MDMA (Angie X, Cardinal X)


Annie Q knows you can never truly relax when you’re a drug kingpin.

(2017) Crime Drama (Shout! Factory) Annie Q, Francesca Eastwood, Pierson Fode, Scott Teiji Takeda, Joseph John Schirle, Ron Yuan, Noah Segan, Yetide Badaki, Henry Zaga, Elisa Donovan, Allyrah Caldwell, Angie Wang, Devon Libran, Kyle Zingler, Zoe Winter, Ed Moy, Shoyi Cheng, Dexter Masland, Cooper Chow, Jason J. Lai, Jackie Dallas. Directed by Angie Wang

 

In the mid-80s, “Just say no” was the kind of thing knowing club kids used as a kind of electronic irony. Just say no? Why on earth would anybody do that? Drugs were profitable (for dealers and their suppliers) and moreover, drugs felt amazing. And yeah, so long as you didn’t get hooked on something like heroin they were essentially harmless, right?

Angie Wang (Q) is a young sparkling-eyed freshman going off to college at an expensive private school in California (think: Stanford). Her father (Yuan), who works at a Chinese restaurant in New Jersey, can’t afford the tuition, but lets his daughter go anyway. Once there she befriends her roommate Jeanine (Eastwood), a blonde and pretty debutante sort whose life is much more messed up than it appears to be on the surface, with an alcoholic and judgmental mother who seems hell-bent on putting down her daughter about as far as she can go. Angie’s mother left with her little brother when Angie was a little girl, enduring an abusive husband until she couldn’t.

It turns out that Angie is no stereotype, no prim and proper Asian princess. She parties hardy and has sex whenever and with whoever she chooses. A swimmer with Olympic aspirations turns her on to Ecstasy, then a legal recreational drug (the title is based on its scientific name which is abbreviated as MDMA). Supplies are extremely limited as its only manufactured by a single lab in Germany; chemistry major Angie thinks she can synthesize it in the chem. Lab all by herself. As a result she becomes the leading supplier of the drug on the West Coast, referred to in the clubs as “Cardinal X.”

The money allows her to pay her tuition and live a lifestyle more to her liking. She joins the big sister program and becomes a mentor to Bree (Caldwell), the daughter of a crack mom (Badaki) more concerned with having beer and smokes readily available than seeing that her daughter wasn’t hungry. Her lab partner Tommy (Takeda) urges her to get out of the drug dealing although he doesn’t report her; he’s crazy in love with her after all, and hopes that he can save her from herself. However, it’s already way too late for that and soon things spiral out of control.

Wang called this “a dramatic telling” of her life story, which means that likely some events were fudged, embellished and/or compressed somewhat. She recalls the club scene of the mid-80s (what I can remember of it) pretty accurately, other than if they were Bay Area clubs there should have been a larger presence of gay men than there are in the movie.

Annie Q is a former child actress whom readers might recognize from the TV show The Leftovers. She gives Angie a good deal of strength and sass without reverting to Hollywood Asian stereotypes. The movies definitely need more characters like Angie in them – not necessarily as role models for young Asian girls since Angie does a lot of really bad shit in the movie – but simply to show Asian women in a more realistic light.

Some of the plot points feel a bit overdone with the final third of the movie feeling like every one of the main characters are constantly in tears. The dialogue sometimes sounds a little awkward as well. Still as first efforts go, this is a mighty fine one. The soundtrack is full of 80s goodness and Wang wisely keeps things simple, not trying to show off unusual camera angles to attract attention to herself. She lets the story take center stage which some new directors forget to do. Wang may not necessarily be proud of her past but she can be proud of her movie.

REASONS TO GO: Annie Q gives the story a strong Asian woman lead, something not seen often.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a little overwrought in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of drug use and references, violence, profanity, sex and rape.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wang, who wrote and directed the film (and also appears in a cameo role), based the movie on her own life experiences.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, ITunes, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews: Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: White Boy Rick
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
A Greater Society

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


Huddle up.

Huddle up.

