Tag Archives: narcotics

Spun (2002)

“Drop the cheesepuffs, Ma’am.”

The film Spun from director Jonas Akerland is a wild ride through the lives of several Crystal Meth users in Los Angeles. The main character, Ross (Jason Schwartzman) goes to the graffiti-covered, squalid house of dealer, Spider Mike (John Leguizamo). Spider Mike, who obviously tries too much of his own product, lives with bizarre and repugnant girlfriend, Cookie (Mena Suvari). Ross, who just wants to buy some Meth, is coerced into a relationship with the effervescent stripper, Nikki (Brittany Murphy). Nikki, who is the most functional character in the film (she works) is the girlfriend of “The Cook” (Mickey Rourke). Before long, Ross, the possessor of a tatty, brown Volvo, becomes the unofficial chauffeur for The Cook. Ross ferries The Cook back and forth across town seeking ingredients for Meth which The Cook manufactures in his hotel room.

Spun had my attention from beginning to end. None of the characters in this film are dull. John Leguizamo’s kinetic energy is perfect for the role of the tattooed, paranoid Spider Mike whose inability to concentrate frustrates everyone. Spider Mike’s hysteria is just below the surface–ready to explode, and he seems barely held in check. There’s Frisbee (Patrick Fugit) the acne-ridden, video-game addicted youth who hangs out with Spider Mike, and Deborah Harry plays a nosy neighbour with definite theories about men. However, Mickey Rourke as The Cook was fantastic and entirely, utterly believable. It’s great to see him playing a role that fits him like a glove, and Rourke’s laid-back approach underscores the single-minded focus of The Cook. The film includes the obligatory stripper-around-the-pole scenes, and nudity, sex and profanity abound. This is not some “Hollywood-goes-to-the-ghetto” film–this is raw, gritty, and very, very dark. However, the film is also hilarious, and this is why I loved it so much. Two Latina girls squabble over men while serving behind the counter at a local mini-market, and two policemen lead raids for the Cops programme. The portrayal of the Meth user was accurate and unmerciful–this film succeeded where Salton Sea did not. It takes sheer genius to portray the very ugly world of Meth and still scrape humour out from these dregs of humanity. If you decide to watch this film, DON’T get the rated version–it airbrushes human body parts and bleeps out some of the swear words–go for the unrated version. If you liked Requiem For A Dream there’s an excellent chance you’ll enjoy Spun too.

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Devil’s Sleep (1949)

“There’s a drive on against juvenile delinquency.”

Vandalism. Arson. Burglary. Hot Rod Racers. Yes, it “looks like the whole new generation has suddenly gone berserk.” There’s a crime wave afoot in The Devil’s Sleep. Judge Rosalind Ballentine (Lita Grey Chaplin) is determined to discover just who is giving the town’s teens “Bennies”, “Goofies”, and “Phenos” and then urging the teens to commit crimes. The Judge enlists the help of clean-cut Detective Sergeant Dave Kerrigan (William Thomason) to find the criminal mastermind behind the corruption of the city’s youth.

Kerrigan makes a few casual inquiries–beginning with his girlfriend’s teenage brother Bob (Jim Tyde). Soon, word of Kerrigan’s questions comes to the attention of Umberto Scalli (Timothy Farrell), the shady owner of a local gym.

There are some cheap laughs here. The Devil’s Sleep is a 1949 film, and it’s certainly not PC when it comes to portraying overweight people. The funniest scenes occur in the gym when a Rubenesque woman by the name of Tessie T. Tesse (obviously a play on the name Ten Ton Tessie) shows up to enroll. She’s measured, but the tape runs out before her hips do. “When I take off my girdle, I can’t even see the scale,” admits Tessie ruefully. The gym staff makes several comments about the “fat society dames” exercising at the gym. They’re described as “blimps” and “trained elephants”, and the gym workers pop the women pills to help “burn the lard off the girlies without the exercise.”

The Devil’s Sleep isn’t exciting (in spite of the cover warnings of ‘depravity’ and ‘adults only’). Some of the acting is flat, and Bob may be wearing a wig. For those of us who love cheesy camp film, then The Devil’s Sleep from director W. Merle Connell (Test Tube Babies) has some merit. My Alpha DVD black and white print is flawed. There are vertical lines through the print, and the audio track skips words at several points.

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The Town is Quiet (2000)

“I’ve only slept with those I’ve loved.”

In Robert Guediguian’s dark film The Town is Quiet (La Ville est Tranquille) Marseilles is seen as a troubled city through the bleak, desperate lives of its working-class inhabitants. Michele (Ariane Ascaride) works the evening shift at a fish market and single-handedly supports her terminally unemployed husband, her heroin-addicted daughter Fiona (Julie-Marie Parmentier), and her baby granddaughter. When her daughter’s habit spirals out-of-control, Michele strikes up a relationship with lonely taxi diver, Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), and she also reaches out to childhood friend, Gerard (Gerard Meylan).

Mixed into the medley is pretentious bourgeois intellectual, Yves (Jacques Pieiller), his wife Viviane (Christine Brucher) and Abderramane (Alexandre Ogou), her former student.

