic one liners in the series; and clearly was the most polished actor of anyone that ever appeared on the show. Other highlights of the show included the seemingly unending supply of guest stars: Reggie Jackson, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Regan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Captain Lou Albano, Muhammad Ali, Milton Berle, and of course, Mr. T. Pretty incredible stuff. Also worth mentioning, is much of the social commentary the writers often tried to weave into the scripts; it didn't always work, but when it was did, it was really touching. Some of the episodes dealt with some pretty adult serious issues: Robbery, sexual abuse, racism, sexism.... it was progressive writing for the time. "Different Strokes" has a special place in my mind and in my heart. So God rest Plato, Coleman, and Bain.
Tales from the Darkside (1983)
Nostalgic 80's Low Budget Late Night Classic
*****Five Out Of Ten Stars***** What made me scared as an 80's child, now just mostly makes me laugh. George Romero and Richard Rubenstein spearheaded TFTD, which is really one of the main reasons I still enjoy watching an occasional episode. I pretty much enjoy everything Romero has produced in his career, but am honest with myself about much of his work; in that some of Romero's work just isn't that good. Let's just be honest here folks, a lot of Romero's work is just plain hammy. Don't get me wrong, I still love most of it. It's hard to judge TFTD because every episode was different and unique. So I kind of averaged all the episodes out and gave it five out of ten stars or two stars out of four; which I feel is more than fair. I'm guessing some of the inflated ratings are based mostly on nostalgia. My estimate is that 25% of the episodes were above average, another 25% were average, another 25% were below average, and the remaining episodes were just plain terrible. I do plan on eventually purchasing the DVD box set, so don't get me wrong. On a closing note, the guest stars were almost always great to watch and opening and closing credits are a stroke of genius.
Pretty Good Stuff
*******Seven Out Of Seven Stars*******
One Sentence Summary: The last of the Elm Street children, who are now residents of a psychiatric hospital, are terrorized by Kruger as he sets out to finish the job.
Review Summary: I viewed this sequel based on the many positive reviews about part three, and indeed, it was an excellent film. Which begs the question: Why is it so difficult for film makers to turn out quality horror sequels? You'd actually think it would be easier for writers to work with an established idea? Anyway, "Nightmare 3" is great stuff. It's great because the Elm Street kids are all very likable. Heather Langenkamp returns from part 1 as Nancy and brings a nostalgic feel to the picture. Craig Wasson, playing Dr. Neil Gordon, is absolutely wonderful and very likable. And of course, Englund, is stellar; as he spews out Kruger one liners. Part 3 is actually pretty well written, as the children are able to fight back in the nightmares using their imaginations; a wonderful concept that's foolishly abandoned after this sequel. Did I forget to mention the special effects? Because THEY ARE incredible! The rock band Dokken adds to all this greatness with the song "Into The Fire", which was incidentally replaced with the track "Quiet Cool" by Jay Ferguson on Laser-disk issues. So all in all, this is one of the better horror sequels around; it really has everything going for it. I highly recommend it.