Posts Tagged ‘drugs’

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Sleight

Jacob Latimore stars as Bo, a street magician by day and drug dealer by night who gets in too deep with his criminal employer and has to rely on his illusions to get his family out of a jam.

Written and directed by J.D. Dillard, “Sleight” has a winning combination of playful charm and a dangerous edge. His protagonist is sympathetic and flawed, a balance capably handled by Latimore, whose career appears to be full of potential.

There are echoes to last year’s Sundance darling, “Dope,” albeit with a tone that plays like a superhero origin story. And while there’s plenty of familiar beat’s in Dillard’s script, the director carefully builds to well executed climax that stays just this side of fantasy.

Grade: B

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The Birth of a Nation

Writer-director-star Nate Parker blew the doors off Sundance with this historical epic, which netted a record $17.5 million pickup. The film tells the story of Nat Turner, who led a violent slave revolt in Virginia in 1831, and is filled to the brim with commentary on America’s past, present and future.

While limited by a independent budget, Parker’s camera captures plenty of stomach-churning horrors. Prior to his rebellion, Turner visits neighboring plantations as a preacher-for-hire, providing a window into the disparate treatment eked out by slaveowners reacting and adapting to economic downturn.

The film seems perfectly poised to drop into the current national conversation on race in America. Its rough edges could slow it down in the mainstream market, but it’s a meaningful, boldly-made film with plenty to say.

Grade: B+

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The Bad Kids

Set in an alternative high school in California, “The Bad Kids” is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about empathy in education.

The school at the heart of the film is the proverbial one where the bad kids go, only directors Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe are more interested in how a dedicated educator, in the case the school’s principal, can have a profound effect on an otherwise neglected child’s chances for success.

The stories in the film are intensely personal, and Fulton and Pepe handle them with care. But that same focus on a single school and its students has a myopic quality, making it unclear how the lessons learned would be applied elsewhere.

Grade: B

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How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change)

The subject of climate change has been treated by many documentary filmmakers, to varying degrees of success. “How to Let Go of the World” is one of the more effective examples, showing the physical effects of a warming world, from families displaced by major storms to island nations vanishing under rising seas and air so polluted by fossil-fuel dependency that children can’t play outside.

Director Josh Fox (“Gasland”), banjo in tow, globe-trots while documenting the creeping environmental crisis and the steps both made and ignored as danger. The film runs unnecessarily long, buoyed by distracting insertions of Fox into the story, but the overall portrait is sufficiently alarming while also clinging to hope that mankind can save itself from the edge.

Grade: B+

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White Girl

After moving from Oklahoma to New York City for school, Leah (Homeland’s Morgan Saylor) embraces the freedom of adulthood through nonstop partying and drug use. That leads her into the arms of Blue, the friendly neighborhood drug dealer, who is promptly scooped up by the law, leaving a heartsick Leah with a bag of cocaine and the drive to rescue Blue from America’s arcane mandatory minimum laws.

“White Girl” is aggressively non-puritanical, but it’s still challenging to look past what amounts to Bad Decisions: The Movie. Leah’s quest to free Blue is dogged by a consistent stream of failures that are either the result of everyone in the world of the movie being a disgusting creep or the result of our heroin insisting on snorting one more line.

There’s a commentary here about our modern times, drug laws and racial privilege. But any nuance is buried under layers of exhaustion as an unsympathetic protagonist stumbles from one disaster to the next.

Grade: C

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o-INHERENT-VICE-facebookUnder normal circumstances, a film would earn demerits for being a haphazard, befuddling mess.

And yet in the hands of director Paul Thomas Anderson, the confused state of Inherent Vice never detracts. In fact, its what makes the film so enjoyable. In many ways, watching Vice was like watching really good opera. I had little to no idea what was happening at any given moment, and yet I was awestruck by the quality of what was reaching my eyes and ears.

Here’s the plot, as best as I can describe it.

Set in the groovy, drug-soaked streets of 1970’s Los Angeles, Inherent Vice follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix in glorious mutton chop sideburns) a hippie private investigator with a notepad in one hand and a joint in the other. He’s asked by an ex-girlfriend to look into the disappearance of her new squeeze, a real estate titan, and in the process the girlfriend disappears, a few people are murdered and at least one man comes back to life.

There’s also smuggling ships, trampoline accidents, prostitution rings and one angry, hippie-hating cop, played by Josh Brolin with a flat top.

The movie unfolds less as a narrative than a kaleidoscope, with a constantly shifting display of shapes and colors that are only loosely identified and all obscured by an omnipresent drug-fueled haze, held in place by an expansive and incredible cast of A-listers from Owen Wilson to Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro.

It’s an atmospheric period piece, gleeful in its self-prescribed freedom for exploration, like a saxophone solo or interpretive dance. It’s ebbs and flows for more than two hours, perhaps a touch too long, bouncing along to its own rhythm but held together by Anderson’s firm directorial hand.

If you’ve seen The Master, you’ll have an idea of what kind of abstract experience to expect form PTA’s latest. But while Master was heady and played in a minor key, Vice is light and undeniably funny, with an effervescent retro-pop charm that slips past you unnoticed.

It’s the lava lamp of movies, a hypnotic visual treat that effortlessly demands your attention.

I can dig it.

Grade: B+

*Inherent Vice opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 9.

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