(2016) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Devine, Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, Alice Wetterlund, Lavell Crawford, Mary Holland, Kumail Nanjiani, Jake Johnson, Marc Maron, Erik Griffin, Jake Szymanski, Eugene Cordero, Wendy Williams, Kyle Smigielski, Andrea Micelli, Nancy Micelli, Christina Souza, Olga Kalashnikova. Directed by Jake Szymanski

 

In this modern age, relationships can be a bitch to establish. We’re more likely to meet someone on the Internet than in real life. In many ways, it’s much harder to find someone now than it was just ten years ago.

Mike (Devine) and Dave (Efron) Stangle are two brothers who like to have a good time. However, sometimes their desire to be the life of the party overwhelms what little common sense the brothers possess. There have been so many occasions at family gatherings that their plans have caused havoc and chaos to the point where their Dad (Root) doesn’t want them near any family events.

But he really can’t keep them away from their little sister Jeanie’s (Beard) Hawaiian wedding, so he gives them an ultimatum; they are to bring nice girls to the wedding as dates, or they can’t go at all. The problem is that the boys don’t really know any nice girls.

So Mike, the liquor salesman who employs his younger brother, gets the bright idea of putting an ad on Craigslist. The responses are many and varied and it lands them on the Wendy Williams show. This brings them to the attention of Tatiana (Plaza) and Alice (Kendrick), a couple of party chicks who may be even wilder than the Stangle brothers, but they don’t know that. The two girls want a Hawaiian vacation and Tatiana knows instinctively this is the best way to get one. So she schemes her way into meeting the boys and voila! Instant wedding dates.

Of course, while the girls masquerade as a hedge fund manager (Alice) and a teacher (Tatiana), they have as little common sense as their dates. This leads to an ATV accident, an X-rated massage for the bride and to the boys getting into a huge fight. The problem is that Alice and Dave might have genuine feelings for each other, but when Alice tries to calm Jeanie down with a little ecstasy, it leads to something that may bring the entire marriage to a screeching halt even before it’s begun.

Fans of the comedy that Judd Apatow and those inspired by him have been promulgating for the last decade or so will probably eat this up. It is vulgar, outrageous and occasionally downright mean. That pretty much seems to be the state of comedy 2016 when it comes to the multiplex and there’s something to be said for that kind of humor, but to be frank I’m getting kind of tired of it. I’d like to see some variation in the types of comedies we’ve been seeing; everything seems to be so over-the-top, from the spoofs to the romantic comedies that we’ve lost the art of subtlety when it comes to comedy.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some really funny moments; the sensual massage that Jeanie gets from a very limber masseuse (Nanjiani) is hysterical and some of the more slapstick bits are also bound to get more than a polite chuckle. Kendrick and Plaza are two of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood and they both have some truly memorable comic performances in their pockets, but while they do their best here, it’s not enough.

Efron, who isn’t one of my favorite actors, actually comes off extremely likable here and shows that when he relaxes a bit he has all the screen presence he needs to be a star. However Devine simply tries too hard to be funny and ends up looking the buffoon. He’s a bull in a china shop and while that can be useful from time to time, it just ends up being distracting here.

I guess my biggest problem with Mike and Dave is that it all seems recycled to me. As I watch it doesn’t feel original or exciting; in fact, it made me feel tired, like I’ve seen this movie before. And I have, in several other movies. It’s disappointing; I like the cast a lot, particularly the lady leads but there wasn’t enough creativity in the writing to make this worth recommending.

REASONS TO GO: Some genuinely funny bits from a talented cast.
REASONS TO STAY: Definitely a kind of “you’ve seen it all” vibe here. It may have been dumbed down a little too much.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s quite a bit of crude sexual content as well as some graphic nudity, a whole lot of language and some drug humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on an actual Craigslist ad placed by two real-life brothers named Mike and Dave Stangle. In reality, the ad received more than six thousand responses and netted the boys not only a movie deal but also an appearance on the Today show. The real life Stangle boys cameo here as a pair of guests at the wedding whom cousin Terry offers to be the center of a sandwich for.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/3/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hangover
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Front Cover

Holy Rollers


Holy Rollers

Oy! Betcha Jesse Eisenberg never flew coach in that Facebook movie!