Just how the lives of various characters connect is the focus of this slice of Marseilles working-class life. With strong political overtones, the film paints a portrait of a city plagued with poverty, racial tensions, fascism, and the insidious effects of drug-dependency. Most of the characters lead lives of compromise–trading away values for survival. Even bourgeois Viviane, who’s repelled by her husband, avoids him and ploughs herself into her work rather than pull the plug on their long-dead marriage. In her case, remaining with her husband seems to be more inertia than necessity.

Paul’s father (Jacques Boudet) espouses strong political beliefs, but these fade during the course of the film. Times have changed according to Paul’s father, and things have changed for the worst. Feeling betrayed by left-wing politics, he notes that left and right now mingle together socially and while their policies may appear different, both sides treat the common people “like animals.” And he notes that he will never vote again. The father abandons politics and the hope of reform and instead embraces despair and pragmatism.

Guediguian directed Marius and Jeanette–a rather uninteresting film also set in Marseilles. The Town is Quiet has a great deal more substance than this earlier film, and makes some strong comments about Marseilles society. In French with subtitles.

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Martin (Hache) 1997

 “You are as immoral as I am, but you don’t practice it.”

martinMartin (Hache) is a splendid character-driven drama from Argentinean director Adolfo Aristarain. The film focuses on the relationships between four diverse characters–Hache also known as ‘Jay’ (Juan Diego Botto), his emotionally remote, wealthy father Martin (Federico Luppi), actor Dante (Eusebio Poncela), and Martin’s girlfriend Alicia (Cecilia Roth). The film begins in Argentina with an upset Jay spending an evening in a club and carelessly taking a drug overdose. Martin flies to Argentina to see his son, and Jay’s mother, who is remarried and is expecting another child orders Martin to take Jay back to Spain. Martin agrees reluctantly. He’s busy working on a new screenplay, and he doesn’t try to hide his lack of interest in his son.

Martin seems to have little in common with his two main people in his life. There’s the bubbly, extrovert Alicia, who’s so outspoken, Martin seems embarrassed to be seen in her company. And actor Dante, is a self-professed Epicurean, and that basically seems to mean that he leads a no holds barred life of considerable excess. In contrast, Martin is quiet, withdrawn, cold and serious. He makes a study out of avoiding commitment, and when the confrontational Alicia drives a point of truth home to Martin, he simply backs her off with demeaning comments. Both Alicia and Dante don’t seem to expect much from their relationship with Martin, and that’s just as well because he’s cold and unapproachable.

Dante and Alicia befriend Jay, and even though they are both terminally irresponsible people, they are appalled by how Martin handles his son. Dante loves the anonymity of living in a hotel, but he makes room in his life for Jay, and Alicia, who has a drug habit that increases in proportion to her unhappiness, is ready to form some sort of unit together with Martin and Jay. While both Dante and Alicia chide Martin for his lack of emotional involvement towards his son, Martin remains stubbornly resistant to help and suggestions.

It’s the phenomenal acting from Roth and Poncela that make this film so memorable, and some of the best scenes occur in the discussions that take place between the four characters. The conversations reveal a great deal about the dynamics of the relationships (think Eric Rohmer–but not as cerebral), and the film’s focus is on acceptance of individuality–especially the acceptance necessary for a parent-child relationship. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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La Sierra (2005)

Left, right and caught in the middle.

In the documentary La Sierra filmmakers Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez travel to Medellin, Colombia to record the lives of several of those connected to the violent turf wars taking place in one poverty-stricken barrio. In a civil conflict that has left over 30,000 people dead, a battle rages between left-wing guerrillas, the government and right-wing paramilitary groups. The town of La Sierra is divided between left wing guerillas and right wing paramilitaries. Neighbourhoods on the boundaries become battlegrounds as each side fights for control. The film concentrates on the lives of three young people who are connected to the right-wing paramilitary groups in La Sierra.

The three young people are: Edison, 22 who’s the paramilitary leader, 19-year-old Jesus–one of Edison’s followers, and 17-year-old Cielo whose brother and father were murdered by left-wing guerillas. Edison is the first to admit that there’s a certain glory to being a paramilitary leader, and he enjoys the status of some sort of rock star with the local girls, racking up lovers and leaving a trail of babies in his wake. Jesus, who lost a hand while making a grenade, doesn’t share Edison’s status, and there’s a sense of fatalism when he talks about the future. While he’d like to see his son grow up, the chances seem slim that this will happen. Cielo, who at 17 is a widow and a mother, scrambles to make a living so that she can visit her boyfriend in jail.

The filmmakers record events as Edison, Jesus, and Cielo navigate their way through police raids, gun battles, and death. The viewer should be warned that there are a couple of very graphic scenes–obviously this goes with the territory. Edison’s followers casually walk through the streets, openly carrying and shooting guns. The police occasionally raid La Sierra, but lookouts alert paramilitary forces, so that they have time to hide. Edison sees the police as thoroughly corrupt–people who “sell themselves to the highest bidder.” Meanwhile the older residents of the town express a range of feelings about the paramilitaries. One older man observes “we are in the hands of kids with guns,” while one woman expresses gratitude for the security the paramilitaries provide. As a social commentary, the film makes an excellent point regarding the global meltdown of society for the poor and disenfranchised.

