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9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Not just a great movie, but an extremely important one., 12 August 2003

CIVIL BRAND is a story which tells of a women's prison in which the inmates are forced to work as slaves, and are exploited as little more than animals. True, we've all seen this in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, where convicts are put to physical labor, but it's always been presented as an acceptable situation. A man robs a store and kills the clerk, so why not have him pound out license plates and working on road construction crews?

CIVIL BRAND offers a fresh look at the Prison-Industrial Complex, attacking the issue from several different angles. For one thing, the inmates aren't working on roads or some kind of community service- they're making clothes for department stores. A more provocative approach, though, is the fact that these slaves are female, a scenario that folks are not used to considering. Outstanding performances by LisaRaye, Mos Def, Clifton Powell, MC Lyte, Monica Calhoun, Lark Voorhies, and the sensational N'Bushe Wright (the lady Panther from DEAD PRESIDENTS who is one of the most talented people acting in Cinema today, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous), powerful cinematography, and brutal honesty come together to make CIVIL BRAND not just a great movie, but an extremely important one.

(c) Jake McGee - Get Underground

Spun (2002)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
NOTE: The following discusses a chief facet of the film Spun, and while I don't feel that my thoughts will ruin the Experience by any means, they do reveal how a principal component of the movie plays out., 1 June 2003

I had to see "Spun" twice to notice the climax- or, maybe just the unadulterated brilliance therein- but it was then that I realized that this film is a magnificent dose of pure Genius.

Throughout the entire Trip, Ross (Jason Schwartzman) is going on and on about his girlfriend, this Amy (Charlotte Ayana) that moved to the city for a corporate job. However, it's not too difficult to recognize the veil of bulls*** that Ross has placed before his own eyes.and this is quickly solidified by a message left towards the beginning of the film, where Amy bids Ross `happy belated birthday,' followed by a demand for the money he owes.

Ross does not let himself believe her rejection, even though it's obvious that, deep within his soul, he is not only aware of his Loss, but he's pining away because of it. Not to say that's the solitary reason he's pounding Crystal Meth, rather the subsequent murky perception, which allows Ross to fool himself into thinking that Amy is still his Girl, is an added bonus to the drug. Not once does this film imply that Ross has a `reason' to be twisted on Crank.

Right, the Brilliance. From the start of the adventure, Ross chatters of Amy, his wonderful girlfriend, speaking as if they're still `together,' even though it's pretty clear that she's moved on with her life. During the course of the movie he mentions her repeatedly, and calls her every chance he gets, only to talk to her answering machine.

The culmination of his clouded fantasy comes to be when she finally meets up with him, and Reality comes slamming down. Sure, he's all jumpy in the park where he's hoping to convene with her (he has been on Meth for the past three sleepless days, after all), but then he sees Amy- a beautiful angel, dressed in a thin white dress that has a breeze of its own- and that gush of warm euphoria floods his veins. For one tiny moment, it's as if everything he's said about her is true- what they have is Real- and the mere fact that she's floating toward him is a reaffirmation of their union.

But this movie is far more honest than that.

She's cordial at first, but quickly notices he's tweaked-out. After a short discourse, she rejects an embrace, and walks away.

And that's it. Amy is out of the picture, having actually only spent about a minute really there. With this abrupt encounter, the myth that Ross had created and accepted as Real is exposed for what it was: a lie, one that he produced, and insisted on believing.

The aforementioned Brilliance is not just this scene, but also everything building up to it, and all that happens thereafter. Before this occasion, one of the many calls Ross makes to Amy from a payphone subtly betrays the true Message of this movie. A close inspection will reveal that the telephone's latch is pointed down, signifying that there is no connection. Sure, it's suggested that he's leaving yet another message on Amy's machine, but does it truly matter? He's not really communicating, he's just rambling on, feeding his imagination that lets him feel everything's OK between them. Truth, on the other hand, gives an altogether different observation, and the fact is that Ross is living in an illusion. What's even worse is that he is the creator of his chimera.

From a detached standpoint, it seems that every piece of Hope is shot down as quickly as it surfaces. However, this formula is not that simple. The real Hope is shown in Amy, as she accepts responsibility for her own life. Other than that, all Hope presented is entirely conjured up, each character creating such to support that their current Paths are fine, and therefore there's no reason to drastically change directions, just get things together.

And that is what this film is really about. The Meth nuance is just an example of one way that people lie to themselves to justify their own mirages, creating sometimes elaborate rationales that excuse their own faults. There are certainly plenty more small hints of this, but this scene in particular aggressively drives the nail into the coffin that so many of us live in.

At one point, The Cook (Mickey Rourke) tells of a childhood memory, in which his mother was drowning newborn puppies. `I asked her why,' he narrates, `and she said, 'I'm just killing what I can't take care of.' And then she looked at me and said, 'I wish I could do the same for you.' It is with this statement that a Lesson is offered- Life can be unbearably rough, but the only way to make it better is to be accountable for our personal actions.

This is a folly of Humanity: it's much easier to make up excuses than admit mistakes. Instead of accepting that a change of Course is the answer, people all too often lie to themselves, insisting that their actions are reasonable, and it's just other variables that are to blame. Blame Society, blame the Government, blame Liberals, blame Conservatives, blame G.W., blame T.V., blame Drugs, blame the Devil, blame Prince, blame Greed, blame everyone and everything other than yourself. Blame. Blame is a much simpler action than Confession.or so it seems. The fact is that such an attitude only makes things harder, and practically vetoes progress.

To relegate Spun as a `drug movie' is a grave injustice, for this film is nothing short of a Masterpiece in every way. Its humor is remarkably clever; its dramatic tone is powerfully heady; and its social commentaries are vigorously exceptional. Sure, I imagine this movie would be great to watch stoned; its dazzling cinematography and consistent hilarity (albeit fairly sarcastic and morbid at times) make this a must for anyone who enjoys the likes of Kevin Smith, Cheech & Chong, Reefer Madness, and so on. But (even more so than Smith's ventures) underneath the surface, there is a level of remarkable intellect void of shame.

The sad thing is that I suspect that most theaters won't be showing this one, as Spun does not cater to the Mainstream. After all, in lieu of an MPAA score there's `This film is not yet rated due to the use of drugs, strippers, and open flames.' Personally, I feel that taking anything out of this film, minute as it may be, would dilute its necessary energy. Being that this includes some intense sexuality (even though it's often animated, and usually funny in a twisted sort of way), it's understandable that cinema managements have been hesitant to feature this piece. Thus, bucking adherence to the respective Norm, it seems that most will have to wait until it's released on DVD. That is, unless more theaters have a courage similar to Cleveland's Cedar Lee, and take the gamble.

©Jake McGee - Get Underground