(2010) Drama (First Independent) Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Danny Abeckaser, Ari Gaynor, Mark Ivanir, Elizabeth Marvel, Jason Fuchs, Q-Tip, Hallie Eisenberg, Bern Cohen, Stella Keitel, David Vadim, Charlie Hewson, Penny Bittone, Ori Pfeffer. Directed by Kevin Asch

 

The Hasidic Jews are particularly devout in their Jewishness. They tend to follow Jewish law more closely than the reform and even the orthodox sects. With their distinctive side curls and black dress, they are easily identifiable and travel freely all over the world. Their devotion to God is such that crime is extremely rare among them, enough so that law enforcement doesn’t consider them any sort of threat.

Certainly Sam Gold (J. Eisenberg) wouldn’t seem to be. A young man growing up in the Hassidic community of Brooklyn, his life seems to be pretty much mapped out for him; a marriage arranged for him by his parents, a future as a rabbi which he is studying to be and raising a family in the same community he himself grew up in. The world for Sam is a pretty stable, secure place.

Then that stability begins to crumble. His marriage arrangement ends, leaving him single and a figure of some suspicion in the community. His father and mother become keenly disappointed in him, wondering if he fits in to the community at all. Sam begins to question himself.

His best friend’s (Fuchs) brother Yosef Zimmerman (Bartha) asks Sam to do him a favor amidst all this. If he could just go to Amsterdam and pick up a small bag of pills, some medicine that is extremely expensive here but cheap over there – he’d be ever so grateful.

Sam naively agrees. Soon he finds out what he’s really transporting – ecstasy – but rather than recoil, he embraces his new venture. With his business acumen learned from his father, he impresses Yosef’s boss Jackie (Abeckaser) who takes Sam under his wing. He also impresses Rachel (Graynor), Jackie’s girlfriend whom he develops a connection to. Sam begins to make some serious money, far more than his father. He becomes intimately familiar with the night life in Manhattan and Amsterdam. He changes.

Sam thinks he’s the smartest boy on the block, not realizing the police are pretty smart too and are closing in on him. In fact, Sam in wanting to make something of himself truly has – an outsider in his own community.

Loosely based on actual events, director Asch creates a movie that in lesser hands might have wound up as cliche and boring. He chooses not to make this a movie of car chases and gun fights but of insight into the Hassidic community and a look at the evolution of a young man from Godly to criminal.

Unfortunately, we don’t really see it as an evolution so much as an abrupt change from one to the other. We never get a sense of Sam’s moral dilemma, never see him wrestling with his conscience. One moment he’s a naive, shy Hasid and the next he’s a worldly drug lord, overseeing a network of Hassidic mules going from Amsterdam to New York City with the notion that the Hassidic won’t excite suspicion from the authorities.

This is the type of role Jesse Eisenberg does so well with. He can capture both elements of the character – the shy naiveté and the brusque somewhat streetwise criminal. In a large sense, it’s reminiscent of his Oscar-nominated performance in The Social Network although mostly there he is in the latter mode.

The story is unusual enough that it captures the attention; the execution of it sadly misses the mark somewhat. Still, there’s enough rich material here to keep the film moving from start to finish and keep our interest until the end credits run. I wish they might have taken a little more time to develop the internal conflict that Sam surely must have had; the audience might have been able to get behind the character more instead of just thinking he’s a colossal putz.

WHY RENT THIS: A role tailor-made for Eisenberg’s strengths. A rare look inside the Hasidic community. An interesting and unusual concept.. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sam’s change of character is abrupt and not well-explained.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some brief sexual stuff, lots of drug use and some foul language. Not to mention some Hassidic ass-kicking like you wouldn’t believe.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jesse and Hallie Eisenberg, siblings in real life, play siblings in the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a sit-down interview with Bartha and Eisenberg, detailing the actor’s preparations for the film and how they became involved with it.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $608,027 on an unreported production budget; the movie was probably somewhere just south of breaking even.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Chloe