One of the lingering questions I have about the film is where does the money come from? Edison and his followers have weapons, cell phones, walkie-talkies, and he even has a motorbike (not to mention the ample flow of white substance that disappears up nostrils). These material possessions stick out in the midst of the crushing poverty of the barrio. It’s not clear where the goodies come from, but the implication is that the narcotics trade funds these activities. But apart from that question, La Sierra provides some amazing footage, and the filmmakers really took some risks to create this film. In Spanish with subtitles.

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She Shoulda Said ‘No!’ (1949)

“You’d better calm down—you’ll end up in psycho.”

In 1948, actress Lila Leeds was arrested with Robert Mitchum for possession of marijuana. He spent 60 days in prison, and continued his career, and she was in prison briefly and required to make the film She Shoulda Said No (aka Wild Weed) as part of her community service. She had a couple of other parts after the arrest, but her film career never recovered.

The film She Shoulda Said No is–predictably–a tale of the horrors of marijuana, and the film’s tagline: How Bad Can a Good Girl Get…Without Losing Her Virtue and Self-Respect encapsulates the film’s heavy moralistic message. Lila Leeds plays Anne Lester, a small time chorus girl who is supporting her brother in college when she’s introduced to pusher Marky (Alan Baxter). Marky ensures Anne becomes a marijuana user, and her habit quickly ruins her life. After she loses her job, she begins hostessing wild marijuana parties in her home. After a couple of puffs, the guests begin dancing crazily, and tearing off their clothes. Anne’s younger brother discovers the source for his college tuition and feels so guilty he hangs himself. Anne’s life plummets even further and she ends up in jail.

According to the film, marijuana use “becomes an invitation to your own murder.” Whenever a marijuana cigarette appears on the screen or when a character begins smoking, a spooky music score emphasizes the world is now incoherent for the unpredictable marijuana user. And there’s a no-holds-barred approach to the consequences of using the narcotic–heroin addiction, strait jackets, bleached out zombies, and the mental ward are all marijuana’s inevitable results. Naturally this makes for a very campy film, but if you enjoyed such titles as Reefer Madness and Cocaine Fiends then She Shoulda Said No is a companion film.

Lila Leeds is interesting to watch, and it’s unfortunate she had such a short career. She’s clearly made for femme fatale film noir roles. She’s as hard as nails here, smart-mouthed and brazen. Keep your eyes open for Jack Elam as a petty thug.

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Cocaine Cowboys (2006)

“I got 200 sticks of dynamite…”

Race horses that cost $50,000 a month to feed, $20,000 a night spent in nightclubs, flashy, disposable sports cars, and millions of dollars wrapped in trash bags and buried in the back garden–Miami, Florida in the late 1970s and early 80s was one big party for the drug traffickers, and drug dealers–the wholesalers and the retailers–those who dealt in the lucrative cocaine business. The big party lasted until the situation in Dade County spun so far out of control that the murder rate climbed from 104 in 1976 to 621 in 1981, and an entire graduating class from the police academy were either dead or in jail.

Director Billy Corben’s excellent, insightful and well-structured documentary Cocaine Cowboys examines the drug explosion that took place in Miami in the late 70s and early 80s. The film is largely built around details provided by two drug traffickers–Jon Pernell Roberts and Michael Munday. Roberts and Munday were initially involved in Marijuana smuggling, until a “sample” bag of cocaine was stuffed in with a shipment, and then the Cocaine explosion began. In a matter of years, “the Rule of Law completely broke down in South Florida.” An entire economy sprung up around the lucrative drug trade–banks, fancy hotels, and nightclubs–Cocaine was the oil that greased the wheels of trade in South Florida, and while the rest of the country suffered from a recession, there “was no sign of recession” in the “Cocaine Economy” of Dade County.

The film clearly pinpoints the pivotal events that turned the tide in the drug trade–the influx of Cuban boat people tossed out of Cuba by Castro, for example. At first the Columbians imported and the Cubans distributed, but that shifted as Cocaine swept through the trade, and soon the Columbians were “pushing the Cubans out.” Another pivotal event highlighted by the film is the 1979 Dadeland Mall shooting–a bold daylight shootout orchestrated by Medellin Cartel trafficker, Griselda Blanco also known as the “Black Widow.” Blanco was bad news for Dade County, and the film tracks her bloody career with some very gruesome photographs. Also included are extensive interviews with one of Griselda’s favourite hitmen, Riverito.

Cocaine Cowboys is excellent, and the film does a thorough job of exploring and explaining the details of how the drug trade exploded in Dade County, and its disastrous results. This lucrative, bloody business had to spin so far out of control before it was finally stamped on, and interviews with various reporters, police officials, hit men, and drug dealers capture the absolute decadence of the times. DVD extras include: deleted scenes, commentary by the director and the co-producer, “Hustlin’ with the Godmother: The Charles Cosby Story” and a “sneak peek at Mr. Untouchable.”

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